Teens Can Write, Too!

Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework

The Secret Life of a Teen Writer

I’ve always been a writer. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been putting my thoughts into stories in some way or another. At first, they were pretty obscure: epics of talking mice travelling to new worlds through da Vinci paintings, or tales of rebellious fruit who decide to wage war against their vegetable overlords. As I got older, those stories turned to novels (or at least half-written ones), and those novels into polished manuscripts. And yet, right from the beginning, I hated telling people about my writing.

My parents would ask me what I was working on, and I’d mumble out a vague answer and then turn in the other direction; my relatives, who my parents told all about my books, would ask when one would be published, and I’d just say something along the lines of it being “far away” and would try to change the subject; and my friends… well, I wouldn’t tell any of them that I write at all.

Even now that I have grown more experienced with the book world, have joined twitter, started my own blog, and so on, that hasn’t really changed. I’ve not only continued to avoid discussing my own writing in real life, but in a way I’ve also created this whole second world for myself, this super-secret online life. And maybe it’s because this makes people feel like spies, which is always a plus, but I’ve noticed from talking to other writers that this happens a lot. In fact, from what it sounds like, there are a number of us who write or blog “undercover,” who have over time created a second life for ourselves online.

And for the almost three years now that I’ve been active on the internet, I’ve been wondering why this is. On the surface, it seems like a pretty easy answer, right? I mean, it isn’t difficult to blame this whole “secret writing life” phenomenon on some level of introversion within us all. Or maybe, it seems, we’ve created this separate writing world because of societal pressure, because we are so afraid to be ourselves in public that we feel the need to hide our love for writing or something. And while there may be some truth in those theories, I personally have never really bought into either of them, because both imply that I am, on some level, ashamed of being a writer. When the fact is? For better or for worse,* I’m pretty damn proud of it.

So then… why? Why get involved with the writing and book and blogging communities, then work so hard to keep it a secret from people I know in the Real World? Why keep it to myself? What’s the point?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and here’s what I’ve decided:

It’s because sometimes we all need a way out.

It’s because we all need a way to express ourselves.

It’s because we all need an escape.

There is something truly freeing in the secrecy of a “second writing life,” in being able to have something that is just yours, something that you can come home to every day and, like a blank canvas, fill with your thoughts. Writing is a naturally freeing experience, but when you can write just for you, for you and a few weird people on the internet, the possibilities become endless. You don’t have to worry about anything; you just write. And for me, that is exactly why I keep my online life a secret: because it has become my outlet. Because it’s the safe place I can escape to whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed. Because it is a world full of like-minded people who make me feel a little less strange. But most of all, because this secret life is mine.

And that, to me, is the heart of it all. Having this life that I get to keep all to myself allows me a way out when I need one, gives me a world that really just makes sense to me. There is even something kind of meta about it all, like through this secret life I’m suddenly creating an entirely new story for myself, like I am the main character in the book I’m writing. And in that way, why I do this seems (to me) at least a little bit logical. I don’t make a second life because there is anything wrong with the first one; I make it because I need a way to make sense of the first one.

After all, at the end of the day, we all do need to take a step back. We all need a place where we feel safe, a medium through which everything becomes both a little clearer and a little more sane. It doesn’t mean we’re unhappy with our real lives or anything; it’s just necessity. Some people find this escape through gossip, through music, through sports. Some people find it by looking at art or writing troll-ish YouTube comments or staring at the stars with their next-door-neighbor. And me? I just happen to find it through books and writing.

It’s not introversion that has me keeping this secret–not really, anyway. It’s because my online life is the same as your private journal, or your favorite TV episode, or that best friend you stay up all night every night talking to. Or anything else–but chances are, you have something. Some secret, some place that is always a constant. Something that is yours.

Because we all have our secrets. And sometimes, that can be a very, very good thing.

(*By “worse,” I am of course referring to the day the FBI finally arrests me for my Google searches.)

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About Michael Waters

I'm Michael, I'm eighteen, and I blog about YA books for Barnes & Noble.

49 comments on “The Secret Life of a Teen Writer

  1. eviline_lunette
    May 20, 2014

    Very true! I feel exactly the same way. I’m scared it’ll be judged, and only a few of my friends actually read what I write.

    • John Hansen
      May 22, 2014

      Yeah, I’ve felt that too! It’s a lot easier to share drafts with other writers, because they just sort of get in it in a way, it feels, like non-writers (as awesome as they can be) don’t.

  2. magicandwriting583
    May 20, 2014

    My mom used to get upset at me when I’d be writing, someone would come into the room, and I’d switch to a different window. My email, maybe, or something like that. I only did it because I didn’t want anybody asking what I was writing—or worse, my siblings reading over my shoulder.

    Anyway, good post!

