Steph Bowe is a seventeen-year-old YA writer from Australia. (Yes, that’s a triple-whammie of awesome.) Her book, Girl Saves Boy came out in 2010. It’ll break your heart and make you laugh. She has a fantastic blog, Hey! Teenager of the Year, as well as a Twitter, @stephbowe. Today, she tells Figment what it is like being a young writer.
Possibly the greatest thing ever about having a book published is getting fan mail from readers (especially when they’re my own age!), and hearing how much they’ve enjoyed my novel or been inspired by me. It’s surreal and wonderful! I’m not glamorous or super-confident and yet people I’ve never met feel affected to the point of emailing me to let me know that they feel they can achieve their dreams as writers after seeing what I’ve done. It’s amazing.
I’ve always loved writing. Since I was very young I’ve always had stories constantly going in my head, tiny ideas – every aspect of life is something to potentially write about. I wrote Girl Saves Boy within six months in 2009 – the year I was fifteen. In September of that year I queried literary agents in America, on the advice of an author-friend I got to know through my blog, and by November I had a literary agent in New York, and a book deal with Text Publishing.
When I was twelve, my main ambition was to become an author. I wanted to have people read my work and have it affect them in some way. I remember reading about other writers who had first had books published in their teens, and the idea of that being me – a Sophisticated Author! – in a few years was inconceivable. And then suddenly I was. But not really the sophisticated bit. Maybe Awkwardly Charming Teenage Author. (The charming bit is probably made up.)
You encounter all sorts of weird attitudes from people when you talk about being a writer, especially if you’re young. Crazy people tell you things like: Teenagers can’t write. Or that writing is a pointless exercise, and you’d be better off focusing on your education. Or that getting published is absolutely impossible! And these sort of attitudes can dissuade a young writer from writing. I mean, self-doubt is enough. You don’t need other people putting you down, too. Plus, these things are pretty much always untrue.
A beginning writer is a beginning writer irrespective of their age. It doesn’t matter if you are fourteen or forty – you become great at writing by writing, and writing a lot. Having lots of experiences and growing and learning will definitely give you more material to draw on, particularly if you decide to ‘write what you know’, but an adult writer will not automatically be better at writing than a teenaged one.
You don’t have to mention your age in query letters or submissions to publishers. I just said that I was a student. Being young is a marketing angle, but since there are lots and lots of young, fabulous authors already, the main thing is that your manuscript is a brilliant story all on it’s own. Have a professional and mature attitude towards writing and publication and people usually won’t treat you like a kid. Within the writing and publishing industry, I’ve found that hardly anyone has treated me differently because of my age – perhaps my editor and agent have been a bit more understanding since I’m in my last year of school, and yes I have had a few people say mean things, but you encounter this as a writer regardless of age.
Writing is not a pointless exercise. If you are passionate about writing, don’t put it on hold. It can be difficult to manage schoolwork and writing and having a life, but if it’s something you love then it’s absolutely worthwhile, whether or not you’re aiming for publication in the near future. Writing is a wonderful experience – creating worlds and entire lives, something that other people can read and become a part of and see in their own minds. Reading is a wonderful, enriching experience. These are things that make life brilliant.
It is possible to be published, absolutely. It’s possible to achieve whatever you aspire to. And you don’t have to be extraordinary (though you probably are, you just don’t recognise it yet) – you just have to be motivated and passionate. You have to risk rejection. You need a bit of luck. But I have faith in you, and the ability of young writers to be fearless and amazing. I stopped doubting myself (well, a bit) and worked towards what I wanted to be, and then, miraculously, I’m Steph Bowe, Teenage Author. And it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.