Most of my readers are in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. I also have a nice cluster of forty, fifty, and sixty-year-olds! And I love all of you. <3
However, there’s one segment of my audience that I feel I’ve been neglecting: Teens.
Over the past couple years, I’ve spoken with over one thousand local teenagers about my writing career and how they can follow in my footsteps. I have several young newsletter subscribers, one of whom is a 13-year-old girl who excitedly replies to each issue. And my very first one-on-one online mentoring student was a 17-year-old.
I adore my teen audience–nearly all of my fiction is written for their age group–but I’ve never written a post specifically for them. And, while most of my articles more-or-less apply to “everyone” in the freelance writing game, there are a few unique challenges that teen writers face.
So, this article is for you, Reader Who is Nineteen or Younger! 🙂
(But, if you’re a little older, feel free to join in).
10 Things Every Teen Writer Should Know
1. School Sometimes Sucks, But Learning Doesn’t Have To
I didn’t like school. I was good at school–mostly A’s and a couple B’s–but I didn’t like it. Most of the time I loathed it.
And, while I can’t really say “that’s okay” (because being forced to do something you loathe stinks big time), I can say that in the end it didn’t really matter. Because, once you’re no longer forced to go to school, you don’t have to. College is mandatory for aspiring doctors, but for writers? Not so much.
On the other hand: Learning is mandatory.
I cannot stress this enough. You can NEVER STOP LEARNING, even if you choose not to go to college. Be your own teacher. Seek knowledge. And constantly update your skills.
2. Practice Makes Perfect
Every writer has to start somewhere. And chances are your start point will be immensely embarrassing to you when you look back on it years later. Check out these short stories I wrote when I was your age. (Wrote most of those while I was in high school). I would often say “Well, this story isn’t meant to be taken seriously” to ward off any negative comments, but I was bluffing — I totally wanted my stories to be taken seriously! I just couldn’t write well enough to pull it off.
Even good writers are crap when they’re just getting started. I’ll probably look back on the articles I wrote this year in another decade and realize just how terrible I am now! (Ha!).
There’s always going to be room for improvement. But that’s no reason to stop trying. If you keep at it, your writing will get better and better. I promise. And, if you don’t believe me, here’s a quote from Stephen King:
“If you work out with weights for 15 minutes a day over the course of ten years, you’re gonna get muscles. If you write for an hour and a half a day for ten years, you’re gonna turn into a good writer.”
3. Write for You…Unless You’re Writing for Someone Else
It’s important to write what you love. To express yourself to the best of your abilities. It’s wonderful, freeing, and helps you grow as a writer.
However, if you choose to write professionally, you won’t be writing for you — you’ll be writing for business clients or editors. In which case, you’ll have to write what they want you to write. Mostly because that’s what you’re being paid to do.
Professional freelance writers can’t afford to be divas about their work. The ones who try are often the ones who are never hired again.
If you get hired to write something, write it the way the customer/editor wants it to be written. That’s your job.
That said, don’t take on any projects that you hate (you’ll be miserable). And always, always make time in your schedule to write for YOU. For me, this blog is my playground — I love writing my weekly posts! — and I also have my fiction writing, poetry writing, and journaling on the side.
4. Enter Contests
They’re fun! And they teach you a lot about word count constraints and other aspects of writing that will pester you in the professional writing arena.
One of the first writing contests I entered was for a short story of 500 words or less. The piece I turned in was over 2,000 words. I was fortunate enough to get a rejection letter from the editor saying, “Your piece was fun, but word count matters. You’ve been disqualified, but please write to us again in the future.” I was 15 and I felt awful, but it taught me the importance of following directions.
I first got published in the now defunct Teen magazine. If you read any magazines, check on their website to see if they accept submissions. Also try Googling “Writing Contests for Teens” or something similar. You probably won’t get paid (at least not with money), but it’s a fantastic experience. And, if you win, it makes a great writing sample for your budding portfolio!
Note 1: If a contest wants you to pay to enter or asks for extremely personal information (like your social security number), steer clear. Some legitimate writing contests will ask for an entry fee, but most are scams.
Note 2: As soon as you turn 18, start seeking out paid writing gigs! You can find a nice list of blogs/online magazines that pay HERE.
5. You Will Never “Run Out” of Ideas
I used to think that I had a set number of ideas in my brain (especially when it came to fiction), and once I used them up, that would be it. Every time I wrote a story or turned in an article, I would have a mini panic attack thinking that was the last thing I’d ever write.
I coveted my ideas like they were rare shiny pokemon. I horded them, barely daring to write them out for fear I’d be losing them forever. And, if I did write them down, I would fret when they weren’t “perfect.”
I was so dumb.
First of all… Perfect? Not gonna happen. I talk a bit about this HERE.
