BY JAQUELLE CROWE
I am a young writer.
I have been for as long as I can remember. My mom has a manila folder of stories I wrote in elementary school, and when we need a good laugh, we go back and read them.
When I was 11, with the encouragement of my dad, I started a blog about what God was teaching me and steadily wrote at it for five years. It was small and quiet and my traffic was low – mostly friends and family. But increasingly as I got older I felt the desire to reach more people.
When I was 15, I began sending a few queries to magazines and websites I enjoyed. Most of them never responded. Those that did usually sent a polite rejection.
Then, when I was 16, I submitted an article to TheRebelution.com. And, to my astonishment and delight, it was accepted. I began to submit more pieces and slowly I built a relationship with the website and eventually joined the team as editor.
In the spring of 2015, I enrolled in Brett Harris’ program Do Hard Things University, and it helped me realize with sudden clarity that the one thing I wanted to do more than anything else was write a book.
There were only two problems: 1) I was 17, and 2) I had no clue how to get a book published.
It was at this point that Brett graciously stepped in to mentor me. He coached this newbie along, helping me build a platform, create a book proposal, and eventually land a book contract from my dream publisher, Crossway. My book, This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years, released on March 31, 2017.
This has been a wild and wonderful experience in every way. But it’s also taught me some profound lessons. It’s these lessons that I want to share with other young writers out there in the hope of being an encouragement.
If you’re like me, you have an awful lot of questions about being a young writer – where to get ideas, where to find a mentor, how to write a book, how to stay motivated, how to get published, or even how to write better.
So fellow young writers, here are 10 things you need to know:
1. The key to great writing is reading great writing.
Jennifer Egan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, once gave this advice: “Read at the level at which you want to write. Reading is the nourishment that feeds the kind of writing you want to do.” In other words, your writing is directly proportional to your reading. And she’s not just talking about the intellectual ideas communicated from your reading; she’s talking about the style and art of it. Reading weak writing produces weak writing.
So read the kind of beautiful, moving things you want to write. Read the greats of your desired genre – dead and alive. And read outside of your genre too. Read widely, but, as P.G. Wodehouse quipped, read discriminately since “bad writing is contagious.”
2. You need mentorship.
Every young writer needs an older writer to coach, critique, answer questions, and guide them through the process. Brett was my mentor. He’d walked the road of getting published as a teenager, knew the business, and was a more developed and mature writer. My book wouldn’t exist without him. Mentorship was what challenged and sharpened my writing and what eventually pushed me to publication.
3. Consistency is critical.
My dad gave me this advice when I started blogging back in 2009. So for years I published four posts a week without missing a day. Even though few people were reading my writing, I was writing every single week and patiently, ploddingly honing my craft. Now I realize what a gift this cultivation of consistency was. It forced me to overcome procrastination and a lack of motivation. It compelled me to find ideas. It nurtured my creativity. And it made my writing better.
4. Good writing takes hard work.
I recently started listening to a podcast called “Why I Write.” On each episode, a different writer is interviewed about their career and craft. Despite the diversity of these authors, there’s one thing they all communicate: writing is hard. Writing a book has famously (and facetiously) been compared to giving birth. Most writers do love the task, but they know it’s not easy. It takes diligence, perseverance, courage, and a lot of time. This is why it’s so important to know the next thing:
5. Practice good habits.
Good writing habits are the make-or-break of successful authors. If you don’t have a productive system, your writing will suffer – or worse, never happen. Healthy habits include carving out regular time for writing, eliminating distractions, keeping a focused workstation, meeting deadlines, brainstorming, planning, and staying organized (to only name a few).
6. You need community.
Writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You need to experience the community of other young writers. They will be your motivation, your encouragement, your inspiration, your audience, your cheerleaders, your critics, and your friends. They’ll be your team, your fellow laborers. They’ll get you. They’ll be your support base. The happiest writers have a thriving grassroots community behind them.
7. Great writing is rooted in truth.
The task of the Christian writer is to be a truth-teller – whether they’re writing non-fiction or fiction, history or biography, fantasy or romance, theology or fairy tales. This means all of our writing is based on the truth found in God’s Word, the greatest book in the entire history of the cosmos. It means the ideas we write about our true. We celebrate good and show bad to be really truly bad. Our writing is a witness to the world.
8. Feedback is your friend.
I used to dread showing my writing to anyone. I had bared my heart and soul on a page, and I was terrified that people were going to reject it – and by extension, me. But I slowly learned that honest and kind feedback made my writing better. When experienced writers read my work and told me it was good or bad or okay or workable or unworkable, it helped me shape and enrich my writing with new, unprecedented clarity.
9. There are so many resources available to you.
As a younger writer, I had no idea about all the resources available to me. There are books, blogs, forums, podcasts, lectures, and whole communities devoted to helping young writers. There’s the blog, GoTeenWriters.com, for example. There’s also a membership site that Brett and I created called the Young Writers Workshop, designed to build a community of young writers and provide practical training, coaching, and feedback. The bottom line is that we are living in the digital age – and there are a million resources at your fingertips. Take advantage of them!
10. Getting published as a young writer is possible.
Five years ago, I would have argued with this fiercely. At least, I would have said that I could never get published. Maybe some other young writer, but not me. I had no connections. I lived in the middle of nowhere. My writing wasn’t good enough. I had no clue how the publishing industry worked. But God challenged me to rethink all of that. Now I believe in this truth as fiercely as I fought it before. With the right foundation, coaching, support, and ideas, young writers can become young authors. It really is possible.
We can help you succeed at writing…
Brett and I have both had the privilege of getting published as teenagers, and we’ve learned a lot along the way. Now we want to help other young writers achieve their writing goals — which is why we’re launching an online program just for them this month.
It’s called the Young Writers Workshop.
So many young people have reached out to us with questions about writing – questions about our own experiences as young writers, how to get started, how to gain motivation, recommended resources, where to find community or a mentor, how to land an agent and build a platform and get published and many more.
So we wanted to create a membership site where you’ll be able to find answers to your questions, teaching to help hone your craft, community to support you, mentoring to coach you, and tons of resources to motivate, inspire, and equip you.
That’s what the Young Writers Workshop is all about.
(If you’re interested in hearing more about YWW, you can join our email list below to be among the first to get updates and access to this new membership site.)
We believe writing is a tool God has given us to use to glorify Him, celebrate His gifts, and impact the world.
And ultimately, that’s what we want young writers to know.