I Feel Too Young to Write a Novel

An Essay By Sarah Bethany // 2/9/2010

"And it hurries to live and it hastens to feel." - Prince Vyazemsky, "The Snow"


I keep feeling like a 21-year old should not write a novel. How can I? "Write about what you know." Are two decades and one year enough to know something? Louisa May Alcott wrote through Jo March, when the character was my age, "I don't know anything!" I started being introspective before fourteen, but is just seven years enough time to gain knowledge in the world, enough to write? Especially as my understanding was developing (and still is). My experience is narrow, my imagination high, my passion broad - and blinding, maybe. Youth is intense, idealism exists... The world is the world in my head.

What can I write from this?

A book I'm working on right now is called "Marian and Roland". I started stitching it when I was fourteen. Even though I probably only wrote a paragraph of it on an old computer, the story grew like St. Brighid's cloak when she spread it on the ground. There's no real storyline, but the myth, the archetype of it, has stretched out over the hills of my mind. This one story (along with one or two others) has sort of incorporated a lot of what I thought, and a lot of who I was, during my teenage years - and all my woods-dreams. Big lofty goal to try to write it down now, eh? The characters were my dream-playmates and I played with Roland and his brothers as much as I did with my real neighbor boys, I'm shamed to say. But "Marian and Roland" is the little I know - and a lot of my imagination.

Maybe the world wants ignorant, passionate, strong writers - youths with their tenderness and dreams, their little bitternesses and young jadedness, their dark sins, their vividness and pathos, their silliness, their young imagined constructs of the world, their infant sweentness and vulnerability and bravery to be naked and a baby before the world in writing.

Maybe literature wants to see this, even just to laugh at the young ones or to study with clinical curiosity the youths' hearts - that they themselves once had. (For "passions...are the property of youth, and anyone who expects to feel their thrill throughout his life is a fool" [Lermontov, "A Hero of Our Time"].)

In my stories, at 21, I present the reality that I know, and also what I want - really, really want and long for - reality to be.

Perhaps only the young writers have the knack of showing their tottering (though what they consider blazing and raw) perception of reality...and also their heart's keenest cries for how they want the world to be and believe it  can be, against all hope. It's silly, but where WOULD we be without the baby's idealism? And I know this is a Romanticized view of youth, that equates age with innocence (the 19th century began to see us as angels, whereas the Puritans had seen us as adults stuffed into miniature bodies), but she's walking the closest to Eden, because she's young. She hasn't gone far; she sees it still on the horizon. She cries for it. And maybe, if they aren't too doubled over in laughter, the grown-ups, who have walked further away than she has, and lost the Sight of Eden (or call it "the Sentiment" of Eden), might have their minds stirred in memory and their hearts warmed with reassurance that it is still there.

Do not let the world look down on thee because of thy youth.

And it hurries to live and it hastens to feel.

Sometimes I want to run away from myself. Or I want to cover my ears and put my head down, until the stream of my heart quiets and finally stills.

"Tranquil rivers often begin as waterfalls, but no river leaps and foams all the way to the sea" ("A Hero of Our Time").

"As much fun as I had at your age," my grandmother confided to me seriously, "I wouldn't re-live it for the world."

"I'm glad I'm old now, in some ways," said my mother happily, "I'm not as anxious as I was in my 20s and 30s. Life seems easier... but really, I think I'VE just mellowed out."

After I turned 21, Dad listened to a tirade of me being distraught. I couldn't find answers, I didn't understand anything. I was lost. He didn't offer answers or solutions. He just gave me sympathy, which is what I want most from those who have already climbed the steep hill: "It's really hard at your age. I understand; I know; I was there. Everything is intense." And then he did one of his laugh things that brought everything down to scale for me - and minimized the craggy mountains. I feel bad for youths who don't have this said to them to comfort them and relieve them and make them smile.

I don't know. Sometimes I feel really stable and mature. Grounded and centered. Tranquil and phlegmatic. Other times I hate the numbers "two" "one" and feel hunted, haunted, hampered, hemmed in, by them. What weak fragile numbers. I'm so young! Where's my power? My world-conquering Alexander empowerment? I feel unable to deal with the stresses of the world or too small to grapple with its galactical questions.

I do feel life intensely. Everything IS big. Rejection is felt keenly. My self-image is as delicate as a junior high girl's sometime. Passions and impulses are grandiose. (I woke up in the middle of the night and said, "I'll buy a ticket to Rome again!") My heart feels pulled by an invisible rope attached to my chest toward "Adventure!" Questions of "Why do we exist?" and "What is life's meaning?" are 50-foot-drop-from-a-bridge-worthy. (No... not really, but enough to make your soul scream!) Intellectual confusions, tumbled thoughts, churning doubts - enormous. Conflicts about life and how to be are life-and-death situations, battle-worthy, desperate, like my existence hinges on them.

Whew. Exhausting. I can't wait to be a fat calm housewife in a bathrobe looking back at her tempestuous youth and patting her girlish ardors on the head.




