10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing

Dear Teenage Writers:

scalzi17coke.jpgHi there. I was once a teenage writer like you (see goofy picture to the right), although that was so long ago that between now and then, I could have been a teenager all over again. Nevertheless, recently I’ve been thinking about offering some thoughts and advice on being a teenage writer, based on my own experiences of being one, and on my experiences of being a teenage writer who kept being a writer when he grew up. So here are some of those thoughts, for your consideration.

I’m going to talk to you about writing as straight as I can; there’s a possibility that some of what I say to you might come off as abrupt and condescending. I apologize in advance for that, but you should know that I sometimes come off as abrupt and condescending toward everyone, i.e., it’s not just you. Also, I hope you don’t mind if I don’t go out of my way to use current slang and such; there’s very little more pathetic than a 36-year-old man dropping slang to prove he’s hip to the kids. I own a minivan and the complete works of Journey; honestly, from the point of view of being cool, I might as well be dead. You might find what I have to say useful anyway. Here we go.

1. The Bad News: Right Now, Your Writing Sucks.

It’s nothing personal. When I was a teenager, my writing sucked, too. If you don’t believe me, check these out: A short story I wrote in high school, and (God help us all) the lyrics to a prog-rock concept album I wrote in my first year of college. Yeah, they suck pretty bad. But at the time, I thought they were pretty good. More to the point, at the time they were also the best I could do. No doubt you are also pounding out stories and songs to the best of your ability… and chances are pretty good that your best, objectively speaking, isn’t all that good.

There are reasons for this.

a) You’re really young. Being young is good for many things, like being flexible, staying up for days with no ill effects, not having saggy bits, and having hair. For writing deathless, original prose, not so much. Most teenagers lack the experiential vocabulary and grammar for writing well; you lack a certain amount of perspective and wisdom, which is gained through time. In short: You haven’t yet developed your true writing voice.

Now, if you’re really good, you can fake perspective and wisdom, and with it a voice, which is almost as good as having the real thing. But usually, sooner or later, it’ll catch up to you and your lack of experience will show in your writing. This will particularly be the case when you have a compelling, emotional story, which would require the sort of control and delivery of your writing that you only get through time. You may simply not have the wherewithal to express your very important story well. Yes, having a great story you’re not equipped to tell pretty much bites. Normally, this is when teens look for help from the writers they admire, which brings us to the next reason your writing sucks:

b) You’re besotted by your influences. If you look at those two pieces I linked you to earlier, they rather heavily bear the mark of people like whom I wanted to write — humorist James Thurber in the case of the short story, and Pink Floyd lyricist Roger Waters in the case of the would-be concept album. If I were to subject you to other writing of mine from the time (and I won’t), you’d see the rather heavy influence of other favorite authors and lyricists, including Robert Heinlein, Dorothy Parker, HL Mencken, P.J. O’Rourke, Bono, Martin Gore and Robert Smith. Why? Because I thought these people wrote really, really well, and I wanted to write like them.

You are not likely to have my influences, but you almost certainly have influences of some sort, who you love and to whom you look as models and teachers. But since you’re young and haven’t gotten your own voice worked out, you’re likely to get swamped by your influences. My concept album lyrics aren’t just bad because they’re the work of an immature writer, but also because it’s clear to anyone who cares to look that I was listening to whole hell of a lot of Pink Floyd when I was writing them. Extracting Roger Waters out of those lyrics would require radical surgery. The patient would not likely survive. That’s bad.

c) When you’re young, it’s easier to be clever than to be good. Now, when you’re older, it’s easier to be clever than to be good too, and you’ll see a lot of writers doing just that, even the good ones. This is because “clever” gets laughs and attention and possibly sex (or at least flirting) with that hot little thing over there who thinks you’re so damn amusing. And none of that ever gets old. So this is not just a teenage problem. Where teenage writers are at a disadvantage is that you’re not always aware when you’re genuinely being good, or merely being clever. It’s that whole lack of experience thing. Yes, the lack of experience thing crops up a whole lot. What are you going to do.

There’s nothing wrong with being clever, and it’s possible to be clever and good at the same time. But you need to know when clever is not always the best solution. Even older writers find this a tough nut to crack, and you’ll find it even more so.

(Update, 6/18/07: I’ve noticed that in the comment thread, quite a few folks seem to stop reading right about here in order to post messages complaining about how I said that teen writing sucks. If you’re about to be one of them, let me suggest two things. One, read the rest of the article first, particularly the next point. Two, read this, which covers most of the major complaints people have had about this assertion. If these do not address your particular complaints, then by all means leave a comment. Otherwise, don’t, because my response will be to refer you to one or the other. Thanks. Now, back to our regularly scheduled entry.)

So those are some of the reasons your writing sucks right now. There may be others. But, now having told you that your writing sucks and why, you’re ready to hear the next point:

2. The Good News: It’s Okay That Your Writing Sucks Right Now.

Because, look. Everyone’s writing sucked when they were teenagers. Why? Simple: Because they were just starting out. Just like you are now.

Writing is tricky thing, because everyone assumes that the act of writing to move and amuse people with words is somehow only slightly more difficult than the act of writing to place words into vaguely coherent sentences. This is like saying that playing professional baseball is only slightly more difficult than hitting a beach ball with a stick. Most everyone can hit a beach ball with a stick, but very few people would think that means they’re ready to play in the World Series. Given that, it’s funny that people think that they’re going to be really excellent writers from the first time they try to tell a story with the written word.

Excepting the freaks of nature, which very few of us are, anything we decide to do takes us time to get good at. It’s just that simple. The figure I hear a lot — and which I agree with, mostly — is that it takes about a decade for people to get truly good at and creative with their craft. The prime example of this is the Beatles; at 17 John Lennon and Paul McCartney were beginning their musical collaboration together, and ten years later they were writing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The “ten years” thing is a guideline, not a rule — some people hit their stride earlier, some later, but the point is that there was work involved. This is even true of the people you’ve never heard of before — scratch most “overnight sensations” in whatever field and you’ll find they did their time outside the spotlight.

Understandably, no one wants to hear that you’ve got to wait the better part of a decade to hit your stride — who doesn’t want to be brilliant now? — but I think that’s looking at it the wrong way. Knowing you’ve got years to grow and learn means you’ve got the time to take risks and explore and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s permission to play with your muse, not stress out if every single thing you bang out is not flat dead brilliant. It’s time to gain the life experience that will feed your writing. It’s time you need to write — and time you need to not write and to give your brain a break. It’s the time you need to learn from your literary influences, and then to tell them to piss off because you’ve got your own voice and it’s not theirs. And it’s the time you need to screw up, make mistakes, learn from them and move on.

The fact that your writing sucks now only means that your writing sucks right now. If you keep working on it it’ll very likely get better… and then comes the day that you write something that really doesn’t suck. You’ll know it when it happens and then you’ll get why all that time banging out stuff that sucked was worth it: because it’s made you a writer who doesn’t suck anymore.

So don’t worry that your writing sucks right now. “Suck” is a correctible phenomenon.

3. You Need to Write Every Day.

I’m sure you’ve got this wired, and I’ll note that for teenagers today, it’s easier to write every day, because there’s an entire social structure revolving around writing that didn’t used to exist: Blogs and blog-like things like MySpace, or whatever thing has replaced MySpace by the time you read this. Writing isn’t the isolating experience it (mostly) was before.

Now, be aware that writing in your blog or journal isn’t the same as writing stories or songs or whatever your writing aspirations might be. Blogging very often takes the form of what writers call “cat vacuuming,” which is to say it’s an activity you do to avoid actual writing. You want to avoid doing too much of that (yes, there’s some irony in me writing this in a blog entry — particularly a blog entry being written when I could be writing part of a book I have due to a publisher).

“Cat vacuuming” though writing in a blog may be, any sort of daily writing will help build the mental muscle memory of sitting down to put your thoughts into words, and that’s not a bad thing. So write something today. Now is good.

4. I’m Not Going to Tell You to Get Good Grades, But, You Know, Try To Pay Attention.

High school is often asinine and lame — I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here — but on the other hand it’s a place where you’re actually encouraged to do two things that are a writer’s bread and butter: to observe and to comment. Provided your teachers are not entirely defeated drones who have bought into the idea that their sole purpose is to detain you in soul-numbing classes so you and your fellow students won’t set fire to the school with them in it, they will actually be pleased if you ask a few pointed questions now and then, and as a result, you might learn something, which is always a nice bonus for your day. School is a resource; use it.

(Also, for the love of all that is holy, please please please pay attention in your English composition class. You should know English language grammar for roughly the same reason you should know road rules before you go driving: It avoids nasty pile-ups later.)

Being writers, I don’t need to tell you that observing your fellow students is also hours and hours of fun, but don’t just look for the purposes of wry mockery. Any jerk can do that. Work on your empathy — try to understand why people are the way they are. This will achieve two things. One, it’s a good exercise for you to help you one day create characters in your writing who are not merely slightly warped versions of you. Two, it’ll make you realize there’s more to life than wry mockery.

5. Read Everything You Can Get Your Hands On — Even the Crap That Bores You.

And here’s why the crap that bores you is worth reading: Because someone sold it, which means the writer did something right. Your job is to figure out what it was and what that means for your own writing. It should also give you hope: If this bad writer can sell a book or magazine article, then you should have no problem, right? Excellent.

This suggestion is actually more difficult to follow than you might think. People like to read what they like, and don’t like to read what they don’t like. That’s fine if all you want to be is a reader, but if you want to be a writer, you don’t have the luxury of just sticking to the stuff that merely entertains you. Writing that’s not working for you is still working for someone; take a look and see if you can find out why. Alternately, pinpoint why it doesn’t work. Fact is, you can learn as much from writers you don’t like as you can from writers you do — and possibly more, because you’re not cutting them slack, like you would your favorite writers.

A corollary to this is: Read writers who are new to you. Don’t just stick to the few writers you know you like. Take a few chances. You don’t have to spend money to do this: Most towns have this wonderful thing called a library. We’re talking free reading here, and the publishing industry won’t crack down on you for it. Heck, we like it when you visit the library.

6. You Should Do Something Else With Your Life Than Just Write.

There are practical and philosophical reasons for this. The practical reason: Dude, writers make almost nothing most of the time. Chances are, you’re going to have a day job to support your writing habit, at least at first. So you want to be able to get a day job that doesn’t involve asking people if they want fries with that. Just something to keep in mind.

The philosophical reason: the writer who only writes isn’t actually experiencing much of life; his or her writing is going to feel inauthentic because it won’t reflect reality. You want to get actual life experience outside of being a writer, otherwise your first novel will be like every other first novel out there, which revolves around a young writer trying to figure out his life, and then sitting down to write about it. People who write books where the main character is a young, questioning writer should be shot out of a cannon into a pit filled with leeches. Don’t make us do that to you.

“Doing something else with your life,” incidentally, also includes your college major. There are people who would advise you to be English majors and then go after an MFA, but I’m not one of them (I’m a philosophy major myself — useless but interesting). The more things you know about, the more you’re able to incorporate your wide range of knowledge into your work, which means you’ll be at a competitive advantage to other writers (this will matter). You might worry that all those English majors and MFAs are learning something you really need to know, but you know what? As long as you’re writing (and reading) regularly and seriously, you’ll be fine. Writing is a practical skill as much as or even more than it is an area of study.

Now, I’m sure many of those English majors and MFAs might disagree with me, but I’ve got ten books and fifteen years of being a professional writer backing me up, so I feel pretty comfortable with my position on this.

7. Try to Learn a Little About the Publishing Industry.

If you’re going to be a writer for a living (or, if not for a living, at least to make a little money here or there), you’re going to have to sell your work, and if you’re going to sell your work, you should learn a little how the business of writing works. The more you know how the publishing industry works, the more you’ll realize how and why particular books sell and others don’t, and also what you need to do to sell your work to the right people.

This is not to say that at this point you should let this information guide you in what you write — at this point you should write what interests you, not what you think is going to make you money one day, if for no other reason that the publishing industry, like any industry, has its fads and trends. What’s going on now isn’t going to be what’s going on when you’re ready to publish. But there’s nothing wrong about knowing a little bit about the business fundamentals of the industry, if you can stomach them.

If you think you’re going to write in a specific genre (science fiction or mystery or whatever) why not learn a little about that field, too? A good place to start is by checking out author blogs, because authors are always blathering on about crap like that. Trust me. Also (quite obviously), authors are prone to offer unsolicited advice to new writers on their sites, because it makes us feel all mature and established to bloviate on the subject. And sometimes our advice is even useful.

There’s no reason to be obsessive about acquiring knowledge of the industry at this early age, but it doesn’t hurt to know; it’ll be one less thing you have to ramp up on when you’re ready to start putting stuff out there. Which reminds me:

8. Be Ready For Rejection.

It’s very likely the the first few years that you submit material to publishers and editors, or query them for articles, your work and queries are going to come back to you unbought. Why? Because that’s just how it is. I’ll give you an example: Recently I edited a science fiction magazine. For the issue of the magazine I edited, I had between 400 and 500 submissions. From those, there were about 40 I thought were good enough to buy. And of those, I bought 18. That’s a 95.5% rejection rate, and an over 50% rejection rate of stuff I wanted to buy, but couldn’t because I didn’t have the space (or the money, because I had a budget, too). Now, as it happens, for this magazine I also managed to give first sales to four writers because I wanted to make a point of finding new writers — but I imagine if you asked them how long they’d been submitting work before that sale, you’d find most of them had been doing it for a while.

There are things to know about rejection, the first of which is that it’s not about you, it’s about the work. The second is that there are any number of reasons why something gets rejected, not all of them having to do with the piece being bad — remember that I rejected a bunch of pieces I wanted to buy but couldn’t. The third is that just because a piece was rejected one place doesn’t mean it won’t get accepted somewhere else. I know that at least a couple of pieces that I rejected have since been bought at other places.

Rejection sucks, and there’s no way to get around that fact. But if you’re smart, when you start submitting you’ll consider pieces that are rejected simply as ready to go on to the next place. Keep writing and submitting.

(Which brings up the question: If you have pieces now that you want to submit, should you? Well, I’m sure submissions editors everywhere will hate me for saying this, but, sure, why not? If nothing else it’ll get you used to the rejection process, and there’s always a chance that if it is good, someone might buy it. But, on behalf of the submissions editors, I implore you not to submit unless you really think the work in question is the best you can do.)

9. Start Getting Published Now — Yes, That Means the School Newspaper.

I know, I know. But, look, you’re going to have to deal with editors sooner or later. And you know how many editors in the real world were editors of their school newspapers? A whole lot of them. Lots of writers were, too (I was editor-in-chief of both my high school and college newspaper, so that makes me a two-time loser). Basically, as a writer you’ll never be rid of these guys, so you might as well learn how they work. But also, and to be blunt, school newspapers may be piddly, but they give you clips — examples of your writing you can show to others. You can take those clips to your tiny local newspaper and maybe get a few small writing assignments there — and then you’re professionally published. And then you can take those and use them to get more serious gigs over time, and just keep trading up.

You can also also use those high school clips to help you get on your college paper, and when you’re in college, working at the college newspaper can be very useful. I used my college newspaper clips to freelance with the local indie papers in town and also with one of the major metropolitan newspapers… and those clips help me get my first job out of college, as a movie critic at a pretty large newspaper. And all of that started doing little articles for my high school newspaper, the Blue & Gold.

What does this teach us? First, that it can be worth it to deal with the high school newspaper editor, even if he or she is an insufferable dweeb, and second, that all the writing you do can matter, and help you to continue on your writing career.

10. Work on Your Zen.

Being a writer isn’t easy; it’s a lot of mental effort for often not a lot of financial reward. It takes a lot of time to get good at it — and even when you are good at it, you’ll find there’s still more you have to learn, and things you have to deal with, in order to keep going in the field. It takes a measure of patience and serenity to keep from completely losing it much of the time, and, alas, “patience” and “serenity” are two things teenagers are not known to have in great quantities (to be fair, adults aren’t much better with this). Despite that, you’ll find as a writer that there is a great advantage in keeping your head, being smart and being practical, even when everyone around you is entirely losing their minds. It helps you see things others don’t, which is an advantage in your writing, and also in the workaday aspect of being a writer.

So: Relax. Spend your time learning, observing, writing, and preparing. Don’t worry about writing the Great American Novel by age 25; don’t worry about being the Greatest Writer Ever; don’t worry about winning the Pulitzer. Focus on your writing and getting better at it. As they say, luck favors the prepared. When the moment comes, if your skills are there, you’ll be ready to take advantage of it and to become the writer you’ve been hoping you would be. Your job now is to get yourself ready for the moment.

You’ve got the time to do it. Take it.

Update: Hey, teens — before you rattle off what are some of the now standard complaints about the entry above, why not check out the follow up entry, which has me addressing some of those complaints. It’ll save you time in writing out your complaint, and save me time having to point you at the piece later. Thanks!

Update 2: A number of you have taken to asking me to read your work, or sending it unsolicited for me to read. I can’t do that, sorry. Here’s a longer explanation why.

639 Comments on “10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing”

  1. Seems as though something’s missing in this phrase: “their sole purpose is solely to you in one-hour time blocks” back in point four.

    But other than that one nit, nice article.

  2. I fixed it even as you were commenting. I often post and then go through with corrections.

  3. Now, of course, for the sixty-four dollar question: do you know whether or not any sizable portion of your readership are, in fact, teenagers?

    I mean, this is all great stuff, if they take the time to read it, but will they even know it’s here?

  4. Jas:

    “I mean, this is all great stuff, if they take the time to read it, but will they even know it’s here?”

    In my experience the writing stuff gets around.

  5. “Doing something else with your life,” incidentally, also includes your college major. There are people who would advise you to be English majors and then go after an MFA, but I’m not one of them (I’m a philosophy major myself — useless but interesting). The more things you know about, the more you’re able to incorporate your wide range of knowledge into your work, which means you’ll be at a competitive advantage to other writers (this will matter). You might worry that all those English majors and MFAs are learning something you really need to know, but you know what? As long as you’re writing (and reading) regularly and seriously, you’ll be fine. Writing is a practical skill as much as or even more than it is an area of study.

    Now, I’m sure many of those English majors and MFAs might disagree with me,

    not me. i majored in creative writing as an undergrad and i just got my mfa a few months ago. and you are absolutely, 110% correct. do ANYTHING before you study creative writing as an undergrad. you can minor in it, or take cw classes for your electives if you want, but study something OF SUBSTANCE.

    and the mfa? DO NOT GO AND DO IT RIGHT AFTER YOU GRADUATE. seriously. recent college grads are inexperienced kids with nothing to write and no voice — or at least, all the ones in my mfa program were, and the dropout rate among them was astonishing.

    wait at least 5 years, actually, no, wait AT LEAST ten years after graduating before getting your mfa. make sure you visit four continents, get food poisoning from street food, work five different (types of) jobs, fall madly in love and get your heart broken, have your own pet (not a family pet) and your own vehicle (not one your folks bought for you) and your own apartment (not shared) at least once, become close friends with and have at least one huge fight with someone who is completely unlike you culturally and race and class-wise, and make SURE that you change your opinion on at least one major issue — BEFORE you go back to get your mfa.

    seriously. i’m glad i did.

  6. I agree with Claire about waiting and/or choosing another path…most MFAs I know would, also.

    But, I can honestly say I would have been a lot less motivated in my other college classes if I didn’t have terrific writing teachers.

    Something I’d add to John’s list, if it were mine: Treasure good mentors, if you’re lucky enough to have them. They won’t be around forever.

  7. (I was editor-in-chief of both my high school and college newspaper, so that makes me a two-time loser).

    Me too.

  8. “On the TV, a young woman jiggled into the camera.”

    Young and flexible, indeed.

    Graduate school sucks. For a year and a half I killed time, wishing I were out in the real grown-up world doing real grown-up things, while I sat at a table with a half-dozen unemployed people, most of whom had not bathed to show their solidarity with the proletariat, listening to them drone on about an obscure book badly translated from French with a title like “Postmodern Structrual Destructuralism: A Structural Postmodernist Deconstruction”.


    So if my 25 year-old self could speak to my 15 year-old self, I would say “Self, I suggest you learn to do something practical, such as plumbing, or UNIX. That way, you can work during the day and write at night. Also, in 2002, your girlfriend, a total Star Wars fanatic, will ask what you thought of ‘Attack of the Clones’, claiming that she won’t get upset if you share your honest opinion. Do NOT believe her.”

  9. I once read part of a book called something like “The Flower Of Genius” which was a collection of juvenalia by major writers. I had to stop reading it because it was so awful. Now keep in mind that this wasn’t the juvenalia of one major writer, but a selection of the best juvenalia of many, many major writers. I shudder to think what was not included.
    The only thing I can recall really liking by a teenaged writer is “The Neon Bible,” a short novel that John Kennedy Toole — author of “A Confederacy Of Dunces” — wrote when he was 16.

    I think Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” in her late teens or very early 20s, so maybe that’s another.

  10. Jaye:

    “Me too.”

    Odldly, you also apparently have the same birthday as I do as well. Who knows what else we have in common?

  11. I was going to raise my hand for the how-many-teenage-writers-are-going-to-read-this count in Jas’s comment, but then remembered that I have now hit the ripe age of 20 and *clearly* am far past this advice.


    Good advice — I’m reading, bookmarking, taking to heart.

  12. I’m a teen, I’m a writer (of sorts), I have a blog, I saw and read this list here at Whatever. Check, check, check, check. Entertaining read, as well as useful. You even reminded me to renew my library books online!
    And if you think looking back as an adult on the crap you wrote as a teen is fun, try looking back as a teen on the crap you wrote in elementary school. Trust me, it’s hilarious.

  13. Wish I’d read this when I was in high school. (Wish there had been an internet then, too!)
    As a writer who makes a significant living writing nonfiction articles, blog entries, etc., do you think that your path outlined above (stepping stones from the local rag on up to a big metro paper) is a viable path for the still-aspiring adult writer?

  14. Yes, if you’re talking about freelancing. It’s rather more difficult to get a staff position if you’re an adult, just starting out.

  15. Bang on, I’d say, and yeah, the writing stuff tends to get around. I’ll see about a jillion links to this on my friends list when I wake up in the morning, I imagine, and it’ll spread through the writing blogs like…well, all the similes I’m coming up with are diseases right now.

    And dude, nobody is ever going to read the crap I wrote in high school. I don’t (mostly) write crap anymore. At least, I sold you a story! So that says something, anyway.

  16. Ann:

    “it’ll spread through the writing blogs like…well, all the similes I’m coming up with are diseases right now.”

    It’ll spread like scabies!

    Yeah, that’s not such a great metaphor, I think.

  17. The first one off my fingers was “like pinkeye at a toddler playdate!” And then I was stuck in that rut.

    I’d rather have pinkeye than scabies…

  18. As soon as they work out the kinks on them time machines, John, I’m copying this piece onto a 5 1/4-inch floppy disk and sending it back to my 18-year-old self. Priceless, just priceless.

    Wonder how Christopher Paolini would react to this. Wasn’t he 15 when he wrote Eragon?

  19. I’ll give this to my teenage son, that’s how the teenagers will get it.

    I think I’ll save it for the 11 year old, though.

  20. Samuel R. Delany, The Jewels Of Aptor, age 19 IIRC. Nowhere near as good as he later got, but highly enjoyable apart from the occasional clank.

  21. Nice one.

    Christopher Paolini did a competent job crafting a readable adventure — no doubt with much help from dutiful editors — in his first book. But the phrase “besotted by your influences” applies like you wouldn’t believe.

    I understand that his success has produced an ego the size of Gondor. Based on that and his bank balance, I imagine he’d react to this with indifference.

  22. I’m 19, so technically just young enough for this to apply. I feel kind of glad knowing that I’m already on the right path (ie doing a bunch of things that you recommend, John, in particular #4 and #6-#9)!

    I also know what you mean by too closely hewing to one’s inspirations — I deliberately aped a bunch of Zelazny phrasings in the last story that I wrote, plus the various things that inspired the plot/protagonist/themes/etc. (That said, I hope I created something more than the sum of the parts!)

  23. Out of curiosity, where did you pick up the phrase “cat vacuuming”? As far as I know it originated on the Usenet group rec.arts.sf.composition (not from whole cloth, to be sure) and as far as I know you don’t read the group. So you must have heard it from someone who does (or someone who heard it from someone who does or….)

  24. I wish someone had written this and showed it to Paolini before he did his teenage writing. Or at least to the folks who saw fit to publish his stuff.

  25. Tim Walters:

    “Samuel R. Delany, The Jewels Of Aptor, age 19 IIRC. Nowhere near as good as he later got, but highly enjoyable apart from the occasional clank.”

    I’m comfortable classifying Delany as a freak of nature (in the best sense, of course).


    “I wish someone had written this and showed it to Paolini before he did his teenage writing.”

    Let’s not take it out on Paolini that someone decided to give him a lot of money at a young age. The act has significance for him and his writing, for better or worse, but if you (speaking generically) had written a novel when you were fifteen and someone offered you a half million dollars for it, you’d take it, too, and then think pretty well of yourself afterward.

  26. I’ve kept pretty much everything I’ve ever wrote, and recently while cleaning out a closet I came across my poetry journal from 7th-9th grade.

    Of course at the time I thought that I was a brilliant literary mind on the cusp of greatness. In reality? Comedy GOLD, people.

    It’s SO HORRIBLE. I’m laughing as I type this. I can’t believe I proudly showed it to people. Repeatedly. A poem of mine was “published” in some vanity publication, and I bought a framed copy for my wall. I don’t have to tell you that it’s pretty bad. I was maybe 13, writing about the pain of romantic love using weather as a metaphor. Wind, most notably.

    I can totally hear you guys laughing – as you rightly should be.

  27. I’ve reached the grand old age of 29. Every time I get hung up on how bad my writing seems to be, I go into my dresser, or my trunk (yes, there are writers out there who really do keep stuff in a trunk), and pull out something I wrote in high school.

    Some of it makes me wince so hard I pull half the muscles in my face. The rest makes me laugh so hard I start crying.

    I may not be a very good writer now, but at least it’s comforting to note how much worse I was ten years ago.

  28. I was about to make a comment about an incident where I wrote some songs which, after a trip to the pub, I then played and sang for my then partner’s friend who was visiting us at the time. The upshot was that the friend never visited us again.

    Then I realised that I was aged 23 when I did that. I guess some things don’t always get better with time……

  29. I bet whoever decided that vacuuming a cat was a better idea than writing quickly got over that notion once they retrieved the various parts of their face from all over the domicile. Although, I think the only thing funnier than someone with a laptop at a coffee shop pretending to write would be if the same person let out a sigh of exasperation, closed the laptop and then took out a cat and a dustbuster.

  30. I wish someone had given me advice like this some fifteen years ago, when I wanted to write but lacked the confidence. I could have had some very productive years between then and now. (I won’t go into the advice I got instead, which would make this post sound too much like a whine.)

    Great article. I’m glad I discovered your site (even if it was because of the whole Lori Jareo thing).

  31. Also write every day, don’t be afraid to take chances and do the weird, be merciless in cutting the cliche phrases. Read widely. Get other people to look at your work but also understand they approach it with a particular bias. Finally have fun.

    (author of Garbage Head)

  32. One might also add: don’t steal stuff. Better to wait until you’re ready to write it yourself. There’s plenty of time.

    Very good point about influences. The older you get, the more influences you have, so at least their footprints aren’t as obvious.

  33. I’d also add, at least for non-fiction writers, that I personally make a point at least once a year to re-read George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.”

  34. So cat vacuuming is some sort of private ritual and we were watching it on the net? Does that make it some kind of cat pr0n?

    Oh great. Do I have to go to confession now for watching it???!!??

  35. I am secretly dreaming of becoming a writer. I think the same advice can apply for me and I am 42.

  36. If you ask me, these words of advice are just as good for older writers. Well, most of ’em. The part about not being a wiseguy in class?

    Didn’t take.

  37. You are not likely to have my influences, but you almost certainly have influences of some sort, who you love and to whom you look as models and teachers.

    In English, “who” has replaced “whom” in objective case, but there remains a formal/informal register clash rule : “to whom” is required.

    The reason is that fronting the preposition is formal register, and then using “who” for “whom” is forbidden as informal register.

    The interesting thing is that the two rules close together clash. What about

    “You are not likely to have my influences, but you almost certainly have influences of some sort, who you love and who you look to as models and teachers.”

    eliminating the fronting for the preposition

  38. Hmm, a pretty interesting article, mostly for the general tone (the specifics [(1) write a lot, (2) stay in school, (3) don’t despair] seem pretty vanilla). I will pass this link on to my 13-year-old, who has dreams of writing fantasy fiction.

    I would add one tiny wrinkle from my own experience: be true to your own voice, however your betters (or “betters”) might advise you. When I was in college I minored in writing (majored in chemistry, so I have an actual high-paying job now). I wrote tons of short stories, but my instructor harshly criticized them. In part this discouraged me from ever trying to publish a story.

    About 20 years later, I happened to unearth the stories in my garage while moving, and read them through. With the perspective of middle-age, I realized that, in fact, they were pretty good. I should have sent one or two off, just to see what happened. What I also realized, again with the understanding of people derived from another two decades of living, is that my instructor just didn’t like me or my style. She was a refugee from post-war Eastern Europe, and she thought anything that didn’t take place in a concentration camp, or involve post-nuclear-holocaust cannibalism, or incestuous gang rape, or some gut-wrenching fearsome existential catastrophe, was just a waste of time.

    I didn’t want to write about that stuff. I just wanted to write about small stuff, slices of life, so to speak, capture and convey a feeling most of us had had (which rules out trying to convey the moment of panic when you realize the stuff coming out of the “shower” heads is not water).

    Alas, being young, I thought she knew great writing better than I, and I was just boring and picayune. Having read many great novels since revolving around ordinary life (Connell’s two “Bridge” novels jump to mind), I can now say this is nonsense. Indeed, big theme writing can be tiring and tiresome when you just want a nice bit of story to contemplate before bed. (Not to mention being grotesquely prententious when a 20-year-old author lectures his 45-year-old audience about The Meaning Of Life.)

    So, my small additional advice is, stay true to what you want to write about. It can be anything, even “boring” and “mundane” stuff. Just try to write about it well — you can write about “ordinary” stuff in extraordinary and fascinating ways — and try to write in a way that really connects to people, puts into words feelings they have, makes them think “Yeah! That’s how it felt/feels/would feel, if I could only have found the words.” Then it will succeed. Or at least, I’d say it has as much chance as the grand sweep of history stuff to succeed.

  39. Ron Hardin:

    “The interesting thing is that the two rules close together clash.”

    Eh. I like it just fine, which is why I wrote it that way.

    Meryl Yourish:

    “The part about not being a wiseguy in class? Didn’t take.”

    It never does.

    I don’t have problems with people being wiseguys, mind you. They should just make sure it’s not the only tool in the toolbox, is all.


    Indeed. In the one Creative Writing class I took in college, my professor told us we couldn’t write science fiction, because he didn’t think it was “Real” writing. Needless to say, I sent him a copy of Old Man’s War when it came out. Ha! Ha! I say!

  40. I read this with great interest as a copywriter and sometime-screenwriter. I could almost imagine it as a lecture given to a high school English class. Which makes me think you penned/typed it to impart pearls of wisdom. Underlying that is the everpresent human need to pass down knowledge and the artist’s desire to stay relevant beyond his/her mortality to future generations. No value judgments here, just observations. Though I do think you’ve provided the equivalent of a valuable public service to young writers–and college students. One of my profs said the ability to write professionally is an underrated and overlooked skill that can lead to gainful employment.

    You’re exactly right about “your Zen.” I made so many of those write-a-novel-by-age __ goals that I set myself up for failure. Kids need to remove the mile markers and concentrate on the journey.

  41. May I add, as a disenchanted sometime teenage writer, that poetry by teenagers is the epitome of “cat vacuuming?” (Mine was horrible, looking back.) Stay away from it, and focus on short stories or essays.

  42. Aw, come on… writing bad teenage poetry is like a rite of passage! Just, you know, in moderation… and preferably left out of the public aye altogether…

  43. Man, I wish someone had said all this to me when I was a teenager who wanted to be a writer. Thank you for saying it now, while I’m still (in my mid 50’s) young enough to hear it!

  44. Thief:

    Yeah, I’m with Dan on this one — teenage poetry is something you just gotta go through. And, also, of course, real poets gotta start somewhere.

  45. Great advice here, especially about getting a regular job, especially a job where you write for a living. Nothing makes a good writer quite like actually doing it.

    Me, I didn’t pursue work in journalism because I “didn’t want to write that stuff.” Big mistake.

    My only addition to this list: Learn to touch type.

  46. I’m trying to work out whether I can feed this to my college students next year… I think the answer is “no.” Because, you know, even the freshman aren’t high school students anymore and I think they’d be particularly offended at the implication they should be compared to them.

    Oh, and BTW, getting an English degree and an MFA & learning about life aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s what double majors are for. (granted, this only works if you think learning anything at college counts as learning about life)

  47. Oh, and I have to agree, bad teenage poetry is practically inevitable for any kind of future writer.

    Plus, sometimes it gets you some action with that hot also-teenage girl you wrote it about, who doesn’t have any idea how bad it is and with whom you would otherwise have had zero chance. Ahhh, memories.

  48. When I was in the tenth grade, I wrote a “book” with a friend. We would trade off the story every 3 or 4 pages or so. The framework was a typical romance-adventure. Being slightly competative friends, it devolved into a writing competition. I didn’t like her male lead, so I wrote my own and they proceeded to compete for the affection of the female lead. I think I won, since mine ended up with the girl and we had to write a consolation prize girl for the other guy. I still go back to it every once in a while for a laugh and a cringe.
    The nice thing about that was that when we showed our English teacher, she told me that I should pursue writing. It was the first real encouragement I can remember and the first time I ever considered writing as a profession. The fact that she could encourage me based on that cliche-filled piece of dreck makes me admire that teacher all the more. Truely treasure your mentors.

    As usual, thanks for bestowing your wisdom upon us, oh great and powerful Scalzi.

  49. regarding a college major: most of my favorite authors have technical degress. Now, I’m probably biased in some way since I studied electrical engineering (just remember in every geek there’s a double E), but it’d be nice if more sci-fi writers know more than a smattering of elementary math and physics.

  50. (Also, for the love of all that is holy, please please please pay attention in your English composition class.

    The first assignment for any aspiring writer should be to write the above sentence on the whiteboard a hundred times. It never ceases to amaze me, whether I’m reading IM’s, message board or blog posts, or crafted online articles, how many people don’t know basic english grammar.

    One problem is that schools don’t TEACH english grammar any more. I was lucky to go to a private school with separate grammar and literature classes all through middle school. We spent a full semester on nothing but the eight parts of speech. Back then, I could diagram a sentence with half my brain tied behind my back. And even though I couldn’t do that now, I can still pick phrases out of a sentence and know what subject needs to agree with what verb. Another pet peeve of mine: people who don’t know the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” The odd typo in an IM or blog is one thing, but even in those settings, it’s hard to take someone seriously when their writing makes it obvious that they don’t know the proper word.

    A lot of writers (especially young ones) seem to think that the ideas they express render proper grammar less important. First of all, proper grammar is a tool that allows you to more clearly express those ideas. Secondly, how you write says a lot about you, and whether you think it’s fair or not, people will judge the worthiness of your ideas in part on how you write. If you write like an uneducated buffoon, then people will assume that your ideas are those of an uneducated buffoon.

  51. Great post, John. It so happens I’m teaching the Sage Hill Teen Writing Experience this summer in Regina, Saskatchewan–it’s a week-long writing camp. May I make copies to distribute to my teen wannabees?

  52. I’ll claim no expertise as a writer,
    since I’m a retired mechanical engineer.

    However, my son makes a living writing cartoon stories. Sometimes free-lance, sometimes “employed”.

    He set the goal of being a film cartoonist in the third grade. He was a TERRIBLE student. He went direct from high school to Hollywood, and was an “instant” eight year success.

    He quickly shifted from drawing and writing to writing. The joke IS the cartoon, not the drawing. And, lately, sometimes story editing. Cartoon editors ARE the cliche of riding herd on “writer cats”. Being an editor does give your story line a bit more consideration during the infighting.

    And, best of all, he keeps a framed oil painting he did of our family. Mother, father, brother, sister. Done when he was in the sixth grade, with our 1970’s hair and THE clothes. And, his painting technique is TERRIBLE. It’s horribly hilarious in every way. And, it’s always prominently displayed on his office wall.

    He says it keeps him “grounded”.

  53. *shudders* Please don’t encourage teenage poets. I don’t care if listening to that trash is a rite of passage for them, I’m the girl who has got to listen to the love-sick dreck, and I don’t want to.

  54. Obvious points to young writers made in tediously long-winded fashion. Didn’t you learn in your 36 years to avoid filler words? I hope this isn’t representative of your writing.

    Good point about reading crap that sold. I’ll look for your books at the library.

  55. This reminded me of something my eldest brother (now a college teacher of English) said to me years ago, apropos of child prodigies – “You know why none of them are prodigies in the humanities? Because you have to be _human_ to excel in the humanities, and that takes time. Years. Some people, it takes more years than they’ve got to live.”
    Cynical? Maybe. Realistic? You bet.

