Comment Overflow for “10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing”
Posted on February 15, 2009 Posted by John Scalzi 505 Comments
The comment thread for “10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing” is now well over 600 comments, and that page itself is taking a fair amount of time to load. So I’m closing the comments there to keep the page from growing any larger and opening up a supplementary comment thread here, where teens and other folks can post.
If I may make a suggestion, however: Teens, before you post a comment, please go look at this follow-up entry, covering many of the most common objections to the post, because nothing will make you look more clueless than to make what you think is a cogent point only to have me note it’s been asked and answered dozens of times already. I thank you in advance for your consideration.
Having said that, fire away!
Also, quick note:
Please don’t comment here unless it’s specifically about the “10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing” entry. I know how you regulars like to go meta, but I want to keep this on topic and useful for the teenagers that come through. Thanks.
I am under contract. The deadline for said contract is whooshing by (with a nod to the ghost of Douglas Adams) as I write this.
I went to the old comments for grins, only to discover my own obtuse thoughts on the subject, and was reminded of something that’s relevant to my epic deadline fail.
(…It has to be, considering the way I’ve been clinging to the outline. Bah.)
John, thanks for writing a blog that makes me think. This is the first time I’ve ever visited one that provided me with advice to myself.
I still like the Tiger Woods analogy. Even if he was immensely talented, better than most adults before grade school, he still sucked compared to how he plays now. Doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have tried to win tounaments as a a teenager, just as it doesn’t mean a talented teenaged writer shouldn’t be trying to get published now.
After all, Scalzi did *not* say, “You suck, don’t let anyone see your writing.” Instead “Try to get published now; don’t let rejections discourage you because you suck compared to where you’ll be if you keep working” is a very different message. I bet Paolini and Scalzi both look back at their first published book and wince, because continually trying to improve is the mark of a serious writer.
Actually, both my first published book and my first published novel are quite good (the novel was nominated for a Hugo to boot). However, I will note that my first book was published when I was 31 and my first novel when I was 35. So I had had time to practice.
But is it as good as you can write now? I bet not. And I bet both are *far* better than your teenaged writings. I do think the comparison to one’s own best is probably more important than the comparison to others.
Forgot to add: I say the above since after all there are some teenaged writers good enough to be published, or in your words “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. ” Until it catches up with you.
Thank you for posting this.
I am a “teen writer” currently working on several stories, and as you said in this blog(it is a blog isnt it?) our-teenager’s-writing pretty much sucks. However, i thought some of this advice was helpful and if I ever become a published author,however unlikely that is, I’ll be sure to give some credit to this John Scalzi guy ,whom i’ve never heard of before (no offense to you,I havent heard of alot of people) but his writing technique is very good.
Having looked at the follow-up, I have to say that I agree with the points. I probably wouldn’t have agreed with them at fifteen, but ten years later I appreciate the wisdom of experience. I’d like to think that in another ten years, I’ll be a good enough writer that I can get a book sold. I know that my only control over this process is how much I write, how much work I put into improving my product, and how often (and where) it’s submitted. Everything else is in someone else’s hands: an editor’s.
Most everyone’s work, but especially creative work, has a certain silt : sparkle ratio. You have to dig through silt in order to find the sparkle. Often this involves a lot of pain and poverty. The good thing about writing as a teen is that you dig through this silt early, rather than late, when a lot of adult writers finally give themselves the permission to write. With any luck it means that your personal creative factory will eventually start producing things that pass inspection, rather than being summarily chucked for being misshapen or useless. This means a longer lifespan as a successful creative person, if you’re lucky (and demonstrate consistent quality, and aren’t a boor to collaborate with, and somehow make money in a crumbling economy and panicked industry).
At least, this is what I tell myself. I’m think I’m mostly still in my silt phase, with occasional glimmers peeking through the dirt. But the judgement of when the silt phase has passed also lies mostly in an editor’s hands. That’s why they call it “the submission process”: you’re not the one in control.
(Sorry if this is too meta; please delete if so.)
In the past year I have had occasion to read approximately 170 queries from writers under the age of 17.
I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the writing samples that accompanied ALL of them SUCKED. Big time.
However…A great majority of these young writers aced their query letters. I mean flat-out awesome, great hooks, strong pitches and extremely professionally pulled together. In fact, I’d go so far to say that the majority of them wrote better query letters than their much-older writing colleagues. And they managed to follow submission guidelines, something many of the adult writers who query me haven’t yet managed to grasp.
So imagine in about ten years when their creative writing catches up with their ability to write a decent business letter…I’m thinking we’ll see some decent writers coming out of that batch.
Why are they stating that they are under 17 in their query letters?
Because they think it’s a selling point (which, to be fair, if the novel was fantastic, it would be).
My current occupation: professional writer.
My former occupation: music teacher.
I taught piano lessons to a lot of kids. Some of them were quite talented. None of them, however, reached the level of a professional concert pianist after two or three lessons. The beginning pianist is, well, a beginner. This observation is not a prediction of future musical success, much less an opinion of their worth as human beings. It’s a fact, not an insult. For most people, even the most precociously talented, learning to play the piano well takes time, effort, and practice.
So I really wasn’t prepared for the emails from teen writers who’d started a manuscript (or worst, had an Idea for one) and wanted to know how to get it published. And I REALLY wasn’t prepared for the incredulity with which many aspiring writers receive the suggestion that time, effort, and practice might be involved in the process.
A beginning pianist does not necessarily suck–there’s something to be said for the ability to play “Go Tell Aunt Rhodie” accurately and musically–but he or she is not yet performing at a professional level. Few piano students would argue otherwise. And I never once met an aspiring musician who wanted to know how to book a concert at Carnegie Hall before they knew how to find middle C on the keyboard. Yet aspiring writers do this ALL THE FREAKING TIME.
This puzzles me. But it does NOT puzzle me because I’m a decrepit old broad who couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to be a beginning pianist, a beginning writer, or a beginning anything else. Because let’s face it–you don’t have to be a kid to learn new things. These days I’m learning Irish fiddle, Adobe Illustrator, and figure drawing. The difference between me and the teen with entitlement issues is that I don’t expect to do any of these things on a professional level this week or next.
It’s not about age–at least, not primarily. It’s about perspective. And it’s about a sense of entitlement. You don’t have to be a teenager to feel entitled to something you haven’t worked to achieve; there is a prevailing attitude among young AND old that good things should come quickly and easily. It seems to me that the people who reach professional levels in any endeavor are people who don’t buy into this, who expect to work hard at their art/craft/professional discipline.
Several years back I corresponded with a young writer who impressed me with his professionalism, his work ethic, and his knowledge of the dark fantasy market. He had written and submitted quite a few stories and seemed to learn from the rejections he’d racked up. I assumed he was in his late twenties, or possibly a grad student. To my surprise, I received a very happy email when his first book contract arrived on his 18th birthday, which allowed him to sign it himself. Being a teenager does not preclude being a good writer, and, on occasion, a professional writer, as long as the teen in question is willing to put in time, effort, and practice.
When I was a teen, I was frustrated because my teachers kept telling me I was great, when I knew I sucked. But I was a better writer than most of my peers. I was so, so happy to finally find a teacher who told me that I sucked, and why, so I could fix it.
I hadn’t thought about the comparison aspect of teen writing before. I wrote stories when I was a teen that I knew sucked, but that was okay. I wasn’t showing it around much.
However, I did a lot of art when I was a teen that my peers told me was fantastic, even though I knew it sucked. And I credit my high school art teacher and the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain with getting me to a point where I did not feel as though it sucked— and I can point to specific examples that I’m still proud of. Those examples are simple, though, because I was incapable of pulling off the more complicated stuff until I had more practice.
My point is that all of my peers thought I was an incredible artist— and maybe I was for the age I was. But it took time and training before I could get to an objective point of not-suck. The same is true of my writing— I’m only now, in my thirties, feeling as though I can write stuff that doesn’t suck. (Though some of it still does. :) )
Hah, reality bites. I just read that post for the first time, whilst looking back fondly to when I punched out my first few words on a manual typewriter, then going on to churn out the inevitable and unpublished fantasy trilogy. The point to remember is that the bar is set by those who grafted for ten or twenty years and, unless you’re some sort of genius, you’re not going to leap it (he bloviated).
It will never cease to amaze me how many people think that writing is NOT like any other art, that you go through a stage of imitation, that you have to perfect, that talent is a small percent and blood, sweat, tears, and constant hard work is by far the larger part. Writing isn’t a magical gift, it’s an art, like painting, like ballet — and yet this is the hardest thing to get across to so many people?
I think it might be that where most people already know they lack certain types of art skills, they don’t realize they lack writing skills too. Most people have a grasp of their native tongue and think they can make it do whatever they wish — they don’t realize that no, that’s not the equivalent level, that merely speaking isn’t really the first step up — learning the tricks of the trade is the first step, and there ARE tricks and skills. Otherwise it’s just the same as having legs, but not being able to make them to jetes.
That didn’t quite make the sense I wanted it to, but I hope it’s close enough.
I don’t know WHAT crap you’re spewing! I’m seventeen years old and a GREAT writer and….Lol. JK.
This article was as interesting as it is true. I’m a seventeen year old writer, and though I wont so much as say that my writing is “crap”, I’m not ignorant enough to believe that I contain skill worthy of publishing. I know I’m young. More, I can FEEL it. I can be as clever as I want, but it just wont make up for my lack of experience. For my lack of study. My “voice” hasn’t fully developed, despite my excessive writing and reading tendencies.
I’m young. I’m naive. I’m an amateur. A rookie. If there’s one thing I’m not, however, it’s stupid. I’ve read too many incredible novels to think that I have what it takes to sell. Still, I’m looking forward to the challenge, and am eagerly awaiting the day when I can create something remarkable enough to not only publish, but seriously hit.
Unfortunately, I have not yet come across a mentor who has touched me. I’ve had some good English teachers, sure, (my last AP Eng teacher was pretty good…), but never a mentor. Never someone who has given me advice that I will keep at heart (intentionally or not), or a teacher who has said something that just refused to leave me. Or even a teacher who I felt was so passionate about writing or reading, that he or she inspired me in ways that would have me rushing home to my computer with twitching fingers and a reeling mind.
How I long to have such a person in my life… (even my friends and family wrinkle their nose in distaste at even the mention of pursuing a career in writing.)
I’m glad that you mentioned that bit about college. When I told my friends and family that I didn’t want to major in English (only Minor), they all looked at me as if I were crazy. Though I wish to pursue a writing career, and have been wishing it for many years, I still have every intention of double majoring in Psychology and the Japanese language. I also wish to take a few courses in Philosophy, Greek Mythology, play writing, film history and Asian Studies. I’ve lived a rather sheltered life– am still living one, actually– and besides hands on experience, I need a bit more intel. under my belt. Heck, I’ve never even fallen in love!
There’s so much to do.
I’ve digressed a bit from the topic. Sorry.
This article was really interesting! I can really see myself reading it repeatedly, even if only as a confidence booster (and yes, I do see the optimistic side of this article. As heart shattering as it may appear to be, I did receive that whole “Don’t give up” message, which I believe to be more prominent). I would recommend it to my friends and family, but as I mentioned before, none of them share the same interests as me.
Heh… I tend to ramble.
Well, before I write any more nonsense…. Thank you!
I am a teen writer, but thankfully, I’m not just starting off. When you said we suck, my head spun, but in a good way. You know that good head spin. I now feel compelled to learn from everyone how good of a writer I am. I think I’m pretty clever, but I’m not sure how to gauge my goodness.
This article was incredibly helpful and has given me an awesome reality check. You know those good reality checks. Although I agree, I’m perplexed by the idea that were so bad. I don’t find it jarring, but if I told that to my writing buddies I’m sure they’d be offended. But they’re dumb friends anyway.
I’m currently writing a novel and a comic book, don’t worry, I know the format for writing comics, so I’m not writing blindly. I’ll try to find some people to look over my work, and see how bad I suck.
Obrigado! (That’s portuguese for ‘thank you’)
You seemed to indicate in the preface entry that you wanted to help any teenagers who needed it, and your article spoke to me, so I have a couple of questions I was hoping you could answer.
First, you mention in your article that you will know when your writing stops sucking. I am probably going to sound naive here, but I’ve already admitted that I’m a teenager so I’m going to go ahead and sound naive. How will you know? What happens if you miss it? It usually takes me about a year or three to realize that something sucks– every time I finish a piece I think that THIS is it, THIS is the one that doesn’t suck, and a year later I am disappointed, and two more years later I can’t look at it without cringing. Am I supposed to continue waiting three years every time I write something? Does this only seem like a very, very long time because I’m young and naive? I’ve tried asking my friends and family and even instructors, and they make a few suggestions and then tell me how wonderful I am. Not once has anyone ever told me “Your work sucks,” except for my best friend, once, because I had written something truly atrocious.
Also, novels. I can’t write them. I always get distracted, and by the time I remember the novel I’ve realized how much everything about it sucks. I have never once gotten past chapter three of a novel, and this worries me. Should I force myself to finish a novel, sucking be damned, or should I wait until I finish one naturally? Has anyone ever finished a novel naturally?
Thank you for reading, and possibly even answering, my questions.
“How will you know? What happens if you miss it?”
I think most writers know when they’ve done something really good. And if you miss it, no big deal, because fairly shortly afterward you’ll write something else that good, because it’s a competence thing. You can’t keep missing them.
“Should I force myself to finish a novel, sucking be damned, or should I wait until I finish one naturally?”
Personally I think there’s nothing wrong with writing a novel for practice, not worrying about it sucking, and then learning from that process to write a better one the next time. It’s what I did.
Not being a writer, I don’t know that I’m especially qualified to comment, but I’d think that a clear indicator of one’s work ceasing to suck is when someone is willing to pay you for it.
Which to me says Don’t be too worried about the self-awareness; keep writing and submitting, and you’ll find out.
I was pointed in the direction of your article by a friend. Thanks a lot for writing it! I think it contains a lot of good advice. It made me realise that, whilst I would like to think my writing is slightly-better-than-suck, it’s still pretty awful. The advice about paying attention in school, reading even the awful stuff – I think it’s all sound. (It also has made me promise to borrow the rest of the Twilight books from my friends/library. Prime examples, I think, of what NOT to do).
I’m also getting help from an experienced writer (though not your level of experience) on another site. I really think I’ve learned a lot in the past year about good writing, which is a step in the right direction.
Praise for your article aside, I also find it encouraging that you can empathise with teenagers who want to write, but at the same time treat us honestly. I have met many adults who take either the “encourage them with praise, they’ll get better on their own” or the “they’re only teenagers, they can’t possibly be good” stance. Just like adults weren’t born that way, we do not become magnificent writers overnight as soon as we hit 20. I think the distinction between ‘your writing sucks’ and ‘your writing sucks NOW’ is a very important one. The latter implies that amongst the trashy words there is some sort of talent lurking, whilst the latter suggests you might as well give up now, because you’ve no hope whatsoever.
Again, thanks for writing this article. It’s helped me out, at least!
Okay, I read your article, and, hubris aside, I agree with you. But I also have one or two questions. I started writing, of a sort, around fifth grade. The stuff I wrote was highly cliched and reading it now makes me cringe. But it was good for a fifth grader. I continued writing off and on through middle school, and started on a book around eighth grade. In retrospect, it sucked. Badly. The concept was completely wacko (think Justice League + Sky High + Avatar + Tolkien. ugh!). Since then I have much refined the concept (so that it makes sense) and even begun inventing a world with peoples, cultures, languages, history, etc. I also have a few other stories I want to tell. Now that I’ve given you a brief synopsis of my writing experience, here are the questions:
1. Let’s accept that teenage writing sucks. Including mine. :( Is it possible that my writing sucks less that teenage writing in general? And is it possible that since I started earlier, I will mature earlier? I started around 10-12 ish, so I should be okay-good by college right? I am noticing some improvement in my writing.
2. The story I devised I think has potential. I want it to be a masterpiece. That said, I don’t have the skills to make it a masterpiece yet. Should I go ahead and write it anyway, or sharpen my skills on something else and then come back to it?
3. Should I stick to one genre, or try multiples? Can one effectively write in multiple genres? My masterpiece-idea and its spin-offs are fantasy, but I have another concept that’s more sci-fi, one that’s fantasy-western (I don’t think that’s ever been done before. XD), and idea for a schizophrenic superhero, a title called “The Last King of America” (nice title, but I don’t have a story for it yet), and then I have something that can only be described as the unholy spawn of The Count of Monte Cristo and V for Vendetta.
Those are the sum total of my questions for now. I would much appreciate your answers.
1. It’s possible your writing is better than some of your age cohort, but practically speaking, the relevant criteria is not whether your writing is better or worse than average, but whether it’s good enough to get published. So I would spend very little time wondering if you’re better than other folks, and more time working on the goal of writing better.
2. Why not both? No reason you can’t write it now, set it aside, and revise when you have more skills.
3. At this point, write what interests you and don’t worry about what genre it is.
Thanks. I bow in respect to your wisdom. But I have another question:
What would you say is the most irredeemable, hopelessly cliched, never-try-this, avoid-at-all-costs concept that appears in teenage writing or writing in general? You know, something that I just shouldn’t do, regardless of skill/no skill.
Oh, I don’t know. Boy meets girl?
I don’t worry if I’ve seen the concept before. I’m interested in how the writer pulls it off. One is plot, the other is skill.
Thank you very much for writing the list of things that teenage writers should know. My dad sent me the link and I enjoyed reading it. I think you are right about a lot of it–particularly the fact that the writing most people do as teenagers sucks. I know mine did. I’m only 19, so still technically a teenager, but even I can see how much my writing has improved since I first started seriously writing stories at 14. I’m taking the “ten years” idea to mean that I will only get better as a writer (hopefully). That’s always good news.
The other point I wanted to comment on was the one about getting a job other than writing. I agree with that one as well (I don’t think there was a point I disagreed with, actually). I figured out a while ago that even though I would love to be a professional writer, it’s not really practical. Unless you’re some super amazing sensation who gets published right away, you’re bound to be poor if you just write for a living. I don’t know about other writers, but I have interests outside of writing and so I’m using those interests (teaching, in my case) to find a career I’ll enjoy while I work on writing something that is worthy of being published. True, teachers don’t make much, but they make more than writers who haven’t been published yet.
Anyways, now that I’ve rambled on a bit, I’ll just thank you again for writing the list. I intend to show it to my roommate, who is also a writer. Thank you very much!
For one, I enjoyed this article.
It made me laugh, but it was also informing.
For two, not all teenage writers will suck.I’m just saying that you should not categorize people due to their age.
Many teenager will disagree with this, but with reason, I don’t believe EVERY teenager is horrible at writing.
Yes, I’m fifteen and I try to write.
I’m not claiming to be good, and I’m not just sticking up for my peers.
I truely believe that some teenagers, today, can write with exceptional skills.
For three, that picture makes me think of really old times, when factually, you’re my dad’s age, and he’s not really old. Ha, ha.
Anyway, thank you for taking the time to write this article type of thing.
Is there a way (concrete or perhaps not so concrete) for me to measure my writing progress? I’d just like to know how much I’m improving.
I apperciate the time you put into the aritcal and also the advise and information given. I would agree that most writers starting out suck. Myself no less I’ve been writing poetry (yes I know most of the people here write stories) for two months now posting it up. I’ve had about 15 teens tell me I should publish my work. Every time I think on the idea I balance out the two sides. One, how great it would be if more people could read my poems. Two the effort and struggle to get published, and the knowledge that I’m a beginner therefore its impossible that my work is good enough. Reading this acriticle kinda confirmed that for me. I’m told my poems are inspirational for teens like me. But I’m not sure there are publishers looking for that type of content.
I just skimmed your article, which probably makes me a bad person and probably makes this comment erroneous, but I have a question.
I am 15 years old a teenage writer who (chances are) sucks, despite the fact that I’ve been writing since I was 5 and reading since I was 2.
I’m trying to make this humorous as I sense that the general aura is comical, but my writing is largely serious and overdramatic.
I want to get published. Or read by someone who knows stuff about writing. I have three example pieces, one ridiculously long, one medium sized, and one pathetically short. How do I get these works out there?
^ That question probably just defeated the point of your entire article, sorry.
I’ve never read your stuff and I don’t know who you are.
And I’m addressing the entire Internet right now even though it’s mostly aimed at the author guy.
I love this, so many things are true. I am 13, I’ve recently started writing 2 different books and I’m not even sure you could call them that. The fact that my friends say it is good is what keeps me going, even though I know my tring to mix up wordplay and use ‘fancy’ words (as some would put it) seems adolecent, I keep writing the way that it comes naturally. If I try to be less complex than I’m aiming for and sound more like famous writers, then my work (how little it may be) will gradually become that of other people. Much like Frankenstein’s monster actually, just bits and pieces of someone else’s personality (or body) and I soon will just have alien writings that mean nothing to me. This would make the process of ‘finding my voice’ so much more complicated than required. As long as I stay true to ‘my voice’, my writing will not suck for as long as it may have otherwise.
Oh, and I forgot to mention in my rambling that I don’t know you either, but I did read all of this piece and found it very true and helpful, I found this via link on ‘Cassandra Clare’s’ (author of The Mortal Instruments trilogy) blog. I’m so excited about that (City of Glass comes out the 24th if you didn’t know) I love to read, and that’s what inspired my writing!
Cat-vacuuming or not, the article is filled with extremely good advice. I recall one comment about the world needing more honesty, which I liked.
How can I focus on not being clever, as you say, John?
It seems that it wouldn’t be good if it weren’t.
I have a Writing paper I need to complete in which I feel I absolutely must be clever because it is entirely creative.
I blame my sophomore History teacher for ruining my writing abilities. -.-
What technique do you use for preparing a story? Like a mind map, for example, or something similar? Do you keep a notebook and take notes only to compile them all together later? It’s not likely you’ll come out with a good story if you just sit down and begin to crank it out. Or is it?
Also, does anyone know how I could convince my girlfriend to write more? Her stories are extremely awesome and creative. She just gets so embarrassed about it, for reasons unknown to me. I always encourage her, to no avail. I may be biased (even though I like to think the opposite) but I think she has a head start considering her lack of experience.
Apparently I really am a true teenager, because I actually thought that the short story that you wrote (The Statue) wasn’t terrible. That may have just been my recent intake of too much McDonald’s affecting my judgment, though.
I also found what you said about the rejection process very true and not very offensive to my nature at all. I mean, I’m the chief editor of the school paper at age thirteen, the youngest girl in my grade, the highest scores in English Composition, and my pieces are constantly rejected. Then again, the librarian hates me because I always interrupt her lunch break by coming in to check out books, and since she’s the chief editor’s boss, she can veto pieces she doesn’t like. Or, apparently, articles by writers she doesn’t like.
Anyways, I found the entire thing very helpful, if blunt- but I like blunt. It makes a point without all the bullshit. Thanks for writing it!
Thank you very much for your advice.
I´m a teenage writer myself and I was in real need of one.
Eventhough some parts of “10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing” are a bit harsh I consider them very eye opening.I do think some of my writting sucks and some of it is not half bad or entirely, but I know that with experience it will improve.
I do have a long life to live, I hope I gain knowledge and many other things that are missing in my writting.
I started writing when I was about nine years old. Now I’m sixteen and still write. I’ve read your article and I don’t really see a point in writing anymore. If my writing isn’t good, why should I write? According to you I’m not a good writer because of my age.
Also, there are authors out there who are adults and can’t write. For instance, Stephanie Meyer can’t write at all. My point is, SOME teens can write. Some adults can’t. Those are just facts.
Anne Frank is the perfect example of that.
“If my writing isn’t good, why should I write? According to you I’m not a good writer because of my age.”
Veronika, it doesn’t look like you’ve actually paid attention to what I wrote. Read it again, with a bit less self-pity this time.
Thank you John! That was a very enlightening piece of writing.
I think it’s fair to mention that as far as poetry goes it’s simply an over flow of emotion as I believe T.S. Eliot described it. A sense of what is good and band when we determine what it’s purpose (or lack of purpose as some of my favourite poems flagrantly lack a purpose) is. For the case of most teenage poetry I believe it’s simply to express one’s self. Get that emotion into something tangible you know?
The same can’t be said of prose though. You really do need life experience to write good prose.
With that little bit of commentary as an intro I will say this:
If you are offended that someone says your writing sucks; chances are more than likely that your writing does suck.
I am a teenager writer and I intend to get better! I don’t care if I get famous or even make money but as Stephen Deadalus says in Joyce’s Potrait of an Artist as a Young Man: “I will express myself as fully as possible in one mode of art or another”.
Wow, considering the conviction you speak with, one could easily get the impression that you absolutely know what you’re talking about… Yet, what you’re completely missing out on, is that some teens out there actually have talent. And no offence, since you already admitted it yourself, you just absolutely sucked back then. What makes you believe that everyone’s like you? Because you know, some people naturally have style, and they won’t waste their time reading this…stuff… So “whatever”, go back to some interesting writing, why don’t you, if you are really as good as you claim to be. :D
“Yet, what you’re completely missing out on, is that some teens out there actually have talent.”
And what you’re missing out on is that this point of yours is addressed in the follow-up entry noted above, which I suggested you read before commenting, so you won’t make the same point literally dozens of people made before you.
It’s not too much to ask for people to read before commenting.
Haha, you actually replied. You’re sadder than I thought. Now why would I want to read that? I think I could use my time more wisely, thank you very much though. :D
What I’d like to ask of you, Sir, is to go do something constructive. Why even reply when you have nothing interiestng to say?
“Now why would I want to read that? I think I could use my time more wisely”
And yet you have not.
Anyone who comments in ignorance and then celebrates the fact that she’s ignorant isn’t doing herself very many favors, regardless of how clever she seems to think she is. And more to the point, anyone who makes a statement and then congratulates herself for not bothering to read the commentary relevant to the statement is a bit of an ass. You don’t want to actually trouble your mind with anything that doesn’t already conform to what you’ve decided is correct. Your choice.
You run along now, Jenna. Clearly there’s nothing of use to you here.
That was awesome i learned a lot! But YO, what do think about that awful book TWILIGHT, like damn it was written BY a teenager. (No ‘fence Steff Meyer)
Well, I’m not John, but after a few days I think I can say: I haven’t read it, Jeffrey F., but what I’ve heard is that its basic philosophy is “Rape is love, and aren’t vampires sparkly.” Sounds like something I would read when I run out of Ipecac syrup.
Having read both the initial article and the follow-up in response to some of the comments, I have to say that I am surprised at myself: I agree with almost everything you have written here.
At the beginning article I experienced an intense (and it seems somewhat obligatory) feeling of outrage. How dare you say my writing sucks? However, I saved up my sour feelings and continued to read, probably because I was looking for more fodder to fuel my rant. As I read on I found myself nodding along with everything said (and rather proud of myself for being able to check so many items off the list – hey, I am a self-involved nineteen year-old after all). I also have to say it most definitely motivated me to prove you wrong, which I’m thinking is a good thing, seeing as now I will have to work all the harder to prove just how well this teenager can write!
One point I particularly liked was the one about reading regularly, which I most definitely agree with. I have friends that write quite often, but never read at all, which really makes me sad. I myself am currently reading *Crime and Punishment*, which has taken me approxiamtely five months. I am actually rather glad about this though, because I was speeding through the books I had been reading at such a fast rate that I was going bankrupt trying to keep myself in reading materials. Is it annoying that it is taking me so long? Yes. Is it irritating that I have to start again because I’ve been reading it so long I have forgotten the beginning of the book? Yes. However, I see this experience as a good one (I had a similar one at the age of eleven when I read *The Lord of the Rings*, which is now one of my favourite books); I agree with you that one can only better one’s writing by challenging oneself. Hence the Dostoevsky.
One point I will disagree with you on is the comment pertaining to a teenage writer’s lack of experience. Although it is true that many teenagers live rather unremarkable, mundane lives, there are many who have seen and undergone many horrific or thrilling or exciting events before they reach adulthood. I count myself among that number. I don’t believe in broadcasting one’s own dirty laundrey (unless of course, one can get it published) but suffice to say I feel that I am already starting to develop my own voice.
My grammar, on the other hand, is a different matter. I agree with you that the grammatical prowess of most teenagers leaves something to be desired, and I have to say that I blame this almost entirely on the school system. I was raised in the UK until I was fourteen until I relocated to New York, where I attended high school. The difference in education is shocking. In England, not only did we have regular literacy tests, but we also had spelling, grammar and vocabulary tests and lessons. I feel this is lacking in America. This is why I trying my very hardest to improve my grammar, syntax and spelling in general.
That’s all I really have to say, other that thank you for making the points you have. They’ve been very helpful.
By the way…
“Haha, you actually replied. You’re sadder than I thought. Now why would I want to read that? I think I could use my time more wisely, thank you very much though. :D
What I’d like to ask of you, Sir, is to go do something constructive. Why even reply when you have nothing interiestng to say?
Way to prove all of his above points, Jenna. Brava. *Claps*
Also, I agree: *Twilight* is awful
This is a wonderful post, I thank you for pointing out things that, although I have noticed before, many have missed. As a young aspiring writer, I am (of course) attempting to write a book. I have been working on it since February of this year and am still on the first chapter. I’m constantly going over what I have written and finding things that I want to fix, and although I hope that the book has been finished if not published by the ten year mark, I may very well still be adjusting it at that time. I hope that my writing doesn’t suck too much, but I shall look into it!
Jennifer, some of the best editors and writing teachers I know tell me to write the whole thing without looking back…then look back, but only when you’re finished. What you’re doing (and what I always do!) is called “epicyclic editing,” and it typically ends up with you having finished nothing whatsoever. I know it’s hard (I’ve never been able to do it) but put aside chapter one and write chapter two. Don’t look at either of them again until you’ve written chapter three and four and…however many. Finish the book first. Then edit.
Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? If not, Google it.
Xopher, my older brother, another would be writer who does game design (the only reason he doesn’t write is time constraints), just told me EXACTLY what you told me, right down to National Novel Writers Month. He also suggested the website http://www.critters.org/ he said that it’s a community of writers critiquing each other.
Sorry, I made a grammar mistake in my last comment, I did not mean to make it sound like you were my older brother!
Actually I don’t think it’s a mistake, exactly: more an ambiguity (syntactic rather than lexical, since that form of punctuated sentence can legitimately mean either thing, and none of the words is ambiguous). I did read it that way at first, and thought it was a strange sort of compliment! So no worries.
I know not of this critters.org, but your would-be-writer brother seems to know his stuff (since he agrees with me). Seriously, can’t hurt; might help.
Thank you for the advice! You sound like a person who actually KNOWS what they are talking about! Just to be certain that you know, I will say that I was NOT talking about John Scalzi.
Hmm. Perhaps another ambiguity here, but John DOES know what he’s talking about too. I don’t know if he has a problem with epicyclic editing, like you and me, but he’s actually making a living as a professional writer, whereas for me it’s just a hobby.
Both of you know what you’re talking about.
Oh, my god. You raised very good points in your article.
I think it is correct, and very true. Also, you have had to deal with total idiots in the Comments area.