    • Suicune
      May 21, 2014

      A mother being mad about her child writing? Why is that? (I’d rather say it boosts language skills and several other skills that every parent wants to see in their offspring 😉 )

      • magicandwriting583
        May 21, 2014

        Oh, no, no, sorry, I worded that awkwardly. She doesn’t have a problem with my writing, so long as I don’t do it instead of my school work. I just had a bad habit of hiding what I was writing whenever someone came into the room, and she didn’t like that.

    • lillianmwoodall
      May 21, 2014

      I was exactly the same! In my old house the computers were all in the same room, through an archway from the kitchen. I only wrote when everyone was out, because whenever someone went past I’d lock my computer and go bright red in the face. The very act of writing just made me feel guilty. And, of course, notebooks were too concrete evidence. It seems ridiculous looking back, but I’m no less paranoid now.

      • magicandwriting583
        May 21, 2014

        Yeah! I don’t have a problem so much in letting other people know I write. I just don’t want them to ask about my writing, or read it or anything… My mom once told her cousin’s children that I was writing, and they asked what my book was about, and I darn near panicked. I ended up telling them about the story I knew the least about, so that I could honestly say, “Well, I’m not really sure yet…”

      • lillianmwoodall
        May 22, 2014

        And my mother told my English teacher, who asked exactly that question. I didn’t say anything at all, because in my head I was already running out the school across the rugby pitch in the drizzle. 😛

      • alex
        June 24, 2014

        Ok……… for me these posts are very nice, because a teen can express their feeligns in here, I am a teen and i think that is very necesary have a space to share and post your idas, because we are in the same age and understand ourselves, for me is nice this blog and in spire of I don t have time because i have a lot of homework for me is interesting read the thougths of other guys , and i think that youuu have to continue posting in the blog…………. 😛

    • John Hansen
      May 22, 2014

      I am guilty of this too. I’m always terrified someone from my family will read some of my WiP, and so I always end up changing windows. I’m not sure why it freaks me out so much, but it does.

      • magicandwriting583
        May 23, 2014

        Yeah… My mom’s trying to break me of the habit because she’s afraid I’m hiding something inappropriate or something (which I’m not), but…it’s hard.

  3. M. Weidenbenner
    May 20, 2014

    I’m blogging about this topic this week. Could it be, John, that you’re afraid to let others in for fear that then you will be made accountable? Success in life and in writing comes from being accountable to someone/thing other than ourselves. By letting others know that you’re a writer then you have to share your work, you have to show something of what you’ve done. And that’s scary. It’s easier to keep it to ourselves because it’s scary to let others in. If we’re only accountable to ourselves then if we don’t write no one is disappointed, no one is expecting more from us.
    I doubt that this is your reason, but I’ve found that if I have an accountability partner, someone who loves me enough to push me and ask me the hard questions, I’m more successful in fulfilling my word count.
    PS. I love the looks of your new blog and I’m thrilled that you’re blogging again! I’ve missed your posts.
    Michelle

    • John Hansen
      May 22, 2014

      That’s a really great point! I think there is a lot of truth there. I like the complete lack of stakes of writing for myself, and so when that is taken away, the escapist feeling of writing I mentioned in the post is sort of hindered.

      Thank you so much! It’s good to hear from you too, and I’m excited seeing your book doing so well! 🙂

  4. aishamonet
    May 20, 2014

    It is ridiculous how much I identify with this post!
    Especially the FBI coming to get you part, I’m sure I won’t be very far behind you.

    • John Hansen
      May 22, 2014

      LOL. I give it three months before the FBI decides I’m a psychopath based off all of my how to commit a perfect murder Googling and sends me off to Siberia.

      • coruscantbookshelf
        May 26, 2014

        Isn’t that the KGB that sends people to Siberia? The Feds would send you to Alaska.

      • John Hansen
        May 26, 2014

        Yeah! “They’ll send me off to Siberia” is somewhat of a saying, at least around here.

  5. coronamallory
    May 20, 2014

    So this is the other side of whether or not to tell others about your writing. This sounds nice; my mom sometimes threatens to burn the journal I’m writing my book in as punishment. (Not like she’d ever go through with it. I think. I hope.)
    I am a little surprised that you do keep it a secret. Your parents sound pretty supportive, if they keep asking questions.

  6. coronamallory
    May 20, 2014

    So this is the other side of letting people know about your writing. I told a lot of people. My friends quit reading my stuff when I got overexcited and asked them to read my draft. As I updated it page by page. My mom on the same hand threatens to burn the book I write in because I bring it everywhere. (She’d never follow up on that. I think.)
    Your parents are very encouraging, though, if they inquire about it all the time. They definitely are happy with your actually writing if they talk about it a lot, too. I’m a little surprised you hold back information on your writing SO much to your parents because of that, but it’s good you found an outlet on the internet. It’s full of brilliant people and ideas. I completely get your second life, too. A lot of people don’t understand that either, so I respect you a lot for finding balance in that. It’s nice. I hope your writing takes you everywhere you want to go, world wise and travel wise.

