This is Not a Writing Manual
Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World
A writing memoir in the tradition of Anne Lamott’s classic Bird by Bird—but it’s for the young adult writer. It’s the book I wish someone had given me at fifteen, when I was editing my high school newspaper, writing short stories for speech, and dreaming of publishing a novel in the not-too-distant future. It’s the book I wish I’d been able to pluck off the shelf again at nineteen and twenty-five to remind myself that I was not alone and that the writing life was worth living.
Like YARN, my YA literary journal, TINAWM is a first of it’s kind. Before YARN, there were only a handful of places publishing short-form YA, and even fewer online, and even fewer publishing teens and adults side by side. Now there are more venues, and I’m proud to be part of that change. Before TINAWM there were only a handful of books about writing for young writers, and most of those were manuals—handy and full of smart tips and tricks for jumpstarting your writing. But there was no fellow writer putting his hand up and saying, “You want to know what it’s really like?” When I asked at my local indie bookstore if they knew of a writing memoir for teens, they said no, and that they always recommend books from the adult shelves to aspiring young writers.
But I’ve read a number of the books from those shelves, and I know that as excellent as many of those books are, they are not speaking directly to the concerns of the young writer. So TINAWM is for you—the writer in high school or middle school or college, who wants to know what to expect between your writing life now and becoming A Writer.
But! TINAWM is also for any writer who wants to know how to become A Writer and still keep their sanity/pay their rent/live their lives in a meaningfully literary way.
What we writers need most of all are allies, and fellow travelers on the long road of the writing life. I hope TINAWM can be that for you, no matter where you are on that road.
I hope you’ll enjoy using these questions in your book clubs, writing groups, or even just as thought-provokers for your own reflection. I love to hear from you guys. Thanks for reading. And discussing.
I am so super-duper grateful for the time these reviewers took to read and comment on my book, which is the first publication of a still-aspiring writer. Thank you thank you thank you!
“I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and read this book twenty years ago. It would have saved me a lot of time, grief, and paper. The good news is you can read it now.”
– Allen Zadoff, author of Boy Nobody, and Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have
“A personal and invigorating memoir of the creative life, This is Not a Writing Manual offers wisdom, camaraderie, and inspiration for newbies and veterans alike.”
– John Cusick, agent at Greenhouse Literary, managing fiction editor at Armchair/Shotgun, and author of Girl Parts and Cherry Money Baby
“This is Not a Writing Manual is a personal book in the best sense of the word. Kerri Majors’ advice is hard won. It comes from her own joys and disappointments, her hopes and unwavering dedication to writing. The book, as the title says, will not teach you how to write. What the book will do is take you, like a trusted friend, through some of the decisions you will need to make in order to be a writer. It’s practical and heartfelt wisdom will prepare you for the challenges and fulfillments of the writing life.”
– Francisco Stork, author of complex and poignant YA novels like Marcelo in the Real World and Irises
“When I was a writing teacher, I met many talented, passionate young writers who wondered how to move forward. I sincerely wish I’d had Kerri Majors’ This is Not a Writing Manual to help them. Never prescriptive, always honest, this book is a genuine resource that grapples with the real work of writing—finding courage, finding time, and finding a way.”
– Blythe Woolston, William C. Morris Debut Award winning author of The Freak Observer and Black Helicopters
“Majors, founder of the online YA literary journal YARN, takes an autobiographical approach to the rewards and setbacks that accompany “the writing life,” sharing stories from her own journey as a writer in more than two dozen essays. As Majors notes upfront in her introduction, she “still hasn’t landed The Big One (a book deal for a novel),” and she writes openly about the insecurities that accompany the solitary pursuit of writing and jealousy over fellow writers’ successes, but also about finding writing partners and workshops, thinking laterally about one’s writing (e.g. “not taking yourself too seriously and letting go of your fears and self-censorship”), being open to revision, and understanding how the publishing process works. Candid, honest advice and reflection from a writer who’s been there. “
(Read full review.)
