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03 February 2008 @ 09:45 pm
tips for teen writers  
Can you tell me how you started out and any pointers you would give to a thirteen year old girl who wants to write like her favourite author?

I want to be a writer when I get older and I would love to get some tips.

what tips do you have for an aspiring writer? Help out a teen writer.

I have been writing since 3rd grade and have writen numerous series of books, some of which I really hope to get published some day. However, I was wondering if you would be able to give me some advice regarding the life of a writer such as yourself

do you have any advice for a young, aspiring writer that won't rest until her story's out there?

Awhile ago I posted some answers to questions I often get asked in email about my own writing. Now I'm going to post about the questions I get asked most often in email, which are not about my writing but rather about other people's. In other words, writing advice. Now, the internet is awash in writing advice, some of it good and some of it, as noted by MJ, shockingly bad, but there certainly is a lot of it. I'm not much for giving out writing advice in general, but I *am* lazy, and posting this will give me a handy way to answer all those emails with a single link. And the emails I get are very specific: they're emails from teenagers, asking for advice about being a teen writer, and since there's less advice out there speaking to that particular issue, I thought I'd address it briefly here.

Now my first thought when people ask me for writing advice is: why are you asking me? I have one book out. Uno. Any wisdom I have to impart will be trumped by sentence #2 by the accumulated wisdom found, for instance, in Tammy Pierce's FAQ section. She has links that direct you to magazines that publish work by teen authors and all sorts of good stuff. In fact, I strongly suspect you are asking me because you feel that other writers are too busy to answer while I, for one, seem like I do not have that much to do. I would say you were wrong there but here I am writing a long blog entry so clearly my ground is shaky on that one.

I'm generally uncomfortable giving writing advice not just because of my own inexperience, but because this sort of thing is subjective and you can often come across conflicting bits of writing advice that are both good. I can only say what works for me or what I've observed, and in this post I'll talk about what I remember about being a teenage writer and what was helpful for me. The observations are pretty general, so hopefully they'll be helpful. In general I'm much more comfortable being asked questions about the publication process because that stuff is at least objective: what's a literary agent do, how do advances and royalties work, print runs, returns, all that stuff. But you wanted to know about writing, so here we go:

1) You need to develop a self-critical eye.

If you're looking for tips you could do worse than read John Scalzi's post on the topic: 10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing. His advice is good. Many people take objection to the "Your writing sucks" aspect of it. What I find enlightening is reading through the comments and seeing all the posts by teenage writers who claim their writing doesn't suck. And yes, in the case of teenage writers, there are always those whose writing is surprisingly good. The youngest person I know to sell a book was nineteen at the time. But the people who are posting and saying that their writing doesn't suck are probably the ones whose writing does suck. That's because it takes a long time to develop a self-critical eye and see where your writing is going wrong and what about it needs improving. Among the writers I know, many very successful and award-winning, they all think their writing sucks about half the time. The writers I know who think their writing is unimpeachably wonderful mostly do suck, and that goes for adults as well as teens. What you need to do is develop a sense of what you're doing, what needs fixing, how you're writing is flowing, all that stuff. And developing that sense takes time. I often suggest critique groups or classes at this juncture because having someone else critique your writing will get you started on being able to critique it yourself.

2) Quit worrying about being published RIGHT NOW.

Jeez, guys, what's the rush? The number of people who get published in their teens is vanishingly small. And as Justine Larbalestier points out in her wise article Too Young To Publish, when they do get published, it is not always a good thing. Being published before you're thirty is considered young to be published; when you're published as a teen, it's newsworthy because you are so young, but you're also treated like a dog who paints. It doesn't really matter if the paintings are good, it's just exciting that the dog can do it in the first place. That's not always such a great feeling. Anyway, telling yourself that you need to be PUBLISHED RIGHT NOW is putting an awful lot of unnecessary pressure on yourself. Being published is not the ultimate measure of the worth of what you do. What you should be concentrating on now is working on your writing, polishing it, and making it better. Show it to people (not your parents) who can critique it for you — an online writing workshop like critters.org can be helpful. Or take writing classes — if your school doesn't offer them, a local university probably does. I took writing classes at UCLA when I was in high school, frinstance. Objective, professional adult readers can tell you how ready you are for publication.