However, You are also horrible. You are no better than them if you encourage their verbal combat. All of you are terrible. The article was very good, however.
who defines great writting?, is it the opinions of others, the lack of judgement, interest, style…or is because writting conceals a greater meaning. I’m a teen who is obviously confused by this concept, if the book “Twilight” for an example “sucked” so bad then why does she have millions of fans worldwide? It’s far deeper than appealing to others! It’s the idea and concept that you don’t have to please everyone! If that were the case you would drive yourself mad trying to fit into that category. One of my all-time favorite authors is Edgar Allen Poe, his writting was far from making you feel all fuzzy inside, instead he spoke with great detail on suffering, agony, and the rather disturbing. Not to offend anyone, but stories were not told to be a certain way, although John has clearly made his point on how teens, like myself, are not that mature on writing mechanics or the overall writting itself. what i would like to state is, ” even though teens need to improve their writting there are many people, such as yourself John, who miss the signficance…and that is to engage a sence of an higher understanding. your advice for teens, surprisingly, was correct and i admire your enthusiasm and confidence, but you didn’t address one thing…. who defines great writting? And if it were not for the wonderful structure of writting, what makes it wrong?
“You are no better than them if you encourage their verbal combat.”
I’m not sure what this means, actually. I largely treat the commenters in this thread like I treat the commenters in any thread here.
Well, John, you have to admit that you ARE horrible…for values of horrible approximating “not a doormat.” Horrible, horrible, horrorshow!
Haha. Then I guess my best friend Lizzy is a freak of nature. She is by far THE most talented 8th Grade writer (which is the grade I’m in) I know, and we both got accepted into YAWP together. (Young Adult Writer’s Project, if you’re unfamiliar.)
I’m a writer. But I try to refrain from writing because I know I haven’t found my voice yet. I just can’t help myself from writing on FanFiction–and it’s good practice. I would also like to point out that I have never immitated a favorite author, or lyricist (or whatever you called it). My writing and poems are completely mine. I’m also not much of a reader. I draw all my inspiration from friends and family, movies, photographs, and music. The majority of all my works are KICK-A** summaries (which is what I’m best at, currently) that I hope to develop into novels and get them published when I’m older.
BTW, the writing in Twilight SUCKED. I tried to make it through that book twice, but couldn’t each time. >>;;
(And stupid spell check isn’t working. Sorry ’bout that. ^^”)
Jayme, refraining from writing because you haven’t found your voice yet is like refraining from eating because you’re too hungry. The ONLY way to find your voice is to write. So stop trying to keep yourself from writing on FanFiction.
And reading more will help you avoid some common mistakes.
I’m not sure about whether I want to become a writer when I grow up , but I enjoy writing short stories and I’ll keep your tips in mind the next time I write a story .
I don’t have a good vocabulary, and there isn’t an English Comprehension class in my school .I think my biggest asset as a “writer” is my country of residence .I live in Bangalore ,India, which is a writer’s delight .India is a beautiful and diverse country .The bazaar is an interesting place ,where pavement vendors sell fragrant garlands of jasmine ,and where regal looking Frangipani trees cast their shade on naked children bathing in the open .Rudyard Kipling’s and Ruskin Bond’s stories are based in India and they’re my favourite authors .And the best part of being an Indian writer is that each part of India is different .
Thank you for your useful tips !
Malvika, you may not “have a good vocabulary,” but you are clearly able to write perfectly coherent English. I hope you continue to write, and to read as much as you can find.
One thing: we don’t usually put a space before a period or comma, as you can see here, and we do put one after either of those marks. But that’s a point of typing, not writing!
Hi, great article, thanks for the advice.
I’m surprised at the number of egotistical teen writers who commented here. I don’t mind looking back at my work, even from just a year ago and seeing how bad it is because I just take that as a sign that it’s getting better. I realise that while my writing may be okay for my age group, its nowhere near as good as I’d like it to eventually be nor as good as the writing of the adult authors I admire and I’m more than okay with that.
I got quite annoyed reading the comments where teenagers were going on about how wonderful their writing is, and who knows? Maybe it is great and it probably doesn’t completely suck but wouldn’t it be a terrible thing to have peaked at fifteen? If you think your writing is that good then you won’t work as hard as you can to improve it.
Most of the time I don’t think I’ll be able to be a writer. Sure, I love writing but it just seems so difficult to make it in the writing world and then I think I should just try and aspire to another career, even though I can’t think of anything else I’d like to do and I guess that isn’t the best attitude but I’d rather not get my hopes up. It doesn’t help that there are some amazing writers that get next to no recognition and others like Stephenie Meyer who (I’m sorry) can’t write to save their lives and are making millions. That’s just the way it goes I guess.
Anyway, I’m not just going to give up writing because my writing isn’t great and I don’t think anyone else should either. I don’t write because I think I’m good at it, I don’t write so that people will read my stories and tell me how great they are and I don’t write for recognition. I write because that’s what I love to do and I think any good author will say the same.
Hey Thanks man for the article I found it to be kinda inspiring. I’m may become a writer in time, but for now it’s my hobby.
By the way, I found one typo in your article at #8 if you want to change it. It was at :
“8. Be Ready For Rejection.
It’s very likely (b/)the the(\b) 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.”
Thanks again and take care dude.
I think you’re correct in many ways, John – you have many very valid points which writers of any age could benefit from taking aboard.
However, I feel that there’s one problem with this article — you are writing more about beginner writers than young writers. Sure, often younger writers ARE beginners, but some aren’t. All which was written in your article is not appropriate just to teenagers, but also to any adults who are just starting out on the path of writing.
If you’d named this article “10 Things Beginning Writers Should Know About Writing” it would probably have helped more young people, as teenagers have a tendancy to stop reading as soon as they feel insulted, as many obviously have been by this post.
I am a teenager myself (I’m fourteen) and I’ve been writing for ever. I have researched everything there is to research about writing and am a very active member of a big writing forum. I know my writing still has a long way to go, but from spending time with the few other teenagers on this forum, and some of the newer adults I can safely say that if the young people have been properly educated about writing, age doesn’t always have a correlation with inferior writing.
“you are writing more about beginner writers than young writers.”
No, I’m not. I’m writing specifically to teens, as evidenced by the fact that much of the article relates to things teenagers experience. If I had meant to write to beginning writers in general, I would have said so and done so. There is no doubt that there is material here useful to beginning writers of all ages, but there’s also a lot of it that’s not, because it’s written specifically for and to teens.
“If you’d named this article ’10 Things Beginning Writers Should Know About Writing’ it would probably have helped more young people, as teenagers have a tendancy to stop reading as soon as they feel insulted, as many obviously have been by this post.”
Teen writers are almost without exception beginning writers, so they would have been equally offended, unless they were under the delusion that they were not beginning writers, and thus the advice did not pertain to them. And while that would indeed salve their egos, they would also then feel like the advice here was of no use for them, because they’re not “beginners”. Which is a shame, because the sort of teen who would throw up that rationalization to salve their ego is probably very such the same sort of teen who needs to read the advice here.
All of which is to say I don’t find the logic of your statement here particularly compelling.
In any event, the goal here is not to make teens feel good about themselves. Someone else can do that. The goal here is to help them become better writers. If they’re unwilling to risk a bit of ego bruising, that’s fine, and also their problem. But if they think their ego is going to be bruised here, wait until they start getting actual rejections. This isn’t a profession for the easily bruised.
Hey! I’m a teen(15 years old) and I love writing. Thanks for the great article. There were many helpful points there. I love it. Keep the good work up… and don’t bother about the rest of the know-it-all teens here.
Hello, I’m freshly seventeen, and have been writing a while. I loved your articles way of bringing humor to a rather information packed item of textual importance. I think the thing you have neglected to add, is that teenagers tend to like other teenagers work. A lot of my friends, wait on tenterhooks for the latest installment in my current story. In contrast to them I think it is pretty dire. =) x
I really loved your article. It truly addresses the things that teens don’t really realize about writing. I may sound naive due to the fact that I am only sixteen, but I recognize my youth unlike so many of the people who comment on your article (of course you recognize that). I really loved section ten, “Work On Your Zen” and it’s point about patience and serenity.
Thanks for being awesome!
This is an awesome article. It adresses everything that we don’t think about, but that we need too. I know I’m not going to become some famous author, because I’m only thirteen, but becoming published (even only 50 books!) has been my dream for a long time. I know, it can’t have been that long if I’ve only lived thirteen years, but ever since I saw my first picture book and asked my mum why someone had their name on the front, I’ve wanted to do that.
I’ve started so many books, from the age of about nine, but this time I’ve found one that I’ve actually got somewhere with. However, I don’t have any money, and I’ve only got about 14,000 words, and I’m almost done with the book. Would this be impossible?
Is my goal too big?
Should I wait?
And how CAN I take action, when I’m only 13?!? You’re advice says that I’ll get better, and that I need to gather experience and whatever else, but isn’t it best to write for the age group your target audience is, when you too are that age? That’s kinda why I’m writing to teens now, because I am a teen, but now I’m not sure if that’s actually best…
Anyway, thanks so much, this is great advice, and I hope others recognise this in the same way.
Thanks for all the strangely negative but positive encouragment,
Jessie : P
Oh, and to add to my previous comment, can I just say that it is amazing the number of teens who come here to comment, I love it! And Porshia, you are so right it is almost scary. Your points are very true. And the personw ho said about Stephenie Meyer making millions and the fact that other amazing writers that are better than her aren’t? That’s the truth of it all. And it JUST ‘AINT FAIR! You know what I’d like to see in the future? Some publisher that only publishes teen books, with competitions, so it isn’t that difficult to move up in this world!
Anyway, I think it would be a great market, you’d have tonnes of teens reading them, because I find that teenagers best understand what teenagers feel like (no, really!?!) and not adults that try and remember, although some do a really amazing job of it. The problem is, the teens know what it feels like, but the adults know what readers want, and how to word it, and make it compationate and all… Just when you get good at writing, you forget what you wanted to read as a teen!
Anyway. Sorry for going on. Really enlightening John, thanks for taking the time to dhare your knowledge with us.
I just wanted to say thanks so much for posting this! I don’t know what all those objections you mentioned were about: everything you say is true! I’m no longer a teen, but I am a young, aspiring novelist and I love what you wrote. All great advice and much of it stuff I’ve already been doing (which makes me feel good…just as reading published novels I don’t like does).
Thanks again for posting!
In response to Jessie (on the off chance you may ever see this): thirteen is young, but why not shoot for the stars? A lot of teenage writers write crap and are later on embarrassed by it (take Sonya Hartnett’s first novel, Trouble All the Way for example). Some teenagers actually do write good novels, though. Look at Christopher Paolini, Flavia Bujor, Cayla Kluver, Faiza Guene, Arianne Fornia, to name but a few. It’s hard to tell how much editing has gone into those novels; however, I was in a creative writing program in grade school (grades 6-12) and have read a lot of unpublished writing (including novels) by teenagers, both friends from when I was in the program and younger kids, some of whom are still in the program today. At 13, most of them are not writing anything publishable, but there’s always the exception. Of all the kids/teens/etc I met through that program (quite a few), I can only think of one who wrote something publishable at the age of 13, but that one person is proof that it’s not impossible. It sounds to me like your manuscript may be a bit on the short side, but if you think it’s good enough, why not try? I’d suggest getting your English teacher to read it,let you know if s/he thinks it’s worth quierying, and give you some feedback. Critical feedback, that is. Once you get it back, I’d read through the comments, put it aside for a week or two and feel like crap, then pick it up again and go through it and actually consider every suggestion made. No, you don’t have to make every change suggested, but make sure you consider every one. My best advice would be to keep writing and keep in mind that teens do get published. I’ve been writing since I was a kid and I used to think my stuff couldn’t get published because I was “too young”. Back when I was 13 neither The Prophecy of the Stones nor Eragon had come out and I’d never heard of a published teen author. For my 15th birthday my parents gave me a couple Sonya Hartnett novels and, when I read the bio, I discovered that her first novel had been published when she was 15; written when she was 13. That inspired me and I actually completed a full length “novel” that summer. It was terrible and I like to pretend that it never existed, but the following spring I did write something of quality. I think it’s good to know that teens can be published but not to write simply for the sake of being published. Because the only thing that will come of that is crap (I’d suggest you read George Gissing’s New Grub Street). I’d just get as much criticism as you can now and use that to help you both with editing your current manuscript and with working on the next. My biggest piece of advice would be to keep writing, keep reading, and keep living! As Edna Ferber said, “Life can’t ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer’s lover until death – fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant.”
Oh, and don’t worry if your manuscript is short. A) it’s your first manuscript – you will write something longer one day. B) better quality than quantity. If you’re too worried about the word count, you’ll end up writing crap. Better to write something good in 50 pages than something bad in 100 (not to mention that great pieces of literature such as Carlos Fuentes’s Aura are only 50 pages long. Heart of Darkness and The Awakening are both quite short, too).
Anyway, I hope you find this helpful. Feel free to write me if you’d like to talk some more: email@example.com
One last thing for Jessie: I’m all for teens writing for teens. Adults try, but they often get it wrong. I know from meeting with agents and editors that they like to see young people writing for teens, too. We can understand them before. I find that most YA fiction is either what adults want teens to read or what adults think teens want to read, neither of which is actually what teens want to read. My fav authors as a teenager were all either young writers (under 30) or secondary school teachers. So yes, if you’re writing YA fiction, I think that’s awesome! A lot of teens do write quality YA fiction and I think that publishers need to realize that (some of them already have). Teens like writing by teens. So by all means, keep writing. If the stuff you’re writing now isn’t publishable (get your English teacher to read it and let you know what s/he thinks), the stuff you’re writing in another two years may be. Just keep writing.
I realize this thread is primarily about writing, rather than publishing, but I did see a red flag in a comment just now, where one commenter said they had a manuscript just about ready to go, but “didn’t have any money”.
In legitimate publishing, you don’t need any money to get published. Well, okay, you might need to buy some stamps to mail your manuscript and other correspondence, but that’s it.
As James MacDonald put it in what’s now known as Yog’s Law, money flows toward the writer in legitimate trade publishing. Not the other way around. If you come across a publisher or an agent that wants you to pay them to look at or publish your manuscript (and there are a number of them out on the Web), avoid them. They’re not the ones that you want to work with.
For more on this point, see A. C. Crispin’s “Excuse Me, Me, How Much Did It Cost You?” anti-scam handout.
I’m a Seventeen year old Novelist (I only say Novelist because Writer means so many things nowadays. At the past two Writing Workshops I went to the teachers didn’t expect me say I wanted to write Novels), and I must say that I find your comments absolutely…
Obviously I’ve been heavily influenced by my father (who has always told me my writing will suck until I it doesn’t, but he still encourages me to do it), But I like to think that in general I’m also just a rational and smart person, as I’ve never been truly “depressed” in my life, like so many of my peers are, nor am have I, in my opinion, ever rebelled in an extreme manner (not that there’s much to rebel from, My parents practically introduced single-handedly to Alternative Culture, and the rest of my family is strongly conservative), and so I look a this, I analysed and I think, “YEAH, HE’S RIGHT”
I don’t know who said it but one of my favourite quotes is “Being bad at something is no excuse to quit, at all, ever. It is however, an excuse to be better”.
as for all the comments with the the metaphysical crud about how experience isn’t measured in years and how, I don’t know, writing is all about talent and BLAH BLAH BLAH. It DOESN’T MATTER, heck I know it takes away from your original point, but it doesn’t even matter if teen writing sucks, what matters is your not good enough till you get published, and then you just keep making yourself better until you die. After all, when it comes to mental talents like writing or art or whatever, You’ll never, EVER, be your best at something, EVER. You can always be better, until the day you die in which case you finally have a good excuse for not getting better, and if you did good enough, and had a little luck, you might get to leave behind a legacy.
I think the best thing to tell a Teen Writer is that their writing sucks. There’s no need to clarify that it’s better than all the people who don’t have a Talent or Thirst to Write because they AREN’T TRYING TO WRITE ANYWAY. Plus, If they stop writing because they are told that then they obviously aren’t driven enough to become good writers and therefore good riddance, go find the Career you actually want to do. A person who truly wants to be a writer would listen to what an accomplished writer has to say and (even if they don’t agree with it,) say thank you for the advice, and then go TRY TO PROVE THEM WRONG AND KEEP WRITING. (which quite frankly, I assume that is what you want them to do, to keep writing despite being told this).
*sigh* I could rant on about the stupidities about the teenage, when quite frankly, we could e diagnosed as insane but aren’t because it’s a natural part of the cycle. I COULD rant on, but I’m not going to, I don’t have the time, I’m too busy trying to get school done so I can have more time to write. so I’ll just say thank you for the awesome advice, keep up the good work, keep outraging teens so that eventually, hopefully, they’ll learn something (although I doubt it), and finally to all of you who think he’s wrong well…
Jared London Odom
Jared London Odom, you have a fine writerly name (and though your initials are somewhat unfortunate, that will pass).
Teenagers are insane by adult standards, it’s true. The reverse is also true, but adults run the world. Some of us do remember what it’s like to be a teenager, believe it or not.
Keep on keepin’ on!
(I don’t mean your initials will change; I just mean everyone will forget such a person as JLo ever existed.)
Hi, I am a teenage writer, hence my website being called angel city stories. I already knew I’m not the best, but I really don’t know how to improve. I write nearly every day, when my parents don’t get in the way. Got any tips on going through 11th grade with 6 clubs, trying to find a college that allows you to get a diploma in forensic pathology, hold a part-time job AND babysit on a semi-regular business, go to church, pray for your deployed dad, keep your grades in the 90’s range (for colleges and to keep your job), and keep up your secret dream of becoming a published author? And did I mention joing cross country, learning karate, learning tuba and maintaing your trumpet playing, being in robotics and being a webmaster for three sites? Plus, my social life. I’m not a social recluse, by any means. I have friends, though they are very crazy.
Sorry for the information overload. : )
Now this is useful information. I had been trying to get some type of advice and guidance on google, and all I found were wiki- and yahoo- answers. Your voice Mr. Scalzi, is one I can completely relate too. You have so much experience, and yet, you write simple enough so that teenagers can understand. Now, I have a question…I have noticed that a repeating the same over and over again (only with different wording) is a very common mistake. Now, I know that in some types of writing, restating is necessary, however, it is not so when writing short stories or anything else for that matter. If I don’t repeat it in the same paragraph, I will repeat it two paragrgaphs down the page. How do you suggest that I deal with this problem? Another question, when submitting a piece of writing to an editor, do you suggest some type of special format? (Examples: MLA, APA, etc.)
Wow dude. This is pretty good stuff here. I appreciate you going out of your way and making this here, ‘cos this sort of thing really helps. Once again, thanks!
Hi…I wanted to say thanks so much for giving out advice for us teen writers…I’m only 14 and i wrote 2 novels….and I think they kinda suck…like really bad and I was always beating myself up because I couldn’t write as good as I would have liked and I new it was because I was enexpirenced….and i still am sadly ha…and I thought that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer…that I would just naturaly suck because I felt like I couldn’t learn, but I started reading like alot more (and I used to read alot already) and I started learning things from diffrent writers…on how they organized themselves and all…and you gave me hope to feel alright with my sucky writing and that if I just study and pay attention and take pride in my work that I’ll make it….thanks so much for your time and work…..=D
I have been writing a book for a year.
Honestly, this article was inspiring.
I thought I’d hit the bottom of the creativity well.
My plans of getting published in my teens may have been crushed by your article, but I’m not as disillusioned as I thought I’d be.
You made a big point. PATIENCE!
I tend to be a perfectionist or something.
When I start to write crap (which is fairly often), I just put away my pen and paper completely.
I actually love editing because I can see the mistakes in my writing.
Anywayyyyy, your article was amazingly ingenious.
I especially loved the point about telling your favorite authors to piss off.
I do lean heavily on J.k. Rowling when I spin my little tales.
THANK YOU mysterious stranger!
P.S. I read your statue story.
I found it funny. Don’t know what that says about my taste, but I liked it. I can tell it was written by a teenager, but it was really sarcastic and that Alan kid was “HAHA” funny.
I loved your post, and I think it definetely encouraged me to write! I always criticize every word I write, so I simply gave up on writing (or, better saying, trying to write). Now I realized it isn’t as simple as that, writing a good story. And I won’t worry this much.
You know, most articles about writing have the same advices, not really helpful. But I found your tips definetely great, and I learnt a lot!
(P.S.: sorry about my English! I’m still learning.)
P.P.S: I actually liked your story, “The Statue”! It doesn’t mean I think it’s perfect or couldn’t be improved, but I wouldn’t say it sucks pretty bad!
hi me again i wanted to give out another thanks to you…….i took ur advice about how writing every day would help putting ur thoughts into words like in a journal or blog or somthing and i am and…….its easier for me to actully write i kno more on how to correctly word myself and i thought that it wasnt really gonna be much of a help but it was and thanks again ”genius-stranger-author-named-john” haha….o ya and the story u wrote ”The Statue” i thought it was actually kinda good, i guess that says something about my taste lol but then again im only fourteen ha……it reminded me on sorta how i write but better lol…..so i guess that means i suck pretty bad haha….any ways thanks again….your the first person whos writing advice actually helped and made me think a little…or alot ha…..
Your stranger fan =D
woah what to say…while i find your writing and site to be a great help. i also find this article to be some what insulting, but not that much not where i actually care. sure i am a teen, but that does not mean i cannot write as well as any other experienced person. well as this is all true, i still agree 100% i don’t think these teens are getting what your saying…not that we suck in general or that we have no talent till we’re older.
I GET IT….what your trying to say is while we can write we don’t have the grammar or language comprehension as more experienced trained writers do. your saying we have room to grow drastically, if not why would we all read what you have to write, why would we take your tips if we didn’t have room to grow??? Exactly we all have room to grow , even more experienced writers, that’s what your trying to say..or at least that’s what i interpreted..
ahh please respond to my above comment anybody…
So many teens claim to be great writers, yet they cannot do so much as use correct grammar. I don’t take anyone seriously that can’t use a comma. Really, people. And don’t say I am prejudiced toward the fact that most teenagers suck. I would know, as I am an aspiring author of fifteen. Last year I was lucky to produce one non-crappy story. Last year I wrote my first novel, from start to finish, which sucked. I went back through, edited several times, and decided it still sucked. As of now I am on draft number five or six – I lost count.
I’ve joined several writing forums in the last eight months, one of which I found helpful to the extreme. My writing has drastically progressed, and I am considering publishing for all three of my novels. Yes, I do know what’s it’s like to suck and want to publish. I know what it’s like to have a novel hidden somewhere in a computer desk that you are fearful of unearthing. I have been there.
But I have to agree with John here. Most teenagers do, in fact, suck. It may sound hypocritical of me since I wish to find an agent and try to publish as a teenager, but you should be more concerned with progressing in your writing than getting your work out there. Join writing forums, go to festivals for writers, etc.
And to momentarily defend my kind: not ALL teenage writers suck (just most of them).
I forgot to mention that I HAVE read the entire page over there, to stunt any accusations of me commenting merely to defend/bash my kind without reading what the man wrote.
And I’ve a question for him: HOW do you know what you have written is good? Yes, you said it was instinct, but I know well there are times when inspiration strikes and you sit down and pound out three thousand words in one night, and, upon reviewing in the next day, are startled to find it’s crap.
I feel pretty confident in my current novel, but I’m terrified of opening my eyes one morning and seeing everything wrong with it. One year last month – that’s how long I have been working on it. Five or six drafts. Hundreds of restless nights. My tan receded, my social life waned, and still I worked. But fan base loves it, as if it should make me feel any better. Most of them are adults, with the exception of a few teens in other countries.
Eh, I’ll stop boring you now. And I will add that the guide was helpful. Thanks.
Tabitha……..thats exactly what i think that some of these teens arent really listening to what he’s sayin…that the reason we suck the way we do is because we are enexpirenced and havent aquired that wisdom all good writers have…or that humility….and someday these people are gonna see that this guy was right all along and that they made fools of themselves for their close mindedness
I actually sighed in relief when you mentioned how your writing sucks as a teenager. I’m a teen and I constantly compare my writing to my influences, and not only do I find out how bad I am now, but I also see how hard I’m trying to emulate my them. So thanks for showing me I’m not the only one. Taking this one to heart.
Hey, i’m a 16 year old teenager who hopes of one day becoming a proffesional writer; and i have a question i’d appriciate if you could answer.
Your article was blunt and slightly cold however, it was very helpful and i for one didn’t find it insulting. I understand that you’re stating the reality when you say “Teenage writing sucks” and that a lot of critism does wonders for our writing ability but i was wondering what is your opinion on praise?
Surely every writer wants appriciation for their own hard work, and even the most stout character is bound to waver on nothing but negitivity, no matter how useful it is?
I have no problem with praise.
when i read the aticle first, it got my attention.
I have some questions though.
What if my school doesn’t have a newspaper?
The staff at our school write everything, that’s just how it works.
“What do i do?
Start one and get a teacher to be the adviser.
To add a bit of advice to Jessica – why not check out your local arts section and look for an open mic night or poetry slam? I go to them all the time. A great organization for this if you are anywhere near the NYC area is urbanwordnyc. Type that into google and it’ll send you straight to their home page. They organize poetry nights and slams specifically for 13-19 year-olds.
To elaborate on John’s idea for you, why not try starting a literary arts magazine in your school? We had one, and it included essays, short stories and poetry; it’s a great way to practise. I also started a poetry club, which was great because I got feedback from my peers.
There are so many ways you can practise and get your words out there. Good luck!
I see there’s been a lot of people complaining over the contents of this blog entry, particularily of the teenage variety. I’d just like to say that I am a 16-year-old aspiring author and I love your advice. It’s funny, thought-provoking and mostly, if not all, true. I have no idea what all the booing is about. From what I see here, you’re giving us advice, not launching a personal attack on us. You gave us the straight facts, not the watered-down, sugared-up version of writerly advice; more of a challenge than a warm and fuzzy cushion. Thank you.
I have a question on the newspaper thing to.
My school did previously have one; but after an unwise choice of a student editor not from are school but another school in are district to put a burning picture of a flag on the front cover, it has been closed down.
The whole school district, after the controversy the picture brought’ are school district decided it was best to shut it down at all schools and save the money.
I was a freshman this past year and looking forward to taking that class, but was forced to find out the first day it was no longer available.
I would like to know if by starting a newspaper with only students help, that i could have the same writing growth from it, without an adviser??
you think so???
A little help here!!!!
I have a question on the newspaper thing to.
My school did previously have one; but after an unwise choice of a student editor not from are school but another school in are district to put a burning picture of a flag on the front cover, it has been closed down.
The whole school district, after the controversy the picture brought’ are school district decided it was best to shut it down at all schools and save the money.
I was a freshman this past year and looking forward to taking that class, but was forced to find out the first day it was no longer available.
I would like to know if by starting a newspaper with only students help, that i could have the same writing growth from it, without an adviser??
you think so???
Tabitha, it would be unwise to start an unnaproved school newspaper. It could get you in a lot of trouble if you started distributing it around your school without an advisor’s approval. Did you read my post above? Why not pratice and develop your writing skills in one of those ways.
Best of luck.
Ps. What kind of scary, restrictive school do you go to? They got mad about a picture of the burning flag? They’d have hated me.
I haven’t read through all the comments, but I’ve gotten the gist, I think.
I’m “old” and as a young man I wish I’d taken my writing more seriously than I did. Now I’m past 50, and with lots and lots of practice my writing is finally getting beyond the “it sucks” phase. Had I had John’s advice (well, anyone’s advice) when I was younger, I might have done something before now. We’ll see; I ain’t dead, yet.
I agree with Mr. Scalzi, however. No one starts out writing well. One only gets better with a lot of practice, and in the case of writing, the most improvement comes from living life and gaining perspective. I think he may have said that, somewhere. Absolutely. You have to understand what makes people tick in order to write about their clocks. Metaphorically speaking, anyway.
Young writers, don’t fret. Even if neither of us old guys really knows what being a teenager is like, anymore, I guarantee we know what being an adult is like, so … if all you want to do is write about teenagers, then have at it. But it’s going to take a few years to put on that adult hat and have it fit properly. I’m not saying; I’m just saying, that’s all.
Great article! (am in my mid-teens)
The funny part of leaving this comment, well I apologize, but despite the numerous warnings; I failed to read the 600+ comments and whatever replies were reposted to such.
Don’t worry though, I am not leaving some defensive reply as an offended young writer.
Actually, I prefered to take a shot in the dark, and since I read your article with a half-assed smile, nodding in agreement at every point you’ve made that is only reinforced with my own aquired knowledge at the writing industry (to call it that), I think it best to blindly throw this request out to the author of the chicken-soup for the soul on teenage writing publication.
So here it goes, Mr.Scalzi, is it?
I have never had any feedback on any of my poetry other than that of my peers who all applaud bravo, though it seems as though they care more for my face then my work. Writing is how I breathe, unfourtunately- all the vodka and other sustenance for life requires more than personified air. Which brings me back to reality and hoping that hell, maybe I could do something with what I love. Here’s the part why I bother you with my quaint little dreams and lifestyle choices… ha ha, I was wondering, sir, if there was anyway that you might provide some feedback on some of my writing through email, if it wasn’t to much trouble for you, being as that you are the supposed expert on young writers. I would really appreciate that…
Oh and by the way, I actually like some of the poetry you had written when you were younger. Although, it doesn’t remind me of Roger Waters, more so Syd Barret, who it just so happens that I admire. Ha, imagine that…
Standard answer to that question at the bottom of this linked page.
I loved No.5! Good point about the boring stuff- what I mostly consider to be my required reading. If Harper Lee could sell something with that many tangents and unrelated anecdotes, then maybe my full stories will eventually see the florescent lights of a Barnes & Nobel.
Thx for the advice,
Hmm…you say that aspiring teenage writers must only be able to write as terribly as you think you were? Well, I hope you weren’t too far into your teenage years when that short story was written because it resembles the kind of stuff I used to write when I was about eleven, what with all that dialog lacking enough description in between. It’s as if you were trying to move the story along without much character development, not even enough for a short story.
Nevertheless, you raised some good points about other things that have been told to me again and again, about supporting my writing with another job. The problem is, does it have to be a highly trained for career, or something that just pays the rent and puts food on the table?
I’m sixteen, if it’s relevant.
“Hmm…you say that aspiring teenage writers must only be able to write as terribly as you think you were?”
Not in the least, but I think it’s cute you frame it so in order to then go “well, I write much better then that, so nyah nyah nyah.” To which my response is: Well, good for you.
As for the second part of your question, I’d say that depends on what you want. Quite a few writers are very accomplished in other fields, for which they’ve received considerable schooling or other training, and quite a few writers have low-pressure jobs that don’t require much out of them mentally or physically. Either works as long as you’re happy with what you do.
Dear Mr. Scalzi,
I’m not sure if you are still replying on this but I have some questions. While I agree that most of the angry comments written above are completely ignorant (either they have not read closely what you said or have not read the kind of literature that would make them realize that they are so far from writing something worthwhile) I do have some problems with one of your statements about teenage writing. Your comment that most teenage writing is not a generalization. Anyone who has ever been in a teenage creative writing workshop would know that. What I think you may want to consider though is elaborating on a couple of things.
