Monday, March 14, 2011

Imagine If This Had Been A Teen Writer

During my school appearance for Read Across America, I had a fifth grader ask me about how to go about publishing the book she was about to finish writing because her mother said it was really good and she ought to publish it. Now, I don't think children should be trying to publish. Period. I think they should be training as writers. As a general rule, we think it's tragic when someone with only a fifth grade education is out trying to make a go of it in the work world. Yet adults tell children, heck, yeah, go out and compete with people who have been training as writers for years. Encouraging children, even teenagers, to go out and seek publication instead of impressing upon them the need to train and learn is not helping them at all. Would children be encouraged to go out and practice medicine because they had helped an injured or sick friend and seemed good at it? Would they be encouraged to apply for jobs as mechanics because they showed skill with machines?

Come on.

Back to my day at the school and the child whose mom wanted her to publish her book--I had to be very careful how I answered that. I tried to explain to her about researching markets. (Does anyone discuss this with kids who want to publish?) Other kids got involved in the discussion and finally a couple of them told me that a four-year-old had published a book. And she won an award!

I have not been able to find any information about that, and I have tried.

I recalled this whole situation this morning when I read What's behind the world's worst music video ever? at Salon. The article involves a teen singer who created a music video and got hammered big time for its quality by Internet viewers and some critics.

Here's the thing folks: When you tell children who have only a child's grasp of a skill that they are ready to work on an adult level, you are exposing them to the same kind of criticism that adults get. A lot of adult writers don't believe they should have to endure criticism for their writing, which is why from time to time we hear entertaining stories about virtual bitch slapping sessions between authors and reviewers. If adults have trouble with it, how will a child cope?

What are people thinking?

Some commenters on articles about this video suggest that it's a parody and that people just aren't getting it. Even if that's the case, the not getting it part means that a young girl is taking a critical beating that people much older and better trained than she is would have trouble withstanding.

I don't want to be responsible for pushing child or teen writers into a similar situation.


Liz B said...

I have to say - -I didn't at first realize she was so young, and didn't realize this was self-done.

I'm a firm believer that, in most cases, teen artists should wait a few years. For all you say. I also think the "best" outcome for teen professionals -- success -- is also not necessarily best because it's the rare person who doesn't become the 20something "has been."

Gail Gauthier said...

I've had a little trouble figuring out just what is going on with the company that produced her video. Some commenters at articles I've seen claim it's a self-publishing type of thing--you pay, they make you a video--but the website is somewhat chaotic and unclear on that point. Whatever the company is, she's thirteen. Someone, presumably an adult, brought her together with the company. Someone at the company, presumably an adult, made it possible for her to make that video.

Talent has no expiration date. A very young writer/musician/artist can only improve with training. If they can't afford a traditional higher education, they can still only improve with self-study, work, and experience of whatever kind they can get. There is just no reason to get out on the track early.

Gail Gauthier said... describes the company that made this video as a "vanity production company."

Anonymous said...

As much as I hate to say this there have been teen stars who have broken through to fame and sustained enduring success. Sure Justin Beiber is criticised but he has a huge fan following and probably is experiencing no regrets about his early rise to fame. SE Hinton and Mary Shelly are a few examples of teen writers who have broken into the publishing world and endured. I have been working on a novel since I was 14, (I'm now 16) and have been editing it during school holidays since. Of course I am thinking about publication. That is what motivates me to keep on writing. I am mature enough to enter the adult world of publication. I continue to research the publishing industry, and mature enough to take criticism. But if I don't get published it won't be the end of the world, because by going through the process of editing and querying I have learned much more then practising the craft of alone would teach me. In response to your question posed in the title, not all teen musicians are like Rebecca Black, nor are all teen writers.