3) Read a lot.

If you don't like reading, and you don't read, you probably won't ever be a good writer. That's about as close as I get to making incendiary and definite statements about writing, but I think it's true (and was first said to me by a writing professor in college, who said she couldn't figure out why people who don't like to read want to write — would you really want to be a singer if you didn't like music? — and said that in all the years she'd taught she'd never come across anyone who didn't read who was any good at writing.) Reading will help you develop your own voice, and the more widely you read, the sooner you'll develop an individual voice that doesn't sound just like whatever your favorite book or writer sounds like. Reading can teach you what writing is supposed to sound like, and also what it's not supposed to sound like. For instance, the other day a teen writer sent me a story that began something like this:

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAURGGHGHGHGGH," he screamed. It was dark. Dark! Everything was dark!!!!!!!!

Have you ever read a book which featured quite so many exclamation points after an observation like "Everything was dark?" Probably not, right? If no one in the history of the published word has pulled this sort of thing off there's probably a reason.

4) You're going to write just like your favorite writers do, and that's okay. For now.

When I was a teenager, everything I wrote sounded like whatever book I liked at the time. After I read The Mists of Avalon I wrote an Arthurian book and after I read the Anne Rice books I wrote about vampires and after I read Ender's Game I wrote science fiction and it was all very derivative and silly. But it was still good practice. All writing is good practice and individual voice develops over time. I can't count the amount of letters I get from teens saying they're writing a book about a girl in love with a vampire. Aha. So you love Twilight, and that's great. It's wonderful when you love a book so much. But it can also be helpful to look under the surface of what it is that you love about a book. Is it vampires you like so much, or the idea of eternal, immutable yet impossible love? — i.e.: maybe it's the dynamic of the book that truly moves you, and there are all sorts of ways to ring changes on that dynamic, and make it your own. Often that comes over time — influences never really fade, but by the time you're an adult writer, you'll probably be a varied amalgam of all your influences, and mixing them together is a great way to come up with something entirely new. Go ahead and be influenced, just be aware of how and why.

5) Don't worry about being perfect.

Yeah, I know I just said you need to be self-critical and you should be. But you should also be having fun with your writing. All that crappy writing I was doing when I was a teenager, I was having a hell of a good time. I wrote a 1,000 page romantic epic called The Beautiful Cassandra based on the story Jane Austen wrote about her sister when she was twelve. (You can read it here. The Jane Austen story I mean, not my novel. ) It was terrible, but boy did I have fun writing it (and my friends had fun reading it.) One of the great joys of being so young and writing for fun is the lack of pressure and freedom to write whatever you want. So don't endlessly beat yourself up about getting everything right — enjoy what you're doing, accept that writing for practice alone isn't writing wasted, and neither is writing for fun alone. Enjoy yourself. Oh, and just as a tiny side note, when you're writing to authors and asking for advice, don't write to ten authors at once and tell them all they're you're favorite author. We do compare notes, and we're on to your shell game. *beady eye* This means you.
deliashermandeliasherman on February 4th, 2008 04:30 am (UTC)
You're a smart and articulate woman, Cassandra Claire. Couldn't have put it better myself. Especially Point Number 3. Can I link to this at need?
Cassie Clarecassandraclare on February 4th, 2008 04:34 am (UTC)
Hey, Delia! It was lovely to see you the other night. Link away!
(no subject) - ellen_kushner on February 5th, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC) (Expand)
raedokidoki_hearts on February 4th, 2008 06:39 am (UTC)
You know, I really need to get around to reading your book (I know, bad form since I'm commenting on your elljay, but there's a big stack of books sitting next to my bed that I've got to get through and Kushiel's Avatar kind of absorbed me, as usual with Jacqueline Carey's stuff. IT'S NEXT ON MY LIST. When I found out my uncle had read your book before I had it was a little embarassing, haha).

