“So Are You Like, a Hermit or Something?” [One of the Common Misconceptions About Teenage Writers]

In some ways, this post is a follow-up, or a “part 2” to my recent post “4 Myths About Being a Writer”, in which I discussed common myths that young writers struggle with in regards to what it takes to become a “true” author. However today, I’m going to talk about one large misconception that the general public tends to have about teenage writers.

Often times, when someone says they are a writer, people who have little to no experience or knowledge about teenage authors assume that they identify with “the teenage writer stereotype.” Or, if they have met one writer who fits into that category, they assume all others are the same way. This stereotype however, was not created by teenage writers, but by people with little knowledge about how they [we] actually work. Once they begin taking you seriously about being a writer, they like to box you into what is typically referred to as “The Introvert Stereotype.”

People who don’t understand or associate with young writers often tend to assume that they:

a)      Are extremely introverted, often to the point of hermitage (i.e. completely unsociable)

b)      Hide out in caves 24/7, cranking out 5,000 words in a single setting

c)      Never leave the house for “real” adventures (i.e. don’t go outside)

d)     Have utterly flawless grammar

e)      Wear glasses and have pencils stuck behind their ears at all times

f)       Conduct thorough research on a vast number of subjects, including the very minute details of their writing

g)      Are nerds, geeks, and virtually walking encyclopedias

h)      Speak Shakespearian (i.e. have large vocabularies and are incredibly well-versed)

i)        Never do anything else

And then if you don’t fit that mold, the myth that “somehow you aren’t actually a writer” is born, and often believed. Young people who don’t fit into this category are often more hesitant to express their desires to be authors, because…what if that’s not who you are supposed to be? What if that’s not the “type” of person you are? After all, 99.9% of all young writers are like that, so you won’t fit in. Right?

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Actually, this whole thing is a huge misconception. I recently conducted a survey in which I interviewed more than seventy young writers on the subject of this stereotype. The results might shock some people, but I can’t say that I was surprised. Being a young writer myself, I’ve become pretty tired of the common “box” people liked to put me in, because I know I don’t fit it.

In this survey, I gave out a list of questions, and also presented the stereotype. Then I asked them each to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how well they identified with it. Roughly 90% of them identified as less than a five. This was not surprising to me, as I personally identify at about a six. For example, I am probably 95% introverted, but I really enjoy things like hiking and swimming and being outdoors in the summer. And though I hope to make a career of writing, I do have numerous other hobbies.

Statistically, the charts showed what some people might consider amazing results. For example, only 3.8% described themselves as “extremely introverted hermits”, and less than 40% identified with having “flawless grammar.” Almost 40% considered themselves extroverted rather than introverted, and about the same number conceded that their grammar was, in fact, not that great. Forty-three percent said their grammar was “fair”, but certainly not perfect, or even that good. And when I asked if they spoke Shakespearean, half of them just laughed.

The idea that all, or even most young writers fit into this stereotype is ridiculous. It’s even more ridiculous to believe that, in order to be accepted as a writer, you must conform to this mold. This “Introverted Stereotype” is actually a very small percentage of teenage authors. Also, the belief that introverts tell better stories than extroverts is a huge lie. I happen to know authors with both types of personalities who are very talented.

In fact, the diversity of personalities, types, and tendencies of young writers is part of what makes the group itself so fascinating. While many of us have commonalities, it’s our differences that allow for growth and expansion, as opposed to the boring reality we would have if everyone was part of a stereotype. (Especially this one.)

Often, one of the only things teenage authors have in common is that they like to tell stories. How they go about it, the amount of time they spend working on projects, what setting they prefer to write in, the hobbies they have outside of storytelling etc. vary in as many ways as there are writers. So never let someone tell you that “You aren’t actually a writer”, or “You just don’t strike me as the ‘writing type.’” There IS no “writing type.”

Writing is a place where you are free to be you. It doesn’t matter what “type” of person you are, how diverse your hobbies are, or how perfect your grammar is. If you want to be a writer, you will be a writer, and no one will be able to change that.

4 Myths About Being a Writer

Hello! It’s been a long time, but I’m back. (No, I didn’t die.) Today I’m going to talk a little bit about common myths that infiltrate the thinking of young writers. I’m sure that many of you, like me, grew up having conversations a bit like this, “So what do you do?”

“I’m a writer,” you tell them. 

“What sort of writer?” they ask with a hint of amusement in their eyes.

“Well, I like to write fictional novels…”

“Oh?” Here is where the skepticism really shines bright. “Have you published anything?”

