We’re so excited to showcase our latest Extraordinary You girl. We discovered Seventeen-year-old author, Bethany Stevenson, and were instantly wowed by her talent and drive. Bethany is not only reading loads of young adult novels, she’s writing them. Oh, and did we mention Bethany is also a skilled illustrator? Read on to learn more about this truly extraordinary teen.
Let’s start with writing. We’d love to know how you became interested in writing young adult novels.
I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil and write jumbles of letters. Sure, I couldn’t spell and refused to read until an embarrassingly later age, but I wanted to tell stories. After a few years of random notebooks filled with about 100-page novels, I was inspired one day to write a real, Young Adult Fantasy novel, at age ten. Okay, I had no idea about genres or age categories until about age 14, but I wanted to do it and I got started. It’s gone roller-coaster down hill from there.
You’re getting ready to start your senior year of high school. Writing and illustrating requires many hours. How do you balance the work it takes to fulfill your author dreams with studying and maintaining a social life?
Well, for one thing, I count my art and writing as school electives. Homeschool perks. But yeah, it takes a lot of time. So I try to spend an hour or two a day writing or/and drawing after school or the few classes I take. Drawing especially eats up those hours, so I usually only get a project or two done each week.
I’m very connected to my church and homeschool friends groups or writing groups or swing dance groups. But I see a lot of them at least twice a week. Events, parties, and normal life add up, lol. I’m a bit of an extroverted-introvert.
I have friends all over the world though, so social media keeps me connected.
Not only a painter of words, you are a skilled artist, Bethany! Tell us about any training you’ve had and what you’ve done to reach the level you’re working at now.
AWWWWW. Thanks so much!!
I’ve actually never taken an art class. I’m completely self-taught.
My mom liked to draw when I was younger and I used to watch her. So did my sister for a bit. But it wasn’t until December 2015 that I decided to branch off the basic pencils and stick my toes into markers, colored pencils, and digital art throughout 2016-to present. I wanted to look more professional in an ever so slightly animated style and practiced as much as possible.
I got to know tips and tricks through other artists on YouTube whenever I found good tutorials or speed paintings with similar mediums used. That’s why in November 2016, I kicked off my own channel “Bethany Stevenson – Art” to inspire my friends or anyone who comes across it to draw more. My favorite thing to be told is that I inspired someone else to go draw, even if they’re not great or new or unsure. Go draw, guys. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Don’t think about how you’ll fail, look at whatever you want to draw, and think, “how can I do this?” “How do I see this?” “How do I want to portray it?”
(Also, go sub to me please, or check me out on Instagram under the same name. Supporting my smaller following there means a lot, and sharing any of my videos helps motivate me and put the word out there that a teen artist is trying to put herself out there more)
My junior year, I joined a colored-pencil illustration class taught by an award winning cartoonist and sports artist, who’s an awesome teacher. Since it’s a night class, I’m the youngest there by at least twenty years. But I fit right in, and most of the time, we’re more of a club that gets together once a week to have an excuse to draw portraits or whatever we want. My teacher there guides me one-on-one throughout the evening on how to touch up my own style. So I’m being taught how to advance in my own techniques and style, not how to draw. It’s hard to explain but awesome to be a part of.
Often, I hear teens telling me they don’t like to read. What’s your advice for teens who feel this way?
First off, I’m assuming the reason they don’t want to read is that schools throw political books or really old, slow classics at us. So if that’s the case, I’d say go find something you really like, fiction, science, or science fiction, or whatever, and read that.
Read what you want and when you want to. Don’t force it. Don’t make it school or work or schoolwork. Just read for the sake of stretching your mind, thoughts, and imagination. Just go do it.
Tell us a bit about your current manuscript. We’d love to know about your inspiration and what makes you excited about it.
I’m working on two, so I’ll just give a blip about the one I’m rewriting since I don’t want to spoil anything for my readers and writer friends.
Picture this: Phoenixes, Native Americans, Magical Schools and Apprenticeship Competitions, Elemental Magic, lots of friend groups, sparkles, epic battles, powerful rings, a mysterious guilty mage trying to cover up his mistakes, and an undercover, genius teenaged villain within the main friend group. Also twins. Lots of fun sibling banter and support. And ships. Like ships? I’ve got PLENTY of them, in lighthearted, fun, and puppy-love ways. My favorite character couple is in this one.
