I recently discovered that ‘Encourage a Young Writer Day’ happened last month. And while it’s obviously passed by a long shot, it got me thinking about how I would best encourage a young writer.
Technically, depending on who you ask, I could still be considered a young writer. But I’ve come a long way since my early writing days, as an uncertain eleven year old finishing her first novel. I’ve been writing stories since before I could even read, but it really wasn’t until finishing that first book that I realized writing was something I’d like to do seriously.
And looking back, wondering what encouragement would have helped me most, the same advice keeps coming back to me: just tell your story.
Don’t stress forever about making it flawless. Don’t compromise on truths or your values just because you think someone might not like it. Don’t beat yourself up comparing it to other stories because those other stories aren’t yours. Only you can write your story.
Something I’ve been told is that there are no original stories. Every type, genre, or trope of story has been done before. No matter how nuanced you think your character is, there is someone somewhere who’s created a similar one. No matter how creative your story world that you spent months on is, there’s another one out there that shares some of its aspects.
This could be really discouraging, and it definitely was to me the first time I heard it. But after thinking about it in-depth, I’ve realized that it actually takes some of the pressure off of us as authors.
No one expects us to come up with something they’ve never seen before. We don’t have to be creative geniuses or experiment with the craziest ideas, genres, or tropes. We shouldn’t copy other’s stories obviously, but we don’t need to stress over the fact that there will be similarities.
The truth is, if you and I were to each be given the same story prompt to write a book about – same plot, same world, same characters- they’d end up very different. Of course parts would be similar, but each of us would take the story in different directions. We’d develop characters differently, explore different parts of the world, emphasize different themes based off what we’ve personally experienced.
And that’s the key. No one else can write your story. If you’re being honest and infusing the lessons and experiences you’ve had into what you write, it’s unique. It’s you. There’s not a single other person who could bring your exact perspective into a story.
And that’s one of – if not my most – favorite parts of being a writer.
Stories are powerful. I believe that. Not in any creepy, ‘magic’ sort of way, but because they have the ability to influence people in a way that few other things can. Stories touch areas of the heart that can be very hard to reach. And a genuine, honest story can stick with people for years.
I think it’s because stories are a representation of reality. They may be fictional, but to some extent, they’re also drawn from the author’s real life – the people, places, events, lessons learned. I believe we recognize that when we read stories, and that’s one reason why stories have the power to impact us so deeply.
We read a story and recognize, on some level, aspects of that story that remind us of our own lives. So we read on to discover what the story has to say about them. We’re reading a fictional story – and perfectly aware of it – but we’re also reminded of pieces of our lives.
Stories are also powered by emotion. It’s the emotions that we as authors are appealing to while we write, and it’s primarily that emotional draw that distinguishes stories from textbooks or sermons. They tug at our hearts and stick in our memories, and so the lessons from those stories can stick with us for a very long time, even if we’re not aware of it.
I recently finished teaching a high-school writing class, and by the end, I’m pretty sure my students were sick of hearing me talk about how great and humbling the opportunity to write a story is. But I truly believe it. Stories can reach so many people so deeply.
Your story could reach so many people. Touch so many people. Impact their lives.
Don’t ever underestimate the stories you have to tell. The lessons you can share, the themes you can emphasize, and the experiences you can inspire others with. If your story is meant to be dramatic, deep, and epic, then embrace that. If your story is meant to be a light-hearted comedy, embrace that too – and enjoy the smiles you bring.
There is no wrong story to tell, only yours. So don’t be afraid to tell it. You have no idea who needs to hear it, or how you might influence others for the better. You have no way of knowing how God can use your story for good purposes you couldn’t have imagined.
And though I’ve been focusing on fiction, this applies to any writer. Telling your story can be through fiction, non-fiction, articles, poetry, songs, or absolutely any form you choose. If you’re a writer, you can tell stories, and no matter the medium, they still have the potential to be a great influence, inspiration, or encouragement.
So my best piece of encouragement for a young writer – or any writer, really – is simply to tell the story that’s inside you. And this might look like telling lots of stories, all with bits and pieces of your story planted inside. Those are the best kinds. Invest yourself into every story you write, and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and real.
The world is hungry for people willing to be vulnerable, genuine, and honest with it. And while it sounds counter-intuitive to do this through story, it’s actually one of the best methods. It’s ‘safe’ enough to not feel so abrasive or uncomfortable, but we as readers can tell when the author truly believes and is invested in what he or she is writing. We can feel it, and we remember.
When you start, don’t stress about making everything perfect. Don’t worry over the technicalities and grammar and formatting; all the tiny details. Those can be polished later, but first, just get your story out. Let yourself tell it without worrying about any other elements. And later, when you do polish it, don’t get held back by a desire for perfection.
Perfection isn’t possible (believe me, as much as I wish it was). Don’t let yourself keep from telling your story because you know it can’t be perfect. An imperfect story that’s real and genuine and touching will be worth so much more than a grammatically perfect story that lacks any real passion behind it. As I’ve said before, leave perfect to God, and tell stories that lead others to Him.
To me, nothing is better as a writer than hearing from someone who was positively impacted by one of our stories. Knowing that someone was encouraged, inspired, challenged, or blessed by something that you took the time and energy to share – even if it was very hard – is a true blessing. And it sticks with you for a very long time.
So go and tell your story. Someone, somewhere, needs to hear it.
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what He has done for my soul.
(Psalm 66:16 ESV)