ANYWAY, digression. But what I was going to say was these are all great tips! Writing is not really my thing, I've done NaNoWriMo and wrote a lot of crappy fanfiction in middle and highschool, but still, these are all things that are good to know. I'm always kind of amused by people asking for writing tips (though again, I desperately wanted them when I was writing said crappy fanfiction- I think it more has to do with wanting a little bit of validation. Writing is such a scary thing, especially when you're as insecure about yourself and your thoughts as most teenagers are.) because, what can you really say to that? Read a lot, and write a lot.

Though if you have to be told to read I'm not sure exactly what you're doing writing in the first place, haha.

(In a side note, I was at Libba Bray and Shannon Hale's signing in Menlo Park and Libba mentioned you and I went omigod I KNOW WHO SHE IS DUDE DUDE! And then when I looked at the acknowlegements of The Sweet Far Thing I noticed she mentioned Jaida and Dani and I went OMG DUDE again. Because I am clearly a coherent person if nothing else XD It was very exciting though!)
raedokidoki_hearts on February 4th, 2008 06:43 am (UTC)
oh serious bonus points for bringing up Tamora Pierce's website/faq's. My eleven year old bible for crappy fanfiction writing (uh, yeah. I wrote Tortall/HP crossovers. It was a dark, dark time.) Seven years later I still remember what Author's Delusional Fantasy World Syndrome is.

...Is that even still mentioned in her faqs?
(no subject) - cassandraclare on February 4th, 2008 12:58 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dokidoki_hearts on February 5th, 2008 03:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
iscaris on February 4th, 2008 12:53 pm (UTC)
when you're published as a teen, it's newsworthy because you are so young, but you're also treated like a dog who paints.

I totally cracked up at that. Oh, Cassie. *ruffles*

But that being said, great advice all around on writing and the whys and hows (and whens) of getting published. I think you did a great job distilling it down to five very practical and useful points. Kudos!

Cassie Clarecassandraclare on February 4th, 2008 12:58 pm (UTC)
faerie_writer on February 4th, 2008 12:53 pm (UTC)
Excellent advice! :D
Sherwood Smithsartorias on February 4th, 2008 06:03 pm (UTC)
Super advice. About the only caveat I'd enter is not going to your parents for criticism unless you know they are really impartial and really good at critiquing.
Cassie Clarecassandraclare on February 5th, 2008 04:39 pm (UTC)
You are quite right.

Did you get to finish Ashes? :)
(no subject) - sartorias on February 5th, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on February 4th, 2008 09:50 pm (UTC)
Excellent advice, but I'd like to see you tackle this one:

Do you recommend sitting down and writing an outline to your entire story (from chapter 1 to chapter enter appropriate end number here) or do you recommend just writing whatever comes into your head?

Wait...I think I may know the answer to that. Nevermind. *sigh* I'm gonna hafta start outlining, aren't?
Cassie Clarecassandraclare on February 4th, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC)
Lots of people find it easier to just sit down and write without doing the work of outlining, but there's no way *around* that work, really. If you just sit down and write, you'll have more revisions to do later, so you'll be doing that outlining work on the back end, so to speak.
(no subject) - aiffe on February 5th, 2008 05:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - goddesskhepri on February 5th, 2008 08:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
Cassie Clarecassandraclare on February 4th, 2008 11:32 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - goddesskhepri on February 5th, 2008 08:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Ariel: cobra at warkatieupsidedown on February 5th, 2008 09:32 pm (UTC)
For instance, the other day a teen writer sent me a story that began like this:

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAURGGHGHGHGGH," he screamed. It was dark. Dark! Everything was dark!!!!!!!!

Have you ever read a book which featured quite so many exclamation points after an observation like "Everything was dark?" Probably not, right? If no one in the history of the published word has pulled this sort of thing off there's probably a reason.

While you're correct, I'm not sure why you used this example.

#1, every other writer I've ever heard from has said that for liability reasons they are not supposed to read stories their readers send them.

#2, you're calling out a teenager on the internet and on a widely-read blog for a mistake they made. You don't think the author of this might read this and be, I don't know, hurt or discouraged?
Cassie Clarecassandraclare on February 6th, 2008 04:50 am (UTC)
Among the writers I know, it varies — some read stories readers send them, and some don't. I don't, as it says on both my websites. This particular person pasted their story into an email without explanation, so I'd read several sentences before I figured out what it was.