    On a more personal note, many years ago (as I was cleaning up preparatory to going away to college) I discovered a bit of juvenilia I’d done shortly after being given my first electric typewriter. It was a comic Edgar Allan Poe pastiche, if you can imagine such a thing, and went beyond dreadful into some strange alternate universe. No plot, no characterization, no beginning or end, just words arranged in a particular order.

  56. >[Is this a valid path for adult writers too?]

    >”Yes, if you’re talking about freelancing. It’s >rather more difficult to get a staff position if >you’re an adult, just starting out.”

    Interesting. Why do you think that is?

  57. Great advice, John.

    I’d echo that you need to steel yourself for the possibility of years of rejection and hardship.

    Also, in college, I remember someone quoting Richard Wilbur, the Poet Laureate, that “You should major in anything other than writing. And take classes on as many different subjects as possible.” It’s all research.

    The thing about something like Beagle writing A Fine and Private Place at 19–you can write a masterpiece that young, but you won’t really know how you did it, and you probably won’t be able to replicate it until much later.


  58. “Postmodern Structural Destructuralism: A Structural Postmodernist Deconstruction”

    Geez, is that sucker still around? I thought they’d have invented some new theories by now.

    But if you want to have some real good fun, try Kristeva’s book about Intertextuality. ;)

  59. My dear wife officially thinks you are cool, based entirely on your owning the complete works of Journey. But she’s a bit Neal Schon-biased that way. (Thank God he’s married, that’s all I’m saying.)

    But hey, you’re in good company. There’s also that Ryan kid from The OC and JD from Scrubs.

  60. I’m a teenade writer (and poet). And I completely and utterly suck. Thank you SO much. My mom’s a writer too, and I read the stuff she wrote, and I wonder how she got like that. Even though she’s told me most of this stuff before, it’s good to hear it from someone who is not your mother. I’m going to share this with a friend, who also writes (better than I do) who is bummed because she wants to be as good as a “…real writer, not just ‘good for a teenager'”

  61. As a teen writer I appreciate the advice. I’ve noticed several of the things mentioned in my own writing, particularly experience, and my lack of it. Many times when writing I’ve had to stop because I honestly didn’t know how to portray the scene realistically and meaningful.

    I think that this links strongly with the comments on choosing a major. I would like nothing more than to be a professional writer, but I don’t know if my writing is ever going to be anywhere near publishable quality. It would be nice if I could do it, but I’m not counting on it. I’m going to be starting college next year and am planning to major in Political Science of Economics, or maybe both if I’m feeling suicidal. I’m hoping to concetrate some time on creative writing, and I should be able to with the college’s unusual structure, but I’m definatly not going to major in it. I think that the things I will learn elsewhere will be more valuable than more English classes in sparking ideas.

    A suggestion to all aspiring high school writers: take the most advanced courses you can. I know I’m hardly speaking from a position of authority on this, but it has really helped me. I’ve learned more in my advanced English and Government classes than the rest of my classes combined. Partially because the material is so much more interesting and complex, but also because the other students are intelligent and motivated. Believe me, it’s contagious. The group discussions that range across a astounding array of topics fosters more knowledge aquisition and true understanding than any number of standard classes where you can pretty much read the chapter and ace the test.

    Incidently, I found the link to this on the Black Library forums, so a lot of young writers will probably find this through that link.


  62. You have many good ideas, and I thank you for sharing them. I am a teen writer myself, and I find it very helpful, and agree on several points, especially that of treasuring your mentors. I have always been closer to my teachers than fellow students, and have found that both helpful in the social aspects of high school and in my writing. The good ones, at least, are willing to take a break from grading papers and looking over your work, and that both helps prod your writing along and helps you to deal with critism.

    Ah, the humbling words of the first point. My pride whines prefusely at that, but as I can look back at the work I did even just a year ago and cringe, I must agree.

    Please do not feel you need to apologize for being brash, as I know at least one of my friends has been endeared to you specifically because of the snark.

  63. I’ll never forget the first time I heard this little pearl of blue-collar wisdom; “Different strokes for different folks.”

    It was 1968, I was standing on the unloading dock of a New Haven sausage maker, delivering pork butts butchered in the South Bronx. The receiver, big, unshaven, and wearing a long, blood-splattered white coat – was recounting some odd-ball, local news story, about a wanna-be axe murderer who once worked at his plant. With a sense of perfect timing as I stacked the last box on the last pallet, he concluded; “Ya know, kid, different strokes for different folks.”

    I thought about that line all the way back to the Bronx. I even told the gung-ho trooper who pulled me over on Route 95; “Different speeds for different truckers,” I said – he let me go with a laughing… warning.

    Now, today, I read for the very first time the term “cat vacuuming.”

    We should get together more often.

  64. I was taught in high school expository writing to try writing in great detail about mundane tasks. It’s dull but it really cleans up your style and can serve you well if you’re writing for technical publications or scientific journals.

    Also, try downloading trial depositions and testimony from the public record. You’ll discover how people really talk and how, occasionally, entertaining written conversations can be. Everyone has a story and they come out in the funniest ways under oath.

    Write at night, read in the morning. You’ll often be embarrassed by what you wrote the night before instead of what your wrote 20 years ago.

  65. I’m almost 23, just graduated from college four months ago and have been working at writing. It’s been slow getting started, but I think I have a solid foundation for a first chapter.

    Now, my question is, how hard is it to get published if you are writing in a non-conventional way? The stuff I am writing is religion-inspired science fiction, but would freak out the average Left Behind fan because it bears more resemblance to Babylon 5, Starship Troopers and things like that. Hell, the devil is even portrayed as being like Che Guevara, a radical revolutionary, not the stereotyped horned beast who just makes a ham-handed grab for power.

    See, the thing is that as I have written more and more, my blog readers, friends and family have said that it has become very good, but I am worried about what to do with publishing if I can get there. I refuse to read books like Left Behind and prefer to get inspiration from Tolkein, Lewis, Heinlein and you. I have a more recent sample of my ability to create imagery here.

    Speaking of which, I just finished the Ghost Brigades a few days ago. It was well worth the nearly $20 I paid for the hard back. Pleaaaaassssse tell me there is going to be a third book.

  66. MikeT: religious-inspired science fiction? May I suggest that you try to get in touch with Orson Scott Card? He would probably have some of the insight you’re looking for.

  67. “And if you think looking back as an adult on the crap you wrote as a teen is fun, try looking back as a teen on the crap you wrote in elementary school. Trust me, it’s hilarious.”

    It is a testament to how quickly even teenage writers improve that I can look back at stuff I wrote when I was thirteen and fourteen (I’m fifteen now) and want to tear the paper up before anyone ever sees it again.

    You’ve now reminded me how disgustingly arrogant I’ve been in the past, and followed that up by reminding me that that’s pretty common, and telling me how to get past it. This post is really great–my Mom sent it to me, and now I’m going to post the link to a forum on the writing website I’m on. Thanks for this.


  68. As a nearly-out-of-my-teens writer, I agree and disagree. I agree because a lot of this is true; I disagree because some of it isn’t, and, as a whole, it seems to apply to writers in general–not just teen writers. It’s just that teen writers are more visible, because the older ones have resigned themselves to failure.

    I’ve seen this formulaic advice over and over again. “Write every day,” in particular, I hear everywhere. I don’t agree with it. Sometimes writing every day is necessary, and sometimes it’s the worst possible thing you can do. Writing is organic–it can’t always be constrained to a pattern. Not to best effect, anyway. I think that our attempts to do so–to put writing into a predictable pattern–is an attempt to ignore the fact that we do not and never will understand creativity–that creativity is this enormous, often terrifying, utterly unpredictable thing.

    I’m also leery of any attempt to classify teenagers as a single group. I’m coming from a kind of strange place: I’ve been in writing workshops continuously for six years. (They have, though some divine accident, been uncommonly good ones–for the most part.) I’ve frequently been referred to as a child prodigy or a genius (designations that, although they plump up my ego a good bit, I don’t really buy into). Of course I still lack for experience–I feel this most acutely. But the thing is, writing advice aimed at teenagers often misses me completely–as it does a number of other teenagers I know.

    And if you’re going to say that teenage writing sucks, well, sure. So does the vast majority of writing that emerges from MFA programs. So does the vast majority of published writing, for that matter. But sometimes, you know, it doesn’t suck.

  69. anandimide:

    No, sometimes teenage writing can be perfectly good, and there will always be people who wreck the curve in terms of talent. However, in both cases it is rarer than one might think, and more to the point of the essay, it’s rarer than the teenagers involved might think as well.

    Teenagers feeling that advice aimed at teenagers doesn’t necessarily apply to them is (among other things, including the utter cluelessness of the advice, which happens regrettably often) a result of teenagers both thinking they are special and their resistance to being lumped into any general group. Every teenager wants to be the special case (like every other teenager). I note this without condescension or dismissal, although I realize it doesn’t read that way. But you know, I was like that as a teen, and more to the point I think it’s entirely healthy, since the way not to become one of a herd is to develop a sense of one’s individuality. Besides, a little ego is not a bad thing.

    (Teenagers also don’t like being told what to do. This never goes away, incidentally.)

    I think the advice here is generally useful, otherwise I wouldn’t have posted it. Nevertheless, the advice here is offered with no expectation that the teenagers to whom it is directed will consider it holy writ, or believe it all applies to them. That’s fine; I don’t imagine there’s stuff here I thought would apply to me either, were I a teenager reading it. And, indeed, it’s entirely possible some it genuinely is not useful for a particular teen and his or her particular writing situation. Take what you think is useful; ignore what you think is not. Find your own way.

    I will note that as a teenager I also was called a genius and a prodigy by teachers, friends and fellow writers, and that not all my teenage-era writing was bad. Be that as it may, what I’ve written here is largely based on my own experience as a teen and after (including, incidentally, the “write every day” advice, as the “writing is organic” theory doesn’t fly when one has a 3pm deadline and it’s 2:15). I wrote this because what I note here was true for me, and has been true to most of the former teen writers I’ve known. Take it for what it’s worth to you.

  70. I’d love your permission to crosspost this article to Baen’s Bar in the Baen’s Universe Forum and on the Baen’s Universe magazine editors’ blog. Most of what you said applies to inexperienced writers of any age. I have made my life writing non-fiction, and my fiction is quite creaky, because I don’t write enough of it. I’ve managed to get published as a fiction writer once, which makes me more than a wannabe and less than a fiction pro. But I’m a hellacious good editor, either fiction or non. And my writing is improving as I see the mistakes others make, when I read slush for Jim Baen’s Universe.

    Walt Boyes
    Assoc. Editor/Marketing Director
    Jim Baen’s Universe

  71. Teenagers feeling that advice aimed at teenagers doesn’t necessarily apply to them is (among other things, including the utter cluelessness of the advice, which happens regrettably often) a result of teenagers both thinking they are special and their resistance to being lumped into any general group. Every teenager wants to be the special case (like every other teenager).

    Agreed. I do believe that certain generalities apply to teenagers as a whole–including the ones you stated above. However, I also believe that this is simply a compression of the tendencies Americans (Westerners?) exhibit. Americans in general think they are special and resist being lumped into any general group. Americans in general want to be the special case (like every other American).

    The thing with teenagers is that they (we) exist in a pressurized atmosphere where the American ideals of individuality and uniqueness are shoved at us relentlessly, even as we are propelled through a one-size-fits-all educational system (and a one-size-fits-all set of social expectations, & etc.) that prohibits us from attaining/acquiring the same culturally recognized markers of individuality and uniqueness that adults have. Adults can slake their thirst for individuality by choosing a particular life path–family, career, etc. (This doesn’t, of course, apply across all social strata–poor and minority Americans are often not allowed to become full adults, by this society’s unwritten specifications for adulthood.) Teenagers, not having had the time or the opportunity to make and carry out the kind of choices that individualize adults, are forced to frantically rely on whatever they can grub up to distinguish themselves from the faceless masses.

    Personally, I think our idealization of individuality is hopelessly tangled and misguided, but I won’t go into that here.

    Perhaps what I really question is whether or not it’s useful to define teenagers as teenagers–at least to the extent that we do. If I think of myself as a teenager, I can’t take my writing seriously. I assume that it will suck before I even sit down to write it, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I assume that I don’t have the life experience to write about the majority of things I want to write about–and that’s true, to a certain degree. But humans do not live so very long, and from some perspectives we will all–up until our graves–be incredibly young and naive and inexperienced and blind. When the next generations read our writing, they will laugh at our blind naivate–our ignorance–and then produce their own works, and the cycle will progress.

    So it’s not that I don’t think this advice is true (although I’m not sure that it goes far enough)–it’s that I question the frame in which it is presented. “Teenager” implies a finite state: when you address this to teenagers, you’re implying that its relevance plummets once a person reaches the age of twenty. I doubt that you actually believe that–“writing advice for teenagers” is a popular genre of advice, and if you attempted to deconstruct everything before blogging about it, you’d kill yourself (and your blog) with excessive overthinking.

    (Incidentally, one of the fun things about being a teenager is the fact that I can choose a radical viewpoint, defend it until I progress beyond it, and then change my mind–and I won’t be castigated for it!)

  72. Anandimide:

    “If I think of myself as a teenager, I can’t take my writing seriously.”

    I don’t see why this is true. One can be quite serious about one’s writing and also recognize one has more work to do to full realize one’s potential (indeed, it helps to be serious).

    Being a novice at something isn’t shameful, nor should those who are novices be treated dismissively, or be lead to believe their efforts are not useful and important. Nor should teens (or any other new writers) feel that the writing they’re doing can’t be significant or worthy of pride. In the vasty Scalzi archives there’s writing I’m proud of, not because it’s particularly good but because it represents a moment in time where I got some aspect of writing right.

    “when you address this to teenagers, you’re implying that its relevance plummets once a person reaches the age of twenty.”

    Some of it does, particularly the parts addressed to school and to teen social interactions; some of it is useful more universally. It’s addressed to teens specifically because that’s the age I find most people who want to become writers start stretching their writing muscles. I do think being a teen is a special situation, because teenagers are in a unique place in terms of development, mentally and socially. This place does not map precisely to years, as you note, but it does well enough for what I’m doing here. Needless to say, if people who aren’t teenagers find this advice useful, that’s fine by me.

    Walt Boyes:

    “I’d love your permission to crosspost this article to Baen’s Bar in the Baen’s Universe Forum and on the Baen’s Universe magazine editors’ blog. Most of what you said applies to inexperienced writers of any age.”

    You may do so, although I’d prefer a link here instead because I think the comment thread here is also of use. I do know the piece has already been linked to from somewhere inside Baen’s Bar already.

  73. Hey John, just checking in from “Myspace or whatever has replaced Myspace by the time you read this”, where JK Richard dropped us your link in the Teen Lit group. (And I’ve since thanked him.)

    Anyway, I’m going to post a link to this on my page for Advice for Teen Novelists. They definitely need to hear what you’re saying here. ^_^ And even though I’m a young writer myself, it’s nice to see someone else believing in the motto “Right now, your writing sucks.” Been living that for the past 10 years! (Hey… ten years… maybe I don’t suck as much any more. Woo!)

  74. someone on myspace posted a link to this blog so i thought i’d read. your short story reminded me of when i first started writing-and i have to say it’s much better than my earlier stuff. i really sucked at the ages 11-13. but then i started reading more and taking classes and using up paper everyday (which upset my mum becuase she had to keep running back to the store to buy more) right now i’m doing freelancing which is going pretty well. i’ve had a total of one rejections :P (pretty sure there will be more in the future) and am still working on perfecting my um..gift :D

    i really liked everything you had to say. different from what most authors tells us teen novelists

  75. Jas,

    I came about this via Instapundit. I teach 8th grade. I have a very troubled student that happens to be a hell of a writer. I printed the post and url out and gave it to him. Told him to read the ‘short story’ and think.

  76. I teach writing at an arts magnet high school–and got an MFA after many years and careers. I agree with much that you have said though I truly have a couple of exciting writers in my classes. I do think the ability to leap and use language imaginatively appears at a young age. I also think that teenagers are able to absorb material at a remarkable rate–hence your advice about reading is excellent. When I read what my students write–it makes me hopeful about the world.

  77. Great article. I couldn’t have put it better.

    Your teen story was a thousand times better than my teen stories. The only one that ever grew an ending took 40 different rewrites and eventually got finished as a novel when I was 39… and it was good. But at 16 when I started it, it was three notebooks full of disconnected scenes mostly from the early chapters with a few wandering in from later chapters and no clear idea how any of it fit together.

    I wish I still had those notebooks to show teen friends who are miserable about how lousy their writing is. I still wound up learning how. Just had more adventures along the way interfering.

    By the way, your cat’s in the sink. Your cat looks cool, your cat actually looks a lot like my cat — that startled me the first time I saw my blog. I love that photo. Yours has a little more fur, but not by much in my cat’s winter pelt.

    And the lobster looks yummy. Neat collection of photos.

  78. anandimide,

    everything you wrote above is, of course, right. but everything scalzi wrote in his post and his responses to you is also right. grouping teenagers and addressing you all as a group is both useful and useless.

    the problem, of course, is that to become a good adult writer, you have to reject most of the advice offered you — and most of the categorization laid upon you — and make your own path. after you do this, of course, when you’re twice as old as you are now, you will look back and recognize the soundness of the advice you rejected, and also how well the categorization fit you.

    scalzi was right in his characterization of teenagers, but what’s also, historically and categorically, right is that people scalzi’s age (like me, for example) are constitutionally incapable of not forcing viewpoints and advice on teenagers. why? because i, and presumably scalzi, are doing the above-mentioned recognizing of categorization and acknowledging of sound advice. boy, do i wish i had listened. boy, am i glad i didn’t.

    regarding the “write every day” thing: in one year i taught creative writing to high schoolers (16 – 18 y/o), college students (19 – 25 y/o) and working adults (college graduates all, 24 – 70 y/o). i expected the level of intelligence, sophistication, insight, vocabulary, etc. to differ between these three groups. to my surprise, it did not differ *at all*. the college grads had read more, but they’d also forgotten more.

    the main, and sometimes only, difference was in *attention span*. highschoolers could concentrate effectively on a lesson or exercise for no more than 10 minutes, and on a discussion for no more than 15. college students for 20-25. and working adults, who got paid to focus on one task all day long, could sit still for three hours and focus on a single task for a half hour, easily, and this was *after* a full day’s work, when they were tired.

    this is why adults are usually better, deeper, more complex and layered writers than teenagers. not merely because of the greater experience, but because they can focus longer. and, of course, this plays very much into the whole “write every day” thing. i wasn’t *capable* of writing every day when i was 16, nor even when i was 26. but i can sit down and write for nine hours straight now, if i have to. i’ve done it many times. writing every day is a breeze.

  79. I read your points with interest, which I actually found through a post by J.K. Richard on MySpace. I found it interesting, thought-provoking, and basically true. I’m no longer a teenager (egads! I’m a thirty-one year old married mother of two) but I’m a published author, an avid reader, a reviewer, and owner of the site TeensReadToo.com which deals with all things having to do with YA/Teen books and authors. I think you make valid points, especially that teenagers are, as a rule, not able to write at the same level as adults. That said, though, I’ve read books by adults that I felt a ten-year old could have written better. But I definitely agree that all teens–whether writers or just plain readers–should read everything they can, learn about the industry they wish to pursue, practice their writing, and be prepared for rejection. Writing is, and always will be, a lonely journey, with more downs than ups. But it is possible, especially for someone who wants it bad enough!

  80. I have to go dig out my old teenage poetry and burn it. I read it once a year ago and couldn’t believe how awful it was. I had wannabe teenage angst. My life was cake compared to my friends, but I really dug the poetry thing.

    I have some students I should pass this onto. I’m not sure if they’d handle it well, though.

  81. Jennifer Waldrip:

    “That said, though, I’ve read books by adults that I felt a ten-year old could have written better.”

    As have we all. Imagine how they wrote as teens!

  82. Thanks for the great advice. I shared it with my high school Creative Writing class. They were disheartened to know that they all suck but their teacher mainly sucks, too. I do think the advice was encouraging on the whole though and very down to earth. Cheers, Michael

  83. Wow, thank you. As a teen writer, that puts a lot in perspective. I’ve been writing since I was 6, and I’ve read some of the stuff that I just thought was the greatest thing since Shakespeare, and man, I was wrong. I’m positive I’ll be thinking that about stuff I’m writing now when I’m in college and after. Thanks for taking the time to explain in such depth your views on teen writing.

  84. I’m going to share this with my 12th grade English students. Hopefully, it will make all I’ve been preaching this year a little more real to them. If nothing else, it’s another way that it will get around to teenagers.

  85. “Don’t worry about writing the Great American Novel by age 25; don’t worry about being the Greatest Writer Ever; don’t worry about winning the Pulitzer.”

    I would like to add a big, fat AMEN to this advice. In high school I made a list of writing goals which was pretty much identical (although I think I gave myself until age 40 to win the Pulitzer–or maybe it was the Nobel Prize). It has taken me many years to realize how stupendously unhelpful this way of thinking is. I turned 30 two months ago and got blocked for a bit because I still hadn’t let go of my goal of getting a novel published in my 20s. Being a hotshot teen writer turned into an obstacle later on, and I’ve had to relearn how to take joy in my writing.

  86. Most of this advice is god’s honest truth. As someone who’s only six months past being teenage writer physically (and is still one mentally), I learned most of this the hard way.

    One point I’d add is about reading the stuff that bores you. When I was in High School I only read science fiction. I scanned through the Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye and whatnot and got decent grades in English, but nothing resonated with me. I thought the books were just boring. And at the time, I was right. I didn’t have enough life experience and enough reading experience (despite reading a book a day at some points) to appreciate the stuff they foist on you in Literature.

    But now, in my sophomore year of college, I’m slowly circling back. I’ve begun to read modernists (just finished This Side of Paradise and the Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald) and a whole lot of the boring stuff. And it’s not boring anymore. It’s genius. My advice to teenage writers is that if they don’t get it, don’t sweat it, just don’t close the door on those books forever.

    Also, again…I’m quite young. But if you’re primarily a writer of speculative fiction (as I am and was), it’s really nice to take college level creative writing courses and spread your wings with literary fiction (break out a bit). It’s actually pretty refreshing. Just don’t be the ass who insists on turning in sci-fi that baffles most of the people in the class.

  87. i laughed out loud by myself in public…and then i copied the link and posted a bulletin on MYspace. Good point on REAL writing not being in blogs…i’ve been trying to explain that to myself and others for some time now but haven’t had the ability to articulate it. hmm. Now i may have some hint as to why.

  88. writing is not what i want to do with my life..i have been writing..since 7th grade and i am very good at it and skilled with how i place myself and all the emotions..i convey. People are deeply impressed with my writing skills but it has taken me time to get to this point..i’ll continue only to improve..

  89. Where were you when I was in my 20’s and needed to hear this?

    You would have saved me a lot of time and trouble, Scalzi.

    The cat keeps staring at me.

  90. I’m 18 years old so technically I’m still a teenager. You make a lot of sense. I don’t have a day job instead I’m still a student. I’m trying to continue my studies. And yes, I stay up all hours of the night typing. I have some Pink Floyd CDs that I’d never part with. You might have vinyls.

  91. Well… that was a bit of a put down, but at the same time inspired me to try harder. My main problem is I never finish. Right now I have a good concept but I never get around to actually doing anything about it. All I’ve written is a small paragraph (which gets smaller in my head every minute).

  92. I am currently 16, and have spent the last six years taking these lessons to heart. Even at ten, I thought I was to be the next NY Times best seller, with what was essentially started as a fan fiction. Every year I go through a cycle of adding a little every day to my next big project for a few months, figuring out I suck really really hard, and giving up for several months. It seems like I never make any progress, that nothing will ever be finished if I keep restarting. But every single time it is noticably better. Everything seems to fall in place a little longer for each incarnation, and each time I start again I see a little more of what I think on the page.

    My point is that writing every day can in some ways be harmful. If you find you have no new ideas, go and hang out with a completely different crowd of friends for a while, maybe work on other talents, it really doesn’t matter as long as you get as far as possible out of your area of expertise without putting yourself in mortal peril. But in my experience, leaving a piece for a while can be the best way to to find it’s end.

  93. Sandswipe:

    “But in my experience, leaving a piece for a while can be the best way to to find it’s end.”

    Well, no one’s saying you have to write every day on the same thing. But writing every day is good, simply to build up the facility for writing, even when you’re not in the mood. As I’ve noted elsewhere, if one does become a professional writer, one will inevitably meet up with deadlines when one is not inspired to write. This is when it’s useful to be able to fall back on the mechanics of being able to write, and that comes from writing frequently.

  94. As somebody who runs a fairly successful forum for new and experienced writers (608 members and rising!), an article like this is absolutely invaluable to me.

    I have dozens of young, inexperienced writers who think they’re God’s gift, and they need to see this. It’ll back up what we’ve been telling them – yes, you suck now, but it won’t always be that way. We were all naff once, kiddo.

  95. I’ve been posting some stories on my blog, I wonder if they are good. Now I fear that they are crap because of the things you said -which probably are true. Could some one please come and say if I suck major, or if I just suck a little bit?

  96. Wow, this is a very good guide. Like most, I’ll say that it indeed could be useful for adults as well as teenagers. Another thing I’d like to mention is… Yes, they do not teach us the proper use of grammar in school anymore. Hell, just last week, I learned the use of semi-colons ‘officially’ in school. Before that, my friends were amazed that I would dare to use them in my livejournal. I’m in the 12th grade, and am 17, and can tell you that most of the things we are taught in public school now are how to interpret different pieces of work, while our grammar unit barely harps upon anything beyond period and comma usage and capitalization rules. I believe knowing how to properly use grammar is a big step in developeing your ‘voice’. There are many different ways to say things, and it’s excellent if someone is aware of all the different tools at their disposal to say that specific thing.

    I agree with something someone posted previously; this would make an excellent ‘checklist’ for a seminar on how to be a better writer. I could definately imagine a speaker going over these rules and giving examples such as you did.

    Posting on a blog or livejournal is a great tool to practice. Not only does it help you to write more, but it puts it ‘out there’ as opposed to sitting on your harddrive or in your desk draw. Instead, it is on the internet where anyone could be able to read it. Often, when a friend stumbles upon my entries, they’re surprised by what I have there. Sometimes, they’ll comment. I often describe how I’m feeling about my life, or post poems there, but sometimes I’ll post short stories and it’s great when I get their unbiased input. (I’m guilty of returning from a DnD meeting, posting the events on my livejournal, and having the members hound me for it ‘not happening that way’.) If you’re a shy person like me who isn’t accustomed to ‘flaunting’ their work to friends, this is a great thing to take advantage of.

    Bad sappy poetry is the rite of passage for anyone. If you don’t have that type of work hiding in your closet, then the only logical answer is that you are not normal.

  97. Interesting dude. I do have to agree with you that alot of teenage writing sucks. I mean my earlier stuff really sucks, now that I look back, and in a few years I will probably say the stuff I am writing right now sucks too, but guess what I am getting better, and that is all that matters.

    On, publishing now, I prefere the interent for getting my stuff out just because people don’t know me, and read without bias. Most of my friends snort when I mention I can write, but mostly online no one cares.

  98. Suzanne James:

    “I think the only thing you missed is that teens are published everyday.”

    Ms. James, do you often misread articles in order to promote your own online interests?

  99. Your site was pretty helpful, so thanks. The thing is, though, when it comes to writing, nothing else matters except the fact that you’re expressing yourself. Who cares if you don’t get some fancy, high-paying job? And what does money even matter? I read this article with an open mind, and I thought that most of the main points were very useful. But, being a teen myself, I must admit that I had to skip a few lines every now and then (sorry). I don’t know you at all, but I really hope you take criticism well, even if it may be from someone twenty years younger than yourself, and (God forbid) the kind of person you were describing as your teenage self, and how you wish you could go back and change him. We may not have gone to college yet, and we may not know grammar as well as you do, but we’re not completely incompetent. (..Well, for the most part.)

    A lot of you are saying that if you could, you’d go back and tell your 15-year-old self what to do. But seriously, do you think they’d listen? (Try and honestly picture it. I myself know that I would at least try to listen, but instead would be caught up in the whole “wow- that’s what I look like when I’m forty!” thing.) Obviously, I’m joking here, but you get the point: You have to make some mistakes along the road- it’s a given. And if you did have the chance to turn back time, and that miniature version of the present-day you took your advice, you know what? You wouldn’t have all these hilarious memories to look back on.

    So, after a ridiculous amount of rambling, I (actually) do have a point, and it’s not just about writing, it’s about life. And I know how embarrassing this will be to me twenty years from now, and I know I’ll think I’m full of crap. You probably do too! (Hopefully, at least, you’ll get a good laugh at this fourteen-year-old trying to prove a point.)

    All this criticizing and critiquing about what would have been just isn’t worth it. Take it from the real-life teenager here (yes, there are some of us that still enjoy the simpler things in life like writing and aren’t caught up in the whole “drugs/sex/alcohol” scene), your wide-eyed and rosy-cheeked self wouldn’t understand.

    So once again, thank you for sharing your experience.

    P.S. We know we suck, but we’re trying. At least we’re doing something we love, right?

  100. Delia:

    “The thing is, though, when it comes to writing, nothing else matters except the fact that you’re expressing yourself.”

    Well, no. Expressing one’s self is indeed important, of course. But if one wants to become a professional writer one day, then there are other skills to pick up, the earlier the better. If one doesn’t want to become a professional writer, that’s fine too — but even then, the simple mechanics of writing are important to learn, if only because they help one express one’s self more clearly.

    The problem with saying “Well, they’re expressing themselves, and that’s the most important thing” is that expressing one’s self is not actually that difficult to do. Babies do it. There’s more to writing than mere expression.

    “And what does money even matter?”

    Ah, well. Try living without it.

    Speaking as someone who writes for a living, money matters rather a bit. Now, if one doesn’t want to make writing one’s profession, that’s perfectly fine, and then you have the option of not having money being a consideration. But in my experience most people who want to be writers wouldn’t mind getting paid from time to time.

    “if you did have the chance to turn back time, and that miniature version of the present-day you took your advice, you know what? You wouldn’t have all these hilarious memories to look back on.”

    Again, no. There’s no suggestion that following this advice will mean one will flawlessly transition into a state of grace as a writer. There’s very little in this advice, in fact, that is about how to make one’s writing better in a mechanical sense — I’m not telling you how to use adverbs or gerunds or the subjunctive voice or whatever. So anyone expecting to read this and suddenly be a better writer is going to be sorely disappointed.

    But more than that, I think teenage writers should make mistakes — lots of them. Because they’re at exactly the right age to make them and to learn from them. The whole reason for point number 2 above is to make this clear: Mistakes aren’t to be avoided (that’s impossible to do), but they are to be learned from, and it’s the learning that eventually makes a better writer.

    So, indeed, please, makes tons of mistakes. Better now than later.

  101. Thanks for the feedback, you made some really great points. I wasn’t trying to point fingers in your face or anything, just sharing my thoughts. And you’re right in what you said in the reply to my comment. I guess I just said that thing about money and how it shouldn’t be so important because it makes me upset how materialistic people are these days, but again, you were correct: I would not like to try living without it, so I guess I was contradicting myself, and I apologize.

    Your site is very well-crafted. I appreciate how much effort you put into it.

  102. eragon was published first by paolini’s parents
    thats how it got published (i think)

  103. Yes, it was self-published first, then was picked up by a larger publisher.

  104. Oh, yeah. I’m raising my hand for the ‘are any teens going to read this’ poll. And boy, was this helpful: I’ve been honing my writing for something like six years now, being at the ripe old age of fifteen and a half, and found this list enormously helpful. Not to mention the comments that were posted after it.

    Thumbs up. I’m taking this to heart.

    And by the way? Eragon was horrible. It’s my personal goal to someday mudwrestle that author and then laugh manaically as I shove him out of the ring. “TAKE THAT, PAOLINI, FOR WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO THE WRITING WORLD!”


  105. Hello, I’m a teen. I never read Eragon. The title sounded too much like dragon. In my (limited) experience, dragons in fantasies always had terrible characters.

    I did enjoy reading the entry, expecially the repeated use of the word ‘suck’. Your honesty is good.

  106. See, this why you need writing advice. You should be able to come up with a much better snide remark than this.

  107. Wow i’ve just stumbled acroos this website by pure accident and i love it. I’m 15, a keen musician and love creative writing. Although i’d always wondered why my lyrics often sound popmous and cheesey i’ve never realised fully until now. Thanks John, your wise words are an inspiration to me.


  108. ahh….. i feel so much better. good to know that blogging helps… thank you john :)

  109. I greatly value everything you’ve said in this article except for the first segment condemning teenage writers. I, being 18, realize that I have yet to reach my full writing potential. On the other hand, I have an utterly distinct view on life at this age which is worthy of being listened to if nothing else. Sure, I may not be as witty or wise as my 35 year old counterpart, but it is the naivity and brashness of my writing which makes it so distinct. If I were to write from the perspective of my current age, 18, as a 35 year old, my work would most certainly be adulturated with 17 years of forgetfullness and perhaps even wisdom.
    I may or may not be truly representative of others my age in this post, but I have suspisions that their are some who also have this quite ridiculous convictions.

  110. Sorry about the spelling errors. They just go to disprove my argument. Hehe.

  111. Well, as noted in the article, being a teenager doesn’t mean you don’t have valid things to say. You do. The question is: Do you have the technical wherewithal as a writer to get those words out and say what you want to say, how you want to say them? This is where mundane practice and experience can help.

  112. Hya i have nearly wrote my first book and i think it is remotley good as i have baised it on a true life sitiuation that have been through but i really want sum 1 2 read it and tell me what my next steps are

  113. (I mean, this is all great stuff, if they take the time to read it, but will they even know it’s here?)

    I’m 15 years old, I managed to find it, and I thought it was really good, very helpful, because (gasp!) I took the time to read it after I found it.

  114. Interesting article. I was rather frightened at first that it was so long (I mean, how many reasons can there be for me not to write “The Great American Novel”???) but thankfully it was just the comments.

    I am 13 and I found this useful. However, may I point out (like others have done on this very same blog) that SOME very gifted authors (i.e. Francois Sagan) have written some truly amazing books. I won’t hold my breath for it to happen to me, though, so I thank you for your experience.

    (“…Drunk with heat and moonlight…” – Bonjour Tristesse, Sagan, 17)

  115. Francois Sagan may indeed one of those freaks of nature, and feaks of nature are their own thing (as noted in the article). Most of us have to work at it, alas.

  116. I am a teenager, and somehow stumbled across this. I agree completely with you, John. My writing sucks. My friends’ writing sucks. Anyone who says otherwise is delusional. I must say, however, that in reading the other comments by teenagers like myself I was a little irritated. There seemed to be quite a bit of “Well, I’m a genius and your advice doesn’t apply to me, so shove it” and “i don’t know how to use capital letters”.

    So, to other teenagers who have posted/will post: we think we know everything. And, well, we don’t. I have the guts to admit it, even to myself. Hearing this advice is worthwhile, even if a lot of it we already know.

  117. I am a teenager, and somehow stumbled across this. I agree completely with you, John. My writing sucks. My friends’ writing sucks. Anyone who says otherwise is delusional. I must say, however, that in reading the other comments by teenagers, I was a little irritated. There seemed to be quite a bit of “Well, I’m a genius and your advice doesn’t apply to me, so shove it” and “i don’t know how to use capital letters”.

    So, to other teenagers who have posted/will post: we think we know everything. And, well, we don’t. Hearing this advice is worthwhile, even if your parents and teachers think your writing is “brilliant”.

    I write a lot, and reread my stories/poems/essays even days after writing them. I can see right away how horrible they are. I’ve even written a list of topics I will not write poetry about (love, hate, sadness, and gorgeous sunsets on the beach to name a few). A lot of teenaged writing is cliche, and *all* of it has very little life experience to build upon. John’s advice applies to all writers starting out, regardless of age. But, at what other point in your life are you as inexperienced as in the teenaged years? Once you experience college, having a career, renting your own aparment, one can presume you have much more to write about. I mean, as the saying goes, “Write what you know”. Frankly, I don’t think I know enough…yet.

  118. I’m pleased to be able to say that I have already done quite a lot of what you’ve advised in your advice column for aspiring teen writers. Thank you for your advice. (Also, I’ve never read Eragon either–but any kid who can get a six-figure advance and a contract with Knopf has my attention! I’ll be reading the book soon.)

  119. well in my writing experiences, it just seems so easy to think “oh screw this idea it’ll never work” and go back to your notebook and jot down different ideas and then later you think “oh fuck this i cant be stuffed”. Well if you think you have the potential to get a few books onto the writing market then you should, you never know what the stuff you come up with that you think is downright crap could do to the world. Hence, look at what the bible did because it IS a load of shit and yet it is the bestselling book in the world. So think very carefully about what you want to write or have written, it may be easier to throw it away and not think about it again, but trying harder and giving up can lead to very different situations. if i were to put it briefly, try harder, chances are you gain something, give up, you wased your time. Remember people, its only hopeless when you give up

  120. It’s like you’re in my brain.

    I’m a little too self critical though, and I think that’s just as bad as thinking I’m Shakespeare. I’m generally not good enough to write anything that speaks to anyone on a level other than dark, cheap, or even witty humor, and that bothers me — but I suppose it’s just my writer’s voice maturing.

