When I was younger, I had extremely limited access to the Internet (read: none) until around seventh or eighth grade, and even then, I did not have regular access to the Internet at my house until my sophomore year of high school.
My experiences writing as a preteen, before I really knew a lot about anything besides trying to imitate the things I saw in books that I was reading (luckily, there was never a shortage of books at my house, and when I couldn’t afford them, there was always the library), and even as a teenager, for the most part, were private–not necessarily because I wanted them to be, but because that’s just how it was for me. For a very long time, I would not let either of my parents read their writing–though I relented with my dad sooner than my mother. That experience is not universal, and especially so not now,when so many of us are doing our growing up in the public space of the Internet.
It’s honestly probably a good thing that the majority of the writing I did before high school was not able to be viewed by the rest of the world. I know that every year, since I had so many notebooks, I would go through purges, and I would keep the things that I thought were salvageable or at the very least, the best of the notebooks I had, and then get rid of the best. It would always embarrass me, but it also meant that I could review the things I had done. Even when I did use a computer, I’d go through the files, throw some in the recycle bin, and then carry on. It was cathartic.
Of course, the Internet is public, and even old Geocities from the early days of my web-browsing career can still, sometimes, be found (even if they’re only cached copies). When I did start posting the short stories and things I was writing online, I was able to get a few things that previously I did not: feedback and, as I progressed as a writer, that same sense of embarrassment. I won’t condemn the act though. You’re meant to grow as a writer, and sometimes, it’s important to have a public record of those things. If you kept a Livejournal, it might have felt much better than writing in a diary. You can go back to those things and see what advice you ended up taking, and what advice was absolute garbage. As much as I still love writing in notebooks (old habits die hard, and come on, notebooks feel so good when you crack open a new one), I’m an advocate for putting the stuff you write online (as long as you’re not breaking any laws while doing so). We do not all have the money or time or access to writing classes or great writing professors–in many ways, being able to write for an online venue in any aspect means being able to get feedback from your peers: which, really, is the best part of being in any kind of workshop.
Are there still people who are shy about posting their work online? Well, yeah: since we’ve realized that the Internet is (as far as we know) an eternal public record, we as people need to be careful about everything we post. At the same time, there is a certain braveness that the newer generations will know about that whole Personal-as-Public existence. More and more new parents post images of their children online. More and more kids start joining Facebook earlier and earlier–as do their parents. There are arguments both for and against this, but in any case, it is a thing that is happening.
Sometimes, young writers will get the opportunity to write for a community like Buzzfeed or the Odyssey. This is great (even though the fact that these writers typically do not get paid is definitely NOT great, but that’s an argument for another day). It means that they can learn how to write to different audiences, and they can learn what they need to do in order to make their writing more appealing. There are skills that can be learned for any job. When young writers do end up writing for sites such as the ones previously mentioned, they are given the permission by their editors and bosses to write about what they think needs to be written about, and they’re given the opportunity to take risks with the content of their writing. There is nothing worse than telling a young writer that they cannot approach a subject because it might offend someone’s sensibilities. Do young writers make blunders? Yeah–but that comes with the territory. Even young auto-mechanics might not always know exactly what they’re doing, but they’ll get there the more they work on their craft.
That said, writing for popular websites also means that those writers frequently have to promote their own writing. That becomes as much a part of their job as the actual act of writing and editing. And if you have these daring young writers sharing their articles and stories in a venue like Facebook, where their parents may very well see their writing, there comes the risk of, “What are my parents going to say about this?”
I am not the Editor-in-Chief of my branch of the Odyssey anymore. In fact, since writing my last article last week, it is not technically my branch anymore. But I keep in touch with some of the writers and definitely the editing team, and I was disheartened to find that the parent of one of the writers (a college student, mind you), wanted the article she had written removed because it upset him. The article was not explicitly about him, or any of her family members, and in fact, was one of the stronger articles I had seen for that week. This writer has been taking significant leaps and bounds with her writing and has been improving and getting better. She takes interesting angles on the stories she tells, whether they’re about herself or the people and world around her. I have been impressed with her since hiring her–and that’s not just me bragging about a member of a team I helped assemble. That’s me talking honestly about a writer who nails content and presents it in a way that people want to share it.
Here’s what I have to say to parents of writers (almost verbatim from my Facebook status about it, but if you’re not friends with me there, don’t worry about it): You are not always going to like or even agree with what your child writes. This is a given; parents and and their children do not always see eye-to-eye on everything (or, sometimes it might feel like it, anything). At the same time, if your child is taking chances, and if your child is thinking on their own and writing about the things that they feel need to be written about, I don’t really think you have the right to tell them no, they cannot write, especially if they’re your adult child, but even if you’re still their legal guardian. You do not have the right to stifle your child’s creativity, or their working towards improving a skill that is proving more and more important to have in today’s world of text-centric communication. Unless they’re writing something illegal (which in most cases, I promise you, they are not), you should be supporting your children as they figure out their place in the world. Support your kids if they feel confident enough in their writing that they should be sharing it with the world. Let them become the writer they want and need to be. They have more opportunities now than ever to get the kind of feedback on their writing and get even better.
You expect your kids to post pictures of themselves online at this point, shared with friends and family. You expect them to do homework, sometimes, online. You expect them to share the day-to-day updates on Facebook so everyone knows what they’re up to. The least you can do is cheer them on when they feel proud of the work they’ve created–and not just knock them down because you don’t think they should be saying what they are. Let young writers figure it out for themselves. I know I’m glad my dad let me do it. They’ll be glad that you let them, too.