Thursday, March 29, 2012

Are you writing a book that your readers are going to want to read?"

Did you know author Sara Zarr has started a podcast? She's been interviewing other young adult authors about the creative process. How cool is that? And it's every bit as thoughtful and intelligent as one might expect from Sara Zarr. Yay!

In her first episode, she interviewed author Tara Altebrando. And there was this bit which really got me thinking. Tara was talking about her husband, who was questioning her work in progress:

"And he said, Why does it have to be a 'novel in stories'?

"And I said, I want to write something that challenges myself.

"And I think he said something like, Nobody cares if you're being challenged except you. Are you writing a book that your readers are going to want to read?

"And that was a really interesting question for me to then sit down the next day and think about because there were elements of the way that book was going to come together... you know, I started thinking about my readers and, not like I'm trying to predict what they want, but wanting to write a book that teenagers are going to want to read. Not that librarians and teachers are going to want to read, and are going to think is a good book for a teenager to read, but trying to remember what kind of stuff I really loved to read when I was fifteen, sixteen...

"Nick is the kind if person who asks questions like that... he says things like, Challenge yourself to tell a better story or to make sure every line is better. You don't have to challenge yourself in this high-concept 'novel in stories' way."*

Nick is pretty wise, huh?

Every so often I stumble across a children's book so perfectly pitched to its age group that it sends me spiraling back through time, remembering exactly how it felt to be so young. Isn't that what we're aiming for? Obviously we have to rely on ourselves, and dig deep inside to find a book that we want to spend years on. And I thoroughly believe in stretching kids' minds, and questioning their limits. But I think Tara (or rather, her husband) is absolutely right. At the end of the day, we need to make sure our topic, our structure, our language, everything we do is relevant to teens. Otherwise, we might as well work on our Pulitzer winning adult novel, right?

"Are you writing a book that your readers are going to want to read?" should be an obvious question, but for me it's one I need to ask myself with every project.

Does it strike you, too? Have you ever been guilty of only writing for yourself?

*This transcription is mine and may contain some errors.

8 comments:

  1. "At the end of the day, we need to make sure our topic, our structure, our language, everything we do is relevant to teens. Otherwise, we might as well work on our Pulitzer winning adult novel, right?"

    too true!! Therein lies the challenge... Great post. It's good to be reminded that all our efforts can be in vain if we forget who we're writing for.

    Elisabeth

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    1. Thanks! Well, credit to Tara, really. Maybe this is one of the big divides between adult fiction and children's fiction. We can never lose sight of our audience.

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  2. Great post! I do try to challenge myself as a writer, but I do keep the reader in mind too. Part of the challenge is appealing to the reader and as writers we have to remember that.

    Thanks for sharing this. :)

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    1. Thanks, Kelly. Yes, I realized as I was typing this up, that of course there's different ways of challenging ourselves... myriad ways of challenging ourselves! Ugh. ;)

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  3. Great post, Anne.
    Steven Spielberg said he made the movies HE wanted to see. I think this has to be a better starting point, and the propeller for our creative engines.
    Then, in subsequent drafts, we can ask who the reader is. We better, if we are submitting work and asking others to shell $ and expend their effort on it.

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    1. Thanks, Mirka. Yes, exactly. First and foremost, it is a business where we're expected to have an audience. I think in writing for children, it helps to remember what we loved as a child, or to have a child-like mindset. So even the things that interest and inspire us will be things that are relevant to children, too.

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  4. Interesting point. I just finished re-writing a short story because I had created a story which I thought would please adults (buyers) but not necessarily a 10 year old. I decided to re-write it so that even if it didn't get purchased I could still share it with 10 year olds and not be embarrassed. :)

    Thanks Anne. Stopping here each week always makes me think.

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    1. That's a gutsy rewrite, Bridgette. Go you! I think there's always this tension in the children's publishing world, probably especially for younger kids. And I know as a literature major, I'm often thinking about voice and narration, and reveals, and structure, and various tricks I can play in my story. When really, first and foremost, I should make sure it's accessible and of interest.

      Aw, thanks for your kind words. They mean a lot.

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