Monday, August 16, 2010

Why Teen Writing Does NOT Suck

Hi there, folks! I meant to post this earlier but I was on vacation all week and had no internet, so it was not possible. Quick update on my publishing life: Laura Langlie and Katherine Boyle both rejected my full manuscript. However, Ms. Boyle suggested that I cut my manuscript down from 147K to about 100K and she'd be willing to look at it again … so I'm working on that. I also got another full request from Helen Zimmerman and a partial request from Logan Garrison. Woohoo! Plus a bunch of form rejections but … eh, those aren't very interesting.

Anyway, on to today's topic!!!

So, I was randomly surfing around on the internet the other day, and I stumbled across this blog post by author John Scalzi called 10 Things Teenagers Should Know About Writing, the first point being #1: Right Now, Your Writing Sucks, in which he claimed that teenagers lack the grammar skills, knowledge, experience, etc. to produce good writing. Now, this post had a lot of good advice in it, but he made a note about how most kids reading the post automatically stopped after the first point and wrote him a long angry note in the comments section. He then wrote a second post called On Teens, and the Fact that Their Writing Sucks in which he basically shot down all the comments he received; this irked me more than the original post.

To be fair, I read the entirety of both these posts, and I understood what he was trying to say. Furthermore, I actually agreed with most of it. The thing is, he said it in a way that was angering teens instead of helping them, so they wouldn't listen to his good advice.

It's not fair to tell teenage writers that their writing "sucks". Inexperience does not equal suckageness. That's like telling some little kid on a tricycle, "Dude, you SUCK at riding a bicycle!" Then what's the kid going to do? Will he feel like riding a bicycle ever again? Or is he more likely to feel discouraged and offended? Hmmmm?

So, I thought I'd make this easier by explaining it teen-to-teen. None of that condescending crap. Yes, I am learning and growing as a writer, and I know what it's like to constantly be reminded of it as if I didn't know. Yes, teenagers lack life experience and possibly the basics of English grammar, but that does not mean that we "suck". We just need practice! In my opinion, the adolescent stage is one of the best times to be a writer, and I'll tell you why.

WHY TEEN WRITING DOES NOT SUCK/WHY IT'S AWESOME TO BE A TEEN WRITER IN THIS DAY AND AGE

1. You don't have to worry too much about publishing, so it's a good time to practice, practice, practice. Yes, of course I support teens who are trying to get published––I'd be a total hypocrite if I didn't. But I know that many kids are just starting to experiment with writing at this age, and I completely support that too. If you're a teen writer, it's not like "OH CRAP, MY EDITOR NEEDS MY MANUSCRIPT IN TWO WEEKS!" There are no deadlines, so you can write whatever the heck you want. You can try out all different kinds of styles and genres, and there's no pressure to make it "good"––not that teens can't be critical of themselves. But if you are critical of yourself, you can also edit/rewrite as many times as you want to.

2. You have the time. Sure, you have school and homework––maybe some after-school sports or a job. But (hopefully) you don't have a bunch of kids to take care of or a full-time career. It's easier for kids to find time in their schedules to just sit down and write. Finding the time to write is the first step of becoming a good writer, and time is something that most teens have a lot of.

3. There are a lot of ways teens can get published nowadays. I'm not talking book-publishing necessarily, but there are great literary magazines where teenagers can get short stories and poetry published––such as Stone Soup, Cicada and Teen Ink, to name a few. There are also a lot of websites where writers can put up work and get feedback, like Mibba, WEbook, Goodreads, etc. It's a good idea to start small when it comes to publishing, because it's not too overwhelming but you still get a glimpse of what the publishing experience is like. I used to enter Cricket magazine story contests all the time; I got third place once for a lovely little story about singing mice. :) But Cricket also sent out little form-rejection postcards to the entries that didn't win, so I learned what that was like, too.

