The Problem With Teen Writers

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No, this post will not be a long complaint about how poor teenage writing irrevocably is. Though as a teenager, I can honestly say that a lot of it sucks. I’ve seen it. I’ve edited it. I’ve been there, though I can confidently say that I’ve moved on from that.

No, this post is about how the world sees teenage writers. In my previous posts, a great number of people reacted with surprise when they learnt that I was a sixteen-year-old girl.  I’m sure some people really think I’m some balding forty-year-old guy somewhere. Because people weren’t only shocked at my approach to the subject matter, they were shocked at the grammar, punctuation, and intelligence with which I wrote. I’m no super-genius, I await my GCSE results on Thursday with bated breath. So why is it so rare to find a teenager who can write well, and write intelligibly? Why is such a thing a shock to the masses? Why is it such a shock to me?

The answer is: I don’t know.

Teenagers aren’t stupid. The times may have changed, but we haven’t actively regressed in our intelligence. Even the advent of chat-speak hasn’t significantly impaired our ability to use the English language, because some of the smartest people in my school spL lyk dis and get A*s without a problem (then again, our grading system is suspect at the best of times). Yet if a ten-year-old starts to write a novel, and you compare their writing to the average nineteen-year-old’s, you would not be able to tell the difference. That isn’t a joke, I see this everyday. You’ve probably noticed it here on WordPress–many teenage bloggers do not have the faintest idea of how to construct a sentence in regards to proper grammar and punctuation. And you’ve probably noticed the same trend amongst some bloggers in their early twenties, who have left school and even gotten through university without learning to correct this problem.

So what do we do? Let me tell you.

The biggest insult you can give a writer is that they write like a teenage girl (or Stephanie Meyer, but then that’s the same thing). Yet good teenage writers do exist, like S.E. Hinton, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Helen Oyeyemi, and some people would add Christopher Paolini, though I personally don’t think that he is. Admittedly, these people seem to be the exception to the rule, and there still exists the stigma that all teenage writers are bad, which I discourages many young people from even trying to be better. But. There are blogs. And there are talented teenager bloggers out there, and websites dedicated to helping aspiring youth writers. There are even a few competitions for us to get involved in if one looks hard enough. So I suppose what I’m really trying to say is: next time you see a good teen blogger, give ’em a pat on the back or a word of encouragement. If you meet a kid who says they’d like to be an author one day, don’t laugh and suggest something more “practical” (God I hate that). Point them to a forum, or a to competition they can enter. And try not to strangle them when they say: “Thx, LOL!”

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25 thoughts on “The Problem With Teen Writers

  1. originaltitle

    Thanks for this. I’d also like to point out that any new writer, regardless of age struggles with grammar and structure while also trying to ‘sound good.’. It just so happens that there’s a higher percentage of newer writers in that age bracket but that’s certainly not the rule and shouldn’t be case to be a stereotype the whole or a box to putpeoplein. Great post!

    Reply
    1. dlaiden Post author

      True. Young writers struggle at first, but not all, and they are capable of getting better. Hopefully we can change the stereotype a little bit! 😀

      Reply
  2. deesearching

    Excellent point. I don’t think I was necessarily shocked to see your age, but I was impressed, which might be the same thing. 😉 Then again, I’m a fairly young writer myself, and I completely understand what it’s like to be baffled by my peer’s writing skills (or seeming lack thereof). But we all struggle with different aspects of writing, and it can be pretty horrifying to read some first drafts of most anyone’s work. So if teenagers have problems with grammar and sentence structure (and spelling – I’m a decent speller but my boyfriend, who can write circles around me, is absolutely atrocious!), that’s no reason to write them off. If he or she is really a smart teenager who deep-down wants to write, they will learn how to edit no matter how poor their intuitive understanding of grammar is. If writing in chat speak helps them get their ideas on the page, that’s great – so long as somewhere along the line, they learn to listen to the advice they get about editing before revealing their work to the public.

    Reply
    1. dlaiden Post author

      Thanks for the comment! That’s just the thing: people write us off before we’ve gotten any good, before we’ve realised our mistakes and learnt to correct them. I’ve no doubt that over a few months or years teenagers who aspire to write will get better at doing so, but I’m more worried about the ones who don’t, and just go along in the world without getting better at grammar. I remember reading an article a few months back about UK employers being appalled at the literacy levels of graduate applicants. But maybe I just over-think things and I guess it’s one of those things which fixes itself over time. And yes, learning to take advice and criticism is critical to being a good writer; there are too many cases of authors getting their knickers in a twist because they can’t take criticisms.