When you say the majority of teenage writing sucks, you make the error of not clarifying that their are various degrees of ‘suckage’. For example, consider how first drafts work in creative writing. First drafts, like teenage writing, are inherently bad compared to what they can become with more time and work. Both have about a one in a million chance of being published and both, to an extent, are supposed to suck. That being said, one can definitely talk about how a first draft is good and how it is better than someone else’s first draft. I think you can do a similar thing with teenage writing.
What I am trying to say is that saying teenage writing sucks is unfair and kind of redundant. Good writing is thoughtful and mature, and even when you talk about those few freakishly talented teenagers they are talented only because they write with the skill of experienced adults. I hope I’m making some sense here but if not I’ll summarize my point. Be fair to teenage writing. Sure, it all sucks relatively but give some credit where it is due. I bet even you can look back on your own work and say it in no way compares to what you are doing now, but it showed potential, dedication, and hard work that helped you become the writer you are now.
Thank you for listening to what was pretty much a rant and I apologize for all of the grammar mistakes. I’m in a rush.
I look forward to your reply
“Be fair to teenage writing.”
What you appear to want me to say is that “teenage writing is good for what it is.” It may be (or not), but what it is, is developmental, and by any standard other than itself, it kind of sucks. Which is fine, because with work it gets better.
That’s all. Thanks
I understand that you are busy with your travels and your award (congratulations by the way) but thinking back on your advice I feel slightly different. While you’re probably right that teenage writing sucks compared to that of adult’s, I think by saying that, you are tampering with something bigger.
At first when I read your advice I was inspired. I could write freely without worrying about whether my piece would get published and I would be crowned the great American novelist. In a way, what you said was liberating in that all I worried about now was improving. But after some more thought, I realized that your advice was not particularly motivating at all. I would even go as far to say that it stifles ones ability.
Do you really think that this advice braces anyone for the facing the world of publishers? I understand that you said in your past that your own advice wouldn’t have helped you. That being said, look at who you are now. If I could assure you, really give you one million to one odd, that your next book would suck, how much motivation would you have to write it? What if I could assure that everything you wrote for the next fifteen to twenty years would suck?
You see, there’s nothing so unique about writing when you talk about teenagers sucking. Compared to the seasoned experts most of us suck at sports, at subjects, at music, etc. What you miss in your article is that in every practice — in every field where there is something to master — a teacher sets up their student to perform with perfection every time. Take the example of a tennis player. A coach advising her how to serve will give her the instruction on how to perform the perfect serve every time. Yes, both student and teacher understand that it will take years for her to actually master every aspect of the serve, and yet each time the student attempts them all. It’s a proved and practiced method. People learn fastest when they believe that the next stroke, work, or piece, might actually be the perfect one.
I’m rushed again (though probably not as much as you) so forgive me if my argument lacks coherency. I’m just trying to add to this commentary that I could be like many other people here who chimed in to say how happy they were only to have a change of heart later.
If you find time to read and reply, I appreciate it.
“If I could assure you (a) million to one odd(s), that your next book would suck, how much motivation would you have to write it? What if I could assure that everything you wrote for the next fifteen to twenty years would suck?”
If that would stop you, Martin, you haven’t been bitten by the bug hard enough yet.
“a teacher sets up their student to perform with perfection every time.”
No, with your example the instructor gives advice and points in the right direction hopeful the student will get it this time. And when it doesn’t happen, the instructor offers advice and points in the right direction again hopeful the student will get it right this time. This right direction may be “You aren’t extending yourself” or “your strike on the ball needs to be adjusted by a few degrees.” And the good instructor won’t force the student to “perfection” but will find what is “best for the student,” define the path to get there, and help the student achieve that.
Perfection is an unobtainable goal. It’s a good one to shoot for, but even the Williams sisters and Tiger Woods have off days. And I believe your concept of perfection is that “if I just get everything right, I’ll win.” Looking from a viewpoint a few decades down the road I can tell you that you could do everything right and still not win.
Also, going with a golf analogy instead of tennis, there is the “perfect swing” that is a definable quantity (with various metrics you can have yourself tested against the “perfect swing” using high speed cameras and computers). There is no pro who has it, but what they do have is the right swing for them. Working with their own peculiarities and tendencies, they develop a game that works for them.
“Do you really think that this advice braces anyone for the facing the world of publishers? ”
Publishers and editors are more cruel. Most won’t tell you what’s wrong or give you advice, they’ll just reject it with a form letter (if it sucks less you may get a personal note). If John’s advice puts you off writing, 1) see comment above about not being bit hard enough yet and 2) the submission process will wear you down quickly.
You’re missing my point.
i did not say that being told that your writing sucks will make you not write. What it does though is make you more cautious and conservative, which then leads you to not learn the lessons that you would other wise learn. Your comment about a tennis coach giving personalized device for each student is true, but that’s only after their individual flaws are found. There is no preset rule that a student learns to play tennis by first learning to follow through, then extending the arm… then etc. Instead, the student receives all the instruction on how to do it right first, and then when they fail they receive instruction on the part they personally missed. Had they not tried to implement every part of the perfect stroke, they would not be able to see all the areas where they needed to improve.
My word choice of perfect was poor. What I meant to say was excellent.
When you talk about publisher and editors being more cruel, I question the truth of that even. An editor can say that a piece lacks everything and that you should have given up long ago, but at least the advice is personal. You can blow it off, maybe even say that they simply didn’t understand what you’re writing, and gradually take yourself to the point where you get where they’re coming from and improve on it, restoring your self-confidence to the point where you believe the next piece you write is going to be great, even if it isn’t. Saying “teenage writing sucks’ does not allow that though, because you can’t manually improve your age. To thank the advice seriously is to have your confidence shaken for 7 years of your life.
I don’t mean to come across as someone whining saying that Mr. Scalzi is mean, or what he says is trash, because frankly, with his experience, I get the feeling that he is right. That being said I ask him and you the same question: Throughout your career you may have questioned your writing skill, even doubted your potential, but did you ever once, write and turn in a piece that you believed sucked? I doubt you did or anyone, and I question even more the belief that believing that you suck speeds up the process. It’s the same thing for any walk of life. To a certain point, you have to be your number one fan, and I can’t help but feel you’re limiting you’re own motivation and progress by believing steadfastly that you suck.
Thank you for your reply, Mr. Buchheit.
“What it does though is make you more cautious and conservative, which then leads you to not learn the lessons that you would other wise learn.”
Alternately, it frees you to try all the things you want to try without fear of failure because you know that your early years are meant to be a time of exploration and experimentation with your writing.
What you are saying, whether you acknowledge it or not, is that this advice makes you feel as if you should be more cautious and conservative. That’s on you. Other teens (and other new writers) have looked at this as something that frees them to not worry while they’re learning their chops.
The lesson here is not to externalize your own reaction, or try to run from your own experience by trying to generalize it to other people. Own it and learn from it. Or hide from it and don’t. Your choice.
“Throughout your career you may have questioned your writing skill, even doubted your potential, but did you ever once, write and turn in a piece that you believed sucked?”
No, but I have looked back on something after a few weeks and thought, “Man, that Teh Sucks. WTF was I thinking sending that in. Well, once less market will buy it.”
“An editor can say that a piece lacks everything and that you should have given up long ago…”
Understand that you have to approach a certain point of less suck to get even that. Mostly, unless you’re one of the freaks of nature Scalzi talked about, all you get at first is a polite xeroxed or copy-and-pasted letter saying, “Thank you for your interest (in our market). We’ve decided not to accept your story.” It’s only after you get good enough (ie. suck less) will an editor take the time to handwrite a note in the margin of the form letter saying, “This was good, but not for us. Try again.”
And to Scalzi’s point, I just signed a contract for some pieces that I wrote for a contest. I entered because of the writing challenge (blog entry as flash fiction and twitter-fic within a specific fictional world). My success is fully based on the fact that I had never written flash nor twittered. I had no expectation to win and fully expected to suck at it, but wanted to try it out. It was liberating. I posted my entries because that was my own mental game of entering the contest and stretching myself.
To respond to what you said about Mr. Scalzi’s words being discouraging, I would like to parrot an idea I made in a previous post – take them as a challenge! I mean no disrespect to Mr. Scalzi when I say this, but why not try to prove him wrong? That’s a good way to handle criticism. That is not to say that you should just go, “Pah! Screw him!” but that you should evaluate your own work and (for want of a better phrase) make it NOT suck.
On another note, it seems to me that people are responding very strongly to Mr. Scalzi’s point of view mostly because of the frankness of his phrasing. But we NEED that. How many times has someone said to us all “Good job, but there’s always something to be improved upon,”? People tend to brush that off because it is too mildly put. I don’t think Mr. Scalzi is saying that teenage writing isn’t worth while, or that it doesn’t hold any merit – in fact, he is saying the very opposite. He wants us to write MORE. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the seemingly harsh way he voices things is to get teenage writers to actually listen for once: we are, unfortunately, a rather stubborn bunch.
Anyhow, Martin, I don’t mean to berate or belittle you in any way, I just thought perhaps you might like to look at the situation in a different light.
And to all the indignant and rude people on this thread, why not stop talking and pick up a pen?
Really enjoyed this post; was linked to the page through DeadlineDames. I got some encouragement from the post and the comments. I even went to the trouble of reading [i]every single[/i] comment. As a whole, the comment section was almost more instructive than the article itself. Read the follow-up and its comments as well. Thanks for helping me vacuum my cat. :)
PS. I am a teenage writer, just so that is clear.
John you are correct on, most of your points. The points you are 100% correct on are, #1 (A, B, and C), #2, #3, #4, #6, (comments about number 5 and 6 are at bottom), #7, #8, #9, and #10.
on #5, when you read other people’s material, you should read the style of writing you are going to write. As in, if you are going to write in first person, read everything on first person writing (yes the boring things too). If you want to write in the science fiction genre, read about science fiction. And don’t just focus on the style, focus on small things, like how they write, how they form sentences, what problems the characters go through, small things like that.
#6 is correct, except, if writing is a passion, and you won’t ever stop writing, then you need something to fall back on. Something that you like. Something you can get good money in.
Never let someone say that writing should be back-up if it’s all you want to do. Then your self confidence quivers, and you won’t feel the same about writing, ultimately making your writing, less you.
#9 is just personal. I’m a person who writes novel length things. So it’s hard for me to write things for a newspaper. (yes it means I’m a teenager).
Am I the only one here who is struck with admiration for Martin? If I had been able to write that cogently at 17, I’d be quite an amazing writer today. Certainly I didn’t learn to be that polite until I was in my thirties, and perhaps not then. He disagrees courteously when he disagrees at all, clarifies when the point isn’t getting across, and backtracks from poor word choices.
I call that intellectual honesty, and a model of civil discourse that commenters many years his senior, on this blog and many others, would do well to emulate. Martin takes responsibility for communicating effectively, another thing more of us should try doing.
Martin, my admiration and respect. Now: did you know that at Viable Paradise the first thing the instructors do is tell the students to write badly? They’re talking, as you have here, about first drafts. Write and finish the draft, they suggest, then edit it until it’s good.
I must admit I’ve never mastered this myself. Every sentence must be perfect before I move on to the next, and then I go back and fix the imperfections in the first sentence/previous paragraph/earlier chapters again and again, until I’m so bogged down that I give up in despair. DON’T BE LIKE ME. Write whole pieces and then edit them. And write incoherent crap when you’re in the gushing mood, and edit when you’re in the touching-up mood. Some things begin as incoherent crap and end up as moving narratives. If not, throw in some line breaks and pass them off as free verse. KIDDING!
Make sure there’s a date on everything you write. In fact, keeping a change log isn’t a bad idea. You know, like “June 23, 2009: Initial draft” and “July 20, 2009: fixed wandering tenses.” After you’ve done this for a while, get out the early ones and look at them. After the “oh gods I can’t believe I wrote this drivel” moment passes, note how much better your current work is. Calculate a slope! :-) (Actually the curve is logarithmic for most people; James Joyce only became James Joyce after being almost-James-Joyce for a long, long time.)
I wish I’d done the above starting when I was young. As it is, I will probably finish my life without ever owning a single gold rocket.
Martin: I question even more the belief that believing that you suck speeds up the process.
I don’t know that I’d give the same advice as Scalzi. The advice that was transformational for me was something along the lines of “Your first million words are practice”.
That for me was somewhat of a relief from the frustration of not getting the first story I wrote published.
Me: Why isn’t anyone picking up my story? Rargh!
Advice: Your first million words are practice.
Advice: Hello? Did you hear?
Me: …. Oh… yes, I heard. … Holy Crap. I’ve got a ways to go then.
I’m not entirely sure, but it might be that a teenager could crank out a million words of “practice” and then complete a story while they’re still a teenager. Maybe. I think it’d be a little tough, but it’s possible.
The issue seems to be that Scalzi said to teens “Hey, your writing sucks” rather than addressing it to “anyone who has written less than a million words of practice fiction”.
People can’t really do anything about being a teenager but wait till they get older. People CAN do something about not having written a million words of practice fiction, they can write and practice. Being put into a situation that you can do nothing about but wait isn’t prone to encourage people to do anything except wait till they’re not a teenager.
Scalzi does give some advice for what else to do besides wait. Number 3, says “write every day”, which gets you closer to that million words of practice mark. Number 5 says read everything you can. Number 6 says do something with your life besides write so you ahve something to write about. 7-learn about the industry. 8-be ready for rejection. 9-basically says “practice writing”. and 10 says basically “prepare for a million words of practice”.
Most of this pretty much boils down to the same advice for a writer whether they’re fifteen or fifty years old. The thing is that statistically speaking, one could probably show that a large percentage of teen writers haven’t actually hit their million words of practice yet, and teens are sometimes known for their impatience, so one could single out teens for the standard author advice of “Be patient. Keep writing”.
But I wouldn’t focus too much on the “teen” part of the advice. Most of the advice is stuff I’ve heard for a struggling writer of any age.
This article puts into words exactly what I feel. I know my writing is bad, and I know it’s bad because I don’t have enough experience. I’m too young to write anything fairly decent; I’m barely even in highschool yet. Right now I don’t care about making it big because I just care about writing well. I can see things from all peoples’ POVs, yet I know I’m not nearly ready to begin my dream novel. I just wish other writers my age would understand that! Just face it, guys, most of us write like it’s an essay for school. Calm yourselves and just admit it!
Hey, im missy and im a teenager. I have written some poems and a novella. I read a lot of books and I am taking creative writing.
But I would rather be a journalist than an author, maybe I can write some books in my lifetime but yeah that is definitely not all i want to do.
But since ELA is my favorite class and since i enjoy reading and writing I wrote a book called waves too strong, and it would be sooo cool if an adult could read it and tell me if its good to them.
But really its for teens i think so to them itll be good hopefully! LOL
Im entering it for a contest so cant wait to see what happens!
thought id share this with u since most of these comments are from adults lol
Well, I have never heard of you and your books so I bet your writing sucks too.
You may be right, teenage writing may suck. But exactly, who are you to say that?
This helped a lot, and I just have to say, that this was a bit of a downer. Even thought it kind of helped me. I’m only 15 and have written a short story but I am currently revising it. My friend is also 15 and I have to say that even her writing is better than some of the things I read in books already published. You probably hear this all the time, but sometimes, a young writer is born, like Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, who wrote a fantastic Vampire series. Thank you for your time on reading this, and thank you for your advice as well.
He is a more experienced, successful writer who has already bees through all the crap we are going through now. THAT’S who he is to say that.
And if you’ve never heard of him, why not research him before you bash his writing?
Your questions are answered here, which is why I suggested you read that before commenting.
I’d like to add a few suggestions to your list of things to do to improve your own writing:
Coordinate a writing workshop with friends, or better yet, with strangers. It’s easy to send documents online and edit them and add comments, plus you’re probably more likely to find people who won’t let your editing affect your friendship.
Better than reading everything you can get your hands on is to read frequently, ask yourself why you like/don’t like something, and discuss your opinions with others.
(3) Listen to your criticisms, but remember your audience. When others criticize your writing, you don’t have to change it, but maybe you should. Who are you writing for? Are you writing for your editor, for yourself, or for someone in the future who is about to begin book 3 of your series? Your editor doesn’t have to understand all of your writing choices, but you do and your intended audience should. If you don’t have a reason to keep it, consider reworking it.
The premise behind these points is that you will make more progress with greater perspective, and what easier way to find a new perspective than to engage with someone else’s eyes?
Mm… to clarify: (1) Proofread others’ work, not just your own.
I am a fourteen year old teenager. I am currently writing my first novel, i’m not sure if it is very good but i have shown it to my friends and sisters and they really like it. Ever since i was about five I have been writing non-stop. I write stories songs and poems. About a year ago I wrote a poem in my english class and my teacher liked it so much, she sent it to the school newspaper who published it. They also sent a email back to my teacher saying how wounderful the poem was. this suprised me as it was just the sort of thing i normally wrote and the words came so naturally to me. I havn’t had that much life experience to write a novel but i have experienced strong emotions for myself, i have also watched many different films and read alsorts of books and i feel they have taught me stuff about people i may need to know for writing. Some teenage authors have written very good books which get on to the best seller list despite negative reviews about the writing style ect. teenagers also have fresh experience about things they are writing about for example they might be writing stuff about school, first love and heartbreak and friends. A sixteen year old would have vivid memories and be able to recall emotions about being fifteen if they are writing about a fifteen year old character that older writers may not have as vividly in their memories. teen authors can also write teen books that other teens can relate to.
Do you think that because i have been writing from a young age my writing style may have matured faster?
Most likely marred by society’s harsh obscurities on teens, I find your article both enlightening and misleading. I have been praised for my writing repeatedly, and won two local essay contests. To categorize all teenage writers under the preliminary of “sucking” is sincerely ignorant and unethical. 17-year old literary wunderkind, Nick McDonell has already published a book, with another on the way.
As you can see on my blog, I am no perfection. But I deem myself a growing potential.
Yes, yes. All addressed in the followup entry, linked to above, several times.
lol…you know what reading this article made me feel better since i know that i am going on the right path then
coz i always tell myself “girl, your writing sucks…but don’t stop writing…someday it’ll be good enough”
thanks for the blog post…its a great one :)
I have loved writing stories since grade two! I always have a billion ideas for stories going through my brain. I just can decide which one to use.
Ok, first off, not all tennage writers suck at writing. Trust me. I’m 14 years old, and belive it or not, won many prizes for writing. I read your writing as a teenager, and yes, it was not the best work, but If I wanted to, i could publish right here and now. Its nothing personal, but really, I COULD be better yes, hence thats why I wait, but also take into consideration that I DONT suck at writing eathier. So next time you decide you want to tell a whole population a group one thing, that thier will be some outliers.
As a pro tip, when one is expressing how excellent one is at writing, it really does help to not to have one’s comment overflowing with basic grammar and spelling errors. These errors do cast doubt on one’s premise.
As a second pro tip, before one can become a good writer, one usually needs to be a good reader, and a good reader will have noted the several times I have suggested reading the follow-up entry, which addresses the common teen complaints about the article, including the ones presented above.
This article was great. You know what the funny thing is? It felt great to be told I suck. I know that it sounds crazy, but I look at this way. I can only get better. For example the other day I found a story my friend and I wrote when we were 9, and that made the stuff I write now look like the work of a genius. When I read this article I thought of a poster in my math class. There’s a little boy at a little leage game and it says,”Every Expert at Anything Was Once A Beginer.” So I just want to thank you for writing this and that it helped me out alot.
YOUR INFORMATION WAS EXTREMELY HELPFUL TO ME. I AGREE WITH CORAL, I’M SORT OF GLAD THAT SOMEONE TOLD ME I SUCK. I HAVE A PUBLISHING COMPANY, (xlibris), WANTING TO PUBLISH MY BOOK. THANK YOU FOR YOUR WISDOM. IT IS MOST APPRECIATED HELPING ME BECOME A BETTER WRITER. ALSO, THIS ISN’T MY MAIN CAREER. I WANT TO BE A ENTREPRENEUR IN BUSINESS SELLING AND MAKING TECHNOLOGY. WRITING IS JUST SOMETHING MORE FOR ME. =) THANKS A LOT!
This was a good passage telling by the 700+ responses your getting. I know that this will definitely help me in the long run as I be a better writer. Thanks, much love, Raven.
wow nice read i have to say i dont agree with everything there like how “your writing all suck” and implying that people who write doesnt get anything “worthwhile” but its all nice to know your tips!
I am that rare specimen you call a teenager. Now according to your article that is just me being clever, and well, there’s a probability that you are very right.
Not positive why I am writing this. I suppose I’m just sticking my foot out, hoping to trip over some truly life-altering writing advice. But in essence, I am simply attempting to start writing everyday. This is my excuse for writing today. Can I get a horray for blog commenting?
So where do I go from here? Not to college with outlandish ideas to major in English and become a brilliant, published writer who makes lots of money and is bombarded by a bragworthy fanbase. Not to bed because I’m a teenager, I don’t do that.
Wait. I know! I do whatever it takes to prepare for the high school adventure that awaits me tomorrow. I can exercise empathy for the stoners and the girl in the corner who nobody talks to. I am not being sarcastic and actually have the intention to follow through with the aforementioned statement. But I have this peevish feeling gnawing at me – I have forgotten something terribly important among all of my teenage rambling.
Substance in my writing?
Well, rumor has it that I don’t need that at this age anyhow.
All forms of sarcasm aside, I would like to thank you. This article was good to read. You covered your bases with all the witty banter. Witty banter = clever. Clever people should stick together.
So this is the part of this pointless (yet HERE IT IS) written masterpiece where I ask you to tear your brain apart looking for that last thing you forgot to tell me.
If you could tell your sixteen-year-old self anything, what would it be?
If your feeling ambitious: What is the best weapon for unveiling the secrets of high school? Empathy? Observation? Cleverness?
(Warning: The following statements occurred when my otherwise well-intentioned train of thought derailed. I will leave it for your entertainment, but please give it no serious thought.)
Maybe school shootings happen because people never told those silly, troubled adolescents that the Right weapon was cleverness. If I recall correctly, cleverness = getting sex. Sex = happier teenage (boys)?
…And what do I do with these ridiculous thoughts? Let them percolate?
I’m sure tons of people have said what I’m about to say much better, but here it is: I’m SO glad you wrote this! It put me at ease about writing and getting published and even just the future for someone who likes to write.
Also, I read your short story from when you were seventeen, and I loved it, but that’s probably because I’m sixteen and I still think those one-liners are funny. But wisecracks aside, I thought it had a really good message, one that if I had perhaps been older and reading it, I would not have received so clearly. Adults totally suck sometimes, and I thought it was really interesting how the roles of the kid and the adult in “The Statue” are reversed. (I’ve never read James Thurber, though, so maybe you really did completely copy him; I don’t know.)
[If you even read this,] I don’t want to be one of those remember-me-because-I’ll-be-famous-one-day people, but I do want to tell you that I’m sure I’ll always remember this blog (it’s official–I don’t read tangible paper anymore) for its witty and practical advice. Although it’s a little melodramatic to say, I will think about what you say here in everything I write from now on because you have been successful, and it would be foolish of me not to heed your words.
You should talk to my dad about this because he could seriously use your help:
“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.”
Wow that’s a lot of comments! I understand that you’ll probably never read this (I wouldn’t bother checking to see if some enraged teen was screaming at me over the internet) although I would be glad if you did read or even respond to this.
Looking through some of the other comments (mainly the complaints) I see that, on the whole, teen writing is… a little poor. I read a long stream of comments from one girl who hadn’t actually read the article through thoroughly and was basically screaming at you in a rather barbaric way. I’v only just noticed that teen writing does, as you say, maybe to forcefully, “suck” as I have never read any teen writing other than my own (and I am obviously biased). By the way I am 14 (or was when I wrote this) I’m glad to say that I love being creative ever since an early age. Art, photography, design, (sigh) model making, music. Also I’ve loved mainly trying to write fantasy (but some feeble attempts at horror too) ever since about eight. So I hope my creative writing shows some sign of almost 8 years practice.
As you have offered teens (very) critical advice I believe it’s only fair that I offer some of my own:
First, as you are writing too teens (who, I believe you said have a much smaller attention span than an adult, which is true) you should’ve written a slightly shorter article. I can write a ridiculously long essay to you because you’ll probably be able to read it.
Secondly, If you want to try and convince people of your views (especially if they are totally against them) brake it too them slowly and easily. Rather than say, “Your writing sucks!” maybe say something more positive like, “Professional writers aren’t teenagers, they’re adults and they’ve been writing for years – they will be better than a teenage writer. But in the not too distant future you’ll be much better”.
Ignore it if you will, I was only trying to help. Smily face.
I’d suggest to you it’s vaguely condescending to other teenagers to assume that they a) won’t read long articles and b) have to be spoken to only in gentle, hand-holding terms.
Mr. Scalzi’s brand is “tough love,” where he strives to tell it as he sees it. It is what it is. For good or ill, today we live in a world where our young people are taught that everyone is a winner, and consequences are for someone else. So be it. No one is telling anyone what they have to do. Agree or disagree–your choice. Writing is awfully hard, and being good requires a lot of practice. Lots and lots of practice. One could say: a lifetime.
So, rather than complaining that he’s being unfair, why don’t you go work on your writing and publish his pants off? (Bad metaphor, but work with me, here.) If anyone thinks what Mr. Scalzi says is the worst they will have to hear, then they haven’t heard very much, at all. That he’s willing to talk to teens at all is testament to his abundant patience. (IMHO)
Even though I was ready to quit writing halfway through the ten points and called you a “gigantic butt” in my head numerous times, it’s some pretty sound advice. I shall now pay more attention in english. Fyi Journey is awesome.
Sorry already,John H! I was just voicing my opinion!
But yeah, sorry again, I was acting like a bit of an Idiot.
Oh yeah, Since this is supposed to help teens become better writers could anyone give me a bit of help.
I’ve got a pretty decent plot (well for a teenage writer, anyway) but, even though I’m only halfway through writing the story I can tell that it’s going to be far too short to be a book of any kind but much too long to be a short story.
Anyone got any tips on good ways to “flesh out” a story?
First of all, Fred, there’s an intermediate form called a novella (and another called a novelet, and I’m not sure what the difference is, but GIYF). So it might be that.
Second, finish the first draft.
Third, no really, FINISH THE FIRST DRAFT.
Fourth, once you FINISH the first draft (but not before) go back and see if there are sections that don’t contribute to the story that much, or that can be told more succinctly. Cut the former and rewrite the latter. Keep the things you cut in another file, so you don’t have to throw them away.
Fifth, set it aside and write something else. In May, read it again and see if anything goes clunk. Fix all the clunks.
Thanks. Some good ideas there. Also, I guess, after a while I’ll have forgotten about a lot about it so when I’m reading it through I’ll get a better sense of what it’s like to read it without knowing what’s going to happen next and the whole story line.
Freaking thank you! Telling us teenagers the exact things our parents and teachers won’t tell us. Our writing sucks. I’ve accepted this fact long before reading your article.
The fact of the matter is, we are too inexperienced to be good writers. The best writers are over 30 because they’ve actually lived. We flip burgers as a part time job to pay off our car. What an excited life, huh? From what I’ve tasted, writer’s pieces generally reflect their own lives. I don’t care if your story is about a penguin, a dolphin, and a missing shovel. Somewhere… there’s a bit of similarity.
Teenagers believe that they know everything. I’ll admit, sometimes I can be this way before reality smacks me in the face. The thing is… I’m mature for my age. That may contradict what I said prior, but I am. I’m fifteen, but I am not on the same thought process as fifteen, sixteen, sometimes seventeen year olds. Only reason I am saying this is because I’ve jumped around from school to school and all the kids are the same. Simple, closed minded robots of each other. However, at each school there were a few exceptions.
All in all, I think it’s about time teenagers realize that they aren’t these amazing writers sent from God. No, we are beginners. And, all experts were beginners, too. :-)
Well, I certainly know my life experience is remarkably like that of a missing shovel. Missing Shovel Guy, that’s me! :-)
Um…158 shouldn’t be taken as a slam of any kind on 157, of which I highly approve.
I just wanted to say, you need to write a book about this stuff, it’s pretty awesome. I love to write and read and you’re advice actually helped, (even though it criticized me a whole lot and put a big damper on my dreams). I’m not even a teen yet and i’m obsessed with writing. I’ve written two books that are 200 pgs each, and currently starting a new series. My first book i started when i was 10 and when i looked back to edit some of it, i have to admit it sucked! But i’ve seen a huge impact since then. I’ve been thinking about going to my teachers and asking them to read over and help me. Any way i’m starting to think i should make a short story for kids, because the novel’s i’ am writing right now are in my perspective and everything, but i’m sure i have had enough experience with kid stuff, and you said that we need to experience more stuff and all so i think i can manage to have enough to make a kid one. Don’t you think? I have to admit that i do actually base some of my writing on other author’s like Stephenie Meyer, Lauren Hendersen, and Elizabeth Chandler. And i have written two books in a high school perspective, but i stopped writing that series because i’m not in high school yet and i don’t know how to write about what they learn in every grade nor do i know what they do in there spare time, and how they lie. I normally just read, hang with friends, yell at my mom (i know high schooler’s do that), write, web design, lie about going to bed at a certain time, lieing about what my friends and i are doing, and go to school. I realized that i couldn’t finish writing in a high school perspective because i didn’t have enough experience. Thank you for you’re advice!
P.S. You didn’t ruin all my dreams, i still think i’m going to publish lots of books and become successful by it… someday…
“I just wanted to say, you need to write a book about this stuff”
I did. And this particular column is in another book as well.
Please forgive my html error. I will repost without the over-italics, and hopefully you will be able to fix this predicament in editing.
Hey, I have a unique problem. Based on your article, I believe you might be able to offer a solution.
For all my ego, I must admit that even after 5+ years of development, at age 17 my writing still sucks. Not as much as it did, granted, but it still sucks. What puzzles me is that it does so in a most interesting way. I know how to be a good writer. I’ve read tons of advice, written veritable notebooks of material, revised my book and concepts countless times, devised characters, developments, and relationships, pondered scenes, engineered setting, and coined witty dialogue, among other things. And yet my writing still sucks! It’s an absolutely mind-boggling, and frustrating, phenomenon. It becomes especially apparent to me when I write something I think is good, then sit down to read my new favorite book and come back afterward, only to note that what I previously thought excellent is terribly shabby. And no matter how much I ponder, theorize, edit, and go back to the drawing board in order to give my writing a shot in the arm, I get no response. As if, try as I might to produce something “good,” my writing is content to plod along at its miserably contented, painfully slow, and absolutely frustrating, pace, destined to reach “good” by the time flying cars and antigravity have been invented, and shortly before the end of time. A maddening experience to say the least. Why is it that I can be a good writer in theory, but when I go to put it into practice it just refuses to add up? Can one be a good writer in theory but not in practice? Is this somehow cutting corners? More importantly, how long must I endure this and is there a way to fix it? I await your response with bated breath.
You have no idea how entertaining I’ve found this! The argumentative comments were the most amusing to me, but all in all it all was very informative.
For one thing, I agree with John; if you’re going to disagree to a couple things first: read the entire entry and respond intelligently and like a true writer would. Clear and concise methods of expression would be nice.
To the teens who want(ed) to be writers and found offence: If you’re going to reply and say how demeaning what John says, then do so in a way that would show him you know correct grammar, punctuation, and all that grammatical stuff. Show him you’re learning or you’re on the right path, don’t contradict.
