Helping Younger Writers
By Lazette Gifford
Copyright © 2007 by Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved
Many writers start young,
and by their early teens many are usually addicted to the fun of
writing. In fact, if they start early enough, they sometimes don't have
the inhibitions about writing that people who start at an older age do.
They aren't so worried about 'is this great literature' as they are
about expressing themselves to the best of their ability. Starting
young can be a real boon to a fledgling author.
Unfortunately, most new
writers don't get much help in school. In fact, many teen writers don't
get support for their writing at all, and it can be heartbreaking to
watch them do their best, only to have a parent, relative or friend
dismiss the work as unimportant.
If you know younger writers
(and many do through on-line communities, if not in real life), there
are some things you can do to help. In real life, you might volunteer
to do a talk at a school. Students aged thirteen and up would probably
benefit the most from such a talk. It should cover things like how the
publishing world works and how to avoid scams. Discussing good writing
work habits, the importance of grammar, and how learning anything and
everything can be helpful to a writer might also make good topics.
At an individual level, both
on-line and in real life, encouraging a young writer to continue with
his or her work is, by far, the most important aspect of starting out
right. Learning to write well is the step after the new author learns
the pure joy of creative writing.
There are some aspects about
becoming an author that younger writers need to know before they become
fixated on an impossible future. Writing is not a 'get rich quick' sort
of job. Almost all the full time writers I know (including myself) have
either full or part time jobs other than writing in order to pay their
Internet bills and buy food.
It is very rare for first
manuscripts to find a publisher, and it can take years before the writer
hits upon the right combination of story and characters to attract the
attention of a publisher. There will be times of frustration as the
rejection slips stack up, but those slips are part of the regular fare
of writers. Nearly every writer who now has books on the shelves at
stores went through this process and gathered a basketful of the slips.
Helping younger writers understand these steps to publication is an
important part of making certain they have realistic goals.
Self-publishing is not going
to make a writer rich or famous, especially if the writer has not yet
learned the craft. It's easy to write words on paper; it's far harder
to write them well. Defining what a writer (of any age) wants as a
writing-related career can save the disappointment of someone
self-publishing, only to find that the books will not be at the local
It takes a lot of work to
hone talents and learn the skills that go into creating a good work,
whether that is poetry, short stories or novels. For that reason,
younger writers need to continue to get the best education they can, and
if they are going to college, to take advantage of finding a good
career. A writer who has to worry about whether she can make the next
rent payment is not going to be able to concentrate on her story. The
J.K. Rowlings and Stephen Kings, who make exceptional amounts of money
from writing, are very rare in the publishing business. Being able to
work in a field that the writer enjoys will help with writing. Attitude
is very important.
College is also a great
place to take odd little courses in things of interest that can add
depth to future books. Everything a person learns is fodder for
stories. I know a couple of people who took mythology classes just to
get a better grounding in the subject. One wanted to write historical
fiction and the other wanted to write fantasy.
Students should take classes
in subjects that interest them, because those are the types of things
they'll want to incorporate into their stories. Everything adds depth
to a manuscript.
classes, however, may not be the best idea. Many of these classes focus
on literary fiction and frown on anything written for the other genres,
like fantasy, science fiction, romance, or mystery. The classes may
focus on aspects that make the writing boring to some, and taking those
types of classes have sometimes caused writers to stop working for years
afterwards. If a student is looking into a writing-related class,
finding out the most they can about it beforehand may help to avoid
Many young writers believe
that they must go to college in order to be published. This is not
true. All that matter are the words they write.
One trap that some writers
fall into is thinking they need to know 'if they are good enough' to be
published. With this question in mind, writers (young and old) who
haven't spent time with writing groups or mentors often aren't aware of
the scams that take advantage of this insecurity. Rushing toward
publication may not be the best plan. Taking the time to learn basic
writing skills will give you a step up the ladder over many people
submitting their work, no matter what their age.
And here's another point to
remember: A publisher doesn't know the age of the person submitting
unless they make a point of stating it in a cover letter. Generally,
there is no reason to do so. Age, gender, race and education have
nothing to do with most aspects of publication. There will be special
circumstances where the publisher is looking for a certain type of
contributor, but other than those times, there's no reason to make any
mention of it. Publication all comes down to those words on the page,
and the work it takes to make a great story and find the right
Starting young gives a
writer plenty of time to hone skills and learn what type of writing he
or she likes to do. Finding encouragement and help can make the entire
writing experience better.