Young Writers and Novels That Will Never See the Light of Day

The New York Times seems determined to goad children’s/YA writers. Last week it was whether or not adults should read YA. This week it’s about young writers whose parents pay to get their books published. It brings up questions of self-publication and, when these publications cost several thousand dollars, what it means for these kids who want to be writers.

YA author Maureen Johnson has a very thoughtful response to this article, and I very much agree with her comments. She talks about how fantastic it is that kids are writing, but has issues with the idea of publication at that age. In very short:

“I have no problem with the writing part. I am for the writing part. I also like the idea that the kids are reading their stories out and sharing them. I like all of that! What I object to is this commodification of the process that gets you the label published. And this is a label we are all trying to sort out now, because published is a word that sort of gives you the laurel wreath, isn’t it? It used to mean that someone read your work, judged it worthy, worked on it, and printed it at great expense. It meant that there was the high possibility of rejection, and perseverance.”

I was the kind of kid who wrote a lot, too. Between middle and high school, I finished four “novels,” and worked on two others, and wrote a bunch of short stories. They were awful. I’m sure they were perfectly fine for a middle/high schooler, but they were nowhere near publishable. Of course, whenever I was busy at work I imagined getting my stories published and being super famous. I would be a teenage author like S.E. Hinton! It was just a matter of time! Now I am so glad that no one saw these early so-called novels. If I haven’t tossed them yet, they certainly won’t see the light of day any time soon. I can’t even imagine that early work following me around now. And I still gained so much from the act of writing, even if nothing actually came of these stories.

If parents want to encourage their kids as young writers, that’s great. Get them a ton of notebooks and pens; get them word-processing software; subscribe them to journals like Cicada and take them to the library so they can devour books. Ask them about their work or get them to apply to a young writers workshop. At this age, it’s enough just to be writing. There’s joy in the writing. Why do kids need to be published right now to feel any satisfaction from writing?

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