Friday, March 16, 2012

Being True to Yourself

In order to be true to yourself, you first have to know who you are. That sounds ridiculously simple, I know. But it isn't simple at all. I thought I knew who I was, where I was, and what direction I was headed.

I was proven wrong, though, by doing what I've always done. By continually learning and adapting, by having tough heart-to-heart chats with myself whenever something felt... just off somehow, I realized that the me of a few years ago is not the same me of today.

Well, it is and it isn't. Let me explain.

I'm still primarily a YA writer. I'm still primarily a YA reader. But the problem is, YA is not a genre in the same way that, for example, fantasy and sci-fi and mystery are genres. Because you can have all of those things (and more) under the YA umbrella.

I noticed a pattern developing in my work over a period of years. Even before I started writing YA, one of my first novels was an adult contemporary "issue book." (Although I don't think there really is such a thing as an adult issue book, but there should be.) At that time I was still very heavy into writing fantasy and sci-fi.

But when I started writing YA, something changed. And the change was so gradual that I didn't notice it for what it truly was, until now.

YA is my passion. It jives with everything about me and my career. When I finally made the persona switch from adult fic writer to YA writer, it felt... refreshing. Like I was coming home after a hundred years of wandering.

But I still had this voice in the back of my head. "You're a spec fic writer!" it screamed. So I kept hope for my spec fic stories alive, even though the stories that seemed to be better for me, the ones that just felt right for me, were always contemporary.

Straight-up contemporary YA. With dry humor. And they usually center around a love story while also facing a modern-day-teen issue head-on. Not surprisingly, this is also the type of book I enjoy reading the most.

When I realized this, it was time to reassess my everything.

I still love writing fantasy and sci-fi, but is it my passion? Firmly, I can say NO. It is not my passion. Many times I caught myself saying to myself, "You should work on this fantasy novel over this contemp novel because it has a better chance of selling," even though my muse was quite clearly in favor of the contemp novel. That made me feel dirty and wrong. That isn't the right reason to work on one project over the other.

This doesn't mean I will never write sf/f again (I still nibble at those stories regularly), but it does mean that sf/f isn't at the top of my writing priorities list. Contemporary is at the top. I have two YA contemp novels in progress right now. My goal is to have both of those complete by the end of this year, because I have two more already begging to be written that I first thought up a year ago. And I'm sure by this time next year, more new contemp YA novel ideas will be vying for my attention.

As I wrote more and read more contemporary works, I understood that contemporary novels involve just as much effort as sf/f novels. Writing contemporary doesn't mean you've taken a step down, or digressed, in your skills. They still require world-building, for example. And I've found, as a reader, that they often have stronger characterization because there isn't a lot of "speculative candy" to distract you from the people telling the story.

This is something that, when I start talking about it, it excites me. I understand now what it means to have high concept contemporary. I understand that contemporary love stories can't just be about the romance. They have to have something bigger, better, more unique, driving the plot. I understand that even within the narrowed target market of "contemporary YA", there is still a heck of a lot of variety.

You have issue books. And mystery/thrillers. And romantic comedy. And spy novels. And coming-of-age. And the characters can still be in a situation where they must save the world. They just don't have to save it from aliens.

So when I got around to applying this newfound revelation to my blog... I realized some things here would have to change as well. But also stay the same.

This always has been, and always will be, a blog for writers to learn and share their experiences. One of the reasons I never switched my blog format to something more crisp and "professional" looking, is because I want people to feel at ease here. I want you to feel you can express yourself, share your joys and your pains, without fear of being looked down on by some hotsy-totsy big-shot author/blog-owner. This isn't a prestigious university, it's more like a study group that meets at someone's house.

However, going forward, some of the features may be a bit more focused on contemporary YA (and romance, etc) than they have been in the past. That doesn't mean you have to be a contemp YA writer (or a romance writer, etc) to continue following this blog. I believe most of the craft advice and inspirational posts I offer here can be applied to almost any writer's journey.

But I can't spread myself thin talking in generalizations anymore, and trying to please anyone and everyone who stops by. It's time to narrow my focus onto what makes me, me.

I'm going to be true to myself. And I hope you'll stay with me, despite these little adjustments, so I can keep learning who you are, too.

Have a wonderful weekend,
~Lydia

20 comments:

  1. Bravo! You have to do what feels right. You are the only person that knows what you should be writing. Good luck.

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  2. I've been doing that my blog too. :) At some point you realize what you love to write and read are often similar!

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  3. I can't wait to see where things will be going with your blog, Lydia.

    I love all kinds of YA books, but especially YA contemps with romance. I just don't write them. I tend to have more danger and suspense in them, but the topics are still contemp related (like grieving).

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    1. I didn't know that about you, Stina, that's awesome!

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  4. Since I love and write YA as well, I'm quite happy with that focus! I appreciate how you expressed the need to be true to yourself in writing.

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  5. I never thought I'd touch YA Contemporary but after I did, I loved it. I am excited for you. Aha! moments are the best.

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    1. Aha! moments are the best.

      Agreed! Both in real life *and* in stories. ;-)

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  6. Realizing that you feel this way is huge, no matter what it's related to. I am hoping my AHA moment makes an appearance soon - I'd really like to know what I'm supposed to be doing as a writer.

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    1. I hope you find it soon, too, Brianna. :-) But it's okay if it takes some time (read: years) to sort itself out.

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  7. This is pretty much exactly what I figured out about myself last year (except the opposite). I knew that every time I tried to write contemporary, fantasy snuck in, but I realized that I kept trying to write stories that were fantasy-light, where the plot was mostly contemporary, but with a fantasy element. But where my strength is in contemporary fantasy (or SF) with a fantasy plot and conflict. So when I reevaluated the novel I rebooted recently, I focused on giving it a more speculative conflict to head towards, which has made a huge difference in how I'm writing it.

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    1. Amazing, isn't it? Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Sage!

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  8. Interestingly, I just started following your blog recently, and I happen to be a contemporary YA writer!

    I think most writing blogs are widely applicable. I read the blogs of writers who write nonfiction, picture books, poetry, science fiction, fantasy ... they all have something to teach me, even when we don't write exactly the same things.

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    1. Good point! Thanks, Jennifer. Glad to have you here!

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  9. I think you're going in the right direction!! Being true to ourselves has to take priority. If contemporary is your thing, you have to write it. I know it can be easy to fall into the needs of doing what everyone else wants and ignoring your own, but seeing this and breaking free of it will lead you to a new level in your writing. Good luck with everything. Oh, and I'll still be here...

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  10. Love it! <3 While I've always suspected that Shakespeare sort of enjoyed killing off Polonius, he did give the character a few great lines: "...to thine ownself be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man." As writers who make stuff up to illuminate truth, I think this is a very necessary piece of advice for us to follow in order to find those truths in the first place.

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  11. First of all, thank you so much for this soul touching post. I just confronted some of the issues that were brewing within me in this post. Now I think I can also be brave about standing up for I am and what I write: YA. And another thing was, as I read your post I just scribbled down a little plot that was big on my head for about a year. The thing is I wasn't ready to pen it down, acknowledge it, accept it. Something in this post made me do it.

    Thanks and hugs :)

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