Saturday, 6 November 2010

Age and Guilt

Today is my birthday! I'm not going to reveal the absurdity of my age, instead I'm writing about a more relevant topic - character and reader age.

There's this strange stigma I've found between the age of characters and how writers are represented. For some reason, adults that write YA are seen as trying to relive their youth, not as credible as adult fiction writers and/or can't be read by anyone other than teenagers. This stereotype has got to be one of the most degrading, wrong, and illogical things I’ve ever witnessed.

It’s degrading, because any writer that has managed to publish a book, or any work in fact, is in no way untalented or irrelevant. Writing children’s books is an art form. I have the utmost respect for any writer that writes or publishes books, regardless of their age or their readers’ age.

It’s wrong, because there is nothing that says books aimed at teenagers can’t be sophisticated and cutting edge and gripping and a whole number of other words that emphasise YA having same appeal as general fiction. The teenage years are all about discovering yourself, finding your identity, experimenting with anything and everything and growing up. Everybody has been through it, and everybody can relate to it. Whether you’re 15 or 50, everybody knows that being a teenager is no hard task. So why would having a teenage protagonist make any difference to the reader’s appreciation of a text? Some photographers say that it’s not the camera you use, but the photographer taking the picture. It’s exactly the same convention in writing. It’s not the character age or audience, it’s the writer writing about or for them.

Finally, it’s illogical. Does anybody remember Harry Potter? The Hunger Games? Who could forget Twilight, of all things? All wildly successful books, with both children and adults, which came under what branch of fiction? That’s right – YA. There is solid proof that it isn’t anything to do with the character’s involved or age as to why a book is a good read; it’s the writing contained in the text that makes it a best seller.

Another age related topic is the age of the author. Christopher Paolini wrote Eragon when he was fifteen. He finished editing and redrafting the book a year or so later, then self-published, before touring in schools, libraries and anywhere else he could find to promote the book. No author who goes to such lengths to work for their book should ever be pulled up short because of age. There was a reason it was later re-published and went on to sell over twenty million copies. Anybody who has the audacity to criticise that simply over age doesn’t deserve to criticise Paolini in the first place.

Another recent example would be sixteen year old Steph Bowe. On her blog Hey! Teenager of the Year, she explains how targeted she feels by the critics who evaluate her book on the basis of her age, rather than her talent. In publishing, there are no acceptances for age. You either have the talent to be accepted by a publisher or you don’t. Clearly, Bowe did, and has received great reviews for her novel Girl Saves Boy. Why age would even factor into that is beyond me.

So there it is. Never judge authors, writers or readers on the books they write and read. It’s irrelevant. Everybody has their tastes. Some people – like myself – love gritty dystopia. Some people crave heartbreaking romances. Some people like everything, and some people don’t. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, I get that. But how they can even dare to criticise somebody who has earned their publishing credentials fair and square (despite whatever age they or their characters may be) truly amazes and horrifies me.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a book by age. It’s that simple.

Now, onto a NaNo related topic.

I will admit that this week, I had a falter in my schedule. I left the house on Wednesday morning at 7:50AM. I didn’t get back until 8PM. I was exhausted, and all I wanted to do was curl up in bed for a few hours and read a book. So, that was what I did.

I could have felt awful about this. I could have forced myself to sit at the computer and get those words written, despite my eyes dropping, my fingers making mistakes every few seconds and my bed calling to me mere metres away. But surprisingly, I didn’t. And looking back on it, I know why.

That terrible flaw that made me miss my daily 2500 on my NaNo? It’s called being human. Everybody is entitled to it, including you. There are some days where you just have to take a break. And Wednesday was one of them for me. Knowing this means I won’t feel guilty over the words lost, because I know I’ll sit down tomorrow and make them up, as well as my total for this weekend and then some. Weekends are my write-a-thon days, and I have no doubt that it will get done. As long as there is something there, it’s fine to miss a day or two. Nobody but you will condemn yourself for it, and even then, you’ll be stricter than anybody else.

You are your own worst critic. Embrace it. It’s extremely useful during editing.

But learn the different between motivation and blindly struggling through something you don’t want to do. Writers block and pure exhaustion are normal. Forcing yourself to do something that will never benefit you or your health isn’t. Learn that difference. It might just get you through this November.

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