I don’t really get why people are so surprised when someone young produces something awesome, whether it’s a book or a piece of music or something completely different. There are plenty of precedents, after all – in the music world, you’ve got the obvious ones like Mozart, and then there’s Mendelssohn’s octet which he wrote when he was seventeen and which, according to the father-person, is an astonishing piece of music. (I’ve never heard it.)
And there are plenty of writers who started young, and you only have to follow the Teens Can Write Too blog chain to know that we’ve got all sorts of talented people who aren’t yet old enough to leave home (or drink, which possibly explains our productivity and relative good health), so really, people should stop being so patronising to teens.
The thing is, we have a lot of advantages.
I’m serious. I think being a teen writer is in many ways easier than being an adult writer. Obviously, I don’t have experience of the latter, but I have plenty of correspondents who do, and I can draw on what they’ve told me.
Yeah, I know. We’re all busy. We have to be at school most of the time, we’ve got extra-curricular activities, we’ve got parents demanding things of us, homework, university applications, etc etc. But when you’re an adult, you’ve got a job. And maybe a family. And you can’t depend on someone else to spend time cooking dinner because you have to do that yourself. I’m a phenomenally busy person, but I’ve got a structured school day with a 50 minute lunch break which is perfect for getting a couple of thousand words done.
At this stage, we don’t need to worry about being the starving artist. We can write as much as we want and no one is depending on us to earn a living from it, because we’re living with family and haven’t got all that many expenses. Yes, it might be nice to use it as a Saturday job, but that’s not necessarily going to work out for everyone. If you’re an independent human being, you need money. Which means you need work, because it’s going to be a while before writing will support you, if it ever does. Day jobs. See under ‘time’.
English Literature classes.
Apart from while studying English Literature at university, I believe that there’s no better time to be learning to write than when you’re studying A-Level English Lit, or the equivalent. We’re studying Hamlet at the moment, and my English teacher has pointed out several things where I’ve thought, “I could use that technique.” Parallels between father-son relationships and revenge are a particular one – it never occurred to me to put two characters in similar situations and see how they react differently, but I see now that that could be pretty neat. I’m also studying English Language, so I’m learning about sentence structures, grammar and etymology. But Lit’s the one that’s helping me, as I’m seeing new ways of structuring my writing and developing my characters. It’s particularly because we’re studying plays, I think, as I’m thinking about how it works visually. I can’t see myself having another opportunity like this.
Everyone our age is making mistakes.
When you’re thirty and you write a terrible novel and you screw up the querying process and whatever, it’s embarrassing. At our age, everyone’s making mistakes, whether that’s getting drunk for the first time and puking on a friend’s carpet, or being led down dodgy roads by people they shouldn’t have listened to. Writing a terrible novel is nothing compared to that, and you’ll be so busy doing it that you won’t have time to get pregnant at thirteen. Oh, and everyone’ll be so impressed that you wrote a book at all, they won’t think to laugh at you. As for the querying process, you’ve got plenty of time to keep trying.
You’re not expected to know everything.
I think because most teen writers have this inferiority complex that we’re not as good as adult writers, we’re more likely to keep revising, improving and rewriting before we try for an agent or publication, and I think in the long run that’s going to be a good thing, because we won’t be tempted to send something out before it’s ready. Maybe that’s just me, however.
However, as young writers we have one major disadvantage:
If you’ve never lost a close friend, it’s hard to write about the feelings a character might be having. If you’ve never been in love, romance novels are going to be tricky.
Then again, this is something adult novelists have just as much as the rest of us – I mean, I’m pretty sure Douglas Adams never hitched a ride with Vogons, and I like to think that not every crime writer has killed someone, but that might just be a front they’re putting up.
So really, there’s absolutely no reason not to be a teen writer. Because everybody’s first couple of novels are terrible, and if you tackle the learning curve when you’re younger, you’ve got more time to enjoy the decent books that come out later.
For my older readers – never patronise a teen writer, even if they’re just starting out. Never put them down and say they’ve got a long way to go. And never automatically assume they’ll be bad because they’re young. Because:
TEENS CAN WRITE TOO!