As one of the editor-in-chiefs of The Echo, I can say I have seen my fair share of teenage writing over the past three years. Of course, there has been a large handful of amazing pieces that sincerely don’t seem like they were written by someone with less than 18 years of experience under their belt, but there have also been many that do not seem to have that experience. One of the main factors that commonly leads me to rejecting a piece is something that seems relatively obvious, yet I would estimate that at least a quarter of submitted pieces contain this dreaded concept. It’s the evil teen angst, the thing that immediately makes readers cringe everywhere.
In order to stay away from teen angst, we must first identify it. Teenage angst is the raging emotions and milestones that young adults experience at the beginning of their lives, once they’ve passed the obstacle of hitting puberty and are awaiting freedom from everything that makes teenagers despise their situations. Every teenager has their own mixture of problems, but they all come from the same group of ingredients, leaving nothing that’s unfamiliar.
There are many different ways to execute “teen angst” but it always starts with the subject and concept of your story. Many overdone and immature topics include how annoying parents are, the way a significant other’s eyes represent the ocean, and one of my personal favorites, how uniquely difficult one’s life is. It’s not that the writer isn’t saying anything true, it’s more that everyone experiences these things in some way and we’re tired of hearing about them. These topics become ordinary, and it becomes hard to tell when someone’s experiences are actually real and serious. It’s a rule of thumb to avoid the cliche.
People writing about their teen angst can argue that these concepts make their pieces relatable to an audience of people demographically similar to them, but people that pick up a literary magazine usually do so because they want to read some of the best writing a group has to offer. They want to be surprised, shocked, or caught off guard and led to feel something special. Reading about the same concepts over and over again, without any substance or change in execution does not meet any of this criterion. The reader would just flip the page and forget about the piece, but probably not without yawning first.
Although it may seem like I just spent many paragraphs bashing any writer who’s ever written about their personal experiences, I will say there is a right way to talk about your teen angst. A good place to start is with the familiar phrase for writers, “Show, don’t tell.” In more depth, this means that it’s better to explain concepts in tangible ideas (different kinds of figurative language) than to flat out say what your poem is about. For example, instead of saying your life sucks, explain the factors that lead to your life sucking by describing it in the language of metaphors and imagery, that way readers can get the essence of what you’re trying to say and come to the conclusion themselves.
Classic literature provides good examples of this. Authors include motifs, symbolism, and imagery to convey their ideas rather the actual purpose of their piece out in the open. In “The Awakening,” for example, Kate Chopin uses motifs of Edna swimming to represent her changing and shedding her old self. If Chopin instead said “Edna’s changing” the reader would be confused, because everyone changes, but through the use of this motif, the reader sees how this was something laying underneath the surface of what was happening within the plot of the novel.
In reality, when you bluntly state the motive of your piece, it sometimes can seem like you think the reader isn’t smart enough to realize it themselves, which clearly is something you want to avoid. On the other hand, you don’t want to make your piece a complete riddle and pull the reader in so many different directions that they can’t figure out what you’re trying to say in any capacity.
Avoiding a piece containing teen angst can become a very difficult feat and it takes a lot of practice and thought to write something both unique and relatable. The hard part about writing is that it is an art form, and in order to stand out in any type of art you have to be creative and different. Following everyone’s lead and being incapable of turning heads won’t get anyone anywhere. Speaking from the terms of being one of the ultimate decision makers in The Echo, I can say that a magazine full of similar pieces definitely won’t sell. At The Echo we try to avoid stuff like this, and I can ensure that other magazines, publishers, and editors do as well. The ultimate goal is to write a piece that every reader can resonate with, but in a way that they haven’t seen before.