4 Reasons Why Teens Need To Strive For More Than Mediocrity

4 Reasons Teens

This may not be particularly writing-related, but I felt like I needed to address it. As a teenager myself, I see evidence of teens settling for mediocrity in their lives all around me. It seems to be part of our culture. And that greatly saddens me.

There’s a general stereotype of teens – that we’re all disrespectful, wild, rebellious partiers who drink, smoke, and do drugs. But if we think about it, and I mean really think on it, what have we been doing to prove those assumptions wrong? What have we been doing to show that we’re more than what people think?

Teenagers nowadays chase empty desires with a selfish mentality. They choose to be barely adequate in everything – school, familial/friend relationships, even life in general. This do-nothing attitude is harmful and tragic.

This is why teenagers (including you!) should stop settling for mediocrity.

1. You have potential. Do you know what word we see in potential? Potent. That word means “powerful”. Having potential means that you have the ability to be a powerful force in the world. You can do so much more than mediocrity. You can achieve greatness! You could be the one to find the cure for a disease or to save an endangered species; you could become an Olympian athlete or a world leader. But you’ll never know if you don’t try! Neither you nor anyone else knows what’s in your future. Don’t count yourself out just because you don’t think you can do it. Not applying yourself won’t get you anywhere, so strive to do your best!

2. Because YOLO. You probably know that YOLO is an acronym that stands for “You Only Live Once”. I see it differently from others. Most people use it in a sense of “you only live once, so do whatever you want”. But since you only have one life to live, why waste it on meaningless things? Once you reach the end of your life, there’s no second chance. No do-overs. Do you want to have spent your life on things that you regret? Investing in genuine relationships and in education for your life are important things that many teens forgo. Trust me, the teens that invest in nothing but partying, addictions, and flimsy relationships will regret it later on. Work for a life that will have more meaning, because it’s the only life you have. You only live once, so make it count. 

3. You are the next generation. We’re the next generations of doctors, lawyers, dancers, artists, writers, philosophers, teachers, politicians, scientists, business leaders and revolutionary thinkers. The adults we see now that work and help the world to run in different ways were once a generation of teens. Someday, all of us that are teens now will be the ones who will be running the world. If all we do is shirk any sort of responsibility and purpose, who will be left to keep everything running? The adults of today need the teens that will be the adults of tomorrow. We’re the next generation that can instigate change. We need to act like it.

4. You were handmade by God. You may have different beliefs than me, but I firmly believe that there is a God who created you, loves you, and has a plan for your life. You have a purpose – and that isn’t to squander your life in wordly pleasures. You’re alive, you’re here, and you matter. You were designed to do something great – so why don’t you? Chasing empty desires will ultimately leave you feeling hollow and miserable, but God offers something greater. He offers a life filled with purpose and direction. You’re not just randomly here, living for no apparent reason. You’re here because God wants you here. Since there’s a bigger plan for your life, there’s a reason to act accordingly. And how exciting is it to think that your life is being mapped out? There are so many cool things that can happen, but you have to create opportunities by living your life in a responsible way.

Teens can do amazing things when they set their minds to it. They can raise awareness, provide clean water for people in third-world countries, be political activists, save endangered species, and change the world. We’re wrong when we think we have no voice. We have the power to make things better; we have the power to help. There are so many ways we can make a difference right where we are. Make the choice to make something more of your life. You’re worth more than mediocrity, so don’t make yourself into that!

Go out. Make a change. Don’t try to pass for extra ordinary. Be extraordinary.

Check out The Rebelution, a movement started by teens that’s described as “rebelling against low expectations”. It encourages teenagers to do big things to help others – to think ambitiously, serve freely, and love others fiercely. Now that’s a rebellion that I can get behind. 

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What Writers Can Learn From The Giver

I was made aware of the existence of a book called The Giver when a movie of the same title came out in theaters. Intrigued, I searched out the book in the library and devoured it in a single afternoon. Later, when the movie came out on DVD, I watched it. Since those two fateful occurances, I have developed a love for the story of Jonas.

