Why the agony of writing for teens is worth it
I don’t mean the hyperventilating, “OMG I have no story ideas!” type of burn out. I mean the grind of the words, the constant push to out-write your last book, the stiff necks, the time crunches, and the piecemealing of a life outside of your characters’ worlds.
You try to balance the requests from bookstores, the demands to meet deadlines, the desperate need to spend time with your family and your children, and (for many of us), the 9 to 5 of a day job as well.
Novel-writing is the ultimate act of endurance, with a finish line that seems to never fully reveal itself. And once you have finished one story, polished and in print, you immediately are looking to churn out the next book.
I started to feel the burn out when I was finishing up CRUEL SUMMER. In the past 2 years, I had churned out close to 300,000 words related to the UNDERTOW series. Let me tell ya – that’s a lot of freakin’ words!
I’ve worked as a writer since 1999, and in all those years, I never got burned out as a journalist. But in all those years, I didn’t have the fans I have now. And they are like – HARDCORE FANS. They burn through those 300k words in just a couple of days, because they can’t put the book down. Because they must keep going, or they will obsess about Eila and her crew all day long, which is great and all, but I start to panic and think, “I need to get another book done for them, like, YESTERDAY!”
And my fans are voracious readers. I often get messaged that this kid or that kid has read STORMFRONT in a day (112k words) or that they are re-reading UNDERTOW for the 5th TIME! I don’t even think I’ve read Undertow cover to cover more than twice, and that was when it was in its editing phase! Some fans buy EVERY cover version, because they must have them all (0_0)
So, when I start to feel the burn out lurking in my life, I remember those fans. Those that flip out so entirely over the characters, that their Christmas lists are loaded with Undertow stuff.
I don’t get to usually see fans outside of book events, but the other day I saw one reading my book, and what I saw filled me with determination to work even harder.
You see, I drive a school bus during the day, filled with my target audience. While I can only really see the tops of kids’ heads when I drive, I do have to walk to the back of the bus when I pull up to the middle school to unload. The other day, while I walked to the back of the bus to disengage a warning button, I saw one girl sitting and reading, oblivious to the fact that we were at the school. At first I didn’t pay much attention, but then I did a double-take.
I knew that font.
I knew that line.
She was reading STORMFRONT. I didn’t bother her, but kept going and unloaded the bus, but she hung back, sliding into the seat behind my driver’s one. “This is so unbelievably awesome,” she says to me. “I was up from, like, 8 to 11 last night reading. And I reread Undertow over the weekend, but OMG. I love this!”
I thanked her and blushed a tad, thrilled she was enjoying it.
At the end of the day, I drove her home with a bus full of half-crazed teens. I was focused on getting the kids home safely and not losing my mind, so I wasn’t really paying close attention to what she was holding as I unloaded at her stop. But as I saw her walk away, I realized she had gotten off with the book tucked under her arm. I watched, floored, as she walked towards her home, Stormfront in her hands as she read.
She wasn’t on her phone. She wasn’t hanging with the other kids and talking. She was lost inside my book, living alongside my fictional characters, reading as she walked. Suddenly that lurking burn-out vanished and I remembered why I write.
I do it for teens like her, who want to fall so entirely in love with a story that their own reality tumbles away.
I write for the fans, and in turn, they are my creative jolt.
They power me past the burn out.
They are my army and my saving grace . . . and I pledge my undying loyalty to their awesomeness.