4. You're in your "prime suffering years". Okay, so one of my favorite movies of all time is "Little Miss Sunshine", and here is one of my favorite quotes from it:


Dwayne: I wish I could just sleep until I was eighteen and skip all this crap––high school and everything––just skip it.
Frank
: Do you know who Marcel Proust is?

Dwayne
: He's the guy you teach.

Frank
: Yeah. French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he's also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh... he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, those were the best years of his life, 'cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn't learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you're 18... Ah, think of the suffering you're gonna miss. I mean high school? High school-–those are your prime suffering years. You don't get better suffering than that.


A little off-topic I guess, but the point is, you learn a lot from your suffering––and as teenagers, we suffer a lot. What's great about teens is that we are brimming with angst. Now you're probably wondering, "Why is it a great thing that I'm full of angst?" Well, when you are a teenager you become very questioning about life. You start to wonder what the point is and where you're going. It gets to the point where you're so confused and stressed out that you feel about ready to explode from it. And that's why a lot of teens write––to get out their ideas and questions and relieve all that stress. So yes, this may produce rambling and/or choppy prose, but it helps you to get out a lot of ideas. Maybe not all of these ideas will be useful to you now, but they may be inspiration to you when you're an adult. I know I get inspiration from my old writing all the time, and I'm predicting that my writing today will inspire me in the future.

5. There are teenage authors out there! Now, I suppose this point is kind of a cheat. Just because some teenagers have published books doesn't necessarily mean that they're "good". In fact, most published teens seem to have stories that go along the lines of, "My mom's neighbor's grandma's cousin's friend happens to be a literary agent and heard about my book and wanted to read it! What a crazy random happenstance!" But oh well, at least these teenagers had the integrity to write full novels in the first place, and some of them have talent. Teen authors include S.E. Hinton, Mary Shelley, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Isamu Fukui, Flavia Bujor, Nancy Yi Fan, Alexandra Adornetto … and I suppose I have to include Christopher Paolini but … ah, let's not talk about him. I'm sure there are lots of others that I don't even know about, but as you can see there are already quite a few that come to mind. And even if these teens haven't produced flawless books, they all write a lot better than a majority of adults. If they can do it, so can we!


To make myself clear, I'm not saying that all teen writing is publishable. I have to agree with John Scalzi that a lot of young adults still have much to learn about grammar, about style, about originality, etc. That doesn't mean that they SUCK, but it means that they have to keep practicing. Write every day, get feedback and take it into consideration, and (as corny as it sounds) keep believing in yourself! Don't expect it to be perfect, but don't be too hard on yourself either. Polishing your writing and finding a voice is very important, so keep at it. ;)


** Now, to be completely off-topic, I would like to advertise one of my best-friend-ninja's blog since I promised her I would. So HERE IS SELLA'S BLOG in which she gives out "free advice on life and fiction". :) Sella is amazing, I love her, and she needs followers. So check it out! Thanks :)

38 comments:

  1. I read that same article and thought some of the exact same things. TEEN WRITING DOES NOT SUCK. thank you very much.

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  2. Teen writing does not suck, what's funny is that there are several authors that had their first novel published in their teen novels. Never underestimate the power of a teenager!

    Happy Monday!

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  3. Thanks for reading, Angela and Jen! Glad you agree :D

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  4. Not ALL teen writing sucks :D Just mine :P hehe. Not really. Anyways. Loved the post Brigid, loved the post.

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  5. Seth, your writing does not suck! And thanks :)

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  6. I loved this post, Brigid!!!
    Read mine?

