4 Writing Tips On Getting Started For Young Authors

Almost every writer I’ve ever met started writing as a teenager. Some writer’s conferences are offering teen tracks, but that isn’t always accessible to teens who want to write. Here’s some writing advice on starting a story I wish I’d had as a teen sitting alone in my bedroom hoping someday someone other than my mom would read them and like them.

Tip #1: Read stories that look interesting to you, read the ones that don’t. Read the good ones and the bad ones because you can learn from both. Go to the Dollar Store and get a small notebook. Try to write everyday. As a teen, I started story after story and never finished a lot of them. Try to finish, but if you can’t, that’s OK. That’s part of learning. Keep writing.

  • Pay attention to how the stories you like begin, how does the author make you want to keep reading at the end of a chapter. How does the author make the story world seem real to you. Look at the sentences – does the author use just long sentences, just short ones, a mixture?
  • What kinds of problems do the characters have and how do they get out of those problems? Ask yourself if there was any way the main character(s) could just walk away from the problem? Was there any way for Peeta to walk away from the Hunger Games? Stories need conflict.
  • If you find a word you don’t understand, don’t skip it. Ask an adult what it means or look it up. Words to a writer are like the bat-gadgets in Batman’s utility belt. You can’t do your job without them. Challenge yourself to learn one new word a day. A simple tool you can use, if you have permission, is typing Define: (add your word here) into Google. That will give you a quick explanation of the word. So, a quick example would be – Define: truancy

Tip #2: Writers are full of great ideas, write them down. You’re going to get ideas from all kinds of places, by asking questions. How would a vampire boy and a human girl live together? (Twilight) How could one girl ignite a rebellion? (Hunger Games) What if you didn’t want to be just like everyone else? (The Uglies). Maybe your idea will be a character, or the beginning paragraph or page of a story, maybe it’s just a question. Whatever comes to you is what you write down. There’s no such thing as a bad idea, there are ideas that need more work, or are best combined with other ideas – but there’s no stupid idea.

Tip #3 If your story is a car, conflict is the engine. Conflict is what keeps your story moving, what keeps readers reading. Will your character get what they want? What problems are you going to give your character to keep them from getting what they want? What does Katniss want most in The Hunger Games (if you keep it really simple)? She wants to keep her promise to Prim and return home from the Hunger Games. Does she get what she wants?Yes. Was it easy? No. Did Katniss change because of the problems she faced to reach her goal? Absolutely.

Tip #3 Begin your story at a point of action. I see this a lot. People like to take a page or two to tell the reader all about the room the character is in, the sunrise, what they do when they first wake up. Skip right to where it gets interesting. If the reader needs to know all that other stuff add it in in small bits, don’t take the whole first page. Here’s the first two sentences of the last book I read:

“I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw the obituary. The fact that it had my name on it was sort of a clue.”

(*Hint – if you don’t know what obituary means – look it up!) The character has been on the run from gangsters for the last 3 years, but the author tells us all the stuff that’s already happened in small bits – a sentence here and there. She didn’t take the whole first page. I was pulled into the story right away. You don’t need explosions, car chases or dead bodies for action, but you need to make your reader lean forward a bit and want to know more.

Tip #4 Make sure you let the reader know where the story takes place, and when. Some writers will place a date at the start of a chapter. Hastings – 1066. Other writers will just give you a clue. “Her corset was laced too tight. She leaned against the wall until the dizzy spell passed.” Using the word corset is a big clue that this story takes place in the past. If your story starts on another planet, in another time, in a swamp – make sure the reader knows that fairly soon. Here’s the first sentence from Delirium by Lauren Oliver.

“It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.”

I haven’t read this book, but right away I know that this story takes place in a society that’s different than the one I live in.

Want to see all the posts in my young author series – find them here.

Do you know a teen who likes to read? When did you first start writing? If you’re a teen writer, what kinds of books do you enjoy reading?


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  1. says

    I just bookmarked this post, Lisa. Terrific advise! My daughter has shown a little interest in writing, so we are planning a YA series…and this would be great for her to read. I had to laugh when you advised young people to ask if they didn’t know what ‘obituary’ meant. I get that all the time…WHY do you use such big words?! The thing is, I don’t think I do…it’s just normal to me because I’ve read a lot for most of my life. So I love that reading is your number one tip. :)
    Kristy K. James recently posted…Day 4 On The Enza Blog Tour

  2. says

    HI Lisa! Both my daughters write, but the youngest is most interested in telling stories. Your advice above is a wonderful in-a-nutshell reference for ANYONE who wants to write. :) I have also found that Gail Carson Levine’s (Ella Enchanted) book Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly, geared toward middle grade writers, is a great resource to encourage young writers. In addition, NANOWRIMO Young Writers Program has 3 pdf workbooks for elementary, middle school, and high school students who want to participate in that month-long writing adventure. Here’s the link: http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/workbooks

  3. says

    I recommend setting small goals with larger objectives in mind. So if you want to write a novel in a year, figure out how many words you’d need to write in a month, a week, etc. But if you fail on meeting that target in a given week or month (which we all inevitably do at one point or another), don’t beat yourself up. Just focus on the next week’s goal and keep going. Take small steps toward that bigger dream!
    Janelle Madigan recently posted…The Tax Man Cometh, Writer’s Edition


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