If I have one big regret in my life, it's that I did not, at the age of 15, announce to my parents and the world that I wanted to be a writer.
In my case, it was fear of ridicule. I suspect it is the same for many teens today as well. But a comment that I hear over and over on my Instagram posts goes a little something like this:
"I want to write, but my parents say I need to focus on school."
"My friends and family ask me how I'm supposed to support myself as a writer."
One word: tragic.
I wonder when the rumor started that one could not take up writing as a profession before you've spent 20 years or so working at a "real job"? The more I listen to these stories from young writers, the more heartbroken I am that someone so young and in need of reassurance hears nothing but negativity regarding their chosen profession.
Now, I know not all parents are in this camp. I imagine most are overjoyed that their son or daughter wants to write a novel every day after school instead of wasting away in front of the television. But even these kids might not be getting the support they need. The kind of support that nurtures a career, not a hobby.
My first challenge to our dear Rocket Readers is that you take one of these young writers under your wing. Most of us know one, either in church or through your own kid's school. Offer guidance. Not just in writing the novel, but how to get it published, market it, and sell it.
Yes, teenagers are capable of learning what a sales funnel is. You'd be surprised what a teen can ingest when there's money involved.
My second challenge, especially for you YA and MG writers, is to interact with your readers (they're on Instagram, by the way, so stop tweeting). I know most of you know this already, but you will run across fans who want to write. Mentor them if you have the time. Encourage them if you don't, and maybe help find them a mentor.
I, being one of those writers who want to do it all in the few spare hours I have in the week, took it a step further. My writing partner, Gina Conroy, and I started a podcast called Teen Writers Publish! We have an accompanying website (cheap plug alert) called TeenWritersPublish.com.
Gina teaches real live teens and middle-grade kids writing craft already. So she's a natural. I know something about marketing from my day job. Together, we hope to show teen writers that they can not only write novels (thats plural) while still in school, but publish them as well.
Can any of you imagine the confidence boost you would have received in high school if you could actually see your book for sale? This is what the digital age has done for us. Anyone can publish and do it all for free--a key component of the podcast, by the way, publishing on the cheap.
And so what if a novel written by a 16 year-old doesn't sell thousands of copies? The idea is to show them that their dream is well within reach. If the first book bombs, take it down and try again. Hopefully, with the support of mentors and other teen writers, the first books won't bomb. They may not be best-sellers, but the kids will have taken the most difficult step of a writing career before they receive their high school diplomas.
The first podcasts launch in two weeks. We're recording now. I'll be looking for some of you, my big-hearted colleagues, to interview. And if you receive an email from one of our listeners looking for a little guidance, you'll know what to do.
Ron Estrada is the author of Now I Knew You and (now) the host of the Teen Writers Publish! podcast. You can see what else he's up to at RonEstradaBooks.com.