“Well…no….not yet…” And then you sort of stand there like a deer in the headlights.

Most of you probably know what this feels like. And you might wonder “Why don’t people take me seriously?” Is it really that hard for them to believe you’re a writer? I mean, how much does it take to be a writer anyway? Is there some expectation or standard that you’re not meeting?

I’ve been asked before, “How do you “be” a writer? I mean, is there like, some ten-steps-to-becoming-a-writer-list or something?” After some thought, I came to the conclusion that this question stems from the belief in four myths about becoming a writer.

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Myth #1: You Must Be Published

In many circles, both of writers and non-writers, it is assumed that, in order to be considered “a writer”, you must have published works. It’s not enough just to put words on paper and enjoy it. If you don’t have a book sitting on a shelf somewhere, you’re not a writer.

This is ridiculous. The idea that you must publish a book to achieve the title “author” is a lie, but many beginning writers believe it. Why? Because it’s told to them over and over. But the truth is, if you’re putting words on paper, even if it’s in secret, in the dark caverns of your bedroom where you hide under blankets with a laptop and a cup of coffee – you are a writer. You are a writer because you write. Publication has nothing to do with it, nor does it suddenly merit you a grandiose title or a, “Congratulations, you have arrived at your destination.” Becoming a writer is a journey, not a destination.

Myth #2: You Must Have Been Writing for Years, Right?

Pretty much, this one is one step back from “are you published?” This myth tells us that, in order to be a writer, you need years of experience. Nobody just starts a writer. It’s something you have to become. It’s like saying that, even though you’re creating a story, because you’re new to the craft, you’re not a writer. Just like the publishing myth, this makes “writer” a title that must be earned by meeting some standard or expectation.

This is also a lie. I began writing at the age of six. My dedicated attempts at crafting novels began at ten. But from the time I first began the art of putting words on paper, I considered myself a writer. By the time I reached the age of eleven, I knew that it was what I wanted to do forever. As of today, I have been a writer for almost thirteen years. When I was six, nobody told me I couldn’t be a writer because I didn’t have experience, and so I was a writer. The same is true for any beginning storyteller. Whether you started creating stories yesterday or ten years ago, if you decide that you want to write, you are a writer.

Myth #3: You Must Be Recognized

How many of you have received the question, “So you say you’re a writer. Have you ever won a contest or sold a piece of work?” It is believed by many young authors that, in order to be entitled to bear the name “writer”, they must have something to show for their efforts. After all, the title only comes with recognition. Apparently, having your name in the first-place position for a writing contest will somehow “make you a writer.” It’s like magic!

But it’s not. It’s natural for all of us who are writers to desire some form of recognition or applause from the human race, but even fame won’t make a writer out of someone. Just because you’ve sold a book does not buy you a title. Allowing other people to dictate the status of your journey towards “being a writer” is much more of a hindrance than a benefit. It enslaves your thoughts to the belief in this myth that says you can’t be something because others don’t see you as that thing. If you have decided you are a writer, no one can tell you otherwise.

Myth #4: There Is a 10-Step Method to Becoming a Writer

This is a myth created by the other three. It tells us that, if we’re not published, don’t have experience, and haven’t been recognized, there must be some way to achieve that status. There must be a 10-step method out there somewhere! I’ve known young writers who spend oodles of time searching for this phantom method, only to realize that it doesn’t exist. I was one of those, myself.

The fact is, there is no method. I once read a quote that stated, “There are three rules for writing novels. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” This is the truth. Writing is not a formula that can be achieved in ten, twenty, or a hundred steps. There’s no singular “method” that will work for everyone. Each writer must develop his or her own path towards creating a story. It’s as simple as that. Trying to cram yourself into someone else’s “method” will only frustrate and discourage you. Other writers with more experience may have good suggestions for crafting stories, but if they’re good writers, they’ll tell you that it’s not a formula. It’s not magic.

As a teenage writer, I came up against every one of these myths at one point or another. I became discouraged at times, and for a period, even questioned whether or not I really was a writer. And if I wasn’t, how would I ever get there? I know I’m not the only one who ever struggled with this. Most of you have, or are, or will at some point. It’s a common battle for young authors to fight, and it’s not easy. People want to make you believe that your identity as a writer can only be found in one, if not all of these four myths. But I’m here to tell you right now that no one can make a writer out of your except yourself. If you want to be a writer: write. Don’t let people tell you that you’re “not experienced enough.” If you believe you are a writer, nobody can tell you that you aren’t.