Second? You will NEVER run out of ideas! So long as you’re alive and thinking, you’ll be coming up with fresh ideas. Sometimes you’ll get stumped, but you’ll get over it. And, if you’re having trouble getting over it, I’ve got some tips for that:
6. It’s Not a Beauty Contest
Okay, so, a little confession: I have really bad skin come wintertime. I have rosacea and it flares up SO BADLY in the cold weather. It’s painful and horrible and makes me feel like a hideous freak. My face becomes red, flaky, and covered in large pustules. Summer Me doesn’t even recognize Winter Me.
See? (Both pics = no make-up)
I almost turned down a recent public speaking gig at my old high school this week because I was feeling so self-conscious about my looks. I was honestly about two seconds away from saying “Can we postpone until Springtime-ish…?” when I remembered something:
I’m a writer.
My job has nothing to do with my looks! And it was my writing that I was going to be speaking about.
When you’re a writer, the only “beauty” that matters are your words. People don’t care what you look like, they care about the value of the content you create.
Bad skin suuuuuuuuuuucks. And I was severely disappointed that my complexion didn’t get better with age. (Though, honestly, I probably should have seen that coming… My dad still has his “teen” acne and he’s nearly 60!). But your looks should never stop you from following your dreams — especially if you dream of being a writer.
7. Depressed? You’re Not Alone.
It’s hard to write about depression in a way that makes someone feel loved and unabandoned without somehow invalidating their personal pain…
Everyone who has depression is different. We’re all depressed for our own reasons. And we all feel it and react to it in our own ways.
That said, a lot of writers struggle with depression (including myself).
Nearly all of my writing colleagues are either actively struggling with depression or have so in the past. And the one thing we all agree on? Writing helps. Any writing.
Whether you prefer to journal out your feelings verbatim or choose to channel it into a fictional world, go for it. It helps.
And, when it doesn’t help, don’t give up hope. It might not seem like it, but life doesn’t stay terrible forever. It goes through phases of terribleness–but there’s always another good day right around the corner (even if that corner is miles away).
When I was a 16, I told a teacher that I didn’t think I’d be alive to see my twenties.
I’ll be 29 in 6 and a half weeks.
8. Proofreading and Editing = Essential.
Proofreading and editing tend to be boring…but they’re a must.
Never, ever turn in a first draft as your final draft. Even professional writers make typos. They tend to make fewer typos, but they still make them. Always read over your work. Always look for ways to improve what you’ve written, even if it means chopping out a huge chunk.
That said, wait until you’re finished writing before you begin editing. If you start looking for mistakes before you’re done writing, you increase your chances of never finishing. Let it all pour out of your brain, even if it’s total crap, and then whip out the red pen.
9. The Writing World is VAST!
You’re surrounded by writing every day and don’t even notice. There are so many more writing opportunities out there than you might think. When I was a young, I thought there were books, magazines, and newspapers and that was it. It didn’t dawn on me until my teens that movies and TV shows were (duh) written by someone. The older I got, the more I noticed writing in my daily life:
- The blurb on the back of your shampoo bottle was written by someone.
- The “History of Our Food” paragraph on your fast food’s tray liner was written by someone.
- Any billboard you’ve ever seen that had words on it was written by someone.
- The movie descriptions on Netflix are all written by someone.
…basically, anything you can read was written by someone.
Any time you see words — know that someone wrote them. And you could be that someone.
10. You Can Call Yourself a Writer at Any Age…So Start Now!
Say it loud and say it proud!
I started writing at a very early age. And I first started getting published in my teens. But it took me YEARS to get comfortable calling myself a writer. Once again, I can be really dumb sometimes…
I wish I’d gotten comfortable admitting that I’m a writer at a much younger age. I fully believe I’d be even further along in my career than I am now.
The fact of the matter is this: The more seriously you take your writing, the more seriously other people will take it as well.
If you say you’re a writer and truly mean it, other people will believe it too!
You’re never too young to start creating your writing portfolio. Work on your school’s newspaper, enter contests, start a blog, or help write your church’s newsletters. Take every opportunity to write. Even the boring essay assignments you get in school can be put in your portfolio (if you did a good job).
Success will not come overnight.
No matter which field of writing (or editing) you pursue, persistence is key. Just keep at it. Keep collecting your clips (industry term for “writing samples”), keep stating that you are a writing, and — most importantly! — KEEP WRITING!
Good luck out there. And thanks for reading. 🙂
Lauren Spear (née Tharp) is the owner and creator of the multiple award-winning LittleZotz Writing. She’s written hundreds of bylined posts helping freelance writers to become BETTER freelance writers. Thousands if you count all the articles she’s ghostwritten (but she’s not allowed to talk about most of those).