email (and advice) to a young aspiring writer
Okay, as far as blog posts go this is a bit of a cheat. This is from an email I wrote a few months ago to a charming sixth grader who emailed me and asked for writing advice. I found this a very interesting assignment, and gave it some thought (see me in the photo, I’m thinking, thinking). This was my response. Let me know if there’s anything that I should have added.
Dear (incredible young person who had the fantastic taste to read and like my book and wants to be a writer):
Thank you so much for your email, and I am very sorry I took this long
to respond — my life has been a bit crazy lately. I’m delighted
that you enjoyed UNINVITED.
How fantastic that you identify yourself as a writer. I can tell you
this: once you have the desire, the ambition, to write, it never goes
away. I’ve met so many people who started writing when they were
young — and then put that desire away to do more ‘practical’ things
— only to come back to it ten or twenty or thirty years later,
wishing they had been writing all along and regretting that lost
time and development.
So my first advice (and probably most important): don’t stop!
Keep writing! Don’t let anybody discourage you. Find the people who
will support you and help you grow as a writer — and listen to
*them*, not to anybody else. You have a huge advantage because you’re
starting out so young, so make the most of it. The more time and
practice you put into your craft, the better and better you will
become. Not to mention, you are growing up in an era where
storytelling and communication will be more important than ever, and
not just for writers — for everyone and anyone who wants to get a
message across that will reach people on an emotional as well as
intellectual level. Anyone can get facts off the Internet. But not a
lot of people will be able to frame those facts within the kind of
context that can persuade people, keep their
attention, and create actual change in the world. So your creativity
and your ability to reach out to people will only become more
important as time goes on.
I’m sure you already know this, but reading is incredibly important.
Read as much as you can, as often as you can, and follow your
interests wherever they lead you. Read what you want to read, and not
just what you think you ‘should’ read. Do that, and you’ll already be
ahead of the game — most aspiring writers don’t read nearly enough.
Find teachers and mentors who can give you constructive criticism and
help you improve. Writing truly is about revision. It’s fine if the
first draft is lousy — the first draft is just about getting it down.
Revision is about fixing it and making it better. You can
always make it better, so don’t be afraid to write badly. Just get it
down, and then revise.
Try to finish most of what you begin. Nobody finishes every story they
start, and that’s okay. But try to finish most of them. :)
Develop some passions other than writing — so you can write about
them. Learn about history, philosophy, science, art, pop culture,
travel, psychology, vampires — whatever interests and excites you.
Cultivate a deep curiosity about the world. Learn about people.
That’s how you’ll get your ideas. Originality happens when you
combine different ideas, mix them with your own personality, and come
up with something new.
A writer now is expected to have an online platform — to blog and
Twitter, etc. Publishing is changing very quickly now, so pay close
attention to what writers do online — what works, what doesn’t. Read lots of
blogs, and expect to be blogging one day yourself. It takes a long time
to develop an online platform, so this is another area where your youth is a
great advantage. Plan to learn about social media and online marketing and
personal branding. Think of yourself as not just a writer, but a creative
entrepreneur. Your writing will be your business (as well as your
art). You are an artist *and* a businesswoman.
The most important thing is to have a fresh and distinctive ‘voice’.
The more you write, the more your ‘voice’ will emerge and become its
own original thing. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different
styles, or imitate writers you like. Your voice will emerge from that
mash-up of influences. Take chances. Be bold!
As you get older, try to find another job or career that you can do
as well as write (remember, never stop writing). You will have to
make a living, at least until you can support yourself with your
writing (and no matter what anybody says, it *is* possible). But
work is good for other reasons too, not just economic independence —
it keeps you connected to the world (writing can be very isolating)
and it gives you life experience and stuff to write *about*.
And keep reaching out to writers, the way you did with me. Writers
for the most part want to help other writers, because we know how
tough and lonely writing can be, and we’re always excited to find
the members of our farflung, scattered tribe. So you’re also likely to
make some good friends that way.
I hope this helps you. Let me know what you think, and how your own