I asked a question on Twitter a few days ago:
What if you could only write one more story? What would you write? What kind of chances would you take?
— Beth Smith (@bethanyrsmith) June 6, 2013
I got a range of answers, from “revise an old manuscript” to “write an epic fantasy”. Some people struggled to give an answer, some people had an answer but were too superstitious to share. I loved reading the responses, but really the question was just for me. It’s a question that has been central to the kind of struggles I’ve been facing lately.
Maybe it’s time to tell you what’s been keeping me away.
I try not to talk too much about the messy things in life. The bad days, the negative thoughts, the insomnia and anxiety. Not because I don’t want to be honest about my life. I’m not trying to hide anything, or make my life seem perfect. It’s because of something I learned when I was a teenager: Bad days don’t last forever, but your words do.
Basically, I needed to make sure this wasn’t just a passing mood. I needed to make sure it was something real, not just a bad day, and therefore something worth sharing.
I’ve been writing seriously (meaning: with the intent to finish and publish a novel) for four years. Before that I wrote a hundred novel beginnings and a half dozen short stories, some of which were published. In all that time I’ve been writing young adult fiction. I’ve been writing young adult since I was a young adult, and I’ve never really paused to ask: Why?
If you’ve been following my journey for awhile you’ll know I’ve submitted two novels to agents. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve gotten close, especially with the second book. But the thing that keeps coming up, that’s mentioned again and again by smart industry professionals, is that I’m not really writing young adult. Sure, my characters are teenagers, but in every other way my stories are adult. Maybe there’s an equation someone could come up with, for how many times you have to hear something about yourself before you start to believe it’s true.
Over the last few years I’ve gone through all the stages.
A long, long period of denial: Tra-la-la, I can’t hear you.
A few months of anger: You’re WRONG. Of COURSE this is YA. She’s seventeen for goodness sake!
Several revisions worth of bargaining: Maybe if I just change this, or this…
And then depression: Maybe YA just doesn’t want me (sadface).
Acceptance… Well, I’m not quite there yet.
It’s a hard thing, to contemplate starting over. I’ve spent four years making contacts in the YA world, learning the industry, cultivating wonderful critique partners. I know nothing about the adult fiction market. I’d be starting from scratch, leaving everything I know behind.
One of those very smart industry professionals has given me a start, with a list of adult books she thinks are comparable to my own writing style. I’ve been haunting the adult fiction section of my local bookstore, trying to imagine one of my books living there. But it all seems so unreal, so unlikely, I feel like giving up before I begin.
To add to my confusion, the book I’m writing at the moment is YA. Maybe I’ve skipped back to the ‘denial’ stage, but this is a story that’s been living in my heart for a very long time. I figure I owe it to myself to at least finish it. And maybe I owe it to myself to take one more stab at writing YA.
So, back to the question I posed at the beginning of the post. If you could only write one more story, what would you write? If you could only write one more YA story, what would you write? What kind of chances would you take?
I figure if this is my last stab, I have no reason to play it safe. I’m going to take chances. I’m going to break the rules. I’m going to write courageously, write the kind of book I want to write with no thought of the market. Because if this is my last try, what do I have to lose?