Friday, September 06, 2013

To Young Writers

As an adult writer of fiction for young readers, I have sailed the high seas of rejection, weathering the tumultuous storms of writing one manuscript after another and querying for representation and publication. Too often I've been tempted to park my boat in dry dock and just forget it, but something always pulls me back. Perhaps its the love of writing. Or maybe my never-ending admiration for what it means to be a teenager. Or even the inescapable voice that just refuses to quit whispering stories to my tired old brain. Whatever it is, I have learned to listen and follow my bliss, no matter how hard it gets. The old adage is true: nothing truly worth having comes easily.

Along the way, I have met young people who love to write, maybe even live to write. Some of them have scarcely been on the planet as long as I've been writing YA fiction, but even they can feel defeated and frustrated by the process and by what feels like an almost impossible dream—future publication.

To you amazing young writers, I offer a few lifelines:

  • Never stifle that inner voice — If you feel like writing it, write it. Don't judge yourself before you even start and decide it's stupid. You never know where one little idea or word or turn of a phrase can lead you. And don't be afraid to make a mistake. Every writer has that secret drawer of crap that turned out to be too purple or lame or just a dead-end idea. You won't know until you throw it out there and see if it floats.
  • Build yourself a support network — You don't have to write alone anymore. Gone are the days when a writer lived in some squalid, isolated shack to suffer under the weight of his art alone. Social media and the interwebs have connected writers in the most amazing ways. Check out  Write On for some great chat boards and general information. Teen Ink also has a forum dedicated to teen writers as well as author interviews, reviews, and other cool topics. For a jaunt down under, check out the Teen Writers Club. The point is, you don't have to do this alone. Writers love to commiserate and share their battle scars as well as their successes. You'll find a lot of writes just need to connect with someone who can relate.
  • READ, READ, READ — If you're writing, odds are you love stories. (Duh!) Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to create our own masterpiece, though, that we forget to feed our creative soul. Take time to read. You'll be amazed at how much your own writing is rejuvenated and even improved by a little contact with the works of writers like John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, Maureen Johnson, or Neil Gaiman. Whether you love graphic novels, mysteries, sweeping romance, hard-hitting realism, or silly fun, read it.
  • Visit your favorite writer —Well, don't stalk him or anything, but find his website and do a little exploring. Troll for information. You might be surprised at how many authors have writing contests, blogs, or advice pages or other kinds of interactions with their fans and young writers. Meg Cabot has a Fiction Club forum where you can share your experiences and have fun with her books. You can learn a lot by talking about other people's work. Veronica Roth answers a lot of burning questions on the FAQ page of her site. And don't be shy. If you're a fan, contact your favorite author.
  • Publishing isn't everything...yet — Don't worry about publication at this point. If you are interested, some of the sites mentioned above offer opportunities to publish your work, and there are some traditional options with magazines and other outlets as well. That said, sharing your work can teach you a lot, even if it isn't published and paid for. Consider submitting your work to your school literary magazine (if you have one) or the newspaper. If you know other people who are interested, start a critique group. A lot of adult writers, published and unpublished, are part of a critique group or writing club. While criticism can be hard to take sometimes, it is a necessary evil that will help you grow. And if you are serious about being published anywhere, you have to learn to take criticism and rejection. It's a fact of the writing life. 
  • Find a mentor — Even established writers have that one person who can guide them and encourage them in their journey. If you ever get a chance to meet a published writer, take it. If your library or school has a writer visit, sit up front, ask questions, and if there is time and opportunity, chat with her. You can also connect with writers online, often through some of the chat boards listed above.
  • Give yourself permission to suck —You will have those days when every word you spill onto the page truly, deeply sucks. (At least you think it does.) Some writers will use that as an excuse to quit. Even crappy writing is writing. You can throw it away later. For now, just get it out there. If you are really stuck, take a little time to read instead of write. You will often find a new sense of perspective when you come back to writing.

Above all...KEEP WRITING. 

So hop in your little boat, batten down those life-lines, and let the tide roll.