The reason this one makes me soooo happy? It’s that book I created at age 10 that made me want to start writing YA.
Yesssss! I’m rewriting it. For the…. Wait… *counts in head* ninth COMPLETE time. (Not counting the countless attempts to revise or start over between now and then)
After learning so much over the years, this book, which means a lot to me and is my favorite, keeps coming back to catch up with what my author skills picked up over time. Basically, I try to write it once a year, set it aside, and come back to make it even better.
This time, I’m super confident about it. Sure there’ll be revisions and such, but I think I finally got it. We’ll see though, haha.
I never do this to my other books. (I have a lot. Please don’t ask about the number. It’s more than a few dozen. It’s embarrassing.) This story is the only one that always comes back to drink in new changes and words.
I have never queried it or sent it to any competitions, unlike some of my other recent books, so it’s been sitting in my head and a stack of notebooks all this time.
What’s your advice for teens who have stories in their hearts and are considering writing a novel or short story?
First off, let it sit in your head a while. Write some notes on paper, but don’t try right away. This idea is fresh and new and needs to circulate the brain a few weeks before you dive in. Details, characters, and worlds will fill themselves in over time, trust me. I waited a year one time before working on one of my books and shot through all 110k words in three months. Okay, yeah I had too much time on my hands that year, but it worked.
Once you feel ready, get started! Don’t worry about who will read it, what they’ll think, or if you’ll finish, Just write until your hands fall off the first day or your brain freezes. Then set it aside. Try again tomorrow morning, or whenever the words come back again. Don’t be afraid of writer blocks interrupting in bubbles throughout the process. Don’t force too many goals on yourself if you’re new. Don’t talk too much about it to everyone or try to send it to too many readers at first. Just write until you put in THE END. Then you can start editing or discussing it with others or think ahead. But while it’s new and young, just get that first draft done and worry later. Sure, research writing tips and avoid cliches and what-not, but do NOT think about publishing or agents or critique partners. It will fry your rush of creativity and leave you dry in self-rejection. Speaking from experience.
It’s time to talk roadblocks. What challenges do you face being a teen author in a publishing world that can be scary and tough? How do you mentally gird yourself to face those challenges and press on anyway?
Life gets hectic. Growing up fades young imagination with textbook info or big changes. Publishing looks impossible. Even to me. Almost every day. So I write just for the sake of creating and because I love it. It’s scary because there’s contracts, agents, queries, waiting, contests you lose, mentors who drop out, editors that cost above your summer salary, and popular books being stacked on your friends’ and local libraries shelves every single day. It’s literally the scariest thought ever, that huge canyon between being a writer and becoming a professional, represented and published author.
There are a couple thousand writers just on twitter alone. Let alone clogging your dream agent’s inbox. I often feel as if I’m wasting time, too immature and young to write or try, and most of all, never ready.
But I keep trying because I want to get my words and stories and worlds out there. I want to be on the shelves with my favorite authors. I want to wake up to that agent acceptance email. I want to hear the doorbell, rush to the door, and tear open a box of my own novels on my doorstep. I want to write, like an actual full-time author. I want to see someone walk out of a bookstore, grinning ear to ear, with my story tucked under their arm.
But I can’t get that “want” unless I try. Maybe I won’t make it, but sitting around won’t make me any closer.
So it’s challenging, but so is the rest of life.
The world of Hollywood is harder to get into for actors.
Artists have to gladiator fight with paintbrushes to get into museums to have their names be recognized enough for someone to say “I think I’ve heard of that guy before.”
But what’s even harder about the publishing world for me? Being a teenaged author. I write what I want to read, but a bunch of adults decide what my age group deserves to buy. Yes, I’m young, and yes it shows, but I hope to see the YA writing world accept and admire more teenaged writers. I hope to see the young, passion filled minds protected from being crushed by those who decide what they deserve to learn and how far they can go until they’re older. I had a long, Twitter thread about this, and someday I hope to focus on the situation more.
I write because I love it. Because I was born to do it. And then I try to let someone in the professional world like it enough to consider my brain in word-form for publishing.
Even if the only readers I have are close friends in the writer world… at least I can say I inspired someone.