…and that, my friends, is why teenagers shouldn’t write

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I wrote a guest post for the lovely blog First Novels Club. Check it out here. I'll be interviewing the ladies of First Novels Club very soon...

I came across this post on the BookEnds literary agency blog back near the end of April, and bookmarked it. I’d intended to do a post back then, but as you know, it’s now August, and I’m only now getting around to it. This is a testament to how good I am at forgetting to do things.

So I was going through my bookmarks today – because although I have many things to do, I don’t want to do any of them – and I read it again.

What I’m posting about here is both my thoughts on the topic, and not my reaction to the post, but my reaction to the comments on the post. Some of which are quite ridiculous.

The agent who posted on the topic, Jessica, made a valid point that it’s not about your age, but it’s about the writing. And you also have to be thick-skinned.

And then of course I read the comments. Sometimes I think no one should be allowed to comment anonymously, because it seems a little pathetic. And even if people don’t comment anonymously, the internet already allows for a lot of anonymity, so people can speak rubbish.

This comment isn’t necessarily rubbish, but it just made me go “What the…?”:

I wonder how many teens actually have time for all the edits and rewrites and deadlines.

Um, hello, do you know how many adults work full-time jobs and are writers as well? First of all, if a kid has gotten to the point of writing something decent, and editing it a bunch of times, then landing an agent or getting a publishing contract, they’ve obviously already sacrificed things to get to this point.

Then this comment:
Teens and children should be studying for tests and doing homework so they can get into a good college. Agents who are not making enough sales for the adults they represent don't need to exploit underage children. What a waste of time.

Some of the smartest and happiest people I know never pursued further education past high school. I do know a lot of people who spent years and years at university and then found themselves with no sense of what they wanted to do next. And besides, kids don’t write instead of studying. They write instead of watching TV or IMing on Myspace.

And I believe that an agent would take on an author based on their writing merit alone. Age wouldn’t factor into the equation if the manuscript was good enough.

Sure, writing is great and a healthy outlet for kids--whether it's a diary or the school paper or just for fun. But kids and teens should concentrate on getting a college education and life experience BEFORE they consider getting published.

Too much pressure and heartbreak--and suddenly your childhood is gone.

I think, as a teenager writing for teenagers, there really isn’t a better time to start. Even if the books I’m currently working on never reach publication, and if I continue writing YA, these books will be a good reference point when I’m a lot older, I think.

And this comment:

Well written, publishable books by teen writers are definitely the exception, but that doesn't mean they don't happen.

Well written, publishable books by adult writers are also an exception. A beginning writer is a beginning writer, and it doesn’t matter how old they are.

But guess what! There were teenage writers (and older people) who were saying sensible things. Including Weronica, who I interviewed a little while back:

Most of these young writers have found their passion now and they're lucky to have done so. It's unfair for adults to discourage the learning process...especially if we enjoy it.

Which I agree with totally.

Another thing which popped up a lot was that ‘if you are a teen writer, you will miss out on the most important years of your life.’

Yeah. Years you could have spent underage drinking, bitching about girls and being totally preoccupied with hooking up at parties.

Dear God, I need to change my ways! I shouldn’t spend the rest of my teen years writing when I could be out and about spreading STDs and sculling alco-pops! I’ve wasted three years already! The best time of my life, almost halfway gone!

The next time someone tells me that my teen years are the best time of my life, I am going to repeatedly stab someone in the eye with a salad fork, and it may or may not be me. Because I don’t know if you’re wearing rose-coloured glasses or just going prematurely senile, but your teenage years are terrible. And by you saying it’s the best time of my life, you indicate that this is just going to get worse, and that once I get out of the tunnel of adolescence, I’m just going to fall into the fiery pits of the hell of adulthood. This makes me want to curl up in a little ball in my tunnel and never speak to anyone again.

Some things I want you to know:
- By writing, I’m not sacrificing my teenage years. I’m enhancing my experience by observing and recording things. I’m telling stories that are exploring my views of the world (under the guise of being fiction). There are few things that I think would be as good a learning experience.
- Schoolwork is never sacrificed for writing. Often, those kids who do write are the ones who do well at school. The kids smoking behind the toilet blocks and failing most classes are not the writers. They’re your future boss, if you get a job at McDonalds. They’re the parents-at-fifteen. They’re the ones you should be concerned about.
- Can you please stop thinking of Christopher Paolini every time you hear ‘teen writer’? Eragon was just a mish-mash of basically every fantasy novel ever written.
- To me, writing a lot doesn’t negate living life. I think binge-drinking and smoking drugs does. I think peer pressure does. I think being independent and thinking for yourself and motivating yourself towards your goals IS living life.

Rant concluded. Feel free to say, “But Steph, your teen years are the best of your life…”
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