Yesterday I read a post that made me pretty angry. It listed the 7 reasons to write a YA novel, and reasons 1-7 pretty much boiled down to money and social media followers.
The truth is, writing a book, and writing it well, is one of the hardest, fucking things you could ever do in your life. And while I understand this author was trying to take a light-hearted approach to the subject, it could be misleading for a new writer to read. Not to mention incredibly insulting to those of us who are working hard every day to make our writing the best it can be, and to get our books out into the hands of the young people who might need them. You know because we write for kids. Bustle, where the blog was posted is also geared towards women. The implication that we need facials, clothes and shoes as an incentive for anything also made me want to light my face on fire. So I decided to share my personal top 3 reasons for writing YA . I understand it’s different for everyone, and that’s cool. But if you’re doing it for the money and a new wardrobe, my advice is don’t hold your breath.
For Young Adults: Yeah, YA isn’t short for “YAAAS Honey look at my shoes!” It’s short for young adult, because that’s who the novels are geared towards. Can adults read them, do they read them? Absolutely, YA is popular and there are some fantastic reads out there that can appeal to many ages. But the last thing on my mind when I write is that my peers will be reading what I write. I’m thinking about a 16 year old Latina who has never seen herself in a YA fantasy before (more on that later) or a young boy whose home life is so horrible that he needs to escape into a book, or just a kid who loves to read and is ready for their next great adventure. THAT is what gets my heart pumping, what makes me want to get out of bed and write all day every day. Not how much money I’m gonna get from their piggy banks.
Because I can’t NOT write: I’ve always written – mostly poetry and lyrics when I was younger. As a journalism student and then local reporter I wrote articles and reviews, but you don’t have to be a life-long writer to write a YA novel. You just need to have something to write about that won’t let you rest. The story is always creeping in your head when you’re at a work meeting or not letting you sleep at 3AM. The story won’t let you stop thinking about it. You get excited every time you come up with a new sub-plot to introduce, and when you think of how much your readers will love/connect with and take away from the story. That’s when you keep writing. In other words when you have a story worth telling. Being an author is not a hobby for me, not something I’m doing because “…right now YA is white hot.” It’s my career. I have a full time job yes, but every day after work I go home and I write. I edit, and I cry and I complain and I work hard, and every time I think I’m done, I’m not, and I keep going. That is what it takes to be an author – not just a “computer and commitment” but an unrelenting will, skin thicker than Khaleesi’s dragons, a passion and a fire for words, for books and for the writing community. It also takes respect for all of those things I listed above.
It takes an understanding that it’s not going to be easy. It’s supposed to be challenging and difficult. If you go into writing your first novel thinking of the movie deal and not any of the hard work, you’re gonna have a heaping serving of disappointment to look forward to instead of the red carpet.
For Your Community: As a child of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, I can tell you first hand there aren’t many role models that younger people can relate to in our community. Just yesterday, a friend who is a teacher and whose students are predominately PoC, asked me to finish writing my book quickly. She asked if I would be able to donate books to her class because, “They don’t have anyone to really look up to.”
“They should look up to their teacher!” You say. Right, well try telling that to any teen and get ready to be eye-rolled into space. Having positive role models for kids to look up to, that they can relate to, is so important. Having characters in books that they can see themselves in is so important. My main character is, like me, a second generation immigrant who sometimes speaks in Spanish and loves traditional Dominican cuisine (because fried cheese amirite?)
I know that if I had a book like that as a kid, I would be so happy, elated at seeing someone that was like me. That’s why I read The House on Mango Street seven million times. If I had an author who looked like me come to my school? From the same background or who grew up in the South Bronx like I did? I’d be fucking unstoppable. Influence like that early on is so special, it can be a life changing thing, and it’s something YA authors have the power to do.
Young adult books are more than punchy chapters, and plot twists. They’re coming of age stories, stories of grief and loss, stories about being a kid and getting to know the world. There are enough disparaging opinions on the quality of writing in YA without more misinformation floating around about how easy it is to jump into the “trend”. As we’ve all been told time and time again, don’t write to trend. Don’t write for the money, don’t write for the social media followers or the movie deal and Carrie Bradshaw moment. Those things may never come. Write to tell your story. Write because you’re a writer. And if you need just one good reason to write YA, then write for the kids.
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