Chapter 31: Gabrielle Linnell

Chapter 31: Gabrielle Linnell

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Extraordinary Teens

Gabrielle Linnell

Freelance Writer

Quick Facts:

Recognized voice on teen writing

Paid freelance writer for magazines and websites

Published more than thirty times, in Cobblestone, New Moon, ByLine, FACES, Library Sparks, and others

Runs Innovative: A Word for the WriTeen, a blog/e-zine that promotes teen writing and interviews young adult authors

I love words. I’ve loved words ever since I was a baby when I pointed to objects and wanted to know their “special word.” Once I learned to read, I enjoyed the feeling of falling into someone else’s story. It’s a crazy and wonderful feeling to escape into another world, and to come back to your own with experiences and insights you didn’t have before.

When I was in elementary school, I would read about three hundred pages a day. I couldn’t get enough of words and the English language, which was probably why I started writing at such a young age.

I was seven years old when I published my first magazine. With the help of my mother, I put together a newsletter that I e-mailed to friends and family called “Gab’s Guide for Kids.” GG4K covered my life as an American kid in Taiwan where I was living for three years with my missionary family. In my newsletter I wrote about the Chinese New Year, my babysitter, and the earthquake that had killed two thousand people only thirty miles from our house. I saw words as a link between the oceans, crossing where I couldn’t.

When we returned to the States at age eight, I found bigger libraries with bigger words. I continued to read more and more, and I even attempted to write for children’s magazines. I must have submitted the same poem to about seven or eight editors, and received rejections from all of them. “No more of this!” I said to my mother. There should be a place where I can see my work published, regardless of how old I am! Out of my frustration, I started my own e-magazine which would publish all submissions made by other writers—an e-zine that would encourage others to follow their passion.

The Storyteller, my e-zine, ran for two or three years on its own domain space. I published monthly issues featuring short stories, poetry, book reviews, and a long-running fantasy serial written by a friend. I enlisted other friends to help with web design, manage submissions, and write an occasional advice column. I also sold copies of my book, Lady of Sherwood, an eighty-page novella my grandfather had hand-bound for me.

The Storyteller did more than soothe my little writer’s ego. I spent time—hours and hours of time—brainstorming, editing, e-mailing, and creating. I found comfort in words again—sometimes a friend’s words, often my own, and I was happy working with them.

In 2005 my efforts started to pay off in bigger ways. I was published for the first time in New Moon. I loved working with the editor on improving the story and getting paid $77.77 for my work. I was so excited to pick up a copy at my bookstore and to see my name printed in the magazine. For the first time, the outside world had taken my words—improved them—and listened to them. It was addictive and I wanted to see how far I could push my abilities as a writer.

You’re never too young to do what you love.

I had proven to myself that getting published wasn’t impossible. The seed of my publishing career was planted when I asked myself, “Why should I wait till I am older to write the words I want to write? Why should I wait to get published again?”

I couldn’t think of a reason, so I didn’t wait.

While the average teen my age was watching television shows like Lizzie McGuire, I read magazines like Writer’s Digest and The Writer and spent my afternoons on the couch reading books that explained how to pitch a story and get my work published. I submitted more articles and short stories to various publications and still got rejection letters. But throughout this process, I learned how important it was to be professional, to deliver articles on deadline, and to accept when I made mistakes so I could fix them. I was spending time as a young teen in an industry that fascinated me. I loved it!

In ninth grade, I discontinued The Storyteller to focus on my own professional writing. That year, I sold an article co-written with my mother to FACES, an award-winning children’s magazine. The article was based on a homework assignment. Once again, the words in my life intersected with the words I wrote.

With several big clips under my belt, I sold short stories, articles about writing, and essays about being a teen writer. I worked with editors: some who were brilliant and improved every word, and others who blatantly prejudged my abilities because of my age. I wrote during school, after school, late on school nights, and on the weekends. I even procrastinated when it came time to do my homework just so I could complete my freelance assignments on time, because to me, writing was more important.