    • John Hansen
      May 22, 2014

      I’m sorry to hear about your mom. 😦 Is there a reason she isn’t very supportive? Does she think you’re wasting your time or that your writing is hurting your grades or something? I’ve never heard of a parent not liking that their child writes, so I guess I’ve always taken that for granted. Still, I bet we can convince her otherwise if we know what’s up. 🙂 Writing is awesome!

  7. Olivia Rivers
    May 20, 2014

    Great post, John! I think most writers have that sort of introverted quality, at least in regards to their writing. Personally, I’m an extroverted person who tends to be very loud and very expressive. But when it comes to my writing, I’m incredibly quiet. Most people who know me in the real world are aware that I adore books, and some know that I write. But, besides my local critique groups, most people in my “real life” have no idea how serious I am about writing, or even that I write at all.

    I also agree that writing is an awesome way to make sense of the real world. I always hear non-writers speculating how writers “write to escape reality”. And that’s not the case at all for me, and not for many of the other writers I know. I write to understand reality, not to escape it. Writing makes you think like a hero, a villain, and a victim all at once. There’s really no other art form that gives you that sort of insight–at least not to such a deep extent–and I think that’s part of the reason writing is so addictive.

    • John Hansen
      May 22, 2014

      Yes, I completely agree with the escaping reality point! I don’t write as an escape from reality (with some exceptions); I write to drive deeper into reality and subsequently make sense of it. It’s so true, too, that writing gives you all the power. It really makes you think, specifically about good and evil.

  8. Love love love this post. My friends IRL know that I write, but whenever they ask about it, I just say vague things. My mum knows I have a blog (I had to explain why I kept getting books in the mail!) but not about my writing. I agree with you – it’s nice having a super-secret life. Also, I think part of it is fear that I’m not good enough. If I tell people in real life, and they keep asking, it would be hard to keep saying that it’s not getting anywhere (yet!).

    • John Hansen
      May 22, 2014

      Wow, that sounds a lot like me. My friends now *know* that I write, but I provide basically zero details about it. Same with my parents. And yeah, I agree about it needing to “go somewhere” first. There are almost newfound stakes that come with sharing the secret writing life.

  9. coruscantbookshelf
    May 21, 2014

    I make a joke of it – nah, I’m writing an essay for school – that sort of thing. And then go ahead and write manuscripts in Aurebesh.

    • John Hansen
      May 22, 2014

      Haha. That is a great plan. (I actually use the essay excuse too, at least when I’m caught writing.)

  10. Suicune
    May 21, 2014

    Beautifully said. Thank you.
    I don’t really know for sure if everyone needs an escape. Some extravert people just seem like they can go on forever, living a busy life without ever exhausting themselves, even recharging when in contact with other people. Those people can be fun hanging out with, true, but… don’t show your writing to them. Or maybe you can, but thet won’t really understand. If they turn out not being your friends, they can make it all go wrong and you’ll end up as the lonely freak.
    Well, that’s the extreme case.
    But if you trust a like-minded friend, why not sharing your enthusiasm? Some of my friends immediately joined me in my thoughts-that-are-out-of-this-world, and they began imagining what could happen next, coming up with some really awesome ideas…
    I think it isn’t necessary to keep the gates to your world closed. Letting a few in can bring a world of good, but I agree, you better choose the right people.
    OK, this post is getting too long.

    • John Hansen
      May 22, 2014

      Yeah, that’s true! I do tend to think that it’s only human to need a place to escape to (in the case of very extroverted people, I’d imagine their escape is being with friends every night), and writing just happens to be our place. Not everyone will understand it–though it’s totally cool when one does, and I agree, it would be tons of fun to plot stories with friends–but it is us, and it always feels safer to keep it secret.

  11. Fida
    May 21, 2014

    Thanks for writing this! It’s great to see it explained.

    • John Hansen
      May 22, 2014

      Thank YOU for reading!

  12. Miss Alexandrina
    May 21, 2014

    “epics of talking mice travelling to new worlds through da Vinci paintings.” For the record, I’d read that book. Redwall-esque. 🙂
    I’ve definitely become more openly split personality (if that makes sense) the more writing I do. I always had a bunch of other personas, but now I’m happy to point people towards my steampunk Twitter account, rather than shying away from the fact that I’m not one person..

    • John Hansen
      May 22, 2014

      Ha! It was only a short story and was prettttty terrible, since I think I was about 9(?) at the time. 🙂

      That’s interesting! I feel like the same may happen to me soon, but right now, I’m still reluctant. Perhaps the fear is a high school thing that will change later on? It just feels like if people know about my online life, the freedom and lack of stakes will suddenly disappear.

