Three Things To Tell Your Teenage Writing Self

Okay, you’ve been handed a phone line to the past and given the opportunity to pass three messages to your eighteen year-old aspiring writer self. What are you going to say? Besides put all your savings on that 100-1 winner of the Grand National.

Here’s my three:


  1. Join a workshop as fast as you can.
  2. Having your work reviewed by your peers is near priceless. You will learn more in three months at a workshop than you did in three years on your own.

    And you’ll learn almost as much reviewing other people’s work as you will from receiving reviews of your own stories. Why? Because it forces you to really look at a piece of writing. You’ll also discover that you learn as much from critiquing ‘flat’ writing as you do from the really good stuff because it makes you think about why one passage works and another doesn’t. Learning what not to do is just as important as learning what you should do.

    Finally, workshops are a great place to meet your future inner circle – writers you trust, who have insight, who you can go to for advice when you hit that annoying wall you can’t see any way round.

  3. Your plan to ensure the originality of your work has one major flaw.
  4. It doesn’t work. It might sound like a cunning plan to insulate yourself from other influences to ensure your writing is original and untainted but you lose more than you gain. Yes, you do publish a novel that is hailed as truly different – someone even writes that it’s the first original plot he’s come across in thirty years – but it takes you years – and three novels – to find a publisher. Why? Because cutting yourself off from written fiction cut you off from the craft of writing too. You had to catch up because you didn’t realise that there was more to writing than having a story to tell. You have to be able to tell it in an entertaining way. And that means learning the craft of storytelling, learning the subtle arts of misdirection and pacing, plotting and characterisation, and how to turn an ordinary story into an extraordinary one. Plus, if you don’t read widely, how are you going to know if your next story has been done to death by others?

  5. Read widely and often.
  6. Both in and out of genre. There are so many ways to tell a story and some genres come with rules and traditions so the wider you read the more styles and approaches you become accustomed to. Read, learn, write.

That’s mine, what would yours be?

Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his  BVC bookshelf .

Just released from Book View Press:  Magical Crimes – a fun CSI with Magic and … ‘a little something else’ story. Also available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Coming in April: International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a  glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth. Forget  Bruce Willis and his team of miners. Send for the kitties! 



Three Things To Tell Your Teenage Writing Self — 9 Comments

  1. Oh what a good topic!

    Mine would be: don’t write for one person, even if that person gets mad at you for sharing your stories. That person does not represent the tastes of the world by a long shot, though it’s gratifying to get instant feedback.

    Learn to revise. You knew you were writing badly, but you didn’t know what to do about it. If you’d found a group, maybe you would have learned revision decades earlier than you did.

    And most of all: you really can do it. Ignore the scorn and the derision. Keep at it. It will happen.

  2. 1. Don’t worry about being respectable, winning awards, being reviewed–at least not while you’re writing. Write as well as you can, then revise.

    2. There’s nothing wrong with “writing rules” as long as you use them as a conversation-starter rather than handcuffs. A well placed info-dump or a split infinitive can be just the thing you need, as long as you know what’ you’re doing.

    3. Admire all you want, but don’t wish you could write like someone else. Consider that there might be someone out there who wishes she could write like you! (Unlikely, perhaps, but possible…)

  3. You can’t know you’ve failed until you try. So keep at it. If one story doesn’t work, maybe the next will.

    No writing is wasted. Finding out why its crap is as important as writing the next Hugo winner.

    Write often. Keep the brain agile and focused. When you slough off for days or weeks or months, the brain closes down and it takes forever to re-open it for that project.

  4. Save money, get a SFWA lifetime membership the moment you qualify.
    Do not be married to your work. It’s plastic. Change it if it’s not working; change it just for the hell of it. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if your barbarian swordsman was a sixty-year-old grandmother? No? Well, you saved the earlier version, so nothing is lost.

  5. 1. Get a job or an internship where you do a lot of writing. It doesn’t matter whether you work as a reporter or a technical writer or an advertising copywriter or in any other kind of writing work: any job in which you have to explain something clearly will teach you a great deal about how to use words effectively. If the job comes with a good editor as your supervisor, it will be even more useful.

    2. Don’t go to law school (or med school or engineering school) if what you really want to do is write. If you want to be both a lawyer and a writer, that’s one thing. But if you really want to write and are only taking up a demanding professional career because it’s “practical” and will make your parents happy, don’t do it. It’ll just get in your way.

    3. Most everybody writes crap at first. Don’t worry about it. Just keep writing.

  6. 1. This is cyberpunk. It will be huge in 80s but vanish quickly. Write it now and then forget about it.

    2. Write funny. People like funny.

    3. Keep these seven books under lock and key until 1989. Then copy the first one and send it to Scholastic. Never mind who Harry Potter is, just do it . . .

  7. Great advice. I joined a workshop recently on writing YA. So far my assignments have receive much praise and a request from a fellow student who wants to read the book when we’re done. At least I know I’m headed in the right direction.

  8. And if you’re not eighteen, take most of this advice anyway. As someone once said, “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood”. The same can be said of a writing career.