    Great article.

  121. I write a lot, and reread my stories/poems/essays even days after writing them. I can see right away how horrible they are.

    The odd thing, for me, is that I read some of the stuff I wrote in HS, and while it is not good, by any means, it is also not nearly as bad as the stuff I wrote in college. In HS, I still had very correct diction and phrasing, sentences that were not, perhaps, ideally phrased, but which were at least clear and not over-ornamented with parenthetical asides, with mixed registers, with interminable run-ons, etc. And I wrote nearly every night, for an hour or so. But this all became extremely sloppy in college. I have never recovered. Since then, I have simply never been able to attempt fiction with any confidence.

    I am also always conscious of how hackneyed my characters sound when I have them speak. It is frustrating, those few times I think “ah, I should like to write something!”

  122. Ha! I just have to say something real quick–I forgot the name of this website and didn’t put it in my favorites like I thought I had, so I went to google and typed in “teen your writing sucks” and the first link that popped up was for “Whatever!” LOL, it figures I’d think of the most negative thing said, huh? I guess I’m a “half empty” type of person…

  123. “Hence, look at what the bible did because it IS a load of shit and yet it is the bestselling book in the world.”
    Please don’t say that anymore. It’s offensive to me and perhaps others who believe in the religion.

  124. Indeed, let’s not turn this thread into a referendum on the Bible (or any other book, for that matter). There are other places to do that.

  125. Mwahaha tis I again. Good old Google.

    Thanks again for the advice! I’m not sure if it was in this article or another article/blog you’ve written- but somewhere you mentioned writing for other people can be done (even though its hard). That’s good to know, (i’m 15) and wanting to go into journalism. :)

  126. [deleted because I don’t want this thread turned into a religious flame war]

  127. hey there. i enjoyed your article very much! you seem to have a great deal of insight, and once i got past the “arrogence”, i learned a lot. i have just finished editing a short story, and my “editor” (actually, he’s an amazing english teacher who agreed to take a look at my manuscript)thinks i should look into publishing. ive made my final edits, drafted a cover letter… and now i have no idea where to send it! i was wondering if you had any suggestions for the types of places a 16 year old can submit a 4306 word short story and be taken seriously. i mean, i dont want to send my story somewhere that will look at my age and say, “what the hell did she send us this for?” i also dont want to send it somewhere that publishes anything and everything they receive, because i think my work is better than that. so, think you have any ideas?

  128. Hey, this article was really great, especially the part remninding people that writers make close to nothing most of the time. I’m 15 and hvae been planning on centering my entire career around writing and journalism, so that tip really helped me out.

  129. When I read this I was reminded of something I had heard about Ray Bradbury and his ability to write for hours every day. I think a lot of people have the habit of sticking with one piece for long periods of time, but sometimes setting things aside for another time can really help bring perspective to a piece. I know I’ve turned in assignments for classes that I wrote the night before and gone back to read them later, thinking, “Why did I submit this for a grade?”

    I also liked your insights about submitting work to publishers. I interned at a publishing company for a semester during my sophomore year and I was amazed at some of the pieces I had to send rejection letters for. Some were horrible, but others were really great. The editors I worked under just couldn’t accept most of the work because of budget constraints or the fact that the piece was not compatible with the publishing lists they were building for the press. The only advice I would add is to limit what you send to the publisher (instead of a manuscript send a sample and outline of the work) and provide a return envelope because they really appreciate it. If the editors want to see more they will request it. I sometimes had to throw out whole manuscripts that were rejected; if you don’t make the effort to get your work back, the publisher won’t make the effort to return it to you.

  130. I have visited this page several times after coming across it using Mozilla Stumble. It has been of great interest and help. I am always in search of good, solid writing advice, and I find this article to be very helpful. I’m a teen writer myself.

    Should any grammatical error weedle its way into this comment, I am sorry! 4 o’ clock AM is not my most eloquent comment-writing time, but the owls are restless.

  131. I really want to thank you for doing this. Not a lot of people, adults and teens alike, want to hear that they’re not going to be able to write like they want to till they grow up. But you really put it in a way that I understand. I’m 13 and right now I’m trying to write about what’s important to me. This includes my friends, music, movies, books, and opinions. The lack of experience in my life definatly reflects my age. My favorite writer would have to be Bob Dylan. His book Chronicles is amazing and what you wrote is in sync with it. So check it out.

  132. hi im georgie im 15 and for the last two years ive tried writing three different books no matter how much i tried icouldnt get them to stop sounding like authors i like such as john marsden and tony shillitoe even j.k.rowling but since iread this article i feel that it actually maybe normal thankyou so much because it has helped me alot in my fantasy novel and to actually not give up trying to write it – teenage wannabe

  133. hi have onli liked writing since my bro was born and that was when i was 7 well i am now sixteen and love writing the thing is that when i write i can’t help just to write what i really want in life and make it seem so life like even to my mates its just i want to get out of that habit and try and write something more exciting like a romance or something.

    please have u got any tips

  134. Hi, I just turned 16 and I’ve loved to write stories(or at least dream about them in my head) since I was like 6. I love to read and I’m quite far along with a couple novels right now. I’d like to be able to publish a story one day and learn about the publishing industry in the meantime. But reading this reminded me again that although I have quite a passion for writing, I can’t just let that dominate my future. Anyway, I appreciate the expertise and that there are people to guide little dreaming fledgling writers like myself.

  135. I would like to say something that is going to sound very biased, even though I know exactly where you guys are coming from that are adults. I believe that through books you could live many lives and gain wisdom from them, if you know where to look. I believe even a 15 year old like me could do that, which means we teenagers can be wise, we probably just choose not to and have fun instead.
    Also, I would like to make this note:
    If us teenagers have less experience than adults, yet (According to someone’s before hand comment) adults usually have very little experience, doesn’t that seem to implicate that we teens have no experience at all?
    Sorry, had to ask.

  136. I would also like to add to my previous statement by saying that this article has helped me figure out a few things that I needed to figure out. Like, for example, should I write only when I feel an inkling, or when I’ve scheduled myself to. Also, I would like to say that I can’t always write as much, or as little, as I would like. For example, I had a half page story I was supposed to write for English, and it turned into a 28 page story. I believe that if you want to write every day, just for the heck of it, good for you. BUT, if you begin writing something and then choose to stop, even though you can tell what is going to happen next, I believe that is, in a sense, very,very stupid. Thnak you for listening to me ramble, now I’m done.

  137. Thanks for that… I’m a teenager and I’ve had that idea of becoming a write for several years now… about 5 years, maybe, I wrote some stuff, my teachers liked it, so I never really let go of the ultimate goal.

    This post just got my determination working again, and I had an instant flash of inspiration… I wrote a little bit, maybe I will use it later on, maybe not.

    Just one thing that annoys me for the longest time here at my school ist that there is no real editing at the school newspaper. the only stuff they do is the layout, they take every CRAP they can get and put it in. And by now, nobody does anything, because the older guys just finished school and as the newspaper was so crappy the last 3 years nobody joined there in a long time…

    Maybe I can get around to re-organise it with a friend who’s more the artistic type (he totally love layouts and stuff….) but It’s just not that easy to get that stuff running here at my school… our supervising teacher is the most lazy guy ever and so on…

    But anyways, I’ll keep trying, and maybe something will come out of it someday. When I’m 26, if I’m lucky and get the 10 years from now on.

    and about the studying… oh yeah. I’ll need a job to finance my life, and with studying germanistics I probably won’t get one. (I’m from germany, and doing serious writing in a foreign language is not a thing that is that good imho… I do some fanfic-writing in english, but that’s more for entertainment.)

    So… I talk too much, anyways, thank you very much. I will bookmark this, and print it as soon as I get that printer hooked to my computer, and pin it above my bed or something.

  138. I’m a teen writer (18), I’ve written at least 200k words of fiction over the last four years, and I’m thankful I had the great good sense not to show it to anyone. I’m comfortable with my writing now (a long way from satisfied), and ready to start collecting outside opinions (lest I fall short in the teen bragfest, I’ll add that my academic writing has been universally praised, I’m in the top 5% of a competative class, and scored an 800 on the SAT verbal first try, 770 on the new writing section). I’ve noticed that most of the authors I respect give advise that boils down to:

    1) Develop a personality
    2) Practice until your fingers bleed

    Specifically, I appreciate the “empathy” advise. As the child of a mixed marriage with a stepparent of yet another nationality, I’ve been forced to (attempt to) compassionately understand what motivates people utterly different from me, and it’s vastly improved my characters. Incidentally, I got several fun characters out of my early teen identity-crisis angst. I tacked names onto the competing sides of my personality, and let ’em roll. It kept me from writing poetry.

    I’m also glad someone mentioned reading literary fiction; I write fantasy, but would rather my writing bear the influence of Scott Fitzgerald than Terry Brooks.

    Thanks for suggesting “trading up” writing samples. I’ll be sure to get involved in the college newspaper this fall!

  139. I’m a sixteen year old writer myself, and believe me, I’ve soaked in every word of this article. It’s true that a lot of teens are egotistical and think they’re all that, and some of them ought to check out the advice here. I’ll admit that I don’t show my work to anyone at all, but not because I think I’m all that. As a teen, I KNOW my writing sucks, and letting someone else see makes me feel stupid or embarrased. I’ve got this mindset that I won’t show my writing until I’m fifty years old or when I’m satisfied with it. Another problem is that because I know my writing sucks, I feel less motivated to take up my pen and work. Not good! Any advice on how to get past that?

  140. First and foremost: hands down, that was real sound advice. Thanks a bunch, John =) I’ll apply for my college editorial’s Chief Editor position as soon as I start school, LOL =p

    I’m really bothered by how everyone reading your advice seems to think that their writing sucks. I mean, I’m 18, I really love writing, and I believe I’m a good writer even though I don’t write as much as other teens (i.e. I don’t write poetry, I don’t blog, and I’ve not written in a long while now). I’m guessing it’s because people praise my writing ability a lot, the few times that I actually show people what I’ve written.

    *But* I’ve looked back to the… shall I say, ‘blog entries’ I’ve written a few rare times, and except for a few wierd use of words and sentence structure, I don’t think they’re bad at all. Please don’t think I’m an egotistical person, because really, my ego is about the size of a pea. I don’t think I have great grammar and I don’t know the meaning of words like ‘paradoxically’ and ‘disenchantment’, but I honestly would like to know what exactly do these people mean when they admit that they suck? Please tell me what you think. I stopped learning English formally two years ago (after high school), so is there something I’m missing? Is my understanding of the art of writing so shallow for an 18-year old? I’m beginning to think that it is. But oh well, I’ll be working on it. Wish me luck! =3

    I’ve read the whole comments section and found something which could explain how I might ‘suck’:

    “In HS, I still had very correct diction and phrasing, sentences that were not, perhaps, ideally phrased, but which were at least clear and not over-ornamented with parenthetical asides, with mixed registers, with interminable run-ons, etc.” Posted by: Taeyoung

    Nearly all my sentences are peppered with commas, parentheses, or the long dash character (I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s sometimes used as –). I just realised this is not a good thing, and it’s one of my weaknesses, but still, I don’t think my writing sucks because of it. So am I just blind to my weaknesses, or do these people really suck? I doubt either of them is true.

    Now, I’ve read the story you wrote when you were 16 (if I’m not mistaken). THAT was trash. I mean, what were you thinking? I may only have ever written one fanfic piece, but yours is nothing compared to it. The subject matter was uninteresting, and the only thing that kept me reading was my couriousity (I’m anal that way).

    I would love to get more advice from you, John. Do send me your reply. Thanks again for your advice, I’ll treasure it for the rest of my life. Cheers =>

  141. Hey

    I really enjoyed this article; it was well written and funny in some parts.
    Anyhow, I’m 14 right now and an aspiring writer so I agree with a lot of the points you made. Although I don’t think I have a newspaper in my school… meh, we live out in the ‘ghetto’. I was also interested when you said the part about not going into an English major; it made a lot of sense because how are people suppose to write when they don’t have real life experience? You’ve inspired me to maybe go into criminology instead (I want to write murder mysteries.) I put it on my favorites and all also add it to my blog because I think most of the advice was excellent!

  142. I think ‘Sir, you are wrong, and also a gaylord-tennis-playing ass, and your forefathers stuff socks in Hell’ is a preferable response to a post you find personally distasteful, rather than, ‘Waah, don’t say what you just said, I’m going to tell Mummy on you.’

    Speaking as someone who finds attacks on free speech deeply, deeply distasteful and offensive. (JS, not directed at you, I can understand that warfare on your own site isn’t something you would want to waste time on). Just a note on basic principles, respect, etiquette.

  143. I wrote my first ‘book’ when I was around 8. I can remember being pissed off because i was supposed to co-write with a friend. (In the end i just started writing on my own; her version never got passed a page with a crayon picture).

    I cleared out my room at the weekend. I’m now 14, (my 15th is in about 11 days, though), and i re-read it. i totally agree with Anonymous’ “And if you think looking back as an adult on the crap you wrote as a teen is fun, try looking back as a teen on the crap you wrote in elementary school. Trust me, it’s hilarious.”

    Cheers, mate. Several of my good friends at school are now reading this. For absolute certainty, you are now (officially) global.

  144. I read the short story that you wrote when you were seventeen, and you’re right. It really sucked.
    I appreciate that you’re trying to help teenage writers, but I don’t agree with your first point at all. I am sixteen, I happen to be a good writer, andI think it would be more beneficial to your audience if you wern’t quite so negative to start with.
    If The Statue was published, I’d probably wonder how it got there, and if it was on a message board I would probably consider revision. If I can see the technical and descriptive faults, does that prove that my writing is better than yours was at my age? And therefore, possibly, good?
    I think it does.

  145. Hi, I’m a student from Malaysia and as of right now I’m waiting my first book to be out in a month or two.

    I found your article simply written and very helpful, thus I’d like to ask your permission to translate it into Malay and put it in my blog so that I can share it with my fellow Malaysian writers?

    Thank you!

  146. I think this is a very generic view of teenage writers, although I understand that it’s fairly true for most of the teenage writers out there. But more often than you’d think, teenagers have very wide and appreciative views (more than any adult would dare admit, at least) on many subjects.

    I know many active writers who outclass, both in vocabulary and otherwise, many of the adult authors that have been published to much acclaim. Many of them enter contests that are intended for established writers, both within the community and nation-wide, and often take first prize. Of course, they never divulge an age, as it doesn’t tend to bode well with people when a fifteen year-old freshman steals a “professional” writer’s thunder.

    As for vocabulary in particular, most of the teenagers that make a habit of writing already have an extensive word-base, seeing as almost all of them are avid readers.

    Also, most schools don’t support creative writing programs until the tenth grade or higher, and I have seen many writing journals begin circulation among communities to make up for this fact, and they all contain impressive material.

    And all of this leads me to admit that I am fifteen, going into my sophomore year, and naturally, I didn’t thoroughly enjoy reading this, though it is nothing I wouldn’t expect from an essay for teenagers. At least, one written by an adult. I’m sorry, but unless you take the time to learn about teenage writers, or at least familiarize yourself with a community of high-school writers, any essay isn’t going to have much of an impact to anyone who writes as a serious interest.

  147. Anonymous:

    “think this is a very generic view of teenage writers, although I understand that it’s fairly true for most of the teenage writers out there. But more often than you’d think, teenagers have very wide and appreciative views (more than any adult would dare admit, at least) on many subjects.”

    Shorter version: “Your damn advice doesn’t apply to me, because I’m brilliant, you see (as evidence: I’m smart enough to use plural terms to avoid looking like I’m too egotistical).”

    My response: Well, that probably would have been my response to this piece when I was a teen, so I can hardly complain when someone else plays the “we’re better writers than you think” card. It’s not my job to compel you to believe this advice is of any utility to you, so I’m not going to bother.

    As an aside, however, comments like this suggest that a belief commonly held in my time as a teenager is still alive today, namely that the current generation of adults achieved their state of adulthood without having the intermediary stage of adolescence, therefore are incapable of accurately assessing the talents and skills of teenagers due to lack of personal experience. There’s also the marginally more “realistic” corollary which allows that today’s adults may have been teenagers at one time, but the experience of being a teenager is so wildly different today that these adult again have no frame of reference as regard today’s crop of teen. And also (and possibly as a result) that we adults want to keep all these teens down.

    Being an adult, I find the persistence of this meme fascinating, but having spent now 15 years being a professional observer of the engines of popular culture I’m also aware it’s in the economic interest of a number of large corporations to keep this meme alive and well and producing a standing wavefront of economically advantageous alienation.

    Whether the observation that you seem to have fallen for the “adult and teenagers are opposing demographics” meme hook, line and sinker is related to your proposition that some undefined number of teenager writers are better writers than some undefined number of adult writers is something I’ll leave for others to consider; I note it only in passing.

    Speaking for myself, however, I would be absolutely delighted to see an entire generation of brilliant teenage writers. Literacy saved for another 30 or 40 years? Bring it on, friend.

  148. I admit that my pride was wounded when I first read this, because obviously being told directly ‘You suck and you will suck for some time yet’ does sting a little, but reading over it again I can see how fair this advice is. I only started writing properly about five years ago (I’m sixteen), and I often look back over what I wrote about three years ago. While it is heartening to see how much I’ve improved in that short amount of time, it also keeps me grounded, because I thought these pieces were great when I wrote them (believe me, they’re FAR worse than that short story of yours) so that means that in another five years time I’ll look back on what I’m writing now and think it’s terrible too. Still, you’ve got to keep on going – what’s the point in being brilliant at something straight away, after all?
    I’m going to try and follow this as much as possible, especially with regards to the ‘Do something else with your life’ part (seeing how I need to decide on that during the coming year). I think I’ll send a link to this to all my writer friends too…though I’m not sure how much they’ll appreciate it!
    Oh, and being involved with the school newspaper also helps to really clean up your style and grammar as well.

  149. You know I always find it so comforting when everything I already knew is thrown in my face. Not to be rude or anything but that did not make me feel any better about being a FOURTEEN YEAROLD WRITER. I already get enough prejudice because of my age.

  150. Lotte:

    “Not to be rude or anything but that did not make me feel any better about being a FOURTEEN YEAROLD WRITER.”

    It’s not my job to make you feel either good nor bad, Lotte. I’m merely sharing information. Take it as you will.

  151. I agree I am 14 years old, i’m about to be 15. I am in a program called early college it is where I go to college while I am in high school. And when I graduate from high school I would already have my associate degree and be working on another degree. So I know my writing is not all that good but I want to write for my school newspaper but being in this program I can not do anything like that. But, anyways I agree I was wondering if you have any suggestions on how what I should do that would want the people at Teen Magazine (that’s who I want to work) to hire me. I was thinking writing for my town newspaper would be an good idea. For anyone who is reading this if you all have any ideas on what i could do just e-mail me at Eerie013@aol.com

  152. Dude, im a teenager and my writting is advanced than any teenager as I write with the expertise of an adult writer. In other words im one of the few who are good.

  153. Hey I think I need a second opinion for this poem I wrote (when I was 15) (( currently 17))

    The seed is sowed into the soil by the mighty oak tree

    This little seed, small and frail

    Trying to grow, in the near future having fruits to bear

    Trying hard to imitate its huge ancestor: The mighty oak

    The seed decides to sprout sooner then a moment’s oath

    The perils are endless for our valiant seed,

    That struggles to be a full grown oak tree

    For insects, wind, and weather alike

    Are great foes that our little sprout is going to have to fight

    As years and years pass by

    Our little sprout seemed to vanish, in a blink of an eye

    Yet for the once mighty oak tree we all knew

    Withered slowly into an old gloom

    Our small sprout

    Which matured, and no longer small

    Grew into an oak tree, with outstretched branches for all to awe

    For now our mighty oak tree, big and green

    Hides something within its leaves

    It is not a bug nor a fruit

    Yet a growing newborn seed

  154. I suck? Man, and here I thought I was the best thing next to the Bible. No, really, thanks for saying that I suck, even though you dont know me or anything…

    All my friends tell me that I’m the best writer they know, except one, she is always telling me what I do wrong and what I should change and how some of my stuff sucks, and she’s always the first person I have read all my stuff, she’s like this breath of freash air, as you are to all these young writers.

    And I thought some of your lyrcs were good, guess I suck more than I thought I did.

  155. I actually thought your teenage writing was atleast half-decent. Oops, my bad. I guess I got to work on this writing thing until I stop sucking. However I did adore the way you said I sucked. It was a good feeling, truly.

  156. I never said you suck. I said your writing does. There’s a difference between the two.

  157. Nice article.

    I turned 20 the day after New Years Day this year! But I still like this article.

    I was just wondering though…how much harder is songwriting than say short story writing or writing a novel?

    I can write poetry (better than your lyrics, but I am a little older than you were heh) but I find its too standardised and ‘proper’ and not as free or lyrical as an actual song is. I would really like to write songs, but I’m happy writing anything.

    Anyway I don’t know if you have tips for songwriting and if you don’t its okay. I just like your article and a little clarification would be godly. Danke

  158. “Dude, im a teenager and my writting is advanced than any teenager as I write with the expertise of an adult writer. In other words im one of the few who are good.”

    1. Who starts a sentence with ‘Dude’?
    2. ‘I’m’
    3. …’MORE advanced’
    4. Teenager’s (consider a period after this)
    5. Which ‘adult’ writer would that be – one who writes ‘sexy books’?

    Anyway…I would love to be this lyrical/genius:

    It’s been too long
    And I’m too far down
    I just wanna be the one you can’t live without

    I know you’re too good
    And I’m too far gone
    You’re better off if I’m not lettin’ you down

    If I could change at all
    You know that I would change it all
    And you would be my angel…

    Is that the kind of thing that only comes with age? Or do you not like it? I think it’s great, better than anything I can do (currently)

  159. I continue to love this article. ^_^

    I hope that, ten years from now, all the young writers who are getting up in your face about this article and how THEY are the chosen ones who “aren’t the type of young writers you are talking about” come back and read this article. Then, they’ll share a good laugh, look at how much their work has improved, and maybe drop a “sorry I was an ass” note followed by a “thank you” note.

  160. some teen writers DO have more potential than others. for example, i wanted money to buy a small barn/shed for a new horse, but my mom didn’t have the money so i decided that my literary skills had enough high quality to make money for the new barn. so i sent a query letter to a literary agency. they asked me to send my manuscript to them and i’m barely 15! any teen that truly loves to write really can go the distance in the authors’ world.

  161. You should be writing salable material by your mid-teens. I started selling community news articles to the local weekly and daily newspapers when I was barely 14.

  162. That’s nice for you, Richard. However, many people don’t write saleable material in their teen years, and I think it’s inadvisable to say that they should be at that level then. Some people are able to write pay copy early, some later. It’s different for every person. It’s also not a race.

    I do agree local papers are a great way to get started, and they are often happy to work with teenagers. Newspapers also often have sections specifically written by teens and for teens — The Fresno Bee did when I worked there. If your local paper has that, by all means take advantage of it.

  163. I was searching for essays to kill time when I came across this. I’m half way across the world from you where few teenagers actually like to write for the love of it, let alone publish a book. What you wrote is pretty inspiring to a 16 year old like me. I would keep your words in mind. Thanks for the 10 things we should know.

  164. wow, like i found this artical harsh i was just searching and found it. im 16 and have been wanting to be a writer since i was 12. i truly belive you have to be somone with depth to be a writer, you have to have experiences. i want to travel, write, and inspire. i want to meet new people and go cliff jumping. i observe everthing, even hanging with friends at 2 am is worthwile i sit there soaking up the experiece. my philosophy is that u learn somthing new every day. and if you dont then i suggest you start living. a writers mind is always filled with questions and at the same time fighting to find the answers to them. this artical inspired me to stop dreaming about being a writer but go for it now, start writing now and know that im probally not that good but i can only get better.

  165. My six year old son writes quite okay for his age, is there any organisation or person i can approach to have his work assess.

  166. I’m not aware of one. Probably the best thing to do is simply encourage him and encourage his teachers to foster his talents as well.

  167. Quite frankly i think your advice was useless. ‘your writing sucks’ yeah that’s something encouraging to say to aspiring young writers who are actually taking there time on a quest to improve there writing further. ‘hey our writing sucks lets all go out and do something that we are good at like playing on playstation. yeah that’s fulfilling, because we all suck at writing!’
    i don’t feel that you are even in a position to tell us that we suck until you have actually read enough of our work to say that. you are stereotyping just because you SUCKED as a teenager does not mean that everyone else does.
    i think that being the ’36-year-old’ man you say you are you should feel it’s also your duty to encourage today’s youth, and i don’t think you have done that well at all. i personally think that you should hang your head in shame. and, thought i guess it is debatable, take down your
    C-R-A-P-P-Y website.

  168. I think you should learn to appreciate the joys of capitalization, Temi.

    Beyond that, you are of course perfectly free to think I and my advice are entirely full of crap.

  169. John,

    Since this popped to the top it got my attention. Are the early August comments for real? Some read like spoofs. Of course fruit flies like bananas, too, so what do I know?

  170. I am based in India and am reading this from there. I’ve been writing for well over a year now (I’m 18) and agree with almost everything you say. The opportunities for young writers in India are limited to say the least. In my state of Maharashtra you’re much better off being a Marathi writer. Even though they don’t make much money, people here prefer to publish them. What is your opinion on Indian writers? Do you have any specific advice for writers from non-English speaking countries?

  171. I’m afraid I don’t have much specific advice for either Indian or other non-English-speaking teen writers; their experience is different enough from mine that I suspect the advice I’d give might not be useful. I suspect this advice here in general works reasonably well, but I’m not sure.

  172. As far contests are concerned, which contests in the U.S. whether in poetry, short stories, essays or anything else are open to me? I ask this because while I would like to take part in literary competitions many of them are restricted to citizens of North America. Furthermore, can you tell me anything about the Atlanta Review? Is it a fraud or is the International Poetry Competition a scam? I would dearly like to know because I submitted two poems there. For clarification in my last message I meant writers in English from non-English speaking countries, not writers in a language other than English. I would appreciate your answers on these points.

  173. I read this entire passage and it was so very helpful. I am a teenage writer and I must say that my writing doesn’t “suck” to be my age. But you gave awesome tips and encouraged me even further to pursue my writing career. I am actually researching for a “Career Interests” paper for my Composition and Research class, which is how I stumbled upon this site. Again, this was extremely helpful and thanks!! I will be referring back to the page in a time in need of inspiration.

  174. After submitting my first comment, I read more from other readers of this passage and I’m feeling sort of “bad” because my comment was like everyone else’s. I don’t like being like everyone else. They were saying that they don’t think their writing is all that bad to be their age. I’m not egotistical but I do know that my writings are not completely horrible. Also, I wanted to say that I really admire you and your writing style(on this article) You were real and down to earth and that is what alot us aspiring teen writers need, instead of everyone else telling us that we’re good when they don’t even have a clue of what good writing consist of. Thanks again!!

  175. “You should know English language grammar for roughly the same reason you should know road rules before you go driving: It avoids nasty pile-ups later.”

    Here in the UK, some teachers of our age, inspired perhaps by Trotsky’s idea that “worse is best”, condemned a generation of state-educated (US: public school educated) kids to illiteracy by dismissing correct grammar and spelling as “elitist”. I disagreed with them vociferously in their own forums (I shared other aspects of their politics), never noticing at the time that their own printed polemics were always grammatically correct.
    Your story wasn’t really that bad; your song lyrics were shite.

  176. Hello! I am yet another teenage ‘writer’ and yes this is yet another thank you comment. I will share this topic with my teenage writer friends and hope that they will also realize the worth of your advice. Thank you!

  177. Dear Experienced Writer,
    I just adored your 10 helpful tips. I thought I would let you know I appreciated your article. And I basically love your writing personality.
    Just so you know, when you said, “So write something today. Now is good.” I did. And it felt good.
    Teenage Writer-Wannabe

  178. I’m a twelve year old writer-wannabe. I found this amazingly inspirational, as soon as I read “So write something today. Now is good.” I minimized the window and did just that. In fact I wrote two peices on my favorite writing website. I was wondering, when you were younger, did you seem to have trouble filling out an entire novel? I am working on a few things and I’ve got about forty pages and it seems I’ve said nearly everything I want to say. Is that normal? Anyway, thanks for the advice! It is defidantly words to live by.

  179. Jessica:

    I didn’t manage to write a novel until I was 27, so writing 40 pages at 12 sounds perfectly on track. Sounds like your brain is best suited for short stories right now, and there’s nothing wrong about working on those if that’s better for you.

  180. I was ‘Google-searching’ for writing tips, when I came across this.

    Terrific article.

    And, as I have been interested in writing for about ten years (I’m sixteen, now), I found it very fascinating. Pretty informative, too!

    Thanks for the tips, I’ll keep ’em in mind. ^_^

  181. Thanks for the tips, I really needed these advice. I would like to publish something one day, but I also know in order for me to do just that, I need to gather all my resources. And reading what you’ve wrote made me realize that writing does take time; I even went back to read some of my writing and it sucked (to my standards and it probably would to others as well).

  182. i dont belive that my writing sucks it only sucks if ubelive it does im going to be the next jk rowling man u need to watch the secret good luck!!!!!!!!!

  183. I don’t know if you could call me a teenage writer, I’m eighteen and have been writing for years, but I do really like these tips. To be honest, my writing sucked my first couple of years. I’m rapidly getting better and better with everday that passes. Thanks for the tips, though!

  184. I’m a teenager and I love to write. Your tips helped me a lot but they also depressed me a bit. I have always wanted to be an author of amazing novels. I was very happy about having decided what I wanted to do with my life but after reading this, I’m not so happy about it any more. Judging from what you have written, my writing will probably suck untill I’m about 40 years old. Since I won’t be a very good writer for a while, I will have to get another job. It will mostly likely be a job that I hate. Therefore, I’ll spend the years of my life that are supposed to be the best ones, being miserable and discouraged. I love to write but is it worth making a lving of it if I have to sacrifice about 40 years of my life in order to truely be a good writer? It saddens me to think about the fact that I might actually have to work at a job that isn’t writing books for most of my life. I don’t want to do anything else but write stories! What am I supposed to do? I know there are other jobs out there that have to do with writing but I don’t want to do any of those! Ugh…I know that is how life works but…Anyway, enough of my endless complaining. Your tips are very helpful and I’m glad I read it despite the fact that I’m probably going to lose a lot of sleep tonight.

  185. Julie:

    “Since I won’t be a very good writer for a while, I will have to get another job. It will mostly likely be a job that I hate.”

    Why? I got a job as a writer while I was learning to write novels; I was just doing other sorts of writings. You can find something you love to do and write on the side. And in fact, I think that’s a great way to do it, because having another job gives you experience in something else other than novel writing. And that comes in useful. My first novel “Agent to the Stars” was informed by my experience as a movie critic, for example.

  186. I am a teenager writer, in fact I’ve been writing for 3 years now I believe. Hm, never really thought about it…Anyways, back on topic. I read this and I thought there were some helpful hints, but I also thought it very depressing, and may I add, a little full of oneself. I don’t mean anything bad by that might I add, but I am merely stating that that’s how you are coming acrossed. And it also sounds like you’re discouraging teens, and maybe you’re just giving you’re experiences point blank. Which giving everything straightforward is good too, but I do not believe everything you say, especially since I have experiences in otherways.

    Now I know you’re thinking, what the hell (sorry about the curse) is this teenager thinking? Who does she think she is? She’s only 16 for crying out loud! And yes, I have heard this from many people, but I know a lot of teenage writers that far exceed that of the ones published; they exceed them in not only creativity, but in wisdom and cleverness as well. I have seen some authors that I must say are delusional, and I now refuse to read some of the works by those particular publishing houses.

    I know many teens that are at professional level as we speak, yet are barely into highschool. And I must sound like some whiny spoiled brat teen that has everything going for them, I apoligize for that. But what I’m saying is encourage those who want to write to do so, not put in this type of form. And I understand that you’re a very direct writer or something of the sort, that you say things to the point. And as you can tell, so do I.

    I think you have some really nice points, such as researching all the aspects of a writing career. Another good point would have to be to not major in English or a writing class, but have something else to fall back on. Be prepared for rejection, becoming independent of other sources, etc. All wonderful points, but not in the best attitude.

    Please understand the teens’ side of things, you are pretty much telling us we suck at our craft, that we are inexperienced with pretty much everything, and we have no independence. This is all very insulting and very discouraging. A lot of us teens are growing up with harder lives than the ones that go out and party all night long, and believe it or not, have a lot more experience with several things that many adults have never seen.

    I would like you to consider these points, and look from the view of those teen writers that I have mentioned that far exceed any of the adult writers’ dreams. It is very insulting to them, very degrading to all those in a whole, even to the ones that need work.

    Once again I apoligize for anyway that I might be sounding, but this is how I feel about you’re article. I have also read the comments, and most of the one’s that feel somewhat the same have gently nudged in this direction, yet I felt it needed to be stated more directly.

    Now with all this said, you may curse my name and despise me for the rest of eternity, or think of me as a pompous windbag, I really do not care in the least. Like I said think about my points please, I think it could be so much better for all those who read this if you’d take the time and be encouraging along with helpful instead of the way you have written it now.

    One more thing, please excuse all of my spelling and grammar mistakes (there are quite a few), but I am far too tired, and homework is calling.

  187. Megan:

    “A lot of us teens are growing up with harder lives than the ones that go out and party all night long, and believe it or not, have a lot more experience with several things that many adults have never seen.”

    No offense, Megan, but this is another example of teenagers assuming that adults got that way without being teenagers themselves. I am of course quite aware that the lives of teenagers vary to a very wide degree; I know it from my own experience and from observing the lives of friends and others. Be that as it may, having a difficult life doesn’t in itself make one a better writer; writing is a craft and like any craft takes time to develop.

    You say you know a number of teens who are at a professional level; good for them. I too sold some work professionally when I was a teenager, and naturally I encourage any teen writer to work with editors when and where they can. However, being able to write well enough to sell something as a teenager doesn’t mean that as writers they are sufficiently developed. I sold writing as a teen; my teen writing is not very good, particularly relative to how I eventually learned to write.

    As I’ve said to others, take what you find useful here; feel free to ignore what is not. If the tone offends you, that’s perfectly fine. I would note to you that in the publishing world there will be lots of people whose tone may annoy or offend you but with whom you’ll find yourself working. Some of them may also have useful advice.

  188. I read the comments to this article and would like to address the one in which you have just responded. Personally, I think you’re another stereotipical adult who won’t listen to the teens because for some odd reason you think that you know everything. I am sorry to be so offensive, but you know what, all jobs deal with those kind of people, you can’t put it as this career. So, really, if everyone spoke this way about careers, no one would want to go for anything. Teens and kids are already under enough stress as to what they want to become, and all of the bad portions you have stated are going to be in every job. Get over it. We all know it, anyone with have a mind knows it, you don’t have to state it so that it sounds like you’re protecting you’re job from future competition.

    And I read some of the work you wrote as a teen, and I have to say it did suck. But don’t put everyone in the same category, so you say she is being assuming, well I am saying you are just as much. You assume everything is the same when you were growing up as it is today. And I must say, though I do not know how old you are, but for me it has changed so much. I detest you type of people, so I do hope you take offense to this, because you should.

    Amy, 34 yr. old Teacher

  189. Dear “Amy”:

    You know what’s really interesting? Your comment is coming from the same I.P. address as Megan, the 16-year-old sophomore whose comment you’re defending. Which suggests that rather than being a 34-year-old teacher, you’re actually a 16-year-old sophomore pretending to be older to give your argument credibility.

    My first tip-off, incidentally, was that none of the teachers I know would worry about giving their age as verifier of credibility — their credibility is not in their age but their training and in their words. Giving age as a sign of maturity, well, that’s a teenage thing to do. So I checked the IP addresses of the messages and, well, they were the same. Basically, Megan, your writing gave you away.

    The term used on the Internet for the alter-ego you give yourself to make it seem like more people agree with you is “sock puppet.” The things is, Megan, making up people to agree with you doesn’t make your points any more valid.

    Please do think about that. Thanks.

  190. I enjoyed reading..some….of your ideas. ( I got lazy after reading half of what you wrote, so I just went to the main points) You seem like a very intelligent man, that’s what your writing says at least and I respect your point of view, but I don’t agree with some of them. It was interesting to say the least reading what you had to say. Thank you for the information. You said as a teenager your writing wasn’t that good, which I believe to be untrue. For someone around my age at that time you wrote very well, but yet again different time periods and different life styles of a person shapes them. So what you might think to be “bad writing” I might think it to be in my point of view amazing writing.Thank you again. -Ruth

  191. Ruth:

    “You seem like a very intelligent man, that’s what your writing says at least and I respect your point of view, but I don’t agree with some of them.”

    That’s perfectly fine, of course. You don’t have to agree with me. I’m merely offering my thoughts from my own experience.