To John: Loved the entry. I’m 17 and at first I was thinking to myself, “Eh, not sure if I want to read someone telling me how much I suck—I think I know that by now.” Then I realized that it really doesn’t apply to me. Sure, I’m not the best writer in the world, but I’ve spent seven years—and counting—learning my craft and my writing skills are at an all-time high. What you’re saying is correct, John. Time makes all the difference as well as practice. When I was 11 I said I wanted to be published by the time I was 17. Thank God that did not happen! My writing was horrible back then! I grimace when I read it. Now I can read my writing and see I’ve developed a voice (which may need a bit more work) that was missing in the past.
I also don’t see what you wrote as condescending at all. I call it tough love. Plus, if they can’t take what you’re saying then maybe writing and getting published shouldn’t be in their plans. This is a business, after all, and rejection is highly likely.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but what I interpreted from all it all is this is: (A) You suck, (B) It’s okay, time makes it better so get better, (C) Rejection: get used to it because it’s going to become an unwanted friend of yours, and (D) I’m telling you this to help you, not hurt you.
I recently read your article and appreciate that you took some time to write advice specifically directed towards teens. Not only do I agree with everything you wrote, but I also found your article provided some helpful insight into a difficult period of life. The teenage years are a point of life with a lot of margin room; it is a time meant to be filled with new, exciting experiences, especially for those young writers who aspire to become successful authors one day, like me. I am only thirteen years old, and though I don’t enjoy hearing that even my best writing sucks, I openly admit it myself. I don’t take offense to your remarks the way some of your commentators have; rather, I see them as a challenge. To me, the challenge, not necessarily limited to just teens or even writers, is to make the most of every day by seizing any opportunity, meeting new people, hearing new opinions, and developing the voice we hope to share through out writing. Thank you for your advice. ;)
Heyy.. I just want to say this article has been somewhat a comfort to me. I’m sixteen at the moment.. and it recently crossed my mind that everything I write is complete and utter shit.. so when I read your article, well yeah it was a wave of relief because I understand now that I can’t help my writing being crap and it will continue to develop
so I just want to say thanks, I’m gonna carry on writing for the rest of my life and I hope that one day it will be as good as yours.. not that I knew who you were until about an hour and a half a go but I do now.. and I intend to follow your blog!
oh yeah and I really liked your direct approach.. it’s nice to be told the truth for once
One of the first few comments was about how do you know that teenagers are actually reading this… This is the first document that we received in my Short Story class prefacing writing our own short story at Fordham Prep.
Great advice when coupled with the correct attitude
I’m not going be like these other dreamers and tell you about my dreams, because then they would really be dreams, just the unconscience form of idea put into words. I’ll just cut to the chase now: I AM AWARE THAT I’M TOO YOUNG. I say this in a mature tone, not a vicious one. But I do know that I’m only a freshman in high school and that I’m always found writing in my book everyday and that the chances of me becoming the famous writer who writes blogs chop full of advice is slim, but honestly, I don’t care. My family, my friends, teachers, they all think I’m going get somewhere, but that’s the same for everyone’s family, friends and teachers. The EXPECT that I’m going to be a beautiful writer like my mother. (I’ve read her work. That’s they part when I turn to the camera with one raised eyebrow. YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS!) But I do want to be a great writer, just not like anyone else. I want to be my own genre( if possible) and exceed everything. Do you have any advice?
you are going to be my hero for the remainder of the hour at least.
Okay, I’m 12, so I’m not quite sure if I qualify for a teen-writer’s forum (you do realize, that’s what this is now), but hey! I think anything debatable is worth debate. So, perhaps I can share a bit of my “less seasoned” perspective…
Well, to begin with, I laughed out loud reading the article. It’s so utterly true! Hey, you need a good laugh at yourself every once in a while.
But, I was wondering about the whole “experience” bit. I know it might sound stupid, coming from a kid and all, but I feel personally that little things mean a lot more to children than they may seem.
Let me put it to you this way: What you adults may consider trivial and childish to be concerned with may be the equivalent to the tragedies in the adult world— scaled to our size.
Like- that birthday party you were never invited to in first grade may still hurt you now that you’re in middle school, just as much as that relationship gone bad for any adult. You see what I’m saying? Thanks for the enlightening article, anyway! (I’ve got homework to do now XD)
So I’m a teen writer myself, and I definitely know what you’re talking about. Especially the whole part where you talk about how you look back on your writing from teen years and you think it sucks. It happens to me all the time on my writing that I wrote just like two days ago! But I’m definitely sure that there are many teen writers out there who are very mature for their age and can write wonderfully. I mean, there have been many acclaimed teen authors, like Mary Shelley, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, S.E. Hinton, Christopher Paolini, Dav Pilkey, and of course, Anne Frank.
Ok, so I’m a teenage writer. I’m working on a novel at the moment. Yes, a novel. No, I haven’t written anything before. BUT–as much of a cliche as it is–inspiration struck me. And I just can’t let it go. I can’t wait until I’m an adult to write it. I have a ridiculously long outline written, and it is constantly on my mind. If I say, “Well I’ll just write it in 20 years or so,” I’ll never do it. It just won’t happen. So….?
So write it. There’s nothing to say you can’t re-write it later if it doesn’t turn out to your satisfaction.
True… hopefully I don’t get too depressed when I read it later on. And there’s no way of knowing if it’s decent now–as my best friends, bless them, sugar-coat everything I ask their opinion on. And they’re the only people I’d let read it.
PS- “Mildly Irritated” is not referring to your article, but more to myself.
No offense, but as an author of the adolescent age myself, this was not helpful advice. There are writers who have been in the buisness for who knows how long, and yet sometimes their skills may pale in comparison to some who are underage. Saying whether a generation is “good” enough to be published is merely an opinion, and cannot possibly apply to everyone. I am very dedicated to my writing, even though I have nothing fifteen years and a few journalism articles to prove it, and have read deep into the subject of publication already. Just because it is expected of a teenage stereotype to want to have constant fun and find their calling, it is really impossible that maybe some consider writing a hobby, career, and everything to them even if they are still in high school? Thanks for listening…I suppose I just had to release my angst about the article somehow. And please do not believe I am trying to act “clever”…this is how I typically speak, mainly because of the fact I’ve caught myself reading the dictionary out of boredom. :)
No offense, Tabitha, but Mr. Scalzi did in fact mention various times throughout his article that there are exceptions to the general stereotype. He stated his opinion but immediately followed it up with saying that point xxxx does not apply to every young aspiring writer out there.
I personally thought it was a delightful article that helped me, personally, put things into perspective. It reinforced my decision to minor in creative writing and to major elsewhere.
Mildly Irritated 173: When I was learning calligraphy, my teacher told me to save and date my practice sheets. She was right; while I continued to feel frustrated by not being able to get Insular Majuscule right, looking back on my pathetic earlier attempts was not embarrassing; it showed me I was making progress. That was an encouraging sign for future progress.
So write your novel. The whole thing. (I don’t have the patience myself, but if you already have a detailed outline you’re already further than I’ve ever gotten.) By the time you’re done, your writing will probably have improved noticeably, and you’ll be able to see progress by comparing the first chapter to the last (assuming you write them in order).
Then write something else. Don’t start rewriting the novel until you’ve written a bunch of other stuff. Otherwise you’ll get locked in a tight loop of rewriting the same novel over and over, which is a fairly pathetic way to live.
Wow so many comments!
I agree completely with you on this one. We certainly do suck. I always cringe reading over anything I have written, even if I’ve been told it was relatively good. It’s never really good enough for the perfectionist in me.
I have been told I write well and that I tell a good story (but I know this much from googling: telling is not half as good as showing) Also I know my grammar absolutely sucks..and I blame being Irish and the cheesy books I’ve read throughout my adolescence.. I will not name them but lets just say many teens have read the same. o_O
Anyway, I suppose I’ll shut up now since I really have nothing of consequence to say only I loved what you had to say and I scanned through the comments and quite enjoyed your witty comebacks to some of the more silly ones. Plus that one where the girl was pretending to be older than she was..hahaha, the classic IP address trick.
I was planning to write more tonight, but now i am actually afraid that little voice will keep going ‘it sucks. it sucks.’ because it does.. but hey it can only improve with time!
As a teenager, I found this article very useful. I’m 15 years old, and yes, I want to be a writer. I have written a book (not a good one, in my opinion) and most people think that in itself is an achievement. Everyone that hears this news wants to know why I won’t get it published RIGHT NOW. I think this article puts that reason into the words that I didn’t have. I’m just not ready for that. Should I give publishing a shot? Or do you think I should stick with my gut and wait?
I am 14 years old and very much into writing. I am currently writing my own.. I don’t know if you could call it a book.
Its 136 pages long, and I have been working on it for just over a year. At first I was making very slow progress (It didn’t help that for six months I couldn’t actually access it) But recently I have been writing more and more. I would love someones opinion on it, because so far the only person who has read it is my auntie, and all though she really likes it, and was a newspaper editor, I want someone’s opinion who’s not a close friend of mine or family.
I don’t know if my writing sucks. I know it could use improvement, but I think anybody’s could. And I’m new. This is my first real writing project. I used to suck at writing things. Now I love it.
If you could give me any advice, it would be much appreciated !
I probably never will be a full-time writer but even then this post have been really helpful to me as a teenage writer. Thank you.
You’ll have to forgive me because I’m thinking this through as I write it so I can’t guarantee that it will be as cohesive and developed as I might want it to be. Or, I hope you will, but as this article has shown the intent behind written words is often misunderstood.
(Added later: Wow, this is turning out kinda long. I understand if you don’t read all this, but now that I’ve started I have to finish thinking this through)
Thank you for writing this. The article and comments made me laugh, which is a gift during mid-term week. I was actually lucky enough to get this rant from my English teacher last year. He’s the wake-up call in my school, the one who stops coddling students and actually makes them work. Needless to say, he his hated by most of the students because he tarnished their shining straight A records. You kind of remind me of him. Anyway, to the point. Because of him I’ve gotten over myself and can agree with you that yes, usually teenage writing sucks. However, I do disagree with some of your reasons.
(I apologize if any of these points were already made but I didn’t want to read extensive collection of comments)
Teenagers lack the vocabulary to write well. BS. First of all, have you seen study lists for the PSATS, SATS, or ACTS? However, I think good writing doesn’t need to use those words. Yes, you should have a larger repertoire then mad, sad, and bad, but I actually find it annoy when I have to stop reading so that I can go get a dictionary and look up the word “delineate.” Well, truthfully I usually just guess the meaning but still, it’s annoying. This may just be cause my inexperienced teenage mind doesn’t understand, but I think it would be just as disruptive for adults as for teenagers. To be cliche, it’s not what you’ve got, but how you use it.
We’re besotted by our influences. Yeah, when I was ten. Back then, I wanted to grow up to be Ender Wiggin, Alanna of Trebond, a Moon Goddess, and Aerin Dragon Killer all in one. With ninja skills. Maybe I’m just an early bloomer, but I got over that whole stage before I was a teenager. Being besotted by your influence isn’t about age, but skill level. Whenever you’re first learning something you look other places for guidance and rely heavily on successful examples. If someone started writing when they were thirty years old they would sound like bad imitation of their favorite authors. The problem with teen writing is that people say we sound immature (which we do) so we try to make our writing sound more mature, and it ends up sounding fake. Sometimes writing can be powerful with a child’s voice. A lot of what I am writing now is a about my parents and I think it has to have the inexperience and lack of understanding that is found in teenage writing to work. Then again, I’m slightly biased, so who knows.
Teenagers lack the experience. I’m inclined to agree with you on this, but there is a red flag that keeps popping up. No one has experienced traveling to another world, harnessing a sand worm, killing a dragon or contacting another species, so why does being older make you more qualified to write about it? Well, if your audience is adults they could probably relate better to your writing, but I can’t seem to think of any more compelling reasons. Adults simply have different experiences. Again, I’m inclined to agree, but I don’t know why.
If you’ve made it down this far, I applaud you. I didn’t mean to write a novel. I hope you take this comment as a compliment since your article inspired me to think and respond. And it’s helped me procrastinate and avoid studying, though honestly, I don’t need a lot of help doing that. Most importantly, it also inspired me to write more, and because of that, thank you for posting it.
“Teenagers lack the vocabulary to write well. BS. First of all, have you seen study lists for the PSATS, SATS, or ACTS?”
You appear to have skipped over a relevant modifying adjective to the word “vocabulary” in the essay, Sarah.
Yes, well, you seemed to have skipped the rest of my paragraph, so I’ll call it even.
The rest of the paragraph is also predicated on you having skipped over that relevant modifying adjective, so, no.
Additionally, you appear to be confusing my comment with snark. It’s not. I’m pointing out you appearing to have skipped over the relevant modifying adjective because it is, in fact, relevant to understanding that what I’m discussing is not simply how many words one knows.
I viewed it more as banter, and my response was in a similar vain. I mean, come on, “You appear to have skipped over a relevant modifying adjective to the word “vocabulary” in the essay, Sarah.” Tell me that that doesn’t sound slightly condescending.
As for vocabulary, let me clarify. I assume that any teenager who wants to write has read thousands of books if not more. I have four floor to ceiling book shelves in my room and even with that I have to double to stack them to simply fit all my personal books. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I would consider the words you learn from free reading experiential vocabulary. So, assuming that teenagers who want to write read extensively, they don’t need a larger vocabulary then they have at this age.
Alot of what Sarah has said I agree with. Especially the stuff about lack of experience. I had never thought about it that way before, but now it makes total sense to me.
And about the vocab thing. She’s right about the reading of thousands of books. At least for me she is. I’m the top reader in my school. I have been since grade 4.
I’m not saying this to brag, I’m saying this to point out that you don’t just get a good vocab from experiencing life. Like she said, you get it from reading ALOT. I mean, I know I have better vocab than anyone in my intermediate family, and theres 6 of us and I’m the youngest.
What I’m trying to say is that Sarah’s made some very good points that I’m sure quite a few people would agree with. I know I do.
Thanks. It’s good to know that some of my points came across. And I totally understand about the reading thing. My elementary school used to do an auction where you had to read books to get ‘money’ and you could then buy junk people donated to the school. I was always rolling in dough.
I want to apologize if any of my comments came across as, well, to use your word, snark. I honestly did not mean them that way. I often forget that the reader can’t tell that I’m smiling when I hit submit, can’t hear the inflection I use with words, and will sometimes read them in a different context. Your article made me think, and, if you were still listening teenagers rant about writing, I wanted to get your opinion on those thoughts. Plus, I just love a debate (I’m smiling here).
No worries, Sarah. The “That came out maybe snarkier than intended” happens to everyone on the Internet. It may be what makes the Internet the Internet.
I don’t know why some people are kicking up such a fuss- John is totally correct: our writing sucks! Even if we like to spend the better part of the day fantasizing about being the next J.K Rowling at 15 or 16, the fact is our experience of life is about 20 or 30% complete at best.
That said, if you do manage to write a story or novella or two, be happy- this is the beginning of a greta journey!!!
I myself have just finished writing a story of 16,000 words, and although I can’t help being proud of it, it would be utterly ridiculous for me to say that it is (at this moment) the next Great Gatsby or Life of Pi. Proofread it? Absolutely. Have friends proofread it? Definitely. Send it to an agent? No harm. Getting it published? Just pray hard and be patient: I think it was Stephen King who got turned down 900 times by different publishers before finally being published. But he still did it!
In terms of a day job, I’m hoping to go into translation – read by day, write by night.
No offense, but just because your writing sucks doesn’t mean everyone else’s does as well. By all means, pursue your dreams and work on your craft, but there are those of us who’ve been working since the age of eleven (now 17) to ensure that no matter how–or when–our book gets published. Regardless of age.
Why I do agree that some need more help then others, speak for yourself. We may have lived about 30% of our lives, but that doesn’t take away from our work.
My book is finished and I have an agent helping me to publish. My book is well over 60,000 words and I’m extremely proud to say that after six years of working, I’m ready. Let the rejection leaders come. I expect them to. But there will be a time when there’s a yes. I’m proof that all teens writing doesn’t “suck.”
See ya on the Bestseller’s List ;-)
So excited I can barely type!
I am only nearly thirteen and I am glad that I read this now. I am probably going to come back to this page a lot when I get older. Even in my point of veiw my writing sucks and I can never get a storyline to stick. I have trouble focusing when I writing and when I go to read a book I want to go back to writing. My mum has put a reasonable bed-time curfew on my reading and writing for this week only am I allowed to stay up until midnight and in the following weeks and when I return to school after the holidays it’ll be ten pm. My grammar is bad but I was above average in the National Australian Test called NAPLAN for everthing especially spelling, writing, english and grammar. Except even though I think myself a good speller most of the time, I made a huge mistake in my test: we had to find mispelled words in sentences and write it correctly they spelt height: hight and I didn’t pick it up. I was still above average though.
Jacob: My book is finished and I have an agent helping me to publish.
I’m hoping this is a real agent and not a scam agent. One quick litmus test: a real agent never, ever charges the author any fee at all. Not a cent, not ever. Yog’s Law: in legitimate publishing, all money flows toward the writer.
Scam agents make it seem entirely reasonable that you should pay them for their services, but legit ones make their money by taking a percentage of the advance and royalties the publisher pays you (note that the stream of money is flowing toward you, and the agent diverts part of it, which is why Yog’s Law is phrased the way it is).
Oh, that too: you should never be paying a publisher a cent, either. Again, refer to Yog’s Law. If you pay the publisher to print your book, it’s a vanity publisher, and you haven’t “gotten your book published,” you’ve either a) had it printed up, if you knew what was happening or b) fallen victim to a scam, if you thought this was how publishing worked.
Your total monetary outlay for the process of getting your book published should be the expense of buying paper, ink, etc. to produce the manuscript, and envelopes and postage to mail it—not even those, if you can submit electronically. Maybe transportation to where you sign the contract and perhaps a meeting or two.
But anyone who tries to charge you “editing fees” or anything of that nature is scamming you.
I realize I’ve belabored this, and that you may already know it, but this is a very common scam, and many, many hopeful writers (by no means all of them teenagers) have been caught by it.
Thanks for the information. I’ve already done my research and it definitely is a legit agency. I haven’t spent a dime, nor is anyway asking me to. I’m very grateful I looked into this at a young age so now I know what’s going on.
To all young authors: RESEARCH everything that deals with publication. I’d hate to see someone with aspirations like mine get scammed.
you’re young too, mr 36-something-years-young and don’t you forget that >:(
Actually, I’m 40 now. Which is young only in presidential elections.
I’m fourteen years old and in september I began writing a novel….with GCSE coursework taking up alot of my time I have left it for a few months now, collecting dust under my bed. I looked back on it , and I think its alright but I want to rewrite it. The trouble with me is I write something and then I will look back on it the week after, and decide to rewrite. This is why I never get very far into my stories. Therefore i’m worried that i’m maybe not good enough to be a writer. Writing is in my family, its in the blood. I met my cousins who live in canada a few summers ago and they all wrote stuff aswell, and so did my aunties and my mum. Only one of them has ever had anything published though (apart from poems in school magazines), and her book wasn’t very succesful. Writing is the path I always thought my life would take, I have so many ideas contantly running through my head of books I could write. There are not just random story ideas either, I want to write about meaningful things from my own unique perspective. I also write song lyrics and poems, but I can’t sing or play an intrument so my song lyrics always stay just lyrics.
Also even though I have lots of ideas, I have experienced so little of life that the experiences of my characters will be inadequately described, I am an avid reader so I am good at guessing, and I have experienced lots of emotions but not really very many ages (i.e 16,17 ) and places.
I am creative, and I get good english grades, I have a passion for writing. But I don’t think i’ll ever be good enough. I may try finishing my little novel and giving it to my friends and family to read and see what they think. My eleven year old sister has read what there is of it so far and she thinks its really good, but she is eleven and can’t really sort the good writing from the bad.
that Scalzi kid 198: Actually, I’m 40 now. Which is young only in presidential elections.
WRONG. WRONG WRONGITY WRONG.
If 40 didn’t count as young, that would imply that some hypothetical person (hypothetically commenting here, a couple hundred hypothetical comments in) who is 10 years older than that would be old. And as anyone can see,
Ihe‘s still perfectly young! Ish.
Stop calling yourself old. And go dry behind your ears.
Alice 199: The trouble with me is I write something and then I will look back on it the week after, and decide to rewrite. This is why I never get very far into my stories.
I do that too. It’s called “epicyclic editing.” If you don’t learn to resist it, you’ll never finish anything. If I don’t learn to resist it, I’ll never finish anything.
One thing that worked for me is having goals. A certain number of NEW PAGES per day or per week or something, or set a timer for an hour, during which you’re not allowed to do anything except write new stuff. No TV, no music with words, and NO EDITING.
You and I both need to break that habit. Frankly, I’d put my money on you breaking it first; this is a “don’t be like me” kind of dire warning thingie I’m doing here.
Well, I’m a 19 y/o and loved this! This makes you want to read and write.
I am fifteen and I found this article immensely helpful. There is that wonderful period that a lot of us goes through as teenage writers where we realize *shocker* that the vast majority our writing DOES suck. One reason we don’t realize this before is that no one wants to tell us how bad we really are. I have also found that after you realize you suck you improve much faster because you are seeing your work in a new light. So, what I am trying to say but being very wordy about (that is a huge problem in my writing, but my grade 10 English teacher pointed it our again and again and now I can work on it…sorry that was wordy too) is thank you for putting this out straight for us and being very helpful in whole.
ps- I also think that teachers make some of the greatest proof-readers and critics. Beleive it or not, they have experience dealing with teenage writing. Just food for thought.
this was very helpful and insightful.
I’m a teen writer and as I read this, my first thought was ‘Who does this guy think he is? He says I have no experience and my writing sucks! Well what does he know?’ But I have actually thought about it before commenting (Thank God I spared myself that embarassment) and realized you’re right.
My writing right now sucks. I mean I read my writing from months ago and just want to burn it, it’s that bad. Of course it isn’t nearly as bad as the stuff I wrote in elementary school. But my writing is horrible compared to my favorite authors! So yeah, my writing sucks. You say it, I know it and people tell me otherwise. I’m getting better though, even in short months I have gotten better.
Although I have one thing to say, my writing may suck compared to you or any other adult, but for my age group (and I don’t mean teenagers in general but my exact age) I think I’m alright.
But otherwise, thank you for being so blunt in this and opening my half-closed eyes. I’m definitely book marking this for future use.
Wow, this was quite a refreshing read. I myself am 15 currently and found this advice somewhat comforting, that even though I might suck presently, there is hope for the future. I would like to thank you for writing this, I will probably come back to this article and refer to it many times. I wish to the point of insanity though that I might become an improved writer NOW. I suppose you might consider me impetuous on this issue, however, I wrote a course on a writer’s site (WritersCafe.org) that has been found and published by a literary works company. While I am enthralled at this honor, I wish I might be older so I could truly be aware of whether or not my writing is acceptable to be published. I don’t know many who will believe a course on writing a fantasy novel penned by a teenager.. I suppose it is already too late though as the payments have been made, the article put in, and the ebook published. On the off hand, I am continuously blabbering with no imminent need, so I will go silent now. I wish only to thank you for writing this and being blunt and true about it, and for not just flirting around the topic as those others who write to teenage writers do.
Wishing you all the best!
i think it’s all good advice for those of us who are starting on a book that we think will be one of those books that will be a internationally loved books
I actually enjoyed this article, obviously I’m a teenager, otherwise I would not have googled. Anyway I am 14 years old and I am determined to become a writer or an acquisitions editor, because I fell in love with books. The book love started in first grade, and the writing bug started in 3rd grade. At the time my favorite author was Babara Park, author of Junie B. Jones and she was my role model. But to my despair, when I wrote her a letter on how she gets her inspiration for Junie B. Jones, I was given a letter from her editor saying how wonderful it was to have you reading Junie B. Jones, please purchase the next one. So at the age of nine, I was hit with disappointment. Though it did not stop my love for writing. And now that I am ending Middle School and making my way to high school, I would like to inform you of a program at my school called Quest. It is for GT(gifted and talented) students. No we are not retarded! Quest is an English class, that works at levels of a Senior in high school, to college level structures. And that would put our writing level close to your own. So to say that all writing from teenagers suck is a bit offensive, though i do not abhor your work. I know that my writing will improve as I get older and wiser and find my own voice (which Quest does an entire study on.) I thank you for your words. And I hope that one day you’ll see my name printed on my original works.
(P.S. please check the QUEST program out. And the I.B. program as well.)
Oh you may not be able to find it on google, if you type in QUEST program and you’ll find the website
Actually go to this website
You might want to check out the concept of paragraphs.
I’m a teen. I agree with you that teen writing sucks …
… but I don’t think that it’s particularly helpful to point it out, at least not in that way. It’s a little discouraging to just straight out say “you suck at writing”, even though your general message is “everyone sucks at writing until they’re experienced”.
That said, I want to thank you for this article. I have never seen an article about teen writing (and I’ve seen many such articles) that had so little condescension as yours, and that was so helpful and frank.
Also, you majored in philosophy! That alone makes you awesome.
As a teenage writer, I found this article not only helpful, but freaking hilarious. Thanks :D
OK, I’m going to be completely honest. The first time I read this article, I believe it was about a year ago, Scalzi, you totally destroyed my ego. And I had read the entire entry.
I’d been writing short stories since I was four; I had always been told I was a genius; I had just won an interscholastic Creative Writing Competition in my country and had been a finalists to a McDonald’s writing contest, and blah, blah. I truly believed I had this amazing gift and that it would only be a matter of time before I would become an overnight sensation.
So, one day, after googling “tips for teenage writers”, I came across with your blog entry and after reading it, I was traumatized.
Having the knowledge that my writing sucked stuck in my head didn’t allow me to move on with any of my writings. I obsessed with changing anything and everything I wrote to make it not suck anymore, or to make it not sound like Sarah Shephard or Cecily Von Ziegesar, even though it probably didn’t.
Anyway, the point is, being the perfectionist that I was, and that I am, I just refused to write in a crappy way, so I found myself not writing altogether.
Hence, your “constructive critic” wasn’t very helpful for me back then. Scratch that, not only was it unhelpful, but it was also excruciatingly unmotivating.
Today I googled “tips for teenage writers” again, came across with your blog post again, and read it again, but now it had a different effect. I guess that since I already knew my writing sucked, I was able to read the rest of the tips from a different perspective, and to understand the importance to keep on writing despite the fact that it sucked.
As you can see if you click on my username, my blog has absolutely zero posts in it. I opened it like… yesterday, with the hopes of finally being able to write something, once and for all. But (drumroll, please) I hadn’t gotten past the two first paragraphs of my first entry draft, when I gave up with the whole blog thing, because my writing was going to universally suck through all of my teenage years no matter what. Yeah, I thought about how “my writing was going to improve if I kept on writing”, but it really wasn’t that comforting, and in my case I was just stuck in this vicious circle.
Anyways, now that I’ve just read your entry again, I think I might have just gotten over it. I just had to face it, my writing is crappy, and just get over it. I believe one of the reasons why I couldn’t keep on writing was because I couldn’t face the fact. (By the way, I believe this comment is the longest shit I’ve written in a very, very long time, so I must be heading in the right direction, even if it’s just cat vacuuming).
So, to be completely objective here, I’ll just say that your entry is both unhelpful and helpful at the same time. Unhelpful if you don’t want to face the reality, and helpful if you do. The thing is, many teenagers probably won’t be mature enough to face it (I wasn’t). All in all, you do offer some great advice in essence, but I do not think it is introduced to the intended audience in the right way.
Thanks for such a great advice,
P.S.: Don’t be fooled, my spelling, grammar, and vocabulary is, in fact, reputable, but any writing mistakes I make are due to the fact that English is not my first language, Spanish is. So, there.
I am a teen writer. I found this article informative, but also strange. Some teens have parents who write, so the teens are compelled to write as well. I am one of these.
I have read many books and examine how writers describe and get their readers into their books. I set myself up with daily writing prompts and descriptive exercises. I notice my writing improve with my age.
I understand exactly where you are coming from when you say that teen writing “sucks”, but some amazing teen writers could be living in some kind of dream world (which makes up for the required imagination), or they analyze everything in their environments. Who is to say that they can’t make it in the writing business when they are 16 years old?
I am not, by any means, saying I am one of these people, I am stressing the point that it seems to be a possibility.
I agree with what you’ve stated here BUT most young writers myself included get good grammar skills from reading so much. Also i would like to point out that some young writers have an very vivid imagination myself included,but other than that I found your article helpful.
I don’t really know what the heck a preface is but, i think it’s the start of something ?.?
Anywho. Your right. Teengars (like myself) are not experienced at all. Well some are. I really enjoyed your article! it was very imformative and unique. I absolutly love it when people don’t sugar coat things with lollipops and chocolate rainbows! You are very outgoing, thats for sure.
I have been trying to write a decent story ( The same one multiple times) but it never seems to work out. Your article showed me somewhat of what i am doing wrong! thank you a million, and i hope you post something like this again. It is very imformative. And if we teens can take the time to read this then i bet we will learn something about it a little more. Thank you again.
First of all; that is a crap load of comments, I mean a crap load. So, now that I covered that I can pretty much begin:
At the moment I have two windows open. One is of this, obviously, but the other is of your actual blog entry. Thus allowing me to tell you exactly how I feel about everything you’ve happily shared with us ‘sucky’ writing teenagers. Won’t this be fun…
A) I will agree that we do suck. And yes, I am clever. I am already showering you with wise sounding sentences and have taken the glad liberty to use ‘I am’ and ‘I will’.
B) Yeah, it is okay that we ‘suck’.
C) Thanks for the tidbit, but most young aspiring writers do write every day, simply because it makes us feel like there is more than a 5% chance we will make it. Well, those of us who have boldly decided that they will be a New York Times Bestseller. Yes, I am one of them.
D) For me, paying attention in class isn’t hard which you may or may not find surprising considering I am taking four Histories and two English’s, Spanish along with grade 10 consumer math again because I failed… Which is fine, math was never a strong subject of mine, though sadly was required, plus I see this as inspiration. And though consumer may not be hard it is extremely tedious.
E) I find it hard to believe people can find any piece of writing boring. That may be because I am interesting in a wide variety of things or that I simply find the concept of your mind becoming stretched around others thoughts to be fascinating.
F) Personally I could never decide what other thing I would want to do but I did come up with one I thought could create a huge advantage – in more ways than one – where my writing was concerned. I want to be a high school English teacher and am hoping to make creative writing an elective at whichever school I teach which will ensure that I have inspiration every single day and that at least a part of my mind is always wandering in that garden.
G) I wander around publisher bios once a week. It’s gratefully become routine to me and I already find myself with the gist of the process. Reading what writers have to say about the relationship between them and their publishers or their journeys to becoming published is helpful where obtaining knowledge is concerned.
H) I definitely agree that you should be ready for rejection. From what I know about the publishing industry it’s about as compassionate as the quake in Chile.
I) As for the dream of becoming editor of my school newspaper… It got squashed when I found out my school newspaper is published twice a year and students can not be editor. What can I say? I live in the prairies of Canada and there isn’t much going on here.
J) Zen is important. Period. End of story.
So, thank you I guess. I enjoyed the blog entry; hope you enjoyed the comment.
