Wednesday, 28 October 2009

you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake, or: not being a teenage author any more

Following a discussion Amna is hosting about young writers, I've been reflecting on Choco's fascinating comments about realising that she wasn't going to be a published teenage author.

I chased that dream too. I finished my first novel just after I turned sixteen, and my second before my eighteenth birthday, and I wrote every night for years. That dream bit the dust somewhere along the road, and so did a succession of smaller dreams - I'd query agents before I hit eighteen, I'd at least have a complete, polished manuscript by then, I'd I'd I'd ...

Number of dreams hit: 0.

Ultimately, I think I was hooked on specialness. As a teenage writer with two novels under my belt, I was exceptional. ("You're how old?") Once I got kicked out into adulthood, I wasn't an exception any more: I was just one among millions of adult writers.

The train has now pulled in to grown-up station, and I'm happy to report that my destination is not as scary as it once seemed.

Lessons I've learned about and since the teenage writing years:
  1. Being a young writer is only meaningful as a way to get to being a good writer. You don't need to be young to be good.
  2. Not having reached my dream doesn't mean I didn't work hard enough: it certainly doesn't mean I'm a failure.
  3. There are other kinds of specialness.
  4. Keep dreaming. If you don't make it, update your dream to something more possible.
What about you? Have you missed out on any dreams and had to reframe them? Are you dealing with not being special any more?


  1. I am still grabbing at that dream of being published before I leave high school. Honestly, though, I don't have the same desperate urgency to do it that I did ten months ago. It's fading more every day because, at this point, writing means so much more to me than proving anything to anyone. I realize how hard starting my career as an author during my senior year of high school would be. Do I still want to do it? Yes. If I have to wait? That's fine.

    At this point I define myself as a writer and I'm pretty sure that's what I want to do with my life. No reason to rush into it. Although I do feel ready, so there's also no extreme reason for me to wait.

    We'll see what happens!
    (I will likely elaborate on this topic even MORE in a blog post sometime soon. haha)

  2. By the way - love the Fight Club reference!!

  3. At first I liked the idea of being a teen and published. Your right, it does make you feel special. Different from all the other writers, but then I realised something important. My age isn't what makes me special. Its my talent.

  4. Awesome, I've been mentioned by the amazing Para! Haha :)

    Really, for the vast majority of good teen writers, the choice is this: either use your age as a weapon and become published as a (somewhat) mediocre teen author, or resist the temptation. Now, a few teens who've been published lately have done so without using their age to snag an agent--their quality of writing is enough to suffice, meaning that they are just as good, if not better than adults. (We were talking about those AMAZING GODLY TEENS @ Amna's earlier.)

    The first generation of teen authors who got published (which I read when I was a preteen) were horrendously much that I believed that hey, if they could do it so could I.

    See, I wanted to be a shiny published teen author too. Because that proves you're wonderfully talented, that you're amazing, that you're a literary prodigy or something. So I started my novel at 11 or 12 (I think...) I was going to be published by my 16th birthday, I was going to be a teen author too, featured in newspapers, a bestseller, lauded by all. When I came to terms with the fact I wasn't going to be, it felt like my dreams were going up in flames. But really, maybe I had the wrong dream. My dream shouldn't be to be a published teen author. It should be to a be a great published author, regardless of age.

    But as the (horrible) day of my 16th approaches, I'm far from that goal. It was a bit of a painful realization that I'm not good enough now, not now,and that I needed to be patient and hone my writing skills and make time to get better. Since I've never been overly confident about my writing anyways, it wasn't that hard to resign myself to it.

    I really thought about it: the first novel I completed I wanted to get published, I really did. But after a few rejections, I thought about it. Was this something that I wanted out there, in the world, to haunt me for the rest of my days just because I was being impatient and eager for praise at 15? The answer is no.It's just not worth it. It really isn't.

    Perhaps it's my pride speaking, but I couldn't bear for people to say (as they were saying of other teen authors), "This is good for a teen." or "This doesn't deliver, but they may get better later in their careers."

    It really is important that I'm the best I can possibly be before I'm published. I want to be proud of what I've written...not ashamed. And if I'm 20 or 30 or 40 before that happens, then so be it.

    I'm not even tempted to put the goal at "by the time I'm 18" either. Because I am well aware this is going to begin a never-ending cycle of unmet goals and deadlines. Let's just say, before I die? Hopefully? Haha.

    Great post Para. Sorry for spamming up your blog with the ginormous comment! Just I have lots to say on the matter! :)

  5. I forgot to add:


    lolol. :D


    Perhaps writers should begin to think of themselves as something like wine or fermented foods...better and more complex,the longer they wait.

    (Yes, my metaphors are weird.)

    -end spamming-

  6. I agree with Choco!
    Para's awesomeness can not be denied!

  7. My speshul snowflake factor for many years was the fact that I went to college at 15. People used to ooh and ahh over that, and at a certain point I started keeping it a secret, because at 30, there's nothing special about having been a child prodigy. As a writer, it took me til age 28 to write a novel I wasn't ashamed of. Another ten years to get an agent. So I've really released all those child prodigy dreams of doing something fabulous by a certain age.

  8. Yay, I've still got 8 months until I'm an adult. I'm still special.

    I doubt I'll have a novel published by then, but it would be nice (more like frickin awesome).

    I guess the only thing to do is keep writing. The more books you've written, the higher the probability one of them will be publishable. I certainly wouldn't want a load of rubbish under my name because I got published when I was too young.

    Anywho, writing is fun, published or not. Anyone who sees differently should reconsider their career.

  9. I was supposed to have a publishable manuscript by the time I'd be thirty. I'll be thirty next summer and I'm 90% sure that this is not going to become reality.

    But it's okay.

    I think I get most of my fun out of the first draft anyway :)

  10. I actually ended up writing that blog post I said I was going to write. haha! Thanks for the idea!

  11. Being a teen writer was my dream. My biggest dream ever. Now 9 months shy of my 20th birthday and after discarding countless unsatisfactory manuscripts I'm nowhere near realising that dream. *Sigh*
    When dreams shatter, you start falling into a pit, a pit that only gets deeper because you don't seem to reach the ground...but the thing is, I'm not falling. Yes, I stumbled, but I haven't fallen because I think I have found my destiny in a manuscript I absolutely love! I'm still in the first draft and it's gonna require tons of revision, might takes years. And I'd be past 20 then. But I don't mind. Because I want to give this my best shot, irrespective of how much time it takes. It might never get published. To be honest, that would definately disappoint me but I don't think I'll regret spending so much time on it, because I'm loving every bit of it! The gift of writing is writing itself, whether you get published or not. I, for one, will not give up on it for the world.