  192. Im 13 right now, and my story is much more exciting than yours was in that one dumb story about the story.
    Also, do you realize that not all teenagers are bad writers. Well, I mean most are, but not all.
    Whats his face that wrote Aragon or whatever sucked. It sounded like he wrote a story, and then later got a thesaurous and changed all the words…
    BTW: dont edit my writing, I wasnt trying to write perfectly, just trying to make a point.

  193. Leah: “Whats his face that wrote Aragon or whatever sucked. It sounded like he wrote a story, and then later got a thesaurous and changed all the words”

    Well funny enough leah writing a novel does involve writing a story, they are both kinda the same thing! and i think i should say that “whats his face” (who wrote LORD OF THE RINGS by the way) books have been around for about 80 years (im not exactly sure how long) so in my opinion that makes a pretty damn good writer.

    And im sure you would say that your story is much better wouldn’t you, but have you had anyone else read it? or is just your opinion to go on here. It might be good, i dont know, but dont go mouthing off about other writers and assuming your work is better.

    And no i dont beleive he is trying to tell teenagers to not write books but just laying down the truth as he sees it and talking about the experiences he has had, that is the best advice anyone could give; to speak about what has happened to you personally in life.

  194. Leah:

    “So…are you trying to tell teenagers to not write books?”

    Not at all. By all means, go right ahead. Just be prepared for them not to be especially good.

    As to who I am, here’s a bio.

  195. I too was a double loser (high school and college editor), but it was benefit to my current career (Software engineering). One of the most important thought processes I learned was the idea that what you write first is just the first draft and can be either improved by rewrite or trashed. In either case you have improved the material. It is amazing to me how poorly engineers write. I have always maintained that programmers writing a program are the same as fiction writers writing a story or reporters writing a news article. I surely wish I had known when I was a teen what I know now.

  196. When I was a kid I wanted to be a writer, and to a certain extent at 42, it’s still in the back of my mind. I’ve got things swirling around in my head that would either be a great book or should be treated with the appropriate drugs.

    My biggest problem is when I sit down to write something (anything other than a blog post) my brain pretty much just shuts down….and there’s a lot that I want to write, I just don’t really know how to go about starting it. Hell, I don’t even care to try to sell it at this point, just write it down.

  197. Hello I’m Samantha A. I would give you my last name but I’m pretty sure there are a few online predators lurking around this site. ;) I red your article it was very good. I am 13 years old. Remember that name Samantha A, because you’ll be reading my name on the cover of a best seller. Peace out_xo

  198. Interesting article. I’ll have to take this to heart. In fact, I’ll probably share it with a few of my friends.

    I’m thankful that I was actually aware of the overall ‘suckiness’ of my writing when I was around fourteen or fifteen. I think I would have been in distress if I’d only recently figured that out. At nineteen, I’m still looking back at short stories written only a few months ago and grimacing. I honestly do hope that when that ‘zen’ moment comes around, I’ll realize it before I burn the hardcopy! Now, that would indeed suck.

    Thank you for the inspiring article.

  199. Sorry, I’m back again.

    I wanted to point something out in the above comments. I believe the book which “Leah” was refering to is Eragon, Lucy, not Aragon (thought I did realize that you assumed it to be a misspelling of Aragorn, JRR Tolkein’s character). Eragon was written by young Christopher Paolini. He began writing at around age fifteen. He was also able to publish his work very early (and there’s an upcoming movie in December for any big fantasy fans). Anyhow, note that his parents are publishers, so he probably had not only live-in editors at his home but also an education on the ‘business of writing’ early in life.

    He’s an exception to the rules. ( I believe Mr. Scalzi made note of in such exceptions in his article.)

    And Eragon, in my opinion, did not suck. It was well written, if not a bit wordy for the audience. However, its story line was a bit ‘overdone’.

    And, Leah, I had no idea whether you were trying to use that reference to prove your ‘point’ or to disprove it. Next time you’re attempting to prove such a point, I suggest you try a bit harder (and actually read the article).

    Forgive me for being so hot-headed and replying to that bit of nonsense.

  200. LOL! Bey, no offense but, do you have anything better 2 do?? HAHA, what makes you think most teenagers these days think like how you thought back then? I’m 13… I’m not trying to be in ya face or nuttin but…… maybe your writings sucked but mine don’t atleast…. not like that… But I do already some of the points you wrote…… but 1 thing I’ll never do is say my work sucks. I’ve been in many competitions…. Poetry, writing, you name it. I first didn’t place 1st or 2nd…. but they sent me money because it was good… I was in a catagory from 14 to 18. I’M 13! LOL. Now…. I’m doin fine….. I have experience… I’m not a loser LOL!!!!!!!! But… Please dude. Ppl who rite from the heart will neva eva say there work sucks. Now…. I don’t know it all but lets say I just disagree with 1 point?

  201. Thank you very much for taking the time to write this, I’ll hold on to this advice and carry it with me through my writing adventures. :)

  202. thx for the help. your really smart. thx for the edvice. im writing a story which is now 143 pages and 13 chapters long

  203. thx for ur help not only it helps in my stroy witing and song right now i am finsihing well trying to fisish my 6th song!Even though i am 13it is pretty good.RIGHT! WEll i guess it is. Plus i start playing the keyboard when i was 9 years old! I toght myslef how to play!

  204. I’m a 16 year old who has recently been doing quite a lot of thinking about writing. In reading your post, I couldn’t stop smiling. What you said fit me perfectly, especially with the bit about immitating other writers. I pretty much stole Douglas Adam’s style. You’re right, though. I need to develop my own voice.

    I found this post rediculously useful. Thank you SO much. And I think I will start submitting some of my better (and not quite so obviously DNA-knockoffy) works to various and assundry publications. I already submitted two to the Reflections Contest, and I’ve been selected to advance to state level judging.

    -Rachel Pendegrass

  205. I’m 13 and I have to shout out a big thank-you. Some other people have told me some of what you said, but I didn’t know whether to listen to them or not (in my experience, distant “relatives” are not a reliable source). Now I kinda know what the process is and what to expect.

    The only thing that suprised me is the comment about Journey…..I LOVE JOURNEY!!! Some kids heard lullabies, I heard classic rock (thank you, Daddy).

    Back on subject, thanks for the tips.


  206. Ah, you big bunch of old whiners…
    Ok, so we’re all still young and impressionable (I’m 13) and we may sound EXACTLY like the last book we read when we write… but the thing is, we still do have a voice. And some talent! We may not be able to spin a story quite as well as some of you old-timers, but we have a grip on reality and the things we go through every day that some of the over-30’s just don’t seem to get. Like reading a novel written by some ancient 40 year old from a 16 year old’s point of view. They might have been that age once before, but they’re not anymore! Things change and no amount of research can give anyone the feeling of what it’s like to be a teen today.
    So give us some credit! We are, after all, the future rich and famous you’ll be watching on tv when you’re toothless in a chair at the retirement home… and we wouldn’t have gotten there by writing about Mary and her little lamb.

  207. This site is truly invaluable to us aspiring writers. I appreciate such information. I see that the “Your writing sucks” part of this post achieved something: weed out stubborn teenagers, taking too much pride on their writing abilities. There is always room for improvement. But how are we to improve if we believe that our writing style is superior to others? Stubborn teenagers… I apologize for those who criticized this post. It’s bad enough that they showed no writing prowess as they did.

    A truly appreciate such help. Information well made and, for the most part, well received.

    And so what if you sounded condescending? Writers are sometimes snobbish anyway. And there lies the beauty: it just makes us want to outdo you more.

  208. Thanks!!! This is really helpful. the only useful sight I’ve found so far.

  209. Well, first of all, thank you for writing this! I knew a lot of the points, but it helped to be reminded! I’m 15, and reading some of my stuff from even a year ago can make me cringe. But there’s something that has helped me improve by leaps and bounds … Writing internet fanfiction! Okay, it’s not original exactly, and I certainly won’t do it forever. But it’s taught me a lot about my grammar (which was good out loud, but pretty atrocious on paper, and is now pretty good all round), it’s given me feedback from other authors (most around my age) and now I am already developing my own voice (which, ironically, has stemmed from copying someone elses – because that’s what fanfiction is. But I’ve found that it has helped me immensly anyway, as I have managed to take ready made characters, and mould them so they’re my own – something that took a lot of work, but it still kind of worked in the end). I would reccomend it to any teenage author, I really would. Not only can you get feedback from other aspiring authors such as yourself, but you learn so much about writing (including the feeling of rejection) and your writing really does improve so much. I know mine has (and I’m sure it still can, but progress is progress, right?)

    Anyway, once again, thanks for writing this. I will particularly take note of what you said about reading the crap that bores you – I have, like you said, generally stuck to “safe” stuff I know I will like. Should I maybe go borrow something from my older brother I had previously shrugged aside because it wasn’t my thing …? I think I just might.

    Thanks, I really do appreciate it.


  210. advice is good and besotted by influences is true but i still reckon there are exceptions to ‘your work sucks’ some people do get through and trying young is no bad thing.

    your always gonna hate your work from the past in some way or another even if u havent just left teenagehood.

  211. I find this a bit useful actually. That’s a surprise. I’m 14 and I looked back last year at my stories…well most of them contain sarcasm. Very funny actually.If you knew what I was talking about. And I know. Lots of people’s poems and stories absolutely suck. I know its true. I read most of them. I consider my poems alright. Depressing or emo sometimes. But alright for my age. And being bad at English doesn’t help one bit. I hate grammar. Not that you should know but whatever.

  212. writing is what i do. i love writing, and i’m really glad someone posted tips for writing. i’m writing a fantasy book now and REALLY REALLY REALLY hope to get it published. i’m only 11.

    thanks for posting this, though!

  213. I hope I can be as good as a writer as you are.
    Thanks for not using slang. That was a very smart decision on your part.
    I’m a young writer and I hope to someday be published.
    I was on the newspaper staff at my last school and I have had one of my poems published.
    But my goal is to write a book and everything that you wrote has made a difference on my outlook on my writing career.
    I just want to say thanks. Even though I don’t know you.

  214. hello my name is ME,well all i have to say is that whole thing didn’t help, it wasnt very good because you were telling your background infomation which no really needs to know though most of us are teenages,
    Peace out_xo

  215. Um, okay, I have to admit my first thought was: well, thanks a bunch. You’ve never read my work – in fact, you’ve probably never even seen me, so how the hell do you know that it “sucks”? I warmed to many of the rest of the points you made, and I must admit that teenage writing progresses at a far faster rate than any other: I’m embarrassed to read the stuff I wrote a few months ago, never mind years.

    However, I’m still not sure that starting an article for teenage writers by telling them that their work is categorically and undeniably crummy was a good idea; I think a lot of teens who actually serious about their craft struggle less with conceit and more with lack of belief in themselves.


    ~ Sally

  216. Sally:

    “I’m still not sure that starting an article for teenage writers by telling them that their work is categorically and undeniably crummy was a good idea”

    I am. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for teenagers to be told that at this moment their best is on average not particularly good; I think it’s perfectly reasonable to tell them that at this moment it’s all right that their best is not particularly good, because they’re in the process of mastering their craft.

    If a young writer’s reaction to being told his work sucks (particularly in the larger context of this essay) is to give up and not write anymore, than he probably shouldn’t be writing, since the life of a writer is one of constantly being told your work isn’t good enough. People who are so easily discouraged are going to have a rough time with the real professional writing world.

    Personally, I imagine that my response to being told my work suck, were I a teenager, would be “says you,” and to continue doing what I was doing. I think that is a perfectly healthy response, incidentally.

  217. Um, hi there. I just wanted to say that I thought what was written here was quite useful. I just turned 15, and would like to think of myself as a teen writer and poet. I’m guessing 15 falls somewhere into what you would consider young. I am trying to write my first “big” thing, which probably to you or anyone else 10+ years my senior isnt very big at all, but at least I’m trying. I took a creative writing course last year as a freshmen in high school, and I found it to be by far the class I enjoyed the most throughout the whole school year. I mostly wrote poetry in that class though, but my teacher really, really liked it and sent it into mulltiple contests, so I guess that’s definately a start, even if it isnt a story. So, I guess I just wanted to say I found nothing in what you said discouraging. I think I actually found it inspirational, and I’ll just continue to pound out my ideas until I become good enough to maybe become published. Thanks.

    – Dalton

  218. You’re a very amusing person, Mr. Scalzi, and I’m grateful for your honesty in this. Although I admit to cringing on several occasions whilst reading this (seeing as it brought my ego down a few healthy notches), I did (however difficult this is to believe) learn a few things. While I agreed with a large majority of what you said, I still can’t bring myself to fully appreciate other portions of your essay.

    First and foremost, it would seem that you have a rather stereotypical view of teenage authors. Which is not to say that you’re not justified in your opinion, to some degree. Honestly, it’s hard not to look at my contemporaries–most of whom cannot discern the difference between ‘too, to, and two,’ along with various other homophones, and yet still consider themselves in the running for a Pulitzer before they’re eighteen–with a bit of pity. I understand why many adults think so little of us. However, it would seem that you are ignoring the few teen authors that do produce decent work.

    I’m fourteen years old and I know my writing’s rather ‘suck-ish.’ I’m not going to defend myself as other teens in previous posts have, saying I’m “an exception” or a “special case” because I know I’m not. After reading through each of the comments, I’m starting to realize exactly why it is that teen authors are so ill-conceived in the writing world. We get one bit of praise and we think we’re some kind of prodigy or whatever.

    Regardless, I think a lot of people here are taking the whole “The Bad News: Right Now, Your Writing Sucks” thing a little too literally. From what I’ve read, this article is intended to promote writing amongst teenagers, not to discourage it. This essay is rather effective, too, seeing as a lot of the hot-headed teenagers who don’t take well to criticism are going to continue on writing just because you “told them their writing sucks,” while the others who will take this to heart will use this as a guide for future writing. It’s a sort of win-win situation for you, I suppose.

    All in all, thank you for posting this. It was thoroughly enjoyable, to say the least.

  219. That’s all good and well, but it still niggles, mainly because it’s just untrue. I, for one, have no great issue with my own work being called crap, because it probably is, and I’m fine with that. But there have been some great teenage writers, and a blanket statement like that just comes across as a little petty and generalised. I know what you’re trying to say, but that doesn’t mean you said it right. That’s all.

  220. Sally:

    “But there have been some great teenage writers”

    This is true. There have also been some teenagers who pitch perfect 99 mile-an-hour fastballs without much in the way of training. In both cases, however, they are in the extreme minority among all the teenagers who attempt that particular skill. It’s not useful in either case to suggest that these extreme exceptions invalidate a general observation. And in any case, I’m not writing for the people who are the extreme exceptions. I’m writing for everyone else. The reason this statement seems general to you is because it is.

    The vast majority teenage writing sucks. It’s just the way it is. It doesn’t mean the teenagers who write it are bad writers. It simply means they lack the skill to be as good as they will be in time. That’s all.

    As I noted before, I’m perfectly content to say what I have said, as I have said it, because I think it’s largely accurate. You may or may not be happy with my characterization of it, but I can’t help that.


    “First and foremost, it would seem that you have a rather stereotypical view of teenage authors.”

    It’s possible I do, of course. I prefer to think that most teenage authors have a good grip on the present quality of their work, and wouldn’t mind being told from someone who knows that that with work it just keeps getting better from here — that with writing, the best days are ahead, and that those days keep getting better for a long time afterward.

  221. I think the most important message here is not that teenagers suck at writing. I think it is that it takes a LONG time to be good at writing, time that teenagers simply haven’t had enough of. Through lots of practice and the tips you gave here, we teens can become good at writing.

  222. Oh, and I have a question.
    When you say we suck at writing, does that mean our ideas for our novels will suck too?
    Because honestly, I have been developing my ideas for several years now. The stories really excite me and I picture them in my head before I go to sleep. Which leads me to another question: how do you know if your idea is a good one?

  223. I am a 16 year old, teenage writer. Never been published (not yet at least, entered my first contest last week) but I honestly can not stop writing.
    I’ve writing seriously for less than 6 months but I MUST have a pencil and paper near me at ALL times…I get ideas for poems everywhere. I actually have an overload on ideas right now, not because of the multiple problems that often plague writers, but because I work on my poems for weeks and weeks after my first draft(some of my poems have got up to 7 and 8 drafts). I have a OCD like habit of HAVING to have the words in the perfect order.
    And I can also tell when I am not being trufull in my writing, as in putting someone else’s words or ideas on paper.
    I am a HUGE fan of Robert Frost and therefore none of my poems are free verse and I have occasionly followed his rhymes schemes. As well, most of my poems don’t have just a rhyme scheme but follow a strict rhythm (Though, I often have troubles getting words in iambic, stress and unstressed is still a little hard for me.) But I don’t feel I have ever tried to speak through Robert Frost’s voice and forsake my own.
    Like him though, I often write about nature and relate it to others things but thats because I have never read a poem that incorporated man-made things such as cars and computers that made me feel any better-off after reading it.
    And even though I haven’t been writing very long, I have gotten praise by people for what I have written. Not just by teachers and relatives but by random people online who I have never meet (not that they know much more than I).

    But whether or not my poems are considered “Good” in the literary world, I have the belief that I can write very well (far beyond the teenage “oh my life is horrible/if it rhymes its a poem” philosphy of my peers) and that belief allows me to take cristim (of which I LOVE) and turn it into a postive by focusing in on that problem until its fixed (for many of the problems raised by my teachers in my poems have been things I was unaware of).
    And at current, I love to just play with words. I honestly think I am addicted. I have actually seen a decline in my communication with friends in the past couple months for the reason I have, at times, found it more amusing to stay at home playing with my writings than to go out with friend. I don’t know if thats normal or not (or even healthy!) but its what I do.

    Anyways, I would greatly enjoy talking to you aside from this topic. Just to be able to talk to a published writer and get their feedback (if possible) on what I have written.

    Oh and thanks for posting this so a bunch of teenagers could come here to type about how not all teenagers are bad writers and how awesome their work is (espically when they didn’t even use somewhat proper english).

  224. First off, I didn’t read the entire comment discussion, I’m a bad person, but mostly I’m tired.

    I went to Interlochen Arts Academy as a Creative Writing major for the first part of a semester, but then I went crazy and had to come home. And by ‘went crazy’ I mean a lot of stuff happened that I’m not getting into. But I learned a lot of things there – it was my first experience with real critique (I’d beg people for it and only get ‘it’s nice’ in response, because these people were my friends and mother and unfulfilled english teachers who had missed their callings, as maybe technical writers or something) and my first experience being around ridiculously talented young writers. There were 37 of us in the department, of all sorts. I must inform you that not all teenage poetry sucks. Some of these kids rocked my world with their poetry. Mine does suck. It beyond sucks. It stays in my journal and I don’t let people look at it or even know it exists. That’s where it belongs. And yes, a lot of our writing is crap. Most of what I write, I read through the next day and laugh at, not because it is funny, but because it is bad. I think my perspective on my own writing – which has this odd way of varying even within ridiculously small time frames – is fairly accurate. But I think I’ve written decent things before, and through revision, made things that were not decent into things that are decent. They stress revision A LOT at IAA. And they don’t like you to write genre fiction, not because it’s ‘not real’, but because it is hard to do well/newly/freshly. There are sooooo many clichés in genre fiction.

    A guy who teaches there, who I never had because I left too fast, was quoted as saying you can’t be a writer before 50. Everything up until then is practice. I like that idea.

    If it takes 10 years to get brilliant, I have 6 left. I have the feeling it’ll take me longer than that though, because that lands me at 22.

    So moslty, the article – not that ground-breaking earth-shattering or new, but a nice summary and clarification of what I for the most part already knew. But, okay, my plans for the future now consist of getting a license to cut hair and living off of that. It’s just, a little bit closed-minded maybe to assume that everyone’s going to college. I didn’t even finish high school.

  225. Poetry is the last two comments above me in this thread.

    Unfortunately, it’s probably important to have read the whole thing to get the joke.

  226. I have a question. When your writing is good, how do you tell? Or, what are the qualities of a good novel? I know that I will be writing my novels for a very long time. (I’m pretty much a perfectionist…which is bad, I know.)
    Thank you!

  227. Stephanie:

    “When your writing is good, how do you tell?”

    I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I knew my writing was good when I wrote something didn’t need anyone else to tell me it was good. I just finished it, looked at it, and said to myself, “Wow. That works.”

  228. I am not a prodigy, a genius, a Pulitzer-aspiring, future NY Times Best Seller, or even a school newspaper editor. I excel academically, but nothing beyond your average honors student. I am a teenage writer. If not for anyone else, for myself.I confess I daydream about someday being published. Who here hasn’t?

    A comment to those whose pride has been wounded by this article; You definitely have the guts (and possibly ego) it takes to submit manuscripts/enter contests/post pieces and risk rejection from your audience/possible publisher. And it definitely takes guts to flaunt any piece of writing. I admit to being a selfish coward and rarely share what I write.

    To those who profess themselves as a “prodigy”; Talent is partially irrelevent. As cliche as it is, talent rarely ever gets very far without application and hard work. I believe this article was merely trying to stress that. Very few of us are genius’ consider yourself blessed.

    To Mr. Scalzi; I was among the many other readers who stumbled across your article by means of Google. Your article was, in a word, humbling. Yes, my writing sucks right now. Thank goodness it does! Heaven save us all if this is the best I can do! For all the potential I may or may not have, I must believe that what I write today won’t be as good as it could be tomorrow. Thank you for the suggestions and guidelines you’ve given.

  229. So, yes I agree, I’m no literary genius. I realize my writings need work. But my real question is: who’s critiques can you trust?
    I’m out of high school now, and I have sent my novel in progress to my high school English teacher, as well as the librarian. Both sent back suggestions, but thought that the writing was of good quality.
    I’m in college pursuing an English major. I want to write. But, it seems as though you are discouraging this.
    Can you perhaps clear up some of my confusion?

  230. Well, I was convinced that my writing sucked before reading this(I have a friend that is so down to earth honest that I am basically his only good friend).

    There are actually a few stories I have written that I know are enjoyable. Probably my best work has been from allegories of real life experiences that I have had.(I haven’t been through much at 16)

    The few amazing teen writers of today just might be the best empathizers of real life that exist(or perhaps they actually have had real life experiences).
    One of the problems with writing from empathy, is that you had to take it from somewhere else. You probably had to break it down in your head analytically and try to discover why things are the way they are.

    Having only Analyzed things can be very misguiding because having actually experienced them would most likely, drastically change your opinion or “the way you feel”.
    As a side note for young writers who try to be emotionally stable on their own and who forsake their popularity to keep their integrity. First of all, Bravo! it takes amazing courage to do that for most people. But one should know, it is not natural for a human being not to care what ‘anybody’ thinks.
    Friendships are strongly dependent on the constant aproval of each other, and I have almost never met anyone who is happy and has no friends.

    There are many decieving praises and criticisms out there. John Scalzi comes from a point of view that doesn’t seem to have any alterior motives so is trustworthy for what it’s worth.

    Thanks John Scalzi, for giving down to earth advice in a society where most everyone tries to sugar coat things.


  231. I’m a fourteen year-old poet and I frankly found your entry to be entirely true. (especially pretaining to the fact that most teenage writers’ works suck).
    But you did happen to mention those few “freaks of nature” that happen to be good at things without taking a long time to learn the specific art. But apparently, I’m told I am one, more or less through reccommendations by English teachers and other poets that have reviewed my work. Now you may find it to simply be horrendous, but it would be nice to know from a seasoned professional if I really should publish some of my works and possibly some suggestions of where I could publish them.

  232. Ryan, whether you should publish your works isn’t actually going to be up to you; it’ll be up to the editors to whom you submit your work. If you decide you want to submit your work, I suggest you do it like anyone does: By picking up a Writer’s Market in the bookstore, finding the appropriate market for the work, and submitting it according to specifications. That’s pretty much all it takes.

  233. I’m going to take your advice, and I know it aplys to me. I want to make that clear before I ask you this. I am in no way implying that it will happen, it’s simply a thought.

    I need you to give me a truthful and honest asnwer to this:

    If I (a fourteen year old writer) were to eventually get an offer from a non vanity press, and the publishers were not taking my age into account, does that mean that the book is good, and really should be published?

    I’m trusting that publishers will reject my work if it is horrible, but I’m worried that they won’t. I’m worried that I might regret getting something published at such a young age.

    But, I also don’t want my fears to get in the way of my dreams. So, give me your thoughts please.

    So, if a teen author gets the chance to publish their work, should they take it?

  234. Well, I’m a teenager…and boy am I glad I discovered this page. There’s a lot of encouragement embedded in this post. Thank you for writing this.

    I am facing quite a dilemma, and I was wondering if you had any tips: I can’t imagine myself doing anything but writing…..and writing bad poetry at that. I mean, all I can see myself doing is wandering about the city simply observing people and writing about what I see. There are plenty of publishers out there, won’t one take my writings? Can’t I make writing my careeer? I can experience life by socailizing, by having friends, by interacting with people, right?

    I simply cannot imagine working during the day and then writing as a side-job. It seems so wrong. I’m afraid if I so something else, sucha s become a lawyer, that all my….my poet-ness (ha) will be sucked out of me. What happens now?

  235. Nadia:

    “I simply cannot imagine working during the day and then writing as a side-job. It seems so wrong.”

    Why? Many great poets had day jobs. My favorite example of this is Wallace Stevens who won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry while he was a vice-president of The Hartford, the insurance company. In fact, he turned down an offer to join the Harvard faculty because he didn’t want to give up his day job!

    Aside from all this, there’s the fact that there are almost no poets in the US making a living purely from writing poetry. None of the recent Pulitzer Prize winners in poetry is a full-time poet; they all have teaching positions (although interestingly Ted Kooser was at one time vice-president of an insurance company, just like Wallace Stevens. Perhaps you should think of insurance).

    Here’s the thing, Nadia: If you’re a poet, you’re a poet. End of story. Whether you are also a lawyer or a cop or a barrista won’t change that.

  236. Is it possible you can see some of my 14 years-old boy? I think he has writing skills even though his gramma sucks but I would like to have a point of view of somebody better than me. Please email me. thanks.

  237. Rafael, I can’t — no time. Your son has teachers, no doubt. They can be useful in this regard.

  238. This is something from my son:

    ….Life isnt perfect to anyone of us but its easier for some. So if someone gets the courage to face life with nothing but a huge heart it wont mean much to the world. Since they got the courage to face their fears that would make them brave and a hero. But then why do people pay more attention to all the singers and actors and actresses instead of the better people in life?…

  239. Salutations – I understand completely what you’ve said and I agree with most all. Yet, I think it’s so general. I’m sure you’ve thought this over and, as a writer you realize that writing, life, is anything but general. I believe I’m thinking along the lines of the literary world’s many genres – all do the fact that there is a plethora of ways to write a mystery, there are so many variables to plug into the equation of a romance that to say ‘Romance is damn good!’ is too general and gives little or no credit to good mysteries or bad romances. We must categorize for a message to be sent across and to be received. That isn’t to say you’ve done such a horrible crime, but that I think exceptions do exist in every right. I don’t think all teenagers are horrible writers, just that a vast majority are – that they are stubborn and unoriginal, yet they are craving and this is from where their stubborn and unoriginal habits begin. Ironically those teenager writers who have, save their grace, written honestly are not always shown – they are not always novels, they are sometimes short stories with potential, often they are only small spurts that have forgotten how to be clever, that only remember how to be inspired. But even after you write your first piece of amazing, that isn’t to say you can’t fall back into the horrible. No writer is infallible, only that to write any honest, not necessarily beautiful, piece of work, in the long run, you’re stuck saying, ‘take me as I am.’ Under the assumption you’ve learned or are learning to take yourself as you are.

    I believe my comment almost blames you for an ‘issue’ which cannot be and is not in your hands. This is anything but the case, I just felt an urge to share my viewpoint, so please do not feel this way. The bottom line of my ramble was, I believe exceptions do exists, that not all teenage writers are horrible… granted you’ve been through some life experience in your teenage years and learned pretty damn fast; under swift assumption you’ve learned to think on your own, outside of both THE box and YOUR box; with the benefit of the doubt you understand some people will like your work, some people will not. Otherwise, I agree with you completely. But, I’ve added quite a stretch.

    I read through several of the comments left for you – forgive me, please. While some were loaded with fallacies, others were grateful. It was interesting to see certain individuals take your work personally, so personally in fact they decided to attack you – “Look, Mister. How do YOU know?” Perhaps you do not know, but that isn’t the point. I’m under the impression the point is you’ve been there, done that “so here’s some advice… I needed it when I was your age too.” You are only trying to assist us – thank you.

    No, you did not sugarcoat, as far as I am concerned your only euphemism can be seen in your second paragraph. “I might as well be dead.” I’m kidding, I never found minivans bad and ‘cool’ is just so general… but you know where I’m going with that one. (Majority rules, but that’s a whole different discussion).

    Anyway, thank you for your advice, it’s been very thought provoking, eye opening – several clichés for your time. But I believe the only way to thank you is to apply, apply, apply.

    It would be unfair to not tell you that I am a teenager. I am far from your equal, just that I know, for a fact, my elders have a hell of a lot more to say than my peers. In other words, I am just another teenage writer, but, hey, take me as I am. :)

    Apply, apply, apply.
    Please excuse typos.
    Blue skies ahead,

  240. Hello, thank you for providing this source for aspiring writers. I have wanted to write books since I was in third grade and have been writing frequently (every day in school, of course, but at least once weekly on my own) since that time. I am now seventeen and I have been told by my current English teacher that I am one of the more advanced high school writers she has yet encountered(she has been a teacher for over thirty years and I attend a school brimming with writing talent), I want to make it clear that this compliment was not taken lightly and has not gone to my head, but I do want to ask for your advice on a thing or two. I am poor- my family is hovering above the poverty level, I am currently using the local library’s computer- and my two major talents are writing and music, two things that could easily result in my staying poor. Now, I am a realist and know that my chances are slim at being able to do this only by being published, but would it be a positive and possible objetive for me to pay for college with the pieces I have written? I know your answer would be most accurate having actually read the work, but, considering your time and priorities, I realize I cannot ask you to do this. Just answering as to whether or not you think it is possible and probable for someone to cover a chunk of their college expenses by being published would be much appreciated.

    By the way, with having been writing for so long and being exposed to a lifestyle that many cannot imagine, I do have considerably more experience than most people my age, therefore I have motive and, equally important, ideas.

    Thank you for your time.

  241. Hi, I’m 15 years of age, living in Canada. I have a passion for writing and I want to become an author. As of now, I am writing my first real novel. In the past I have written short stories and essays for school, but now I want to get out in the world and show everyone who I can be on paper. At my school I’m not really the cool kid or the talkitive one, I usually keep to myself. Last year I won my schools scholarship prize “English Award”. It was pretty funny because not whole bunch of people recgonize me. There were a few grade 12 students who worked hard all year to win that 500$, but none of them got it. It was the best feeling ever to walk on that stage and know, that I, with out trying, acomplished something wonderful. I really love your blog, your advise, your wisdom. But I have to know-would it be way out there if I wanted to become an author now. ?? What I mean is, is it impossible for me to actaully get money at age 15, 16, 17 for writing? Lol, well anyway, excuse my bad grammar and spelling. I best be off now, i hope you relpy. I would love your opinion. -Chelsea,
    Gratitude, Hope, and Ambishion.

  242. Excellent advice. I’m a teenager myself, and had that reality slap when I took a college writing course over the summer after seventh grade. In fourth grade I had the idea that I could write a novel and get it published and make millions. Yeah… I enjoy reality now. But as with every other teenage writer I also enjoy mantaining a slight delusion that my writing is, in fact, awesome. Such is life I guess.

  243. Hi,I’m 19 and from galway,nice advice it gave me a wake up call and got my head out of the clouds.I’m hoping to someday get some of my poetry published,it’s about time i did something about it! Your article was very helpful,thank you.

  244. I really like some of advice you gave. By the way, you’re way too modest…that story from your teenage years didn’t suck at all. It was okay, not that bad.I don’t really mind the discouragement saying how teenage writers suck ’cause that serves as an encouragement for me to write better. Although I might not have agreed with all of your points- it was still enjoyable to read. I know my writing ins’t exactly the best but I can’t seem to improve it that much. I just can’t do character and plot development or making cliff-hangers. Any advice for a kind soul that needs it badly?

  245. hi im kaydee im 15 and am pregnent i had a pregnency test yestter day + i told my boyfriend + he was over the moon i dont want 2 tell ma mum + dad what should i do xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  246. You should talk to an adult you know and trust about it; posting for advice about something like that on a stranger’s Web site is not going to be helpful to you.

  247. I disagree with one of the comment below. I’m a teenager and I found it, because I was looking for some advice on novel-writing. This site really helped me out, though, so many thanks!!! I’m sending a link to it to my best friend, ( also an aspiring writer) asap. I am the first to comment here in a long time, the first in 2007 actually. : )


  248. I am, in fact, a teenager. Also, I found this advie very helpful. Thank you, I will put it to good use.

  249. I am just wondering.
    It seems like every post I have read has been about being good enough to get published….
    Doesn’t it make more sense to work on improving your writing and expanding your horizon first and then worry about getting published second?

    I don’t know, just seemed more reasonable to me.
    The way I see it, it’s all about the writing, (getting published is just a bonus). If you are only writing to get published, your work won’t be as good as if you write when you have that overlay of insipiration. Then again, I know little about writing. I often just write poems and short stories to amuse myself.

  250. I think you can safely remove “Teenage” from the title of this blog post. As someone in their mid-30’s this advice is something that I can take and run with.

  251. I feel kind of lame for being so late to this party, but there’s a personal discovery that kept on coming back to me as I read. It falls under the general heading of experience – but of the more personal sort.

    Everyone’s psyche has extraordinary and materially important quirks.

    It took me twenty years of wanting to find my recipe for good writing before I finally found the first missing ingredient:

    All of my sketches start in the middle of the damn story, and this is true even when I’m writing non-fiction.

    Imagine if you took a plot diagram and lopped off everything before the final ascent to the climax of the story. What would be left? Most people whine about too much exposition, but there is such a thing as not enough.

    …Which I discovered three years ago to be one of my personal challenges.

    I figure that some writing suffers because its writers suffer from similarly odd, um, blind spots, for lack of a better term.

    In addition to overbearing exposition – boooring! – what about over-characterization, abuse of certain forms of grammar or dialect, misuse or disuse of punctuation, or a refusal to have faith in one’s own ability to convince the reader to suspend disbelief?

    The list could go on, and I apprehend that for a lot of aspirants these quirks (whatever they may be in each case) lead to writing that is inadvertently twisted, spindled, and mutilated.

    I guess I endeavor to point out that it takes experience for a writer to recognize, much less straighten out, some of these unwittingly-imposed quirks down the road to good writing.

    Thanks for setting up these premises. This is fun, and I’m about to subscribe here.

  252. The problem with this article is you are assuming teenagers are just starting to write. I’m seventeen and have been writing stories since I was six. That’s eleven years of experience.

  253. i am officially 2 teenagers old and i’m finding this article to be pretty damn refreshing and generally neat. i wish i knew about wanting to be a writer 1 teenager ago. i’m going for a major in English now(long story). luckily i have “internets skillz” to use as a day job. i couldn’t stomach reading an abstract of Paolini’s first book but thanks to rule 5, i may give it a go again. i’m sending you the doctor’s bill, though. that was snarky, i know. i’m not a nice person.

  254. I loved this whole article. Most of it I did think was correct. The only thing I had a problem with was the first area. I`m a teenager and I write poetry. I may be young, but one of my poems has already been published. I don’t believe that just because we are young it means we are terrible writers. I think it depends at what kind of challenges you have faced and how you deal with them. Other than that, I do believe this article was amazing and completely true.

  255. Thank you for putting this up here. I am personaly trying to become a writer. I enjoy writing alot, and I think I have good plots for the stories, as do my teachers, but I am not good with detail. I know I am just 13, almost 14, but I really want to write something good, even if it’s not for profit. I was just wondering if you could give me any advice on the detail thing. Thanks.

  256. First off I would like to say that I am 18 years old and found this to be an intriguing and refreshing article. It opened my eyes to a lot of things I had not thought about before, such as point 1b; though I feel it is good to be initially swamped by your own influences. Since you do not yet have your own voice yet this will help you to get accustomed to different styles of writing, and over time, other people’s voices will fade out of your writing as you learn to speak for yourself.

    Allie wrote “I don’t believe that just because we are young it means we are terrible writers.” I agree with this statement, though if I had to summarize point 1a, I would say that no matter where you are now, you can only improve with time, regardless of present age.

    I also think the word “sucks” is subjective to age (among many other things). What I like of what I’ve written so far, I can’t see myself liking 10 years from now, but does that mean it was never good? I don’t like to think so. I’m writing to the best of my ability, or if not, then to the best of my enjoyment, and 10 years from now that will have completely changed. It is not fair to look back 10 years later to see how much better you could have written that piece now.

  257. I resent your “your writing sucks” statement. It’s completly unprofessional to assume we’re all as weak as you once were. What an arrogant statement.

