If you're a lifelong reader and professional bookworm, the chances are pretty high that you've considered writing stories of your own, whether for fun or in hopes of eventually getting them published. Although many teens have all of the potential and talent necessary to write and publish their own books, it can be really tricky to navigate the early steps that set you on the path to success. In this post, author Stephanie Morrill --- whose latest book, THE LOST GIRL OF ASTOR STREET, releases this February --- explains how she got on the early track to publishing and offers helpful advice for young authors hoping to make it in the book world.
“Oh, honey, you do not look old enough to have so many books published.”
I heard this over and over recently as I signed copies of THE LOST GIRL OF ASTOR STREET. I’ve been fortunate enough to have earlier-than-normal success with publishing, and it has nothing to do with my connections, talent or social media following.
Rather, the reason for my early success is I started whole-heartedly pursuing publication when I was still a teenager. Whether it’s writing that you’re pursuing, or a different dream, I want to offer a few thoughts on how you can invest in your dream right now in a way that will pay off in the future:
Respect your dream, even if you have to be the first one to do so.
We long for others to recognize that what we’re doing is valuable. That it matters. Sometimes we are lucky and born into supportive families and have encouraging friends who understand us and applaud us when we pursue our goals.
Sometimes...not so much.
Brené Brown has this lovely quote that, “if you don’t put value on your work, no one is going to do that for you.”
As awkward as it may feel, sometimes you have to drive the first stake in the ground. You have to respect your dream first if you want others to do the same.
Practice. A lot.
This one seems obvious, but I meet a decent amount of writers who love to talk about writing, read about writing, and plan time for writing...but who rarely spend time writing.
I wrote a lot in high school. Often when I shouldn't have, like during geometry class. (Though I can't remember the last time I used geometry in my real life, so maybe my B was just fine.)
If you want to be a professional at any kind of skill --- whether it’s art, athletics, music, or something else --- there’s no getting around the need to practice.
Create good habits.
Have you ever arrived early for a sporting event? We go to a lot of Kansas City Royals games, and if we’re there early enough, we see the players out on the field throwing the ball around with each other. Or if we were allowed in the stadium even earlier, we would see them taking batting practice.
They do these things before every game because even at the professional level, there’s tremendous value in having habits that hone your skills.
Listen to people who know more than you.
I cannot tell you how many times budding writers ask me questions about how to become an author/get an agent/get traditionally published...and then completely ignore what I say because it sounds “too hard.” Or sometimes, after knowing a person for years, I learn that an acquaintance has an interest in writing. But they never asked me questions about how to get better or how to get published, even though I would be happy to offer what I know.
If there are people in your life --- whether they are friends, or friends-of-friends --- who are doing anything remotely close to what you want to do, use those connections. Reach out to them. Introduce yourself. Ask a question or two. Show an interest in their work.
Or if you don’t know anyone personally, like I didn’t, turn to social media. It’s never been easier to be in touch with professionals of all kinds. Follow actresses, agents, photographers, authors, or whoever else has knowledge about your dream on Twitter. Read their blogs and leave comments. Learn from those who know more than you. And don't be ashamed that you're just starting out. That's where we all begin.
And if you want to be a writer, come hang out with me on GoTeenWriters.com, where two other authors and I pour everything we know into the next generation of writers.
Focus only on the next step, and don’t look for shortcuts.
What's the next step for you in your dream? Is it writing a complete book? Taking a photography class? Running a faster 5k? Whatever your next step is, fix your focus onto achieving it, rather than all the other steps that will follow.
There will be shortcuts offered to you along the way. For writers, they often come as the lure of designing your own cover and uploading your Word Doc to the Internet much earlier than it should be. But as opera singer Beverly Sills says, “There are no shortcuts for any place worth going.”
Embrace your mistakes as part of the learning process.
I made so many mistakes on my journey to getting published. You will make mistakes too. Sometimes people will point them out to you kindly. Sometimes your mistakes will be pointed out to you not-kindly. But if you learn from them, they won't be wasted experiences.
Stephanie Morrill lives in Overland Park, Kansas, with her husband and three kids. She is the author of THE LOST GIRL OF ASTOR STREET, The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, GO TEEN WRITERS: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book, and the Ellie Sweet series. She enjoys encouraging and teaching teen writers on her blog, GoTeenWriters.com. To connect with Stephanie and read samples of her books, check out StephanieMorrill.com.
Click here to purchase the book on Amazon.