But, as usual, it isn’t a story to just read. Writers can learn so much from the ingenuity of this book and the topic it covers.

(Jonas picture taken from Google Images. Credit to rightful owner.)

(Jonas picture taken from Google Images. Credit to rightful owner.)

While The Giver has many good attributes, the one that I really think writers can learn from is its willingness to touch on difficult questions.

If you’ve never read or watched The Giver, it’s about a dystopian society in which all emotions, weather, and even color have been drained out of a sectioned-off part of the world, in order to create unanimous Sameness. A young boy named Jonas is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory, and his new mentor, who dubs himself “the Giver”, passes on memories – memories that have been taken from the people. Memories of light, love, laughter. Memories of a world much more vibrant and colorful than Jonas’ own black and white one. As Jonas receives more of these memories, the more he aches for his world to be like it once was.

I don’t need to spoil anything to talk about the hardhitting topics that The Giver addresses, because I mainly want to talk about Jonas’ world. It’s a place where hate, war, anger, fear, racism, and pain have all been erased. That sounds great, right? It’s essentially perfect – but at what cost?

“The community of the Giver had achieved at such great price. A community without danger or pain. But also, a community without music, color or art. And books.”
― Lois Lowry, The Giver  

A world without anything negative would be amazing. But The Giver asks a serious question – would a community with no fear or hatred be worth giving up freedom, love, and everything that makes life worth living? The story acknowledges that in a free-will setting, people make bad choices and do bad things:

(From Tumblr. Credit to owner.)

But if we take away the freedom to choose, The Giver says, we take away the experience of life. If we condense the world into a stiff, uniformed society, we miss the beautiful feelings of love and joy. We never get to see color, animals, and plants. We don’t celebrate birthdays, or weddings, or simple happy occasions. We don’t forge meaningful relationships with others. Is all that worth losing in order to create a “perfect world”?

The Giver also points out that pain, fear, and sadness are emotions that help us grow and mature as people. While unpleasant, they’re a part of life. We’re ultimately better because of them.

Wow. All of that makes you think, doesn’t it? This is such a hard question, but when you finish the book, you start thinking on it. It stirs up such emotion and contemplation. It causes you to step back and evaluate what you know of the world.

What if all writing did that? What if novels challenged you every time you read them? What if they went deep?

I think all writers can ask the hard questions, if we’re brave enough. If we’re daring enough to put those questions out in the open for everyone to see.

Don’t be afraid to build stories around situations and things that other people normally wouldn’t touch. The Giver did exactly that by challenging what we as humans think is “ideal”.

What should you do, then? Read the Giver (or watch it – I’m actually not even picky about which one). Then, go out there and find the hard questions. Ask them. Write them.

What about you? Have you read/watched the Giver? What hard questions have you written about? Do tell!

An Open Letter to YA Fiction

(Image taken from Google. Credit to rightful owner.)

(Image taken from Google. Credit to rightful owner.)

Dear YA fiction,

I love you. But I’ve been noticing lately that you’re having some problems upholding your image with the general public. You’re mocked, ridiculed, and people sneer at the very mention of your name.

I can’t help but feel that some of that is your fault. You play it safe with overdone cliches and all-too-familiar stereotypes. You follow the trend of whatever’s “new” and forsake the other genres within your realm. You try to appeal to the teenage population by making everything about teen rebellion and forbidden love, when there is much more to us than that. You stick to the same old reused plots and flat characters, and don’t even get me started on your obsession with love triangles.

I understand that many great books and writers have come from your shelves, but lately I have seen a decline in the morality and quality of your novels. It would be refreshing to read a book of yours that doesn’t think it needs to include swearing and inappropriate behavior in order to be successful. It’d be nice to see your characters get the love and respect they deserve, instead of being thrown into a story when they are only half-developed. It would be awesome if teens leave a story feeling inspired to do something great, instead of walking away with a glorified view of immoral behavior.

You could be so much more than the restrictions set on you by society, YA fiction. You could break the standards, the silence, the status quo. You could revolutionize the way people think. You could motivate the next generation into working to create a better world. You could create timeless stories and characters.