– Publisher’s Weekly
“Majors, founder of YARN, the Young Adult Review Network, an online journal of YA essays, poetry and short stories, offers a series of essays on writing for aspiring writers. Essentially a memoir, the volume is earnest and practical in tone, covering every angle of writing, from buying a planner and revising to finding an audience and learning from mistakes. More philosophical concerns include what to do for a living before hitting the big time, deciding whether writing is a hobby or a job, and dealing with hating friends who find success before you do. Finally, for those committed to publishing, helpful advice is offered on dealing with agents, editors and publishers, discovering the right journals and finding inspiration. The best advice of all is to write for pleasure, even if the ultimate goal is publication. Clearly, Majors knows what she’s talking about, and readers will recognize they’re getting advice from someone who knows. However, considering that the author says, “I prefer to think of this book as therapy for writers,” it’s not always clear if this is really therapy for herself or for aspiring newbies already becoming intimidated and discouraged by the whole process.”
(Read full review.)
– Kirkus Reviews
“This nonmanual is a highly readable memoir stuffed with tips and information about the myriad aspects of pursuing a writing career by one who has carved a niche for herself in that world, namely with YARN ( Young Adult Review Network). Majors’ mission is to provide “therapy for writers” and to counterbalance those discouraging words of caution foisted upon budding young scribes. Her joy (and, yes, her misery and heartache) in being part of the writing world and her love for the craft are apparent throughout. Tales about her experiences are juxtaposed with bits of solid, practical advice and information. Majors hasn’t had her breakthrough—she’s not a Stephen King or Stephenie Meyer—but she’s proof that there is a place in the writing world for those who aren’t superstars. She is friendly, savvy, hip, easy to identify with, and definitely in touch with her teenage writer-self. Great reading for anyone interested in the biz, thought- provoking for those looking at any career, and good for folks wanting a pleasant nonfiction read.”
– Booklist: Randall Enos
“I felt like the entire time I was reading, I was listening to Majors talk to me about the craft and life of a writer. I felt like she and I could be sitting in my favorite coffee shop sharing stories and me, being the obvious fan girl that I am, taking in all of her advice like it was a life saving medicine.”
– C. C. Riley
“All in all, it was a good book and a decent read and, for someone a tad more optimistic than me, this would’ve actually been (dare I say it) inspiring. If you’re really into writing and plan on continuing it in the future, this is definitely a book you should read.”
(Read full review.)
– Erica Drake
“I have just read the BEST WRITING BOOK. EVER. Hands down. I feel like my writing life has over gone a complete makeover. I am seriously mind blown by the sheer awesomeness of TINAWM (This Is Not A Writing Manual).”
(Read full review.)
– Anne Marie Schlueter
“In this memoir, Majors answers questions that most budding writers have. Mistakes are discussed, advice is given, and tales are told. Sections and advice on the writing process, a writer’s life, and the future are dissected into smaller chapters. Writing is not taught; neither is style, grammar, nor any how-to of any kind. Instead, Majors gives readers a glimpse into the daily life and lessons of one already enthralled with the undertaking that is writing. This is an honest, serious, readable chronicle that teens will appreciate for the raw truth and emotional connection to a fellow writer. Personal anecdotes pepper the chapters to teach the lessons needed to be successful. Those with an unrealistic view of the life of a writer may be surprised and discouraged. However, the author won’t dampen the spirits of those who feel a calling. A must-read for serious aspiring writers.”
– School Library Journal, Mariela Siegert, Westfield Middle School, Bloomingdale, IL
“This Is Not a Writing Manual is awesome for many reasons, but especially its accessibility. It’s written in a way that is open and honest, and that is applicable to all kinds of writers. Majors talks a lot about her own novel-writing experience, but the lessons she shares can be applied to any category- short story, poetry, etc. Her advice isn’t at all preachy, either- really, it’s just her writing story and how she has learned through experience. (And I’m actually planning on using some of her advice in the writing group my friends and I have created!)”
– Sara at the Page Sage
“A realistic look at the life of a writer told in accessible, anecdotal prose… an essential tool in any new writer’s belt. “
(Read full review.)
– YA Books Central
“@YAReviewNet: Even though I’m no “young writer,” I am inspired by this book. Hats off to @kerrimajors!”
(View on Twitter.)
– Mitali Perkins