P.S. I wish I could have proven every word on that screen wrong but it is hard to do with a good argument such as that.
I really enjoyed this article. I’m fifteen and really interested in writing. I know my chances of writing something great are slim to none, but I felt inspired by this. It gave me more drive.
I’m attempting to write a book right now (please dont laugh, I know you’re probably as doubtful as I am at this point), but it’s a hobby of mine and I wanted to write something more than a short story.
I dont expect it to be published or anything that extreme, but I hope it gives me more writing experience. Hopefully one day I’ll write something publishable.
I’m a fourteen-year-old-girl and have been creative writing since 4th or 5th grade. Just thought I’d get that intro out there before I delve into the possibly massive comment that will follow:
1) I actually know that I do ‘suck’ and am aware that I will suck for a while but eventually (hopefully) improve. I wholeheartedly agree actually – because I see so many people go ‘oh here is my story/poem/song/article/blah it is awesome go stare in awe at it’. Even if it really IS fabulous (most times, unfortunately, it is NOT)… so what? That’s just having a huge ego and no room to grow. But enough about sucky writing.
1b) I am VERY easily influenced by my… well, influences. Or at least the books I read. Reading something more whimsical like Alice in Wonderland, for example, will make my writing perhaps more lighthearted. Then reading something like Pride and Prejudice will have me using older vocabulary… et cetera. I know I am influenced, and know that I will, hopefully, eventually, sometime, develop my own writing. Until then, carry on Austen!
3) Roleplaying or fanfiction – whatever floats your boat – probably will help at least a BIT. I mean, you are probably being influenced greatly while writing it, but the fact that you’re writing and adding to that writing… is good, right?
4) English is my favorite subject. My mathematically-inclined friends always ask me that, and while it’s rather obvious they still go ‘WHAT?!’. I mean, it’s supposed to be a given, right? I love literature. I love reading. I love English. I love writing. I love language in general, actually. Don’t see why it’s a surprise to them, but hey I like it. Maybe it’s because I’m in a nerd school, but I really, really, really enjoy it, and I like to be challenged, especially in English. I KNOW that I will improve, and I WANT to, ASAP, and school takes a fourth of every day, so why not use it instead of spending thirty minutes in front of a notepad?
7) There was a time when I was OBSESSED with writing. (Photography, too. And, uh, other stuff. I go through phases, like a stereotypical teenage should.) So, I would borrow, literally, TEN books from the library on publication, writing, grammar, etc. (That phase was a while ago, though. I should return to said phrase, but high school is busier than elementary/middle school was. In any case, I have since forgotten most of that writing information, though I have purchased two writing books from the bookstore.) Well, I still don’t believe I know ENOUGH about the publishing industry because quite frankly, budding writers concentrate on ‘writing first, and if it’s good, focus on the publishing later’. I believe that’s a pretty good philosophy, because if you just assume you’re going to get published you’re really not going to make any progress on your short story/novel/poem/whatever. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t encourage reading the books that I’ve mentioned above, because it’s always nice to know about the industry you’re hopefully going to go into someday.
9) This calls for a walk down memory lane. In grade five my friend and I were pretty hyped about writing, and had actually quite a lot of influence from Roald Dahl (whom I still admire!). We set about ‘publishing’ a school newspaper on our own. Needless to say, it was a two-girl operation, with no approval from teachers or the principal, and it has ‘controversial articles’ (okay, we were complaining about tamogotchis being banned). It was a good start, I suppose, I think we had some MS Paint-drawn art, and the layout wasn’t bad… as well, we had a couple articles. I think the whole thing amounted to a page or two. We basically just passed it around our friend-circle and giggled about the articles. End of story. Then in middle school, grade eight (maybe seven as well. I forget.) we had a staff/other class-published ‘newspaper’. It was more of a one-time booklet of writing from our nerd class and the aforementioned ‘other class’. I had two poems from school work published there and I think an article too… I really forget what subject it was on.
(Line break because this section is getting rather lengthy) Then, last year when I entered high school I was all, ‘Great! An actual school newspaper! Sign me up!’ While this one was an actual ‘club’ so to speak, with an editor and ‘manager’ (both older students)… as well as roles for Photographer, Sports Writer, Event Writer, Opinion Writer, etc. I ended up taking a few photos (which weren’t published, seeing as they only needed one, and got that one from another photographer) and then doing monthly word searches which took five minutes after I got a reminder from the editor to make one. Not much progress. However, we published maybe five newspapers (they were supposed to be monthly, but our staff sponsor wasn’t always reliable).
Then, THIS year, our newspaper decided to make it an exclusive, by application-only club. (Last year, anyone could join and send stuff in, it was better for more articles, but also more hectic and no one really knew what they had to do) So, I sent in my email application, eventually got accepted (won’t bore anyone with the details) and was a permanent journalist/photographer for the newspaper. In total we had/have perhaps under ten members. This was GREAT for more serious stuff, and I suppose it did get a lot more serious. I wrote an event article, and later an opinion article (which was a stretch for me, but I managed to get it done). Which is all fine and dandy, but we haven’t published a single newspaper, to date. We got a new staff sponsor (who is notably more organized/stricter/better) but perhaps also not so reliable. Whatever the problem was/is, we have not been published at ALL this year. (Apparently this was a problem prior to last year as well). So, that kind of sucks, but it’s not really about the publishing, more about the writing – at least I wrote a solid event article and pushed outside my comfort zone to write an opinion article.
God, this comment is REALLY long. I just wanted to put my thoughts out there. I really enjoyed this blog post (linked from Maureen Johnson’s blog) and have bookmarked it for future re-readings. Thanks again, it has been very helpful!
I’ve been wrting this story for a couple of months now and i found this and well i just wanted to say thanks ! I’m really young and i know it sucks but im glad that ive written what i have. This is GREAT advice !
Lol it’s kinda funny when i first read this i hated you. No im not overdramatising. I hated you. Seriously hate.
Now i can kinda see where you’re coming from. I think it was after listened to a Podcast by Brandon Sanderson, and read Eragon. Something about that book really rubs me up the wrong way. Theirs some stylish cool scenes, but blah.
Anyway quick question and don’t take it up the wrong way.
How much publicitiy did you get from this. I doubt you put this up just to get publicity, but the bold, but thruthful, YOU SUCK may have helped with publicity. lol
First I want to let you know, I didn’t read the whole article and I didn’t read the follow up entry, but I don’t have much time and I just wanted to give my opinions.
When I first read the bit about why I suck, I laughed… Laughed in anger. But I guess I kind of see where you’re coming from.
I know I’ve grown up too fast, and I think that’s why I’m so advanced in the whole creative writing thingo. I can see things from other people’s perspective, although I rarely agree with them.
Unlike most girls (And possibly guys) my age, I’m not love hungry, and I will admitt that I don’t fully understand love. So I don’t write romances. Simple as that. I don’t try to create the illusion that I do know exactly what love is and what it feels like and all that, although I know I can do so quite convincingly, I guess I just don’t like to be so fake.
Age is like a stereotype, I guess. You know, if you’re younger you’re dumber. If you’re older, you’re smarter. But really, it’s just the experience. A 10 year old can experience just as much as any 20 year old (Rarely… But you know, it’s possible).
I think it’s just natural for younger people to think “Oh adults don’t understand me, I’m different to everyone else my age, I’m not dumb like them. I do know what love is, I know more than everyone else my age. Adults just don’t understand!”.
I will admitt that I don’t know ‘everything’ and that I haven’t experienced ‘everything’. But I do believe that parents can be a bit ignorant. In the sense that they think they know everything about their child and their feelings and their knowledge and all that. When really, some childred just go deeper. Some of us have that deeper understanding of life. You know what I mean? Sort of? Just a little?
My quick opinion on your story that you wrote when you were 17 (the one which you posted a link to). I think I can honestly say I can write better than that and I’m far off the age of 17. For one, there’s way too much dialogue, and if there’s anything I’ve learnt in my few years of writing (4 years at the max), direct speach is something to avoid. I think the story has a decent sotry line, it’s just not writen so well.
All that seemed like a waste of time to write, nothing will come of it. I already know I’m a good writer, maybe not the best, maybe not as good as I will be in years to come, maybe I am only a little above average for my age. But I get good marks, I guess that’s all that matters right now (Looking on the bright side).
I’m 12 years old. If it interests you to know that.
Oh and I’d love if I’d get some feedback on my comment, if it even remotely made sense to anyone, let me know, haha :)
And now I re-read and realise how stupid I sound. Nevertheless, I hope my comment gets read and appreciated :D
On one hand…
At 13 years old, I am a teen writer and I must say that my stories/etc. certainly do NOT suck. They are sheer literary genius and should be bronzed. I’ll have you know, I recieve compliments on my writing whenever I decide to shine light on a poor soul’s life and offer them a glance at my prose. You are lucky to be reading a mere comment that has flowed from my hands.
On the other hand…
I’m only 13 and my writing does suck. A LOT. I try to avoid reading a published book while in the process of writing a story of my own creation, because frankly, the comparison makes me want to burn every word I’ve ever written off the face of the earth. This is a big problem, considering I read a LOT of published books…bugger.
On either hand, I thank you for this article. It shines some light on common problems that I (and everyone else) face(s) during the writing process. I am actually less discouraged now than I was before I read and considered it. If anything, this blog inspired me to write more!
(Now, excuse me while I bring more examples of sucky teenage writing into the world…oh, joy.^^
Hmm, found this blog by accident and I’m already doing most of the thing you said long before reading this (though I wish I found this sooner as it spare me the long years of discovering them myself, I’m 16 BTW).
My thoughts about
Teen writer suck
This I agree 100 %. I got 127 pages novel (my first one) to prove it. It make no sense at all with a lot of grammatical and storyline mistake. It took me a year to write before I realize it. Then after that I learned grammar seriously, repair my grammar skill before I move on and get better at writing. And for my fellow teens, one crucial thing you need to have is the ability to become unbiased when you read your own story. Read it, find the mistakes, make mental note not to repeat it in the future, fix it and move on. And if you didn’t find any mistake, find someone (a teacher or other writers perhaps) to review it. BTW use this website if you want honest review : http://www.Reviewfuse.com
Well this I agree too but you know, some moments you just can’t write, so I use my mind. I don’t call it writing per say (more like a controlled daydream) I will keep thinking about my story, creating excruciating details about it. I make it my world.
And yeah I notice that I really lack of experience (took me two draft of novel for me to discover that) Now I’m trying to accumulate a lot of new experiences as quickly as I can. For now I stick with writing about teenagers (though it’s sort of aim for teenagers and young adults) it’s at least it’s in the teenager’s point of view)
Now other interest beside writing
Now I have a lot of interest beside writing but i only grow the ones that can be use as back up plan. Now writing is not a sure job. You can’t just finish a book and hope it to get published. You will undoubtedly failed at some point. It will be fine when you are still under your parents care but think about the time after you’re no longer under you parents’ care. If at that time you failed, you will be financially devastated (another good reason to pay attention at school)
To avoid this, you need a back up plan. My back up plan is psychology.
I’m taking psychology after I graduate high school so that I could work as a therapist or psychologist. So if I fail, I still have this to stabilize my life before I attempt to write novel again.
This is an advice for my fellow writer teens
don’t let writing blind you. Success is what happened when you combine passion, ambition and careful planning.
And there’s one thing I don’t agree, read everything you can get your hand on including craps.
Honestly I think reading a book that you blindly choose is a waste of time. I only read because a book for two reason
first I found it interesting
and second I saw the style of the author almost the same as mine or at least has achieved something that I”m trying to achieve. Basically I read those books for research.
There’s only one condition where I read just about anything and that is a condition where I’m extremely bored with no mean to write. So I will look around and grab whatever book I find, no matter if it is about physic, space, or even fashion. At that state, I even read girls’ magazine or even business magazine.
Damn, I can’t continue anymore. I need to study for the exam Tomorrow.
But I leave my fellow teen this one message. This blog is extraordinary. You have been given a chance to learn the basic thing of becoming a writer in just under half and hour while it took me two years to learn all those things.
I’m really confused. I’m 17, attend high school, play sports, read and write a lot. In fact, I’ve been working on the same story for five years now. I write a draft, print it off, wait for a month, re-read it, cringe at my writing, then re-do and change the characters and whole plot around. I’m on my fifith draft, and I can honestly say yes, my writing does suck, but with every draft it’s getting better and better. I hope one day my work will be published, whether it’ll be this year, the next or even the next. It’s something worth hoping for.
But according to your article, my writing sucks, which according to you is a good thing, im really young, I’m besotted by my influences, I don’t know when I’m genuinely being good, I should read everything I can get my hands on, including the boring stuff and be ready for rejection. “Why? Beacuse that’s just how it is”. So, in other words, should I just give up?
Okay, five things:
1) I am thirteen and, yes, my writing sucks. I’m pretty good for my age, but…suckage. Major suckage. So to occupy myself, and to exercise my “creative muscles”, I write a lot of half-finished stories that are pretty darn hilarious. Most of them are about pathetic teenagers with a crap load of hormones, and more issues than you can ever begin to comprehend. Writing terrible prose like that helps me practice grammar and emotion,while simultaniously allowing me to make fun of my own pitiful age group. I think it’s a pretty good deal, personally, and my hormonal readers are inclined to agree =)
2) BTW, your teenager writing really did stink. Like,”YOU WROTE THAT?! I can write better than that! Dear god!”
3) My advice to my fellow teenagers is this: READ REAL BOOKS! Twilight, Manga, and crappy teen romances are not beneficial to your writing. I mean, if you must read and indulge in unrealistic sexual stories, fine. But reading well-written books helps you a LOT in the writing world. Personally, I just finished “The Winds of War”, “The Secret Life of Bees”, and “Scarlett”, and my writing has already improved.
4) Okay, some of the comments posted by adults on this thread are very derrogatory. Teenagers, you may be suprised to find, ARE NOT STUPID! Some of us (okay, a lot of us) lack experience, but we have just as many thoughts and ideas as you do. Some of us have better grammer than most adults- Some of us actually KNOW how to use a computer- And some of us- dare I say it- can write better than adults! I sure as hell can write better than my parents and grandparents, and I sure as hell am not an inferior intellect! Ask me any day about politics or the Mayan Calendar, and I can come up with an intelligent reply!
5) On a completely different, less angry note: Does this shirt make me look fat?
I have a story in my head that I’ve been developing over the last four years and I’ve finally finished figuring out the last of the puzzle. Although I’ve been able to successfully piece together a complete outline, actually trying to write the thing has been a massive struggle. 40 pages and I wasn’t really proud of anything. It felt more like I was trying to beat words into submission than actually writing. Like you said, teens have an underdeveloped writing voice. And it feels like mine has been mostly baby-babbling to me. I just continued through it, knowing it was crap, and kept thinking that I had to get it down so I could correct it later. After reading this, I’ve determined that my story is too important for me continue as underdeveloped as I am. I don’t want to go about mucking up the beginning when it’s really not necessary.
What I find strange is the teens getting upset after reading (most likely half) of this. The article isn’t saying anyone is a failure or anyone is stupid. I think it’s teenage convenience to read into that because that way there’s blame of some kind and the idea of facing the daunting prospect of a long road of patience can be avoided. :\
I think I’m done rambling now. I wanted to give thanks. Regardless of how realistic I am with myself, I still needed a reality check.
When I first read this article, I thought you were sincerely trying to help teenage writers by giving us helpful tips and encouragement. But, in reality, you have done only three things: Tell us we “suck”, brag about your own achievements, and comment only on the comments that say something bad about you or ones that say something completely stupid. You ignore the comments with good grammar and spelling that ask good questions from people that need advice. I don’t believe you want to help us at all, and I don’t think teenage writers should respect you just because you are a published writer and older. If you want us to respect and look up to you, you have to earn our respect. And I’m sorry, but you certainly haven’t earned mine.
I sometimes wonder why people ask for advice when they don’t like the advice they’ve been given. Here’s a blog with tips for writing, and it says about a dozen times that you shouldn’t take it personally and that the negatives are meant for everyone, not just for you. And, what do people do? Of course, they take it personally and get pissed at the writer of the blog because they think he’s wrong. Whatever to all of you.
I for one really want to thank you for writing this blog, and I’ll keep all the tips in mind.
And do you know what?
Thank you for telling me that my writing sucks, and that I’m not the only one, ’cause now I can relax and tell myself that I’m not the only one who is writing crap at the moment.
Haha, well, okay then.
But is this a generalization or specific to all writers? I know it’s one in a thousand that a teen will be published, or even considered, but still, is it just that I am a teenager that my writing will stink? I have managed to finish my first novel, and I am aware that first drafts are ALL of lesser quality, but still. I’m just curious.
New writers, regardless of age, are likely to have their writing suck. That said, in my opinion teenagers have their own set of challenges regarding writing (mostly centering on being young and relatively inexperienced in life) on top of simply being new writers. Again, time and practice squares away a lot of that.
I read the majority of the site. . .and I liked it. However, I’m not going to go on about teen writing, and all of that. I recently took a writing class and became inspired to write ((yet again)) The class was at times depressing ((due to the fact some of the teen writers in there are absolutely amazing, and have stuff published already. . . .)) However, I managed to string something together after an interesting moment at my table, and I handed it to the teacher who has his own stuff published. I figured it was going to be spit on and have angry red markings all over it, but he became quite intrigued by my story in progress, and told me it was actually something he likes, and really wants me to finish it and get it published, cause it has potential ((He has been helping me fix some things here and there as I go. . .)) But; pard my rambling. What I really wanted to ask, since nobody else has asked ((from what I’ve seen)), could you actually read what I have written, and maybe give some pointers, or something? You seem like a knowledgeable guy, and not afraid to be down right blunt, if I must say. This is one of the main reasons I’m actually curious to see what YOU have to say to it. If you decide you do not want to I will not take it personally, but I would appreciate it greatly. If you decide to, I think this site already gave you my e-mail; if not, I’ll give to you and an attachment of the said story if you say yes. I’ll check back every now and then to see if you comment. As said, if you reject, no problem. However, I really would like some personal opinions from someone who is already well up on this road from what I’ve gathered.
In your article you argued why teenage writing sucked, but you focused mostly on writing fiction. Would you extend your statement to other forms of writing as well, such as personal narratives or argumentative essays?
I’m also interested in knowing your thoughts on how long it takes for the sucking to finally end. Do you see there being a definitive age cutoff, such as “19 and under will always suck; become 20 and then you have a chance,” or is it that you believe there’s a certain amount of hours practice required that can’t realistically be met until at least your twenties?
I almost completely agree with your claim. Almost. Some people mature emotionally faster than others, and maybe a lot of teenagers can’t write well about tragedy or love, but angst and superficial joy can be well-written as well. And I think there must be one exception out there somewhere, at least one.
Hi! I’m 16 – so yes, a teenage (aspiring) writer and your tips were awesome ;)
it’s true and I know ’cause now if I read what i’ve written when i was younger, it’s seriously cringeworthy. so it’s logical to suppose that when I get older it will be the same :)
thanks for taking the time to write this out
I am obvioulsy four years too late, but I will still comment on how amazing this article is. I am 16 as of February, and I have been writing since I was 7.
I have had 3 of my poems published, sadly, I didn’t recieve anything for them because they were published via contest, so in all honestly, I know for a fact my writing still sucks. I have no valid arguement against what you have said. I agree with you completely (as I have already stated).
I am in the process of writing a book right now. It is a little over 200 pages long, and 40-some chapters. I am still no where near finished with it, but I was thinking about trying, (key word here) to get it published. The only people that have read it though, are a couple of my close friends, and of course, being the people they are, they tell it amazing. Yet as I re-read through some of it, it sounds too childish to me to even consider sending it off to a publisher.
I have written many short stories, poems, novel (half of many anyway), and personal narratives throughout my lifetime, and only have I been sure of one thing. The book I am currently writing has been the best out of all them. Normally I don’t write to pleasure others, but when I started this book, I thought about all the many books I have read, hopefully I do not sound like any of those authors, which of course, is impossible. Like you said, I have had slim to none life experience to not sound like another human being, but I thank you John Scalzi.
This article has helped me figure out who I am as a writer and who I want to become. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, I do not want to make a profession out of writing. I enjoy writing, but that is not how I want to live my life. I will write on the side of whatever career I do pursue.
I know who I might contact if I have questions regarding my book. That is, if you’ll help me. :D
I first read this article when I was about 12 years old. I am now 13 and still think about your article. I have no bad or negative things to say about this article and would just like to thank you for opening up my eyes to obvious things like how my writing sucks at the moment. It proves stating the obvious can sometimes be beneficial. For those people who disagree, just be happy that Mr. Scalzi was nice enough to say that it doesn’t matter at the moment that our writing sucks and with years of practice we can become better writers. I would also like to share some small acheivments of mine since first reading this article. I have had three articles published in my school newsletter (one of which inspired a year twelve student to do the same) and I am currently waiting for news on whether or not I have won a Write4fun contest. I am also going to be published in the Write4fun’s annual book of poems and short stories written by what they state to be ‘some of Australia’s finest young talent’. Let me tell you that I was amazed that my simple poem got me that far.
I thank you once again Mr. Scalzi for your article and thank you also for helping realise with practice I can improve. I write in every spare moment I have (I am getting ridiculously behind in homework and neglect a lot of my assignment work :S)
Sorry for such a long comment :D
Oh god, just re-read my comment and want to erase it from your memories! Jeez, why, oh why did I babble on about my achievments when I could be saying something remotely in relation to the article.
Just a few things first, I know my writing sucks but I constantly forget and get myself a humungous ego. Well, you would too if your only talent was putting thoughts into words.
Also, I never actually realise whether I am ‘besotted by my influences’ and thank you for pointing it out. (Although, I wrote a bit today that sounded a lot like this book I read…oh right, back to my commment…)
I never actually thought that beeing suckful at writing was okay but it gets my through those lessons I hate…anyhoo, well, to those who DID complain about someone telling them they suck, I deal with it every day and I’m not complaining. On the contrary, I seem to see it as a good thing. It makes me look at myself for once and a while and get my ever-growing ego back in check and go back to ‘weird, quiet girl over there’. Yeah, not being accepted at school is a great way to get told you suck. Though, I’m not complaining that YOU did. (Oh god, now I’m trying to be diplomatic…jeez).
Just to bore you more, I write several times a day and god do my friends think its getting old! Well, I mostly write in the classes I find most boring (Maths, Business, Home Economics etc). The writing is rushed and doesn’t do much but make me a bit more frustrated for sucking. (I was never good at taking contructive critisism).
Just to let you know, I only DON’T pay attention at the moment for certain circumstances I wont share, but on average, I am a bit of a smart-ass to most who know me and frequently tease me about it. (My friend calls me Oxford for god’s sake! Although, most of the time I NEED an Oxford Dictionary to find that perfect word :D)
I have my own bookcase at home (mostly filled with books my family buy for me; Twilight and various other vampire fiction). I wont say I dont enjoy them because that would be lying. I have always loved fantasy and romance even though I am very unexperienced in THAT area. I read every night and any time of day that I’m not doing school work, homework or reading (Yes I am aware my life is quite boring).
Oh, I get good grades and if the writing courier doesn’t work out, well I’m going to University (if I can). As a matter of fact I can’t wait until I get a job too (know that I bet all the money I don’t have that my views will change when I eventually start working. It’s just because I want an income. Any income).
I try SO hard to research the publishing industry but know that I am so much better occupied reading or writing (at least I do SOME of the things recommended).
(Sorry about the long comment, I’m currently bored out my wits and should be doing my homework but can’t be bothered).
All I’ll say in the subject of rejection is that I am pretty sure I am well equiped to deal with it. (Cringe)
I am published (hence my previous apology about my comment before about blabbering about acheivments).
I should have read this ages ago. I am a notorious stresser. :S. Thanks for mentioning Zen when no one else did. :D
Anyhoo, thanks a heap. Oh, and just for anyone who is reading my comment, I’m 13 if that happens to interest you (I don’t blame you if it doesn’t)
P.S. Sorry about any spelling or grammar mistakes. I just couldn’t be bothered to go back and check. I wrote such a LONG comment. :S
Woah! I can’t believe the amount of teen writers over here! Anywho, I should probably skip to why I’m writting. I’m thirteen, I love to write and read. I loved what you wrote, but in the same time I bet it made all of us, teens who were writting feel a tinsy bit inferior to all of the adults. In one way I totally understand you, Mr. Scalzi, but in the other, I know that we aren’t all as you described us to be, for instance I’ve heard of this Canadian (Quebecor), girl who got published when she was in fourth grade! But, that forms the minority of us…
I still agree with what you wrote, but I still wonder, what do we have to do to be great writers later on? You can check my website/blog out my website/blog and if you have anything to add, leave a comment on it or follow me!
http://www.story-darkness.blogspot.com , my
(P.S): That girl on top of me, Savanna, is a whiz!
Well, like others I’m a teen writer who sucks… .___. I’m thirteen and I started getting serious about writing starting at January. :P Behh, well anyways, I just found this article of yours right now and I sincerely enjoyed every part of it. Thank you so much for writing this.
Uber thanks for the write-up, but I still can’t uhmm… fathom the subjective judgment on teen writing and writers. Well, I guess it must be something of a motivation of some sort, making us say to ourselves, “I’ll prove you wrong.” kind of thing. Anyway, the whole write-up seemed to finish off as something paradoxical in sense, so I guess it took back some of the judgment in a subtle way. Thanks again! I want to read more from you.
Great advice, very well written and quite intriguing.
I am only 14 yet people have already offered to buy my poems and fictions, although I don’t quite know what I’m getting into so none of my work has left my possesion.
My teacher’s told me that I have a very strong voice and opinion in all my writing. So, is that just a fake voice or my actual voice through my writing. I havn’t questioned it yet I know I am very opinionated and my writing does show this. I agree on all your points but believe some might be an generalization I believe it depends on the child, their lifestyle, and eperience of life. I know many young writers who have been through more than their own parents. Some children just need to be reminded life is not perfect, a final copy is not final, your never too young to learn, and when your writing you can not take everyones opinion in consideration sometimes it only matters to you, and how you infer it.
I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write all that. I’m a teen writer and I’ve been writing since I was twelve and sometimes it’s hard not to feel the pressure of getting published at a young age. I mean, there are tons of teen authors all of a sudden and that seems to be this era’s fad. That puts a lot of pressure on young writers who feel like it’s either now or never for being published, since who makes a big deal about a twenty-year-old anymore?
So thanks! I think it really helps to be told that my writing sucks and also to be told that I’ve got plenty of time. I’d been feeling the crunch of ‘gotta get published before I turn eighteen’.
I think in the publishing world, everyone is realizing the glitz of having young authors and that’s making the publishers jump on any promising students. As a result, a lot of teens are being published before they’re ready. I mean, look at ‘Eragon’ (no one kill me for saying that!) That guy was not ready to be published. He needed another five years to smooth things out, cut half the description, and make it original. But instead, a publisher saw him as a goldmine and rushed him.
So to cut my monologue, thanks!
After reading this article, I feel like giving up on my story. Since it’s going to suck anyway. And i spend hours on it only to write a few sentences. I keep on changing the storyline and everything that goes from what I want my character to be like, to how long the story is going to be, etc. I can’t seem to “settle down”. :S
I am a teenager, and I am glad I read this article.
I’m somewhat of a writer, and may pursue a career in the writing field one day, but for now I am writing as best I can, but it can get frustrating sometimes.
I’m glad that this article made me realize that, although my writing is awful, I can improve. I am going to be on my school’s newspaper, and now this article has made me more confident.
I do sometimes wish my mind was more advanced, but I know I still have a lot to learn. Thank you so much for writing this! And I know you’re probably not reading the comments anymore, but I just wanted to let you know.
First, not everything we write as teens “sucks.” In all fairness, I believe that you have most likely had days in closer history than your teen days where you have written something that “sucks.”
Second, perhaps it isnt because we are teens for ALL of us. Perhaps some of us just really “suck.”
Third, its facebook now. Just thought I would let you know that…
Oh, and I have never heard the saying “luck favors the prepared.” Ever.
I like the shooting authors that write about authors from a connon into a pit filled with leeches. That was great. I laughed, and looked like a moron. I just pointed to the screen, and my family diverted thier attintion. It happens a lot..
well, i am 11 and i am already practicing for writing by writing books and poems and things. this has really helped and i will proably make a few small adjustments to my book i am writing now. my story is called joy and so far it is 46 a5 pages long . I think that one day i will be a ood author and i can now say it was thanks to your tips.
I’m a teenager and I am an aspiring writer. You have just helped me to realise that I am not a good writer – which I considered already, and that that is okay. Thank you for that wake up call. I am currently writing a story. It’s long. And rubbish. Filled with terrible grammar, lack of techniques and all things bad about the English Language. But, I love the ideas. I think that is what counts at this stage. Also, practise makes perfect right? Though I don’t think my writing will ever be perfect. I don’t mind. I want to get better and be a writer when I grow up. End of. I have taken in everything you’ve said, added this page to my favourites, and suddenly had a crazy urge to get some writing done!
I love being a suck-at-writing teenage writer. I will now go write for the school’s magazine and never be afraid to write rubbish – because it makes me a better writer. Hopefully one day I can remember or look back at this and think ‘im so glad I read this all those years ago’ and when the time comes I am sure I will be thanking you.
So for the very last time – Thank You.
Ayesha – writer-in-progress.
“Oh, and I have never heard the saying “luck favors the prepared.” Ever.”
Not knowing something is not an argument
i’ve been writing since i was 5 and im not even a teenager yet (im 12) but I dont actually feel that every teenager can be given the same advice because for some people, this just knocks them down. My writing doesn’t really suck because I’ve had publishers that say it doesn’t. I go to a grammar school (im from uk) and I don’t know how I can do more writing than i am.
some of this did help tho so thanks
Honestly, i have to say, your a jackass… your basically saying all teen writers suck when in fact we all know this to be false. When did S.E Hinton write her first novel The Outsiders? When she was 17, and that book is a classic. Its still taught throughout the country, maybe even the world for all i know. I’m 15 and i have to say my writing does not suck. i have had plenty of published people say my work is great and that i have a true voice, so to speak. Just because you sucked at writing when you were younger doesn’t mean that is true for everyone else.
Thatgirl is yet another person who in her haste to kvetch did not bother to read the follow-up entry, linked to both in the original article and here, which addresses nearly all of her complaints.
Beyond this, I do note there is often a regrettable inverse correlation between the people who claim they are excellent teenage writers and the number of basic spelling and/or grammar errors they make in the comment post claiming they are so.
If I were going to make the claim that my writing did not suck, I would make sure that the comment I left proclaiming such did not argue against its own thesis.
Dear. Mr. Scalzi,
I’m not sure if you remember me from before but about a year ago you set me straight on some of my own misconceptions about writing. I am happy to see that after all of this time you continue to monitor your blog with such respect and diligence and I am hoping, once again, that you could give me some much needed advice.
In your original post (10 things teenagers should know about their writing) you state that a writer will know when he/she writes something that doesn’t suck. I think if you take into account some of the posts you have already responded to (the teenagers who have proclaimed that he/she is that precocious child who already writes brilliantly) you can see that it’s easy for many teenagers to be misled into believing that there writing is great now. Even I — someone who has come to accept nearly everything in your two posts — find myself often finishing a piece and believing I have created a great piece of literature.
