The scene: Buckinghamshire, England. My high school poetry competition. We read our pieces aloud, flushed with embarrassment that these personal thoughts that were so easy to submit are now on display to a small crowd of our peers. Our guest judge for the year (maybe Kevin Crossley-Holland, but I'm always bummed that I can't attribute this to anyone with certainty) stands up and selects the winners. I place, and receive a bound copy of the entries which I'll read once and then relegate to the back of a closet with my binders from previous years.
He closes with some words of wisdom, and this is the part of that day I remember most vividly. He tells us about when he was our age, a keen writer sending out his pieces to various newspapers and editors. He was rejected every single time, and felt his hopes dwindling until one editor included a short note with his rejection.
The note said that while his writing was good, he didn't really have anything to say, probably because he was a young teen with virtually no life experience. And here's the advice he offered: 'Keep writing so that when you have something to say, you'll know how to say it.'
Now, I'm not for a minute suggesting that young writers don't have enough life experience to say anything meaningful in their work. That's simply not true. Some teens have had a lot more 'life experience' than your average adult has. Much of our writing has a lot of meaning and resonates with readers far and wide. Kody Keplinger, for example, wrote the DUFF when she was in her senior year of high school, and it's one of my all time favorites.
However, I think that a lot of times when we hit a wall, when we're stuck and our novels fizzle out and we're not sure how to go on, it's because we either don't have anything clear we want to say or because we're not ready to say the things we want to put out there.
In those cases, I think that the editor's advice rings true: keep writing so that when you've found that story that grabs a hold of you and won't let go, when you have something to say and you're ready to say it, you'll know how.