Brianna Drinsky, "Deeply Rooted." Grade 8, Age 13. 2011 Gold Medal, Digital Art.

Gold Key Winner Lydia asked Ned about comparing your work to others and having it shared with the world.

Lydia Asked:

I enjoy writing because it is my way of expressing myself and getting things out there.  I wrote a short story for the art and writing award and got a regional gold key.  As I was looking at all the winners, I got discouraged because how do I know if mine is any good?  I want to be published some day- and hopefully someday I can turn my short story into a novel.  How old do you have to be for all of that to work?  How does all of it work? Where did you start?  I really want my story to be heard by the world.

Ned Answered:

Dear Lydia,

First of all you’re in a great position to “start writing” if you have already won a regional gold key from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards! That’s better than I’ve ever done.

Second, in Tropic of Cancer (1934), Henry Miller writes, on page 1, “A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am.” Miller had to wait until he was 40 to write this, to claim himself as an artist, but you can do it now.

So don’t ask yourself how to be a writer. Start thinking of yourself as one — now.

Now that you’re a writer, you’re asking me how to avoid discouragement over seeing other writing and wondering if yours is any good. It is. If it’s good enough to win a gold key, it certainly is, but let’s say it didn’t win any awards — does it entertain you? Does it make you feel? Is it pleasant to read over? If so, you’re entertaining yourself; this is the first test any of your writing has to pass. So if it passes, it’s good, end of story.

Don’t worry about other people’s work and don’t get discouraged by how good it is. Instead, use it to motivate yourself. Say, “I can write like this,” and then try. (Don’t limit yourself in your comparisons, either. Since you’re thinking of yourself as a writer now, there is no reason not to compare yourself to the greatest writers you can find and hold yourself to their standards.)

As to how old you have to be, that doesn’t matter. You’re 16. You started. You’re a writer. That question is no longer relevant. As to “how it all works,” the publishing industry can get complicated, but I have a lot of specific advice in the FAQ on my site, so please check that out. My most basic advice is to start by writing short pieces, to try to get them published in local newspapers or on the web, and then, when you have some experience and some readers, tackle a book project. It may take years. It may take decades. But you’re officially a writer, so start thinking of yourself as one!

And by the way, I started writing by submitting a story I wrote to a local newspaper, New York Press. I began reading the paper regularly and then I sent my story to an address I found in the front of the paper. There’s no reason you can’t do the same.

Thanks and good luck,


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Have questions about writing, or the business of publishing? Ask a real writer! Ned Vizzini Vizzini is the author of three acclaimed young adult books: It’s Kind of a Funny Story(now a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah…. Ned has spoken at over 200 schools, universities, and libraries around the world about writing and mental health. E-mail your questions to

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