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  7. Thanks so much Brigid, for linking to that blog! Even though it fully infuriated me, I got the change to write an enormous reply defending teens. If you'd like to read my response to Mr. Scalzi, I'm Ivy, at post 202. :)

    Now, you're probably wondering who in the world I am. I'm an ardent watcher of your blog (can you only follow if you have your own blog?) and have seen you on Goodreads. I think you're pretty awesome, so keep up the writing, querying, and blogging! ;)

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  8. Oh, I commented on Mr. Scalzi's second blog post edition of "sucky teen writing." :D

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  9. Alex - Thanks! And yes, I will check out your blog in a moment ;)

    jazzyzazzy - Good for you! I thought about responding too, but I got the feeling that Mr. Scalzi was kind of too thickheaded to care. He certainly didn't seem to care about all the teens he offended with his first post. Anyway, I'll go read what you said. :) And thanks! I will certainly keep it up ;)

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  10. I used to enter Cricket contests too!

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  11. Awesome! Did you ever win any of them? I got third place once and I think a couple honorable mentions ... I still have all my old Cricket mags, I think. :D

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  12. Yeah, I think I did actually, once or twice. Hmm, now I'm having second thoughts about donating my Crickets. I'll at least have to save the ones with my name in them.

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  13. Nice! Do you remember how old you were (or what year it was)? That would be funny if your name was in some of the ones I have! :D

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  14. It was fun looking through my old Crickets! I have an honorable mention in September 2006 (I think I wrote about a paintbrush) and December 2006 (no idea what I wrote about). I have a story in March 2007. I didn't start entering the contests till I was already pretty old, and by the time I won when I was 16, I wondered if I shouldn't be entering contests with 11-year-olds.

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  15. Brigid, I love this blog post. It's very intelligent, and awesome. I read all of both those two posts of that guy, and while he did make some fair points that I agreed with like you said, he was too harsh. And he seemed like he had a really big ego, from the follow-up post. I really didn't like the follow-up post.

    But anyway. You covered it all very well. Your response was very professional and smart and I agree with everything you said. I think the one thing that really spoke out to me was the one about how we're in our prime suffering years (teehee I love Little Miss Sunshine and I enjoy that you quoted it). I think the fact that teenagers go through so much angst and stress and even depression that it helps a lot with stories. Angst and stress and depression are such strong emotions, and it really helps to write that emotion into stories. That's one thing I don't agree with that guy; teenagers do have experience. Not as much as an adult, of cousre, but certainly a lot. We have experience of stress and depression and angst and it helps with our writing. And you stated that so well, so bravo. :D

    Now. I really want that guy to read this blog post. XD You should post the link on his blog or something. hahaha.

    Oh and thank you for advertising my blog at the end :D It was a nice surprise and made me happy. Haha! Love you Brigid.

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  16. Wow, seems I never really responded to all the comments on this. xD

    Eleanor - Hmm … I don't know if I have any of those ones! I think I stopped subscribing in about 2004 :( I remember I got third place in a story contest I think in '03 or maybe '04. And a few honorable mentions in the story/art contests. :)

    Sella - D'awww, I love you too dearie. Yes, maybe I should post this on his blog. Although I don't think it would make much of a difference. But, oh well. XD

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  17. Thanks so much for this. I really liked it. I read the same article and thought "Ouch, harsh." Yeah, our writing isn't Dickens but telling us that we fail at writing won't help anything. Friend me on Facebook. I'd love chat with another teenage novelist. It's be nice to have someone to talk to about the impending doom of trying to find an agent one day or coping with the editor's read pen, be it a friend's or some professional one that will one day scratch through my precious creation. :) My name is Amanda Vanecko,

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  18. Hi Amanda, thanks for commenting! Sorry it took me so long to get back to you ... You probably won't even see this reply. Ah well. I'll look for you on Facebook. :)

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  19. That j.s. Person is not very bright...
    Sarah Sheet

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  20. Brigid, you just scored girl! I think this post would get to and impress John Scalzi more, than a bunch of teenagers agrily commenting on his post. You showed him with style that why teenage writing could be the best at times, and no adults could mimic that.
    Because we are a group of teens that could see life in a different way, and feel it to the fullest!v We're full of angst and energy!
    So, thank you girl, for pulling off such a spectacular performance...You made us teens proud!

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  21. Stole the words RIGHT OUT OF MY MOUTH!!!