      Reply
      1. deesearching

        Yeah. I was more thinking about teens who really do dream of becoming writers – I would assume that those teens are really motivated to learn. I’d say it’s important to encourage those who are motivated to learn but have a hard time of it. If they’re not motivated to learn, whether they can’t handle criticism or they’re just not interested in/underestimate the value of the ability to appear literate, there’s not much by way of solution for them. But it does suck how often people assume that a young person falls into the latter category just by virtue of being young.

        Reply
  3. Anthony Martin

    Well, Ayn Rand got started at a young age (in English, her second language). There are others, too (Mozart comes to mind in the realm of music).

    I don’t doubt that it’s possible for teenagers, and young people, to write well. I don’t think age matters. When someone is young in mind, though, it shows through in their writing–it’s blinding.

    You know? It’s like trying to write an essay on alcoholism when you’ve never been around it; it’s like trying to talk someone through their parents’ divorce having never been through the same situation yourself. You might get some of the emotions right, and your perception may be spot on, but you’ll be missing something.

    Again, I think this has to do with the age of the mind, not necessarily the number itself.

    Reply
    1. dlaiden Post author

      Thanks for the comment. 🙂 Really? I didn’t know about Rand. But yes, youth and inexperience does tend to show; I suppose one’s level of maturity is reflected in their writing. However, I do think it’s possible (in some cases, and the writer must be good) to write about something one has not personally experienced, and to do it well. Though you are right in that sometimes it misses that extra something.

      Reply
  4. helloitsmyblog

    Brilliant post, really enjoyed it! I think a big reason many teens seem to be near illiterate is because if can be seen as highly “uncool” to be smart. It drives me insane! If you have a talent for writing you shouldn’t have to hide it.

    Reply
    1. dlaiden Post author

      Thanks! Yes, there that silly view that those who want to learn are “nerds.” We shouldn’t have to hide our aspirations and talents to fit in.

      Reply
    1. dlaiden Post author

      Yet another! Yes, we do exist and maybe we should come out of our shadows sometime and shock the world. 😉 Your blog is awesome, by the way, I’ve been looking for a good gamer blog to follow.

      To me, his writing feels too clunky and cluttered with pointless adjectives and dodgy descriptions. Plus, I could not bring myself to care for any of the characters except that witch-woman, her name escapes me. I’ve read three books of the four and they gave off a general fan-fic vibe to me, I don’t know. However. He has dragons. That’s why I am still determined to get through the last book. 😉

      Reply
  5. Christopher Mattscheck

    This is such a great post. You write about topics I remember mulling over myself when I was a teenager (25 now) and writing. There are a lot of great young writers out there, and it’s unfortunate that you feel a need to sort of prove yourself.

    However, I will say that when I was in college I was amazed at what I was being re-taught. Professors in every class were spending time to review essay writing. Packets were handed out on citing sources, using proper grammar and what constituted the ever-elusive thesis. Most first years were even required to take a course called Academic Writing (thankfully, I placed out). The fact that a student could breeze through years and years of schooling and not know how to write properly before college baffled me, still does to this day. Sometimes I wonder if writing is no longer valued as much as it once was.

    Reply
    1. dlaiden Post author

      Thank you! Blogging’s one of the few platforms though which I can express all those thoughts I mull over. 😉 I guess I try to prove myself because it seems that EVERY time I tell someone I would like to be an author, they treat it as a joke. Every time. The only people who don’t are the people who’ve actually seen my written work, and it’s very annoying.

      I doubt that they do such a course here in England, but they need to start. I think that with the advent of the Internet, where one can write as they like and not (well, always) be corrected as in the times of hand-written letters, many people don’t place a high value on good writing. Hopefully, it’s a problem that can be corrected before it gets even further out of hand.

      Reply
  6. LizEccentric7

    Glad you wrote this, I often try to help teen writers. I can never understand why society feels like teens have nothing valuable to say. They have a whole lot to say, if someone would just listen!

    Writing is a wonderful way for teens to express emotion.

    Reply
  7. Sophia

    I loved this post. I started writing at around 14, and got discouraged by how many doubted my age, and brushed it off. I’m only 19, and I often see that teens are drawn too easily into our society, that in turn implicates it’s alright to write the way they do. Yet, teenagers aren’t stupid, I’ve seen very talented ones myself, and it doesn’t surprise me. I guess it’s because our generation doesn’t see many of those today. I’m not great, but hopefully I’ll get there.

    Thanks for those suggestions on young authors, I’ll be sure to look into it! Also, amazing blog you have!

    Reply
  8. Thomas

    Even though I’m super late, fantastic post. I feel like there is a stigma about teenage writers in society, though perhaps it is partially deserved. Sure, most of us aren’t good enough to get published yet, but that’s not the rule for everyone. The stigma has scared me away from writing fiction, because I always feel like I should wait until I can “hone” my talent before giving it a try; now I know how silly that is. Thanks!

    Reply

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