Freelance writing as a teen is so much more than merely writing a few poems and articles and sending them off to publications. To succeed, you have to write at a professional level and understand the publishing marketplace. This is both a challenge and an incredible opportunity to improve yourself—a lot like being a teenager allowed to sing in a Broadway show. If you mess up, people will know, but if you make it, you’ve done what most adults only dream of doing. And you’ve earned money doing it! It can be hard work, but that’s just part of long term success.

The summer before my junior year, I started a new e-zine. I noticed that while there were many magazines and blogs available for niche writers, few were making an effort to reach aspiring teen writers. There were no magazines and only a handful of blogs dedicated to teaching teens how to get published. There wasn’t a place where supportive adults and teen dreamers could meet and learn about how to write in an adults-only world.

There was clearly a need, and I wanted to be the person to fill it.

I called my new blog site Innovative: A Word for the WriTeen, based on the belief that inexperience should not stop teenage writers, who can bring unparalleled innovation to the writing world. I then e-mailed about thirty of my friends and family and asked them to join my blog and support my new mission.

They did.

I received e-mails from home-schooling mothers who were iffy about my “modern language;” I heard from school friends who wrote for the local newspaper; and I also got encouragement from the author of a new teen book series. I wrote about the process of sending a story to an editor, how to find writing markets, and I spotlighted books worth reading.

Several months later, I asked to interview Mark Peter Hughes, author of the critically acclaimed Lemonade Mouth, followed by Laura Preble (The Queen Geek Social Club) and Robin Wasserman (Hacking Harvard). I loved finding out more about my favorite books, and seeing what advice these writers had for teens.

At about this time, Maria Schneider, the editor of Writer’s Digest, e-mailed me to say she had chosen to feature my blog, “Innovative” as part of her blogroll building project. I was completely floored. “Innovative” was soon featured with blogs written by professional freelancers, authors, and editors. Maria Schneider called me her “favorite up-and-coming new blogger,” and was impressed with the interviews and articles I had organized.

It was an amazing feeling to have the editor of a magazine that had taught me so much, and a high-ranking industry professional herself, compliment me and congratulate me for reaching out to other teens and helping them get published.

I’m a rising senior now, and “Innovative” is stronger than ever. I’ve interviewed both debut authors such as Jessica Day George and Brooke Taylor, as well as bestselling authors like Jay Asher, Ally Carter (whose first Gallagher Girl book is being turned into a Walden Media movie) and Kent Healy himself. I work every week with publicists to feature authors and give copies away to blog readers. And I’ve connected with other teen writers who have found success because of what they’ve read on my blog.

It is so energizing to find your purpose and work at it. Yes, to be successful, you will have to work: but when you love what you do, it’s less like work and more like exercise. You’re gaining speed, building muscle, and learning skills. For writers, nothing written is a waste of time. You’re always becoming better with every word written down.

In my personal writing, I’ve now been published more than thirty times in various magazines, newspapers, and websites. I’ve written for nationally recognized publications such as Cobblestone, Library Sparks, and ByLine, and I have specialized in writing about education and history while still in high school. I review teen books for publishers and magazines and I’ve earned hundreds of dollars from my work (often earning more than my “real job”). I’ve spoken to kids about being a writer and now I’m organizing writing workshops at my library. And I’m excited to say that I’m currently working on my fourth novel.

Writing is both my passion and my home. In many ways I’ve been the odd girl out: I’m too wrapped up in books, too attached to other cultures to be normal, and too interested in bizarre things like medieval history and submission-acceptance ratios. When I read writing blogs of literary agents, editors, and authors and even have the chance to meet them, I find people who think like I do and live in the world I inhabit. For every teenager who feels out of place, there’s a group of adults who have made a place for them. I have found that there are always people out there who will share your interests and support you and your dreams.

My philosophy in life is simple: Why wait to do what you love? I’m sixteen, I love what I do, and I look forward to doing it forever. Never think you’re too young to do what you love: you’re exactly the right age. And it is the right time.

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