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"Good For Your Age" is Not a Compliment

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Fri Oct 02, 2015 4:36 am
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Evander says...

"Good For Your Age" is Not a Compliment


When I was eight years old and showed my mother the first piece of fanfiction that I had written (and was proud of), she told me, "That's good for your age!" I got no additional feedback, no other sort of praise; that's all she gave me. And I loved it.

At eight years old, I automatically assumed that it meant I was mature, smart, and funny and that my writing was absolutely amazing. I thought it meant that I could get published, that the few bits of criticism actually offered to me were meaningless, and that JK Rowling herself would read my fanfiction and we'd co-write the next series together. All that did was inflate my ego.

Fast forward three years, and I posted a poem on YWS that I was actually proud of. I had gotten a review on it that was actually fairly good and it gave me the feedback I desired. Then, someone replied to the reviewer and basically said that the reviewer shouldn't have been "too harsh" and that my work was "good for an eleven year old!"

... What? Suddenly, all the reviews and feedback I had gotten over those three years came back to me and I just sat there in my chair. Too harsh? I knew that people had sugarcoated their advice on what I had written before and that normally bothered me greatly, but it didn't really hit me full impact.

Was I really a good writer?

I remember wanting to go back to all my past works; I remember wanting to know if what I had written was actually good. Was I terrible at writing? It sure felt like that. Was it even worth trying anymore? If people were just going to sugarcoat their feedback, how would I ever even start to improve?

Why saying “that’s good for your age!” doesn’t necessarily work:

1. It doesn't do anything good. "This is good for your age!" actually doesn't help. In reviewing, the reviewer is supposed to focus on the good points and the bad points. A good aspect of writing is not "age". No one will get published because "oh, they're ten years old and wrote a story just a little better than I expected".

2. After a while, that phrase becomes empty to the young writer. It won't be the best thing they've ever heard, because if they are truly excellent at what they do, then they've heard it a lot. And if they are just mediocre at what they do, then they've heard it a lot too. It ends up being static noise.

3. The writer might end up becoming bigheaded. Results may vary, but a lot of the time the writer begins to think that all other criticism is invalid and meaningless. It does no good if the writer won't even listen to other feedback. In fact, it just ends terribly.

Speaking from personal experience, once my ego became inflated, it took forever until I could actually return to writing stuff. I tossed aside all the advice that had been offered to me in the small reviews. But I couldn’t move forward with my projects. Everything that I worked on was eventually tossed aside because, “What’s the point. I’m already good, right?”

4. In time, all it will lead to is disappointment. The writer sends out their manuscript, hoping for brilliant results, then it will be sent back with a letter saying that what they've written is mediocre and not good enough to publish. Or, the writer will look back on what they've written and realize that they are absolutely terrible and then hit a block in their inspiration.

It’s absolutely terrible to look back on everything and just feel horrible.

5. If the writer does not end up with an inflated ego ... or doesn't have a giant wake up call, then they will end up with unrealistic expectations about the publishing world and writing in general. In their eyes, there might always be a publishing house that will publish their book, there might always be an agent willing to market it, the writing community would be this wonderful place that always has a kind thing to say.

Sooner or later, that person is going to have to learn the truth. And unfortunately, the truth is: The writing community is not always a wonderful place that has a kind thing to say. There won't always be agents who will market it. Publishing houses won't just look at a work and take it because "it was good for your age!" They will do it because it has potential. They will do it because it's actually good.

Reviewing suggestions:

I get that young writers may be terrifying to encounter and – gasp! – seeing a work by them might be challenging, but I promise, it's just like seeing a regular writer and reviewing for that regular writer!

There are certain types of things to avoid when writing a review. So I thought that I'd type up an example.

"Hey, so-and-so!

Wow, this is pretty good for your age. I didn't really expect something like this from such a young writer!

Since you are so young, I won't go into all the nitty-gritty parts of this review. I just want to let you know that there are some errors here and there! (I'm sure you can go over and find them yourself.)

There are a few things that I didn't like, but I'm sure that you'll discover those soon enough! I don't really have that much to say, I'm just really impressed. Once again, this piece was brilliant for your age and you should really keep on writing.


The reviewer didn't offer any specific critique or praise, it was all generalized. The main thing that we take away from the review is "age, age, age, and more mentions about age!" It expects the young author to already know what's wrong with their work, even though all that they've gotten is "I'm good! I'm great! It's brilliant. My writing is brilliant."

If you want to avoid the "this is good for your age!" topic, then take a look at these points here:

If you want to say that you've found the story well written, then say so. But please, don't stick on "for your age" at the end. Instead, feel free to tell them why you found it good! ("I loved the way you described Mallory's dress. That description actually felt like it belonged there in the story." "The characters are excellent. They all seem to be well developed and have really grown. Here is what I like about Matt's growth: ...")