Essentially what I’m wondering is where does a writer like myself find disillusionment? I’m sure my writing has a long way to go, and yet, without the empirical criticism to prove just how far I need to go, I find myself often stuck in the ‘glory’ of my last piece. You offer workshops with other teenagers as a means by which to find honest feedback, but, in my experience, I have received only positive feedback (something not particularly helpful for the writer wanting to advance). Worse still, since you have put the teenage writer’s grasp of writing into question, how reliable are my peers in giving me the guidance that I need?
Another possible route towards finding good criticism has been to turn to adults, which, for me, has meant asking teachers for help. While teachers have proved useful in helping me through a few drafts, they eventually get tired of working with what I am sure is sucky writing at which point I feel uncomfortable imposing on them to read more. As someone who has had to endure great amounts of sucky writing from teenagers, I’m sure you can empathize with their response.
While eventually I come around, I really wish there were a faster way to convince myself to move on from the last project and try something totally new. Though you might have been able to keep yourself grounded throughout your writing career, I am hoping that you have some advice for me.
Thanks again for all that you have done and continue to do and I hope you choose to respond.
Thank you so much for all the advice!!!!!! It is a lot of help. I agree with many of your points and am trying so very hard to improve my writing from every aspect I can! I wish to do nothing more but write until the day I die, but this cannot be unless I somehow turn out to be a J. K. Rowling! I have plans for jobs so I can support myself, but I believe I will find myself constantly thinking about my stories and characters as I always do.
I was about to sit down and write when I began to think about what will happen when I finish this book. I pulled out my computer and began looking for tips. I looked at three other sites before yours and this one has been one of the better ones. Again, I thank you!
I know you mentioned how you can get a job other than just writing. I just started college, but I think during the summers it would be nice to have different writing jobs. Do you know of any types that I could do some research on?
Also, I want to thank you for showing teenagers that writers can be successful. My parents are not neccesarily thrilled with my career path decision, but I guess it’s not about them. I appreciate people who have done what I have longed to do.
Thank you so much for all this advice! My best friend and I are are 16 and we have been told by many resources that we should try to get our work published. This gave us a lot of insight on how to go about that (even if it takes us several decades!) Like Charyse, my parents aren’t very excited about my wanting to turn my passion into a career. But this has helped me realize that even if it doesn’t happen overnight, it is possible.
This was very helpful. Thank you. My computer wouldn’t let me open up the follow-up entry for some reason, but what I read was great. I actually took a creative writing class, and followed that with an advanced creative writing class. I sent in something to be published and I am still waiting to hear from them. This gives me hope that I might actually have a chance with writing. I write mostly memoirs and short stories, most of which are, or at least I think they are, funny. What kind of writing did you do when you were a so called “teenage writer”? Any comedy? Oh, and by the way, I think you’re cool. You don’t give yourself enough credit. Also, I LOVE Journey. :)
I find it funny because I am 15, almost 16 and I started ‘writing’ when I was around 9 years old. I KNOW that my writing sucks butt and I continue writing cause all of my english teachers beg me to continue writing because they think I am good for my age and might have a future career in fiction writing. Out of frustration, I almost quit writing acouple times because I think I SUCK that bad.. all in all, I like your post that you made because it is VERY true. And, because teenagers suck but have a joy for writing they sound continue to write and suck but over time get better year after year.
I was feeling particularly pathetic about me and my sucky teenage writing when I stumbled upon the two beautiful blog posts you made on the subject.
I’ve been story telling since I was seven because I am one of those people who enjoys talking every ear off and I found it easier to do when my nonsense had a story line… however crappy it might have been. I started actually writing in 6th grade (thank you, Mrs. Prant). I wrote like a demon all through middle school thinking I was some hot shit. High school ate time for writing so I joined a creative writing class in my sophomore year. It was then I realized my writing sucked because I met one of those few teen writers who has that genius that I dream about when I went to bed at night. Over a year later, I am going out with that genius who wins awards left and right and has now decided to become a cardiologist. Huzzah for Med. school. Mean while, I still write, hoping I’ll make a decent history teacher.
Recently, said genius tore apart a piece I had been working on. It was an idea that came out of my love for fantasy when I was much younger that I have loved and nurtured and held to my breast like a little gem. Suffice to say, the ripping apart of my little gem threw me for nine different loops that had me wondering whether or not I was cut out to do what I love.
Your article has done for my fear of my own suckage what Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing did for my fear of being a Fantasy writer (and lover) in a world of Contemporary Literature.
Just thought you should know.
Zomg!!! The “Ten Things” article was possibly the most helpful thing I’ve read since… well… since I read an alphabet book as a baby.
Thnx for writing something which actually helps teenage writers, rather than just saying “that’s really good, sweetie, now go tidy your room”. xD
This isn’t a question so much as a thank you. I know this comment is probably more than a little annoying for you, because you probably have several other just like it, but here it is anyway. Was I a little hurt to find out that my writing sucks? Of course, but were you right? Absolutely. Just looking into it all my favorite writers are in there thirties to forties and some are even older. So basically I am giving up my mantra that I can be the best, young writer there ever was and get some life experience. I’ll use some of your tips and still do what I need to. So thank you, because that was a good slap in the face and turns out I needed one.
p.s. I didn’t find you cynical or condescending
I know it’s a couple of years ago you wrote these advises, and I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but your advises, they really are GREAT!
Actually, i was quite pleased with the “It’s okay that you’re writing suck”-thing! It was so… comforting to read.
Sometimes, when I’ve been reading throgh what I’ve been writing a couple of days, weeks, months I’ve been thinking it was so bad it actually made me cry.
Now that you’ve told me it’s okay my writing sucks? I’m going to keep on writing stories that sucks and (hopefully) also stories that’s good.
So thanks a lot for sharing this!
I didn’t read all of your short story, but the part that I did read… I genuinely thought it was very good. No joke.
I think I agree with you. I’m fourteen and I’ve done a lot of writing, but I know it sucks. Which is fine. :D
Thanks for being straight about it. :) This article was extremely useful to me and I’m ready for rejection now (never thought I’d hear myself say that)!
Let me forewarn you: I am a teenager.
After reading both the original post and its sequel, as well as skimming many of the comments, two things strike me as ironic about you, John.
1. Accomplished writer that you are, one would think that you should have the ability to get your point across without offending the target. In other words, can’t you be “real” without being “rude and discouraging”? Can’t you choose words that make teens understanding of the long road before them, while not personally insulting them? I understand that you may have done this for effect, like maybe you thought this was a powerful way to drive your point home. But that leads me to my next ironic issue. . .
2. Didn’t you know it would backfire? Somewhere, you made mention that one of the things that makes teenager writers so “sucky” is that they lack age and experience with life. Being an older, wiser adult. . .why didn’t you realize that the offensive tone of your original post would make teenagers too defensive to gain any real knowledge from it?
One, I wasn’t “personally insulting” to anyone, as the article was explicitly directed toward a large class of people (“Dear teenage writers”). The only (then) teenage person whose writing I specifically criticized was me, and I assure you, I do not feel insulted. At best, you could say that you feel that I was generally insulting to teenage writers.
Two, whether it backfires or not quite obviously depends on who you are, since if you read the comments there are quite a few teenagers who were neither personally nor generally insulted by the piece, and for whom the advice was useful. See, for example, the comments directly before yours.
What I rather suspect is going on here is that you felt insulted by the article and that it backfired for you, and for whatever reason, you wish to suggest that how you feel is a universal reaction. However, it is not, and in a general sense I would suggest to you that your argument is not improved by suggesting that it is generally shared.
Own your own reaction, in other words; in this particular case there is no safety in numbers.
As to your own reaction, I agree it’s entirely possible it may not work for you and I encourage you to seek out advice that does not make you feel uncomfortable, with the parting admonition that if you expect in your writing career never to be made uncomfortable by criticism and advice, given either generally or specifically to you, you may be often dismayed.
First of all, I thank you for the article. It was very good and full of advice. The reason why I a, writing this comment is to ask you something. I have been writing for quite some time now (I’m 14) thanks to my teachers that told me to write after I won few contests (school) with my writings. My question is – how can I get better in writing action, having a little tension in my stories? When I write, I focus mostly on the characters (feelings, thoughts) and small details. At that I’m good. But at writing action I suck more than I can put in words. Now, I don’t plan on writing a thriller or something with much action but I believe that every story (no matter what genre) has to have a little tension. It is boring to read a book without tension.
I hope you can help. If not, thanks anyway. And greetings from Croatia (opposite to Italy, Europe)
I am a 20-year-old writer, and also a composer (with the latter being my higher priority at least right now, as that’s what I’m getting my degree in) and I’ve noticed one issue that I keep running into in my writing is that everything I do comes in grandiose form. It’s either a novel or a play or something else which is too big to work with when I think I’m at the stage where I really just need to plug in a few years of practice writing smaller stuff. I need to get out of the mindset where everything I do needs to be huge and earth-shattering, and I’m not really sure how. I’ve gotten beyond that to some degree with my music, but not with writing. I’ve tried using prompts, which have helped in varying degrees; some inspire me more than others.
I meant to write that every idea I get comes in grandiose form. Not everything I actually complete. How I wish that were the case!
Reading the comments on this thread and the other has been highly amusing, with all the teenagers griping about how their writing DOESN’T suck. I know I would have done the same when I was 14, but 6 years later I can look back and know that, indeed, my stuff then was actually pretty shitty (with a few exceptions). Give it a few years, kids. Your opinion might change.
But it’s been surprising to see how many teenagers are actually willing to listen to your advice and ask for more. The funny thing is that they will probably turn out to be much better writers than the ones who think they’re already great – because they’re willing to learn and deal with criticism of their work. The music composition department at my school tends to choose students who err to the insecure side over those who tilt the other way for that reason. If you’re convinced you’re already Beethoven at age 18, what do they have to teach you? (A lot, actually, but if you’re not willing to hear it, what’s the point?)
You gave me lots to think about.
I absolutly agree with everything you said. And I think that we have to learn that we do suck sometimes. Well, a lot of the time to be honest. But that dosn’t mean we’ll *always* suck.
I hope a lot of people read this (from the look of your comments it looks like word is getting around) because even the published author could use some of this advice
Wonderful post, and the follow-up was just as good. I’m a bit amazed at how patiently Mr. Scalzi and Xopher answered objectors, honestly, although it was interesting to read.
I started writing around age ten, more than a decade ago. I was widely read, and continued to read books as I matured, so I was aware that the writing I produced was frequently inferior to published books. By my teenage years, I was writing decently, but “decent” and “publishable” are two different criteria. It is one thing to say that one can write as well as many adults; it is another to say that one’s writing is as good as that produced by writers with years of experience and millions of words under their belt.
Now, teens may bristle and snarl at the idea that their writing is not as good as they think it is. But I’ve read writing by college students and highschoolers, teens on fanfiction.net and vanity-press books by adult writers.
And a lot of what I’ve read is bad. Grammar issues are one thing, although continuity issues, bad science (in SF), poor or shallow characterization, horrible placement, cliched and predictable plots.
No, dear indignant teenage commenters. We aren’t telling you that your writing is bad unfairly, or in order to break your hearts. We do it because it gives you a goal to work for – to become better through practice. I knew that my work was bad, because when I wasn’t writing, I was re-reading Anna Sewell and Jack London, Larry Niven and James Herriot and Marguerite Henry, and *I could tell* that my work wasn’t up to snuff.
Did that crush my hopes? No. If it crushes yours, you are either deliberately committing wangst or you have a spine of spun sugar instead of the steel an author needs.
This article (and the follow-up) are really useful. Keep writing. Keep reading. Don’t be shocked when your “brilliant” piece from a year ago starts looking poorer over time. And consider submitting your work, either for practice or because, if you are at all like I was, your writing quality may be uneven. Meaning you may have one excellent story for every dozen poor ones you write, and it’s nice to see that excellent story win an award or get into print somewhere by virtue of its quality.
Hey! I’m a teen writer at the age of fifteen that sucks! (: And I know it and I won’t get my undies in a bundle at being told the truth.
I just wanted to say that your article was very helpful to me and thank you for the advice!
thanks john , this article was really entertaining and has brought up lots of things that i probably wouldn’t have thought about had you not stated them .
i think your really right about being observant in general not just in writing but it helps to describe a character.
the latest story i was working on i got writers block and it was from influences of friends and what had happenend at the time now a year on i read back and think its pretty good but not amazing…:)
Im not from america but i think…you can choose absolutely anything and still write…even if it is about things people would seem boring, but your right teenagers are lacking experience and the perspective of some things but some of us have lived a tale but just can’t put it into words that seem good enough.
I appreciate this article it was written well and has boosted my confidence .
good luck with your own writing L.
im only 11 but its true my writing sucks and i wanted to know if u have any tips on writing fiction or realistic fiction cause right now im working on a fantasy but i dont want to make it extremly cheesy because im making dogs talks talk, so if i could have some help on that.
thnks though the blog really helps ill use it in my future :)
Well… Within the first minute of reading what you wrote, I disagreed. My writing doesn’t Suck(at least not as badly as yours does) Actually I think when I was 12 I wrote better than that. Not to be rude, but you’re not one to criticize something that you don’t know a thing about. I’m 15 now. What of it? I love writing. Sure, I’m really sketchy and need a ton of practice, but that doesn’t mean I suck. I’m actually pretty good at it, a lot better than I should be at this age.
Now, as for 2…. I’m not starting out. I’ve been writing since I was 9. When I was 11 I could easy have been mistaken for a 18 year old’s writing. (It wasn’t me who said it). So, maybe that’s why I don’t suck as much as most people. Who knows? It’s just a natural talent, I guess. As for the rest, I do write every day. I have been(with some breaks and suck) since i was 10. So 15 years later. I already have the ‘good grades’ part covered, though monday was my first day of highschool. ><
As for the job… I want to be a Cardiovascular surgeon. But I need to be an author. Have you ever felt that struggle? It's between what I should do(to get a lot of money and such) and what I need to do(or else I'll be unhappy the rest of my life). Sure I could do writing as the side, but then I could never get my literature degree, or have enough time. So I was thinking about being a pharmacist (they get paid well and I'd have a lot of extra time). Just a thought.
Anyways, any advice that you could give me for improving my writing now would help. Sure, sure, read everything and anything. Already got that covered(but when I have my nose in a book, I feel like I'm too focused to write) and I already write everyday. Next year I'm touring europe, so I have the 'live your life' part covered. Besides, with a difficult past and a very empathetic heart, I can relate to a lot of people and things, thus making my writing even better(Aren't I so modest? :P).
I'm sure I could use help in the publishing industry, so thank you for that.
I'm in Journalism right now(Aka- The newspaper) but I might get switched out. If I do, I'm going to for sure take it my next 3 years of high school, but I have a little bit too much on my hands right now.
Anyways, I'll be looking forward to hearing a reply. Sorry I was so harsh, I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep last night and then got to run half way across my school between each period(7-8 times). (:
Whoops. I meant “at least not as much as yours did* Didn’t mean to offend you there xD
So, I was skimming through the internet when I saw this, and I agree with most of it and by most of it, I mean I disagree with 2% of it.
I dont think ALL the stuff you write as a teenager sucks, I know 99.5% of it sucks, but theres a bit that makes sense, that has reason…I think there you have in a way underestimated teenagers.
And secondly, I dont think I my writing is much too influenced by my ‘idols’ or ‘writing gods’….maybe a bit, but not too much. I have seen exemplary, and original works of fiction coming from teens as young as 13…
Oh, and I’m 14, I dont think my work is good enough to be publish, I think only one of it is decent enough to even get read after a lot of editing due to stiffness in my MC (Main Character)
(This comment has turned out a lot longer than I expected.)
Hey, I’d just like to say that I completely agree with you. I am a 16 year old writer and am very well aware that my writing does suck. And hearing that this is only a phase and does NOT reflect on all of the writing I will ever do is exactly what I needed to hear. But, I must say it’s pretty frustrating to know that I have the potential and must patiently wait until I gain the experience. Writing and reading as much as possible sounds like VERY sound advice.
And what you said about only a very, very small percentage of teenager writer’s effortlessly creating awesome works- congratulations, it looks like a fair number of these self-proclaimed geniuses are commenting here.
Thanks for the tips, and encouragement.
I think that your article was great, while at times discouraging, I am aware (and I was before I read this) that my writing sucks right now – despite whatever my friends say. I’ve been writing for maybe two years now (which isn’t long, really), and I can see the vast improvements I’ve made just by continuing to write. I think that the best way to get better is just to keep writing, to keep reading, to keep watching movies, TV series, getting out into the world and getting inspired. x
I agree with Anita. I’m going on 3 years of writing. Most of my stuff sucks horribly. But i read almost every book i can get my hands on. I’ve even read part of the dictionary. Yeah I know, dorky right? Well i really liked the blog!
I know for a fact that my writing sucks. Actually, I knew that very well before reading this, but I have to say that this article definitely put my former views into even better prospective! First of all, the way this was written made me laugh about every two sentences. I don’t believe in filling kids with false hope about how (insert mocking falsetto voice here) “amazing you are RIGHT NOW! And, oh, by the way, you’re beautiful, talented, and damnit, PEOPLE LIKE YOU!” Please. There’s a little thing called tough love. Writers especially need to learn that. Sure, my family encourages my writing and seemed all impressed when they found out I wrote two novels. (Unpublished, of course.) But my mom consistently reminds me that writing will get me about nowhere and to find a good paying job so I don’t end up living in a box on the street. I’ve been writing since about third grade and I have to say I get a good laugh out of my writing from even a year ago. It’s amazing how much improvement one can make just by keeping it up. Of course that’s not to say that it’s good. As for reading, well, I do plenty of that! The genre I am mostly interested in (and the one I write) is fantasy, yet I immerse myself in others such as romance and one I like to call “general teen crap.” I won’t give any specific titles, but basically ones centered around teenage girls obsessed with vanity and who their boyfriend of the week is. (I believe a couple TV shows have been made from these…)
I guess the nub and gist of this huge comment is that I really enjoyed that blog post! I’m really bored right now and was amusing myself with Googling random writing sites. Thank you for occupying the past 30 minutes of my time! :)
Okay, first off- I ABSOLUTELY love and appreciate this!
It’s awesome advice, and I have to give you some props for keeping my undivided attention throughout the entire (long) post. As a teenager with a massive attention span problem, I found your blunt and slightly caustic- at- times advice incredibly refreshing as opposed to the long, and lifeless lectures I’ve recieved from many other people.
And that’s saying alot, as those people were speaking to me directly, and I was reading your words off of a glowing, pixelated screen :D
Any teen writer who cannot appreciate a bit of criticism from someone, especially a complete stranger, since that’s who they’ll mostly be working with, definitely needed this wakeup call. If they can’t at least feel some sort of gratitude for a man who sat down and graciously gave us his unsolicited advice- then god help us all. I am fully aware that my writing is completely terrible (that’s not to say that I don’t get defensive when someone calls me out on it) but I still know and try to work on it everyday. And your little bit about us modeling our writing after our favorite authors is so true! I remember after reading the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, I went into my room and jotted down a hundred and sixty pages of a story almost completely alike in my notebook before I realized I would probably be sued for it, and shredded the entire thing. I seemed to do that alot with my stories before I finally managed to make stories up from my own imagination.
No easy feat, i’ll tell you.
Anyhow, now that I’ve ranted enough, I just wanted to say (in a completely non butt-kissy way) that the fact that you drive around in a van and may possibly love Journey as much as I do only makes me respect you more.
I’ll continue to write and suck at it, of course, but it’s still nice to know that there’s someone who knows I put a certain effort into writing and sucking at it.
I’m fifteen, and I’ve got to say, I loved this. A lot of people were pissed off about the whole “Your writing sucks” thing, and I guess I can understand that. After all, as you said, everyone wants to believe that they’re the exception to the rule. Me, I know I’m not.
For me, reading this, it was like…a breath of fresh air. See, for the longest time, whenever I asked someone for their opinion on a piece of writing, they’d gasp and say something along the lines of “Wow, Faith! This is amazing!”. My mom saved all my old school things, and if you look in the “Teacher’s Comments” section of my third grade report card, you’ll find this: “Faith needs to work on her multiplication tables. Her writing is exquisite.” Yeah, right.
For the past year, whenever I asked for feedback, the answer’s been about the same: “This is really good”. I always ask people *why* it’s so good, but they never tell me. I ask them to tell me what’s *wrong* with it, but they won’t tell me that either.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m tired of people telling me how good my writing is and how talented I am. Because while that does wonders for my ego, it does nothing to improve my writing skills. (I *know* my writing needs work, I’m just not sure what’s wrong with it…yet.)
So to find an adult who understands this, and agrees with me that at this moment, my writing is not perfect, and, in fact, really sucks…it’s kind of awesome! I’m going to print this out, show it to my mom, and be like, “See! *This* is what I was talking about!”
Thanks for the tips!
I am a teen writer and have read all of your article, and personally still believe that you are wrong. I don’t see why you can base other people’s writing on how you wrote when you were a teen. I have a huge vocabulary and use grammar and spelling well. When I was in third grade I had an eleventh grade reading level and I am in ninth grade now, and have not stopped reading anything I can get my hands on, so I am fairly certain that this number has climbed even higher since then.
I am appalled that people have such low expectations of others, especially teens these days, and don’t expect them to make anything of their lives, because I’ll bet that a lot of teens are much more capable in writing and in life than you think they are.
Time & Time Again:
“I don’t see why you can base other people’s writing on how you wrote when you were a teen.”
I don’t. I used my own teen writing as an example, not as a basis. Also, I suspect you meant “how” there, not “why.”
One’s reading level, in third grade or elsewhere, is tangential at best to one’s ability to write.
Dear Mr. Scalzi (and all you teens out there reading this)
I have to admit I am extremely pleased to find that this topic is still going, since it means that I get to comment on something that a real writer might respond to, however, I find it appalling that these same comments have been turning up since 2006. I really was of the opinion that teens were at least slightly more intelligent than that. Nearly eight hundred comments and rarely are they new ones, especially the attempted debate topics that people have obviously tried to start. I began reading through these comments thinking that I would find a question that hadn’t been asked of Mr. Scalzi and he might reply to me and make me get all happy because an author talked to me, but I came to the comment slot with an entirely new idea, namely, telling the teens EXACTLY what I think of their comments, and hoping that they will take it from a fellow teenager where they wouldn’t take it from an adult.
Here’s a little bit of my background so you can know where I am coming from when I say this. I am a very young high school senior, younger than most kids in the entire high school for those who really want to know. Seeing this myself, I feel that I can rightly say that I am brilliant for my age, or at least moderately so. Let’s add onto that the fact that I am in the most advance English and literature classes that I can be in at my school. (The only thing holding me back from college is credits and math.)I come from a family of English teachers, one of which is trying to get published at the moment. I would love to say that my writing is amazing, and I love it when people tell me so, but I have to admit to myself that my writing, when compared to those who are writers and have been for some time, really sucks. Hopefully I do better than some college writers but I can’t even really say that since I do not know the college level and know few college student. (Unfortunately, all the judges of my writing are fairly partial and some are completely biased.)I have been reading since second grade and writing since I was about four. You may not believe me, but I have proof and it is the truth.
Here is what I have to say to the teenagers who have already written or may yet write a comment. GROW-UP! You’re always trying to act like adults so do it! If you don’t know what to do, pay close attention to what adults before you have said. If you actually do, you might realize that most of them, the ones I saw at least, actually AGREE with Mr. Scalzi! So how about thinking before you open your idiot mouth (or in this case react quickly with your idiotic temper) and maybe something mature and decent will come out. Avoid using words that will make you sound like an idiot, such as, pardon my french, fuck. I will tolerate the word from my friends if they say, drop a book or stub their toe, but I still ask them not to because it’s a dumb word. Here’s a clue, look up what the word means before you use it, because it is not nice, it is not pleasant, and it is not decent. I will literally slap someone who said that to me or to someone I respect so you’re lucky that I can’t reach you over the computer. Hint: If you’re using a computer to make a comment about what someone’s said, you don’t even have to use the word! Reflex only in my mind. Sorry about my little tangent but that word pisses me off.
Now, on to the other things that bugged me about what the teens commenting on this article did. Fellow Teens! I assume that you want to become a writer in future, or present, years. If so, why on earth would you completely disregard an article by an author of several books just because he used a word that sounded a little insulting. So what? Get on with life! It’s mostly TRUE! Prove you don’t suck, no one will believe you if you just say it. Mr. Scalzi is not insulting you as a person, he is not insulting you’re intelligence. If he is insulting anything at all, he is insulting your experience. Any writer can write about themselves and their life story but it takes time and experience to truly write a good story. THAT is what I believe he is trying to say and you should respect him and his opinion and not act like an imbecile, tripping all over yourself just to tell someone who knows a lot more than you that he is wrong.
Since this is turning out to be an essay, I’ll stop early and end with two things, one I feel should be said in conclusion and another the back of my mind is begging me to say just to get a reply from an author. First: I am a writer, and proud of my work so far. That does not mean that I will stand up for y writing against someone who knows more than I do about the art of writing, or even someone who might know more. I will gather the opinions up and keep the ones that people seem to all agree with. Intelligent people, not other peers. Second: A question for Mr. Scalzi. What would you tell an aspiring author who has so many ideas that they can barely start to get one down before another comes into their head?
This is genius material. Teenagers writers (like myself) definitely need to read this. I completely agree with you: my writing DOES suck. It sucks a whole heck of a lot. However, after I read this, I came to terms with my suckiness and decided: “Hey, maybe I should just freewrite, not get frustrated, and be patient about writing.” Really great advice.
One problem: A couple times in your article, I felt like you were attacking my intelligence/school performance and relegating teens to the stereotypical “football jock/slutty Twilight-fiend” image, especially with your comments on vocabulary and cleverness.
Otherwise, good article.
Thank you very much for posting this article! I’m a teenage writer (hm, seems slightly unnecessary for me to tell you that) but lately it feels like I’ve lost my spark. I looked this up by chance and, ironically enough, it inspired me to start writing again, suckish-ness be damned. One question though: If we have an idea for a plot, where do we get started on writing the story? I’ve heard that some authors just write scenes and put them together later while others are more linear in their thought process.
By the way, I thought that the article was well written for your audience and in terms of content. Perhaps I’ll look up some of the other things you’ve written.
(excuse my disgraceful grammar, as i am a horrible teenage writer who does not bother to hold down the shift key as i begin a new horribly constructed sentence)
i’ve seen the loads of comments about you being discouraging, saying that my lot sucks.
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU
(i held the shift down for that one)
i found it totally refreshing that for once someone will agree with me. my writing sucks, and identifying the problem is the only way of fixing it. i plan on sending the article to some of my fellow sucky writers.
thanks again, your “discouragement” is truly inspiring
First of all I want to specify that this comment is really NOT ironic (you know, just making sure, after all the comments above I feel like every other possibly positive comment has a negative tone).
This was like a bucket of cold water in the middle of the night and it was so refreshing! A problem with our writing is that we think we’re the best but if we actually stepped down a bit and see that we’re really not that good we might actually work harder and *surprise surprise* improve the way we write.
so yes, I want to thank you, and I have to say this is the best piece of advice on writing I’ve received so far.
And good luck to you
1. The Bad News: Right Now, Your Writing Sucks.
When I read that line, I knew I’d like the article. Thank you very much for the honesty (and the entertainment, come to think of it). Yep, my writing sucks. Unfortunately for me. I really appreciate the fact that you respect teen writers enough to tell them the truth. I’m eighteen, not six, and I really don’t understand why so many people insist on telling me that I’m brilliant–it really isn’t helpful.
And to everyone getting mad about this unfortunate fact: 90% of all writing sucks. I can’t even count the number of published books I’ve read that were written by adults, and still sucked. And that includes bestsellers.
That said, I still want to publish my book. So thank you for the article, but now I’m going to get back to editing my manuscript :)
So, anyway, just to get it out of the way, I’m a teen, and I hope to be a writer someday. My brain is really not functioning properly today, so I gave up on trying to cleverly integrate that into my comment (actually, I’m giving up on cleverly integrating anything into anything, so sorry for the crappy articulation of my thoughts).
Personally, I thought your article was pretty relevant to teens, especially the “do well in school” part (heck, I’m a nerd, of course I agree with that). You always hear parents say things like, “Writing/Acting/Singing/Dancing/etc. aren’t stable occupations. You have to get a real job. Then you can branch out into those kinds of things.” And they’re right, you know? Writing is a very passive profession. Your worth is determined by the public.
A lot of teens who think they can write are kind of deluded, and some of the stuff my friends pass around is just atrocious—sappy, confusing, meant to be profound, but totally lacking.
I thought it was a little harsh that you had to say “teen writers suck,” but I guess I can’t really argue with you on that one. Blunt words are the sharpest weapons, no? Of course, Pride wants to say something here, but I’ll keep that bottled up until I actually achieve something.
I found your article while looking up some advice for teen writers, and I have to say, up until now, the best advice I’ve ever seen is just to write as much as you can. “A real writer is one who writes.”
And…okay, I rambled a lot. I think I’ll just stop before I start spilling my life story and put everyone to sleep.
Thanks for the advice! I’m off to write now!
I’m nearly 14. I gotta say, when I began your article, I got a little annoyed. Everyone who I have ever shown my work to, including my English teacher, has never had objections to it. I won second place in a short story contest in 7th grade.
So thank you. You helped shove me off my high horse. I know there are things wrong with my work- my plots can be weak and unintricate, all unraveling at once with no foreshadowing of it at all, and my idle chit chat dialouge isn’t the best. I rush through events when I’m excited. but it is hard to develop a critical self when everyone else tells you you’re good.
So, to any teens: if you read that article and didn’t feel your gut ache from anger, then you’re smart. You will get better. When I was in 6th grade, just 2 years ago, my writing was nowhere near what it is now. but I always, somewhere deep in my heart, knew that was what I wanted to be, forever. Who I wanted to be. tke everything in stride, learn from tyour mistakes and your triumphs.
Anyway, thanks for the article, and the insight (:
Hi I’m 13 and I have to agree with almost everything you say except that your family and friends are supposed to be supportive. I don’t know if it’s just but everyone I know is brutally honest. I’m going to give a copy of my stories to a bunch of different people and have them tell me what’s wrong with them. Do you think this is a good idea?
Hey, I just want to know-can listening to music improve your outflow of imagination? And also, are music-listeners often making some kind of art form? And what’s your favorite word? Do you know that scientists researched the most beautiful word and it turned out to be ‘cellar door’? It sounds dubious, but if you make it into something else- ‘Selladorr’ for example, it sounds like the meaning for something wonderful. What’s a good way to make money for someone who’s lazy, a writer, and physically unfit? Where can I find more things written by you? And lastly, is it common for writers to have a raging curiosity?
My, my. I read the article, and I liked it. There a few more comments than I could handle, so I skipped around half of them.
I can agree with most of what you said. I started writing at the ripe age of ten, and I can see the difference between what I wrote then and what I’m writing now. I’ve got more than two dozen books stuffed with discarded plotlines and other random drivel, and I take a look at them from time to time for a good laugh.
I can even see a difference in what I wrote four months ago and my stuff now, so I can figure.
But not all things written by teenagers is rubbish. Some are… okay. Some.