  258. This comment is in responce to Dez:

    He is right about most people who are writing. Most of it DOES “suck.” The only reason you take that so offensively is because your writing probably does. I know mine did when I first started out, and it depends on what I write about. You shouldn’t have posted that comment, it was very rude and it just makes you look like an idiot.

  259. First of all, I will admit this was a very well written article. Even though I do not see eye to eye with some of these points. Age does not define a person’s writing abilites or knowledge. I am only 15 years old and I have already had pieces of my poetry sent to the International poetry contest and asked to be published. Not all young are stupid, a mere child poet of 8 is honored for his beautiful work. I understand rejection and know greatness comes from work, hard work and time. But, you would be surprised what lies in the minds of so many teenagers, gifted with talents that are way behond their years. Good writing doesn’t come from age, it comes from the minds willing to do it.

  260. ASH:

    I hope you’re not talking about these sorts of international poetry contests, which are generally scams.

    I don’t believe I’ve suggested that teenagers are stupid or that teenagers don’t often write well. I do think that the very large majority of teenage writers benefit from experience, and experience comes with time.

  261. Well, I am a 17-year old writer myself but I face a big dilemma as well. How can I get this across in as few words. . . I’m dysfunctional.

    Insane? No. Disfunctional? Yes. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a terrible student. Really bad short-term memory, poor organizational skills, problems with authority, ADD. All that. You know, the kid who has the report card that reads, “Abe is an exceptionally bright student but he has failed to turn work in.” (They do it by numbers these days.)

    I know, I know. Suck it up and do the work. “That’s what I’d do if I was you, Abe.” The thing of it is, you (the proverbial you) are not me. And again, I’m disfunctional.

    So what are my options? What CAN I do? (Scratched forehead) Let’s see. . . I know how to write. I know how do a few other useless things that can’t make money or give me any viable future career. (College? With my grades? Maybe a GED. . .)

    So what have I done? I started writing a novel. I’m at 250 manuscript pages. It’s epic sci-fi space opera, but I go out of my way to not be all that derivative. The way I see it, I can write a viable novel, I merely need to know what I’m working against and do whatever is neccesary to overcome those obstacles. My best shot at getting it published is A. having an orginal plot (I think I’ve come up with a pretty original story) B. good, interesting characters (I’ve gone out of my way to make them compelling, and not in the cheap, artificial manner) and C. write well, write detailed, write a book people will want to read.

    I realize those seem like awful lofty goals. I realize that that seems like an implausible thing for a 17-year-old to do. I’m not going into this blind to the realities of the world and specifically, the publishing industry. But I’m convince of two things: 1. If you build it, they will come. If you write a great book, they will publish it, even if it’s rejected the first few times. 2. My abilities. I have faith that if an obstacle is in my path to writing this story, a plot problem or a character problem, I will be able to overcome it. I only need to focus on the problem at hand and take it one step at a time.

    I realize I am probably the only person on this green Earth who has that kind of faith in me. I’ve reconciled myself with that reality.

  262. I will grant you this: My writing is not the best it could be. But I’m trying to take it all in stride and learn from my mistakes as I go.

  263. I’ll also grant this: Writing becomes better with experience, I do not doubt that.

    However, not all of us are at the same stage in that process during high school. Some people are going to be more astute at writing because they have gained a feel for how to write, they have read a lot, and they have had life experiences that have turned them into more perceptual creatures of workings of the world. For other people, it will be the most incomprehensibly boring thing for a person to do, akin to assigning one’s self homework.

    Would I become a better writer as I get older? Sure. Does that mean I am incapable of writing well now? Not neccesarily. There will always be people who actually do break the mold, and when you speak to “teenagers” what you seem to be implying is that you are speaking to people who think they’ve broken the mold but they really haven’t broken the mold.

    So my next question would be: How can a person know that they’ve broken the mold, short of sending their work to a publisher to see if they’ll publish it? How are all the people (perhaps like myself) who believe they’ve broken the mold take what your telling them seriously when they think that you are talking to somebody else?

    There’s no real way to know, is there? Essentially what you are saying is, “You suck. . . except when you don’t.”

    Here’s what I know: I’m good at writing. Good enough (in my unobjective opinion, of course) to get published. I’m terrible at school. What real choice do I have other than to do what works? I mean there will always be things to fall back on, however much I don’t want to think about that possibility. I’ve got to do what I know I can do. (How do I “know”, you ask? Ever heard of the term, “leap of faith”?)

  264. Anonymous:

    “How can a person know that they’ve broken the mold, short of sending their work to a publisher to see if they’ll publish it?”

    Why should there be another way? There’s no secret ceremony for induction into the mystical world of writers, or some declaration that one is sufficiently competent and may then have his or her neighbors formally address them as “the writer [insert name here].” It’s just not how it works. Usually, if one wishes to be known as a writer, the ability to sell work is the relevant criteria.

    Now, it’s certainly possible to be an excellent writer and not publish — note that the only reason Emily Dickinson was published in her lifetime is people other people sent in her poems. However, the ability to get oneself a paid on a regular basis for one’s writing is a handy and practical signpost that one has arrived at a certain level of competence.

    Note also, incidentally, that even when one is good enough to sell work, there’s still always room to improve. I’m a better writer now than I was five years ago, even though five years ago I had been writing professionally for over a decade.

    “How are all the people (perhaps like myself) who believe they’ve broken the mold take what your telling them seriously when they think that you are talking to somebody else?”

    Well, first, why is that my problem? If you think I’m talking to someone else, fine. Go ahead and ignore this entire article and do whatever you’d like to do. Clearly you don’t need advice, and it’s not like I’m administering a test on it for a grade you’ll get to help you get into college, or like I get paid when you say “why yes, this does apply to me.” I won’t be offended if you decide it doesn’t relate to you.

    Second, just as an observation, I’d note that the issue of teenage writing not being particularly good (and that fact being okay) occupies only two points in the list; there are eight other points in the list that are useful even if one is a totally brilliant writer as a teenager. I think a number of people have been so intent on declaring that, damn it, they’re good writers already, they they ignore that those other eight points are there, and are, from a practical point of view, probably even more relevant than the points about whether or not your writing sucks right now.

    That so many folks are getting stuck on the two points that snag against the ego is informative.

  265. hey, good advice. I’ve been writing stories for ages and i think they’re alright…my problem is that i end up with so many ideas i never finish a story off! I have about 50 on the go, which will no doubt, never be finished! But yeah, i’d reccomend this to other teenage writers

  266. Hi there. I just wanted to mention that telling a young kid that they’re sucking at writing is inevitable probably isn’t the right move. With much less experience in the field, and in life, of course they’re personal expressions will be different from that of an adult. However, that doesn’t mean that they suck. Why is the world so intent upon being perfect, upon fitting into the pre-set mold society shapes for us? Just tell the kids to be themselves. Tell them to hold onto what they believe. And if they love writing, then hell- go for it. In life we will always face major obstacles. Some of us, more than others. But when it comes down to it it’s not the measure of how well the world views us and our opinions but whether you yourself are comfortable and true to your being. If you love writing, then just write. It doesn’t matter your age or your skill, and it certainly doesn’t matter whether or not a bunch of people that somehow got “in charge” will like it or not. You can’t live life trying to please other people, trying to become what they want you to be. You wll only succeed if you’re true to yourself- you shouldn’t try to be perfect. What’s more beautiful than a little imperfection?

    A lot of your points were well-put, and I respect them and believe they are good advice. But in the future, I would suggest a different approach from the beginning. Perhaps one that doesn’t condemn teenage writers for being young and for “sucking.”

    I’d be contradicting myself if I told you exactly how to write. And I’m not, I simply wanted to make a suggestion. Hopefully, your writing came from the heart, and I hope that you are content with it. Because at the end of the day, money and popularity won’t bring you happiness. The only person who can find that for you is yourself.

  267. Brooke M.:

    “I just wanted to mention that telling a young kid that they’re sucking at writing is inevitable probably isn’t the right move.”

    Well, first I’m not telling that to young kids, I’m telling it to teenagers; and second, I disagree entirely, which is, of course why I wrote what I did, how I did.

    Third, I want you to go back and show me specifically where I am “condemning” teenagers and their writing, because in point of fact I did noting of the sort; indeed, the whole of point 2 in the essay is explaining why not only it’s fine for their writing to suck right now, to whit:

    Knowing you’ve got years to grow and learn means you’ve got the time to take risks and explore and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s permission to play with your muse, not stress out if every single thing you bang out is not flat dead brilliant. It’s time to gain the life experience that will feed your writing. It’s time you need to write — and time you need to not write and to give your brain a break. It’s the time you need to learn from your literary influences, and then to tell them to piss off because you’ve got your own voice and it’s not theirs. And it’s the time you need to screw up, make mistakes, learn from them and move on.

    In short, a disagree rather strongly with the idea that I am criticizing teenagers for being what they are, i.e., young and inexperienced. What I am saying to them is to enjoy those things, and embrace them, and have fun with the process of learning to write, rather than worrying overmuch about being “good.”

  268. Another reason teens/inexperienced writers/cat vacuumers might want to send out stories now: Some of the rejections are going to be bloody helpful. To wit: when I was fifteen, I had been writing for ten years, and I thought I had a good, solid fantasy story to sell. I had workshopped it, revised it, tightened dialogue, etc. I sent it out.

    I got a tremendously helpful, TWO PAGE rejection letter from TWO editors at the same magazine, telling me it was fresh & original, but had some weak spots. They then proceeded to let me know what all the weak spots were, and suggested if I re-wrote it, they’d buy it.

    I wasn’t able to re-write it, but I still have those rejection letters. And while I haven’t sold any fiction yet, I am a published non-fiction writer who is getting her MS in publishing right now. Those rejection letters got me through a lot of bad times. I love those rejection letters with every fiber of my being.

    Enjoy the rejection process.

  269. Well, aside from my issues with the first two points (yeah, its an ego thing) I agree with the latter points wholeheartedly. (With the exception of #4, see below)

    I try to immerse myself in the world so that I feel more in touch. True example: I spent last summer living in a tin shack in the Ukrainian countryside with no toilet, a horsecart, and a goat. Small little village called Krypivna, where my great-grandfather was born. (We were, according to my dad, “living how our ancestors did”, in which case our ancestors must have lived really sucky lives.) Most miserable trip ever, but in retrospect quite rewarding. Taught me a little about how people on the other side of the fence live. . .

    Anyways, my problem is this: School wasn’t made for people like me. I’m not an H+ know-it-all who feels that his report card somehow makes him smarter or more worthy than the next guy. I’m not a person who likes being lectured dogma, and then having to vomit it back with practised ease. Uh. . . not my modus operandi.

    I like learning for its own sake. I don’t worship at the temple of the H++. Maybe that’s my problem with school. It has very little now (if ever) to do with learning. Its really more of a overly glorified intellectual track meet, an extended sporting event complete with its own statsheet, Power Rankings, and Hall of Fame. I don’t want any part of that, and I guess if that goes against the grain, well, then it goes against the grain.

  270. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t reject school in its entirety. (I try to learn. I am in favor of learning, whatever the source. School is a mode of learning, albeit not a very good one.)

    What I disagree with is the notion that school is somesort of social, spiritual, or societal rite of passage that every successful person must go through. First of all, we are way too quick to attribute things to this vague group of people called society. Society did not create academics, academia created academics. Let’s not fudge on that detail.

    Then we have another vague group, experts, who put in place categorical standards such as “types of intelligence” and “career pathways” that, contrary to the likely original intentions of the progenitors of such concepts, have been made out to be the proverbial yellow brick roads that are the only ways to get to the proverbial Emerald City. This is a myth. And although nobody outright states it, the school systems find very subtle and unthreatening ways to hok that myth.

    So maybe I just find that to be just a little too reprehensible (and slightly Orwellian) for my tastes.

  271. What’s an H+?

    “What I disagree with is the notion that school is some sort of social, spiritual, or societal rite of passage that every successful person must go through.”

    I’m not aware of making such a statement, personally.

    What I am suggesting is that as long as one is in school, as nearly every teenager is, one should take advantage of the opportunities it offers to learn, both in terms of academics and in social interactions.

    Having said that, I will often note that when someone says “‘X’ is not for me,” it’s often because one aspect of it annoys them, and in writing off the whole endeavor they miss a number of other opportunities ‘X’ affords.

    I was not personally someone who cared much for things like grades myself; I maintained a consistent B-/C+ average in high school and college because I did well in the classes I liked and didn’t care if I did poorly in the classes I didn’t. I also feel that school was critical in my overall education, because I had the opportunity to learn with great teachers and in an atmosphere that encouraged me to explore (and, also, had great friends I met through school).

    I suspect that if you’re smart enough, you’ll find ways to get things of value out of your formal education even while rejecting those parts you find asinine and lame (be aware, incidentally, that many of the parts you find asinine and lame may be replicated later in life, so even as you reject them, study them). Which is to say, rather than to say “School wasn’t made for me,” try “I’ll find a way to make school worthwhile to me.” Because otherwise you’re spending eight hours a day marinating in your boredom, and that’s never good.

  272. As an older “new” writer, I’d like to inject an experience to help some of the younger writers understand. Lately on this thread there is much commentary on John’s first point. At a recent convention I was talking with David Hartwell, who is a Senior Editor at Tor Books. I said I was a writer, trying to break into SF/F publishing. He told me to my face, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but your writing probably sucks right now.”

    I’m forty. I’ve been published for non-fiction and poetry. I’ve written advertising copy, websites, manuals, and methodology for many companies. I’ve been trying to break into SF/F for almost ten years now (part-time, I have other jobs that pay the bills and soak up most of my time).

    And, yeah, for publishable content in the SF/F world, my writing still sucks. Nobody has bought my stuff, yet. I’ve received the nicest rejection letters. I don’t take it the wrong way. With Mr. Hartwell, I asked him for help and direction. He gave it to me and we had a nice chat.

    My writing continues to get stronger, the stories more compelling, the hooks get set deeper.

    So if you think it’s only “young” writers that are emerging into this field and getting past their own suckadtude, think again. It’s not that your writing may suck (note the conditional there) because your just in your teens (although John’s thoughts on experience are applicable), it’s because your early in your writing career. Hell, Stephen King has been writing since before any current teen writers have been alive, and he’s still getting better. That’s how this works.

  273. Mr.Scalzi,
    I personally found your article very helpful as I myself am a young, teenage writer. Just one question. How would I go about as to finding Publishers? Should I look online?

  274. Wow. What a great article. Thank you for your honesty and advice.

    I don’t really consider myself a writer (at least not yet), but as an 18 yr-old recovering perfectionist who has to remind herself that first drafts are not meant to be award-winners, I find great consolation in being reminded from a source other than my mother that IT’S OKAY if my writing sucks, as you put it. In this age of teen sensations, I’ve gotten stuck in the belief that if you want to be successful with something in life, you have to be phenomenal at it very early on or know your future occupation when you’re 3 (slight exaggeration). Talk about pressure! I love the idea of viewing poor writing not as a sign of zero talent but of considerable room for improvement, of which there is hope. After reading your article I went back and re-read some of my school essays from just this past year. I wasn’t thinking so much, “This sucks,” as, “This is how I could improve.”

    I don’t know what will happen with me and writing in the future, but your article has given me some good things to chew on.

  275. I was.. searching for an online writer’s workshop, me being a teenager and all.. and I stumbled upon this. Which is sort of the opposite of what I was looking for, it’s sort of ironic. In some retrospect it’s telling me to subconciouslly give-up for awhile and live life a little before I do anything, but then again it’s telling me that practice makes perfect.

    I’m not sure what you’re main point was john, but nice one, I have to say, you’re a clever man Scalzi. I can only hope that I find the right answeres in my sleep.
    Jack Gable.

    PS: (Can I cite this?)

  276. I was.. searching for an online writer’s workshop, me being a teenager and all.. and I stumbled upon this. Which is sort of the opposite of what I was looking for, it’s sort of ironic. In some retrospect it’s telling me to subconciouslly give-up for awhile and live life a little before I do anything, but then again it’s telling me that practice makes perfect.

    I’m not sure what you’re main point was john, but nice one, I have to say, you’re a clever man Scalzi. I can only hope that I find the right answeres in my sleep.
    Jack Gable.

    PS: (Can I cite this?)

  277. Feel free to cite away, Jack.

    As a point of clarification, it’s not telling you to give up. It telling you to make sure there’s more to your life than just trying to write.

  278. Hi,
    I’ve been writing since age 8. I’ve been in every book club my school offers since I could read. I read more than I watch TV, which is more than I can say for some of my friends. I’ve loved writing since before I could read. I have an exceptionally high vocabulary for my age and I am constantly working on improving it. My question is, what can I do that would make my stories tie together more easily? You see I write short stories for contest and school credit sometimes but I usually don’t send them in because I find that my stories seem to skip around a lot. I know the details in my head but I just never remember to include them. I’ve tried making layouts for stories but I find that doing so decreases my interest in the story itself. Can this problem be fixed with practice or should i pursue another path?

  279. Who the fuck are you to say anything about anything? I haven’t any idea why you have convinced yourself you know a thing or three about life, writing or the reason for writing. People like you should be shot out of a cannon into a pit of leeches… Teenagers do not “suck” at writing, in fact young people are much better writers young than they are at thirty-six. Look at Dylan’s Bringing it all back home compared to his newest album, or Newman’s self titled compared to Bad Love, or Taupin and Elton. And that’s just in muzak. (Lennon) Struck the chord, wrong. Wasting time, typing, nodding, not smiling, laughing not. Fucking idiots. Writing isn’t about anything but emotion and feeling. The sadness. “Goodbye.” in the sound of the archaic AOL.

  280. I think, in a certain part of my mind, that it has less to do with how old you are and more to do with how far your writing has matured, how well you know your craft and all its rules, and how well you know how to bend that craft in a way that makes it more effective than the rest of the crowd. Being 17, and writing a sci-fi/space opera/literary novel (okay, maybe more the first two than the third, it’s commercial fiction) I can, with all honesty, say that nobody my age is writing anything like what I write. (Nobody that has been discovered, at the very least; of course, neither have I.)

    Here’s the calculation I’ve made (and maybe I’m wrong about this): The number of teenage writers who’ve published full-fledged novels can be counted on two hands and two feet. The number who’ve published work that was actually any good can probably be counted on one, maybe two hands. The number of teenage writers who’ve published something that was genuinely original, compelling, devoid of idol worship, and marketable? I can’t name one, can you?

    I think publishers are looking, keenly searching, for the next Paolini. Not that I consider myself the next Paolini. I frankly think the characters I write are more interesting, the story I’ve written is indubitably more original, and my prose, while certainly is not deathless, is just a tad more compelling to read. No, I don’t consider myself the next Paolini, I consider myself the next Abe, as egotistical as that undoubtably sounds.

    I don’t credit all this to talent, or some sense of superiority. I think what makes my writing better is that I know my craft, I’ve taken the trouble to learn its ins and outs, conventions and tricks, dos and don’ts, and I’ve learned the rules so I know when I break them why I am breaking them. The problem is not age, in my opinion, so much as how much a person knows their craft and how well they are able to find original ideas to incorporate to keep things interesting.

    What it comes down to is this: Teenagers, in general, don’t try to learn their craft and develop it, and additionally, wouldn’t be perceptive enough to know an original idea if it hit them in the face.

  281. WHY(?!) are you so ready to judge the people who you haven’t even met? Without even reading anyone’s work, you so surely presume that every teenager ‘sucks’, as you put it, at writing. I am a teenager who has done the SAT English exams a year early and is currently writing coursework for GCSE English language and literature. At 13. And it’s not as if I’m just taking constructive criticism badly, as I am not, by any means, the greatest writer in the world. I do, like everyone else I know, have my faults, but I am not that rubbish either.
    Other than that, there are some very good points here and some very good advice. (But I do think you are slightly pessimistic, though)

  282. Ivy:

    “I am a teenager who has done the SAT English exams a year early and is currently writing coursework for GCSE English language and literature. At 13.”

    And? None of that has a thing to do with writing competently. It just means you’re doing a lot of schoolwork. Personally I knew a lot of folks who took the same sort of English classes as you did, did well and yet outside the specific talent of writing academic papers couldn’t express themselves in writing worth a squat. Don’t confuse academic precocity with writing competence; they’re not the same thing.

    As for judging people I haven’t met, I’ve done no such thing. I’m not saying “your writing sucks, therefore you suck.” I am saying that nearly all teenage writing sucks, which is a statement I feel competent to make based on experience. Writing is a skill, and it takes time to master, and like any skill, those who are in the early stage of mastering the skill are generally and quantifiably worse at it than those with more experience. Yes, there are exceptions, but generally speaking, the chances of any particular teen being the exception is extremely low. That is why exceptions are exceptions.

    If you want to be offended that I make a general statement about teenage writing sucking, go right ahead; I don’t mind. It doesn’t change the fact that most teenage writing sucks, and that most teenagers will need to put in the time and effort to work through that.

  283. Well, I agree completely with that. If I thought there were 100 other people my age on the planet who could tell my story, and tell it as well. . . I’d just quit right now.

    But there isn’t. There are people who are as competent(and in practical matters, more competent then me, to be certain) as I am, but nobody else out there could’ve write my story. It is distinctly my own. This is a real sticking point for me: This is not a formula story that I’ve writing. I didn’t cop 20 other writers and their writing styles to write a story that’s been told before so my rich daddy with contacts in the publishing industry could “edit” it for me and hook me up with his editor buddies. (Mr. Paolini, talking to you.)

    First of all, I don’t have a rich daddy. Secondly, I edit everything myself. I don’t have a mentor of any sort, and yeah, sometimes it gets lonely being the only one on planet earth who believes in what I’m doing. Third, and most important, I’m not writing somebody else’s story. I’m writing my own story, warts and all. I don’t believe a person can go through life living without a care in the world, acing every test, getting straight As, being little miss (or mister) perfect–and yet still have the understanding, the comprehension, the introspectiveness, the empathy, the experience and so forth, that it takes to write well.

    Real people aren’t like that. Life is not like that. That’s a distorted perspective of reality.

    That’s why when I see people like Paolini, or that Harvard girl, Kaavya “oopsies, a mistake” Viswanathan, I wonder about them. Sure, they’ve got the nuts and bolts, but are they ever going to be able to break out of their box, this black-and-white overly simplistic view of reality? Are they ever going to push the envelope? I have my doubts.

    I don’t think a person can be satisfied with the state of their world if they are going to set out to change it. Just my opinion.

  284. Whoops, so easy to post without putting in a name. That last anonymous was me.

    I’m not arguing with the point Ivy said about not every teenager sucking, and your point about 99% of teenage writing sucking. I agree with that. But I also think there are exceptions out there, people who do have the maturity and introspection and empathy (and control, because I’ve realized that’s important too) to craft a good story. There aren’t many exceptions, but there are some out there. I wonder if perhaps many of these exceptions may have gotten discouraged because of all this talk of teenage writing sucking.

    Whenever I tell someone I’m writing a book, I always have to preface it with a long-winded explanation that A. I’m not going into this with unrealistic delusions of writing some crappy teen angst high-school drama and B. I’m not writing merely because I like to write, but because I couldn’t see myself making a living any other way. I’m writing to be published, I’ve done my research, and I’ve been structuring and writing the story in a way that, while innovative, maximizes my shot of making money from the venture.

    There is a certain stigma I deal with. The “what if you’re just not that good, Abe?” question. And I’m tired of having to answer that question. The short of it is: I’ve done my research, I’ve learned about the publishing industry, and I’m doing my darnest to write a publishable book and I believe I’m a good enough writer to do so. And after that, it just comes down to blind faith.

  285. I’m a little let down that so many people are fueled by their egos to the point where they’re offended by a fairly accurate generalization.

    It doesn’t matter if a writer is starting as a teenager or as an adult; people are rarely good at something they’re trying for the first time. Or even the second, or third, or fourth, etc.

    Mark Twain said, “Every generalization is false, including this one.”

    Everyone knows this. Let’s try to keep an open mind, here, hm?

  286. I’m going to go for the casual approach. Sounding like I have an icecicle shoved up my rear doesn’t appeal to me.

    I think it’s completely ridiculous that so many people are getting fired up about the “Right now your writing sucks” bit.

    If you actually, truly think about it, it makes perfect sense. I read that section at least three times before I let myself become offended in any shape or form, and I found it to be a jewel rather than an insult.

    It’s good to know that you don’t have to pump out perfect writing, that it really does take years of time and effort to ‘get it’.

    Talent is fine and good, but then again, nothing beats persistence and good old fashioned hard work. Experience is something we’ll have to wait for, no matter how annoying.

    And one more thing… Family and close friends are there to back you up and to help give you confidence.

    People like Mr.Scalzi tell it from an experienced point of view, and wether he is one hundred percent accurate or not, we should take what he has to say to heart.


  287. I honestly don’t know about all teen writers sucking at their writing. Ever heard of The Outsiders? I’m sure you have. The author, S.E Hinton, began writing that book when she was a senior in high school (Seventeen years old.) She had her book published by the time she was a sophomore in college. And I know very many people across America that are my age and are excellent writers. And honestly, I thought your little short story for some HS class wasn’t completely sucky. So give yourself and others credit here.

  288. Sara:

    “I honestly don’t know about all teen writers sucking at their writing.”

    This is why I note “Excepting the freaks of nature, which very few of us are” in the article.

    Pointing out exceptions to the rule does not invalidate the rule for the vast majority of teen writers.

  289. Dear Sir,
    Kindly go fuck yourself.

    Reasonably sincerely,
    An Incredibly Clever and Unpublished Writer

  290. dear..person? im a sixteen year old writer, i have no work published. but never once have i been told that i suck. i generally pour my heart and soul into both my poetry and my stories. though when i read my poety and stories, i can see the room for imporvement. in my opinion im still a a novice level. anyways, your advice sounds good, but im wondering, do you have any suggesions as to where i could get some consrtucive critism. i could realy use it too see where i need improvement and where i dont. because id like to get some of my work published now. or atleast soon i mean. not like right this second. but, hehe i read your story posted as an exaple for how you wrote as a teen, its comforting to see tha my work is already beer than that. but it sounds like a cross beween me, anne rice and mercedes lackey, and sherlyn kenyon. but sill if you read my work you can tell im still in there. but anywasy, ide like some advice on how to publish my wrok and where to get critism if you could. id realy like to improve

    -ayla parker. or known also as the vampiress annariah (my rp characure and main subject of my sory im writing righ now)

  291. How about you learn how to spell and/or use grammar? I’d say that’d be a reasonable place to begin. Punctuation is your friend.

  292. That last comment is snarky, but it’s also true. As I note in the article: “for the love of all that is holy, please please please pay attention in your English composition class. You should know English language grammar for roughly the same reason you should know road rules before you go driving: It avoids nasty pile-ups later.”

    Moreover, you should try to write grammatically whenever possible, so that it becomes a habit; it’ll save you much misery later as you go to copy-edit your stories. Also, more to the point, editors won’t touch a story with very bad grammar. There are too many other perfectly good stories whose writers do use good grammar.

  293. the grammar thing isnt toally my fault, my keyboard sucks, the t key doesnt work well, and i typ fast but thx

  294. Type more slowly. Make sure the “T” shows up. Excuses don’t matter when you’re trying to sell your work.

  295. Hi, it’s she of the above “snarky” comment again.

    I guess my problem with this advice is that I pretty strongly believe that most good writers have some inborn skill and talent. Not, you know, the whole it’s-a-gift-from-god tripe, but in the same way that people are naturally good athletes or artists or musicians, people are naturally good writers. Like, er, the polite jackass (to use your words…) who told advised you to go fuck yourself. She definitely does have natural talent, as do a few others I know. And so I guess your advice pertains to these people (which is why I suppose they’re upset by it, because they know it to be true, and it’s extremely irritating to have all your flaws of which you know pointed out to you), who have the creativity and style necessary but still exhibit their youth and inexperience, I guess, in their writing – one of which you clearly were, as evidenced by that short story you posted.

    I, unfortunately, am not among them, though. I can write reasonably well, I suppose, in that I can handle the mechanics of it. My grammar and such are generally pretty flawless (though don’t judge that by this post; I have an awful tendency to ramble on the internet and make an incoherent fool of myself). However, I am not creative or witty or anything of the sort, really, and I think that’s something that’s probably far more difficult to remedy. Unfortunately. It seems there’s a boatload of information everywhere on how to improve one’s writing (most of which is generally self-explanatory and obvious and therefore unhelpful). Not so much on how to become a more creative person. I mean, I can recognize good writing, and I really see no way I’ll ever be able to produce it. Unfortunately. So I’ve concluded that I probably shouldn’t be an aspiring writer. So at the moment I’m an aspiring person who knows what she wishes to do with her life.

  296. isnt that what microsoft word and re-reading and spell checking is for? but that is true, i do have a tendancy to not pay attention to grammar….i should probably stop posting here now lol

  297. I’ve got questions and this really hasn’t answered many.
    1.) Is there something you can’t write?
    2.) Is there a minimum amount of pages to a fiction novel?
    3.) Is there a certain age you can’t get your book published at?
    4.) Will my writing really suck? What if it’s good?
    I’ve researched many publishers and I know one thing’s for sure: Don’t use self-publishers.
    5.) Anyone have an opinion on that?
    Well, thanks!

  298. alright, I’m open to hearing that my wrighting sucks, because I’m only 14, but I write poetry for the most part so that astract. I was looking into how to get published so I know how to do it when I’m older, I was wondering if you could tell me.

  299. i just entered a poem of mine in an online contest that is supposed to mail the results to me, is that a good idea. or was i stupid for doing so?

  300. Dear person who wrote this thing,

    I am 18 and an aspiring writer of sorts, and I can say that your advice is useful. I don’t know if I suck at what I write completely or just suck anyway, but I do doubt everything I write. To me, writing has become a continuous conflict between words and yourself. I constantly find myself discouraged by the criticism and comparing myself to other great writers, yet still desirably wanting to create words into life. And I may not be going to NYU as a great English major or anyone who scored wonderfully on her SATs but I do have what every writer needs, the burning desire to put originality into words and sentences.
    Also I can add that writing for the High school newspaper, sucks very much. Writing for the high school newspaper isn’t like real life journalism because students are denied one thing, freedom of press. I might be overtly critical because after all its high school and maybe writing for a college newspaper is different, but as my experience goes high school journalism is very sheltered and restrictive. Apart from that joining the newspaper club is a positive move to improve your writing, however it comes with lots of rules.

  301. Haha, I wanted to join our high school newspaper and reform it so badly, but it wouldn’t fit with my schedule, and looking at the paper this year, it would probably have been beyond all hope anyway.

    And everyone’s all freedom of the press omgz but, I mean, freedom of the press doesn’t actually mean you’re allowed to write whatever you want…you’ll always have editors to whom you have to respond, etc., and the paper’s success depends on what stories it prints, so it mightn’t want to print yours, and so it won’t.

  302. I’ve got ten tips-
    1.) dont take anything this person says to heart or personally or don’t even listen to the 1st two tips—times ten!
    Though, I do think you have to read to write.. like literature:
    The Black Pearl
    The Great Gatsby
    Mice and men
    I’ve read a lot of it…
    But the school newspaper sucks…It’s not hard to get things published in it… Trust me… If you can’t then the editor sucks and knows nothing, but thats not your problem…
    I’m 16 and proud!

  303. I like how all aspiring teenage writers who have posted here are so self-righteous. I mean, really. I would totally boycott an author if she were all bitchy and arrogant like that. Like, um, Ayn Rand.

  304. Hello. I must tell you that I don’t neccessarily agree with this, no offense to anyone. I think that if a person is just naturally a good writer, than they could write a book when they are very young. It’s not really right to say that you suck because you’re a teenager. That’s way narrow minded and not even giving them a chance. I want to write a book in the next couple of years to pay for college, is that a problem? Or should I just leave my passion and never even try? Like I said no offense because I don’t honestly even know who you are.

  305. Aspiring Young Writer:

    “I want to write a book in the next couple of years to pay for college, is that a problem?”

    Well, you’re welcome to try. However, it will take you time to write the book, and then time to sell the book — which will likely need to include time to find an agent; if you don’t find an agent your manuscript will probably sit in various slush piles through your entire run of college.

    Also, of course, while there’s no theoretical bar to a young person writing and then selling a novel, it’s rare enough that when it happens it makes news, so statistically speaking you shouldn’t get your hopes up. Likewise, as the average advance for a first time novel is well below the average yearly college tuition at many public and nearly all private colleges, and you’ll likely be out of college before you start collecting royalties, if there are any royalties to be collected at all. If you’re planning to finance college with book sales, you’d better plan on selling more than one. Which naturally complicates the situation.

    So while if you feel you can write well enough at your age to sell a book, I would not dissuade you, nevertheless I would suggest that you have a backup plan for paying for college as well. Most teenagers choose retail.

  306. I am 14 years old and i need some one to help me figure out if any thing I write is good, so if any one will please post it on here.

  307. Nineteen here, found this article very enlightening. I suffer from being too clever.

    I’ve had people utterly hate my (satiric) writing, while others unknown to me have called the same pieces brilliant, and it’s this radical difference of opinion that keeps me going.

    And it is hard for me to tell when I’m just mocking something, or it’s for an honest thought with a deeper, more original idea than fucking other undergraduates.

    Observing pointless cleverness is more frustrating when writing satire. But I did do a piece reminiscent of Jonathan Swift before even hearing of A Modest Proposal. I swear.

    So I’m sitting here, drinking, trying to question everything, all the time. Especially the Hunter S. Thompsons and Charles Bukowskis. They’re much more dangerous to me than a rote Stephen King or Danielle Steele.

  308. I do not want to sound rude or anything but I have to tell you, you are wrong. Not every teeager’s writing sucks and not every teenager has to start getting oublished by their school newspaper. I am a teen writer and I’ve never been published by a single school newspaper. I skipped that and went straight to getting one of my poems published in a book. In fact, my poem is the very first poem featured in the book. I was also selceted for the editor’s choice award and I did this all before my 16th birthday. So I believe that my accomplishments prove that not every teenager has writing that sucks. Now just because you think the writing you did as a teen sucked, doesn’t mean it really did. You are your worst critic. So it would help that you didn’t tell all teens that no matter what, their writing sucks. It lowers their slef esteem and causes them to want to write less. Trust me, I know from first hand experiance but I also had those that supported me. Surely you know what it’s like. So if you want to reach teenage writer’s, my advice to you as a teenage writer, is to tell them teens that the longer they write, the better they will become.

  309. …But he did tell them that.

    I think the point is not that OMG EVERYONE MUST WORK FOR HIS SCHOOL NEWSPAPER or OMG TEENS SHOULD NEVER EVER BE PUBLISHED. It’s more, as a teen, your writing can’t possibly be as good as it needs to be and so you should, you know, keep working at it. Hence the second item on the list.

  310. um, HI
    I am a 15 year old writer. reading your article sort of popped my pride balloon. I am working on my second novel ( the first one stunk) and i was so proud until i read this.( i am very VERY protective of my work) and i was looking into publishing and came upon your article-blog-thingy. well it sort of brought me off my pedastal (we tend to think that we(writers) have written the most brilliant thing ever) and back to earth. Im not saying you werent a little harsh (need to put some ointment on my pride and self esteem) but it was nice to read something a writer wrote. if anybody reading this has any information on how to get and agent or how to get my stuff published post it. My novel is almost done and even if it does stink i want to get it published. (even really bad books get published) someone out there may need a really bad book to compare to someday. sorry i tend to babble. well in short thanks for the article and all that stuff. see ya!

  311. Has anyone here ever written a book? If so, how did you get it published? Thnx, I’m looking to publish mine… XD

  312. I’m fifteen and have been writing short stories since I was seven. I was ecstatic to find this article! I’d like to point out how ironic it would be if all of the teenagers who just so happened to be the exceptions to the rule found this site. I’m impressed with how you handled all the kids rambling on about what a jerk you are. I actually appreciated being told my writing sucks. I think maybe it was just what I needed right now because I know that it sucks, but being told so makes me want to work harder.

    I also appreciated that you pointed out that I shouldn’t just write. There are a lot of things that I want to do with my life, and I always planned to have writing as a side job, but some of my friends didn’t think I would have time. It encouraged me to know that is exactly what many of writers do.

    I actually came across this site while looking for published teen authors. That is when I realized why I couldn’t find any!

    The only problem I have with the article is that (and I’m not entirely sure you were insinuating this at all, so don’t take offense if I’m misunderstanding you) you seemed to assume that all high school newspaper editors are “insufferable dweebs.” I am the editor on my high school newspaper, and though I must admit that I can be weird, I am not an “insufferable dweeb.”

    Anyway, I think that was a great article with great advice, and I fully plan to use it! I can’t wait!

    P.S. I’m going to see if I can find some of your books at the library. : )

  313. I also totally get what you are saying about being observant, so all of my characters aren’t just like me. In the story I’m writing currently, the main character is almost identical to me with just a few tweaks to make her more like I would like to be than what I actually am.

  314. Sparkles:

    “The only problem I have with the article is that (and I’m not entirely sure you were insinuating this at all, so don’t take offense if I’m misunderstanding you) you seemed to assume that all high school newspaper editors are ‘insufferable dweebs.’ I am the editor on my high school newspaper, and though I must admit that I can be weird, I am not an ‘insufferable dweeb.'”

