Some Advice for Aspiring Teen Writers

Here’s a piece I wrote for the cool kids on the constructive steps I took to become a writer. Sometimes just knowing you were meant to be a writer isn’t enough, you’ve got to do something about it. This essay originally ran on Take My Word For It.—Michelle

How I Found My Career as a Writer

I love to read—it’s as simple as that. At an early age I devoted hours in the double-digits to reading each week. I had my first library card at age four. From there I went into publishing, playing with my dolls and giving them jobs as reporters and newspaper editors, and actually putting out doll-size publications for them and their friends to read.

To anyone thinking about their future career, the first bit of advice I give them is: What do you love doing? What do you dream about doing? Whatever it is, do that. Why? Because you will do it well. If you do anything less than what you love your heart won’t be in it.

So when I was in college, going into my junior year and hard-pressed to declare a major, I decided that since I liked reading so much, and specifically reading magazines like Sassy (from the founder of Jane magazine, Jane Pratt), I would declare English Writing with a Magazine concentration as my major. I also earned a certificate in Women’s Studies.

From there I went on to work in women’s magazine publishing in New York for almost ten years. One other thing—you have to go where the jobs are. I worked mainly in research and fact-checking but wrote fun stories that involved stuff like my gay best friend making over my badly-dressed boyfriend and also interviewed Anne Rice, one of my favorite authors.

When the shift in traditional publishing happened, and I realized that the internet and new media were going to make print publishing prohibitively competitive, I made the move to San Francisco. It was a step toward becoming a true, full-time working writer.

I always wanted to live in San Francisco because of its rich literary history, and knew someday I would come here and write novels. Many of my favorite writers lived and worked here (people like Anne Rice, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Michael Chabon) and I imagined it would be inspiring.

The fact that San Francisco is one of the centers for technology and the internet was the other thing that attracted me: I would support myself by copywriting for websites as my day job. I also built a personal website and blog and started doing video book reviews. In this day and age as a writer, you not only have to multi-task and do all different kinds of writing, you also have to be more cognizant of sales and marketing and new technology, hence my picking up the video camera.

But like I said, I moved to San Francisco to write novels. I’ve spent literally thousands of hours in cafes around town, scribbling in my notebooks. Another place I write is at a private library downtown where I’m a member. I always write longhand, then type it up at the end of the day as a way of reviewing the work.

To anyone writing a large work of fiction, the first bit of advice I give is: Outline your story. How can you get where you’re going if you don’t know how you’re getting there? I tried for ten years to write my first novel, then when I moved here I outlined the major plot points in a three act structure, put myself on a writing schedule and four months later had a rough first draft.

Another thing no one ever tells you about being a writer is that editing, follow-through, dedication and passion are almost as important as the writing itself. You need to spend a considerable amount of time polishing your work.

The most important thing, however, is to read. Read everything you can get your hands on and educate yourself about different writing styles.

There are many outlets for young writers, and among these are programs at your local library, such as writer’s groups for teen and writing contests. If you’re interested in becoming a writer, I strongly urge you to check out one of these programs.

Thank you for reading—Michelle