Wednesday, September 01, 2010
 
When Lynda asked me to guest post on this topic, I was delighted. I’ve been writing for over thirty years from when I was a teenager to my current “older” years, so not only do I qualify as an “older writer” but I can recall what it was like as a young adult, trying to break into the publishing market. If I knew then what I know now… LOL!

Well, that’s what this topic is all about, I suppose…But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, I want to start this discussion with a few clarifying statements:

The terms “Young Adult” and “Older” imply a certain level of experience and success in publishing that may or may not be the case. I know many an older writer who has not yet published and some young adult writers who have already published!

The question also implies that young adult writers face more challenges than older writers. This may also not be the case. In the writing workshops that I give across the country, I run across many older writers who are facing the same challenges in getting started. Being older doesn’t necessarily mean being “wiser”, particularly when it comes to publishing.

Moreover, an older published writer—who has learned the ropes of the industry, been beaten down by umpteenth rejections and prevailed to successfully publish—is such a different creature than the youth who is “stumbling” through a whole new world they need to learn to get their first work published, that I think it moot to compare these two. I think it might be useful, though, to look at young and older writers who are both getting started.

All beginning writers—no matter what age—face the same challenges of:
  • finding their “voice”
  • learning the mechanics of compelling storytelling
  • tapping into their passion and finding the confidence to start and finish a project
  • learning about the publishing industry and successfully marketing their works
  • and how to handle rejection (an inevitable part of the publishing process)

The challenges are, in fact, the same; but, perhaps how a writer handles the challenge will differ with age. Here are my observations and interpretations of some differences between challenges faced by young adult and older writers seeking to be published:

  1. Young adult writers will generally not be taken as seriously as an older writer by those representing or associated with the industry, who will stereotype youth as immature, impatient, sloppy and naïve. Older writers may not face the same negative assumptions. In fact, there is some basis for this. If you are older, you will more likely have learned some protocol in communication and doing business, you will more likely bring a higher level of maturity in how you present yourself as a professional and deal with others (a critically important part of getting in the door of the publishing industry), and you will more likely have learned other life-lessons that you can bring that will aid you in successfully publishing.
  2. When I was a young adult writer, although my writing style and subject matter were mature, I lacked the emotional maturity and associated confidence to persist and prevail amid what seemed to be a “league of extraordinary gentlemen”. I was isolated from any writing community, which didn’t help my perspective. Joining a writer’s community and going to conferences and conventions will greatly help to remove intimidation, educate you and help you gain a more realistic perspective.
  3. Older writers may face the opposite challenge, of being overly cynical and jaded before they even get started—jinxing their project with their own negative attitude. This is where youth may have the advantage of not having suffered as many disappointments to pre-suppose themselves into failure. Older writers may be more stubborn, conservative and set in their ways, and less inclined to experiment with new ideas, formats of presentation, methods of communication and marketing. This will limit their options for publication.

Over to you, Krysia...What are your thoughts? How about the rest of you? Share your experiences with us.



Nina Munteanu is an internationally published author of several novels, short stories, essays and reviews. Her award-winning blog The Alien Next Door offers lively discussion on topics of science, writing, pop-culture and philosophy. Nina teaches writing online and in workshops throughout North America. Her popular writing guide The Fiction Writer: Get Published Write Now! is being used by schools and universities in Canada and the U.S. Visit her website for more information on Nina: www.ninamunteanu.com.  

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Comments:
I'd like to start a discussion by inviting Lynda (an older writer...*grin*) and Krysia, a young adult writer, to comment on my observations here and give us a taste of her post--Krysia will be posting next! Can't wait for her rebuttal!

Readers, which group do you fit into and what particular challenges are you facing? What have been your experiences?

Best Wishes,
Nina
 
I agree about the disadvantage for young writers of not being taken seriously, and the advantage of greater positive energy. I'd like to add "friends" to both the pro and con side. Is it 'cool' these days to be a writer? How does peer pressure or being conscious of what peers think of your writing or you being a writer impact a young person. I was a closet writer as a young woman, myself. I shared my work with just one special friend because I cared about it deeply and I doubted others would. I wonder, if I was a teenager today, if I'd be using fan fic sites to publish. Or still be in the closet.
 
