Monday, January 17, 2011

Some Answers: On College and Being Young

First off: thanks so much for your questions, guys! I have a lot of blog posts to write now, and I'm happy to hear your feedback. Today I'm going to tackle some of the more practical questions, because I'm in that sort of mood. So, about college, and youth.

How did you juggle college and writing?

The best answer I can give to this is: I prioritized writing. That sometimes sounds misleading, so I'll say this-- I did work hard, attend class, and maintain good grades. But: I also figured out exactly what was necessary to be in good standing in any given class and did only that. I didn't always finish all the reading. I didn't always revise every paper to the best of my ability. I didn't always study until I felt confident about the material. Certainly I regret not engaging with some of the more interesting material as much as I should have.

But it's important, whether you're a writer or not, to remember that while you are a student, you are also a person. And I think you should prioritize being a person-- being healthy, sleeping, resting, hanging out with friends, exploring the world-- even at the expense of your grades. For me, part of being a person was writing. And I found that if I allowed myself time to be a person, when I did sit down to be a student, I worked HARD. I was far more focused during the time I set aside to work than I would have been if I had tried to work all day. So it's also a matter of using your time well. And you'll be able to use your time well if you have your priorities in order. That's my theory.

Sometimes the juggling was difficult, and didn't turn out well. Most of the time it was okay, if not great. So...there it is.

Is it hard being a "baby" in the published world? Does being so young hurt your chances or help?

Just to set the record straight: I was 21 when I wrote Divergent. BUT other talented authors like the delightful Kody Keplinger were even younger than that when they wrote their books. So this age question is an interesting one.

Being young didn't hurt my chances because it wasn't a factor. I didn't mention my age in query letters to agents; sometimes I didn't even mention that I was a student. JSV knew my age only because she'd met me in person, and she didn't care. She just wanted to see a good manuscript, and in that, she's not alone. I haven't met many people who care how young you are, as long as you write a good book.

In a certain sense it's difficult, because I'm just not as wise or mature as I'd like to be. That's not to say that I'm unwise and immature, because I'm not-- but sometimes I seriously struggle to handle the things that are on my plate, sometimes I react to things like a young person does (with stubbornness!), sometimes I get anxious about what's ahead of me because it feels too adult, too soon. Maybe older writers also have this struggle, but some of it is specific to my youth and my personality. I also know that I can only push my writing so far before I just have to say, "Wait. With time, wisdom. With wisdom, better writing."

But as far as my reception among other writers, or people in the publishing industry...being young is not a hindrance. Some people will make a thing out of it, but only in a good way ("And she's so young, too!"), in which case I try to remind myself I still have a lot to learn, so that it doesn't go to my head.

I'm a senior in high school who just finished all her college applications from hell and I'm quite curious to read of what you thought of the process when you were going through that period of application stress and all. I'd also love to know how Northwestern is like, as I applied there as well.

Applications! Ahh! Congrats on being finished with them, first of all. My application process was pretty easy, since I applied early decision to Carleton College, got my acceptance letter in December, and didn't have to think about anything after that. And then, when I decided to transfer, I applied to UChicago and Northwestern. Some people freak out and apply to a dozen; some people freak out and make a very logical list involving a few safety schools and a few "reach" schools; and I freaked out and made very intense, not particularly well thought-out decisions. But everyone freaks out. And you really never know about a school until you go there.

My one piece of advice is: don't make a decision about a school based on your perception of the people there. Even small colleges have thousands of people, and in any group of over a thousand people, or over a hundred people, you're going to have all KINDS of different personalities. You will find people to get along with wherever you go. It's just a matter of locating those people.

Northwestern is a great school, and I met a lot of wonderful people there. If you want me to get more specific, I will gladly do that-- just send me an e-mail! (

I am currently a senior in high school and plan on majoring in English in college-hopefully creative writing-but I am a little hesitant. Since you majored in that area, I was wondering if you always knew that you would eventually publish a book or if you had some other idea of what you would do after college with a creative writing degree. Thanks!

I certainly hoped I would get a book published, and was even determined that I would eventually do so, but I didn't know if selling that book would supply me with enough income to write full time-- and in fact, I knew that would be nearly impossible, so I was fully prepared to seek other employment. My plan was to work in publishing, if at all possible. I was an editorial proofreading intern at Sourcebooks, and later did freelance proofreading for them, so I knew that my skills leaned toward the nitpicky editorial (copyediting! Proofreading!), and would have tried to get a job in that area somehow.

This isn't The Absolute Truth, but here's my experience: it doesn't really matter what you majored in. Study what you love. Get involved in an activity or two. Get good grades. Get an internship. Get a degree. Then your past internship and your degree will help you get the next internship/job. (Hopefully.)

You will be much happier if you spend your time in college studying something you're actually interested in, instead of something that seems practical, and I say with a reasonable amount of confidence that it won't harm your future if you're determined and lucky enough.

Note: I feel a little nervous giving advice about this, so...take it with a grain of salt. I have a very narrow range of experience.

(Oh, and if anyone still has questions, you can either keep asking them in the previous post, or e-mail me with them! I love them. Really.)


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