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On Teens, Writing, and Embracing the Future

When I was a teenager, my mom used to make me really angry by telling me I'd "get" certain books better when I was older.

"You'll have more perspective," she said.

I didn't want to believe it -- I felt like it was an insult to my intelligence. I think anyone who has been or is a teenager, which is every single one of you, will understand. I didn't want to think that, at that moment, I was anything less than the most brilliant I would be.

It took a few years to realize I was insulting myself.

In the writing communities and blogs we all frequent, there seems to be an ongoing tension between teen writers and adult writers, where articles like John Scalzi's are equal parts embraced and despised, where adults are often quick to discount teen writers, and where teen writers are even quicker to jump into defense mode.

I'm an adult, but I understand why teens get pissed off. Being generalized sucks. Being told your writing isn't publishworthy by someone who's never read it sucks even more. The truth is, although many teen writers (and adults, too) have a long way to go, in many cases, they're already there.

You can be an amazing writer at age 17

And here's another truth. At 17, you might be an amazing writer, but you aren't the best writer you will be. If you keep writing, and reading, and living, you will be a much better writer at age 27. And an exponentially better writer at 37, 47, 197, etc.

That's not an insult.
It's a compliment -- to us now, and to our future selves.

Here's why:

All those in-between years I pointed out? They aren't arbitrary. They aren't blank spaces. They are jam-packed with life. Stuff will happen every day and week and month of every year of every decade. Falling in and out of love, and watching your friends fall in and out of love, and babies being born and people dying, and wars and catastrophes and paradigm shifts in technology, culture, the world, your world. You will read books and see films that will change your life. And a year later, you will read another book or see another film that will change your life in a different direction.

Like my mom said, this affects how we read.

Even more, it affects how, and what, we write.

This is not not NOT! a call to quit trying to get published at age 17. I've read amazing books by 17-year-olds, books that completely deserved to be published, books that are being published. I'm also completely sure these teen authors will write even better books in ten or twenty years.

That's not an insult. It's a good thing!

I mean, think about it. If our intellectual and emotional growth ended at age 17, what in the world would we have to look forward to?

Thankfully, we keep improving. We are fine wines! We are cheeses.* As long as we keep our minds open, we'll only get better and better and better.

Again, that doesn't mean you should wait to write that book, however old you are. Unless you want to. But just as growth doesn't stop at 17, it doesn't stop at 27, or 37, or 47. If you wait to write until you have the wisdom to craft the single greatest possible book of your lifetime, in all likelihood, you'll be waiting forever. Or you'll be withered and hunchbacked with arthritic fingers as you tap it out on your futuristic holographic writing device.**

Of course, I hope to still be writing then. I wrote like crazy at 6, and 12. I wrote like crazy at 18, and 23. And today, I am a much, much better writer than I was at all those ages. Yet, at 26, I'm still not the best writer I will be.

I embrace that!!

I swear to you, I'm so excited to see how my writing will change, and how my reading will change, as I grow and experience more people, more life stages, more life. And I'm just as excited to keep reading all that you guys write, as we continue to grow, together.***

~Kirsten Hubbard
(p.s. I'm giving away a copy of Nina La Cour's Hold Still on my blog this week!)

*Except bleu cheese, because, ew.
**Unless you are Harper Lee.
***okay, now THAT was cheesy.

Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. This was a great post. I haven't ever thought of taking a statement like "when you're older, you'll get it" or even being told that I'm not the best writer I can be right now as a compliment before. But this post is so right on. My writing has improved tremendously since I first began writing, and I know that it's only going to get better as time continues.

    Thanks for this awesome post! I gained a new perspective.

  2. Love this, because it is dead on.

  3. This is so true.

    I'm a new follower, just stopping in to say hello. I love this blog already!

  4. Couldn't agree more and that's from a kid who ended up on her own at 16. Even with all that early life experience, I understand life far more now than ever before.

    I believe in embracing the moment and getting all you can out of it. I also know I'll never truly get it fully and when I do, there will be other aspects I don't get until I'm older.

    That's life in a nutshell, it applies with anything in life - including writing.(Hugs)Indigo

  5. Beautifully written. I definitely agree. Some things you can only see in hindsight. I'm such a different writer now than when I was 17.

    I'm good. I'm dang good, but the thought that it will only get better? Brings a smile to my face.