    Heh. I’ll take you word for it. I was editor of my high school newspaper as well, so the tweaking is affectionate, to be sure.

  315. Haha, that makes sense. This is still an awesome article. I’m printing it out for future reference!

  316. Look mister, I liked most of the things you had to say but I don’t think my writing sucks and I will never take that piece of advice. Sure, pieces I write will always need some improvment but at least I write I feel my writing is well thought out and I couldn’t be any more passonite about it so say what you want but my writing is good!

  317. What a sad life one such as yourself must have. To insult one for work unseen shall lead only greater perils onto yourself. While it may be a truth that the majority of writers in their teenaged years are incompetent, those most serious about going about the act of becoming a writer are not the same as the others. Your writing reeks of unsubstantial work, and I would truly appreciate the knowledge of this odd new format of sentence that you are using. What is “Now is good.” supposed to mean? Now go scamper off and get a life before you attempt to impress your astute experience upon us worthless beings of a lower stature.

  318. Your own writing being dreadfully stale is no reason to flame teens.

  319. I agree with what was said. I mean, if you go back and look at writings that we (ourselves) have done in the past, it really sucks. I’ve thrown out so many after going back and reading them. Sometimes I have to wonder where the ideas come from. Sometimes I could laugh at something serious that I’ve written because it was so poorly done. Not all writters are going to be so perfect first time around and I think someone saying that our writtings suck helps prepare us for what’s coming up if you do want to continue on with a life of writting. Learn to except put-downs and you’ve got the world in your hands. If you’re pushed down once you get up twice and that makes us the better people in what is to come.

  320. “To insult one for work unseen shall lead only greater perils onto yourself.”

    That is really terrible writing. Seriously.

    “Now go scamper off and get a life before you attempt to impress your astute experience upon us worthless beings of a lower stature.”

    That’s not very good either. Painful really.

    All us teenagers have is vanity, which is why I’m glad to be leaving this age bracket shortly. We put ink to paper the same way we apply makeup or a shaver to our faces.

  321. I’m a teen writer. It’s amazing what a few years can do to your writing style. I look back on old projects and shudder.

  322. I have to say, I do take your advice to heart (although I am partially content to realize that I had already known most of it). The weird thing about being a teenage writer is mainly standing at a threshold: you know the content of your writing is too angst-y to matter and that your personality and beliefs will change q9239274924x times, but yet writing away, nonetheless.

    But I really MUST say that my writing is much better than yours was at my age (absolutely no offense intended, of course).

    Oh, and it’s very true–we are, in fact, extremely self-righteous and pompous. It comes with the age (or so I hear).

  323. Oh, and I must say that “Derek” (who is scared of the ‘Charles Bukowskis’ of the world) and I share quite a few things in common.

    Writing that is full of satire oftentimes fails to achieve an underbelly [of honest meaning] and falls into the pothole of nihilism.

    Kids these days. Psht.

  324. i just want to thank you the author for writing this. you have truly taught me that, at that moment in time you may think that your writing is amazing. but it is actually crap. pretty pathetic to admit it. but it is true.
    i am 15 years old. sadly a myspace addict. trying to figure out why people TyP3 LiiK3 THiS. and searching for some inspiration. basically just living life.
    once again thank youu. :]

  325. My creative writing teacher told my friends and me we should try to publish our “children’s” book (which is, incidentally, completely inappropriate for children; do not blame me for scarring for life any five-year-olds; you have been forewarned) Mr. Bear Goes to Washington (uh, the front and back covers can be seen here). I was flattered, if somewhat skeptical.

    People tell me I am too critical of myself. I think I’m only being realistic, though. What you said – that my writing sucks – is what I’ve been saying for years.

  326. I’m a 15 year old and have never been published. I’m on my school newspaper, but I don’t think that really counts. I started writing books when I was 14, and I’m proud to say I have completed two first drafts of two novels. However, they did completly suck, but that is alright. Part of writing, I believe, is failure, because if you never fail, then you won’t get the full experience. For all you teens with teen rebellion and say your writing doesn’t suck, show us! Write about the passion and fury of being a teen. Let the world know and don’t take no for an answer. Sure, you may be rejected for a while, but won’t that just inspire you to make your work better? I mean, what are teenagers all about? Aren’t we known for being rebellors? (OH gosh, I can’t spell can I?) People tell us teens suck, we can’t do it. That’s conflict isn’t it, oh wait there’s the word (conflict) What novels strive on right? I say go for it! The more you write the better you get at it. Not to mention, it looks very impressive to your fellow peers, when you take a large manuscript to school and say it’s your book.

  327. I am almost 16 years old and while I agree with a few of the things said in this article, I do not agree that every teen’s writing is horrible. While your writing may have sucked, someone like myself or others around me could have outstanding writing. Those of you that have read this article, you can start getting published anywhere. I have recently had one of my poems published after entering it into a poetry contest and I have the book to prove it. In fact, my poem is the first poem featured in the book. Along with the publication of my poem, I won Editor’s Choice, and I have been asked by Noble House to publish one of my poems. I feel that someone does not have the right to tell a teen that their writing sucks just because their own writing was horrible. If you feel you have to cause a teens to feel insecure about their writing, which is what this article will definately do, then you are in fact insecure about your own writing. If you think I am on a pedestal because of what I have said, then so be it but I stand firm on my thoughts and I bet there are many people out there that will agree with me.

  328. Camille:

    Noble House Publishing is a scam. Indeed, many of the “poetry contests” and publishers are scams, which prey on new and undeveloped writers, basically to con them into buying the book their poem is published in. I’ve noted this fact in this comment thread before, but it’s been long enough now that’s it’s worth repeating again. This is not to say that your poetry isn’t good; it may be. But quality isn’t likely to have been why it was selected.

    There are two things one should take away from this:

    1. Given the prevalence of scams in the field of poetry, I’m personally unlikely to be convinced that the ability to “sell” one’s poetry to someplace like Noble House Publishing is an indicator of writing competence, for teens or anyone else;

    2. My admonition in the article to learn about the publishing business is clearly relevant here.

  329. I’m 17 and I’ve been writing and telling stories since well I can’t remember not doing it. I know that I’m not some amazing writer. I have won poetry contests and gotten praise for my stories but I’m not niave, I don’t expect to write some epic novel anytime soon. Camille I think you sound a little niave saying that at 16 you are some great poet. I’m sure you’re really good but you have barely begun this thing we call life, so get real! The article didn’t make me feel insecure at all it helped me out. I am for sure going to learn more about the publishing industry for future reference. Anyways thanks for writing this John.

  330. I fear the Bukowskis in my writing because imitating them would be a disservice, and I’m still searching for my own voice, to honor my heroes without capitalizing off their graves.

  331. thnxs for making this. helpful. don’t make fun of my e-mail address, i made it when i was 12 and can’t get a new one. still love horses though.

  332. Seems a decent enough reason. I really can’t help the influences that seep into my writing. Bukowski never works too well with me, though, simply because a girl being a Bukowski=Germaine Greer.

  333. Well, I’ve somewhat gotten a bit of time under my belt writing my book and soforth, and I haven’t really changed my opinion. What’s really changed is my outlook.

    What’s my outlook now: Yes, teenagers could, concievably, write as well as professionals who have been published before. I’m a teenager. I believe it. I have to, otherwise what am I doing writing a book? You’d have to be insane to be that audacious.

    Which leads to my second point. As was said in the original post, you’d have to be a “freak of nature” to pull it off. Downright insane. And there’s not that many people out there like that. Part of it is, you have to be insane in the right ways. Just being misguided and “misunderstood” is not enough. First: You have to know yourself, why you are doing what you are doing. Why you think what you think. Why are you “misunderstood”? It’s not enough just to be crazy. You also have to be crazy smart as well. My writing, I think, has gotten much better as I’ve gone on. Part of it is that I’ve taken an approach that I think has helped me: I’ll listen to whoever’s advice; I’ll look for information and resources to help me wherever I can; But ultimately, it has to come from within. If I try to copy somebody else, it just turns out all wrong.

  334. Your article is a lifesaver. Yes, I’m a teenage writer as well. The thing about us teenage writers is that, as you said, for the most part we are inexperienced. We cannot write about life unless we have actually been doused, soaked, and drowned in its shit so much that we can barely stand it.

    Another good point you bring up is that some teenagers are really good at faking it. Hell, I’m good at faking it as well, but the truth is that it bites you back in the caboose when you try writing something that requires discipline and structure.

    (Why else am I stuck – for more than a year now – making outlines for a story which will probably never be?)

    I still think I’m a pretty decent writer for my age, but the question which I’ve been begging to ask myself is ‘Am I a pretty decent writer regardless of age?’.

    You’ve given so much good advice, as well as an increasingly effective reality check. I was this close to choosing creative writing as a major. Sadly, although I’ll stay true to myself that I am a writer at heart, being able to afford food everyday is just as great of an incentive in the future.

    Just thinking realistically.

    That much said, I’ll keep on writing and trying on new things, like maybe that poetry workshop that has the foreboding ‘for adults’ sign (maybe, just maybe they’ll let me in?). Also, I’ve recently been interested in performance poetry and have tried it on a small audience.

    Can teenagers write really good and profound books? Yes. However, I’d have to dispell the majority for that to ring true.

    The truth is, we’re too full of ourselves in a way that we feel that everything we have to say is profound.

    I’m still aiming to get published, maybe even a nice, little book of poetry, but until then, I’ll keep on practicing.

  335. I’m a teen, and I actually got the point you were making in the article! Surprise! But yeah, this helped, a lot. I don’t know about other teens, but I’ve always felt this expectation from relatives and friends that I’m supposed to be writing award-winning novels before I finish high school, and it doesn’t help that most teen writers I know base their life plans on making a mint through publishing their books before completing college. Hearing from someone else’s mouth the idea that it’s not some big competition to see who gets published first is encouraging, as is the reassurance that I have time to grow and develop before I need seriously worry about publishing.
    The observation about ‘clever writing’ also pleased me: I’ve heard some of the advice in this article mentioned before, but I’d never before heard a distinction made between good and clever in this way, and thinking in those terms let me better gauge the quality of what I’ve written so far. Undeniably clever, but it’s more witty presentation and charming ideas than actual quality writing. Also, I have come across stories that feel out of my ability to write, and I’ve wondered if I will one day grow as a writer enough to handle the ideas and present the story the way I first saw it, or if I’m just being temperamental and lazy. It’s nice to know that there’s a case in favor of me not just being temperamental and lazy. All in all, this article actually helped a lot. I’m glad I found it. Thanks!

  336. I have written a book and my parents read it. They loved it and I also had my friends and teacher read it. They loved it and I am currently looking for a publishing company. I think he has no right to say our writing sucks because while some peoples may, other’s don’t! I believe in my writing and have gone through it many times! I believe in myself and he shouldn’t be putting people down!

  337. Another person named Abe. That’s awful weird. I’ll have to start calling myself Abe N now or something. Anyways, I would say that the bar really is: can the person be published or not?

    Because whether me or anybody like(s) it or not, that’s the only real indicator. Sure, we can read your work and say “oh wow, this is good” but it will simply be one person’s opinion. I look at Mr. Scalzi’s opinion as just that: his opinion based on his experience. My intuition tells me it can be done. That’s my own perspective and ultimately I really can’t get that from anyone but myself. Sure, I can listen to other people’s advice, but a person has to find his or her own way on the journey and not allow other people to say what can and can’t be done (at least not without at least exploring the question of whether or not it’s true).

    As for my writing, I feel that I’ve attained clarity. When you have clarity, it puts certain questions to rest. Questions like: Can I get published? Do I have what it takes to write a publishable book? I don’t ask myself those questions anymore. Those are doubts that can only hinder a person. What really needs to be focused on is actually, y’know, learning to write well. This I believe I have done. I learn how to speak meaningfully and not merely cleverly. I understand the significance of my character arc and my story and what things represent and what I’m trying to say.

    Here’s a key thing: When I talk about my book, I know what it’s about. I’m not grasping at straws. This is a key point to make. You can grasp at things, but ultimately, you must know what you are doing and what you are trying to say. Clear writing is the direct result of clear thinking. You can’t be stuck in some clunky existential despair about being a teenager and feeling misunderstood. NO. Knock it off. Learn to articulate rather than mope. That, I think, is a very important facet.

  338. Personally, I like what you wrote but you are only looking at one perspective. You need to look at this in a broad perspective because not all “young” writers are not what you might say they are. First of all there are many young and even teen writers out there like the author of “Eragon” (a bestseller) and many others. Second of all wisdom comes through age and things that we have been through. Although many young people are naive and don’t have to worry about anything and have not had many experience, there are exceptions.

    There are many young people who have been through a lot in there life and who have had more life changing experiences then some adults. I know all this because I am one. At the age of 5 I had to leave Iran and move to Turkey for 3 years and then move to America at the age of 8 for the sake of education. I had to stay here without a father for seven years because they wouldn’t let him come to America. Out of huindreds who wanted to come here only 3(including us) got accepted. My mother had to work hard for us and we had to live life not knowing if can pay the rent next month.
    Now he is finally here but at the age of 14 I have had many many experiences that have drastically altered my life and I know there are others out there who have been through more than I can even imagine. I mean if i get anything less than an A my mother gets mad at me and reminds me everything we have been through for my education and success.

    I was treated like an adult. My parents couldn’t speak English so I had to translate for them. I had to talk to everone for them and had to do the bills and write the checks. I had to do pretty much everything.

    Dont get me wrong I know where your coming from. I’m just saying that there are many of us who have found our voice because of our experiences and those are the people who can write and our life is reflected in our work. I completely understand what you wrote though and you are right in many cases. Young people have had nothing really happen to them and they dont have many experiences to relate to in their writing. Yet, let me get something clear.

    Experience makes a good writer and it doesn’t matter how old you are because anyone can have them at any age.

  339. Naz:

    “First of all there are many young and even teen writers out there like the author of ‘Eragon’ (a bestseller) and many others.”

    Not really. The number of teen writers who are selling work professionally is actually extremely small, both as a raw number and as a percentage of writers overall. Leaving aside the literary quality of Eragon, which is a topic of much discussion but not one I’m inclined to have here, Christoper Paolini’s success is so wildly unrepresentative for writers in general, let alone teen writers, that trying to make any conclusions about his particular success is not going to be in the least bit useful.

    The gist of what you’re saying is “there are exceptions” to which I say, well, of course there are. However, by definition, exceptions are exceptional, and the vast majority of people to whom this is advice is intended are not particularly exceptional in their writing ability and experience, even if (as teenager are inclined to do) they think they are. Pointing out that there are exceptions doesn’t do anything to invalidate the advice in general.

  340. I found this very useful, even if I’m well past my teen years, and heading towards dangerous shores of thirty-somethings.

    It really struck a chord in me; when I was in early teens and in elementary school, our elderly teacher was giving me high praise for things that in retrospect stunk to high heavens.

    My HS teacher was getting balder due to things I was handing over to him; it was only midway through HS when I “found a voice” — a voice I couldn’t quite declare as my own, but something I could use for building upon.

    But oh boy, do I remember being miffed about him telling me that “this will not do”. But, but, but, but the other teacher had thought that I was good! Well, yeah, maybe good for that age-bracket, but this is another thing — it was no longer the elementary school. It was disheartening to discover at first that yeah, he was right — I sucked. Like a black hole glommed together from several galaxies worth of stellar mass. I rebelled, clung to my suckiness, then searched and searched for that “voice” in my essays required for the class.

    I don’t write much nowdays; I have some plans to write this and that, but I don’t seem to have “time”, except I actually have nothing but time in my hands. However… what I also learned from that experience was… well, experience — of the sort Mr. Scalzi seems to refer to in this useful piece of advice.

    As an example, I used to do be a sysadmin and all around maintenance in my previous job; I got hauled to that job without much experience, and my boss told me to do things X, Y, Z. I asked her “how”. She told me that “everyone knows these things”.

    At that point I noted “Boss, you’re 12 years older than I am — you have had 12 years more time to get better than I am in this thing, and I could use a bit of that wisdom to get this thing done.”

    12 years means a LOT when it comes to IT business; 12 years means even more when we’re talking about writing and perspectives between 15 year old and 27 year old; trying to veto this with “oh yeah, but what about those teens who have had a lot of experience by age of 15?” is not going to fly. I can fully say that I have had LOTS and LOTS of experience by that age (some even suitable for an angsty teen novel), but when I reached 27, I had gotten even more experience by then.

    Keep writing, folks. You won’t get better if you don’t — there’s always room to improve. If I don’t keep messing with my servers, making mistakes here and there, how would I learn anything? If I don’t paint a godawful miniature, make a mess with static grass, completely fail with matte laquer… how would I learn? If I don’t draw those 10,000 sucky pictures first, doodle, doodle, doodle… well you get the point by now.

    Out of a masterpiece, 99% is perspiration and 1% is inspiration. Get to work! Write!

  341. Have any of you read Ruskin Bond’s books? I think young writers could learn a lot from him.
    How good is the positive teens magazine? How difficult is to make a sale to it? Does anyone have the phone number of PT

  342. This page is great; it’s very descriptive in how to become a writer, strenghthen your writing skills, etc. However, the only thing I would think about when writing to teens about improving their skills (whether it be writing or not) is how you word stuff.
    Even though you SAY its nothing personal when you say our writing “sucks,” that is kind of inconsiderate. Your basically generalizing us as an age group, which isnt excactly fair. While I think your tips could be very helpful, I also think you should reword things in order to attract teenagers attention in a positive way.
    Im 15 and Im in an AP writing/history class. Its extremely difficult and at the beginning, I was having a hard time because my writing hadnt been good before. It’s getting better now and I’m still a teenager. Age has nothing to do with it; I write better than my 43 year old dad.
    But I like your article, a lot. Thank you.

  343. What I enjoyed the most about this article was the comments.
    I hate to break it to you all, but age has everything to do with it.
    I’m eighteen years old and I’m a terrible writer. I’ve won awards in my high school and junior high, and have been involved in many writers’ conferences, but I’m still a terrible writer. Why? Because writing is a matter of life; as teenagers, we haven’t lived either long enough or well enough to be able to write well. I hate to quote a film, but for the sake of necessity, I will: “To write well you have to write what you know” (From Raja Gosnell’s 1999 film, Never Been Kissed). Quite frankly, at the age of 15, 16, 17, 18, or even 19, nobody knows anything. I’m willing to admit that my life has been rather empty so far, so by default my writing is empty as well. I’ve taken one English Composition course at the local community college and am in the process of completing another, but that has nothing to do with how well I write. These courses and others of a relative sort, though informative, don’t teach anyone how to write; living teaches us how to write; writing teaches us how to write. As a matter of fact, I’m avoiding my English Comp homework as I’m typing this… ’cause I can’t help but think, “It’s a really nice day today. I could be fishing, or people-watching, or doing something more constructive than being a slave to education…”

    Oh, and to John, the author of this article: Thanks for telling me my writing sucks. I needed my head to be popped, so telling me that my writing sucks is the needle that gets the job done. Now I can continue to work without the inhibitor that is my pride. Thanks.

  344. Hi,

    I’d just like to say that I found this article very helpful. I’m 18 and have been dedicating myself to my writing since I was around ten years old. That is to say, writing short stories about furry creatures and magical lands. I knew when I was very young that I would always want to write and since then I have been doing so. Not to say that I’m a brilliant writer or anything.
    I agree that my writing probably needs a lot of work but from my early teens until now I have improved a lot. Looking back I laugh and cringe and what I thought was the best, original prose out there. Ten years from now I’ll probably do the same with the works I have now.
    What I want to say is that everything you said is correct. Most teen writing just out right sucks. I’m sure every aspiring writer who read your article felt a little hurt but it is the truth. I’ve taken harsh criticsm for my writing when I was fifteen and am thankful for it now. It is articles like these that help you to grow as a writer. The truth hurts, yeah, but it gives you hope. All you can do is practice, practice, practice. Just keeping working at it and with more life experience you may get hit with an original idea and bang, you’ll have the writing ability to type out a great book.
    So, thank you for laying it all out there. I’m off to write something that I may one day laugh about over a glass of Scotch and my newly published best seller. Or maybe I’ll be one of those rare exceptions. Whichever, thakn you for the advice. It was straightforward and didn’t involve any of that usual garbage you find in those “How to be a Writer” articles you find. So, once again. Thanks!

  345. Hmmm. Yeah, I’ve won contests. Sure, I’ve gotten praise on my writing. But let me clue everyone in on something: even I know my writing sucks. I read it and I know that it’s really…empty. Everything feels scripted. Why? Because it is. Our wonderful comment posters above me have said it all. It’s a matter of age; or rather, of experience. You simply cannot write about life until you’ve actually lived it. Oh, and those contests? For any teen writer getting a big head about his/her writing: those contests compare you to other teens who’ve had about as much life experience as you have. You may be better than they are, but that doesn’t necessarily make you GOOD.
    On the upside, we’re all still young. Knowing these things has done anything but discourage me. On the contrary, it has only made me work harder. I’m now entering contests regularly and submitting my work to magazines all the time. Why? Because if every one in twenty of those submissions is accepted, then I am doing quite well. I know that, and it makes me work harder at what I love.
    By the way, great article. Loved it. I’m actually going to give this address to my English teacher so all of my junior class can bask in your infinite wisdom. :)

  346. Wow, this is so sad.

    You’re right about everything you said, and it just makes me depressed to no end.

    I’ve been writing for about five years now (I’m fourteen), and I’ve written four novels. Right now I’m working on the second draft to my third novel, which I’ve decided to completely rewrite instead of edit. I had hoped to get this book published, because the ideas are great (and not cliche!), and the characters are realistic…

    I want to believe that I’m the exception. After all, very few fourteen year olds can boast about writing four novels. But I have read the works of many writers, and for a good deal of them after they reach a certain ‘quality point’ they only improve at a sluggish rate. I can’t tell how fast I’m improving, because my third book was considerably better than my fourth, so there’s nothing to compare my work to.

    I can’t write short stories, or poems. I fail completely at both. The only type of writing I seem to produce are novels. For someone who is a bad writer to put so much effort into their work, to invest so much time every day to write… never to get published… Or at least, not for many many years. Going by the increasing rate that I have been writing, I’ll probably end up with twenty or so books by the time I’m twenty!

    Is it possible that I could write that many books, and still not write something worth reading?

    I don’t know… I hope that for what I lack in life experience, I can make up in the ammount of practice that I put into my work.

  347. heyy…by reading your entry and advice, i like to say i apperiate it A LOT. i’m sixteen and i love writing stories and lots of stuff like that. and i have to agree with you. some of my short stories suck. ha ha. but thanks for your helpful tips and advice, i think it will help me more with my writing and such.
    i like the goofy picture of you :)


  348. Good article, helpful, depressing and a number of other things.. I am a teenager and yes, i have been told I have a talent. But, I’m just starting, like your saying I do have a whole lot to lean.
    Basiclly Im saying: THANK YOU!!

  349. Abe again.

    I’d like to address this idea Amy put forth that “Quite frankly, at the age of 15, 16, 17, 18, or even 19, nobody knows anything.”

    Hold it just a sec. Maybe YOU don’t know things at age 15, 16, or 17. And if you judge what you know based on what courses you’ve taken or what writing competition awards you’ve won, I can certainly understand why you feel that way.

    But don’t project your own attitude towards learning on all people. I personally love to learn. I try to learn all that I can about a diverse number of subjects. I read book after book. I read nonfiction. Lots of it. I know things. I study philosophy. I read Kant, Rand, Hume, Mills, soforth. Do you know why? Because I enjoy it? Not neccesarily. I call it research. I treat it as something I may not be incredibly jazzed about reading but it’s something I need to know about in order to write well.

    People say teenage writers are derivative. Well, there’s a very simple answer to that question, now, isn’t there? Diversify. Stop trying to be your favorite writer. Stop trying to be somebody else who has gone through a completely different life experience than you.

    Make sense of things yourself.

    Great writing is not the result of imitation. It comes from learning. Now, some will say, “I haven’t learned enough to write well!” Big frickin’ deal. If you want to write then LEARN. When I say learn I don’t mean GET TAUGHT. That’s not how you learn. You learn by trial and error. You learn by experimentation. And you learn by going out of your way to learn. Yes, that means reading books you won’t neccesarily enjoy. That means breaking things down and analyzing why they work rather than just admiring them like everybody else.

    If you want to be a writer, act like a writer. Don’t be just a reader. It’s not a formula.

  350. Okay look, i dont think your best approach is to come off saying “YOU SUCK”. You don’t even know anyone that you’re writing to. Maybe they are better than you anticipated. I am 17, I am young, and I DO NOT suck at writing.

  351. I have to admit, my pride is a little hurt by ‘sucks’ – a little political correctness wouldn’t go amiss sometimes…

    BUT, thank you for the advice. Especially about writing everyday, that’s something I’m going to bear in mind.

    I run a little writing group at my school and I’m definitely going to print this out to share with them.


    I have read the article above and realized two things.

    1) Holy crap, I’m a teenage writer!
    2) My writing does, in fact, suck.

    After reading your article I was hurt at first. I began thinking things like, “What? My writing cannot possibly suck! My writing is better than that!” (Ah poo, there goes a defense mechanism.) I realized that, and let your words ferment on my racing, disbelieving mind.

    Then, BONK. The idea hit me square on the face. Maybe us teens were letting your words fly over our heads.

    Compared to how we’ll write in the future (If we even pursue writing…), yes, we suck. Right now you are correct, our voices are still developing. In the future we will have a stance on who we are, and we will have our own unique writing styles. Last year, I found my voice fluctuated about. Sounding vernacular and intriguing as I read J.K. Rowling, and sounding slightly macabre and dreary as I read Lemony Snicket. I even found myself writing the phrase “Jolly good,” as I read C.S. Lewis. Isn’t that peculiar?

    When you write of Christopher Paolini, I thought of something else. As I read Eragon, I did not take the book seriously, and that’s a shame.

    Me: Pssh. A teenager wrote this? Its just a rip-off of Lord of the Rings. It’s not that good.

    I still stand by that opinion, and I am sure that if I did not know Christopher Paolini’s age, I might have actually taken the book seriously. And because of that, I decided that if I ever publish a novel as a teen, I would use a pseudonym, as to not be judged purely on age instead of writing.

    That way I’ll…

    1) … Not appear as a teenage writer, allowing others to look upon me as an author instead of a talking baby, which will give the impression “just because it can talk, does not mean it can talk well!” (I’d be pretty darn amazed, I’d have to say.)

    2) …Probably fail miserably as a writer, having no one accept my work. Go figure.

    3) …Disguise my identity as to not sour my name when I write a decent book in the future.

    Isn’t that just funny? I don’t feel it is…

    Even though I am fairly sure you shall never read this, considering the last time you actually posted a response was “22 Apr 2007 at 6:13 pm,” (I was overwhelmed with sorrow as I read this…) I still wish to share my undoubtedly mute opinions, and pray that it will someday etch themselves into your retinas.

    Oh yes, what advice could you give me on plot? I’m having… issues.


    P.S. I am particularly fond of the way you handled Megan/Amy. That made me chuckle in an embarrassing manor. Thanks, I appreciate the ego deflating tactic.

  353. I may be a teenager, but just because we’re that young does not mean our writing necessarily ‘sucks’.

    I don’t mean to be disrespectful in any way, but I already know that my stuff isn’t much good despite the fact that more than two adults have read them and loved them.

    Before I let anyone read my work I say, “it may be confusing in some spots and my grammar is positively horrible!”

    So, even though that may be the case with some, where their writing does ‘suck’, it most definitely isn’t the same for everyone.

    I’ve written chapter books when I was 11 and 12, (4) yes, I admit it, I think they’re horrible, but it’s been two years.

    Just this last year I had two other ‘chapter books’ and now I have another finished one along with one that’s been started.

    My brother, who is 27 years old, has been proofreading and editing my latest story because he does have the training.

    He said that ‘no my grammar isn’t bad’ because there are apparently less mistakes.

    I’ve taken very little time with many things and they’ve turned out to be a whole lot better than I thought.

    I have a brother that just turned 30 and he can’t write much of anything.
    I’ve read some of his papers and every other word was spelled incorectly.

    Age doesn’t necessarily matter, and I realize that I probably sound incredibly immature for a fourteen-year-old, but this is what I really believe.

    Also, here’s this, how many people do you know that can type an acceptable story that’s over 47,727 words right off of the top of their head?

    I know, my writing is not THAT good, but it’s not THAT bad either.

  354. Natira: “Also, here’s this, how many people do you know that can type an acceptable story that’s over 47,727 words right off of the top of their head?”

    … I’m sorry to say, quite a few actually. Maybe if you were not generalizing and something like:

    “Also, here’s this, how many teenagers do you know that can type an acceptable story that’s over 47,727 words right off of the top of their head?”

    Then I might reply by saying “There’s certainly a few.”

  355. Since I’ve opened this back up to comments, it might be a good time to link to the follow-up piece, in which I respond to some of the most common arguments teens have to the piece.

    Aside from this, “47,727” is an oddly specific number to qualify with the phrase “more than.” Could it be the piece in question is 47,728 words long?

    Also, as regards: “He said that ‘no my grammar isn’t bad’ because there are apparently less mistakes,” that would be “fewer mistakes,” and as a general rule, the argument “My writing isn’t bad; my [insert relative] told me so” is one that’s not particularly regarded as compelling, for various reasons.

  356. I think this article is amazing, it inspires me to climb to new heights; Though I am only 14, I have been preparing to become a writer for 3 years, I have read though the dictionary many times, writing down words I found interesting, or thought would be useful in my writing, (yes I know nerdy), read books on almost any subject, (I even force myself to read the boring, romance books, to broaden my horizons) I am always working on a project of some sort, and its almost always about history, because to me if you don’t know the past how can you understand what is going on in the present. When I started all this Preparation, I thought I would grow out of writing but I have not so far, and even if I do, I will have the knowledge to go into many different Careers.
    I come to my conclusion of that long, and tedious paragraph, I would like to thank you for taking the time, and for having the will, to help so many young writers, including myself; Could you also point me in the direction of a website containing a good list of publishers?
    Thank You.

  357. Is this fact or opinion?
    I once knew an 11 year old that could write better than that.
    In fact, she’d be 14 now.

  358. @Abe

    Lets not have a head the size of a elephant balloon before we’ve actually accomplished anything close to Paolini’s merit. Judging from what I’ve gleaned, you seem like quite a talented young writer. I’m seventeen myself, and I somewhat disagree with the sentiments of the blogger.

    But, overall, what I think our overzealous blogger is trying to communicate is that most teenagers are immature in their writing habits and egotistic in their fledgling ability. The old adage that adolescents know everything certainly has some foundation in relation to teenage use of wit, wisdom and writing expertise. Though, some of our more advanced peers are already excellent prospects, learning is a life-long process that encompasses the emphatic intellectual curiosity that has lead many of us to this forum today. It is important that we listen to advice; not that we take it, but just that we listen. We listen and learn. We anticipate mistakes and we rectify errors.

    Evaluating on the blogger’s opinion, I believe youth has very little to do with ability. He is right in stating that the majority of teenagers aren’t good writers, but this stands in stead with every other academic minority. The majority of teens aren’t mystifying math nerds, or unfairly good athletes, or glory seeking dragon hunters. A few exceptional individuals exist, but what many of you don’t seem to understand is that he, the blogger, isn’t writing to satisfy those prodigious few. He is writing to those that, like himself in his spring of youth, thought they were the epitome of cool and the wonderment of the publishing community. I think, what this article surmises is that..

    ” You are good, but if you don’t let your ego get in the way of your quest for success, you can better even better “.

    My opinion.

  359. So i think reading what you said i can relate to a few points that you brang up. Even though i dont think using the term ” your writing sucks ” was the best thing you could come up with.Writing’s diffrent for everyone of us and should be enjoyed at every age.
    I have a first book that im just finishing and im sure everyone else does to.I know this will be just a book for scraps , few have read it , most like it but it dosent matter who i come across each one saying the same thing * Dont give up* even if to start of your writing isnt the best to offer , it may never be but if you enjoy it carryon..till the ink drys out:P/.
    My first book will remain in the back of the cupboard till im old anough to cringe at the sight of it….KeepWriting xx

  360. I will admit….that first one kind of stung, but when i think about it….your right….alot of things that i’ve written suck…I mean suck suck…..such as after I’ve written them I hade them from the world kind of suck….Yes later i can go back and laugh but they still suck no matter how you look at it….Thanx for the advice…I’ll be sure to put it to good use

  361. Unoriginal-psuedonym 420: Natira: “Also, here’s this, how many people do you know that can type an acceptable story that’s over 47,727 words right off of the top of their head?”

    … I’m sorry to say, quite a few actually.

    Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘acceptable’. I would say there are NONE, because no one’s first draft of nearly 50,000 words (a minimal novel, really) is acceptable in the sense of “publishable” or in the sense of “you can read it without cringing.” The first draft is the EASY part of writing; the blood, sweat, and tears come after that.

    What teenagers lack is experience. What they have is enthusiasm. Sometimes that enthusiasm translates into arrogance, or manufactured false confidence, because the lack of experience means they also lack judgement, so they mistake their own writing for being as good as, say, John Scalzi’s. John makes it look easy, therefore they put in the amount of effort that it looks like he’s putting in, and don’t have the judgement to see the difference.

    In order to be a good writer, you have to read a lot, write a lot, and live a lot. A teenager who has read enough to be a good writer hasn’t spent enough time writing or living, because there just isn’t time to have done all three in, say, 15 years. (Yes, sometimes your living can be particularly intense, and count as more than average, but honing the writing skills is done only with practice. I know a young writer who composes amazingly complex plots with deep emotional insights—and his sentences are clunky, his spelling is terrible, and he tells too much and doesn’t show enough. Fortunately those are the easier problems to fix. As John explains, just because your writing sucks NOW doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be a great writer someday.)

    But there’s more going on: teenagers can’t read people and figure out what they’re feeling the way adults can, and this is a biological limitation. The parts of the brain that make those judgements develop after most people have left high school (and the people who are still in high school at that age aren’t usually good writers!).

    I remember one study that showed a bunch of teenage boys pictures of human faces expressing various emotions. They consistently misidentified fear as anger (which probably explains a lot of violent excess in adolescents—if you’re fighting someone and he’s looking scared and you think he’s looking angry, you think he’s still a threat, don’t you?). In addition, the activity in their brains was markedly different from an adult’s.

    My young friends often think I’m psychic because I often know just what they’re thinking. I might be a LITTLE psychic, but the fact is, I’m reading their little expressions and body language in a way that I’m barely aware of doing, and that they can’t even notice at all. I think it takes a fair degree of insight into people to be able to write about them well, and all good fiction (at least) is about people (though sometimes the definition of ‘people’ can stretch by quite a bit).

  362. Ill start right off by saying Im 16 and my writing is’nt all that good. Yet.
    I totally understand that since I’m inexperienced I wont be that good. I also understand that most people my age that write their hearts out think that they just wrote a piece of literary gold – I dont think mine is, but I’m just sayin.
    I dont honestly think there is a time limit to honing your skills. It totally depends on how you grow personally (just opinion here, mind you).
    for example, I play the guitar. I learned the guitar in a very short time, with no lessons or teachers, and Im pretty damn good. for a beginner. Ive only been playing for about 2 years. Im no master, and Im not all conceited about being pretty good. but Im a hell of a lot better at playing than some kids that have been playing for 5 years! Yet, My skill is dwarfed in comparison to some of the 6 and 7 year olds with guitars larger than their whole body span.
    All Im saying, is that everyone is different. and even though most teens do tend to fall into very predictable catagories, It doesnt mean that our writing sucks.
    You have to remember how you felt when you wrote that writing. You change as you age, so you are not the same person you were when you wrote that. maybe more naive, but different.
    It meant a hell of a lot to you then, and it sure didnt suck then. Just because someone wont buy something from you doesnt mean it doesnt mean a hell of a lot to you.
    And what if a teen gets better during their honing years, and they begin to write their best literary work ever. and what if it doesnt sell? Doesnt mean it sucks. It means that it means something very different to them than to whoever wrote it.
    I just wrote a few stories, and Ive got a couple ideas for some Ill begin to write shortly. And Im damn proud of them. Im also proud of my junior high journals, and my elementary school literature. Not because they really rocked my world and now Im a literary prodigy – but because they meant something to me then, and they mean something to me now. and I was pretty damn creative back then(getting in trouble for adding sex scenes in my zombie novel set in the future after the apocalypse during elementary) and I still am. And even tho Im not the best I will be, right now Im satisfied with my work, and proud of it.

  363. I think this is wrong and insulting, to and about teen writers. Especially the part about teens not having a very big vocabulary. I read at a collage level and do 12th grade vocabulary work at school. I am 12, and a teen writer. a teacher of mine read some of work last year and said it was awesome, not just to be nice either. I write Fantasy and fiction novels privately, from first and third person veiws.(my first person is better) people who read some of my writing have said I have great personification.

