I Was That Teenage Writer

Photo credit: nicole.pierce.photography on Flickr
I was the teenage writer with big dreams.

I was the weird thirteen-year-old sitting at her desk during free period, huddled over a piece of paper with a pencil and a story rolling through her fingers.

I was the fourteen-year-old smiling shyly as her mother proudly announced to anyone who would listen that her teenager had written a book and was going to be published one day.

I was the fifteen-year-old who secretly enjoyed those English writing assignments and whipped out that four page essay so that she could get back to writing her next book.

I was the sixteen-year-old pretending to take notes in math class while actually writing a passage for her novel.

I was the seventeen-year-old disappointed with “I like this” non-critiques from Creative Writing class and anxiously dreaming all day about those query letters she sent out the night before.

I was the eighteen-year-old starting to realize that she might not be a published teenage writer after all, that she might not even get an agent as a teenager, that maybe her writing wasn’t as good as she thought it was.

I was the nineteen-year-old coming to terms with the fact that she may very well leave her teenage years with nothing to show for it except for many trunked manuscripts and a pile of rejection letters.

Here’s what I wasn’t as a teenager:

I wasn’t published.

I wasn’t agented.

I wasn’t a prodigy.

I wasn’t the next Christopher Paolini.

But now, looking back on those years, I’m glad I wasn’t any of those things. Because yes, I was a decently good writer for my age, and yes, I learned a lot from writing all of those books, and yes, it hurt to come to realize that I was going to have to give up my dream of being a published teenage writer. But at the end of it all, I was focused. I knew how to handle rejection (for the most part), I knew the value of patience (even if I struggled to maintain it), and I knew that time was on my side after all—that getting published wasn’t a race and I didn’t regret a second that I spent focused on my dream as a teenager.

Because it may have taken me a long time to come to terms with everything, but in the end, I know I’m a better writer for it.

I guess I just want to say this: to all you teenage writers out there, I know it’s tough. I know it sucks to give up so much to make your writing dream happen, and realize it might not happen in the time frame you were hoping for, even despite the sacrifices. I know it sucks to start writing young and have all your loved ones tell you how you’re going to be so successful because look how young you are and you wrote a book (or many books!), and meanwhile the clock is ticking and nothing seems to be happening and you start to wonder if maybe everyone’s just humoring you and you’re not that good after all.

I want to say that for those of you who are eighteen or nineteen or reaching that point of I may not be a published teenage writer after all, it’s ok. It’s more than ok. You’re not a failure for not getting published or agented as a teenager. You are amazing and talented and so very wonderful and I salute you. I salute you for hunkering down and chasing your dream while the rest of your friends goof off in class. I salute you for quietly taking rejection after rejection and continuing to write despite the pain. I salute you for not rushing to self-publish and taking your time to get your writing right, to really hone your craft.

What you’re doing isn’t easy. And if I’m being honest, it doesn’t really get easier. But it does get better. You’ll get better. Your writing will get better and you’ll be so glad for those manuscripts you had to put away and those rejections that branded your soul.

I guess I just want to say don’t give up if you don’t make your dream come true before you turn twenty. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you and as a bonus, you started on that path nice and early, which is pretty darn cool if you ask me.

Hang in there, pal. Everything is going to be ok.

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae shares an open letter to all current and former teenage writers. (Click to tweet)  
"What you're doing isn't easy...but it does get better." #writinglife (Click to tweet)  


Michelle Irwin said...

What great advice! I wanted to be that writer when I was a teen, I loved English at school, and longed to be able to write a story. Unfortunately my story-telling sucked so I stuck to poetry and choose your own adventure books. However many (too many? LOL) years later, I've gained a maturity and an appreciation for life, love and humanity in general that has helped me to develop the ability to turn a decent plot. I've also learned not to take myself too seriously and that while rejection sucks, it's not the end of the world.

Heather said...

Thank you for writing this; I think I needed to hear it today. :) For some weird reason it sometimes feels like you're running out of time and if you don't get published before you're nineteen you will have ultimately failed. Nice to remember that life doesn't end as soon as you graduate from high school.

The summary of your teen years made me smile, though. It reminded me a little bit of me, and how earlier this year I decided the best time to plan a novel is when your Personal Finance teacher isn't looking... Heheheh.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Michelle! It takes most writers several years (at least) to really develop their craft. I also think the appreciation for life that you mentioned is key to a happy writer's journey—one of the best lessons I've learned over the years is to be happy with the stage I'm in. :)

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Heather! I'm really happy to hear that it resonated with you. :)

You're absolutely right that life doesn't end after high school (although it kind of feels like it when you're exiting your teenage years).