  6. This is great. An awesome perspective. Although I do think that being told 'You'll get it when you're older,' is meant to be insulting sometimes, by smug adults who think they know everything, rather than realizing there's always people who know more and less than us at any given time and any given age.

  7. Awesome post, and so true. That's the wonderful thing about writing -- unlike sports, or modeling or whatever else, writing is something that you get MORE capable of as you grow, in age and experience.

    And of course, the only way to get better is to DO something, so no one should be discouraging young writers EVER from working hard to produce publishable books.

  8. This is the most brilliant post I've ever read on the subject. <3

    It's true that some teens are amazing writers (and so many of them are on AW and the blogsphere), but it's also true that if they keep writing, they will invariably get better. The idea that you're writing the best novel you'll ever write at 15, 17, or even 30 is a rather depressing thought.

  9. This is a great post for perfectionists, too (*cough*). Your current writing can't be as good as what's to come-- but you can't get where you're heading without the writing you're doing now.

    I definitely cringed when parents told me "you don't get it" in high school. I did it again when people said it about college, pregnancy, parenting, owning a house, having a real job... I was a slow learner. LOL But in almost every case, they've been right-- and meant it as a way to look out for me, not to put me down.

    /longest. comment. ever.

  10. Way to make one of those 40 something old gals feel worth a darn! Thanks! And for the record, when I was younger it bugged me when my mother would say those things to me too. I would get defensive.

  11. Such a wonderful post, marred only by the insult to great cheeses like Roquefort and Gorgonzola that are as delicious and wonderful as fine wine.

    BUT REALLY, great post! And so applicable to everything, not just writing.

  12. Completely awesome post. 100% agree that it would be SO DEPRESSING to think that I'm never going to get any better at writing, haha. When it comes down to it, I realize I could wait a few years, 5 years, 10 years to try to get published... and the book I queried then would undeniably be more _____ (mature, layered, world-changing). But - to sum up a plethora of reasons - I don't wanna wait to go after my dreams. Come what may - and there's always time for growth, at age 8 or 80. :)

  13. Thanks for sharing this great post! I think it's important to recognize that we are all growing as writers, even at 16 or 25 or 31, and that the world changes along with our perspectives. A good writer at 16 may evolve into a fantastic writer at 31, and just needed those few extra years to develop.

  14. Such an awesome post; and love that you addressed a different aspect of the YA writing community.

  15. I really love this post and I couldn't agree more.

    Speaking as a teen myself, I think that sometimes teen writers are in a rush, afraid that not being published by a certain age will be too "old", or unaware that there's just so much MORE potential and talent to come.

    I wish that more teen writers would pause for a bit and realize that there's no hurry, that we've got years, decades even, to improve our craft before it's necessary to be published. (However there are a few amazing teen writers that deserve to be published now, but I'm speaking for the majority and myself).

    I think it's much better to wait 5, 10, 15 years and have an amazing book then. I've only been writing seriously for a year or two, and I'd be beyond surprised if in such a short time I'd learned enough to write a book of publishable quality. I think it's going to be many, many years before I get anywhere near that level, but I'm okay with that. Actually, I'm pretty happy with that. There's no pressure now, and there really shouldn't be. The only thing I'm concerned with is improving.

    Whoah, long comment! Tehe.

    But <3 this post :)

  16. Great post, and so true!

    When I was 17, I wanted to be published before I reached 20. That was a long time ago, and I'm not published yet, but I have realized that my book is better because of it. If I had finished my book as a 17/18 year old, it would have been an okay book. But the things that I have experienced in the years since then have really improved my book, my writing overall, and my perspective on life. Some people can and should get published as teens (and I am so incredibly jealous/proud of them!), but things will happen when they are meant to happen.

  17. thanks so much for the comments, everyone :)
    I wish dumb blogger had threaded comments so I could reply more specifically, but overall, I just love hearing about all your writerly journeys. You guys inspire me like crazy.

  18. also: remilda, I want to steal your avatar and carry it in my pocket for always.

  19. Spot. On. I've only been doing this writing thing for like a year or two and already I'm massively different. Loved it!!!

  20. I am a late bloomer.... I expect to do my best writing after I'm dead. ;)

    Wonderful, thoughtful post, Kirsten. Thanks!


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