Not all writers start young. But to those who do, I think there is some special advice needed. When you’re young, the world is at your feet and you’re the next prodigy genius waiting to burst upon the world.
I remember that feeling. I decided I wanted to “be a writer” when I was thirteen. That was ten years ago. My writing journey has been hard and full of a lot of spectacularly bad writing before it became filled with good writing. Along the way I have received all manner of writing advice. Some helpful, some not as helpful as it could have been. Today, I’d like to share 4 pieces of advice for writers starting young like I did.
1) Reread Good Literature Instead Of Looking For New Mediocre Books
You are far better off rereading a short list of exceptionally written books than you are reading a longer list of mediocre ones. I read quality and broadly as a teen but I regret not rereading books more when I had the time to. I wanted the bragging rights that came with having read so many classic titles and neglected the opportunity to develop a deeper familiarity with a shorter list. There is a special value in rereading that you don’t get when you only read a book once.
2) “You Have To Live Life Before You Can Write About It”
This is something my mom has always said. The desire to write without something to say is like trying to captain a boat that is landlocked. All you can do is mimic the motions. Without having something you’re trying to communicate, you can’t actually go anywhere. This is where most bad storytelling comes from. My advice is go live your life now, so later you can write about it. Love hard. Get hurt. Learn from it.
Or as John R. Erickson, author of Hank the Cowdog, says in Story Craft: Reflections Of Faith, Culture and Writing”:
“Before we write, we should live. Somewhere in this big world, there may be a twelve-year old who has stories worth telling, but most of us need to spend some time accumulating experience, and maybe wisdom too, from some sort of activity outside of ourselves: building a house, punching cows, baking bread, comforting a sick child, burying loved ones, raising a garden, laughing at dogs, gazing at the stars, keeping a marriage strong. The easy part of writing is the writing. The hard part is finding something to say that is worth a reader’s time.”
“But what do I do while I’m waiting for life to give me something to write about?”
3) Learn the Grammar Rules Well So You Can Break Them Effectively Later
Study writing. Learn the rules, learn the techniques. Communication is an art so you’re going to bend the “rules.” But before you can begin splattering paint onto a canvas and make something meaningful, you have to know the basics of color theory. What happens when you mix these colors? What happens when you turn your brush on its side? In order to be in control of your communication, you must know what tools are in your toolbox.
4) “Write Hard And Clear About What Hurts”
This writing advice from Ernest Hemingway is one of my favorites. Pain and the need to communicate is ultimately what made me a writer. Once I had something that needed to be said, writing was easy and I found my voice.