Burst, rupture, explode, surge, gush, hurtle, plunge… A day in my life brought to you by the thesaurus. Everything is full to bursting. In some ways, that’s exhilarating. In others, challenging.
The good rush—
I am drafting a new novel, and it is pouring out of me, surging through the cracks, waking me up at night. It is a blazing, fragmentary, kaleidoscopic whirlwind of a book that is driving me into new territory.
The lightened future—
We are going to move, to pack the wagon, to reverse the trail, to embrace something new.
The coming breach—
I am decluttering. My house is an overstuffed suitcase about to face TSA. I want to purge and winnow. I want the fleet-of-foot lightness of canoe trips and the gallivanting international travel of my twenties. I want to discard before we rupture.
The full heart—
This silly puppy sleeping upside down at my feet. My daughter’s head nestled on my chest. Her whispered I love yous. My son charging toward high school, ready to take on the world. This spouse of mine who shares the load and washes dishes and makes me laugh.
I know this because certain books have changed my life. They have changed the way I view the world and my place in it.
I know this because of the brouhaha that explodes whenever some journalist writes about whether young adult fiction is too dark, too complex, too negative, too whatever.
I know this because of the #YAsaves response to criticism of darkness in YA.
I know this because the campaign to increase diversity in children’s literature has taken over my internet feeds and sent reverberations through media culture in general. (Check out #WeNeedDiverseBooks)
The companion to the power and influence of children’s literature upon real, live, beating-heart humans is the pressure it puts on me as a writer of children’s literature to “do it right.”
Author Christa Desir captured this exactly in her review of THE BUNKER DIARY by Kevin Brooks. (Read the whole thing here.)
I’m fascinated by the burden of responsibility that seems to fall on the shoulders of those of us who write for children. I’m not completely clear who decided on the rules about YA books, but there seems to be an insistence that if the books are going to be about difficult things, then they need to somehow “save”. I have long hesitated at this notion that YA Saves because I think it puts us in the position that we must then acknowledge that the opposite can be true too. That if we’re going to assert that YA books save lives, then we have to allow that they can damage people. And this power makes me very uncomfortable.
I am only me and yet I am trying to write about people different from me with experiences far broader than my own. I want to “do it right.” I want to be authentic and reflective and respectful and honest. I want my books to be “true” even in fiction.
And in all this striving to tell stories that stretch beyond me, there is a very real danger of paralysis as a writer. In a recent conversation with my coauthor Kiersi Burkhart about our middle grade series Second Chance Ranch, I found myself expressing some very real fears about my ability to write diversity. I care so much about doing it right that I was afraid to do it at all. I can’t write about gamers. I can’t write about an overweight character. I can’t write about a black girl.
But the alternative?
Or worse, only writing about a bunch of skinny white girls who love horses.
I can’t face either of those alternatives.
In the midst of all this angst, I found Kate Brauning‘s wonderful post on Pub Hub about Writing Ethical YA. You absolutely must click here and read the whole thing, but let me leave you with the line I found most encouraging, the one that allowed me to shake off the paralysis.
If you’re showing real life and helping fill in the gaps, you’re doing just fine, and I want to read your book.
Thank you, Kate. This is exactly what I needed to hear. Now to get back to that black cowgirl who loves cosplay and isn’t super psyched about her weight…
My normal duties are already intense: writing books, supporting local creatives, taking care of my family, driving the kids to soccer, volunteering at school, and helping with Hebrew homework.
Yet in the past few months I’ve said “yes” to things that added to that load. I agreed to spear-head the creation of a class project for our school auction, which led to many late nights and much worry about whether it would turn out right. I agreed to co-host the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival tomorrow, which involves a comedy skit and song (way way way out of my comfort zone). I agreed to co-write and act, along with my kids, in a Purim play for our synagogue, which added writing sessions and rehearsals to evenings already jammed with soccer practices.
Do I regret it? NO. I chose to do these things because I wanted to do them. I thought they were important and fun. I want to support my kids’ school. I want to spread the love for marvelous middle grade books any way possible (even if it means singing). I want my kids to feel like they are part of a vibrant Jewish community above and beyond going to services.
Of course, there’s a but. As these commitments wind down (Purim is on March 15th), I recognize that I’ll need to say NO for awhile. I’ll need more downtime. I’ll need to protect the space I need to write, to connect with my friends, and to take care of myself (sleeping, running, yoga, rock climbing).
I’ll also need to step-back and reassess my recurring commitments. Have I struck the right balance between my writing, my volunteer work and my family? Am I working on projects that further my professional goals? Am I spending time with people who support me? Are there ways that I can open up more space for the things that are most important to me?
I strive to put my time and energy into things that make me who I want to be. The key to when to say YES and when to say NO is about knowing what I value not what others expect.