  13. lillianmwoodall
    May 21, 2014

    I most certainly use writing as an escape. To give a bit of context, I live on a tiny island where ‘everyone knows everyone’. It’s quite literally a microcosm, with its own language, customs, laws – you can’t drive twenty minutes in one direction without falling off a cliff, and that’s claustrophobic in itself. Your friends are your enemies, simply because there’s no escape, and almost impossible to keep important secrets.
    My online writing life is a link to the outside world, reminding me there’s more than this remote island and all its petty inter-familial strife (eg the names and addresses of all driving offenders are published in the local newspaper; or the front page often features appeals for missing cats. I wish I were joking). We islanders have to find ways to cope and to detach, hence my becoming a secret writer.

    ‘fruit who decide to wage war against their vegetable overlords’ – As a matter of fact I once saw a[n edible] puppet re-enactment of Queen Boudicca/Boadicea’s uprising where the Romans were cucumbers (their generals were carrots) and the Celts an assortment of fruit (complete with tattoos). I think this idea could go somewhere!

    • coruscantbookshelf
      May 22, 2014

      Which are you – Channel or Pacific Islands? I’m Pacific, currently exiled to mainland England.

      • lillianmwoodall
        May 22, 2014

        There are so many islands! I’m Channel, but I have no clue how you guessed! (Hehe, seems funny to think of England as the exile. Most people leave here damn well as soon as they can.)

      • coruscantbookshelf
        May 23, 2014

        I checked your blog, and you mentioned going to Cambridge. There are only two Cambridges in the world that happen to be near a lot of small islands. QED.

      • lillianmwoodall
        May 23, 2014

        All hail to your deduction skills, Sherlock 😉

    • John Hansen
      May 22, 2014

      I can totally see that! The smaller the group around you is, the more you tend to want to be completely secret.

      Also, that kind of island seems like the PERFECT setting for a mystery novel. Like, PERFECT.

      • lillianmwoodall
        May 23, 2014

        Even more perfect when you consider our history.
        In 1066 (when William the Conqueror took Britain) we chose to be English rather than French, though we have our weird French-evolved patois that no one else can understand.
        And in WW2 we were occupied by the Germans with a soldier-civilian ratio of 1:1, and were so disconnected everyone starved. Winston Churchill let us rot because half the population turned informant on each other (ie everyone betrayed everyone). We even had a real live concentration camp, and the Germans pushed herds of slave workers off our cliffs (to die) once they’d built all the fortifications.
        Work all that into a mystery and your life is complete 😉
        Okay, lesson done 😉

      • John Hansen
        May 23, 2014

        Um, WHOA. THAT IS THE MOST PERFECT MYSTERY NOVEL SETTING I’VE EVER HEARD.

        Seriously though.

        I’m saving this in case I ever write another YA mystery. 🙂

      • lillianmwoodall
        May 23, 2014

        If you ever do, you’ve a beta reader right here 🙂

  14. Torn 2 Peaces
    May 22, 2014

    Reblogged this on From Torn 2 Pieces 2 Peace and commented:
    Secret Life of a Teen Writer — few teens have written about Parental Alienation Abuse….

  15. erinkenobi2893
    May 30, 2014

    I know how you feel. I mean, I know I blog when things annoy me. 😉 Blogging is a healthy activity. 😛
    And it helps me stay sane too.

  16. Belle Cahier
    June 3, 2014

    Love this post!! So true.

  17. Corinn
    June 6, 2014

    I feel the same way! I wrote this novella two years ago and I published it on this website. I loved having a lot of readers, but then my best friend found my secret account. She told me that she had read the first chapter of my book and I immediately deleted the whole story. I was only fifteen when I wrote it, so it’s definitely not my best work but I wish I had let her read it. My parents have never read anything I’ve written. I took a creative writing class at school and I was always afraid to turn in my work for fear that my teacher would judge me for it. I hope to get over that fear soon as I am taking a writing class this summer and you have to let others peer edit your work. I’m hoping that if I can write something I feel good about that I won’t be afraid to let others read it. Thanks for the post! I loved it!!

    • John Hansen
      June 9, 2014

      I totally know what you mean! It’s so tough to make that leap and share your writing with people that you know, because suddenly it is no longer just “yours” in the sense that none of your friends know about it. The secret disappears and by sharing it with friends, there are stakes attached, and so some of the freedom of writing feels lost. It’s so tough to share. But in some cases, it can be really useful to get advice from friends.

      Good luck!!

  18. saadia peerzada
    December 31, 2014

    may you future be bright. 🙂 great blog. just stumbled across. followed! You are really a versatile writer. 🙂 please spare some time to visit my blog at saadiapeerzada.wordpress.com
    I will be grateful 🙂

  19. Pingback: Writing Advice, Agent Interviews, Teen Authors, And More | Teens Can Write, Too!

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