How to Be a Great Young Writer
As a child, I wrote all the time, and apart from a brief periods where I toyed with becoming an archaeologist, all I ever wanted to do was be a writer. I wrote stories as all children do and was commended for my imagination, but I wasn't in it for the story telling. I just love words. I love using words. Maybe I just love the sound of my own voice.
I never became a great young writer. I was 35 when my first book was published, and that doesn't count as young. Now, with four published books behind me, I think I know what happened. If you want to become an author at an early age, then this is what you need to do.
Write, write, and then write some more.
Some writers are great at explanation. Some are great storytellers. Some create descriptions with a wonderful sense of place and time. These talents are not the same. Nor do they need to be. Writing is not a single discipline. You can be a great writer, young or old, without writing a word of fiction.
Write, write, and keep on writing. Find out where your talent lies, and then explore it. If you have natural talent, that's good, but it's not the end. Try to learn the tools of the trade. Using a word processor is an essential skill these days, but the tools of the writing trade run deeper than that. You need to know the language. I'm not saying you need to become a grammar nazi, but understanding the ebb and flow of words will help your create better sentences, paragraphs and, ultimately, pages.
No matter where your writing ambitions lie, you can further your education, learn more about your craft, and keep practicing.
The Two Tests Every Writer Faces
So, where did I go wrong? Did I stop writing? Did I fail to learn about the craft? Why, having started writing at age seven, did it take me another 28 years to become a published author?
Writers face two tests, and in the end, it's not about the words, though they are important. Writers need stamina, and that's something, which, in my youth, I lacked. I'd keep going as long as what I was doing was fun, and relatively easy. But when the going got tough? Well, I wasn't tough enough to keep going. I had lots of excuses. School work. A degree in Law (More writing than you can possibly imagine), a marriage and a job. Good excuses, actually, but still excuses. I had stories in a drawer, ideas in a book. The common factor? They were all unfinished.
It's not easy to keep writing every day. Bloggers know this. It's difficult to come up with topics for your posts. Freelance writers have the same problem finding topics for their articles. When you write a whole book, the problem is different, but it's still there. If you're writing fact, your first task is to work out the table of contents. What will you cover, and in how much detail? What order will you cover the subject in? That takes time, and speaking personally, I find it fascinating, but then there's the hard bit. Sitting down every day, to fill in those chapters with information. Every day. The same subject. Until it's done. Personally I think anyone who completes a book deserves a reward, because until you try to do it, you have no idea how easy it would be to just give up. When writing isn't your primary occupation (and it almost never is) there are always more important things which get in the way.
Tools For Writers
The Influence of the Internet
The internet has, in some ways, changed the game. There are many tools and services to help writers of all ages, and software (I use Scrivener) which can help anyone write, research and format a book correctly.
Anyone can start a blog and BAM, they're published. Amazon has made it easy to publish and sell ebooks. Right now, there are gurus advising thousands across the world that publishing for Kindle is where it's all at. The result is that everyone is out there and some of the fiction you can buy is quite simply drivel. I bought a book based on its blurb a couple of weeks ago, and it was clear that though there was a story idea in there, the writer had no idea how to express it. I was actually shocked at how bad it was. I was and am free to write a review of that book and warn others not to got there. I don't really understand why I haven't.
I think it's fear. Writing is personal. If someone rejects your book, it's as though they've rejected you. If you publish, someone on amazon might give you a bad review. It's so much easier to stick to the writing sites where supportive people will read your stories and tell you're they're wonderful, even when they're not.
The Second Test
If you pass the first test, you face the second. For every 100 writers, there are 80 who never finish what they write. Of the twenty who finish, it used to be said that 15 never even attempt publication, and of the five that do, only one succeeds. Why?
To succeed, you have to be willing to fail. You have to put yourself out there, accept rejection after rejection and still keep going. And that's hard. We all want to be praised and valued. In the past you'd pass your book around your family and friends, get comments, maybe make some changes, but let's face it, they are not your competition or your critics. The internet has changed all that.
If I Could Do It Again
What would I do differently if I could do it again? I wish I didn't feel old enough to ask myself that question.
The answer is, most probably nothing. In my teens and twenties I was too busy living to fit in the writing. I'm not convinced that's a bad thing.
Books are like babies, there is no right time to write a book just as there is no right time to have a baby. There is always something else to do, just as there is always something else to save up for before the family comes along. I eventually achieved my goal as a result of insomnia. I couldn't sleep so I got up and wrote to fill the time. My husband was enormously supportive. It was a slog. By the end I never ever wanted to see the book again, but the day it arrived from the publishers, all shiny, new and freshly printed, I felt like a million dollars.
Advice to Writers
I must have done something right. My entire family, husband, son and daughter, are now writers of one kind or another. They've seen what writing a book can do. It changed my life, as it could change yours.
Will my children become great young authors? I don't know. I don't know if I want them to. The teens and twenties are a great to time to live life and observe. Maybe they should sit it out for a while and leave the writing to the old folk who've been there, bought the T shirt and washed it.