Everything You Believe Is Wrong (or, why I thought I couldn’t be a writer)

So, I used to love writing as a kid. I wrote stories about my dogs (something I think every author does, as a kid. Right?).

dogs tail
Age 13

I wrote stories about my local park’s war memorial actually being a time machine space ship for vampire shapeshifter alien snakes (that old cliché, urgh).

snake trap
Age 11

But when I was about fourteen, I kind of . . . stopped writing. For years, actually. It wasn’t until I was at university that I started writing again. There are lots of reasons I stopped. Here are some of them – and why I was totally wrong about everything.

1) I’m too young to write anything good

All of the authors of my favourite books, the ones who were famous, were in their forties and fifties. So even though I really wanted to be a writer, I thought there was no point in trying until I was older. I thought that I had to get a lot more life experience before I’d have anything worth writing about.

I was SO WRONG. Everyone, of any age, has something worth saying! Especially when writing YA, which is aimed at teenagers, a young person is going to have so much to say which is relevant to their audience, because they are their audience.

2) Writers have to write all the time

I love writing, but to be honest . . . as a teenager it was never my priority. There were too many other things to do. I would write occasionally, but never out of habit – more just because I’d run out of other things to do and come across my notebook.

I thought that clearly, clearly, I didn’t care enough about writing to do it at a professional level. I thought that I could never write anything good if I wasn’t prepared to practice constantly. I remember watching an interview with Ian Rankin, where he said that as a kid he was so desperate to write that he would write in pencil on his bedroom walls. That was never me – I was never obsessive about writing. So I thought: clearly I’m never going to be an author.

But again, I was really wrong. Writing is 90% reading, in my opinion. By reading, you learn how to write. Read anything and everything and critically engage with it – think about what plots work, what characters are developed and which aren’t, what keeps you hooked and invested in the story – and you’re 90% of the way there already. You don’t need to write all the time to be a writer. But you do need to read all of the time.

Plus – if you’re always writing, you’re not going to have anything to write about, except a writer sitting at a desk staring at a blank word document! Get out of the house and have some adventures, get into trouble or go on a gap year. Then you’ll have something fun to write about when you get home.

3) I don’t read enough serious ‘Classics’ to be an author

I’ve always been a huge reader. I used to get library books out on my library card, my mum’s, my dad’s and my brother’s . . . and read them all in a week and return them to get some more. I read my local library’s entire Children’s section,and moved onto the Adult fiction. But. I didn’t think I read the right stuff to be a writer. I was never really into Classics, which were the kind of things I thought authors should be reading.   

I thought if I couldn’t even read the ‘intelligent’ stuff, then what would the stuff I was writing be like?

BUT. You’ve guessed it . . .  I was wrong. You don’t need to read Classics. Not ever, if you don’t want to. They are interesting, in a ‘ooh, so this is the first time that method/technique/literary device was done’ but to be honest  . . . you can see a lot of the same stuff in modern literature too, which has built on centuries of groundwork done by classical writers.

Read whatever you enjoy, man.

The same goes for writing. Write something you love, and that passion will shine through in the book. If you’re writing a Serious Novel just because you think you should, and you don’t love everything about it, readers will be able to tell. (Plus, you’re more likely to actually finish writing something if you’re desperate to find out what happens yourself. Write what you want to read.)

4) My writing isn’t as good as in books.

I used to read back over my writing, and cringe at how terrible it was – full of errors and clumsy sentence structures and just plain bad dialogue. Especially when I compared it to the books I was reading, which had elegant prose and funny jokes and perfect grammar. (To be honest, I still do this now.) But you can’t let that stop you writing. Those published books have been edited more times than you can imagine. They’ve had teams of people going over every single word to make sure it’s perfect. At one stage, they would have looked exactly like your writing too. All first drafts suck.

5) Barely anyone gets published, so why bother trying?

Okay, firstly, past!Lauren, you have completely missed the point of writing. Writing is so much fun – you get to create your own worlds! You get to make up characters, and have them fight each other! Or kiss each other! Or fight each other and then kiss each other! Or kiss each other and then fight each other and then get really close to each other’s faces and accidentally start kissing again! Wait . . . what was I saying? [cough]

You don’t write to get published. For me, I write because I have an itch to read a book that doesn’t exist, and the only way to satisfy that itch is to write the book. I love writing (some of the time). I love it even if it never gets published. So it’s always worth writing – and actually, loads of people get published. Look at me!

Don’t let pessimism stop you from trying. Believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then nobody else will.

A rebloggable version of this post can be found here.

Published by Lauren James

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including Green Rising, The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. She is a RLF Royal Fellow, freelance editor and screenwriter. Lauren is the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League, and on the board of the Authors & Illustrators Sustainability Working Group through the Society of Authors. Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide and been translated into six languages. The Quiet at the End of the World was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award. Her other novels include The Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise. She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university. Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2022. She has taught creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands.

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