To learn more about Ch1Con, visit our website! Registration is open, so if you're writer from ages 11-23, you can register now for our annual conference in Chicago, on August 5 this year featuring headliner Kody Keplinger! You can also participate in one of our many online events, and you should consider entering our Poetry and Short Fiction contest for the chance to be published in an e-book anthology and win discounted admission to the conference--submissions are only open for a little while longer at this link!
One of the best things about Ch1Con is being able to share the experience of being a young writer with other young writers. And one of the best parts of community is, of course, shared complaining. So below I’ve listed some things that we all have to complain about, in the form of a listicle (you know, like a cheesy Buzzfeed article). Obviously some of these things are not exclusive to young writers, but we’ve definitely all been here.
Keeping up with school is hard enough--it’s supposed to be treated like a full-time job. And yet, we all have rich lives outside of school. Add the personal project of writing a novel or a collection of stories to that, and you’re going to be super busy and stressed out. Plus, teachers will never take that as an excuse. “Sorry I didn’t do that essay, it’s NaNoWriMo.” “It’s what?” “I’m a writer.” “So why didn’t you write your essay?” “It’s… complicated.”
2) Being told your writing is just a hobby or not practical enough
Any kid or teenager who’s had a dream outside of “get Money Making Job” can probably relate to this. Parents will worry that focusing on your art will ensure a path to unemployment and inevitable early death. Teachers and guidance counselors will recommend picking something “practical” as an aspiration. But writing isn’t inherently impractical! The written word is in every part of society, so it can be applied to many different careers. And besides, having a passion for something doesn’t have to translate into making money through that passion. Just because something’s not a job doesn’t make it a “pointless hobby”… but try telling that to worried adults.
3) Competing with other young writers
When authorities (publishers, teachers, college admissions officers, agents) are wary about taking you seriously, you tend to get very competitive. Is there another young writer in the same class as you? Things just turned into the Hunger Games. Oh, hello, fellow young writer, oh did you write a novel? Well, I wrote two novels, so that’s cute, but I am the Supreme Writer in this Classroom. You try to be happy for your peers who get published, but a little bit of you is terrified that this means you’re booted out of the “Successful Young Writers” club. It’s terrible to be consumed by jealousy and pettiness, but it definitely happens a lot.
4) Getting too full of yourself about writing
It’s easy to get a big head about your writing talents when you’re younger than a lot of other writers. Just being able to write creatively at all in middle school exceeds some people’s expectations. So you’ll often fall into a pattern of being 100% sure that you’re the best writer ever, just because you’re the best writer in your sixth-grade class. It’s nice to have an ego boost, and you probably are a pretty good writer, but it’s always good to keep it in check and be sure to always keep improving.
5) Hating academic writing assignments
Not all academic writing is terrible, but as someone at a pretentious liberal arts college, I can tell you that a lot of academic writing is terrible. This is especially true in middle and high school, when teachers are just beginning to give you essay-writing guidelines--and sometimes they give some seriously bad guidelines. The curriculum treats young writers like they are utterly clueless--the five-paragraph essay model, for example. It can be useful for beginning writers having trouble, but when teachers force everyone to stick to it, it’s exhausting for someone who has a natural talent for writing. Don’t even get me started on when schools assign creative writing and give some of the worst advice I’ve ever heard. It takes years to unlearn all those “fun” synonyms for “said.”
6) Imagination imbalance with experience
The good thing about being a young writer is still having all the imagination leftover from childhood, not quite yet crushed by the void of adult life. The bad thing about being a young writer is not having the experience of adult life. You might want to write a story about outer space, but research is a lot more difficult when you still haven’t gotten the chance to even take AP Physics. Writing a story about a road trip is harder when you haven’t gotten your license yet. It makes for a lot of stories that are filled with great ideas, but also a lot of inaccuracies about the world.
7) Condescending adult writers
Does anyone remember that adult male author who wrote a think-piece about how annoying teenagers are and how they’re ruining books? Oh, wait--there are about forty thousand of those. Adult writers tend not to understand that teenagers are also humans, with vivid imaginations, valid experiences, and serious talent and work ethic. Sometimes, this comes from good intentions--they’re just trying to explain that when you’re a beginning writer, you might not be so great. Of course, a 15-year-old who started writing at 13 has just as much experience as a 30-year-old who started writing at 28, so “beginner writer” might not always be an accurate description. But sometimes, adult writers just feel like picking on young people, and it is infuriating, because they’re always taken more seriously.
8) The “running out of time” problem
Everyone hears the stories about writers who got published for the first time in college, in high school, in middle school, in fourth grade, and in one extraordinary case, a 2-day old baby who published the next Great American Novel, and is also better than you in every imaginable way. That last one was made up, but I can see that happening sometime. When we’re already young writers, there’s pressure to be even more than just a young writer--to be The young writer, the one who pushes boundaries and gets published before graduating high school. You get down on yourself for not finishing your novel right away, because you’re running out of time! But in reality, there are no deadlines, and you’re already ahead of the game by starting your writing skills so early. Still, we can dream.
9) People being overly impressed and not getting it
Everyone has that one aunt or older coworker or parent of a friend who finds out you’re writing a book and nearly loses their mind with shock. How is this possible, they exclaim! A teenager writing a novel! Why, only immortal wizards from the Isle of the Book can accomplish such a task! They insist that just by merit of you being a writer at this young, infant age, you must be “the next J.K. Rowling.” Which always seems to be the phrase they go for. No one ever says you’ll be the next Rick Riordan, maybe, or the next Judy Blume. They always go straight for the billionaire writer whose books became a worldwide phenomenon. No matter how much you tell them that publishing doesn’t work that way, they insist you’re just being modest. It’s nice to get the praise, but it’s so clear they don’t understand anything, so it feels kind of like empty praise.
10) Self-esteem issues
Writers in general suffer from self-esteem issues, but in a world where so much written content is being produced, it’s easy to feel inadequate. Get any two writers together and they’ll start talking about how terrible their books are within a few minutes. It’s difficult to believe in yourself, as a young writer, but just as important as being self-critical is being proud of yourself sometimes. Recognize when you’ve done well! Let yourself accept compliments. It’s good to keep up your self-esteem.
I, too, experienced all of these as a young writer growing up. Great post, Ariel! Thanks so much for being here. And to my readers, come back Tuesday for our next Top Ten post.