Write It Sideways

Are Teenagers Too Young to Write Good Fiction?

Can one be too young to write good fiction?

Here’s a question a reader sent to me recently:

I’m a amateur writer, only new to it for about three years now. I know, it’s cliche that a teenager should even both[er] writing until they have some life experience under the belt, but I just to happen to have that, well, some of that […] I’ve been told over and over again how young people shouldn’t write, due to limited life experience. What is your opinion on the matter?

There are two ways to take this question:

  1. Should teenagers bother writing fiction?
  2. Should teenagers try to get their fiction published?

My first thought upon reading this question was that this reader has misinterpreted the advice he or she has been given. Most likely, the writers or teachers giving the advice didn’t mean teenagers shouldn’t write, but that teenagers don’t usually have enough life experience to write fiction that is publishable and saleable.

In most cases, teenagers—even the ones who’ve lived through some hard knocks—are still on the beginning end of building their life experience.

I think this reader has misinterpreted the advice to mean he or she shouldn’t write, when what was probably meant was “don’t be disappointed if you don’t see the fruits of your labour until you reach adulthood–or perhaps even middle age.”

The New Yorker published a list called 20 Under 40, which features up-and-coming writers under the age of 40. Yes, in this business, 40 is still considered relatively young to be a successful writer.

Still, there are young people who have been published in novel-length fiction; Alexandra Adornetto published her novel The Shadow Thief at age 14, for example.

But, consider that Adornetto’s book is a children’s fantasy, so she was free to create a world of her own, and she was writing for an audience the same age as herself, or younger.

Now, would I want to read a contemporary adult romance written by a 14-year-old? Probably not.

Getting Published is Difficult

If the underlying question is really, “Should teenagers try to get their fiction published?” then let’s forget about novels for a minute and start with publishing a short story.

When I was in high school, my creative writing teacher told us it was extremely difficult to get published, even in short fiction. We all thought she was trying to discourage us from writing, but now I see she was just being honest.

Consider this adult writer who received well over 50 rejection letters before she finally published a short story. You can see each of the letters here on her website.

Remember, too, that most literary magazines take anywhere from 3-9 months or more to respond, and while some now accept simultaneous submissions (where you send your story to a number of different magazines at once), the majority still discourage them.

So, we’re not talking about firing off a hundred form cover letters with your story and just waiting until one of them accepts you. The process is slow and arduous.

To become a published writer takes dedication to keep submitting, even in the face of rejection. And, as many published writers can tell you, there’s little fortune or fame to be had, even after you reach your writing goals.

Tips for Teenage Writers

There is no time limit for getting published. People can get published until they day they keel over of old age. Some even get published posthumously.

With that in mind, consider that your vocabulary and use of grammar naturally grow and become more refined as you get older. You see things from a more mature perspective as you get older. And, very few people become excellent writers overnight, so expect the process to take many years.

Teen writers should view their youth as a time to lay the groundwork for later writing endeavours.

If you’re a young person with a passion for writing, then of course you should write. You should write like crazy! Here are some tips to get you started:

I certainly hope that nobody would discourage young people from putting pen to paper, but sometimes we adults think we’re giving kids a reality check, and it ends up coming across in a discouraging manner.

Teenagers shouldn’t be expected to write the same things adults write. It’s apples to oranges—they can’t compare. A 5-year-old  can write a great story. A 15-year-old can write a great story. You wouldn’t expect a 5-year-old to write a story that compares to a 15-year-old’s, would you? They might be equally good, but good in different ways.

So, my answer to this reader’s question is that nobody is too young to write, or even to write well, but what constitutes ‘writing well’ depends on the age of the writer.

In terms of getting published, the fruits of your labour may not pay off immediately, but that doesn’t mean you should quit. Anyone who has a passion for the written word should seek to know more about the craft and practice often.

Who knows? Maybe all that practice will pay off sooner than you think.

What’s your opinion on teenagers writing? What advice do you have to give to the younger generation?