Then there are those emo poems about loneliness or romance or ‘loss of a loved one’ and the rest. Cue gagfest. [shudder]
But I wouldn’t say I was an expert. I’m only fourteen.
I just came across this while wandering around the Internet for a good 4 hours. Thank you for writing this. (Well, the original post. I couldn’t care less about the two paragraphs on this page.) I’m 16 and have been writing for as long as I can remember. I seriously have a journal of things I wrote when I was five laying around in some forgotten box in the far corner of some closet. My stories back then went like this: “Mommy loves her baby. Baby loves Mommy. They are happy.” Touching, yes?
I find it absolutely hilarious that teens actually think they write well. Hell, I write every single day. It takes me about an hour to write one line of poetry when I’m trying (I revise at least once while writing the line, at least once after the line, and at least once after the dang thing is “done”) so I’m pretty much constantly writing something. I give things to my friends to read and critique because every single one of my friends write, and when they hand it back to me saying “it’s good!” I hand it back and tell them to give me a real answer. (The sentence before that is bothering the crap out of me because I don’t know how to punctuate it properly, and I’m too lazy to look it up.) I hate the way I write. I’m never pleased with anything I write. Even in random blog comments like this, I’m kicking myself for ending two sentences in a row with “write” because it sounds dumb. Some of my friends think that they are the best writers ever, and I want to hit them over the head with a dictionary or something else that might be useful. Newsflash: you are ___teen years old. You are not a good writer. The end.
My apologies for the tangent I just went on. Anyway, thanks for this. I seriously laughed when you mentioned your “clever” story. Also, I think I might start attending school more often because of what you said about the observing thing. Okay, that sentence sounded really, really dumb, but in my defense, it’s 4:30am on a Wednesday, I have school in a few hours, and I haven’t slept in a very long time. I’m going to stop now before I embarrass myself further.
Thank you very much for this!
I’m nearly 14 now, and I’ve always loved writing stories since I was little, but lately I’ve been wanting to do something more with the works I have. I’m glad there are people who will not hold back on critique and advice just because we’re teens. I’ve experienced more than once having my writing reviewed by adults and them not taking me seriously due to my age. So online is a place I can go to find beta-readers and people who will critique my work.
Also, my age is irrelevant online since it’s so anonymous. After doing projects on George Sand, I realize that it doesn’t matter your age (or gender, in her day and age), you can still get published and get your writing out there no matter the circumstances.
I over-think my work quite a lot, which leads to stressing and my writing being of not-so-high quality. If I’ve learned anything from my mentor, it’s to get your ideas down. My writing may suck, but if I get the ideas down, I can work up from that, and form the plot and correct the grammar, and so on. I always get somebody to review my story, even if it’s still in the works, mainly because the target audience is teens. My friends are always useful for things like this, so if they enjoy it, then I think I’m on the right path. Adult reviews help me with structure and organization, and things that slip my mind while writing.
Anyways, apology for the story of my life, but thank you for this!
I know your opinions, and quite honestly I agree with them. I’m a teen writer, and while I don’t think my writing completely sucks, I recognize that it’s definitely not as good as it may be ten or twenty years from now. However, I do think that you should at least check out this website and see some other teen writing: http://inkpop.com/ I’m not trying to change your opinion, but I think these will at least be interesting for you to see.
Dear Mr. Scalzi,
Thanks for this article. I’m a teen and my writing is awful. It makes me feel a little better to hear someone who actually is a writer say everyone starts off being awful too.
When I first read this post, I wanted to comment. I didn’t do so because I thought the post was too old, and why add another comment to an old post with a long long comment thread? At the time, I was new to reading Whatever. Now, I know that this post never dies or grows stale, and if I have something to say about it, it’s still current.
When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a writer. Hell, I wanted to be a writer starting about five minutes after I figured out that books were things created by people, not sacred objects that rained down in heavenly (albeit lumpy) showers. I read voraciously, I had started to learn to tell good writing from bad, and I wanted to be a writer.
And I knew damned well that my writing sucked. So I stopped, because I sucked. As a Very Very Bright Kid, I was used to being able to do things, and unused to things that I couldn’t do – except for athletics, which I couldn’t do because I had no ability (or interest). Clearly, if I tried something and I sucked, that was it.
I gave up writing. I gave up writing.
Mr. Scalzi, I wish to hell that this essay, and its follow-up, had existed when I was a teenager (even though that would have involved inversions in linear time and all that). If this essay had existed, and I had read it, then maybe I would not have given up so easily. I knew I sucked. I could tell. I did not know, and there was no-one to tell me, that suckage does not have to be a permanent condition; that time and effort can change it; that it’s the natural starting point for some things. Such as writing.
I finally did start writing again three years ago. (I turned 50 this year.) A friend of mine (a fanfic writer, as it happens) egged me on. And guess what? I don’t suck any more. I’ve finished half a dozen projects since then, totalling over 200k words, and I’m getting better. With luck and another massive pile of hard work, I might produce something this next year that’s actually submittable.
So thank you for having written these posts. They were decades too late for me, and from the comments, most of the kids who read them aren’t getting the message. But a few of them are. Kids, I wish you knew how lucky you are. I think at least a few of you do.
I have to completely agree with you. This was great advice to any teen writer or even a new writer. From my own experiences, I’ve been writing since I was about 12 years old and I’m now 20 going on 21. When I was 14 (2005) I began writing a novel, before that I was writing a crap load of short stories, but then I just stumbled upon a idea the blossomed into something so enormous that I had to write is all out. Though the first novel has going through about 4 version and has been six years and I can really say being a teenager and writing about teenagers is NOTHING the same as being 20 years old and writing about teenagers. Now I get to reflect on what it was like being 15 instead of being in the moment amongst the angst and depression and all that emotional garbage that comes along with being a teenager. And honestly I would never show my original version of my novel voluntarily XD because it just was…well let’s be honest…pretty bad writing, though the concept was a good and that’s what I focused on, molding that idea and working with it. Now being 20, having a bit more experience under my belt, its easier to write knowing what it was like being my character’s age. Now the only problem is writing about my characters that are in there 40s and up because obviously there is A LOT I’ve never experienced. I find its always a good idea to talk to people that are around those age; parents, parents friends, and grandparents, aunt, uncles. It at least puts it into perspective.
My own problem when it comes to writing is my vocabulary and knowledge of grammar. When I was little I actually had problems reading and writing and I struggled with that up to this day. I really should start reading a lot more books and doing vocabulary practices and something about relearning grammar because I know little if anything significate about it. Thank God for the college library.
Though the one thing that I feel I’ve been blessed with is creating characters and plot thank goodness. Hahah.
I know I’m continuously improving my writing ability and I hope to someday get published.
Thanks so much for the tips. =D
Thought I would just share my experiences.
Thanks for posting this. It was refreshing and funny at the same time. At first I was offended and I was all ready to comment and defend myself. But I’m glad I read the rest of the article before I did. Or I would have made a complete fool of myself. Thanks again. -ahl
John. I thought the article was good, but it didn’t really fill me with hope or anything. I’m a teenager and my writing sounded about as good as your story about the statue. I think if you added some inspirational quote or something at the end, it might leave whoever read it with a bit more hope. Anywho, thought you did a good job.
Wow, it’s like hearing the angels sing! Coming from a seventeen-year-old girl, the bluntness of your advice was well needed and appreciated. Sometimes I think that’s what it takes to get into our stubborn, self-obsessed brains (at least mine anyway).
I love my writing, every bit of it, and I love the ideas I come up with. That doesn’t mean I want to show it to everybody. I’m terrified of what people think of me, being a typical image-oriented teen (see, we create our own stereotypes too!), especially when they read me through my writing. Do you have any specific advice how to break through the shy-about-sharing-works-disease I have acquired?
I laugh to think of how many fantasy stories I write (and never finish for some reason? I think I have a writing version of ADHD), but that’s because i think reality is SO BORING. Here’s my own unrepentant opinionated bluntness coming to counter yours. I live in reality every day, and so does everyone else; there is nothing remotely inspiring about the world I live in. So how do I deal with the lack of fascinating material in the present situation of global warming, bitter/dishonest politics, and who went with who to homecoming? Is it lack of experience? I have technically been alive only seventeen years, one month, and twenty days (at the time of my comment) like you warned. So my youth is probably going to be incorporated in your response; yet should i wait a little longer to find my muse from the literal present earth world of regular non-superpowered humans? Any good advice about my disappointment with reality’s lack of inspiration?
Thanks. Sorry if I ramble too much. I like to hear myself talk. Like a teenager.
Damn, i send you stereotype after stereotype!
I’m a teenager who can’t stand YA literature. Why? Because the people who write it think they’re accurately representing the teenage population, when in reality they haven’t got a clue. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read some dialogue in a book meant for teens and thought to myself “I don’t think any teenager in their right mind would actually say this”.
The reason most teen representation is so off is actually pretty obvious. Some fifty year old guy in his basement trying to sound like a fifteen year old girl is probably not going to be very successful. I hope you can figure out why by yourself. At no point in this guy’s fifty year old life has he ever been in the position of a fifteen year old girl, so what makes you think that he can write in that girl’s perspective because of his age? I know that if the roles were reversed, I would not be able to put myself in the position of a fifty year old man, but does that mean I’m a bad writer?
In my fifteen year old opinion, there is a lot more to writing than mechanics. A writer has to bring a story to life, and they can’t do that before they know how their character thinks and speaks and feels. It is true that teens don’t have the insight and experience that the 50 year old in his basement does, but they would definitely have the advantage over a character in their age range. Unlike the old guy, the teenager would already be thinking those thoughts, speaking those words, and feeling those feelings, which makes expressing them through words that much easier. It goes both ways.
Honestly, when I’m finished with most books in the YA category, I come away feeling like I could have written them better than that 50 year old man, or that 90 year old woman, or even that lady in her 30s. My writing may suck because of my age, but because of its content, theirs sucks more.
Thank you so much for writing this. I really learned a lot. It also helped me to decide a few things.
Some days I think I might just become a mountain man and churn out stuff until my black beard hits the floor. Then reenter society not much changed in my possessions but for a bit of genius scribbled on some flaking parchment. Maybe I’ll forget English and slowly regress in my writing to grunting gibberish. It’s all the same though.
Is college necessary for writing or am I attending just please my helicopter parents?
so, i almost stopped at the point where you updated, but not really for the reason you said. I almost stopped because, well, i’m not a fan of cussing (even mildly, well, except crap. i say that all the time). but i did read farther along a little, but i just want to say that, even though you added that there are exceptions, each writer is COMPLETELY different, even when they don’t know there voice. sure there could be similarities, but the truth is, the emotion and mental process that comes with the writing changes a lot. i can tell when the writer of a book or song was very emotional because it reflects in the writing, and also those parts just seem better. (i think i’m just rambling now…) Really, it all depends on whether or not you actually want to write it or just feel the book or song just coming out to fast for you to type/write/play (which is a big problem for me… i get the whole think planned out then i just can’t get them down fast enough so i get irritated and quit… but if i really like what i’m writing i’ll pick it back up sometime).
I guess i’m just ranting on stuff… i forgot the point of this…
Three years late to the party I may be, but I wanted to throw in my two cents…
Maybe someone’s beaten me to the punch; I haven’t read through all of the comments (yet).
If no one has, let me be the first to say without sarcasm or irony: thank you for telling me I suck. I actually find it heartening- because the message isn’t really that my writing is bad but that it is comparatively bad: that it will get better. And that’s wonderful to hear, really. Writing is an art, and art is about improvement, but when you’re in the moment it’s hard to step back and say ‘This is just another cobblestone in the road to the artist I will someday be; it is not the destination’.
Nice to meet you. Or, I should say meet your writing. However, I have found that people’s writing is indicative of who they are as people for the most part. I think you have made a blanket judgment, and I would like to tell you why.
First off, I am a teenage writer. I wrote a play, which seems to have been the kind of crap you talk about. But since then my writing has become significantly better. Why? Likely because I already do most of the things you talked about in your post. First off, I started writing when I was very young. I dictated stories to my mother when I was 3 or 4, and began writing them down myself when I was about 6. This puts me, at 17 years old, above your “ten years experience” mark. I started writing my first novel when I was 13, but it sucked, so I trashed it, because I have standards. I have standards for the sole reason that I read, obscene amounts. I own over 400 books, and I used to read about 3 a week before my life got busy. I also read poetry, short stories, and the occasional screenplay. I believe that was point five on your list.
Additionally, I write every day, including posts for a blog published every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, that doubles in viewership every month (point 3). I pay attention for the most part in school and have a 90s average. You don’t need to tell me to learn composition and grammar, I already get between 95% and 100% on every piece I hand in. This is because I know the rules, and I care about following them (point 4). Well, except in the case of some dialogue, because people don’t speak in wooden, grammatically correct sentences. As far as point 6, I own a small business, and I am working on a career in film. I also have heavily researched the publishing industry (point 7), and I have been published in my school lit mag (Point 9).
I have already received and coped with rejections (Point 8). I usually respond to them by taking the piece back to the drawing board and editing it, and possibly doing a complete re-work to improve it. I tend to be level headed and rational (Point 10), and I respond to my stress by writing, which keeps me sane. Well, that and cooking, but I digress.
In short, I just want to let you know that, though I have read plenty of poor writing by teenagers, and written some myself, not all teenagers fit your mold. I, for one, am not offended by your post. Please don’t get the wrong impression. I simply think you might be requiring a little perspective outside that you seem to have espoused so strongly: that almost all teenagers are poor writers, and don’t realize it.
Never so profound a thread that I’ve seen,
Offering experience sharp and keen.
Yet teenagers angst and always confront,
The older helping hand is often hunt,
Yet no bother to you, John Scalzi,
My advice brother: always stay jazzy.
Set an example for the younger folk,
The wise ones will listen to what you spoke.
-A younger friend.
Mr. Scalzi, I would like to thank you so much for writing this article. I am currently working on a manuscript for an idea that I worked up by looking at a picture of a hill. No kidding, I seriously got inspiration by looking at a picture a hill. And my story is not about a hill. But I digress.
My point of writing this comment is to thank you for offering both me and other teenagers a good, adult, unbiased opinion on our writing, despite the fact that you have not read our writing. I have had various teachers, family members, and friends tell me how wonderful my work is, but I have always had a very hard time believing them. I always sensed there was something lacking in my work, and wished I could find someone to give me an unbiased opinion of it. This article has given me a new perspective on how an unbiased adult might view my work.
I am happy to say, though, that I have not given up hope. Like you have said, not all teen writers suck, just the vast majority of them. My hope is that if I work hard enough on my manuscript, I may find an editor willing enough to help work out the kinks caused by my inexperience.
Basically, this is my long way of telling you I appreciate what you’ve done. Thank you again!
I don’t believe all teens have bad writing. Look up ‘Shalini Nanyakar’ and you will see that she has published 3 books by the age of 13.
I’m not sure where your office is, but here in the midwest, it’s a quarter till six in the morning. And as a teenager that means it’s wayyyy the hell past my bedtime.
I read the two (yes! read! both of them!) original posts about two hours ago and have since been reading almost all the comments on them as well.
And I just wanted you to know, you’re 100% right, and the way you handle a lot of the flamers here is absoutely, freaking, hysterical.
In one sense, I hate you, because you intrigued me past the point of insomnia. But in about 15 other senses, I thank you, because you are hilariously awesome. And, once again, completely correct in your assertions about our funny, crazy, emotional, crappy-writing demographic. Thank you for the laughs, and I’ll try to come back and read some more of your probably-just-as-entertaining articles sometime when I’m not so tired. :)
I find your advice to be quite depressing, yet interesting, humorous, and useful. I’m seventeen and I habitually write, and I suppose you’re right, adolescents do not quite have enough experience to be decent writers, and this depresses me because I am doing my senior project in high school on French poetry(I prefer to write in French although, alas, it’s not my native language). For my project I must present at least two poems that I have written in French, and then translate them into English. Thus, having just read your blog/article/whatever this is on about how and why my writing sucks(I agree that does) makes me feel so embarassed to have shown my poems to others and thinking of presenting them as what will determine if I graduate or not really makes me feel hopeless and despondent. Oh well, c’est la vie. I’m not trying to complain about your advice; I actually enjoyed it even though it depressed me. Merci beaucoup, je suppose.
I am a seventeen year-old aspiring writer myself, and reading your “10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing” from start to finish made me sigh a large breath of relief. You have no idea how much weight has just been lifted from my shoulders. I was sitting here in the comfort of my bedroom, trying to think up a decent storyline, when I decided to Google “Tips For Aspiring Authors”. I had not expected to find such wonderful results.
I cannot put into words how much your blog post has helped me, guiding me in the right direction with a gentle, helping hand. I was so thrilled about that post that I bookmarked it – twice, just to make sure. Whenever I feel stuck on a story, or unmotivated, I will be sure to visit that post again and read it over, and I’m sure to experience the same reassurance that I felt the first time around.
I also want to point out how incredibly helpful your advice was on suggesting that we expand our interests when reading, instead of being glued to one author’s work. GREAT advice, my friend. I often scoop up one of my favorite novels that I’ve already read several times when I’m feeling uninspired, and I’m realizing now that I may be making a big mistake. Since reading this post, I am going to visit Barnes & Noble’s website and skim through some novel choices that may or may not peek my interest, and consider making a purchase. I am going to explore outside of my usual interests when it comes to reading, and I will see where it takes me.
Thank you again for this INCREDIBLY insightful piece of VERY helpful advice. You certainly made this seventeen year-old stressed girl a very happy and much more confident writer.
I hope to one day be as wonderful and creative as you are when it comes to my future writing skills.
I suppose, as a teenager, we feel things with such a raw passion that we forget to refine it once it’s down on paper. It would also be fair to point out that in the instance of a teenager writing for teenagers this attribute wouldn’t be so harshly criticised. A teenager would be able to identify with a teenager’s writing and make more of a connection with the story itself. This would be a viable alternative, as oppossed to having an adult writing for teenagers which could borderline being condescending. Anyway, age shoudn’t define it really, the writing should speak for itself.
I think that your websites and blogs are very funny. But putting people down isn’t funny. I’m a teen, and I read books by both teens and adults, and there’s a lot of books by adults that are terrible. There’s also a bunch of teen books that aren’t so great either, but people worked really hard on them, whether a hundred people bought it, or thousands. There are teens that are more amazing than a lot of grown ups. Please don’t lump us together. It really makes people feel like they aren’t important. There ARE many teen writers who DON’T suck. So please don’t tell them they suck, and that their writing sucks. It just gets everyone down.
Hello! I’m thirteen years old and aspiring to be a writier. I know that I’m young and my writing could use a lot of work. But, I was wondering if maybe you could help me with that? I don’t think there is any toher carrer that suites me as well as writing, and while I know I’ll have to get a job in the meantime, I would like my writing to be the best it could be right now. Please reply and tell me if I can email you my first chapter of a novel I’m working on, Taking Blair. I’m not asking you to publish it, or even edit it if you would rather not, but what I am asking is that you tell me what you think of it. Please relpy! And thanks a bunch!
Jamie L. G.
Wow, who knew such a simple article written to express the importance of writing and provide a few tips as to how to improve your work could become oh so controversial. I was reading most of the points on these discussion boards and the more I read the more I found myself thinking ‘wow, get a clue and grow up’. John I do have to give you credit for braving an article geared towards teenagers, you are one brave man.
Now as for the teenagers writing your oh whoa is me how can you say that comments, I have a few words for you:
1. Get a clue, this is not to discourage you, this is to help you improve your writing and give you a nudge in the correct direction.
2. As for attacking the author on his view, has no one ever taught you the saying ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all’. I for one think that as you are entitled to having your own opinion, you should also realize that not everyone wants to hear it, so why subject other readers various mind-numbing A-typical teenage responses…we know, your such a rebel, now get over it.
3. This is merely advice, constructive criticism if you will, and I for one can see the true value behind this, so let me help you understand it a bit better. He isn’t saying you as a person suck, he’s merely stating that with practice and precision your writing now will pale in comparison to your writing later on down the road. Hell looking back on my writing when I was a teen I can see that, and I was a very strong writer then as well.
4. You want to set yourself aside and say you’re better that the rest, more power to you, however, isn’t it a typical teenage response to get offended and offensive towards every single thing said and done? We get it, you think your better, so does every other teenager out there.
5. Don’t for a second think that as adults we didn’t go through teen years of our own, hell I still clearly remember mine. And just because you think you’ve experienced things that would be great to put into writing doesn’t mean its great writing. I’ve had some pretty traumatic incidents that would make one heck of a story, however I have yet to express them in writing due to the fact that I can’t seem to get it on paper the way I would like it to come across.
Long and short of all that’s been said the main words you should heed are the authors of this article, “Take it or leave it”. Don’t waste our time with immature pubescent arguments when alls most of us would like to do is comment on how true the article really is and give our thanks to John.
Which leads me to say thank you John, I appreciate the advice. I completely agree with why was written and just wish I could have had this advice when I was a teen, instead of my angry and easily irritated AP English literature teacher who tried to tell me I was wasting my time. For those of you who took this in stride and are happy to heed the advice, keep writing and most importantly keep dreaming, remember you have to have a dream to follow. Don’t let any one ever tell you its never good enough, or that you will never make it, just keep striving towards what you want.
For the ones who could handle the advice, think about how your going to react when you get shut down by the first few publishers you reach out to, if you’re easily discouraged now, you’re in for a very rude reality check later. Put it this way, I got shut down by 9 publishers before the 10th one finally said I’ll think about it, and now that I’ve had a few more years under my belt im about to publish my first book of short stories and poems.
You know, telling people that their writing sucks not matter what they do doesn’t help them any. Just saying. Now, there’s a lot of good advice in your blog post. But I object to your view that all teen writing sucks. I think there’s plenty of good stuff out there that teens write. But you probably don’t know about it because they aren’t published. They know they need to improve so they take their time, evern though they are very talented. It’s like saying all Indie authors can’t write. It’s just not true.
Yet another person who didn’t read the follow-up article, and therefore doesn’t realize that their points have already been addressed.
Nearly a thousand comments over the course of five years. Quite impressive! You must be tired of it all though.
As for the article, I read pretty much every word you wrote, and I must say your statements are definitely true for the stereotypical teenager. Many of my peers are terrible writers; I can’t stand the simple mistakes they make. What bothers me the more than that are those that truly can write, but only write when they’re required to. Still there are some who want to write, and might actually have a future in it.
I hope they have found your article more helpful than it was to me; when I got to point five and read “Read Everything You Can Get Your Hands On — Even the Crap That Bores You.” I immediately thought, “Oh, like this?” Everything on your list I’ve either known, done, tried, and/or cannot do just yet. Your list just confirmed what I decided not too long ago: I might have had a great mindset to eventually be a full-out writer, but I definitely don’t want to be one for life. I like writing as a pass-time, but I’d much rather be designing clothes, performing, and even, outside risking my life for others. Maybe I’ll finish a novel or two in the course of my lifetime, maybe not.
(I hope I didn’t offend or anything;I tried not to. Although, I’ve been told countless times that I’m painfully straight forward.)
I have never tried to be a writer, and if I did, I certainly would fall under this category of terrible writers. However, I know a few people who are actually amazing authors. I would just like to say that this isn’t always true about teens.
Hi, every other one-thousandth person who’s commented.
I’ve skimmed through the massive collection of comments on the subject and have got to include myself in the group of teenagers. I’m thirteen and a writer- I’ve been writing since I was about six. I don’t know any professional writers, nor kids my age who in fact write as I do. My heart lies with bigger themes than the kind of books boys/girls in their teens tend to write- fictional romances that are entirely unrealistic, though I do enjoy plausible fantasy. Ideas pop into my head about thrice every hour and I don’t have the time or inclination to jot them all down.
The last story I completed was about two years ago, a short story about aliens and cheese. Long story. (Sorry…bad pun.) Anyways, I was wondering how you commit yourself to a story. When I was younger, I could stick with a subject to the end, but now, working on about ten stories at a time, I near never finish; the stories and characters are condemned to the back of my imagination and to uselessly take up memory storage on my computer until I can get back to them. Different character personalities…and I recognize themes in my stories that are reminescent of other books. I do my best to edit them out, but I’m not a perfectionist, or a poet, really. I live for stories and words- and there are so many of them it’s hard to commit. Again, I’ll say- how do you manage?
Oh well. I’m getting progresively less sucky as I go, at least.
I’m 17, but I’ve been writing since I was God, eight? I want to get that out of the way, and I’d also like to say that I’m sorry if you’ve seen all this before. I read the rebuttal and a lot of the comments before I even thought about posting this comment, and I haven’t seen most of the things I’d like to say. I found a lot of this information useful, and I found some things that I do in my writing mentioned in this article. I do create characters who are like me or at least a certain side of me, I do want to try to write like my favorite authors, and I have written things that are just me trying to figure out certain situations in my life. I have found that I write about teenagers, and when I try to write about older people, the words often fail me. Again, I repeat, there were a lot of things in this article that I found useful. However, I think you lost a lot of readers about the time you said that teenage writing sucks (and yes, I know that that’s been addressed time and time again). Teenagers reading this read that, get offended and, as you mentioned, stopped right there. They don’t even get to the things later in the article that can help to improve writing skills. I think I’ve run across this article twice, and this is the first time I’ve read it all the way through. I’m not going to bore you with the reasons my teenage writing doesn’t suck because some of it does. All in all, though, I have to admit that this a good article. It makes people aware of the harsh realities of writing as a teenager. All of us want to believe that we’re an exception to the rule, myself included. But I’m rambling…Thanks for taking the time to read this…if you do.
Hi. I’ll just begin by saying this:
To me, this was not totally helpful. That’s just my viewpoint though.
1. The thing is, my writing (I’m 14) right now, doesn’t suck. Sure, maybe it’s not as good as pieces by others, but it’s a hell of a lot better than a lot too. Even published, ‘grown-up’ authors are gonna have some people (maybe a lot) thinking their books are crap. And they’re also gonna have some who think their books are the rewritten Bible.
1) a) So what if I’m young? I’ve seen a lot of things a lot of people twice my age haven’t. I’m just going to say right now that I am not you, so, correspondingly, my views and opinions differ. Experience wise, I’ve experienced a lot and a little at the same time, which can be said for everyone. Plus, when it comes to faking perspective and wisdom, don’t all authors do that at some point in time? Say if you’re writing about a drug addict – you’ve probably never been in that sort of situation, but you’ve probably had some sort of obsession in life, so at least you can relate to that and work from there to build a convincing character independent from yourself. But then again, this is still just me talking. So…yeah, next point.
1) b) Sure, I’m influenced. Aren’t we all? In MY pieces of writing you can see hints of Eoin Colfer and Chris d’Lacey, but guess what? There’s more of my voice in my writing than theirs. WAY more, in fact. The only thing that’s been influenced by them in my writing is really my sense of humour. ‘Course, not everyone is likely to feel the same way, but that’s the truth.
1) c) Well…I’m both. *Evil laugh*
2. I’ve been writing since I was eight, so I’m hardly ‘just starting’. It’s one of the reasons that this blog doesn’t work for me. Sure, I’ve got a lot to learn, but I’ve still learned a lot.
3. Totally checked on the check list.
4. Apart from Science and Home ec, this doesn’t apply to me. And yeah, there’s always that writer part of me observing the situation and going ‘hmm…now why are they doing that?’ So I suppose I agree on this one.
5. Alright, I totally agree with this point, though I don’t necessarily read EVERYthing that bores me.
7. I’m suscribed on advancedfictionwriting. That’s the most reliable source I have, so I approve of this point.
8. Eh…can I still look on the bright side…just a little bit…? (But I suppose I mostly agree…)
9. Yeah, I’ll admit, other than the people I get to critique my work, I keep my writing to myself mostly. I simply wish to have a novel published first and that’s that…and my school doesn’t even have a newspaper stand, let alone the newspapers to fill them. But I do post stuff on different online sites so that no one will ever know it was me.
10. Alirght, fair enough.
Basically what I’m trying to say is: the first few points DID (*laughs nervously*) strike me as condescending. There are some things I don’t agree with and some things that I’m game for. Thanks for the info. I’ll take some of it on board.
Even though at the age of 12, I am not considered a teen yet, I still found this article very interesting. I’ve only been writing for two years so I know that I’ve a long way to go before my writing is even compared to the mildly good novels out there. What really hit me in this article to start doing is reading all different kinds of books for different points-of-views. I’ve realized that I’ve only been sticking to reading the books that I enjoy myself. I’m not exactly sure if when I was writing that I’ve been clever or good, but I’m sure when I find a serious critic, they’ll set me straight. *nervous laugh* Anyways, I wanted to thank you for this bit of information that you took your time to write for us teens that have started out in writing. And I hope that you’ll have a great career and never stop writing.
Something I’ve noticed is that a lot of the teenage writers on here aren’t very big on a little thing known as the “enter key”.
Anyways. This is a great post. I’m 13 years old, I’m a writer, I love to write, people say my writing’s good, I have agents who are interested in my work, editors who have requested my manuscript and blah blah blah. Big deal. I suck. My grammar is atrocious, my phrasing is awkward, my characters are contrived, my plots meander, ad infinitum.
Thanks, Mr. Scalzi. This is a great post. And, more than anything, I adore reading the responses from egomaniac teens who come and comment. When you bust them for sockpuppeting and totally tear down their arguments– priceless XD
Maybe when I’m older, I’ll be a better writer; maybe when I’m older, I’ll get published. But you know what? Right now, I’m doing this for fun. That why /all/ teens– really, everyone– should be writing. For fun. Because when you’re 15 and you’re worrying about whether or not an agent is going to like your query… Just take deep breaths, and remember why you started writing. Hopefully you started because it was fun.
Thanks, Mr. Scalzi. :)
Well, I must say, I found your list quite entertaining and useful, especially the part about teenage writing because I knew it to be true (I found an old piece of one of my incomplete novels among a heap of papers in my closet. I won’t go on about how disgusted I was.). Since then, I’ve strived to improve my writing abilities and I am much better, but, as you said, there’s always much more to learn. As what I’ve actually done on your list, I think I’ve done a fair bit. I don’t write every day, but I certainly write a lot. English isn’t my favorite subject, but hey, if I want to be a writer, I gotta know how to us it. I do read a lot and I’ve done research on what’s and why it’s popular from romance to manga to the lyrics of my favorite band (Ayreon, just throwing that out there for the people that actually bother to read some of these comments. Check out 01011001 and Human Equation.) As for what I’m going to do with my life, I PLAN to be a professional writer, but I also PLAN to get married and have a family, and I also PLAN to take what work comes my way (Not to say I’m not going to try and look for work.), but we’ll see how that goes. As for the publish industry, well, I haven’t dealt with anything like that, but I have begun to submit my work to contests and I do let my friends (Varying in age from 13-52.) read my work, not really as great of a way to face rejection, but it’s the same effect. But once I start writing novels others and I deem good enough to submit, it won’t hurt to try and see if they won’t get published, I mean, Twilight got publish and I wanted to throw that book against a wall whenever I read a page. I have many ideas for books and don’t plan on letting them go to waste. Oh, and I also plan to major in philosophy because I figured it help with my novels, that, slightly above average English knowledge, and a good sized vocabulary. Oh, and creativity, kinda important. Anyway, thanks for writing this list, I’ll make sure to check out the rest of your blog as well.
