What Would You Tell Kids About Writing?

I attended a high school Career Day in South Carolina yesterday, to talk about writing as a possible vocation. I hosted multiple, back-to-back discussions, each one covering different writing-related careers: journalism; fiction writing; and technical writing.

During the sessions about creative writing and being a novelist, I focused on the need to learn the craft of writing, the importance of connecting with the local writers community, and a few other things I wish I’d known when I was in high school. I was impressed by the questions the students asked. We discussed the nature of themes in novels, The use of pen names, and when/how many times to edit a working draft. I think there may have been a future writer or two in that group of bright, inquisitive students.

So, what kinds of things would you like to have known about writing, back when you were in high school?

17 thoughts on “What Would You Tell Kids About Writing?

  1. Had I known then what I know now, I would certainly have put much less emphasis on grammar in foreign languages – especially German. It is one of the biggest ‘killers’ of creativity, since even Germans don’t spell according to the boring rules that teachers emphasize.

    Secondly, focusing on a SINGLE niche would have saved much time. I have spread much of my writing on numerous blogs, where I should have written on a single blog and used categories to separate each field of expertise.

    Thirdly, blogging wasn’t a career option when I was in high school (1988-1991), so much of the learning experience about online writing can simply be attributed to learning AFTER attending school courses. πŸ™‚

  2. Thanks for your comment, Henrik! We touched lightly on online writing in the context of journalism, because technical skills are important to almost any writer’s career, nowadays. Thanks again!

  3. Stay curious ~ follow your interests ~ take a few electives WAY outside your major (if you’re going to college) ~ appreciate art in art appreciation ~
    Listen to all kinds of music, and, of course, read, Read, READ…


  4. Don’t go to college. You’ll be saddled with debt and a degree in Folklore and Mythology that won’t even get you a tall drip at Starbucks. Instead of $200,000 in student loans to pay off, lay out $200 cash for the best writing craft books. You’ll learn more from them about how to write fiction that sells than in virtually any college classroom.

    Get a job, travel some, learn what the real world is like. Read a lot. Limit your social media time to 15 minutes a day. Write 250 words a day, minimum. Understand that you are not wise. Strive to gain some wisdom by the time you’re 30. Getting married will, in most cases, force wisdom upon you, which is a good thing. If you want to be a full time writer, marry someone who is rich.

    • Craft is important, and a love of reading, yes, but I would put a quality education up there, as well. To me, the value of my college and post-graduate years had to do with being introduced to new ideas and ways of thinking. I was one of the few people who left the small rural town where I grew up (it was the town where I gave this week’s Career Day sessions, in fact), and I think a focus on academics fueled that journey. If I hadn’t had education as a path forward, I might not have had the drive and wherewithal to pursue anything creative. Some people might have the intellectual vigor and independence to go it alone, though, and for them, perhaps education is not a prerequisite.

  5. If you think being a writer is glamorous or a path to riches, don’t bother. Instead do something easy like rocket science or brain surgery.

  6. Your parents will weep and rail, pleading with you to get a “real” job. Your friends will scoff behind your back when you stay home to write. Just remember, writing IS a real job. Words sell your friends’ products, provide news of the world’s newest discoveries, and notify your cronies, as well as strangers, of your passing (sometime in the distant future).

    If writing is in your soul, forget what anyone else says, learn your craft, and write. For yourself.

  7. I would have like someone to have told me not to try and write like anyone else, that my own voice was unique and worthy of telling a story in its own special way.

    • That’s interesting, Janet. I am perhaps less original than you. I learned to write by intensively studying the way genre novels are written: how they introduce a scene, transition between scenes and chapters, handle dialogue, etc. Once I get the “pattern” of a genre in my head, it becomes much easier to write in the same genre, like a template.

  8. I would urge them to pursue their passions in a rational way. Writing is not a “real job” until it provides enough scratch to pay your own bills from your own place while paying for your own transportation and food. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful, time-consuming hobby to be pursued in your free time while seeing to the security (financial and otherwise) of yourself and your family.

    Statistics show pretty clearly that precious few writers can make a living strictly by following their muse. If they insist on putting all their career eggs in the writing basket, they’re going to need to have some form of regular paycheck–at the beginning, most likely as an employee or contractor for someone who will teach them the ropes.

    Personally, I would recommend that their first job have nothing to do with writing, per se, but rather with something that lies outside of the writing profession and the writing community. There’s a big world out there that they can explore, and each exploration will give them something more to write about. This is particularly for those who aspire to write fiction.

    • You’re a great example of balancing writing with your former “Big Boy” job, as I think you called it. Definitely not a good idea to quit a well paying day job the moment you get a contract and advance. That advance has to cover an entire year of writing, and many more after that.

  9. I agree with John in every point.

    I would say: Poetic images of The Struggling Poet aside, financial insecurity may well kill your creativity. Even if you can write when under a lot of financial stress, why would you want to? Find a real job that will provide a good cushion and let writing be a hobby until you feel you really are prepared to let it be your only source of income. Which may be never, and that is fine.

    Learn to budget, and I mean on the long term, because when you are self-employed you will not BELIEVE how variable your yearly income can be. Budget for taxes first and then for other random huge expenses and sock a lot of money away in good years because there will be years that aren’t so good.

    Oh, and yeah, read everything, including nonfiction.

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