Another thought-provoking post from Hannah Moskowitz (via Nathan Bransford’s Twitter feed), this one on whether/how the internet blogging/writing community is changing the nature of YA: “Are we getting too self-referential to be relevant?” she asks, among other things.
To put it plainly, I’m starting to wonder if YA is turning into something written by/for the internet community under the guise of writing for everyday teenagers, and that who likes you on the internet is more important to your career–or, if not to your career, to your psyche and your perception of your success–than if teenagers are picking up your book.
She also asks, “how closely does our taste reflect that of an actual teenager?” and brings up the thought that “it looks to me like we’re letting it become books about teenagers and for adults rather than about teenagers for teenagers, and the way we’re going, I don’t think that’s going to change.”
All interesting points. With 76 comments in response, I didn’t feel I had the time to read the whole discussion. But I did want to post a few musings of my own, because I’m prickly that way. And speaking of the “not having time” issues, that was one of my reactions: The social aspects of the community are something I love–it’s friendly, it’s open and it’s not out to be exclusive or divisive–but in reference to Hannah’s (very valid) question about whether we spend so much time on our kidlitosphere community that we’re ultimately writing for one another, to impress or entertain one another and only secondarily for an elusive teenage audience we may or may not be connecting with….well.
I can’t speak for others, but honestly, it’s ALL I CAN DO to stay on top of just writing the damn books and revising them and doing everything directly connected to trying to get them published or marketed, and then add to that my other freelance projects which take up a lot of time but are necessary because, hey, an income is good; and then the occasional (bi-weekly, if I’m lucky) blog post and, again if I’m lucky, a weekly perusal of a handful of blogs….I mean, it makes me feel like I’m not even a valid member of the community, for one thing. But I also DON’T feel like I’m writing these just to please my peers rather than a potential teen audience. I hate to sound like an idealist, but I’m hardly even writing these to please the teen audience–I’m writing my stories because those are the stories that come out. (And teenagers happen to come out frequently in my stories because a) I never stopped reading YA, b) YA and children’s books influenced my thinking heavily as I was growing up, and c) I am hopelessly immature in many ways.)
Maybe it’s because of my fine art background and because I’m steeped in the “art for art’s sake” philosophy, but it’s a lot more useful and productive for me to be a little removed from what others are doing. To look at it–to read voraciously–to learn from it what I can, and then let it go. And only THEN, pick up my pen (or keyboard) and go. It’s a doubly good strategy for me personally because I have a terrible habit of comparing my work (usually unfavorably) with the work of others, and that’s a sure-fire way to keep me from getting any valuable creative work done.
The other reaction I had to this piece was admittedly a little more nit-picky….in response to the statement about writing books about teenagers but for adults, I couldn’t help thinking that YA, in the grand scheme of the literary landscape, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Even when I was growing up, with most of my heavy YA reading taking place in the late 80s and early 90s, there were far fewer “young adult” books, though the number was growing rapidly already. Even thirty-five, forty years ago you had children’s books, Judy Blume, and then you “graduated” to adult books. Adolescence only started to be formally studied in the 1940s, and for all intents and purposes was “invented” in the modern era. And so, even the fact that we can pose the question of whether YA books are written with teenagers sufficiently in mind is, in a sense, progress.
And so I’m actually fairly optimistic about this. That is, if we as writers continue to write with awareness of WHO we want to reach, as well as remaining true to the stories we want to tell, I think we’ll muddle through OK. I’m happy to leave it up to historians or librarians or literature PhD’s to do the classification and analysis. Speaking for myself–my job, in this life, is just to create.