Yay, you posted!!  I've missed your writing. ;)

I'm not twenty-one, but I can relate to a lot of what's written here.  I love how you put it all together, and the style and everything is just simple and nice.  I love the ending too; it was funny. :)

Clare Marie | Tue, 02/09/2010

"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." -Bilbo Baggins [The Lord of the Rings]

Too young?

Yeah, I know what you're feeling. On one of the forums I joined, someone posted a link to an article "Ten Things Teenage Writers should Know..." The first point was " The Bad News: Right Now, Your Writing Sucks"

Honestly, is that all people can say about teenage writers?  Yes, we don't have the experiance, but experiance isn't everything.

After all, Tolkien began work on his mythology during WWI--when he was under twenty-one.  The resulting stories, later published as The Book of Lost Tales, volumes 1 and 2, eventually grew into the great Silmarillion.

Julie | Tue, 02/09/2010

Formerly Kestrel


You know, I think it's unfair when people judge a writer by his or her age. Age does not equate experience or knowledge; my mom has met sixteen year olds who've gone through more in their life than she has in hers.

And... it depends, with young writers. Because are we talking about young people who write, or writers who are young? There is a difference. True writers are writers, no matter their age.

I think it is wrong to judge anyone by their age. It is just wrong. As wrong as racism or any other kind of prejudice. Just plain wrong.

Hannah W. | Tue, 02/09/2010


Kestrel: that's horrible. There's nothing like older people chucking younger people under the chin and saying, "Right now, your writing is bad. But keep going. Even Keats was bad when he first started." I'd like to chuck THEM under the chin and tell them there are kids who could write them under the table any day. Hahaha, jk. The "matured writers" (and I'd like to see if their writing has really ripened or became more grand anyway) are only saying it because it's in all the "Becoming a Good Writer" books, and because it's a fad in schools for teachers to say that. Or because it was said to them as young writers. There's some truth in it. For a lot of young writers it's true. But for some, it's not. And I just don't like blanket statements like a pamphlet that tells you, no matter who you are, as long as you're a teenager, your writing is weak.

Now, I hope, Hannah, you don't think I'm saying that. I'm mostly looking inwardly and self-doubting, whether I have anything worth writing about. It's easy to feel young and small. And to wonder whether I know anything for sure, or have anything solid that I've gleaned from life that I can put down in words. My pile seems small. But that's okay!

Sarah Bethany | Tue, 02/09/2010

don't worry

I didn't mean that you were saying that. I just meant that, you know, sometimes great young writers (like you... I love your writing!) doubt themselves because there's this feeling among the older set that if you're young, you can't write.
Which, as many of us here on AP have seen (and proven!), is a lie.
So don't let it stop you. Write on!

Hannah W. | Wed, 02/10/2010


I don't think we as younger writers should feel in any way that we have less to draw from. We may not have as many things, but that doesn't mean we have less - if that makes any sense. We look at the world differently. We may not have as many years to write from, but our perspective is different from older people's.

Kyleigh | Wed, 02/10/2010


I love you, Sarah. :)

This post was very diverting and very insiteful. I can somehow distantly connect with you, despite our different ages, somehow I've felt some of this before....and then the other some that I haven't felt, I just felt for the first time as I imagined myself in your place. ;)

Mairead | Wed, 02/10/2010


"Sweet is the love that never knew a wound, but deeper that which died and rose again." - Mother Mary Francis

You're 21 and you still feel

You're 21 and you still feel young? My cousin just got married and she's 20( but hey what do I know? I'm 15).  Well, I would say what I thought of the essay, but now I fell to young. (LOL) 

Did you know the guy who wrote Eragon was 15?  

I am Nate-Dude | Thu, 02/11/2010



Mary Shelley was 17 when she wrote Frankenstein.
Youth joy and freedom for the win! ;D

Hannah W. | Fri, 02/12/2010

I finished reading this, and

I finished reading this, and went to my room to write a whole 'nother essay...which didn't turn out the way I wanted it, so I won't post. lol. But I was trying to say that I don't completely agree--I mean, I do, but I also think the opposite is true. Kids know and see things from a perspective that adults have completely lost.

Ever see "Hook", with Robin Williams? That's the sort of thing I'm talking about. He forgot he had been Peter Pan, and  he forgot the wonder and innocence that came with being a forever child. Gail Carson Levine says to keep everthing you ever write, because it's a piece of you and your perspective that you will lose as you grow older.

Yeah...so there's my two p. I loved this essay though, because (despite what I just said) I completely agreed with it! LOL

LoriAnn | Mon, 02/15/2010

I enjoyed your essay :-) and

I enjoyed your essay :-) and the last part was awesome!

I think that, although adults may have seen more of the world, children almost understand more. While (especially younger children) they may think with less complexity, they are less logical and pessimistic, and are more open to different ideas.

Do adults have imaginary friends? They often are so caught up in their hectic lives that they forget to be creative.

Loved it anyway, though ;)

BTW LoriAnn, are you a Gail Carson Levine fan too? I love her. I love Writing Magic too! It's an amazing book.

Erin | Mon, 02/15/2010

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

I like it!

Wow Sarah this very good and very meaningful. Being young is kind of rough sometimes, esspecially in your teens!

Alexandra | Sat, 01/01/2011


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