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Teens and Writing by John Hansen

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ED NOTE: I have bolded the gems in this post because I love them and completely agree with John.

First off, big thanks to Allie for letting me burn all of your eyes out guest on here. She gave me the topic of “talk about teen writing” and given that I have strong opinions on this subject, I decided to turn this into a rant because, obviously, it’s my civic duty to inflict these opinions on the world. Duh.

Let’s start off with the basics: I am John, and I am a teen writer.

What does this mean, exactly? Well, it shouldn’t mean much. I’m a normal writer; I just so happen to be in high school. Yes, I’ve written my horrible first novel, queried it, failed miserably, and I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ve joined writing forums, practiced with short stories (some of which have been published), gotten critiques, made friends, met later-to-be CPs. I wrote a second novel, revised it, revised it again, and again, and again. I’m not any different than the next writer. I try not to bring up my age when people critique my writing since I don’t want people to go easy on me for it. As I said, I’m a normal writer (well, as normal as writers can be…) and I don’t like how my age becomes a factor in writing/critiquing. At this point, I’m barely into high school and I’d say I write pretty well. Publishable yet? We’ll see. But at this point I have some awesome CPs and equally awesome betas (*cough* Allie is one *cough*) who seem to think I don’t straight up suck at writing, a few publications in non-profit magazines, and as of Thursday, I’m an intern for Pam van Hylckama of Larsen Pomada. I’m pretty sure that’s better than 90% (or more) of adult writers. 

That’s me.

But when you think of a teen writer, what pops into your head? Some kid who’s pretty clueless about publishing, but has bits of talent even if it won’t lead them to get published for many years? Someone who needs to be babied, who has little chance of writing something truly publishable but should be praised for being good for their age anyway? Unfortunately, this is the image most people have—maybe unconsciously, maybe not.

Guys, this is not true. I’ll admit that the majority of teen writers are pretty clueless, but what about adult writers? I can guarantee you that a higher percent of adult writers are hopeless when it comes to writing publishable material than teen writers. And yet, I can’t even put that I’m a teen in my query because it looks bad. And yet, it’s some sort of miracle when teens get published. We are not different. 

The reason less teens get published? There aren’t as many teen writers who have the drive to write a novel, and when they do, many don’t care enough to try and get it published. I’m admitting to that. But when a teen does write a novel, he or she is at the same level as any other writer you know. I like to think that there are two ages: Your real age and your writing age. Your writing age is the only thing that matters when it comes to writing a publishable book. Your real age has next to no affect. Don’t believe me? Think of this way:

Once upon a time there lived a 34-year-old man who decided he wanted to try his hand at creative writing one morning. He started off by writing mostly short stories, some fan fiction, and other random pieces. He was talentless to say the least. By 40, his skill had developed and he eventually had the drive to write his first novel. When he was 41, he completed that novel, and, to be frank, it sucked. He sent out some queries to various agents and got all but one rejection. But he kept on writing. At 42, he wrote a new novel, edited it as best as he could, and sent it off to some agents. Within 3 months, a top-notch agent offered him representation. During his 43rd birthday, the book sold to Random House.

This doesn’t seem very out of the norm to anyone, right? Subtract 27 years from all of those ages. Now that story seems crazy, but really, it’s no different. (Yes, I wrote short stories when I was seven. So did many other writers. Mine were these weird stories about talking fruits and vegetables having this epic battle to see which was the dominant race in food. I know, I know, I was a little insane then.) The man started off as a clueless fiction writer. Kids start off as clueless fiction writers. Gradually, he improved, until he became adept at writing. The same happens for young writers. Given that they both started from scratch, how come it’s suddenly insane for a teen to sell a novel but not the man, even when they follow the same timeline?

It shouldn’t be, but stereotypes live on. If you’re resistant, you can argue that teens aren’t experienced enough. I’ve got to say, this makes me laugh. We’re teens. We write about teens. How much more experienced do we need to be? I’d even say writing what we live as we live it is the ultimate experience. And when it comes to writing things we don’t know about? We research, just like every other writer does.

So my point is, don’t stereotype. I think it’s pretty natural for most people to look down on teen writers, and that’s okay, but let me tell you: don’t any more. Some people might even say teens are more creative. I have no idea if that’s true.

Thing is, we are equal writers, and those of us who are serious want to be treated as equals. This means a deadly sin is to tell a teen writer that he or she is good “for their age.” Just don’t do it, okay? Also, the condescension of some adult writers I’ve come across (only a few, but some pretty clueless adult writers have said to me “well, you’re young. You wouldn’t understand.” Grrr… Allie, just FYI, is awesome about teen writing, which is why I feel comfortable ranting about here.) is beyond annoying, so this is my public broadcast to you: We have a seriously talented group of rising teen writers here, and I think we all want to be treated as ordinary writer. I think we all are ordinary. You’d be surprised just how good some teen writers are.

…And with that, I will leave you. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can find me on:

Twitter

My blog

Also, I co-run Teens Can Write, Too!, where we have a number of seriously talented teen followers (some agented, some soon-to-be). You should check it out, especially if you’re a teen writer yourself.

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7 thoughts on “Teens and Writing by John Hansen

  1. Awesome post, John! I commend you for sticking up for teen writers. I’m actually a soon-to-be middle school LA and SS teacher so I’m saving your post to remind me that teen writers should be treated like any other writer. I’ll also keep you and your blogs in mind when I find teen writers who need inspiration. Thanks!

    • Thanks! I wouldn’t be too honest with people writing essays for school, of course, since many of those kids aren’t that into writing. But many people who are writing novels in their free time like to be treated as normal writers. :)

  2. Way to stick your neck out there! I agree one hundred percent. Not a lot of people realize that you have to start somewhere on your journey to becoming an author! I can’t tell you how many weird looks I’ve gotten as a sixteen-year-old author when pitching my novels and trying to find editors. It took me a while to learn to leave my age out, haha.

    Anyway, I appreciate you writing this!

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