This week, I’m beginning my foray into fiction; I’m working on an assignment for Laurenbarnholdt‘s Young Adult (YA) writing class. I’ve done some initial research on plot structure, character development, and dialogue (yada yada) — hours of work so far, translated into four pages out of a requisite ten. I’m no YA prodigy, that much is already clear.
An article in this morning’s LA TImes is all about YA-writing prodigies of all ages, but it focuses its attention on teens authors who “write life as they live it,” in books intended for their peers. “Why let a bunch of middle-aged people tell you what it’s like to be an American teen,” reporter Josh Getlin asks.
Courtney Toombs, coauthor of The Notebook Girls, says few adults understand teens. “Your parents think you just get on the school bus in the morning and you sit in your class all day, and you go somewhere and you come back,” she says. “They don’t realize that you live this entire life that they really don’t know about.” Oh yeah, that’s just what I needed to hear.
But can teen authors really write? This article says yes. “Teenagers, after all, are forever sending text and instant messages. They spend hours updating blogs and keeping online journals. The discipline that adult wannabes fight so hard to master in night classes and writing colonies — the need to write, write and write some more — comes effortlessly to many teens. For them, daily life on the Internet has become an almost natural prelude to the writing of short stories, essays and novels.”
One LJ friend makes her case: “Why should I have to wait years to get a book deal?” asked robbiewriter, author of the novel Better Than Yesterday, which will be published by Delacorte in 2007. “I mean, I’ve been writing since I was in the eighth grade. I felt that I had something to say.”
But some industry experts say teen writers are gifted exceptions. “Until our educational system gets better we won’t see much of this,” said E. Lockhart, who wrote The Boyfriend List (required reading for Lauren’s class) and Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything.”
I find Lockhart’s success story comforting. “It took me until I was at least 30 to write a publishable book,” she says, “and 38 to write a decent book.” “Some people are prodigies, God love them, but it’s not that common. Fiction takes time to do well.”
Some authors suggest that, when it comes to writing, it’s all about talent and discipline rather than age. “I don’t see a huge talent difference between one age group or another,” said Kaavya Viswanathan, author of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. “It all comes down to who has the dedication to sit down every day and put something on paper. It all starts from there.”
I’m trying out this genre of writing, mainly because it sounds like a lot of fun. It’ll encourage me to see the world from a different vantage point, and I believe it’ll improve my overall writing skills, too. But whatever an author’s age or reason for writing YA, there’s no doubt that there’s a market for good work.
According to Getlin, “While revenue in other sectors of the book industry remains flat, YA is booming… A key reason for the success of YA books, which run the gamut from romances to mysteries, thrillers to self-help, religion to sports, is that there are far more teenagers than there were 15 years ago. They’re part of the 12- to 21-year-old demographic that spends a staggering $170 billion annually on entertainment, including books.” I gotta admit it: that’s motivation, too.
You can read the whole article here.