To every teen writer: I see you, I feel you, and I am proud of you. It may feel impossible to grapple with the stress of school and writing a novel, but believe me, if I can do it, you can too.
As a Freshman in high school, I wrote my first novel. Now an upcoming Junior, I’m still on the hunt for the perfect agent. Though I’m finally content with the story itself, there are several things that I definitely could have done better. In this article, I want to share those things with you so that you have a smoother experience!
Here are ten humble tips for teen authors.
1. Don’t just write what you know. Let’s face it— as a teenager, you haven’t seen much of the world. I know adults will always tell you to “write what you know,” but I beg you, don’t. Yes, it’s important to make your story realistic, so you should certainly make sure that you’re familiar with your topic. But reach out of your comfort zone! Take a risk! Write what speaks to you, and do your research.
2. Allow yourself to fall in love… No, I don’t mean with a real person, that’s overrated! I mean with your characters. The best thing about writing is the intense adoration you feel for the people you create. This may seem obvious, but it is this love that will help you keep going when everything seems like too much. Your love for them is what will drive you to continue writing, no matter what.
3. …But don‘t baby them. I know, your characters feel like your children and you want to protect them at all costs. But what will make your story interesting is the struggles the character faces, and how they overcome them. You have to give them the world and then take it away. Ruin them before you save them. Just remember that every hurtle you throw their way is another stepping-stone towards a happy ending!
4. Pace yourself. Life is very different for teen writers than adults who make a living of it. Don’t get so immersed in your writing that you begin to blow off school! After school, finish your homework and studying, and then reward yourself with some writing. This way, you do well in school AND you get your writing done!
5. Don’t put yourself down. I cannot stress this enough! If a section just doesn’t feel right, don’t delete the whole thing and call yourself a bad writer. Move on, sleep on it, and make some edits. A bad chapter is easily fixed, but your mentality is easily swayed. Rather than doubting your ability as a writer, think of it like this: in real life, events cannot be predicted. In your story, the situations aren‘t always going to be what you predicted. So, move ahead until you have that aha! moment, and then go back and tell the story.
6. Tell people. Don’t keep the fact that you’re a teenage author to yourself! I’m guilty of this one— I never told any of my friends for the first few months. But anyone you tell will be incredibly impressed. I mean, writing a book at such a young age is no small feat! And if you allow others to read your work, they might help you add to the plot or catch some typos that you missed. Seriously, even your high school peers will not judge the content you’re writing. If anything, they will be supportive and impressed by your awesomeness.
7. When you decide to hunt for agents, do your research. I know how tempting it is to send your manuscript off to anyone with a kind face, but you have to look into the agent as though you’re a detective looking into a criminal suspect. What do they like? How much of the manuscript are they asking for? Are they from a reputable agency? Are they open to submissions? Now, start slow. Don’t go sending your first query letters to the most prestigious literary agencies in the country, but do ensure that your prospects know what they’re doing! Also, expect rejection. It’s super hard when you get that first rejection email, but (sadly,) it gets easier to deal with them after your first fifteen or so. It doesn’t mean you have a bad book, but agents are a competitive crowd! Don’t get discouraged, though, because the perfect agent IS out there!
8. Writing query letters is almost as hard as writing the darn book. You only really have to write one, but make sure it’s a good one. The letter can be what turns a rejection into interest! Remember the research you do on the agents, and include something personal at the end of each letter. For example, one might say, “I see that you attended Columbia University, which is the setting of my story!” Or, “I heard that you represented (an author that you like,) and they’re one of my favorites!” Second, make your letter no longer than five paragraphs. I know you have a lot to say, but agents read these things all day. They will appreciate a short, concise query letter. Third, don’t disclose the entire story. Yes, do summarize the main idea of the book, but leave them with just a little bit of curiosity. Finally, start the letter with a bit about you. Just as you want to know the agent, they want to get to know the author! Don’t be afraid to tell them that you’re young and that this is your first novel. Just give the agent a brief author bio.
9. Never stop editing. Even after you’ve sent off some query letters, don’t be afraid to make some changes to the story. Until you’ve got the perfect novel, don‘t stop writing!
10. First of all, thank you for reading this far! For my last tip, I want to remind you that you are a geode. You know what happens when you break open a geode, right? There’s beauty inside, but it doesn’t all stay in one piece. When you write, you have to take everything that you store inside of yourself and distribute a tiny piece of it to every character. The best way to be authentic as an author is to put a bit of personal truth into it. Perhaps you give a character a habit of yours, or an interest. Maybe it’s something as big as a life event, or something as small as an eye color. Regardless, put a little bit of yourself into every single character you write.
Thank you so much for reading my very first article! I’m not sure how overused this prompt is, but I hope it helps someone out.