Hi there, young writers! Welcome to Voyage of the Mind, a place that I hope will help you achieve your potential. It’s sure helped me work on mine. Through my writing here… and as I navigate life and growing up… I’ve learned a number of things I wish I’d known at the start, for my own health and sanity and for the success of my various writing practices, from writing novels to crafting blog posts like this one. (And yes, blogging is writing, though it’s also more.) Now that I’ve learned these important lessons, I’m ready to pass them on… so here are five tips for young writers like you.
1. Read, read, read, and then read some more!
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but no list of tips for young writers, or old ones for that matter, is complete without this timeless piece of writerly wisdom. How can you expect to write a good book if you’ve never read any good books (or bad ones, for that matter)? My love of writing was borne out of a love for reading, nurtured by my parents during my early childhood. Not all of us are fortunate to have parents who encourage our intellectual and literary curiosities — and as a matter of fact mine have never cared about my writing an ounce, though they certainly planted the seed for it by encouraging me to read!
Luckily, in this day of the inter-web, books are readily available. As long as you can get hold of an Internet connection, you can read. Try a coffee shop or head to school early if you don’t have wi-fi at home! As a starting point, I recommend that you check out Project Gutenberg’s collection of over 60,000 free eBooks, mainly classics that have entered the public domain. Project Gutenberg (named for the guy who created the first printing press) is a volunteer-run organization that seeks to preserve literature from around the world. With a little digging, you’ll find a number of texts that won’t fail to disappoint.
Local libraries are also great places to find books, since public library memberships are generally (maybe always?) free. If you have a library in your area, look into getting a library card, which you can use to borrow books as well as tap into the library’s other amenities — wi-fi, computer services, archives… Used bookstores also offer books at very reasonable prices, and there are also options on the Internet.
And if you’re out of ideas and looking for a place to start on your literary adventures, hit me up, and I’ll do my best to hook you up with whatever you need, be that a book recommendation or a physical book in and of itself.
2. Nail down the basics.
Before you set out to write that magnum opus, have the basics of writing down pat, or expect to learn them in the process. I’m talking about the nuts and bolts, people — spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It’s likely you’ve learned them in school, although simply reading — see tip number one above — will do wonders for your grasp of the English (or any other) language. Anyway, I’m here to tell you today that the nuts and bolts of writing are honestly half of the battle. How many ungrammatical blog posts or short stories have you read in your time? Probably many, because the Internet is swimming with writers who have never learned proper grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Don’t be one of those writers.
If you need help with the basics of grammar, I’d like to refer you to Matthew Ward Writes, a site with a strong focus on grammar. Matthew is a young writer like yourself who’s written many extensive articles on various grammar and style topics. He also covers tips for young writers and discusses his own writing, and more. Check out his site!
3. Prioritize your mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
I’ve put this tip at the heart of the list because A) it’s one of the most important if not the most important piece of advice I can give you and B) it’s a piece of advice that’s not given nearly often enough, in my opinion. As a young writer, I never heard this advice. I heard a lot about reading and nailing down the basics, a lot about constructive criticism, and a lot about a can-do, never say die attitude. But I didn’t hear much about mental, physical, and emotional health.
A lot of writers and other creatives struggle with mental illness, myself included. And a lot of writers also fail to prioritize their physical health. I’m talking about those endless sessions in front of the screen, not broken by exercise or a meal or (gulp) even a drink of water. Now, there’s a serious link between mental illness and poor physical health, including chronic physical health conditions that will cost you in the long term. In the writing world, a number of people unfortunately romanticize poor mental health and the choices that lead to poor physical health. This is an extremely costly mindset both on a personal and community-wide scale. So repeat after me: Depression is not a good thing. Mania is not a good thing. Suicidal thinking is not a good thing. Even if some famous writers in the past suffered these conditions, and even if some famous writers in the future will suffer them, you do not want to suffer them. Believe me.
How can you keep yourself healthy, from mental, physical, and emotional standpoints? First off, make space in your life for more than writing. Learn the value of a long walk in the woods. Learn the value of meaningful relationships with others. Learn the value of getting out and about. All of these, in the long term, will improve the depth and quality of your writing. I promise. Plus, you’ll become a healthier person as a result, and at the end of the day you’ll thank yourself for that. As a young writer, I never paid enough attention to my mental and physical health, and I’m having to clean up the mess to this day. Still, better late than never — so if you’re a writer who has historically failed to prioritize this important aspects of life, now’s the time to move.
Read my article about the benefits of exercise for writers for more info.
4. Learn the value of CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.
This is important. But take it with a grain of salt. With this tip, I’m not trying to tell you to run out and show your work to the world and expect some great constructive criticism. If you don’t feel ready to share your work, don’t share your work! Seriously, despite what many writers may tell you. Some writers need time to ruminate on their own work before they’re ready to share it with the world. I was like that as a child. I never shared anything with anyone. But look at me now! I write blog posts and share them like nobody’s business. So if you’re a little slow to share, have no fear.
But once you are ready to put your work out there, in whatever form, learn the value of constructive criticism. Learn to distinguish constructive criticism from the negative feedback some jerks out there will give you to feel better about themselves. (Hint: If it’s phrased as a “this is what didn’t work for me,” it’s probably constructive, whereas the jerk might tell you, “This is exactly what you need to do to fix this lousy bit of writing!”) Don’t take the jerks to heart, but make sure that you carefully study the constructive feedback you receive and implement some suggestions. Because, at the end of the day, they’re probably coming from people who care about writing and about you as a writer. If someone takes the time to give you any constructive criticism, they probably think that you and your work are worth it. As in, you’re on the right track!
If you’re looking for places to get feedback on your writing, check out this Q&A from a while back, in which I discuss a couple potential sources for constructive criticism.
5. Keep writing!
Duh! But honestly. You’ll suffer setbacks, maybe in the form of unsupportive parents or negative feedback from jerks or limited access to literary material. So make a promise to yourself, right now, that you’ll keep writing in spite of it all. That’s the promise I made to myself a long time ago as a young writer. And if there’s anything I got right, it’s this. I’ve always kept writing. I’ll always keep writing. The type of writing I do might not resemble what I thought I’d be doing. But that, at the end of the day, doesn’t matter. Writing is writing, and love for writing carries through a wide range of media. That’s one of the greatest things about writing — its wonderful versatility.
And, at the end of the day, writing is a skill you’ll never regret developing. Writing will help you through higher education, if you choose to pursue it. Writing will help you into a career, if you choose to enter one. Writing will help you in your day to day life and will leave an indelible impact on your mind, heart, and soul. So keep writing, no matter what.
Tips for Young Writers: Conclusion
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. I’m always searching for ways to bring the lessons I’ve learned to you. Keep these tips in mind as you continue on your writing journey. They’ll help you build a sustainable writing practice.
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