Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Courage of Teenagers

It took two fifteen-year-old boys to convince me to follow my heart and start writing full time. Fifteen’s this great age. You’ve survived the battle arena of middle school and probably made it through your first year of high school. And in some part of you that maybe doesn’t hover on the surface, you know—absolutely know—that you can do something great. Something amazing. Something only you can do.

Yeah, maybe a person or circumstance in your life has shoved that knowledge down to the deep end of the pool and tied it there with a big rock, but you still know it’s there, it’s true, and it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks because you know it.

Look around at the adults in your life: how many of them still know this, carry it around in their pockets? One? Two? Zero? We get old and we get tired and we forget that we ever felt this way once.  I mean, adults write sentences like “It’s never too old to be what you might have been” precisely because they have to see it spelled out in black and white to even remember what you know at fifteen: that you are invincible and can do whatever you set out to do.

Four years ago I found Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I was standing in my Costco, looking at the books table (the coolest part of Costco.) As I browsed, I overheard these grandmas talking.

 “Wrote it when he was a teenager, and he’s a real nice kid. He home-schooled with one of my grandchildren.”

Well, you can bet that caught my attention. This gorgeous book was written by a teen? Whaaat? Anyway, I bought the book and loved it. I hadn’t fallen into a world like this since I was a kid riding in a van to Alaska. (I had only Lord of the Rings for thirty days of driving. I rationed it out to one hundred pages a day; those pages were the best part of each day.)

And now, here’s this fifteen-year-old author giving me another great world (with way more dragons!) I finished his first book and bought and read the others, and I thought to myself, Wow. This kid, he’s like, fifteen, and he didn’t have any issues with writing a freaking long book. He just did it. And then did it again.

That same year, I noticed another fifteen-year-old knocking out a couple of novels every couple of months. And I thought to myself: Wow. Where do you get that kind of belief in yourself and your abilities that lets you just do what you want to do?

And it’s like this light popped on, blinding me: when you’re a teenager, you know that you can do anything. Seriously, Teens. Can. Do. Anything. As a late-bloomer, I’m probably not the best person in the world to convince you of this fact, but look: someone else said it too! (Better than I did.)

So on March 20, 2009, I told myself: “No more ‘I’m-going-to-write-a-novel-someday;’ I need to just write. Like those fearless fifteen-year-olds. Forget ‘someday.’ This is someday.”

You know how adults or teachers say that their kids teach them so much? (Yeah, we do say that, and if the adults in your own life aren’t saying it, that sucks—they should, because it’s true!) So anyway, it took a pair of undaunted teenage boys to teach me that if I wanted to do something bad enough, I needed to just start. Today. 

No matter what your age is: be that fifteen-year-old version of yourself.  And if you are fifteen? Do what you know you can do. Do it now before you get old and forgetful and busy doing things that don’t really matter to you anyway. Take it from a late-bloomer. Nuff said.

Thank you, Chris Paolini, for showing me that it’s okay to do what you dream of doing and that if you weren’t too young to do it, then maybe I wasn’t too old. And the other fifteen-year-old? That was my kid: the ‘JWS’ to whom I dedicated my first book. Because if it weren’t for him and Paolini and their teenager-ability to just do stuff, I wouldn’t be writing novels today. And that would just be sad.


  1. Christopher Paolini, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and Flavia Bujor have been my published-teen-author role models for years. They're the proof that even if teen publishing is rare, it CAN happen, so why not try?

  2. Such a great post! I remember being fifteen and wanting to write, and then being sixteen and writing that first, freakishly long novel. And it's true -- we all need a little big of that "I'm invincible" to get us started and on our way.

    Great, great, great post! Merry Christmas! :)