  364. im 15 an writing a book. i do agree to a point with this.

    ive wrtten many STARTS to stories and yes they suck. lol alot. and now im trying to write another.

    but not always do they end up as bad and phony sounding as people always portray. for one thing i asked my teacher the education increase from when my parents were born to around now. and she said that there is alot more information being shoved into teenagers heads now-a-days then there was way back when. and with this there is alot more teenagers with a larger and more understanding vocabulary.

    for instance instead of reading a 9th grade reading level book in 9th grade we read it in 6th and now were reading college to 12th or 11th grade stories.

    more then often will you see teenagers becoming more and more intelligent after awhile.

    haha but then again…we are teenagers and we don’t always take in what we learn.

  365. hey x

    i am a 14 yr old teenage writer and i think everything you have writen is probably true. We teenagers suck suck suck with some things and one is writing a book or song etc etc. Although we may suck at writing we do have a wider imagination than adults as my teacher in english says anyway. i have writen 3 books but ive started all over again as i dont think its good enough but your advice is helping me gain confidence and i am going to write a new one and try my best :D

  366. Hiya,
    I’m a 13 year old teen writer, and I think, to be honest, that pretty much sucked. You have taken a small percentage of young writers out there, and revolutionised them into something you can lay down and criticise. Most of us who write do know our ‘night’ from our ‘Knight’. And we are all pretty apt at our grammar skills.
    I admit, one or two of your points are useful, and I might bear them in mind when I next write something (probably in the next two seconds), but the majority of that crap up there is just that. Crap.
    I would strongly advise you to learn the concept of constructive criticism and then come back to ‘teach’ us something.

    People actually *like* my work, for which I am very grateful. And it’s not all just a hunk of junk; time-consuming; and relatively uninteresting. I try my very best, and I know of numerous other writers, one younger than myself, who is a brilliant writer, and will one day outshine you all. (See? There’s that teenage immaturity coming out).

    To be honest, I looked at that piece you wrote when you were 17, and yeah. I could probably do a whole lot better at 12. No offence or anything(!) But it did suck.
    I don’t think it’s fair that you base all this on yourself, when you were a teenager. ):

    I had to try lots of different writing styles before I found the one best suited to me. When writing fanfiction, (laugh. I dare you) I do imitate the original author’s style, as I believe the best fanfiction is reminiscent of the original author. You follow?
    But when I’m writing my own work, I use my own writing style. When I know I can’t do a type of writing, I screw it up, and re-write using ‘my’ style. I’m giving loads of things a go, so yeah.
    And teenagers who write have no life? Pah. Where did you get that from, a stereotypical chav magazine? ‘Cause, mate, that’s seriously “bummin’ us out”, as they say.

    Teenage poetry is actually very thought-evoking, and I think a lot of the ‘real’ poets could benefit by reading some. Yay.

    That’s all I have to say, but I will be back when I think of more points. As you can probably tell (I wasn’t too vague was I?), I was upset and pissed off with your, err, contribution. It sucked. Thank you.

  367. OK
    Well Nova, I am going to start with your comment so before I even start with what you are saying, first I have to fix all your mistakes, because no one over the age of
    15 is going to take anything you say seriously, if you can’t even spell commonly used words

    misspelled words will be corrected and put in all caps

    I’m a 13 year old teen writer, and I think, to be honest, that pretty much sucked. You have taken a small percentage of young writers out there, and REVOLUTIONIZED them into something you can lay down and CRITICIZE. Most of us who write do know our ‘night’ from our ‘Knight’. And we are all pretty apt at our grammar skills.
    I admit, one or two of your points are useful, and I might bear them in mind when I next write something (probably in the next two seconds), but the majority of that crap up there is just that. Crap.
    I would strongly advise you to learn the concept of constructive criticism and then come back to ‘teach’ us something.

    People actually *like* my work, for which I am very grateful. And it’s not all just a hunk of junk; time-consuming; and relatively uninteresting. I try my very best, and I know of numerous other writers, one younger than myself, who is a brilliant writer, and will one day outshine you all. (See? There’s that teenage immaturity coming out).

    To be honest, I looked at that piece you wrote when you were 17, and yeah. I could probably do a whole lot better at 12. No OFFENSE or anything(!) But it did suck.
    I don’t think it’s fair that you base all this on yourself, when you were a teenager. ):

    I had to try lots of different writing styles before I found the one best suited to me. When writing fanfiction, (laugh. I dare you) I do imitate the original author’s style, as I believe the best fanfiction is reminiscent of the original author. You follow?
    But when I’m writing my own work, I use my own writing style. When I know I can’t do a type of writing, I screw it up, and re-write using ‘my’ style. I’m giving loads of things a go, so yeah.
    And teenagers who write have no life? Pah. Where did you get that from, a stereotypical chav magazine? ‘Cause, mate, that’s seriously “BUMMING’ us out”, as they say.

    Teenage poetry is actually very thought-evoking, and I think a lot of the ‘real’ poets could benefit by reading some. Yay.

    That’s all I have to say, but I will be back when I think of more points. As you can probably tell (I wasn’t too vague was I?), I was upset and pissed off with your, err, contribution. It sucked. Thank you.

    So I now I get on to what you are actually saying, In this paragraph (I won’t even start on how badly your paragraphs are broken up)

    I would strongly advise you to learn the concept of constructive criticism and then come back to ‘teach’ us something.

    At this comment, the first thought that I think is that you thought it below yourself to read the whole thing, but I decided not, More that you just don’t know how to take criticism no matter how brutal it is, and use it to your advantage, you are NEVER going to make it any where if you always expect sugar coated, completely untrue reviews, and criticism, you ARE going to get told that your work is horrible, and its not even worth going through it to try to fix it.
    That brings me to this …

    People actually *like* my work, for which I am very grateful. And it’s not all just a hunk of junk; time-consuming; and relatively uninteresting.

    So now your thinking that your not, or you would be now, well its because you are not asking the right people, you are letting your little friends that have no clue about writing, (or no more then you do) or you are asking adults, that would not say anything that would hurt you, or think they have no right to tell you just how bad it is.
    This brings me to …

    To be honest, I looked at that piece you wrote when you were 17, and yeah. I could probably do a whole lot better at 12. No OFFENSE or anything(!) But it did suck.
    I don’t think it’s fair that you base all this on yourself, when you were a teenager. ):

    Let me tell you the first thing that is wrong with this, you can’t say that you could write better than that, because you are just full of your self, you need a second opinion on that, but then again, I should say a second opinion, from some one who knows what they are talking about, who went to secondary school to become editors, publishers, or literary agents.
    It’s not fair that he based it on himself when he was a teenager, right.. its perfect that he did, because he can admit how much his writing sucked, but he did all he could, and now look, he is a published author, and you are posting on HIS blog, whining that your writing does not suck, well he doesn’t want to hear that, why don’t you go and prove it!

    And to finish it off…

    That’s all I have to say, but I will be back when I think of more points. As you can probably tell (I wasn’t too vague was I?), I was upset and pissed off with your, err, contribution. It sucked. Thank you.

    His contribution is more then you have ever done to help young writers, you should be grateful, but it seems like your not.

    So after all this is said, maybe you should rethink how you are taking all the priceless information he has kindly given all of us.


  368. Hmm, Rhiannon. I’m so sorry she was actually using the proper English language; obviously not good enough for Americans.

    We spell words “ise” instead of “ize”. We also spell it as “offence” and not “offense”. So please, do learn the English language before you actually criticISE people who are actually English, and not American.

    “His contribution is more then you have ever done to help young writers, you should be grateful, but it seems like your not.”

    Oh, so now you have to be grateful for every little piece of information given to you? Hmm, sounds like something my mum (oh, sorry, mom) would say and not really mean.

    “So now your thinking that your not, or you would be now, well its because you are not asking the right people, you are letting your little friends that have no clue about writing, (or no more then you do) or you are asking adults, that would not say anything that would hurt you, or think they have no right to tell you just how bad it is.”

    Hah. I laughed a bit here. It’s THAN not THEN. Just felt like correcting that for you, hun.

    “In this paragraph (I won’t even start on how badly your paragraphs are broken up)”

    You should have quotation marks around the quotes because I did find it very hard to understand where the quote ended and where your own text began.

    “but it seems like your not”

    It’s “you’re”, as in you are, instead of “your”. :)

    “Let me tell you the first thing that is wrong with this, you can’t say that you could write better than that, because you are just full of your self,”

    Some people are actually better at age 13 than some 17 year olds. Fact. A student in my class is actually a better writer than my English teacher (she’s sixteen and the teacher is in her late thirties), and my teacher did actually admit that.

    “His contribution is more then you have ever done to help young writers, you should be grateful, but it seems like your not.”

    Again, it’s “than”, and not “then”. Read over your work, much? Don’t think so. *whistle*

    I think I’m done picking holes now. I’ll let you know if I find any more, though, don’t worry.

    Catch ya on the flip flop. xxx
    Kath ;)

  369. Rhiannon,
    I’d like to point out that “your” and “you’re” should not be confused and to do so is not acceptable. :)
    I don’t know what you mean when you say ‘offence’ is wrong, as is ‘criticise’ and ‘revolutionise’. Those spellings are correct. That is how we spell them in the UK. I’m guessing you’re in the US..? There are spelling differences between the two, you know.

    “..you just don’t know how to take criticism no matter how brutal it is..”
    Mmhmm, whatever you say. If I had a penny for everytime someone was harsh about me and/or my writing, I’d be amazingly rich.

    “..sugar coated, completely untrue reviews, and criticism, you ARE going to get told that your work is horrible, and its not even worth going through it to try to fix it.”
    Tra la la. I practically beg people (ok, maybe a bit of exaggeration) to leave truthful reviews, no matter how much they may hurt. And yeah, I’ve been told my work is a complete waste of valuable reading time, so I don’t show anyone unless I feel I have written my absolute best.

    “So now your thinking that your not..”
    *hums and points to top of message*

    “…you are not asking the right people, you are letting your little friends that have no clue about writing, (or no more then you do) or you are asking adults, that would not say anything that would hurt you, or think they have no right to tell you just how bad it is.”
    My ‘little friends’? Who have ‘no clue about writing’? I can utter a thousand profanities right now, and none of them come close to how I feel about that pathetic post. My friends are amazing writers, and you are displaying something we like to call ‘adult arrogance’. Don’t judge unless you’ve seen. Which you obviously haven’t, therefore you have no right to make any comment. Adults couldn’t give a damn whether they hurt me, and prefer to lord it over us all. So that’s not helping anything.

    “…you can’t say that you could write better than that, because you are just full of your self, you need a second opinion on that, but then again, I should say a second opinion, from some one who knows what they are talking about, who went to secondary school to become editors, publishers, or literary agents.”
    A second opinion? Why not a third, or a fourth? Hell, let’s make it a seventh! How many people do YOU know who have “[been] to secondary school to become editors, publishers, or literary agents”? OK, tell you what, I’ll go find one of those people and ask ’em. Good enough for you?
    And ‘your self’.. not working. It’s ‘yourself’. One word. No spaces.

    “…you are posting on HIS blog, whining that your writing does not suck, well he doesn’t want to hear that, why don’t you go and prove it!”
    OK, I shall indeed go and prove that my writing does not suck. In fact, I think I’ve been proving that for most of my writing life. That’s what essays, school assessments, and generally nasty English Language exams are for. Um, ok? I was merely posting a comment back, retaliating against the words, “Your writing sucks”. Is that so wrong? Is it now illegal to post a blog comment? Dear Lord! Kill me! /end sarcasm.
    Oh, and punctuation mistake. If you want to add emphasis, I’d advise you to put ‘?!’ at the end of that sentence. ‘?’ should obviously be used as you are posing a question, and as you seem to be fond of the exclamation mark there, you may add one on.

    “His contribution is more then you have ever done to help young writers, you should be grateful, but it seems like your not.”
    How do you know what I have done to help young writers? And how do you know it is not more than Mr Scalzi has done? You don’t. And dammit, woman! YOUR is not grammatically correct in that form! We like to use “you’re” there. Yeah?

    “..maybe you should rethink how you are taking all the priceless information he has kindly given all of us.”
    I know exactly how I’m taking this information. I don’t really need another rethink, thank you very much. Mmhmm. ‘All of us’? I was under the impression this was aimed at ‘teenage writers’? After all you’ve said, I can hardly believe you are a teenager, or a writer!

    Pick out any holes you would like, I am free and available for further discussion. Not on Tuesdays though.. nor Thursdays…

  370. Nova 435: Adults couldn’t give a damn whether they hurt me, and prefer to lord it over us all.

    A gross overgeneralization (yes, I’m in America, but unlike Rhiannon I’m aware of the spelling differences between us and everyone else). If you truly don’t know any adults who give a damn whether they hurt you, that’s a) a sad thing and b) a bigger problem than anything having to do with writing; and even so it’s an overgeneralization to say that about adults in general.

    I daresay it’s not true even for you, even if you believe it right now. There may be adults in your life who are indifferent to your pain, but probably not even the majority of them. Wise adults will minimize (yeah, America), as best they can, your pain over the long term by what they say and do. Case in point: John Scalzi (spelled that way even in UK!) telling teen writers in general that their writing sucks. In general it does, and they will have less pain long term if they know it now and strive to improve than if everyone keeps telling them how wonderful they are.

    Do you know the one thing that shows adult kindness to teens the most? Not laughing. Sometimes teenagers are being unintentionally hilarious, and we (kind adults) push down our laughter, because it tends to be when the teens are most earnest, and most vulnerable, and we try to gently talk them down from the pedestal (often topped with a soapbox) they’ve mounted.

    But it’s even more unkind to let them stand on it ranting, and behave as if their rantings are pearls of wisdom we’ve been waiting lifetimes to hear. (At this point I should stress that there are times when a statement from a teenager (or even, more rarely, a child) has stunned me and made me think about something in a new way. I’m talking about cases when they’re just being foolish.) If we don’t talk them down from it, they’ll just go and be unintentionally funny in front of someone less kind, or look stupid in front of members of their desired gender, or just experience a delay in the refinement of their opinions or skills—like writing, for example.

    Most teenage writing (and by ‘most’ I mean “virtually all”) sucks. There may be the occasional Mozart (or Gauss, or whatever prodigy you prefer); you may even be one. But there’s no way to find out by showing your writing to people who know you’re a teenager, because hard as they may strive to be unbiased, they will be influenced by what they know. If you submit something for publication (to a market that isn’t specifically for teen writing) without disclosing your age, and they buy it, that’s the main test.

    Of course, that’s the main test for adult writers too. And when they keep failing it, they sometimes go to self-publishing, which is generally disappointing and often an outright scam.

    But only you can decide whether Scalzi’s first point applies to you (of course, it may even if you think it doesn’t, but if you reject it it’s of no use to you). If not, very well: the rest is still good advice, and I hope you will choose to read it.

  371. Oh, and btw there are a couple of punctuation mistakes in your post at 432, Nova, but if I point them out I will make one myself; it’s a law of the universe!

  372. I agree with ‘Nova’ and ‘Kath’, actually.

    I cannot really say much about this topic, although at least Xopher said what she/he said in a more polite manner than Rhiannon. =P

  373. yh des tennz cant spel or rit 4 nofin!! i totly AGREE with u !!! thank u 4 makin dat post =]=]=] x bong x

  374. Ellef, I strive to be courteous to all. Also, I happen to think teenagers should be treated just like people, radical notion. Seriously, I think most adults underrate and underrespect teenagers…which is not the same as saying teenagers are the same as adults, just that they’re equally entitled to respect.

    FWIW, I’m male.

  375. Arg. My “</sarcasm>” tag wasn’t written correctly and has been eaten. It goes right before the word ‘seriously’ above.

  376. Hello John!

    I am writing this beacause I feel strongly about some of the points you raise.
    Before I begin, I have not read this article all the wat through. My comment is to do mostly with the first ‘tip’. And though I plan to read it all I felt a strong desire to leave this comment. I read Q&A on the link you posted about a quarter of the way through and it annoyed me so much I decided it couldn’t wait. Anyway, here I go.

    The thing I’m most annoyed about is the ‘you’re writing sucks’ bit. I am a teenage writer and I enjoy writing. BUT I’m under no illusion about the standard of my writing. I can string a sentence together, my ideas are interesting and I have lots of them. But I don’t need some dude telling me about the quality of my writing.

    Maybe it’s beacause I don’t overestimate my work that I take exception to you telling me that it ‘sucks’. Teenage writers hardly need to be beaten down so fiercely. There are, no doubt, many young people out there who think their writings are fantstic and they’re going to be the next JK. But are those people going to be surfing the internet looking for tips and help on how to write? Looking for guidance and inspiration from someone who knows what they’re talking about? I found this page by tpying into google ‘tips for teenage writers’.

    And I didn’t find much of a tip, instead I was told, ‘Oh by the way, don’t be discouraged but you know the stories and ideas you write down? Yeah, they suck’. Didn’t really give me an incentive to carry on. I felt distinctly depressed when I first read this.

    BUT I think you have a very valid point. I don’t believe my writing suck’s but I know just as much that it’s not book material. But after a while you’re point began to sink in. I got over my initial disgust at being so unfairly slagged off by a guy who doesn’t even know my name, yet feels he can pass judgement on my writing, and a very serious judgement at that, and I started to look at my writing more objectively. I realised that to improve I have to writing and reading. I have to be my strictest critic.

    So you have very good advice to offer though you’re bluntness and handling was bad. I know that you said you ‘didn’t want to beat around the bush’ but it could have been said in a much more subtle way. Like breaking down the ‘you’re writing sucks’ into a lot of little tips like;

    HOW to look at you’re writing objectively.
    The benefits of doing so.
    The fact that writing so young is a GOOD thing and that the lack of experience with writing and the world is a good thing as well.

    I reread some old writings of mine and even though they were only about 6 months old I could compare my newer stuff to it and see how it had matured. So my older stuff helped me focus on the good points of my newer stuff and vice versa.

    So, you’re advice is very very good. But the bluntness (and rudeness) of it is unfair. Teenagers get enough trouble from adults telling them this and that, what to do, what not to do. HOW do to do things and for many teenagers writing is about self esteem and escapism and feeling in control of the story. The way that the story belongs to them and them alone, and that if they want to change the theme from a romance to a horror they can. It’s about teenagers expressing themselves and who cares if they suck? They do, of course, but there’s got to be a more constructive way to tell them. They want a hand, a boost, and if they’re willing to search the internet for it than I think if it’s in your power to give them good advice, do it well.

    If you took the time to read this, thanks. I think your article is most interesting and even though I was offended I’m glad I found it =D

    Thanks for reading,


  377. Catharine:

    “I am writing this beacause I feel strongly about some of the points you raise.
    Before I begin, I have not read this article all the wat through.”

    That’s okay, I didn’t read your comment the whole way through, either. In fact, I stopped right at the part I quoted. Hope you don’t mind.

  378. I realize everything you said in this article was true. hm, i am a very wordy when it comes to essays and other literary pieces, any advice?p.s your article is true however too rude for inspired writers.

  379. John:

    Low blow. If you had read the next sentence you would have found out that my comment was about the first half of your article, the bits I had read. I’d hardly comment on the whole thing when I haven’t read it all.

    Thank you for taking the time to read the first two sentence’s and leaving a useless comment in response.

  380. Catharine, if you only read the first “tip,” you don’t really have any broad sense of what John is saying. Also, if you won’t do him the courtesy of reading his entire post before commenting, why should he read your comment in response?

    Read the rest of what he said and see if your comment still makes sense to you.

  381. Catharine:

    “Low blow.”

    Nonsense. You decided you weren’t going to read my entire post; I decided I wasn’t going to your entire comment. Seems fair. Complaining that I didn’t bother to read everything you wrote when you didn’t bother to read everything I wrote is an example of a certain amount of entitlement which I’m not obliged to agree with or support.

    And as Xopher notes, reading only one portion of the piece means you lack context, and there’s a good chance that your entire response is obviated by what follows past where you stopped reading.

    Finally, this is a good place to point out that when you submit your writing to editors, they have a tendency to read only to the point where they get bored/annoyed with the work or otherwise decide there’s no point in reading any further. Where I stopped reading your comment is where I decided was as far as I needed to go, based on what you wrote.

    If you’re old enough to leave criticism, Catharine, you’re old enough to take it as well.

  382. This article was very helpful and also enjoyable to read. As a 16-year-old writer, I can tell you there have been countless times when I have been writing an emotional scene and been unable to find the correct tone. This is why I try to stick to writing about subjects I have experienced, but unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot to draw upon. The experience issue that you’ve mentioned comes up repeatedly. I have no illusions about the fact that my writing does not measure up to that of an adult. But at least I can say that my writing is good for where I am in my life. I can be content with that.

  383. A couple of years ago I found a stack of stories/papers that I’d written in high school. A few good laughs, sighs, and sobs were had, and then it was placed back into the drawer for future comedy material. At the time I tried too hard to be witty, as a result of this, the only humor to be found in the writings is in how awkward they feel.

    Side note: It’s amazing how many of the comments make reference to the online poetry contests and Paolini, even though each time they’re refuted.

  384. Thank you for your invaluable advice. I believe this may well apply to aspiring adult writers like me too.

  385. Most of the people in here seem to have put their age down; I’m curious what going through the comments and doing a tally of people for/against would reveal, if anything.

  386. A very good (and hard-nosed) article, JS.

    I was 18 when I first began dabbling at fiction “for real” and what’s followed on in the 16 years since has been a lot of rejection, a lot of ‘silent’ periods when I was very close to giving up, and [i]life:[/i] marriage, military, children, jobs, etc, etc.

    I think it’s the “life” factor that I was missing the most, as a teenaged aspirant. JS, You noted it correctly: teens push the boundaries of their authenticity at almost every turn, because as a teen, you just haven’t [i]done[/i] enough. Sex? Love? Marriage? Divorce? Parenthood? Loss of a parent? War? Crime? Unless a young person has had a very tough life on the streets, they’re going to be cribbing from their favorite books and TV shows every time they tackle these subjects/themes, because they have not experienced any of them first-hand.

    And sometimes, even in the fantastical genres, there can be no replacement for first-hand experience.

    Lord knows the military-themed SF I am scribbling (OK, yah, [i]typing…[/i]) at now, is of a very different flavor compared to the military-themed material I was writing at age 18. I go back and look at the early stuff, and I physically [i]hurt[/i] because it’s so loaded with cliché and so clearly cribbed from the half dozen or so technothriller writers I read between age 14 and 18.

    Why the difference? Maybe it’s because I actually went and joined the military, and have been in the military long enough to have this experience inform my new pieces in a manner that was impossible in 1992-1993. The same is true for everything else I have done, seen, been, etc, in the 16 years since I graduated H.S.

    Which is not to say that teen writers should halt entirely. As you noted, JS, teens would do themselves a favor to keep going, if only for the “practice” while they’re out getting lives and jobs and accruing ex-pee (RPG speak, hah!) in the real world. A dedicated teen with a little talent and some doggedness ought to reach a point in his or her adult years where life experience and writing repetition synergize, and the work becomes saleable.

    I am not sure if I have hit that point yet, mainly due to the ‘silent’ zones which I fear have retarded me in terms of writing repetition and the accretion of competence in storytelling.

    We’ll see what the next 12 to 24 months yield.

    Again, this was a very good article and I would recommend it to all teens who want to write — regardless of whether or not they would be offended.

    In fact, I’d say that those who are offended, probably [i]need[/i] to be.

    Kids (I am speaking to the Youth at this point) let me tell you, as a former teen writer: there is a massive wall out there which stands between you and your dreams of publishing success. It cannot be surmounted overnight, nor through tricks, nor cleverness (hat tip, JS) nor through anything other than taking your lumps.

    Please do yourselves a favor. Admit that you’re at the very bottom of the wall, and that it’s very high, and that it’s covered from one side to the other, and from top to bottom, with other aspirants — all clinging to crevices and crannies and nooks, each scratching his or her way to the top — and professional sales.

    Most people on the wall will give up and climb back down. In fact, the vast majority will do this. Some will even hurl themselves from the wall in suicidal despair. Others — I would put me in this category — are too dumb to give up entirely, and too stubborn to see the odds for what they really are. And keep inching upward. Or sideways. Or even back down, in the hope of finding a clearer path. A very rare few are so naturally athletic, as writers, they wriggle quickly up and over, to the jealous curses of the massed lot.

    If you really want to do this — and I mean [i]really, really want to do this[/i] — you must put on your hard-hat. It’s going to take work and time before you can claim even modest success. At every stage, you will be learning, and never ever will there come a time when you can just declare, “I have learned enough!” and watch the sales and credits magically flow. It doesn’t work like that. Even if you reach the point where your regular work is good. There is no guarantee.

    And if Scalzi’s advice offends you deeply or otherwise cuts to the core of what you think you are, I can assure you, he is being very kind, gentle, and kid-gloved about it. Editors — and the slush pile — won’t be as nice as JS is being.

    ‘Nuff said.

  387. Catharine: Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: NEVER TELL SCALZI YOU HAVEN’T READ HIS ENTIRE POST.

  388. Patrick M.: I found your comment an excellent gem to find at the end of this comment chain. After reading through the article and the following comments, it was nice to end it all on a grin. Both because of the appropriated quote and just how true it is in reference to Mr. Scalzi’s proven pointed techniques of grading his hate mail.

    John Scalzi: Excellent essay, in all ways. I’ve printed out an abridged version of the ten points, keeping the parts that I know apply to me as well as a few of the things that I only wish didn’t, and keep it next to my computer as I slowly and gradually build up my present day writing.

    My own writing as a teen was very much an escape from my at-the-time brand of personal angst. I think it’s a fairly qualified remark to say that this is likely true of well over half of teen writers. I honestly don’t know if the only poem I ever wrote was good or not. I wrote it for an assignment, ended up turning something else in instead, and then proceeded to lose it. Now, I can remember the general gist of it, as well as what events I was correlating, but the details escape me. Which isn’t all that surprising, considering that I was about 12 at the time.

    As to the one short story that I was able to see published, I know that it flat-out sucked well enough to act as a means of vacuuming the oft-mentioned cat. The publication was a small collection with entries voted on by a mixture of fellow students, the high school’s faculty, and a small number of writing and editing professionals from the local area. The fact that my story was not only voted in but voted ‘best of’ really makes me cringe when I look back or re-read it, but it does remind me of the few things I did right at the time.

  389. You hacked my computer and copied my ‘Advice to Young Authors’, didn’t you? ;) Seriously, at the top of my list is that your writing sucks right now but you’ll get better the longer you keep writing and working on improving. I cringe now just thinking about the first thing I wrote. I disposed of the notebook I wrote in some years ago so I can’t look back on it as a reminder of how far I’ve come, but I’ve been keeping everything for many years now and reading old stuff shows me just how far I’ve come.

    Definitely read, read, read, and then read some more. I’ve been a voracious biblophile since first or second grade and I know that’s had a key role in helping me to write correctly and write well. It’s definitely given me a large vocabulary. A prof once commented, “You can tell she reads a lot”.

    Accepting there will be rejection and learning how to take constructive criticism (and not take it personally) are two skills you need for life in general. Lots of time spent on fanfiction.net has exposed me to plenty of snitty authors who get their trousers in a knot if you’re not saying how great their story is, and some outright say in author’s notes to only say positive things if you’re going to leave reviews. I’ve learned con crit is a writer’s friend and I welcome feedback from any critic who’s polite.

    I’m linking this in my LJ so others can read your advice and benefit from it and/or share with others.

  390. Good stuff, John.

    I guess I’m in a slightly different boat. I had some excellent writing mentors as a teenager who were very keen to point out that my writing sucked and would continue to suck for a good number of years afterwards, so none of this article is a surprise to me.

    The problem I have is that now, in my early twenties, I’m surrounded by folk that want to tell me how brilliant my writing is. They tell me to submit my book to publishers now now now, to ignore the feedback I get on rejections, that people who give me criticism are jealous…

    I’m perfectly aware that my prose needs another half-decade in the boiler, but had I not had the mentors I did at that early stage I’d be attacking your post along with all the Lucys and Catherines and everyone else. The issue here has two sides. It’s not just that young writers suck, but it’s that NOBODY HAS THE GUTS TO TELL THEM. The cycle of expecting praise begins early and never ends. Friends don’t want to offend friends. Parents would rather chop off their fingers than tell their son that his writing is shite.

    Thankyou for having the guts to say the S-word. More folk should.

  391. Hey John!
    I recently picked up a copy of ” Old Man’s War” for 25 pence (that’s £0.25) at my local library, and I am finding it hard to read, it feels like a lot of work for little reward, but who am I to complain, I’m just part of your audience!

    I feel I must jump in to defend this poor girl Catharine!

    She says she stopped reading your post when she got annoyed by what you had said, which when you were explaining why you stopped reading her comment you clearly justified: “Finally, this is a good place to point out that when you submit your writing to editors, they have a tendency to read only to the point where they get bored/annoyed with the work or otherwise decide there’s no point in reading any further.” Catharine made it clear she stopped reading because she was had become annoyed, based on what you wrote. Your smart alec comment just makes you look like a very small man, instead of offering a well thought out answer, you jump right in to make a crappy joke.

    You owe Catharine an apology, which you won’t give, you will just try to ridicule me, have fun with that, hope it makes you feel better about yourself.

  392. Patrick M:

    Haha! Princess bride right? Decent film =p I did indeed consider not telling him but I thought it would have been a bit low of me, though I knew it would come back to haunt me. Apparently I was right!


    I am old enough to take criticism as well as being old enough to get peed off when someone throws a low blow. Which it was. I wrote that comment with good intentions. I tried to lay it out so I got my point across without being rude. I didn’t really expect you read all of it but I thought you may have had the decency (if you were going to give reading it it a shot at all) to at least hear my views as I did with your article. I actually say in there (not that you would know of course) that your advice was good advice but written in too negative a way. My issue was not to do with the advice but the layout.

    I’m sorry you replied in such a way, it would have been good to have a chat, experienced writer with an amateur. Unfortunately your attitude is too ‘know it all’ for my liking.


  393. Yeah I knew I would regret that once I hit submit, shame there isn’t an edit button. Energy more to your standard?

  394. Valashar – Of course it is an excellent gem, I am awesome.

    Adam – Catharine had a very teenage reaction to the post, which is, “Not Fair” or “Not nice.”. Shall I present the “life’s not fair” defense now?

    So, because she’s a teenager that Scalzi has never met, she should take this article personally and be offended? Or is the appropriate reaction to someone who has never read your writing telling a generic ‘you’ that your writing sucks be – who cares what Scalzi thinks?

    I mean, I certainly care what Scalzi thinks about me. It’s how I define myself. But teenagers? Why would they care what an old baldy writer thinks?

  395. Hey Patrick, the article is rife with stereotypes, which to be honest I think Catharine has every right to take this personally.

    Would you not feel even a little offended if you came across a blog I wrote on how all Patricks are paedophiles?

  396. Catharine:

    “I didn’t really expect you read all of it”

    Then I’m not entirely sure why you continue to complain that I didn’t.

    Likewise, I’m not entirely sure why when you announce that you didn’t bother to read my entire piece, that it is perfectly acceptable, but when I announce I didn’t bother to read yours, it’s a low blow. It’s the same action, after all. You need to explain why you’re entitled to have your thoughts carefully examined when you don’t take the same care with others, and in particular why you feel you’re entitled to have those thoughts taken seriously and thoroughly by the very person to whom you have not extended that same courtesy.

    Which is to say, Catharine, that I treated you pretty much as you have treated me. You’re “peed off” at that? Well, now. Give that some thought, won’t you. In the meantime, I don’t have a problem teaching you a bit of manners by reflecting the rudeness of your attitude back at you.

    As for having a chat, Catherine, I will be delighted to have one with you, once you show that you’re worth having a chat with. Reading entirely through a piece of writing that you’re commenting on would be a fine start.

    That said, I have to feel sorry for Adam, who felt obliged to suggest I was making snarky comments to you after the fact, and that it was rude to have done so. Turns out you were reading after all.

  397. Ah, I believe there are exceptions to every rule. Of course the article is a generalization. Why don’t we break into the argument that Paolini was a teenager when he started. See, it’s because it really doesn’t matter. And ‘Your writing sucks’ is a generalization. Some people think JK sucks. Some people think Dan Brown sucks. Some people think Paolini sucks. Some people think Scalzi sucks.

    And maybe they do. You can suck and be successful.

    The difficult thing to do is be able to listen to many pieces of advice said in friendly and also unfriendly ways and learn from them. The nicest people may be giving you bad advice and the meanest bastards may give the best, but you don’t know unless you listen and you really should get over being offended – by pretty much anything.

  398. Patrick M:

    I do indeed take this article personally. Because it’s aimed at me isn’t it? It’s aimed at me as a writer and, as I’ve said twice before, his points are very valid. But when I go on the internet looking for tips on writing I don’t want to be faced with ‘You’re writing sucks’. Which you say is ‘a very teenage response’ and why shouldn’t it be? That’s what I am.

    His advice is golden, the way it is put across is not.


  399. Catharine:

    “But when I go on the internet looking for tips on writing I don’t want to be faced with ‘You’re writing sucks’.”

    The world isn’t built to your specification, Catharine. Sometimes you’re confronted with things you don’t like.

    That said, if you don’t like it, don’t read it. I don’t mind.

  400. Catharine – you seem nice. Can I just point you to my response at 467? The article is NOT aimed at you specifically. It’s aimed at you generally. If you can be offended by someone who has never read your writing telling you that your writing sucks…

    I think it was Harlan Ellison who said “anyone who can be discouraged should be”. Or maybe that was Heinlein. No idea.

    I don’t personally agree with it. I’m of the ‘anyone who can be encouraged, should be” persuasion. But that doesn’t make me a bad person. Pedophilia does though. Sorry about that. I can’t be all good.

  401. I see exactly what you mean, John. I’m moaning about you doing to me the same thing I did to you. Though I’m standing up for my actions because they were meant sincerely. My first comment, my views, the fact that I wanted you to know that I hadn’t read you’re entire comment, all of it. Was I a fool to say I hadn’t read it all? Would it have been better to head the comment ‘I have some issues with your first tip’? Maybe. Either way it works out the same and I did what I thought was right. However your first reply did seem like a ‘low blow’. If you didn’t like the style of my comment why reply? If I’d checked this blog again and seen you reply to others and not to me the message would have been clear but you seem to like picking up on every little detail, like Adam and ‘breath’. That’s hardly big of you. The poor guy was only standing up for me, thank you by the way! Much appreciated!

    As for me saying ‘I didn’t really expect you to read all of it’ I meant as an author etc I never expected you to give much attention to my one comment.


  402. I am not discouraged Patrick – I’m still fighting! I just take exception to Mr. Scalzi’s rude reply. As I say in my above comment, everything I said was meant sincerely and I was quite shocked by his attitude.

    I just want to make clear, everything I’ve read of the above article is damn good advice. It’s the layout and Mr. Scalzi’s replies that bother me.


  403. Catharine:

    “Though I’m standing up for my actions because they were meant sincerely.”

    And? Do you turn in incomplete homework and then complain that you should get an “A” because the part you did was done in a sincere fashion?

    “Was I a fool to say I hadn’t read it all?”

    No, you were foolish to comment without having read the whole thing first.

    Your problem, Catherine, is that you want credit for meaning well, instead of acting with intelligence. The intelligent thing would have been to read the piece through to see if what you were first confronted with was mitigated or explained, so you would have a fuller understanding of why the piece was written in the manner it was. The piece is long but it’s not that long; you could have easily have read in the time you took to bang out that comment of yours I didn’t bother to read.

    “If you didn’t like the style of my comment why reply?”

    Clearly because I wanted to point out what you were doing wrong. Because possibly you could learn from it, and if you couldn’t then others could.

  404. I don’t want credit for anything. But I did mean well and if it’s such a crime on this comment space then obviously I’m not welcome. I was not rude, I didn’t swear and I wasn’t threatening. I posted a sincere comment and I got a rude one in reply.

    And that if you ask me is despicable. It appears you can’t have debate here. You have a make sure your comment is watertight and that you’ve covered your back. It feels like I’m in court for breaking some unwritten law and every time I try and make my intentions clear I get it all thrown back in my face.

    So rip me apart for being dramatic or jumping to conclussions or getting the wrong end of the stick or what ever the hell you like. But at the end of the day it will still come down to this:
    I read part of your article.
    I disagree with some of the points / layout.
    I left a sincere, polite comment.
    I got a rude one in return.
    I complained.
    It’s suddenly all my fault.

    Thank you for reading (if you bothered of course.)

  405. Catharine – You’re not fighting. You’re banging your head against a wall called Scalzi.

    And really his advice isn’t that good, or at least unique. I like Stephen King’s 12 rules in 10 minutes and they apply to teenagers, too. Just as a different example.

    Or have you seen Justine’s post on teenage writers?

    I just don’t understand why you would take it personally. And really, in comments, he’s just reflecting you. You did just walk into his house and call him an ass.

  406. “So you have very good advice to offer though you’re bluntness and handling was bad.”

    I mean, I guess it’s ok to call him an ass as long as you are sincere about it.

  407. Catharine:

    “I was not rude”

    Nonsense. Offering up criticism on a piece of writing you didn’t bother to read entirely is rude, and also arrogant, and also a bit obnoxious. It’s also worthless, because it’s not based on an actual understanding of piece, and therefore not actually worth reading or considering with any seriousness. Whether you tried to offer this criticism politely, without swearing, is entirely irrelevant to this. Likewise, one is perfectly able to be rude without intending to be so; you did it.

