How Age Matters in the Writing World

16. 12. 18. 15–Those are the ages that S.E. Hinton, Nancy Yi Fan, Christopher Paolini, and Flavia Bujor became published authors. How about another number: 6. That’s how old Leo Hunter was when he landed a 23 book deal last week. A 23 book deal!

What does this insanity mean? Does this mean that the publishing world is open and ready to conquer by young writers? Is age really just a number? Not quite and not exactly. Here are three reasons why:

1. Not Enough Life Experience

Many people would argue that a younger writer isn’t ready to write a book because they have yet to fully understand life, have a deep perspective on a vast array of topics or develop emotionally, simply because they haven’t lived long enough. If I had tried to follow the old adage, “Write what you know,” when I was 12, my stories would have been about recess, Mary Kate and Ashley and foursquare.

Author Melissa de la Cruz said on her website aspiring writers should live a little.

“I think that the reason so many of us YA writers are in our 30s is because at this age, we finally can see clearly, what being a teenager really meant. When you are too close to the experience, you don’t have the objective distance with which to write about it.”

2. Underdeveloped Writing Skills

I think most of us agree that what you write in your senior year of high school will much much better than what you wrote in sixth grade. Why? You will have had more practice. You will know more about grammar. You will have a better vocabulary that doesn’t use tons of adjectives, adverbs, multiple synonyms for “said” and the excessive use of “very.” You will finally know how to correctly spell the word “immediately” without spell check (or was that just me?)

Brian A. Klems, the online community editor at Writer’s Digest, said  even if your writing is better than that of writers the same age as you, “doesn’t necessary mean it’s on par with the best of the best adult writers—and it certainly needs to be to stand any chance of getting published.”

3. Lack of Knowledge of the Publishing Business

Everyone today knows being a writer is not just about the writing part. It’s also doing marketing, promoting, networking–basically being a part-time business person for your books. Understanding how to properly query, prepare a manuscript, craft a resume, build clips, find an agent are all difficult, time consuming tasks. You don’t even have to include your age in your query to get attention. It’s better to be judged by the quality of your work. But if you are underage, you will need your parents to sign contracts with agents and book deals and to go on tours with you. It’s not all fun and games; it’s a huge responsibility and commitment.

The most important thing to remember: don’t feel pressure to have to get published while you’re young just to be famous or be unique or a wunderkind. Yes, teens and even younger get published. If you write a good story and are professional, chances are you will too.  But if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world. As teenage writer Steph Bowe said in her blog, Hey! Teenager of the Year, “It’s not a race.”

So what’s your point?

My point is that I went through the same crazy fantasy that I HAD to get published before age 18. Now that I’m nearing the big 2-0, I realize how superficial I was being. I cared more about impressing my friends, teachers and family members. It’s no wonder I failed. I wasn’t writing honestly. What I needed was to build a real, passionate relationship with my writing and you can’t rush that.

So, if you made it all the way through this post and your heart is not completely crushed, then congratulations and give yourself a pat on the back! You are now a more realistic, mature writer which gives you that much of an edge.

The smartest move to make is to join online writing communities or writers’ groups and send in your work to publications that are geared towards young writers like inkPop, TeenInk or Miss O and Friends. You will find much more acceptance, helpful critiques and encouragement to develop your skills before you take the big plunge and attempt the Great American Novel.


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