Advice for a young writer

I was recently contacted by the mom of a very young writer (mid-teen) who asked for advice on how to get her very prolific daughter (has completed NanoWrimo 3 times already) connected (and hopefully published) in the writing world.

I put heads together with my friend Gina Rosati (my weekly kidnapper) and we came up with this response and I thought was information good enough for *any* beginning writer.


Thank you for contacting me, I’m always happy to help another writer and how lucky you are to have a writer in the house!

First, you need to understand that I am a journalist/blogger and not a novelist (although I am working on a book but it’s a memoir) so novel writing is not my area of expertise. However, I do have a few suggestions:

Have your daughter talk to her librarian (both school and public) and take the initiative to set up a teen writers group (from which she will get tons of real world feedback. Kids are brutally honest, and if she’s writing YA, they will give her useful feedback.) FYI, the Merrimack Library has a strong writers and NANO group.

IMG_20131113_090043106Have her read Story Engineering (Larry Brooks) and Save the Cat (Blake Snyder) because she might not be trained about proper story structure (which is KEY.) I keep both books by my desk and I refer to them often.

Let her know that writers are like butterflies … the struggle to get published – of attending writing conferences (like SCBWI), of meeting writers who have similar interests, of searching online for useful information (which leads to discovering information she didn’t realize would be useful) and of achieving a goal on her own, rather than have someone hand her a golden key, is all crucial to a successful career. She should be networking (online and in-face) as much as possible.

Querying for an agent – that’s something that takes hard work, luck, and a little bit of magic. I currently have 2 agents interested in my book (after a loooong time of trying.) You need to be able to present your book idea clearly and concisely. You have to have an angle (it could be the age of your daughter), a hell-of-a-hook, and you have to show that your book is marketable. It’s not easy, (if it were everyone would be published) and I’ve seen courses and workshops on this topic alone. This one will have to come from her, she needs to do her research, and be able to succinctly explain what her book is about. She also needs to follow an agent’s preferred format. Find the agent that fits, follow her guidelines to create a query and then send it with your fingers crossed.

Shortcuts = Easy Come, Easy Go. If she’s in this for the long haul, she’ll take her time and develop her skills. There are very few teen writers who have experienced the life lessons needed to produce deep, meaningful literature but with practice comes perfection.

For the above reason, she might want to connect with a Literary Coach (you’d have to pay) who could help and advise her with getting her work to the point where it could be professionally published.

Continue being your daughter’s greatest fan. That, more than anything, will give her the courage and strength to continue as a writer.

Many thanks to Gina for her input on this.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). ( She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

15 thoughts on “Advice for a young writer

  1. Some good advice. Above all she has to keep re-discovering herself again and again, so she would be able to swim unknown waters, thus emerging strong when ever she takes a fall.

  2. This is great advice for a young aspiring writer. I have a book that actually teaches you about how to get an agent and create a query letter. The book is called, “Write A Novel and Get it Published,” and the author is Nigel Watts. I found this book extremely helpful. It even includes proper formatting for novels, tips, and different writing exercises that are a lot of fun to do.
    It was one of the first books I got when I decided to take my writing more seriously.

  3. I think it’s good advice, but I think of adding something most beginning writers have a problem with, something I mention on my blog (see:
    Many people start writing a book, which can be daunting. Instead, I suggest a writer drafts a story. The draft is not intended to be viewed by other people, it’s the place to let your creativity go full-tilt without thinking too much on how it will end up.
    When you finish your story, you stop writing and put the draft away. If you can, put it away for a couple of weeks and draft something else. Then, when the story has sat in your ‘drawer’ for a while, you take it out and put on your editor cap, highlighting and notating the draft on how to improve the raw material.
    Then you put on your writing cap again and polish the draft into a manuscript that you can show others for feedback.
    The intent is not to write and edit at the same time. That’s fine for writing an article or a short story, but not when you’re working on something the size of a novel. You don’t want your inner editor to impede the creative process.
    And the nice thing about writing digitally, is that you don’t have to retype the whole draft, but you can make a copy and edit that, so you’ll always have a back-up of your original draft.

    Martyn V. Halm, author of the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

  4. You really said some words if wisdom here I particularly liked the part about how you have to work hard, put in a lot of effort and be prepared for a long trek and the reward will be worth it. In our generation we expect so much to be given to us as soon as possible and we are disinterested by things that require a larger input and a longer time period. Thank you for the advice

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