Friday, September 28, 2007

Mscelina's Lexicon of Rules For Young Writers

I've been running into a lot of young writers on the web lately and I've noticed an interesting trend. Back when I was a kid...

okay. shut up. Quit snickering.

... I didn't know of ANY people my age who locked themselves in their rooms to write. My writing was always kind of hush-hush (unless it was a contest) because the 'weird' label is one a high school girl doesn't want to attract. While all of the other kids were running the streets and wreaking havoc, I was pounding away on an old manual typewriter churning out horrible stories and dreaming of becoming a 'real' author.

Now it's not so unusual to find kids who are already published before they even go to college. What in the heck happened? Neither of my girls are huge on writing, although they both are voracious readers so I can't attribute this trend to some sort of strange contagion. I personally know of a fourteen year old who is giving out grammar advice on a major writers' forum.

So when did writing become cool?

Once upon a time, the only kids that wrote poetry with Goth kids who transcribed their social alienation into escapist art. I was an oddity for producing a full-length manuscript at 17 and a full-length play at 22. I mean, sure--I can see getting a short story or a poem published in a literary magazine run by an educational organization but these kids are ambitious and driven and are pushing themselves to succeed despite all of the conventional wisdom that tells them they are too young.

So, in honor of that, welcome to mscelina's lexicon of rules for young writers.

(1) Those people that tell you you're too young are WRONG. You're not too young.

(2) However, there is a lot of truth to the concept that you need life experiences in order to write compelling, realistic fiction. Live a lot. By that, I mean that a good writer is a good observer. You may not have experienced enough in your day-to-day life to write about a realistic situation BUT if you are a good observer you can learn a lot. For example: the cafeteria lady is obviously having a bad day. How do you know? Her eyes are red-rimmed, she's slamming food onto the tray, she's not maintaining eye contact with anyone. What else do you see about her? What other clues can you find to let you know how she's feeling?

(3) You can never read too much. And you know all those classics of literature they force you to read in English class? DO NOT get the Cliff's notes. READ them. Regardless of how boring they are (and I believe you they are--I still can't abide Hemingway) they will teach you as much or more about the inner workings of a story, about how to develop a character, and how to resolve conflicts. Reading good books--and lots of them--is your training ground.

(4) Grammar is your friend. Yep, all those pesky dangling participles and split infinitives are a pain in the wazoo, but do you want to end up like me? I'm still fighting my comma addiction. Don't let grammar slip through your fingertips. JUST SAY NO.

(5) Read your stories aloud. You'd be surprized how much you can find out about your writing just by HEARING it.

(6) So your friends think you're weird for writing? Screw 'em.

(7) Learn to take criticism. One of the natures of this beastly business is that everyone is a critic--and everyone gets criticized. Accept the fact that there are people who know a hell of a lot more than you and consider what they tell you. And yes...I have to remind myself of this one every day. This piece of advice works for adult writers as well as it does for young ones.

(8) Get used to rejection. We ALL get rejected. Some of us get rejected more than others. It's not get you. Every rejection, however, is a stepping stone on the path to acceptance. Once you start getting personalized rejection letters you'll know you're getting close.

(9) There's no such thing as a perfect first draft. It doesn't matter who are you, you have to rewrite. This is the one that stalled me out for over a decade. And your primary editor is YOU. Don't rely on other people to do that for you. Critique boards are nice, but you should already have rewritten anything you submit to a crit board once or twice before you allow anyone else to look at it.

(10) Omniscience is boring--and irritating. Especially self-proclaimed omniscience. Writing is a business as much as it is a craft. You DON'T know everything. You actually don't know anything. Accept that and move on. Research everything. Ask questions. Learn--as all writers learn--and store that knowledge to help you along the path.

(11) And finally, a writer's life is a lonely life. For a portion of each day, you must immerse yourself in a world that no one else can share. Solitude is your friend. Make it your ally as well.

Personally, I'm very encouraged by the sheer volume of young writers I'm running into. I think it's a great trend, particularly in a world where the arts are being downplayed in favor of the sciences. Keep writing--write something every day--and keep dreaming those great dreams. Young writers now have tools available to them that a generation earlier would have killed for. It's a world where reading is once again fashionable for our adolescents (oh thankyouthankyouthankyou JK Rowling!) and as a result writing is as well. Don't get discouraged.

Oh, and go out and buy my book. Just kidding. It was the only way I could think of to insert another shameless plug for The Reckoning of Asphodel (available now at without looking like an idiot. *grin*