There are so many comments now that I doubt you will even read this, but although I am a teenager, I really appreciate your article. It gives me hope that while I am not a great writer today, I still have the chance to become one. Thank you for your wisdom.
I too am a (well, in a few months) teen writer.
I once let an article about this get me down – I stopped writing for an entire month.
But… the end of that age introduced the novel I wrote for a month and then killed. But, after I killed it, when I looked back at the beginning? SUCKISH. The middle? STILL SUCKISH, but slightly improved. The end? STILL SUCKISH, but there was a noticeable improvement when you compared the beginning and end.
That was when I fully realized – writing improves with practice. So, I treated that unfinished novel as a writing workshop. After that I went back to my crammed binder of my original novel and started rewriting it on my laptop. I turned the first 500 words into 3000. I went back and read the binder version, and just about ripped my hair out. Then I read the laptop version and went, “Wow. This is better.”
So, yes, am very aware my writing SUCKS, but, if I don’t let that bring me down, someday it won’t suck. So now I actually use this stuff as a motivation. Maybe I’ll even prove you wrong and publish something in my teen years. Who knows.
I thank you for this article. It’s given me another boost of motivation that I sure as heck need right now! XD
I’m sorry but I’m not the most patient reader in the world so I didn’t actually read the entire blog post. However, what I did read was, how can I put this, refreshing? Ideas come into my head at the most random times so I often surprise my paremts when I randomly gasp, snatch up a piece of paper, and then start scribbling like mad. I’ve been looking back at many of my old works, most of them unfinished because my patience for writing out an entire story parallels that of my patience for reading long instructional or advice-giving writings. Anyway, what I thought at the time to be very humorous or clever now looks almost stupid to me. I also came up with many extreme or overlly dramatic “pieces of art” that I know any half-sane publishing company would never waste their money on. This got me thinking and I realized that yes, my writing may seem truly award winning right now but can I trust only my own judegemnt and critique? I asked my dad to read what I thought were my best writings and he said the idea was good but my vocabulary, grammar, and smooth writing skills were not apt enough for me to actually publish them. I tend to misuse vocab words and like many teenagers my age, I start writing about one thing and it ends up trailing off into oblivion (kinda like now). Sorry if I’m wasting space in your comments bar but I feel like what I’m about to say can be relatable. I read all kinds of books and each one has a different voice. Problem with me is that I delve so deep into a book, wrap myself around in that specific mood or writing style, so that when I get up to write something of my own it sounds eerily similar to what I just read. I can almost garuantee you wrote something like the sentence i just wrote. Okay, I’m going to shut up now. Thanks again for your blog because it actually boosted my confidence more than it deflated it. I’ll probably go start writing a novel now…
I’m creative as a teen writer because I smoke a couple bowls before I write ;)
The words just flow so easily after that.
I don’t think I suck at writing. I’m fifteen.
I was Googling ‘free teen writer publishers’ and found the link to your “10 things teenage writers should know about writing” I read it. And I agree about most of everything you put in there.
I’m 13 and I’ve been writing non-fiction and science-fictional stories/books since I was 9. And I DO think my writing is horrible.
My poor mother keeps telling me I’m doing abnormally well for someone my age. She has to keep on lyin’ about it. Haha.
Anyways; the only thing you typed in there that I knew would be an issue for me was going out and living. I’m not a socializer, and literally have no friends anymore because they did one of the following: lied about me, judged me, tried to bully me, or ignored me. Complex life I had. Now I simply exist.
Move forward, and only look back when neccessary.
Back to the point; Getting out and living or getting a life would never happen for me. I honestly prefer staying at home and writing and talking to my mother about stuff and having sibling arguments at least twice a week; if I wasn’t allowed to stay home, I’d be bugging my mother and father to take me out traveling again because traveilng in a cramped car feels more comfortable and naturual to me. I traveled for 6 months when I was younger and I guess it stuck to me like ducttape.
You’d have to understand how there are some teenagers in the world that just don’t want to get a life again; and I know I’ve already experienced most things. . .
Crushing, heartbreak, sadness, anger, etc.; as I’m sure most teenagers already have.
But still, the post was extremely helpful to me :] I’m glad I found it.
~Just a 13 yr. old someone~
This is probably the most level headed blog I have seen about teen writers, ever. I don’t like to read tips as I feel I shouldn’t be writing if I have to look up ‘How to write’ on Yahoo. But this is good quality and handy information.
They’re not only useful and intelligent, but also amusing and realistic. I have recently been sketching out the first basic plot for a, probably over complicated, short novel and in my usual fashion, have been ignoring my guidelines to get the story straight before writing and just diving in there. All I’ve come out with is first class crap and I think anyone who can’t admit that shouldn’t be writing. I am a 17 year old myself, but I can’t help despairing at my generation of teenagers and I have not yet seen anything better than this blog for giving them a good reality check and a slap in the face.
The only issue I have to get over now is that I try too hard to think outside of the box and end up writing wacky stuff that I can’t even understand, despite being the author. I know what you mean by having great ideas and not being able to get them down on paper! I’m hoping my new piece will be more successful, we’ll see.
I’m glad to see that watching my fellow class mates is deemed important for writing and I’m not just a weirdo.
So, despite being half a decade late, thumbs up to this page, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it (and, of course, Walter’s dramatic statue story) you’re giving hope to a lot of aspiring young authors out there!
(I’m probably the 500th person to say this, but what the hell, this could be my bit of writing for the day.)
Finally, someone who is strait to the point and honest!!
I’m 16, and I write.
I’ve been writing since I was roughly eight (and I don’t even want to get into how bad all of my stories sucked beyond all matters of sucking!!), and I like to think my skills have grown quite a bit.
But I’m nowhere near “good”.
I’m glad you posted this; it’s well thought out and ingenuous.
This has opened my eyes and honestly relieved me a little in knowing that it’s okay that my writing tends to suck…
Because, sometimes I just read it over and think to myself, “what exactly is this supposed to be again?”
Your officially my hero; thank you a million times over!!
I’ve stopped around number 7 and will come back to read the rest when I have time.
Writing and reading is part of me, I try to improve and I try my best. Without either of them, it’ll hurt me badly (there’s a lot of reasons for that, but…).
Your ‘entry’ hit me straight on, I had to sit there dazed for some time before I could register anything.
For one thing, your writing was so straight-forward, and I appreciated the fact. One of my best friends now ‘met’ me because she flamed my story and I told her how grateful I was…
Everything you wrote was so true, and again, the truth is always painful and cruel, no one can help that.
I’ve taken and jotted down lots of suggestions from you and am ready to start improving even more.
I’ve noticed how I seem to like to ‘copy’ and get easily influenced by other’s writings and my writing style just isn’t stable as it takes shapes of many other writing styles that clearly aren’t mine.
I’ve never thought my writing was good. It isn’t, but trying my best and seeing myself improve over time is enough for me.
I’ll write forever.
Especially after I’ve read this.
Because I have another person backing me up:
Teenager writing sucks.
*I’m 12, BTW.*
I would just like to thank you for the advice in your article. It makes me feel better about my writing ability. I look a the stuff I wrote even just a year ago and I can only just shake my head at some of the crap that came out of my head and on to the paper. I really want to be a writer and I’m just glad you support that.
Long version of the headline tomorrow: “Seventeen-year-old Home-schooled Fantasy + Suspense Authoress Bites Own Tongue Off in Attempt to Remain Silent!”
I’m afraid when it hurts one this much to read an article, it’s usually because it’s true.
I have to be honest — sorry, but it’s what I think — I don’t think my writing TOTALLY stinks. Key word: “Totally.” I have been told by objective sources that my craft is atypical of a high-school student.
*sigh* Being a perfectionist, and determined to stick with my writing for the long haul, I am painfully aware of my shortcomings.
I’m not about to disagree with what you’ve said, but I have to say something: for a few months now, I’ve participated in an online writer’s forum, utilized by writers of all shapes, sizes, and — yes — ages. It seems to me that everyone’s writing stinks at first, and not ALL teens are just starting out. True, we’re just getting serious about our writing, we’re just starting to realize that we haven’t a clue when it comes to getting that first work published, but it’s not necessarily true that we don’t have decent craft. I realize this may not be the general rule, and being home-schooled, my exposure to the work of other teens is limited, so you can correct me if I’m wrong.
I, personally, have been writing, or *ahem* trying to write since I was quite young, and the vast majority of what was written — even up into my earlier teens — was junk, with maybe a couple of workable ideas in there. My plot-lines were nonsensical, my characters were flat, I had no clue what I was doing.
That being said, I tend to get hot under the collar whenever someone says that “teen writing stinks” because, even though that may be true of most teens, and possibly of myself, it’s not entirely fair to say that all teen writing stinks.
I’m not really sure what I meant to say with all that, but I’m glad you clarified for the reader those points which I have now so effectively blown out of proportion.
Fact 1: Every new writer’s work stinks. It may have potential, but it stinks.
Fact 2: Not all teenagers completely stink at writing, but since many are just starting to get serious about their work, they may very well be milling out a load of perfect garbage.
Fact 3: It does take a certain amount of maturity, which I don’t even think I myself have, to write about certain subjects with complete depth and clarity. That being said, I don’t think the problem is that teens are incapable of understanding difficult subjects; I think the majority think that they ALREADY understand, and/or aren’t willing to do research, to ask questions, to let reality seep to the core of their writing.
Fact 4: No teen will get very far with his/her writing unless he/she understands the above three facts.
Thanks for being honest; I have to admit I am one of those who doesn’t feel as if her writing is total garbage, but I know there’s a lot upon which to improve.
I like it John. I am a writer of 19 and I know for a fact, that my writing sucks. You have actually helped me realize this. I had this thought that I was going to write this awesome book and get published and sell millions on my first try. I now know that that would never happen. But you have inspired me to write more. I have good ideas in my head, I just need to write them. The more I write the less I’ll suck. Thanks so much for the inspiration!
okay, so i am 14 and attempting to start writing. but i frequently get stuck and start randomly drawing the story instead, or i have really vivid dreams that would connect well with other bits of writing and i go to write them and my mind goes completely blank and i don’t know how to word it. but i now know that i shouldn’t try write something major to start with and expect to make millions on my first try, i always look at my stories from when i was 8 or so, and i actually know what the general plot is. but i guess that I’ll just have to keep writing and writing and get better, then maybe one day I’ll publish a book eventually.
I’m not sure if this comment will get addressed or not, but here goes! I’m fifteen, so close to you I guess, Michelle, in terms of wanting to start writing. I’ve tried just keeping up a blog, you know, just as a place to write creative little things I think of. Obviously, it’s not all that successful in terms of publicity just yet, but it’s great because you can just write bits and pieces and people can easily read them and give advice. Although, I grant you, my writing isn’t all that great! You can have a look at it if you want, as can anyone else – http://www.firsttimewriter96.blogspot.com. Try and start one up, you can write anything, don’t give yourself boundaries when you don’t need them!
I’ve also just noticed – if you click my name, ignore the random webpage that pops up. My mistake for entering the wrong webpage address!
Scalzi wrote, “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.”
This is presented as an example of how teenaged writing sucks. I think Scalzi is being a bit unfair to himself. To be sure I can see why he says it sucks. It definitely has problems (more about this below). But the fact remains it has an engaging plot, overall is very entertaining and engaging, and does an excellent job of portraying the teen perspective of the son. Indeed, I think that aspect is great–especially the dialog with the father.
I decided to save the story to reread for one simple reason: Teen fiction like this can do a superb job capturing the teen voice and perspective–just as it does a less successful job of capturing the Dad’s and other adult perspectives. (Indeed a lot of the weakness in the story would be eliminated were the son the narrator and it was his perceptions of the adult perspectives, but then the plot doesn’t allow that and it would introduce new, probably more serious, weaknesses.)
As a writer who sometimes needs to give voice to teens I find it incredibly helpful to read fiction like this written by talented teens. I wish there were a lot more of it readily available.
This piece is especially useful because the teen voice does not use trendy slang–a mistake many older writers make trying to capture a teen voice that also makes their writing quickly dated. Whatever else, the son sounds like a real, believable teen, not some adult trying to fake a teen. Nor like an adult female trying to capture a male teen voice. The teen dialogue is not dated despite having been written nearly two decades earlier.
Ultimately Scalzi is correct that for this story to be truly exceptional, he needed to grow up. That is why it couldn’t be fully successful written then by a third-person narrator and couldn’t have been improved by adopting first-person son narrator.
I would love to see Scalzi revisit and rewrite the story now.
But my main point is older writers need access to teen-authored fiction such as this.
I’m 16 years old and I really liked your post. At least for me personally, everything your wrote was completely true! Yes, even the part about how my writing sucks. Don’t get me wrong, I do think I’m a good writer to a certain degree, but I realized that I was being ‘clever’ way too much. I thought it made my stories interesting and relatable, but you definitely can’t use clever-ness as a replacement for good writing. I write everyday and read even more often and I’m on my school newspaper. As much as I want to be an author, I also want to be an English teacher, so when I graduate next year that’s what I’m hoping to go to college for. I’ll quit rambling now. I just wanted to thank you for posting this; it was extremely helpful.
Thank-you so much! You have no idea how helpful this is! I thought I was a pretty good author, but then when I read this, I relized that quite a few of the things I thought were good, actually were’nt.But my high school doesn’t have a paper, and neither does my town. Is there something I can do instead? And where can I find out more about publishing and the science-fiction genre? (Thats the one I love the most)
I am a teen, and a writer. My first novel is about 8 chapters in with 40-something pages in Microsoft Word, 14 point, times new roman font. It is a medieval swords and magic kinda book, and I currently have about 6 people reading it as I write it. Two of them don’t even like the fantasy genre, but they all love the book.
I want to thank you for posting this article, it has brought several things to light for me. I don’t know if you would ever pick it up, but I would like to send you a finished copy of my book prior to publishing just for you to review it.
I think that this is a brilliant article. I read it a few months ago, and since then I’ve re-read it several times. I don’t understand why people seem so convinced that it’s trying to discourage teen writers; personally I found it quite encouraging. It’s not telling you that you suck and that you will always suck, simply that as teenagers we don’t have much experience as yet.
I am a fourteen year old teen writer, and I don’t deny that I hardly have any experience at all. All I can do at the moment is use the experience I do have, because I do have at least some, in my writing now, and hope to gather more experience as I grow older, as I’m sure I will.
I have read about teens of my age who have managed to get novels published, and even though that amazes me, I know I wouldn’t want to publish anything at such a young age even if I was capable of writing something good enough. I’d rather wait, take time to practise, gain experience, and most of all enjoy writing.
It all comes down to the fact that I absolutely love writing, and that’s the reason I do it. It doesn’t discourage me when somebody tells me that my writing isn’t good enough yet, but I tend to feel some kind of over-the-top excitement when somebody tells me exactly what I need to do to improve – because then I can see it myself, and I can change it. I don’t write because I think I’m good at it, or because I want to make a lot of money when I’m older.
I write because I love the way the world can disappear around you while you’re writing. I love the scenes you can weave with just the right words, and the way that you can see them and imagine them so vividly. I love being able to create something and know that it’s uniquely mine.
Thank you so much for this article. I thought there were some really great tips here, and I love the honesty of it. After all, isn’t that one of the most important things about writing?
EDIT: That should be: know that it’s uniquely mine but that someday, even if it takes sixty years, it might just grow enough for me to be able to share it with others.
You know, I was just looking for a Teen writers workshop, apparantly I stumbled upon this, Um, blog. You say teen writing may suck, well here is my opinion (Just mine).
Grammar- Heck! It may be the fact that some of us are pretty good, even the top in our school… but that does not mean we are the *best* after all, this one matter, I agree on.
Influence- Man! I cannot tell you how much I look at my work and say……too much like Meg Cabot, or too much like, Scott Westerfeild, maybe even say…..”This is Useless, It is not me!” so sadly…..(pardon for words) Damn! why the Hell do author’s writing affect us so much!
Teens V.S. Adults-
Odd, You may say that our writing sucks, well, maybe it does…But Teens also have the advantage over Adults as well as Adults over Teens.
Sorry but, We have more enthusiasm, Creativity (thanks to the world today) We are more….present…not 1987’s. if we are pretty good or if we suck now…I Think you should look ahead and know that you do not know how we are to develop…and its a fact that we learn more quickly today that the teenagers 20 years ago.
More experience, more chance for the stories to get published, better grammar, even widsom is a very helpful traits….
Now you see the difference…both Adults and Teenagers have the advantage. My Advive…take advantage of the traits and skills we have now….or used to have.
Yes, Our writing sucks……sorry teens, but I think the proper and more…..respectful term that could save you the work is “inexperinced” or “great, but not the best yet” always use the more respectful term, it could save you alot of work.
There is a variety of writers out there, even if they are just “amatures” we develop, we change, we become more skilled… so your words on the facts that we develop is quite right, but not just as slow as it took you, because we have several to help us…(Like my english teacher… Just as blunt as you are).
I think the fact that the truth of a experinced writer like you say those words maybe make us think what could happen in the future and helps us prepare for what is ahead.
The last thing I may say is Add the fact that you, they, and whoever will have a large variety of writers, readers, and Fans for example….Me…I’m different than many readers out there, I am a Writer (Just Isolated..not public) I am a reader, and also I am deaf. If You can explain that that they may have some satsisfied readers, some not, some will just put the book down. If they cannot take your critism..they will not be able to move foward with the readers critism.
-A Deaf Reader.
I found this blog entry to be refreshing and enlightening. Too often those stuck in perpetual adolescence are flattered and coddled, leading them to idolize themselves and their mediocrity.
I wholeheartedly agree with the notion of diversifying one’s educational experience in order to expand one’s capacity to write. As a student now pursuing graduate studies in Biomedical Engineering and a feature writer reporting for my university’s paper, I have found a wide variety of experience assist in a better understanding of the human condition. The subsequent challenge as a writer is the capacity to comment on that condition in a way in which others can relate.
Additionally, my interest in psychology – Jungian psychology especially – introduced me to the idea of archetypes – characters, symbols and themes manifested in every civilization in different ways. A wise writer would be prudent to gain a better understanding of archetypes in order to better develop meaningful characters and themes that speak to a broad audience. Star Wars is an excellent example of this.
The challenges for a modern day aspiring writer are still many. With all the options for reading material to gain greater perspective in the Information Age – blogs, books, periodicals, etc. – how does one find and decide the best authors and works to read? Anyone can start a blog, but how does one grow their readers from 15 friends to a respectable following? While practice makes perfect, how can one receive legitimate feedback and constructive criticism that improves one’s writing capacity? How can one mold their writing interests and talents into a genre that is marketable and publishable? And finally, how does one actually go about getting published?
These questions I am trying to sort out myself. While I realize how great it would be to “make it” right now, I know that now is the time to practice to ability to write for the future. Although I can feel as though all the “great” material I have come up with thus far is going to waste by just sitting as a lonely blog entry, I realize the truth that a writer’s best work is that which is perpetually yet to be written.
EDIT: I have found a wide variety of experience assists in a better understanding of the human condition.
I know that now is the time to practice the ability to write for the future.
I’m 16 and I’m fond of writing and I must say that your post has been very helpful and inspiring. Whatever the critics might say, you gave me more hope :) I’ve been totally in love with writing since I’m 11 and now I’m blogging and doing NaNoWriMo, etc… It’s my dream to become a successful published writer and I agree with you with the fact that patience is important and that haters are indeed everywhere. I live in a small country where writing isn’t that much trendy but I’ll tried my best to do everything I can to be recognised as a writer later. I’m hoping to go to uni to study psychology; and although I love literature I’ve never been the least interested in taking a major in English or literature itself. I just yearn to learn new things every day :) Thanks again for such a great post!
I am 14 and writing is my absolute passion. I am madly “in love” with it I guess. I have been doing it since I was like 7…and when you compare my writing then to now…you can see how my writing has changed and I got more…educated, I guess is the word. Your post like opened up some things for me. Like I guess I knew most of that but I just didn’t want to believe it. Then I read it coming from you and it’s like…wow. Now I know. And I most definitely want to major in English. I always have. I am in the middle of writing a book that I put a lot of research and time into and I believe it is the best I’ve ever done. But like you said…my best isn’t always gonna be enough… Thanks for the post :)
I read your article seeking advice in order to improve my writing, I found it helpful, honest, a little harsh, but the harshness was necessarily… Would you be able to list the names of Young Adult fiction writers that teens are familiar with, who write at your standards of good quality?
Specificity of names and book titles would be appreciated.
Thought it was a great article, I’m a teenager myself and I find myself agreeing with you on the first few points, and reading the rest pretty intently. I am pretty sure my writing is shocking but hey, you can only travel up if you started on your butt right?
Not entirely sure what was more entertaining actually; the comment feuds of ancient wisdom and conflict, or the article itself, but there were some real good tips through the article and hey, your teenage writings making me feel a bit better! Joking joking ;)
Anyhoo, safe to say my pessimistic blood type b-negative has soundly changed to b-positive from this article, solid points, good advice, so thanks,
Look, excited teenagers, I’m an aspiring teenage writer too and I have read many teenage “novels” and have attempted to write a few myself. I’m reading a lot of, “my writing is better than other teens my age” or “my writing is better than adults” and things like that. But the point is, that if you compare your writing to the books you love, you probably won’t measure up.
I think John made many very valid points, because I know my writing sucks. Sometimes I pull out an amazing sentence or two or I read a friend’s writing that moves me to tears, but as a whole, in general, our writing kind of sucks. Yeah suck is a mean word, but it’s just a little bit true. John was not trying to tell us that our writing isn’t worth our time or our work… he was trying to tell us that we are not ready to publish a book yet. That much is obvious for the most part. But, he does not discourage us trying. So… why are you so angry? We have less experiance than adults in the world, there is no way to change that because they’ve simply had more time. Our vocabulary in our DAILY conversations is less extensive than most adults, or more importantly, most published authors. Do most of you guys use those SAT vocabulary words when you’re talking to your friend about what you did last night? It’s true some of us speak eloquently and some of us have been through much more than others… But there’s probably something more you’re going to learn from now til when you actually are an adult, right? Something will change in you between then and now.
And do you really think you’ve reached the height of your writing skills? Did you think that two years ago? Have you not improved since then? Think back. Peer at your own manuscripts if you dare.
By the way, when teachers or parents or friends tell you your writings good, most of the time, especially in the case of the first two, they mean for your age. And when your friends do, well they think it’s good, because for one they’re a little biased and for another, they aren’t really the best judges since you think your writing’s good too. My teachers say my writing’s really good. I’m one of the top readers in my class just like all of you. I read at an eighth grade level in 5th grade and now I’m in 9th, so I’m sure I’ve improved. I get good grades in lit. I read almost too much for my own good. I’m sure all of you do. But I still look at my writing and scoff and cringe because all the flaws and problems that I see. I’m sure if you stop insisting that you’re writings just amazing, then you’ll see what you can work on too.
I think this article may not have been helpful, because most of it I have come to terms with already. But it definetely re-established my hope that if I keep writing that I’ll get better. I cannot speak for all your writing. I’m sure there are a handful of you where your writing is truly spectacular, but if that is the case, there is no point to fight with him, go send your manuscript to those publishers and get your books on the stands. I’ll be happy to read it. It’ll give me hope, actually.
I’m going to contine to try and finish the stories I have worked on. As teenagers we lack much experiance, but we have a lot of enthusiasm. Most importantly, even the best writers don’t get published at first. I know that I need a back up job while I do my writing and sending out manuscripts, so I need to work hard in school, and find other things other than writing that I love, even if writing is what I’m meant to do. I’m prepared to be rejected. I’m prepared to cry. I’m prepared to work hard.
What John is saying is just a simple truth. He wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. He wasn’t trying to tell you not to write or to make you feel bad. He was just trying to put you and I into perspective.
Reading some of these comments, I kind of realize why we’re not ready yet.
Edit: sorry noticed some grammar issues, this is what i get for not reading over before posting it.
I’m sure if you stop insisting *your wrting’s just amazing, then you’ll see what you can work on too.
Oh and yes, I was linked from Maureen Johnson’s blog.
I’ve stumbled across this post several times in the past couple years and I realized I never said anything. I’ll keep it short – no need to bore you with yet another novel length explanation or defense. I simply want to thank you. You have no idea how good this post is for motivating young writers. The comments alone give me so much faith in the passion of young writers and the power of perseverance.
Also, I want to be that teen to mail you the signed copy of my book with the ‘haha’ included. The thought gives me drive to do better and work harder, and I really owe you for that. You’ve given me a goal; something tangible to achieve, and I owe you for that.
I’m not sure whether I found this article more entertaining or enlightening, but either way I fully enjoyed it — and while I agree that I feel at least slightly insulted at the moment, as a seventeen year old with high ambitions, I think all the complaints are too whiny to hold any true merit and I don’t want to get myself lumped in with all of those, so whatever. You’re just pointing out the facts, and yes sometimes it hurts to accept them, but they’re facts nonetheless. I honestly cannot wait until I’m thirty years old and looking back on how much I’ve improved throughout the years (and more than likely laughing at how stupid I seemed when I was a teenager). Thanks for writing this!
Thank you so much for this inspirational piece of writing! I am fourteen years old and have loved writing my whole life. I like your point of view on how it will take a while for our writing to actually be worth something. It’s not something to be annoyed about, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to read, learn and write, write, write!
I was wondering, is it harder to get a book published in the religious industry (or Christian, to be more precise) than the general market?
Thanks again! :)
MY WRITING SUCKS? NO WAY! IM GONNA GO CRY AND CUT MYSELF IN A CORNER! You meanie butt! YOU MADE MY HEART HAVE OWIES! YA THAT’S RIGHT OWIES! XD Actually that was such a lie.
Writing is a developing process, always changing always getting better. I’m pretty sure when I’m forty I’ll still think my writing sucks. (Perfectionist what can I say?) :) AND IM OKEY DOKEY ARTICHOKEY WITH THAT. So hey you hormonal teenagers, suck it up. Grow up, move on, because we suck. It’s the fact (and circle) of life.
(Sorry I’m a spaz :) I love to be myself. If you have a problem with that then maybe you should stop listening to society. If you want to go, we can go. I’ll take you out for pie :D )
I like how teenagers here get defensive and reply with things like: ‘dude i write like so advanced’ but they don’t bother to capitalize their I’s. No self-respecting writers can let that go unless they’re on the non-condemning grounds of quick messages on Facebook, typos, or drunk texts.
Seriously guys; your arguments just set fire to flames. I’m fifteen and know better than to bitch at superiors. Because that’s what they are, superiors.
John, you belittle an awful lot. Not all teenagers ‘suck’ (albeit most certainly do) and it’s not up to you to judge them all to hell.
You offer criticism most of us already know–being the prejudiced teenager writers ourselves–but nothing of true value. It seems to me you’re just having fun hacking away at the stereotyped teenager ideal, with a self-important root because you’re ‘older’ and therefore, more intelligent; it’s not a good trait to have–arrogance.
I just want you to keep in mind that we’re young. Not retarded. Experiences can be gained through many elements other than time.
“Not all teenagers ‘suck’”
I never said they did. Read more carefully.
And while you’re at it, as noted in the main entry, in the entry fronting the addendum thread and in the comment thread itself, read the follow-up entry which addresses some common complaints, including the ones you raise.
I just read through most of the comments below the original blog entry. Why? Because I have other things I should be doing right now, and reading through those comments required less energy than vacuuming my cat.
I can’t help but wonder how many of the teens who left comments back in 2006 claiming that they were the shining exception to John’s rule (or worse, those who simply saw his advice as an insult to teenagers everywhere) have since had the revelatory experience of digging out their writing efforts from that time only to find themselves thinking, “Oh. Okay. Maybe that old dude was onto something.”
I don’t think I’ll slog through all the comments on this page. It’s getting late. Cat’s not going to vacuum itself.
Isn’t this a great recipe for a robust, long-lived debate – present an eminently reasonable, powerful idea, but lightly wrap it in the cultural trappings of an utterly ridiculous idea?
The 5 year old post is golden advice on overcoming one’s own limitations as an aspiring writer, that applies to me, even though I’m not a teenager. But I almost didn’t read when I stumbled across it yesterday, because it was self-labelled in the dreaded “advice for teens” category, which contains a high percentage of “misguided and watered down garbage foisted by older people on younger people.” But I saw it was “Scalzi” and thought “Hey, he knows stuff; I’ll risk it.”
My pay-for-my-art day job is in tech in Silicon Valley, where much of the charm is in the regular influx of younger people with awesome and regularly revolutionary new ideas, but the 10,000 hour rule and the problems of self-reference still apply. Better to learn in your teenage years the value of massive, sustained effort combined with objective measures of progress, independent of genetics, environment and luck.
The only misstep I read was the idea that most adults remember what its like to be a teenager. My data suggests strongly otherwise, although our host is obviously an exception.
I’m a teenage writer, and I have looked back on the stuff I wrote in Gr. 3. OMG it’s so bad. Missing punctuation, repetitive words, (used the word ‘uncomfortable’ 4 times in one short paragraph), and failure plot. I’m writing now and it’s considerably better than that, but after reading your post, I realize, that it’s probably useless too. Oh Well.
Hey, Scalzi! I like your article. However, you talk about it like there are good and bad stories. Sometimes, a writer has a story with a good plot, and is written well, but lacks some things, like a strong theme or message. A story isn’t always ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I think you should acknowledge that sometimes, you can have a good story, that won’t be published because of the theme, plot, or writing. You talk about teen writing like it’s never going to be good, unless you are a miraculous exception, like Paolini. Even Paolini’s stories aren’t fantastic, I’ve read them.
Sorry if I sound a bit harsh.
I’m a teen and I think my writing sucks. It was peretty encouraging to read some stuff you wrote when you were a teen because now I know I’m not doomed as a writer.
Okay, I’d just like to say: I am a teen writer and I admit my writing sucks. I do dream of being a accomplished writer and publishing something one day, but I know I’m not ready yet.
Just about every teen writer (I say just about every teen because there may be some who are good, I don’t know.) needs work on their writing. Those who say, “But my writing’s good.” Are drenched in their own delusions. I’ve never been trapped on that boat, and I’m glad.
Just to recap; I’m a teen, my writing sucks, and I’m not afraid to say it. Go me!
I’m writing a story right now, which a the beggining I thought was awesome. But after I read your post, I looked back on it and realized how much I need to work on it. Thanks!
I read this a while ago, and I just wanted to say that I love it. It’s really helpful, and I pretty much agree with everything. When I read number one, I didn’t stop and think ‘how dare you? This is insane!’ I just carried on reading, and then read the post you made addressing all those ‘my writing doesn’t suck’ comments. Okay, maybe that story you linked sucked. Maybe 99% of the time, my writing is absolute rubbish and sucks too, but that doesn’t mean that as a teen our writing will automatically suck. We can write moderately good things, even if it’s rarely. It’ll take a while for our writing to not suck, but it doesn’t mean the second we become adults our writing will become publishable, amazing stuff, it depends. One of my friends is a really good writer, everybody loves her work, and although it doesn’t suck, it’s not like she’s brilliant. Anyway. Thank you for the rest of the article!
Thank you for your entry. As a teen hoping to write fiction, I found your advice to be realistic and encouraging : ).