    Though I am not quite a teenager yet, I guess you could say I write like one...:p

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  22. I love this post <3

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  23. Nice post. I read the same two articles you mentioned... right after finishing Anna Caltabiano's book that deals with teenage self-harm. She's a teenage (around 15 or 16 I think) and she seemed more mature than John Scalzi!

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    1. Thanks! Hmm, haven't heard of her but I'll look for her book!

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  24. I read the post too a while back and it really infuriated me. I agree with some points but he could have definitely been more nice or subtle about it. But I wasn't discouraged at all after reading the post. In fact I was more determined to finish my book and publish it and be successful so I can go and brag in his face. Probably just wishful thinking but hey, why not keep dreaming.
    And as I like to tell everyone who says I'll never make it, if Christopher Paolini and Stephanie Meyer can make it, so can I. Heck if something like House of Night made it, I say anyone can.

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    1. Hi Sofie! I agree. I think he had a lot of good points and good advice for teen authors, but it's hard to see past the discouraging and condescending tone of the post. I think a lot of teen writers realize that they are not perfect, and it doesn't help to be told that they "suck."

      Haha, I find House of Night to be encouraging in the same way. I'm like, "Heck, if this is can get published (not to mention become a bestseller)" I guess anything is possible. :P

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  25. Man did this motivate me to keep writing my novel hahah thanks it helped :}

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  26. I absolutely agree with you on this. Besides, it's wrong for him to speak against all teens just because his writing wasn't good as a teen. I agree that everyone can improve their writing, but people are at different stages of writing at different ages. A person who is thirty years old and has never written in their life would probably write worse than a teenager who has been writing for quite a while.
    You also made a great point about how it's a great time for writing. Teens have lots of pressure and emotional stuff going on, so we can write about that or use that energy. Also, with writing YA novels, teens are more likely to be accurate than an adult writing them. :)

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  27. I completely agree with your article. Teenage writing does not suck. Not necessarily amazing but it's almost stereotypical to say teenagers write bad. Its like saying every teenage girl worships twilight. Almost.
    But how do we actually get judged properly? I mean everywhere one goes for criticism, all you get is for your age you write amazingly well. WHAT THE HELL? Who asked for that?
    Its almost as offensive as the 1st point of the article. Sometimes being point blank just DOES not work.

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  28. I find the stereotype about teen writing unfair. I thank you for this blog. I have been called naive for thinking my work is publishable, and I read that blog and felt like my entire writing career was done. But you know what? I don't think many thirteen year old can plan an entire plot, and write 30,000 words in less than three weeks, with a life, friends, school, homework, instrument lessons, etc. :D

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    1. True ... I think it's very impressive when teenagers have the time and patience to write. Of course your writing isn't going to be amazing when you're young, and there's always going to be a lot to learn ... but lack of experience isn't the same as "sucking" and I think there's a key difference there. Yes, teen writers should realize that they have a lot of things to learn, but I think telling them their writing "sucks" doesn't have the right connotation to make them feel like they should continue learning and trying. Keep on writing!

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  29. Thank you so much! I'd read Mr Scalzi's post earlier today and although I agreed with what he was trying to put across, some of his phrasing was really disheartening. You've just taken another stance on it and made everything positive :) Thank you!

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  30. I completely agree with everything you said. You can't expect people to read that their writing sucks and not get defensive. Many people don't feel all that happy after someone tells them they suck, and will continue to suck until they become adults. If there's one thing I know about being a teenager, it's that nothing is more annoying than when someone is condescending or degrading.

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  31. I read his post just minutes before I found this, and you have cheered me right up!! :) I mostly agreed with what he said, but he went about it all the wrong way. He should be encouraging writers of the future and getting them excited... not putting them down, telling them their writing sucks and that they are unlikely to ever get published. That's not helpful or healthy to our self esteem!! Thank you for reminding me why it's great to be a teen writer!! xx

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