Difficult Advice to Follow
Writing has always been a source of comfort to me. Yet I know that the journals of my youth, filled with all the calamities that come with being a teen, would certainly make me laugh (or cringe) today. In fact, I'd probably welcome some of the very troubles I thought would break me back then. But upon reflecting on my writing life, the content of those journals is unimportant. What really matters is that I chose to write; in one of the most authentic ways a writer can. I did not write for an audience, for awards, for a grade, for reviews, or for capital gains. I wrote for me. To tell my story. And through that process, several things occurred. First, it was a very cathartic experience; I was able to let go of emotions that would have festered and kept me stuck. Secondly, I was able to hone my craft. Granted, I wasn't writing argument essays or a thesis, but I was writing daily. And I'm pretty sure that the writing that filled up all those journals would be equivalent to 2-3 novels today! But perhaps the best thing that came out of all that writing was the passion I poured into those little books. I didn't let the fear of an audience censor anything that I wrote. I knew my words were for me.
It isn't surprising then, that being authentic is the number one piece of advice I've gotten from most of the authors I've reached out to, or read about. Every single one has said, tell your story. Don't write for anyone but yourself. Makes sense. Sounds like such an easy rule to follow. Until you decide to put your words out into the world. Then it becomes scary. You do start to censor your words because you are writing for an audience. You hope that people will like what you have to say. You will not please every reader, but you definitely have to take an audience along with you for the ride.
Having published my first YA fiction book, it has become very clear to me that having 'company' during the writing process is not easy. Many people think writing is a solitary experience, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Looking back on the past three years of this process, I know I was never alone. My students, my family, friends, critics, agents and fellow authors were right there in the room with me. Perhaps because of the genre I chose to write, I felt the weight of my audience quite heavily most days. Hence, the reason for this post. While YA is my most favorite genre, I'm not convinced that my next attempt at book publishing will fall into this category. I don't know if that's a cop out. Would I have a less critical audience if I were to write adult fiction? After all, most of the positive feedback I've received for "Everything's Jake" has come from adults, not teens. Would it have been better suited for middle grade because of its less edgier language? (For those of you wondering, my sales have been fairly steady and to date, I haven't received any negative feedback).
But, I'm curious to hear from others who struggle with knowing exactly what genre they fit into or feel most comfortable. And as an author, do you ever feel that it's hard to simply 'tell your story'?