Wednesday, January 2, 2013

On Being a Teenage Author

Whenever I tell anyone that my first novel is being published, the reaction I get most often is this: "Oh my God, you wrote a novel?"

I always wonder if other first-time published authors get the same reaction, or whether I just get it because I'm a teenager. Whenever anyone says that to me it always feels a bit strange--because this novel isn't my first. Yes, I've written a novel. In fact, I've written eight. 

I started really writing when I was twelve, and I've never stopped. At first it was just a hobby, something I did when I was bored. My writing was veeeeeery sucky for a while (naturally--there's a learning curve for everything, right?) but as I got older and more experienced, things, slowly, slowly began to get better. I learned the arts of plot and dialogue, the nuances of character, the balancing act of description. I got older, my writing progressed into something that truly defines who I am as a person. Nowadays, I am nearly always writing or mentally plotting out what I am going to write next. 

But still, strangely, even when I told people I'm fairly close to that my book was being published, I got that reaction--"You wrote a novel?" 

Being a teenage author is a strange thing. I think it's because I'm so busy doing other things--school, college apps, sports, etc.--that it seems, from the outside, like writing isn't a terribly prominent part of my life. In truth, I often stay up until obscene hours in the night so I can do my bit of writing for the day in the midst of everything else. Whenever I space out and miss what my friends are saying, I'm usually thinking about my novel's next plot point. And yet, despite the fact that my writing is so important to me, personally, it rarely comes up in day-to-day conversation, and some people I've known for years don't know that this whole novel-publishing shebang is happening. It's a strangely quiet process. 

And then there's the strangeness involved in actually going through the publishing industry. You get the feeling that you're in limbo, a little bit. Not quite a child, not quite an adult. You communicate with your agent and your editor on your own and are responsible for your own work life. And yet, your contracts have all these odd little fiddly bits added on because you're underage, and whatever you sign, your parents have to sign too. You're never quite sure whether you should bring your parents with you to a meeting or not, and your editor has kids around your age. 

I've never been quite sure whether my young age is a good thing or a bad thing. Of course there are always naysayers, those who say that teens' writing sucks, as a rule. But on the other hand, my young age is something "interesting" about me that most other writers don't have. For better or worse, though, my age is something integral to my writing career--it's something I can never quite escape or forget. 

But, strangely enough, here's what I think is the secret to my success:
I've never actually believed that my age has anything at all to do with my writing. 

I've worked my butt off for the past five years, honing my craft. I write constantly. I've attended the California State Summer School for the Arts and the Iowa Young Writer's Studio, completed NaNoWriMo in the middle of the school year, and given up sleep in exchange for novels. What does it matter if I'm seventeen or fifty-seven? 

Sure, I don't have the life experiences writers older than me do, and I haven't had quite as much time to polish my writing as many other writers. Still, in the end, I don't think that the casual reader could pick up my writing and immediately figure out that it was written by someone under the age of eighteen. Don't get me wrong, I'm still learning, and I am absolutely sure my writing is far from perfect. But at the same time, I've always had a stupid amount of self-confidence, (which is not always a good thing, by the way--it gets me into some really awkward situations) and that age-blind self-confidence has led me to put my work out into the world where people can see it--and out there, awesomely enough, people have liked it so far. 

So here's my message for those of you who are reading this, teenagers or not: Ok, sometimes writing by teenagers isn't the greatest. And sometimes it is. And sometimes writing by adults isn't the greatest. And sometimes it is. And maybe the age of the author isn't really the point at all. 

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