    Your sole legitimate complaint is that I was intentionally rude in response to your unintentional rudeness. To which I of course plead entirely guilty; I was rude back to you to draw attention to your own oblivious rudeness. This has offended you, but since I was being intentionally offensive, my response to you is: well, good. Maybe you’ll learn, and avoid being unintentionally rude the next time.

    As for having a debate, we certainly can. However, one does not enter into debate proudly ignorant of the actual material under discussion, as you are since you did not bother to read it all; nor can one claim legitimate offense when one is not taken seriously when one has not, in fact, bothered to do one’s homework.

    If you want to be taken seriously, Catherine, then you should actually get serious. Start by getting over the idea that “meaning well” is valid currency for anything here. The coin of this realm is actually knowing what one is talking about. If you want to know what you’re talking about here, I suggest reading the whole entry. That would be a good start.

  408. Scalzi – you’re an ass.

    “Offering up criticism on a piece of writing you didn’t bother to read entirely is rude.”

    Really? So the very nature of your article is rude, since you haven’t read every teenage piece of writing. C’mon now.

    There is a point at which she can be let off the hook here.

    Group hug. Everyone in. No ass grabbing. That means you, Xopher.

  409. Patrick, if you can’t parse the difference between general commentary on a class of writing, which is what I am doing, and criticism of a specific piece of writing, which is what Catharine was attempting to do, that’s not really my problem.

    Also, Patrick, I’m not sure when it was I gave you moderating authority on the site, particularly over me. Pretty sure, in fact, that I didn’t. I don’t suggest you try to make a habit out of exercising it.

  410. Patrick – calling the host names is rude by any civilized standard. Of course, we’re in the US, so ‘civilized’ is dubious at best, but do let’s try, shall we?

    And saying “your writing sucks” to the generic teenage writer isn’t “offering up criticism” by any reasonable standard (but this is the internet, so see comments about the us and ‘civilized’).

  411. And as for “no ass grabbing,” just keep your ass out of range, and we won’t have a problem!

  412. But I was sincere! ;) Wait. When have I ever been sincere?

    C’mon now, I’ve certainly been around long enough to at least be able to say that without it being all super serious and stuff.

    Weren’t we playing good commenter/bad host? I pretend to be her friend while you are mean so she trusts me and then confesses to me about being rude?

    Hmm… guess I’m going back to the drawing board on those social skills…

  413. Oh wow, old posts, but man I hope you guys giggled as much as I did just now when you were writing them.

  414. Hmm.. Hopefully this can help with my writing! I should check out my school News paper now.
    But I have a question. I keep coming up with story ideas, but they always fade away after I get what could be a chapter done. Even if I make a plot line, they’ll still fade away. Do you have any ideas of what I could do? Thanks.

  415. Claire makes a good point. Visit four continents and get sick on the street food. No, the rest of the world doesn’t think like the folks at home, and you do need to experience this first-hand.
    I know you can’t afford it. For the next thirty years, you will find you have either the time or the money to travel, but never both at once. But if you wait until you have both, you will be too arthritic to climb barefoot to the summit of that small mountain to visit that Hindu temple, and you will sit in the tour bus and wait for the youngsters to return.
    Finding the time to travel is the hard part. If you can possibly manage to get the vacation leave, borrow the money. Consider it an educational expense, just like tuition. If you still feel guilty, then read up on the history of the place you’re going to visit, and consider it homework.
    Get out there. Otherwise, you will find yourself thinking that is the center of the universe. Which it ain’t.

  416. Heza, I’m not sure what you mean by “fade away.”

    If you mean they’re not complex enough to sustain a whole story, then either your ideas are too simple or you’re writing too synoptically (meaning like a synopsis).

    If your ideas are too simple, think about what else they could be connected to, what in the past could have caused the events in your idea, and what in the future could be a consequence of it.

    If you’re writing too synoptically (a problem I’ve been fighting since the day I started writing), try the exercise of writing without ever saying what anyone is thinking. Just describe their facial expression and the tone of their voices (and no “her tone implied she didn’t believe him” or “he sounded like he probably hated not only President Obama, but the entire Democratic Party”). If that’s not enough, try not describing anything at all, but telling your whole story in dialogue.

    Note that these are exercises, for the practice of writing fully-fleshed-out stories, not necessarily the way you should end up writing.

    Now, if the problem is that you can’t remember your story ideas long enough to write them, make an outline. Not just a plot line. Break the idea into sections (“Scientists find out asteroid will crash into Earth,” say), then break the sections into events (“Hero works on way of predicting asteroid motions”), then break the events into parts (“Hey, Katharine, could you come over?”). Don’t worry if your idea changes while you do that. It’s OK. Your story has to have structure, and this is one way of creating it. If you can’t break your story idea into sections at all, then either a) see above under “idea is too simple,” or b) change them around until you can.

    Is that any help?

  417. I read through this post and probably 1/18th of the comments and felt moved to comment about how your brilliance, manifested in not only this post, but many of your preceding ones is just the right level of brilliance. It’s neither too lofty nor too understated.

    Then I thought about how much writing a comment on a post that’s over two years old would suck.

    And then I realized that no sweat, my writing already sucks.

    Here’s to sucking hard and sucking less with every passing year.

    And not that you need the encouragement, but rock on, Mr. Scalzi.

  418. “Why don’t we break into the argument that Paolini was a teenager when he started. See, it’s because it really doesn’t matter.”

    Patrick – you aren’t honestly holding up Paolini as an example of a good teenage writer, are you? Eragon was cut to pieces and rewritten by a professional editor before Knopf published it, and it was still generic trash.

    Why is it that when we talk of teenage writers everybody shouts “Paolini, Paolini!” instead of, you know, “Capote, Capote!”

  419. Some teen writers will admit their work isn’t good: it’s acceptable grammar and.. semi-coherent ideas. Some think their writing is life-changingly awesome cause they write just like their hero Stephenie Meyer does. Others realize how badly they probably write but, keep going to change that and hope one day to find their writing acceptable. But, for some reason few younger writers look back and read at what they wrote. I found a story I wrote 2 years ago and I nearly ripped it to pieces thats how awful it was. We should all see how far we’ve come as writers, that back when we were confident in our abilities we were well.. mind numbingly bad at writing. It often serves as a nice reality check. How bad we used to be, and how much better our use of commas has gotten :P

    Me personally.. I know I always used to think I was great, now I realize I have room to improve and I focus on avoiding (what I think are classic) teen mistakes. Really all us teens need is a reality check some times..

  420. So, Mr Scalzi, would you read something I’ve written?


    Seriously, though, this was interesting to read. Thanks for posting it.

  421. This conversation isn’t over yet?



    1) Mr. Scalzi is not obligated to ‘play nice’ with your sensibilities. Neither is the Real World, which most of you have not experienced yet. If you find yourselves easily-offended by Mr. Scalzi, or any other adult who takes the time to clue you into the Hard Truth, perhaps writing (or, at least, being taken seriously as a writer…) is not your thing. Because editors and the slush pile will be far less willing to coddle you than JS.

    2) Going back to the Wall analogy: the barrier that stands between you and professional literary success, cannot be defeated with raw emotion. Getting up and over the Wall takes time, effort, being willing to fail (all the time!) and learn from failure, and keeping your mouth shut and your ears open. The Wall doesn’t care about your feelings. The Wall doesn’t care if you think you have a unique and poignant perspective on the Human Experience. The Wall doesn’t care if you’ve been the star of your school. The Wall is what it is, and it will prove too high and too tough for the vast majority of you. The sooner you realize the truth of this, and prepare accordingly — or abandon all hope and seek other avenues for your creative energy — the better for you.

    3) JS was once a teenaged wannabe writer, too. He knows. It took him a very long time to get where he is now. So it’s not like he magically attained overnight success, and is now wagging his finger at the rest of you for failing to be as Instantly Kewl as he is. He’s been where you are, and if his bluntness seems harsh, perhaps it’s because he wishes (I am guessing here?) that someone would have come along and clued him in when he was your age, so that he had a better idea of what he was getting into? Lord knows I wish I’d had this article around when I was 18 and thought my writing was hotter than shit on toast.

    4) For some added perspective, take a look at Jay Lake. This post tells the whole story, in a very vivid and concise fashion. Look on Lake’s career, and be dismayed. Or dig down and find some humility and determination. If the former, get out now. If the latter, welcome to the lifetime struggle. Lake knows. Scalzi knows. Hell, 99% of pro writers KNOW. It’s not like JS enjoys whopping you on the head with the hard truth. He’s actually trying to do you a favor, whether you realize it or not!

    ‘Nuff ’nuff said!

    P.S: major squeeeeeeee on the Preview button, JS!

  422. I feel that this information was very helpful. It was as if you were reading my mind. Every question that floated into my head was surely answered at the next tip. I am an aspiring writer. I do believe I have what it takes. The school newspaper is my next stop.

    People who complain about this post obviously are not ready to write because they can not take criticism and are completely oblivious to the idea of indifference of opinion. How can you post a comment when you have not yet read a piece of work in its entirety?

    Well, thanks for this advice. This will certainly not be the last of me.

  423. I’m seriously wondering what you were thinking when you wrote this article. I am almost sixteen and I enjoy writing. I was looking on Google for advice for young writers and this was one of the articles I found. According to what I read of your article, I shouldn’t bother to try to get published or even bother to get anyone else to look at any of it until I’m in my twenties. Granted, I did not read the whole article, but what did you expect? It is extremely long and dull and positively dripping with negativity and sarcasm. I also wanted to ask you a couple of questions: First. I have no idea who you are or whether what you claim to have accomplished is true. Assuming you aren’t some kind of puffed-up, self-important narcissist with nothing better to do than criticize people who want to follow their dreams, what exactly would you consider to be your usual audience? I’m guessing from your article it isn’t teens. And since most teens write stuff for other teens to write, I don’t feel that you have any write to comment on the subject.
    Also, did you actually think anyone would bother to read your whole article if they really were teens? I have the patience to make it through Shakespeare without fidgeting and I was utterly bored out of my mind after about the first three paragraphs of your article. Even if there was some useful information in your article, few people would have the patience to make it all the way through it. I do not believe you have any right to make the assumtions that you have just because you were a loser in high school.

  424. Laura:

    “According to what I read of your article, I shouldn’t bother to try to get published or even bother to get anyone else to look at any of it until I’m in my twenties. Granted, I did not read the whole article, but what did you expect?”

    That you would read the whole article, actually, since tip #9 is “Start getting published now.” One of the advantages of reading all the way through is that it could potentially keep you from looking foolish when you complain. It could also potentially keep you from reaching conclusions about the article that are in fact in complete opposition to what the article actually says.

    And since thousands of teenagers have read it all the way through, yes, actually, I do think they will. But I understand some can’t be bothered. Interestingly, there appears to be a correlation between that latter group and those folks in this thread who comment foolishly about the article.

    Mind you, I don’t care if you read the article all the way through or not. It’s your life. But if you’re going to comment on it, it’s helpful to have done so, at least if you want to appear to know what it is you’re talking about.

  425. Okay, apparently I seem to have committed a major “faux pas” in telling this guy that I didn’t read the whole article. I’ve read the comments of others and I decided to leave another comment. Your automatic rejection of Catherine’s comments was probably your idea of acting on principle. However, I would like to point something out here: your article is extremely long. Hers is about the same length as two of your paragraphs. I also wanted to comment on the assertion that teenagers are pampered and constantly praised. Don’t kid yourself. In this day and age, to be smart or to enjoy reading is to subject yourself to constant ridicule and criticizm because we “are wasting our time”. Again, don’t kid yourself.

  426. Laura:

    I don’t kid myself that you can’t be bothered to read the article. However, you likewise should not kid yourself that you are representative of every teenager who reads the thing.

  427. I’m fourteen years old and a writer. I read more than most adults. I’ve read the Eragon series, and I’m going to say that Paolini is a better writer than a lot of adult writers. Once you’ve written a book and sold more copies than he had, then we’ll talk. And an editor will cut your book to pieces whether your a nineteen year old boy or a thirty year old man. I will admit that some of the stuff I’ve written is pretty crappy, but maybe that’s just me. I’m not saying that these weren’t good tips; some of them were. There are a lot of undiscovered teen writers out there. Just because teens are young doesn’t mean their writing sucks.

  428. Oh yes of course. That makes perfect sense. Go ahead and start trying to get published now but your writing sucks, so don’t hold your breath about actually ever getting published. Aren’t you kind of contradicting yourself? If we can get published than our writing obviously doesn’t suck now does it? Also, expressing my opinion is not foolish. I did read a large portion of the article, but like a sensible person, I stopped when I got tired of it. There’s no point in beating a horse that’s already dead and buried six feet underground with a piece of granite over it.

  429. I agree with Anon. Also, look at the author of Black Beauty. She was a kid and looked what happened for her!!

  430. Laura:

    “Aren’t you kind of contradicting yourself?”

    Nope, and if you had read the article, you’d know why.

    “Also, expressing my opinion is not foolish.”

    Sure it is, when the opinion you’re expressing is based on incomplete information — and when it’s possible to have all the information simply by reading a little bit more. Everyone is certainly entitled to express their own opinion, but that doesn’t make that opinion inherently valuable, or useful.


    “I’m going to say that Paolini is a better writer than a lot of adult writers. Once you’ve written a book and sold more copies than he had, then we’ll talk.”

    Ironically, I have a very nice quote from Christopher Paolini about my most recent novel.

    Mind you, if either of you had read any further in the article, you’d see a link that goes to another article that explains why, among many other things, trotting out Christopher Paolini is not as good a strategy as you seem to think it is.

  431. You get a lot of pride from contradicting a fourteen year old kid and a sixteen year old, don’t you?

  432. I don’t believe anyone asked about what Christopher Paolini thought about your novel. It was stated that his writing is better than yours. There’s a difference. Also, I’ve changed my mind. You are a narcisst after all.

  433. Anon:

    Not really. However, I assume you would like to be treated seriously, and are able to accept and handle criticism; here it is. If you can’t, of course, you should go.


    Actually, no one stated that his work was better than mine; what was stated was “I’m going to say that Paolini is a better writer than a lot of adult writers.” Which is an entirely separate thing. Now, it may be that people who have read both of us think he’s a better writer; I’m fine with that. Everyone’s tastes are different.

  434. Then I suppose I should thank you for that. Criticism is one of the best things to help a writer, after all.

  435. So you think that we should just leave if we don’t like what you have to say? I do appreciate being taken seriously. However, I don’t think you take anyone seriously. The main problem with your article is that you have automatically assumed that because we aren’t almost forty like yourself than we can’t possibly be mature enough to write about a large number of topics. This is faulty reasoning. You said I shouldn’t assume that I represent the opinions of all teens. Don’t you think you should do the same. You said some things at the beginning of the article to suggest that you consider your teenage self (who, I might add, hasn’t been around for at least twenty years) is a good representative of all teens.

  436. Laura:

    “So you think that we should just leave if we don’t like what you have to say?”

    Yes, actually, I do. If you don’t find value in it, then by all means move along. The information is presented in the hopes people find it useful; if they don’t, that’s fine too.

    As noted earlier, most of your kvetching at this point has been addressed earlier, in another article the link to which you will find in the body of the article you couldn’t be bothered to read more of. Basically, Laura, my advice to you at this point is read the article or don’t, but if you’re not going to, then you should take your affrontedness and go.

  437. All right, I’ll admit some of the things I’ve said were uneducated. However, the point remains that a lot of what you stated in your article is both contradictory and biased. I accept your criticism and the fact that some of it is warranted. I do think that some of your article could be helpful. All I ask is that you consider the number of teens that might read this and be immediately devastated by it. Another point I would like to make is that a lot of what teens write is directed towards other teens, and thus many adults would fail to fully appreciate it.

  438. Laura:

    “However, the point remains that a lot of what you stated in your article is both contradictory and biased.”

    Since you didn’t bother to read the article all the way through, how would you know this?

    As for all the teens who might be devastated: If they’re devastated by this, they’re going to be utterly destroyed by the actual publishing world, which is a lot crueler, because it’s a lot more personal.

  439. I have to agree with Laura once again, although I do wonder what other teens would think of your article besides the ones who have already commented.

  440. I repeat: “I read a large portion of it”. Now, since I have better things to do that argue with you, I take my leave. Portions of your article were instructive and will be considered in the future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy yourself calling down teenagers.

  441. And as a piece of advice to others who read this article, I wouldn’t advice commenting. Heaven forbid if you said something he didn’t like.

  442. Laura:

    “I repeat: ‘I read a large portion of it.'”

    Which is not all, otherwise, among other things, I wouldn’t have noted in my first comment where you had gotten something wrong about the article. Which is to say you missed important stuff, apparently.

    It’s also worth noting that in all the time you spent here arguing about an article you didn’t bother to read through the entire way, you probably could have read it through at least a couple of times. There is irony there.

    I would also advise them not commenting, if, like you, they didn’t bother to read the thing all the way through. Mind you, I’ve already put such advice in the article, which, as we’ve established, you did not read completely.

  443. Personally, I think your article was pretty good. I am a teen writer, and I already follow a few of those tips. But at the same time, I agree with both Laura and Anon. It did seem that you were “putting down” teenagers in general. But that may have just been my point of view. And I also agree with Anon in that Paolini is a fabulous writer whose talent surpasses many adults.

  444. I disagree that I’m putting down teens; I’m simply telling them that at this point in their writing careers their work is likely not very good, and that rather than being a disadvantage, it’s actually an opportunity. In my experience, the teenagers I know prefer when you’re straight with them over blowing happy smoke up their ass.

  445. That’s true. I also feel the same way. But still, “I’m simply telling them that at this point in their writing careers their work is likely not very good” is kind of silly. How do you know? How many stories by teens have you read? I repeat, I personally a lot of the article, but that doesn’t mean my writing sucks. How can you be sure that I’m not currently writing the bestseller of the coming year? (Not that I am-I’m more of a poet) But you get my drift.

    Anyway, thanks for the tips!

  446. Re #483: “Why is it that when we talk of teenage writers everybody shouts ‘Paolini, Paolini!’ instead of, you know, ‘Capote, Capote!'”

    Keats, Keats! Shelley, Shelley! Byron, Byron! Rimbaud, Rimbaud! Bradbury, Bradbury! Silverberg, Silverberg! Ellison, Ellison! Delany, Delany!

  447. Today is my last day as a teenager, so I want to say this now:

    Thanks for the advice. This particular teenager is incredibly happy and grateful for this particular blog entry. I could bore you with how I heeded it (or in some cases, didn’t need it) but I blogged it instead :-)

  448. Many thanks go to you from me, the tiny eighth grader who read this. I’m aware that my writing is horrible, but I’m getting better, particularly since I’ve found several people – on and offline – who have given me advice about my would-be novel. Thanks for the tips!


  449. (Near to the top of all the comments) Jas asked if there were actually any teenagers reading this. Well, I raise my hand proudly, and tell you that I’m fourteen.

    I agree with everything you have written, and thank you. It might just be me, but I loved the short story you wrote! I thought it was hilarious, but I do find a lot of stuff funny…

  450. Thank you so much. This was a big help. I know I want to be a writer when I grow up, I googled “advice for young writers” and your blog was the first thing to catch my eye.

    You’re right, my writing sucks, my characters are just slightly varied versions of myself, and I have a small vocabulary and even less life experience. But, I still aspire to be a writer, because I know I can improve, because I am young.

    Anyways, long comment to basically say:

  451. Pingback: Cat-vacuuming « ‘would you ask jacques cousteau to play go fish?’

  452. So I have always wanted to write a novel and get it published but have always lacked the motivation, so I think it’s safe to say I won’t be an amazing groundbreaking author. Recently though I have thought of a story and have started to write it. I think it took this article to make me realise it though, that (however much I want it to be the case) I won’t be the next Jane Austen (sob!).

    I wrote a short story for my English Coursework (I live in England and I’m 15) and I got full marks on it, I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but I read back over it just now and think ‘dear god’. I’m cringing just remembering it and I’m wondering how my teacher even got through it; this was only 5 months ago. But the last line especially got me: ‘The only thing that mattered though, was that Robert realised he loved Karen.’ I mean……. ITS AWFUL AND CORNY. I think the fact that the teachers expectations were that low really brings it home; most people aren’t good writters, adults don’t expect a lot of teen writting, and I’m not saying it’s all bad, just I agree that the lots of it will be.

    Back to your article though. It did help, seriously you lot who have now really got your backs up need to calm down. I mean, sure I want to be the next Stephanie Meyer who earnt a bomb writting about a v. hot vampire, but the likely hood is, is that this won’t happen. I have no intention of doing this as a profession but more of as a hobby. I love to read and hope some day to be able to have people read my books and enjoy them as much as I enjoy reading theirs.

    So yes, thanks for the advice, and trust me, I will heed it, but I think that very few people are good authours and so being a teenager and having little life experience, not being able to drive, get drunk legally, get a job, live on my own, go to university and never having been in love I don’t stand much of a chance of people who have done all the above, have natural talent and study it at University (or college I think you call it.)

    I will continue with my story and go back to it, hoping one day that if I ever brave sending it off to publishers they might say it was ok, even if only to satisfy my pride.

    If I am the new Jane Austen or one of the Bronte sisters in five years time please don’t publish this as I’m sure, as I do now, I willl look at it and wonder why God, did I write something so crap.

    Sarah, England.

  453. Sarah 522: And if God answers He will say “Practice, Sarah. You wrote it for practice, and to express your true feelings and intelligent thoughts.” And by the way, I seem to remember an excellent and successful writer who showed people a piece of her early writing…by way of encouraging them to keep practicing! It was, as we say in these parts, schlock.

    I myself was taught to save and date my calligraphy sheets, so that I could look back at them and see how far I’ve come, instead of looking at, say, the Book of Kells and feeling all inferior.

    This would be even if your comment were hold-your-nose horrendous crrrap, which it is not.

  454. ok so i read the entire thing and i know i might sound stupid but i completely agree on my writing sucks and i am only twelve and i guess writing hit me early because i have been telling stories scene i was like five and i was always pretty good at it but when i started writing actual stories like on paper well it all started in like third grade and i still remember the story that i wrote and i recently found it and read it and i got to say that i absolutely hated it it was like the worst thing i had ever written literally it was only seven pages and i know that that isnt a bad start but the grammar was terrible so was the hand writing but it was a amazing to see what i had done for my first project and that i even thought that way but now i realize that i can do better and i recently finished a story that was 105 pages long and if i do say so myself is is pretty awesome but with the VERY RUDE remarks from my friends about my writing i tell them that i am still young and have a lot to learn and i did the best i could and if that is not good enough for them then thats their problem because i know i can do beter because at such a young age it isnt that hard to do better i found that out from my third grade story and even tho i suck i still keep working at is to try to become the best writer EVER!!!

  455. I can understand why people would be insulted by the whole “teenage writing sucks” thing but I can actually believe that, and I even have a solid reason why I think it’s a bit more fact than plain opinion. I have three older siblings (four if you count the brother inlaw i new since i was three), the closest to my age is 21, no I’m practiacally fourteen (my birthdays soon) and I do feel intelligent and well put in writing and even speaking, but when I look at my older siblings I back track a little. Just by the way they speak and act you can tell how more mature and in the know then I can be right now. For example, when I explain topics to my sister who’s 29, it’s like telling someone something they already know. It’s annoying, but it brings me to that fact that at the age of thirteen, fourteen, what ever, I don’t know more than I experienced, no matter how much I study, or how much I read, I know nothing yet. I know to plenty of people I probably sound like I have self-esteem issues, I don’t really, I think I’m smart, creative, and “special in my own little way” believe me, I have an ego. To just add on my ranting, when I was younger, I did really good in school without trying, but now, when I look at younger smart kids, they speak sorta, well, dumb. So I can just imagine how much of a moron I’m probably making out of myself right now, and god forbid I find this in, lets say 20 years and start covering my mouth and whimpering at a what-ever-there-going-to-have-in-place-of-a-computer screen

  456. Liz, actually that’s fairly coherent, mod the stream-of-consciousness writing style. Not at all bad for twelve. Next thing to work on: punctuation. Break that down into sentences and paragraphs, and you’ll have quite a nice short piece of writing.

  457. Why thank you, and that does actually make me feel better. Especially as I have just thought of a good story which I can’t get out of my head. Maybe I will write it now and then develop it in a few years. I will persist!

  458. Well, crap. You’ve given me a good deal to think about, even though I’ve heard most of it before. I’m not a teen, but I probably still write like one… I’ll have to do some soul-searching.

  459. Sarah, you’re very welcome.

    J., do the soul-searching in writing. It will help you organize your thoughts, and it’s great practice!

  460. Your 10-things-teenage-writers-should-know may have influenced the last scene that I wrote today, of a nearkly 6,000 word surge, where a 300-year-old judge castigates student essay finalists, including the protagonist who’d plagiarized the judge; modeled on, but noninfriging on, and openly quoting at one point, the first story, “The Unlucky Winner,” from the collection “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” by Max Shulman, first published by Doubleday in the month that I was born: September 1951, which has, at its heart, a brilliant piece of faux-mannered bombast, that being the part that I quote, with minor changes to fit the novel’s background. Plus the occasional appropriate phrase from “Love is a Fallacy”, op cit.

    [unnumbered] Chapter of the novel-in-progress
    23-page Draft 1.0 of 2 January 2009
    Approx. 5,750 words


    … You could have knocked me over with a phoenix feather. The oldest man I’d ever seen tottered out on stage. He was, in fact, over 300 years of age. Curse my luck, he was a Thaumaturge himself, with an anti-aging spell of some efficacy.

    He batted away an educator who tried to assist him across the stage. “Impudent whippersnapper!” he said. “You’re all a bunch of whippersnappers. Why, I remember when they built this State Capitol. If I’d known they’d fill it with whimpering imbeciles and whippersnappers, I would have blasted it to kingdom come with a Briscance Spell or molecular explosives or whatnot.”

    He put on his pince-nez and glowered at Jedediah Smoot from Irwindale.

    “What kind of consarned drivel is this; an essay on gravel? Why didn’t you break it down finer, and give us a sermon on stones; a parable on pebbles, an exposition on nuggets; a treatise on grit; a composition on compost; or a discourse and dissertation on dirt?”

    “And you,” he barked at Smolenski Studebaker of Furnace Creek. “What kind of half-baked Death Valley bumpkin would bother with an essay on boring old Borax? You twenty-mule-team twerp.” And he read aloud, the parchment quivering in his clawlike hand, “Borax, also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate, is an important boron compound, a mineral, and a salt of boric acid, which… which what, you witless whippersnapper? Which is usually a white powder consisting of soft colorless crystals that dissolve easily in water. You colorless clod, I wish your submission had been dissolved easily in water when you flushed it down the toilet.”

    And now, as I turned to stone, melted, turned back to stone, and nearly peed in my pants, he turned his ancient rheumy eyes on me. He held a parchment up near his face, and read aloud:

    “Who has not sat in the arbor of his country seat…” He coughed like a sandstorm in the Grand Canyon. “I’ll tell you who has not sat in the arbor of his country seat. You have not! Jedediah Smoot has not. Smolenski Studebaker has not. None of those pee-whipped educational bureaucrats have. You doubtless don’t even know what a country seat is. Who writes about country seats? I should thrash you with my walking stick on the seat of your pants. Three split infinitives. No comprehension of the serial comma. Enough semicolons to sink a battleship. What ever gave you the impression that you could write your way out of a roll of toilet paper?”

    “It’s a shame and a burden on me that I have to pick the least of these weevily evils, instead of ending this idiotic competition for ever. But, seeing as how I’ve already been paid my risible remuneration, my pathetic perquisite, my emetic emolument, I hereby award the Golden Poppy Prize of The California Colleges Essay Competition to…”

    I had been holding my breath for so long that dots were wavering before my dimming eyes.

    “… to Jedediah Smoot from Irwindale.”

    And there I was shaking hands with the idiot from Irwindale, and the dweeb from Death Valley. Fortunately, Mary Ngo was there, holding me by the arm, else I’d have fallen flat on my face, flopping like a fish out of water, so great was the reduction in pressure.

    As I was being helped onto the flying carpet by Jenijoy and Mary, the gasping geezer sauntered by like a scarecrow from hell, his mutton-cop whiskers and string tie blowing in the breeze.

    “I had half a mind to give you the prize, for your chutzpah and cojones, you whippersnapper.”

    I stared at him in amazement. Mary had slithered her fingers into my lap at the utterance of “cojones” so I was probably incapable of speech.

    “It’s mighty flattering to know that anyone’s still reading ‘Thoughts of My Tranquil Hours’ after all these years.”

    As the carpet lifted magically from the lawn before the Capitol steps, to waft us back to Paradena, I could see Elmo Lino Pipgrass running his walking stick against the wrought iron uprights of a long spike-topped fence, with a sound like buttons popping from an overstuffed coed’s sweater.

    “My next girlfriend,” I was saying to myself, would have to be honest.”

    And then she gave me that Marilyn Monroe smile, and my heart throbbed like a thumb smacked by a mishandled heavy hammer.

    I guess it was love, after all.

    === the end ===

  461. thanks xtopher i guess I’ve never been good at grammer but I’ve still Loved writing its just been in me life my parents said that wen i was little i would write a bunch of letters and call it a story and read it to them and i guess i do the same thing now cause i cant spell

    my parents think its a wonder that my spelling is horible because i read so much.

  462. ok so im typing my story thats 105 pages and ok so it does suck and the story line is a bit stupid but i thought that maby if i change it, it may actuly be good so thats what i am doing making it more adultish or as much as i can get as me only being twelve so wen i finish i might post info about it on my website but for now its just a small town story with a small town writer and hats the way it will be for a whileand i will tell all you if i ever get it published

    your small town writer and girl hopping to be a big time star

  463. Thank you for the helpful advice. I’m a teenage writer (going to be 20 soon), and I think there is quite a bit of thruth to what you are saying. I know my first work of length (written when I was 13) really sucked, now I like to think the degree of suckiness has decreased at least somewhat to a certain degree.

    Thank you for saying something about writers writing about writers. It is annoying, and I thought I was the only one annoyed by it.

  464. hello
    after reading this article, and the MANY comments… i must say you all have left me utterly confused! im an eager writer, 16 years old, and REALLY want to make it… but every time i read an article like this- its as if your just holding up a warning sign: ‘dont do it! you’ll never make it anyway! shoo shooooo!’ and trying to scare all us teenagers away. granted-your only trying to help, and fair enough, the reason teenagers found this article is because they wanted help (i assume) and some of these comments are totally unfair. for example, Randy? what the hell was that charade? but i must say, John, do you really think that telling teenagers their writing ‘sucks’ is going to encourage them, or hinder them? because i can tell you that every article i read which tells me im not good enough just makes me want to quit. and i really dont want to quit. but if no-one is willing to give teenagers a chance that maybe with the possibility they might have something that older guys dont, then nothing is going to move forward. wisdom doesnt always come with age. talent, definately, shouldnt be defined by your age. fair enough, it helps, and i know the more you write the better you get, but you shouldnt assume that telling teenagers this, like everyone else does, that it is actually going to help. i guess this is obvious with some of the comments you’ve gathered, and this might seem like angry teenager im-better-than-you lark, and maybe you might take them more seriously if they werent, so… well… rude. but for me, im terrified of not sucseeding, and articles like this just show me im right to be, because even if im good, no-one is likely to give me a chance. and i also understand im going to get rejected like hell, because thats how it goes, but come on- give me a break! okay, its not praise that im after, and i dont want lies that its going to be easy (because i know it isnt, ive tried) but this sort of criticism just doesnt help, not on teenagers anyway. your approach is true but harsh, which is why you got true and harsh (okay, very harsh) comments back. do you have any advice for young writers who are sick and tired of being told to wait untill they are older, because now they just arnt good enough?

  465. “do you have any advice for young writers who are sick and tired of being told to wait untill they are older, because now they just arnt good enough?”

    Learn to write better, so you’ll be good enough to publish. Thing is, that generally takes time.

    As for whether this will help or hinder teens, as the comments here appear to suggest, it will help some, hinder others and be utterly neutral for still others. It depends on the person.

    I will say, however, that if one article you found on the Internet forever crushes your desire to be a writer, you probably don’t want to be a writer all that much.

    Also — and understand this is meant without snark — when a teenager argues that teens are ready to be published in a comment that is devoid of capitalization, appropriate punctuation and paragraphing, or generally accurate spelling, it does not bolster their case. Now, you might not think this should matter, but it does. Grammar and punctuation exist to a great extent to make one’s ideas clear to others. If you’re not making yourself clear on that fundamental level — even in a blog comment — it suggests you might have higher order writing issues, too. All of this, fortunately, can be fixed with practice and time.

  466. i agree if this site makes you hate writing then you dont love writing all this site did to me was give me encouragement to prove John wrong that you can do good and thats a struggle but it takes time and with practice and plenty of patients we could all better ourselves…

  467. “… plenty of patients we could all better ourselves…”

    That’s why some people should go to Med School, rather than to major in English Literature.

    Mr. Scalzi is entirely correct about “Grammar and punctuation.”

    In one of the crystal-clear 5 Rules of Professional Writing, Mr. Robert A. Heinlein says to FINISH the piece of writing. That means properly spell-checked, formatted, paginated, spaced, and otherwise in form ready to show to an editor.

    If you’re in too much of a rush to dot each i and cross each t, you are guaranteed to fall flat on your face before you even get your foot in the door.

    Expecially if you’re “hopping to be a big time star.”

    Cut off one of your legs as a writer, and you’ll be hopping forever.

  468. you know what making fun of me is NOT the the thing to do thats wrong and rude i so NOT going to med school get that through your little brain I’ve hated doctors and i am NEVER going to be one so choke on that Jonathan i am still young and like i said in my previous comments i suck at spelling and i dont give a crap and you know what i haven seen any books written by you so you know what you should just stop making fun of kids its just sick and wrong and go find some other site

  469. I agree, John, but I also think JvP could have been a little kinder and considered his target a little more carefully. Liz is TWELVE.

    JvP, that would have been fine to fire at an adult who spent that whole post attacking you personally. In context it was cruel and mean-spirited.

  470. This is a great article, and I don’t think that it comes off as condescending in the slightest. It reads more like someone who’s obviously been there and is just basically saying not to give up on yourself. Or at least, that’s what I got out of it!

    Well done, sir.

  471. I’m quite pleased with your article and I agree with all your points. I personally want to major in English when I go to college but my reasoning is because I simply enjoy it, it has no connection to my future career goals even though I want to be a writer/editor, I also intend to major or minor in photography and do some freelancing. Life is to short to not take it for what it’s worth and I intend to enjoy every second of living. Writing makes me happy, and I’m well aware my work is no where near professional level, but even if I am to fail I will do it a hundred times over and never give up because that will be when I truely fail.

  472. I love this article! Some people may think it’s rude or uncaring but i found hilarious. The sheer bluntness was so incredibly true, and I don’t write to get published, i write to write. Also, I can’t get angry about the bluntness of the article because I would be a liar if I said that I’m not equally blunt. The only problem I had was with the fourth point. I have only had one English teacher that I ever learned anything from, and it’s not because I don’t pay attention. I get A’s in a college level class. The teachers just suck, so I gave up on learning things in class a long time ago. Overall, however, I enjoyed the article thoroughly and found it to be not only true, but also very helpful for me as a young writer.

  473. Oh, and I also want to point out that Mr. Scalzi isn’t being rude, just honest, and the world needs more honesty.

  474. These are all great suggestions and I really appreciate you taking the time to post this –even if it was almost three years ago!
    I willl definitely try to follow your advise; I really wish to become a good writer sometime in the (near?) future.
    I agree… us teenagers aren’t very good writers after all that whining.
    (And yes, I was about to protest at the beggining of this article too)

  475. I actually read your entire article. I got to it by mistake actually, I was browsing google for something else but the title of your article caught my eye (even though I was in the middle of finishing an assignment for school that needs to be turned in ASAP lol)
    All I can say is, I wish I had read your article years ago when I was a teenager who had a deep passion for writing.
    Your article is very direct, entertaining and informative, and I enjoyed reading it :)

  476. [Deleted because this is not a pimp thread, nor do I like markets which do not pay authors, even teen authors. Editor, don’t do this again — JS]

  477. So, my dad found this and sent it to me and, in addition to making me laugh at several points *see the fate of those who write about a young, struggling author* I feel a bit more confident in my future in writing. I mean, I’m okay now but in the genre I want to pursue, I have a lot of ideas but I’m having trouble getting there. I’m seventeen and I’ve written some lyrics of my own- even those I wrote a year ago kind of scare me because they sound so bad XD- I sent this along to another teen writer, thanks for the advice!

  478. Re #541: Xopher is very often right, and has good taste. So, Liz, (#539). I apologize. Shame on me for forgetting that, as a teacher, I may be strict, I may be truthful, but it was WRONG of me to subject an eager student with humiliation. My empathy slipped; I do remember what it feels like to be a precocious 12.

    I should learn better how Mr. Scalzi walks the fine line of honesty without rudeness.