If you are going to offer feedback to the young writer, then actually do so. Actually take a look at their work and stop thinking about their age, at least for a bit. It's a barrier; it's keeping you from being the best reviewer you can be. Read through their work and list out all the good points and all the bad points. Even if you find it absolutely terrible, there still might be something about it that you can comment on.

And, at the end of the day, if you think what they wrote was absolutely terrible, then don't review it. If all you were going to say was "this is great for your age!!!" then just don't. It offers absolutely nothing to help the person grow as a writer. That statement offers false hope. Offering false hope doesn’t really do anything to help them grow. It’s an empty phrase.

If you want to offer criticism, then do so. It's not that hard. Just type it. ("Okay, while I liked the dress and the foreshadowing behind it, the description of James's coat was boring. The sentences were long and meaningless, and there was really nothing behind them. The story would have gone better without it. However, if it went like this: ...")

If you had nothing to say about the work, and just wanted to review it because an incredibly young author posted it, then take a step back and re-look at why you are even reviewing it. If you still want to carry on with your self-assigned task, then take a look at the reviewing advice above. If you feel like that would take too much effort, then don't waste your time!

Also, keep the YWS Critique Sandwich in mind!


Despite popular opinion, young writers can take criticism. We have the ability to grow and mature as authors. The fact of the matter is that people think we can't. That we are too young to face the writing world and all it has to offer. We know, however, we do know that the writing world can be a wonderful place. We also know that it can be harsh and demanding. Sugarcoating it won't do us any good.

We can never take advice if no one ever gives us it.

Besides, this is the Young Writers Society. We belong here too.
Last edited by Evander on Wed Oct 14, 2015 1:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Fri Oct 02, 2015 5:31 pm
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Astronaut says...

(I'm thirteen and never share my work anymore because I hate it, but I joined the site when I was 11 so I guess my input's still valid)

If you really want to emphasize that the writer is very good, and really ahead of their age group, then after telling them that their work is good, you can say "And on top of that, you're only __!" That way it's not becoming the main point.
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Mon Oct 05, 2015 2:07 pm
erilea says...

I think a lot of people tell me that, seeing that I'm pretty young... however I usually put myself down a lot when my mind compliments me. Not sure it that's good or bad in this case.
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Mon Oct 05, 2015 3:00 pm
tigeraye says...

Although the age of the author is stated on the side of the page next to a piece of work, I don't tend to look at it. I'm not very picky, but when I review I try to be honest. So if I read something I didn't like but write a nice review because the author is only ten, how does that achieve my goal? Who does that help? Life experience is helpful, but there's no certain age you have to be to write a good story or poem.

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Wed Oct 14, 2015 1:33 am
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Rook says...

Often, people say things like "I'm new to poetry" or "this is my first real poem" or I somehow can divine that they don't have a lot of experience.
Is it hurtful in the same way to say "this is really good for someone new to writing poems!" as it is to say "this is good for your age!"?
I've assumed that it isn't in the past because while you can have any skill level at any age and age doesn't equal skill level, a beginner at something will almost always be not as good at something as a seasoned veteran. But still, would saying this hurt the writer?
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Sat Oct 24, 2015 10:14 pm
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erilea says...

I think that will be fine, something like this:

"You just started writing poems? You have a talent for it! Keep trying to nurture it, because you have potential!"

You know, that type of stuff.
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Sun Oct 25, 2015 3:49 am
TimmyJake says...

Hm, I think it's something you get when you're younger, especially when in your very early teens. For me, I didn't get that because I only started showing my work when I was about sixteen. Instead, I got: "Man, this is awful. Do this to fix it." Lol

Great article, Raven! :)
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Sun Oct 25, 2015 5:40 pm
niteowl says...

fortis wrote:Question:
Often, people say things like "I'm new to poetry" or "this is my first real poem" or I somehow can divine that they don't have a lot of experience.
Is it hurtful in the same way to say "this is really good for someone new to writing poems!" as it is to say "this is good for your age!"?
I've assumed that it isn't in the past because while you can have any skill level at any age and age doesn't equal skill level, a beginner at something will almost always be not as good at something as a seasoned veteran. But still, would saying this hurt the writer?

@fortis, I don't think it's rude if the person has explicitly stated that they're new to poetry. But if you're just guessing, it could come off as insulting.

I think for younger writers and newer writers (of any age) is to state as simply/clearly as possible what they could work on and why and encourage them to challenge themselves and try different things.
"You do ill if you praise, but worse if you censure, what you do not understand." Leonardo Da Vinci


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Mon Oct 26, 2015 2:50 am
FeatherPen says...

I fully concur Adrian Moon. The age thing can be so annoying. Its patronising, while writing good review with what is liked is good practice, all authors regardless of age benefit from what needs improvement. As a complement it becomes hollow. The best thing to remember is that it is meant as a complement, which makes it easier to forgive.
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