As for writing in classes...well...we can't help it when creativity strikes, right? Heh heh...

Emma Adams said...

Yep, I was that teenage writer too, and I was so jealous when I read about other teenage writers' success stories! I spent 10 years working on my first book and I was 18 when I started querying. It took me that long to accept that maybe I wasn't going to be published as a teenager, but I'd finished a novel and that was an awesome achievement itself!

David Fuller said...

Oh man: yes, this! I always wanted to be a child prodigy :) I was very fortunate to attend a high school that not only had a school newspaper (so a fair amount of poetry and sometimes short fiction got published) but also an annual anthology of students' writing from all across the school division. So I never completed a novel manuscript in those years, but I felt the rush of being published.
I do love this post though, because back then, I really felt if I didn't get enough published by a certain age, I'd be a failure. But I see now that was mostly driven by ego. Concentrating on writing and always improving is, to me, the best way to succeed -- and on those terms, I feel I certainly have.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you

David Fuller said...

That IS awesome.
Every summer vacation, I said, "I'll write a novel before September" -- and never finished any of them. One of my friends started razzing me about it whenever June came and I opened my mouth about it. I was better off sticking to short stories, and I frankly admire anyone who has the wherewithal to write an entire novel, never mind in high school, where there are plenty of things to derail such an ongoing, concentrated effort!

Ava Jae said...

To be fair, it's hard not to be jealous when you hear about teenage writers getting published, particularly if that was a dream of yours. But everyone has a different journey and something I had to learn is that it's definitely not a race.

As for finishing a novel, it is absolutely an amazing achievement. There are tons of people out there who talk about writing a novel someday, but only a fraction of those actually sit down and manage to do it. Pat yourself on the back, because your accomplishment is a fantastic one. :)

Ava Jae said...

"Concentrating on writing and always improving is, to me, the best way to succeed -- and on those terms, I feel I certainly have.

This. This right there. You are 100% correct, and that is definitely something to take pride in. Keep writing and pushing toward improvement and you'll get there. :)

Lauren Shearer said...

I always thought it would

Lauren said...

I always thought it would be neat (sort of an added bonus) to be a teenage author, but really I have always known I would rather be a published author, regardless of age. :)

Ava Jae said...

Great way of looking at it, Lauren! I agree completely. :)

Braden Russell said...

I'm not sure whether to tearfully thank you for this post or sue you for posting my autobiography.
But yeah. That was me too. And as I'm watching my last year of being a teen writer swiftly run its course, I have to chuckle at my old dreams of being a sixteen-year-old bestselling suspense author.
But yeah. I learned so much from those years. And I feel sorry for all my friends who didn't grow up saving their pennies for moleskins and copies of Writer's Market.
Thanks for writing that. :)

Ava Jae said...

Aw, Braden, thank you! It's a tough realization to come to terms with, but I personally found it really freeing to take myself off the clock, so to speak. Once the when no longer mattered, it became much easier to focus on improving my writing and taking all the time I needed to polish my work.

I also entirely agree that we learn a lot from those years, which, I think, makes it all worth it. :)

Also, our non-writer friends don't know to be jealous, but they should definitely be jealous.

Braden Russell said...

I agree! Deadlines are good most of the time, but setting deadlines for success is just a fast road to frustration and disillusionment.
Indeed they should! XD

Ava Jae said...

Very well said. :)

Robin Red said...

I'm turning 20 in 5 months and I'm still dreaming of being a teenaged published author. It's unrealistic, but if it pushes me to write, I wouldn't care whether I was published tomorrow, the day after my birthday, or 2015, as long as I get there.

Ava Jae said...

Keep writing! Maybe you'll get there before you're 20, maybe not, but that's not what's important. As long as you take your time to get it right and don't rush through the process, you'll be fine. :)

Haley Christine said...

I'm only Sixteen and what you wrote is the exact description of me, i know the chance that i would get published in my teenage years are very slim, but i use that knowledge to push myself to write more, because the way i look at it the more i write the more i will have to learn from.

Ava Jae said...

That's such a fantastic attitude to have! I love it. That kind of positive outlook will really help you in this field (and in life). :)

Robin Red said...

(one year later, Spongebob style) still working on it! Hahaha.

Ava Jae said...

My answer is the same: no need to rush a thing. :)

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