June 07, 2004

Teenage Writer

A teenage writer asked this question on the now defunct Young Writers: Speculative Fiction Forum.

This is something that's been weighing on my mind a bit lately. I recently turned 19, and while I realize that's far from ancient, I'm coming to the end of my teen years. I've been writing seriously since I was eleven- and though I haven't accomplished much of merit, I just wonder...how long do I have left as a "young" writer? ... When am I going to have to give up the claim of "young writer"? 21? 25? Does it really matter? Whether or not it does, it's just something I've been thinking of lately.

Having been there, and done that, I answered:

I started to write in fourth grade. I started to submit short stories to magazines in high school. At one point I had a deadline of getting my first novel published by the time I was 21, which seemed ancient to me. Sigh, my first novel came out when I was 38.

I have to admit, though, that you guys have more advantages than I did. When I was growing up, I had a broken IBM electric typewriter and had to beg for paper because it was so expensive. (Back in the time before office copiers and computer printers, a ream of paper was ten times the cost it is today.) I had no way to contact other young writers and not a clue how to reach out to professional writers. My school offered one creative writing course and we focused only one week on short stories and didn't mention anything on how to write a novel. One reason I mentor the ALPHA workshop is because I would have killed for an opportunity for advance writing courses.

Writing is hard. I know that when I was young I thought since I could put a sentence together, I should be able to easily write something that could sell. I have discovered, however, that writing is like a professional sport -- you need to practice hard for years to get it to the point when the major leagues pick you up. On the other hand, you have many advantages I never had. You have computers. You have spell checkers and grammar checkers. You have the Internet. You have places like this. Giving yourself a time limit or being impatient about the speed of being published is a dangerous thing. I know that I was horribly hurt when I hit 21 and hadn't sold -- and yet, looking back, that "deadline" was artificial and arbitrary. I was so disappointed that I stop writing for a long time -- if I hadn't been upset and kept writing, I might have published as much as ten years sooner.

Posted by wen at June 7, 2004 11:13 AM