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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 book stores. 

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.

Taking writing-related 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 something unpleasant.

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 publisher.

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.