As for her recognizing it and being upset, I didn't utilize the example as she wrote it, but rewrote it, keeping only the general problem (word repetition, too many exclamation points) intact to make the point.
(Screened comment)
Cassie Clarecassandraclare on February 6th, 2008 05:01 am (UTC)
I'm very glad you found it helpful!

As for the vampire love story, don't feel too bad. I was talking to a wonderful, award-winning writer the other day who told me she had a great idea for a teen book, "a girl falls in love with a vampire!" I was like, "I have some bad news for you..."
(no subject) - woodburner on February 6th, 2008 08:41 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ronin_kakuhito on February 6th, 2008 05:41 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - cassandraclare on February 6th, 2008 01:58 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Sera Zaneserafina_zane on February 7th, 2008 10:51 pm (UTC)
now, i have a slightly different conundrum.
as a teen writer, i think i sort of don't suck.
i mean, i suck sometimes, maybe even often. i have stories i've stopped because they suck. i go through things after i write them and edit them to suck less. i aknowledge that there's always room to improve and edit.
but i still i think i'm a pretty good writer. a really good writer.
but then, you always tend to think what you're writing at the time is good.
but my friends do really love it, and they aren't the kind of friends who lie to spare your feelings. they are cruel, cruel friends.
still, i wonder if i suck and don't know it somehow. hopefully not.

i am more than slightly proud that i can honestly say i don't currently have a "girl falls for vamp" story.
i did last year. like, around the time i read Twilight. :|
though it was honestly more of an anti-Twilight. they weren't really in love. the vampire had no self-control and accidently turned the girl the first time they met.
then everyone wandered around and was emo for a while.
i abandoned that one pretty quickly.
i still have friends who ask about it though. evidence of thier doubtable preferences.

thankfully, i *think* my plots are less derivitave these days. more "girl has superpowers", "zombies attack, people meet and topple fascist empire" and..."other girl has superpowers"
okay....ummm...not when i put it like that.
Scribere Qui Cupiunt Sensum Deus Augeat Illisthegraybook on February 7th, 2008 10:59 pm (UTC)
Well, pursuant to my 'all good writers think they suck' theory, that speaks well for you. :D
(no subject) - serafina_zane on February 9th, 2008 06:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Harry_Markovdaydreammuse on February 10th, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
This is just so right. I am a teen writer (don't get all scared now, I am not that annoying) and so far I am looking forward to getting short stories published and I am not doing that of vanity or naything. Money for college is a vital mission for me, so that is why I decided to start getting published with my short stories.

I actually learned that to get a novel out there you need some practice and several manuscripts to have a book sold. That is what I know from the published authors that have a blog here and it doesn't happen with a magic wand. One novel, one teen, one magic stick and then fame and glory.

It's all about work and I find this post very informative in that regard. Good job with it.
viewaskewgrrl47: Grrlviewaskewgrrl47 on February 13th, 2008 04:26 am (UTC)
Sorry if this is silly but...
Do I need to copyright my manuscripts before I submit them or is that something th publisher does if/when they accept them. Do I actually have to file paperwork for them or can I just say it's copyrighted, type it on the page, and it is?
Cassie Clarecassandraclare on February 13th, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Sorry if this is silly but...
You don't have to copyright your manuscript before you submit it. You own copyright in your work as soon as you write it. The publisher will register the copyright in your name when they publish your book. The main point of doing that is so they can ask for greater damages in court should your work be infringed.
Re: Sorry if this is silly but... - ronin_kakuhito on February 13th, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Sorry if this is silly but... - cassandraclare on February 13th, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on March 13th, 2008 02:28 am (UTC)
Im New
Hello All
Im New...
(Anonymous) on April 2nd, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
Teen writer competition
Hi, we are currently running a competition that is aimed at teenage writers, the winner gets a free domain name, blog and hosting. If you or anyone you know are interested just visit my homepage. (mycyc.com)
Cassie Clarecassandraclare on April 23rd, 2008 01:58 am (UTC)
Re: Well this is the closest I could get...
You could always email, you know.