Like Lynda I completely agree with what you said. Actually I wrote some notes in preparation saying pretty much the same thing. Now I have to come up with something else…
It is totally cool to be a writer. I know plenty of students at school who love writing whether it is fan fic or their own novels. People either react with awe or indifference when they find out you are a writer. Even the bullies have never said a bad word to me on the subject (not that we chat much). Then again I’m not really a typical case because I was never in the closet. I kind of stumbled into the life of a writer by accident with a built in support group and audience.
 
I agree with a lot of what everyone else has said so far, haha. I'm a young writer, as of yet unpublished, but I've written several novels and been to as many conferences/workshops/etc as I can get my hands on. Conventions and the like are definitely helpful for perspective - they let you know right away what your chances of getting published are, a lot of them, and how much work it is, etc, as well helping young writers meet older members of the community and obviously improve their skills. The only thing that's difficult about this is the cost versus how much income young writers typically have.

As for peer pressure, when I was in high school all of my friends sort of got into writing - some wrote fan fic, some wrote shorter original stories, etc, but I've never been in the closet about writing and most people are very warm to the subject.

I would also like to add that joining a critique group for your writing as a young adult writer (or any level, really), is extremely helpful for improvement... although it takes a lot of confidence to hear what other people have to say about your writing for some people.

Also, great discussion topic!

-Sam
 
Great comments! Sorry, Krysia... I thought that might happen but I was confident that you would come up with other things to say too. This topic is so huge and full of opportunities.

Lynda, you brought up a great challenge of peer pressure and self-consciousness re writing. Something that youth are more prone to feeling.

I, like you, was quiet about my writing pursuits when I was younger (in high school), sharing them with just a few special friends. Things seem to have changed. And Lynda, you've helped with your program of fan-fic in your Okel Universe! What a cool opportunity!

The ability to write is recognized by young and old as very useful for communication. My son, who is entering his second year in university, "plays" with language when he texts on his cell phone. I think that youth these days have so many opportunities for experimental and personal expression that writing is exploding on so many fronts. While some challenges are greater for youth, the changing platforms of publishing houses and communication companies are just ripe for writers to create their own personal niche in a new and exciting market. Stories and storytelling has never been more exciting.
 
Darkmoon54, I like hearing from you that writing is respected in general by youth.

You mention writers critique groups as being helpful. I totally agree. There is nothing like sharing with like-minded people in a safe and nurturing environment. I stress safe and nurturing because you must be careful when forming one or joining one, that you can TOTALLY trust their judgment. A writer's group is only as good as its members... speaking of peer pressure... You need to be mindful of possible personality clashes, jealousy, mean-spiritedness or even "well-meaning" overbearing advice. Above all, do not let anyone tell you that your work "sucks" or let anyone "bully" you into changing something that you feel doesn't need changing. Be good to yourself and especially good to your art.
 
I do think of the Okal Rel Legacies series as an opportunity for all writers, young and old. I am very conflicted about calling it fan-fic though. I resisted the term indignantly for a long time and still do in the company of pro writers. Okal Rel Legacies authors are paid, have a publisher and write canon. I write in the Okal Rel Legacies series for that matter. I encourage ORU fan-fic, too, and figure that might be a good way to learn how to write for the legacies series. But to me fan-fic is "anything goes" type of writing. So just for the record, Okal Rel Legacies isn't fan-fic unless you call any writing that shares a parent universe (Star Trek novels for example) fan fic. I've relaxed about it lately but I still discuss it when it comes up because fan-fic is still a disparaging term for a lot of pro-writers. I call ORU legacies writers contributors. I think the whole distinction matters less and less to the younger generation. But maybe that depends on who you ask.
 
I don't find as much difference between young writers starting out and older persons starting writing as I do between people who are willing to show their writing to others and people who just can't let anyone else look at it. Young or old, the ones who come to my classes are those who have GOT to write. Some of them have to make a real effort to send their work to a publisher or even show it in a workshop.
I've got some new workshops starting soon. Thanks, Lynda, for suggesting I post a note here about the two writing courses I'll be teaching for Vancouver Island University. These are online courses in a Moodle format, which gives a lot of opportunity for interaction in a virtual discussion group.
The six week course I am teaching this fall is Meet Your Writing Goals -- it's intended to help people learn how to set and meet goals for writing many kinds of written work such as writing novels, newspaper columns, children's books, etc. The six week course I am teaching in the winter is Writing Science Fiction Stories -- it's intended to help people who write science fiction stories learn how to prepare them and submit them to magazines. Both courses start out easy and over six weeks become more challenging.
If you or one of your friends is looking for an online course, please consider enrolling in one of my courses.
You can see the info about the courses at:
http://www.viu.ca/ccs/courses/arts.asp#writing
This is the catalogue's page of courses on arts and writing.
Scroll down and you will see my courses are listed: Meet Your Writing Goals and Writing Science Fiction Stories
 