But you settle for being cheap. You settle for “okay”, when you could be “great”. You settle for a quick buck and a crappy movie deal when you could craft a story that people will come back to time and time again.

Not to say that you never succeed in weaving magical stories, of course. There are those rare gems among your shelves that have become close friends of mine – books that, although they do not fit into your self-made mold, YA – remember the true art of storytelling and what it has always been intended to be.

I beg you, YA, to become creative again. To stretch beyond the typical and the familiar and to craft something new and beautiful. To no longer fall into the same old, same old. To prove those who doubt you wrong. To make your name more than just an insult in the writing and reading world. To remember and embrace the magic of imagination.

I ask your writers to step out of their comfort zones, to take a risk and make something amazing. I know you can do it.

For now, YA fiction, you will still be known as the joke among books. People will still roll their eyes when a new YA book comes out. I will continue sighing in disappointment at the sad assortment of novels I have to choose from you. People will continue to make fun of you. They won’t take you seriously.

But there are still some of us who know what we want to accomplish through our storytelling. There are still those of us who love YA and will refuse to see it become nothing but a stereotyped laughingstock. There are those of us who will become the next generation of writers, the ones who will stay true to the art of storytelling.

And we will fight to keep YA writing alive.

Oh, YA fiction. Maybe someday you will be restored to greatness.

Until then, we must dig to find the good books that will keep YA literature alive.

I wish you all the best.

Sincerely,

A Concerned and Passionate Reader

How to Give (And Receive) Writing Criticism

When writers hear the word “criticism”, we run for the hills. Why? Because it scares us. We’ve poured so much into our books. We invest time, effort, and imagination into this assemblage of words on the page. When a writer gives a piece of our work to someone else to read, we in turn give them a part of us to analyze and scrutinize to their heart’s content. And that’s really scary.

But criticism, however unwelcome, is necessary and inevitable. We all need feedback on our writing in order to make it better. And sometimes, we’re asked to be the ones to give feedback to our fellow writers. That’s why I’m here, to help make your experience with giving and receiving criticism practically painless.

laptop computer typing

First, let’s distinguish between the two types of criticism. You’ve probably heard the terms “constructive” and “destructive” criticism, but can you tell the difference between them?

Constructive criticism is the type of criticism that gently points out flaws – but also praises positive aspects. If someone is offering positive criticism, they’ll give you feedback that is intended to help you grow in your writing. If they single out a couple of flaws, it’s to suggest a few areas in which you can improve. Constructive criticism would sound something like this:

I just read what you sent me! I love the general feeling of the scene, and it’s very suspenseful. However, I didn’t see a lot of how the main character feels about the decision he has to make. Maybe you could put in some inner conflict? I caught a few grammar errors, too, but I liked the villain’s dialogue.

Destructive criticism is a form of criticism that does nothing to help you to improve your story. If someone is giving you destructive criticism, they’ll point out every little flaw they can find (or make up), and they’ll never tell you anything good about your writing. They don’t really want to help you get better; they just want to complain. Destructive criticism goes along the lines of:

I just read what you sent me. I HATED it! Your main character is so bland and boring. I nearly fell asleep reading about him! Your villain is a joke. And not like the Joker. Just, like, a regular joke. A stupid one. Your grammar is horrible, and your plot makes no sense! If this were a book and I had bought it, I’d want my money back! You’re a TERRIBLE writer.

Although both examples were fabricated by me and were exaggerated to show contrast, they still provide a pretty good guideline to distinguishing between the two types of criticism. Constructive criticism builds up; destructive criticism tears down.

Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between the two types of criticism, I’ll give you my advice for whether you’re giving – or receiving – criticism.

