Friday, May 31, 2013

The Things They Don't Tell You...

Writing, like most jobs, seems sort of awesome from the outside. You tell people you write YA and they're all, "Cool. I read Twilight..." and you're off on a conversation. And there are many parts that are awesome (I think I've mentioned wearing my Wii PJ bottoms all day). But also, like most jobs, there are things that you don't know about until you're on the inside. And I'm not talking about things in the "journey to publication" because frankly, I think that you can find a blog about almost any part of that. I'm talking about the things that happen to your psyche as a writer.

So, since I'm awkwardly candid about many things in my life, I'm going to discuss some of them today.

I'm an extrovert. Spending long days in front of my computer, not talking to anyone but my dog, can make me a little batty. I pick up my kids from school and I can't stop talking. I get on the phone with writer friends and I can't stop talking. I go to a school BBQ on the weekend and I can't stop talking. It's sort of embarrassing really. But after spending 6-8 hours every day in my own head, I am DESPERATE for communication.

Yes, I have a day job. But my day job is editing the voices in other people's heads and I do that from home. When we have editorial conference calls, my days are always better because I've heard other people talking.

The tricky thing about this is that it seems solvable. I should just have lunch with friends. Go to the gym. Take walks with neighbors. Volunteer at the kids' school. Pop on Twitter and start interacting with virtual friends. Call my parents. BUT, I have a job. I have writing deadlines. I have edit deadlines for my day job. When I say I'm lonely, the solution isn't to start doing all the things and getting out in the world, because I honestly can't.

So I compensate by going to conferences, book signings, etc. I sop up the energy of people by teaching Sunday school, going to church, sitting at tball games, being part of an author group (14ery!), having short phone calls with friends while I walk the dog.

This is not a new concept for most writers, but for those in the outside world who see us staring out of our windows or staring up at the same spot on the ceiling, we appear to be slacking. And if you go on social media platforms and start following writers, you see that they're all: "1k in 1 hour. I wrote 9k today." And basically, for those of us who have many days of writing 59 words or less, we are ever reminded of our own mediocrity. The outside world thinks we're slacking, and even worse, WE think we're slacking. How has XXX author sold 7 books in two years while I am 30k into a book that I hate so much I'm ready to throw my computer in the toilet?

Everyone has days where every word they write is crap. Some people say, "Write anyway." That doesn't work for me. Why do I need to sit in front of my computer being faced with my own suck? It's better for me to walk away and come back to it. I imagine that this is different for every person. But believe me, writing is hard. And once you've written more than one book, and you've sold one of those books, you have a whole new layer to start worrying about. Because then author "brands" and sales teams and publicity and marketing and every other damn thing starts getting in the way of your writing. And you second guess everything you do. After you've sold a book, you get to spend time in the place of raging insecurity that in some ways is even worse than the initial insecurity of putting your stuff out there. The stakes are higher. The pool is bigger and for all the times you practiced jumping off the side, the high dive is a lot higher than you could ever imagine.

I say this out of a great deal of affection. I know that there are many, many people who need the additional income of their writing to support their families (including me). More, I know there are people who do this for a living and their writing is the only income for their families. I would never tell anyone not to write.
But writing isn't a 9-5 job, it's pretty much 24/7. For me, at least. And I think for most writers. I don't know many who can just "turn it off". If we have a story in our head, there's no powering down. Yes, we can walk away from the computer. But our head is in a different game. Believe me, I've cheered more than once for the opposite team at a tball game because I was trying to solve a plot hole. I've gone to the grocery store to get something for my husband, bought something totally different, and returned to him an hour and a half later without his thing. I've been late for carpool pick-up because I wanted to finish a scene.
I spent an entire spa vacation with my mom and sisters, holed up in my room, writing the first draft of Fault Line. I've missed spending time with my kids because even if I've been there, I haven't been THERE.
And yes, mental health-wise, it is a good thing that I do write because it mostly makes me happy and all the voices and ideas have a place to go. But I understand that this life choice isn't without a great deal of tolerance and sacrifice from the people that I love. And I want to honestly acknowledge that. When I'm in the writer mode, I'm a bit of a sucky wife, mom, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, etc.

There are days when we've written the perfect words. There are days when amazing things have happened. There are days when the other writers/bloggers/readers we've met along the way have said wonderful things that make us so grateful for their existence. There are days when we're walking the dog and picking our kids up and wearing our Wii PJ bottoms and think, "I live the best fricking life in all the world." And it is a greater rush than anything we've known. Because the highs can be very high. And we maybe don't say that enough either.
We worry about the things we can't control. We compare ourselves to others. We fret. We regret. We spend too much time on what we could be instead of what we are.
And yet, if we're lucky, we have more moments when we say, "this is perfect and I am so grateful for it" than when we say, "I suck."

I wish that for all of you.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

We Don't Need Another Hero

How we expect teenage boys to look
How teenage boys actually look

So I've been thinking a lot lately about our desire as young adult readers to cast boys in the role of hero. How the way we talk about them sort of predicates this because there's frequently an element of romance in a story. But I find myself more and more frustrated when I hear readers wanting this. Particularly because, to be honest, I don't write heroes and I'm concerned that people will assign my guys those roles anyway.

Why do we expect teenage boys to always make the right choices? Why do we want them to be heroes? Is reader insistence on this a projection of the world as we'd like it to be as opposed to the world as it is? And if so, what sort of message are we sending to teen girls and boys by assigning boys the role of hero?

In thinking about this blog post, I went back and reviewed some of my favorite contemporary YA books. Certainly not everyone's favorite, but definitely books that I loved: Boy Toy, 13 Reasons Why, Flawed, Sex and Violence, The DUFF, Dash and Lily's Book of Dares (yes, I can read "light" books). I realize that one of the things I loved about all these books were the bad choices that the guys in them made. That for one reason or another, they didn't always make good choices and therefore I connected with them in a way that I otherwise wouldn't.

This feels real to me. This feels like good modeling for our teens, and for all of us. How can we get boys engaged in reading if we can't give them characters that make mistakes? I'm not talking about bad boy alphas who end up doing good (or even bad boy alphas who are unapologetically bad), I'm talking about boys who are written in very real ways as being human "works in progress". Boys who make good choices and bad choices, but in the end, boys who are doing the best they can with the resources they have.

Next time you as a reader are about to slam a male character for not being likable, for having moments of being an a-hole or making stupid decisions, think hard about the importance of the message you are sending to teenagers. By not allowing for bad choices, but insisting on heroes, we are unilaterally saying to teens that they must only ever do the right thing. Which frankly is a disservice to them.