Hello, my name is Melanie.
Having read what others have to say on the matter, I believe that the general gist of a young writer's challenge has been very artfully outlined. However, I think the biggest challenge faced is handling your ability to write. I am only a teenager myself, and dabble at length with different writing styles and forms of appeal. I find that trying to use my writing to develop interest and still put on the paper what I want to see is very tough. This could, very well, be attributed to the fact that I haven't experienced as much life as a more mature writer. I believe that a young writer needs to write what they WANT to see first. After they've gotten their fill of knowing that they can express something how they WANT to express it, it'll be that much easier to develop structure, appeal and detail.
 
I agree with you, PlaysWithCoryJackMoose! Work out of the impulse that makes you want to write in the first place. Yeah, there's a lot of hard work involved in polishing skills and texts but too much emphasis on those, too soon, can squelch the joy of creativity. What's the rubric you writing teachers in the mix here? Anything more than 30% negative feedback inhibits rather than motivates?
 
I agree, Lynda... writers need to continually balance their flowing creativity with the discipline of writing craft. Both go hand in hand and help the other. Too much creativity without the discipline of craft breeds total chaos; too much discipline can inhibit storytelling...
 
For me, the only real difference between young and old new writers I've encouraged is a lack of life experience. I admit that I'd met some woefully inexperienced 50+ folks in my life. However, that number is small compared to that of the under 25 crowd. I often can tell young writers who have read a lot, volunteered, had multicultural friends, travel, and/or interactions.

There's nothing wrong with being young and inexperienced. After all, we were all like that once. It's all about learning in the end.
 
Nina - it's definitely a great thing it is respected otherwise people more prone to giving in to peer pressure might not write at all!

Thanks for the advice about writing groups, all those points are definitely a consideration... my writing group is made up of people who are all at least ten or fifteen years older than me, and I was invited by a friend of a family member - some of them are published, and they're all pretty chill I've found. It's a fine balance you have to reach to get productive advice out of a writing group - willing enough to listen to critique yet confident enough not to change too much about your writing. I think I'm fine for my group, but you're right, it never hurts to be cautious.

Lynda - To add to what the younger generation makes of the fanfiction debate - I have two friends who wrote fanfiction extensively, just for themselves, mainly, not for the Internet. They saw nothing wrong with it, they had a great time, and they developed their writing through doing this over a couple of years. I've met a couple older writers who were of this opinion, but it doesn't come up much. On the other side, there were a couple of kids in my school who talked extensively about their fan fic and made everyone else uncomfortable with it just because they were so intent on it, and it wasn't that great anyways. You're right that the Okal Rel Legacies wouldn't be considered fan fic though, and it is a great opportunity.

Melanie - totally see what you're saying too. A mentor of mine told me to write with just creativity the first time and edit later, but doing that can be tough and doesn't always work for everyone. I like to have what I want to see expressed how I want to express it right away, but it doesn't always work like that I guess.
 
Thanks for the feedback, darkmoon54... Re the last point you made to Melanie...This has been and continues to be one of the most contentious issues faced by young and beginning writers: write with just creativity and edit later vs. being mindful of craft as you go along. Two things to take away here:

1. you can certainly write the first way, but believe me, it will take you ten years to publish; because it will take that long to edit! Writing the second way saves time and keeps you focused on STORY. Story is King.

2. The experts say--and I am in total agreement with them now--that it is dangerous to simply write creatively without some mindfulness to craft. And by craft I mean good storytelling that incorporates theme with plot and character: the so what of a story. If you don't have these clear in your head, your writing will meander into chaos and won't really go anywhere; it won't be a STORY. You NEED to know where you're going--at least a general idea. I talk about these in my writing guidebook The Fiction Writer and in my workshop "The Writer's Toolkit". Both are available through www.thepassionatewriter.com and Amazon.
 
Nina - What you're saying totally makes sense :) I think it's my bad for not clarifying. Writing the first way probably makes sense for my friend because he does know the story before he starts, and he does kind of know where it's going, what he meant by the advice is not planning to the point where your characters don't have room to grow and evolve, and your story doesn't have room to surprise you in little unexpected ways that make it even more dynamic.

Probably coming back to this party a bit late, but... :) I'll check out your books though...
 
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