When you’re giving criticism:

Remember that the writer is entrusting you with something they dearly love. If you’re a writer yourself, this may not be hard to do. The writer has been working hard on their literary piece, and they’re taking a big risk by entrusting you to read it, let alone give feedback. Prove that you’re worthy of the writer’s trust, and work to give them kind, constructive criticism. Of course, you’re going to run across things that you don’t like, and you’ll have to tell the writer that. This is how you do that: Pick out several things you do like about the piece. Make sure to put at least one thing you enjoyed before and after the thing(s) you don’t like (you may recognize this as being called a “compliment sandwich”). If you immediately start pointing out all the bad, the writer will get defensive and will discount your opinion. But if you show them that you liked and appreciated their work, they’ll be more apt to listen to your suggestions. Additionally, never completely bash any aspect of their work. Don’t say, “I really hated this part/this scene/this character”. Instead, make it less severe: “I didn’t really like how this scene was set up”. Explain things. Maybe you didn’t like how the scene was written because it confused you. The writer needs to know why something didn’t work so they can make it better. And finally, if you can, suggest what could make the scene/character/plot/etc. more appealing to you. The writer will appreciate being given ideas for how they can improve. For instance, in my example of constructive criticism, the reviewer wrote that he/she didn’t like how the reader was tuned out of the character’s thoughts. The reviewer then suggested that the writer show some of the main character’s internal conflict throughout the scene. If you show that you’re a kind, considerate, and honest critic, your writer friends will be more comfortable with asking you to read their works. Having a writer’s trust is a very special thing.

If you’re receiving criticism:

I totally get it; receiving criticism is scary. You deeply care about what you’ve written, and the possibility of someone shooting it down is terrifying. But I’m going to tell you a secret: you don’t have to take all the advice that is given to you. No, I’m serious! You’re allowed to pick and choose which concerns you want to listen to, which things you change or don’t change. Just because someone thinks you should alter something you’ve written, doesn’t mean that you actually have to do that. But here is some advice on how to wade through the criticism that you receive.

  • Approach all criticism like the reviewer has something viable to say. It’s easy to brush off advice immediately if we don’t like it, but I caution you not to be that hasty. If a reader mentions that your book’s beginning is really slow, don’t bristle and retort, “No, it’s not!” Step back and analyze your beginning from an objective standpoint. Could it move faster? Are it’s events irrelevant to the plot? You might find that the reviewer is absolutely right, or maybe you’ll stick with your first observation. Either way, it’s worth trying. Author Terry Brooks tells a story about when his editor read one of his books and had lot of negative things to say about it. Brooks was immediately offended and angered, but when he took the time to go through the book and the comments that had been written about it, he realized that his editor was right about the different concerns he had voiced. Give every piece of advice a chance.
  • Get a second opinon. Every reader is different, and you can’t please everybody. If four people like the way you wrote a scene and one doesn’t, chances are that there’s nothing severely wrong and in dire need of changing in your scene. (Like I said above, though, still listen to that one person’s feedback. Maybe there are a few small things you can alter to make the scene even better). In the same vein, if the majority of your readers are expressing concerns over a flimsy plot line or a bland character, you’re definitely going to want to take notice. For example, a friend of mine once got an impression of two of my characters that I didn’t want any of my readers to ever have. I was concerned that I had been conveying something I didn’t want to convey, but when I asked several other readers, they told me that they had never gotten that impression. So, I haven’t changed the way I write those two characters, but I do keep myself aware of what could be assumed about them, and I try my best to make my intentions clear. Ask more than one person about certain aspects and concerns. Like they say, there’s safety in numbers.
  • Trust yourself as a writer. You know these characters and plots better than anyone else. If you really think that a piece of criticism is unfounded or irrelevant to your writing, then you don’t have to take it. Advice is just that – advice. It’s not mandatory to listen to it all the time. Do you need help and feedback? Of course! But sometimes, no one knows what’s better for your story than you. If you analyze and take into consideration someone’s criticism, and you just don’t think that it will benefit the story (or that scene really does not need to be changed, or that character is fine the way they are) then go with what you know to be true.

Also, remember to thank those that take time to give you feedback. They’ll appreciate it.

I hope that this helps your experience with criticism to be much better than before – whether giving it or receiving it!

Do you have anything else to add? Have you had good or bad experience with criticism? Do tell!