I’m old enough to remember when Eragon came out. We were still young enough to be having bedtime stories and it was one that we worked through, though not until a couple of years after it came out. There were two things about Eragon that captivated me at the time: dragons and the author.
I was about nine when we began, an age when any book with dragons was worth reading. At that time, I was still young enough to be allowed to believe that being a writer was a valid vocation in life and the idea that the author of this dragon-laden tome was a mere nineteen years old was inspiring to say the least. I, too, would have a book published within the decade and the sooner the better.
As the years went by, I wrote my little heart out but never seemed able to complete a project of any great length. All the while, I heard of more and more young people who were achieving great things (publishing books among them) and the feelings of impatience and frustration only grew.
During my teenage years, the desire to be published before I was twenty grew but so did the realisation that this was unlikely. The pressure made it more difficult to write and easier for the school counsellors and teachers to redirect me towards something that might be called an Actual Career. Then when I was eighteen, I had an idea, bought a notebook, and sat down to write what would become Aurelius. The first draft of my first book was completed at age twenty-two and it was the most enjoyable story I’d ever written.
Am I disappointed that I never achieved that desire to be published before I was twenty? No. And the older I get, the more I understand why publishing a book as a teen is not always a good idea.
The teenage years are ones of great growth and change. We’re learning about ourselves, our interests, the world around us, and laying foundations for what we hope to be later in life. If you want to be an author, writing your heart out and completing a book or three is a great idea. Publishing those books may not be.
Why bother writing, if not to publish? A valid question but a misguided one. The majority of what has been written has never been published. With this age of blogs, self-publishing, and the internet, it’s so easy to put every thought, every word, every whisper that goes through our minds online for the world to see but the truth is that this isn’t healthy. Unpublished writing is not a waste of time. It is valuable practice in the art. Just as a doctor takes years of study to qualify, and lawyers play out endless mock cases to learn how to carry out real ones, so those books you wrote as a child or teen will be useful in helping you to grow and learn more about your craft so that when you are unleashed at last upon the world, you are strong, articulate, and enthralling.
The years of unpublished writing and completed manuscripts gathering dust are not for nothing. But those years will be much more enjoyable for you if you don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to be published before you hit your twenties. It’s not a bad goal, but I’ve learned that a better goal for me has been to aim for publication when I am ready to publish.
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’m nearly twenty-four. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words of short stories, novels (half-finished and otherwise), research papers, critical essays, reviews, blog posts, guest posts, letters, journal entries, poetry, songs, and even attempts at comics and scripts. Many of them are now lost, many will never see the light of day, but none of them were a waste of the thousands of hours they took to create because with each and every piece, I was learning more about writing well, refining my skill, and developing a voice.
That was a long caveat but you must know that whatever your age, and whatever stage you find yourself at, your unpublished writing is not a waste of time. Writing for publication somehow makes it a lifeless thing. Write to learn, write to grow, write because it’s the only way to shake these clamouring words from your bones. In the end, write because you love to, regardless of who may read those lines.
IMPATIENCE AND QUALITY
Of course, the principle of quality over age works both ways. I’ve read excellent books written by teens and I’ve read utter gubbins written by mature adults. My point is more personal.
Our desire should be to publish the best quality writing we can and that usually takes a lot longer than churning out the adequate. It is perfectly possible to be published (particularly self-published) as a teen but if you hurry your writing out of a desire to be published sooner, you will regret it. One day, you will look back and wish that you had spent more time on your manuscript. One more round of betas might have caught that gaping plot hole, a more thorough proof-read would have caught all those annoying little typos that seem so obvious now, a couple of extra weeks to typeset it properly would have made it look like a traditionally published book.
It is bad to hurry a book at any age.
If you are trying to be published through a traditional publishing house, working longer to create a higher quality of writing will hopefully save you some pain, knowing that when you are rejected (because who gets accepted first time?) it’s not because you haven’t done your utmost. When it comes to self-publishing, it’s a dangerous beast and it’s even more important to work on your book a little longer. Let’s give the indie book stereotype a kick in the teeth shall we?
This warning is only pertinent if you are at risk of being so eager to be published by a certain age that you don’t mind as much what you publish, so long as it is published by a certain point. It’s not your age at publication that matters, it’s the quality of what you release because it will forever be attached to your name. You can only debut once.
If it takes a little longer than you wanted to become a published author, then so be it. Don’t let your desire for the prestige of being able to say you were published as a teenager cause you to forget that we do this because we love beautiful stories and we should not send anything short of excellence out into the world.
By sixteen, I had more life experience than many adults but I still wasn’t ready to be published. I was mature beyond my years but there was so much that I simply did not understand. As teens, we feel like we know so much and we see most of life in black and white but, hard as it is to hear it, we understand so little and this can be reflected in our writings.
Because teenagers so often see the world as black and white, there is an idealism there and an attitude that fixing things is simple. As we grow older, we realise that things are rarely clear-cut. Idealism can be so refreshing sometimes but it rarely works in novels. Looking back over my own writing, though the plots are interesting and I have stored away some of the characters for future reuse, they lack depth.
We are not without empathy and compassion in our younger years, but with experience comes a deeper understanding. The more we experience of life, the more depth and understanding we have and it comes through in an added richness to our writing. There are teenagers out there who already have this but it is important to step back and consider whether allowing yourself time to grow before coming back to and revising your book may be of benefit to the manuscript, and through it, your readers.
The answer may be no, the manuscript is ready, and if that’s true, that’s wonderful. But it’s worth considering. Do you need time to grow into your books so you can write the best possible version of the tale?
SHOULD TEENS PUBLISH BOOKS?
Good writers with something to say should publish books, regardless of their age. If they have a message and can write well and honestly, then they should do their utmost with the manuscript and get it out there. In that respect, their age is irrelevant.
I’m not sure where the desire to become teen authors came from. Perhaps a desire to rebel against the low expectations society had for us; perhaps it was impatience, as if by being published as a teen was somehow superior to being published as an adult. If it is your goal, as it was mine, think carefully about why. Are you putting unnecessary pressure on yourself that is robbing you of the joy of writing itself? Are you trying to prove a point you have no need to prove? Are you simply impatient?
There is no real reason why you need to be published before you are twenty and often it’s better to spend more time learning and enjoy mastering your craft instead of worrying about selling your book. The best time to become a published author is when you are ready and not before. If that’s at sixteen, I applaud you. If it’s at sixty, I salute you. Set yourself goals, they help. But don’t create unnecessary, stress, pressure, and anxiety over something that doesn’t actually matter in the end.
Your book is ready when it’s the best you can make it. We are writers, we’re not striving for publication so much as we’re striving for excellence.