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Part of our responsibility as children's book writers is remembering what is important.

Hint: It is not our own ego.


I was on a panel with this very cool writer guy once. I’m going to call him Writer F. He was clever and witty and a good writer. Then we became Facebook friends.

He’s gay.

That’s important to this story, I promise.



So, a month or so ago he posted on his status update that he thought he should give it up as a writer. Why? He wasn’t on a list on someone’s blog for books that were awesome and written by gay people or had gay themes. He’s been on all sorts of lists before. He gets to be on panels. I mean, this is a guy who is respected.

But he was really upset. He felt slighted. He felt like he kept getting overlooked. So, I told him a story of how I’d been at a meeting for gay/lesbian/bi/ trans and questioning teens, and since I’m a writer one of the kids told me about a book he’d read. The book was by Writer F.

The boy told me that he has never taken out a gay-themed book from the library because he didn’t want to out himself. He hadn't even outed himself fully to himself yet. He was incredibly depressed, was barely making it through the school days. He felt miserable and alone. His only salvation was books. Straight kid books, he'd said.

Writer F’s book is not contemporary gay teen fiction. It’s a genre. It’s a genre the boy liked. And when he looked at the cover he had no idea that the main character, the hero, was gay and that he’d fall in love with another guy and that he’d have to battle bigotry along with evil, less human, monsters.

The boy took out Writer F's book. He read it in a night. He reread it the next day. The book gave him courage. The book helped him find the strength to believe in himself at a time when he was right at the brink of suicide.

He didn’t go that route.

Why?

Because of Writer F’s words. Because Writer Fwrote the kind of book that made a difference. In that book, Writer F took responsibility for his craft and for the kids that were going to be his readers. He wrote a world so real and compelling that it helped one very bright, very awesome boy to survive.

So, when Writer F was having his public meltdown on Facebook about not being on a list, I told him the story of the boy who survived because of him. And you know what he said?

He said, “Whatever. If it wasn’t me, it would’ve been some other book.”

He kind of missed the point. And despite his very brilliant, very responsible, very honest first book, I think he’s missing the point of being a writer, too.

Being a writer, especially a writer for teens and kids, isn’t about being on lists or winning amazing awards or even getting fan mail. All these things are awesome though. So, is getting an advance and a royalty. But in our rush for fame or glory or recognition we can lose sight of the fact that our one book can help one person.

That’s always been my goal as a writer although I’ve occasionally been ridiculously self pitying about not getting on some list. Anyways, I always thought that helping one kid would be the greatest success.

Think of what one book can do:

One book helping one person.

One book letting an abused girl escape her life and her pain for the duration of 300 pages.

One book letting a gay guy know that love and acceptance is possible.

One book letting an Asian girl know that she can be a hero.

One book letting a shy, quiet boy with epilepsy know that he is not alone.

 

That’s a big part of what being a writer is about. We have a responsibility to remember that.

If we don’t remember then our craft suffers, our stories suffer and our readers suffer.

Writing Prompt: Take a minute and think about why you're writing the book you're writing. Take a minute and think about your goals as a writer. Write down three of each.

-Carrie Jones

Comments

( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
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beckylevine
Jul. 21st, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, my god, Carrie. What an incredible post and story. Thanks so much for the reminder--we all need to hear it every now and then. HUGS!
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:50 am (UTC)
Thanks, Becky. And thanks for reposting it, too. That was so nice of you.
artistq
Jul. 21st, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC)
you are very wise!
I am going to share my answers.....
uh, I love you!
You are so right. I can see how it would be easy to focus on the list or the feeling of being left out. But the connection.. connection is always the thing.

I wasn't going to share the answers, since I think you were suggesting them just for ourselves, but I decided to anyway....
Why I am writing what I am writing....
1. I am writing a funny mg because I love the middle school age and I think there is always a need for a laugh.
2. My sense of humor is about 11 years old.
3. I was raised in a family that treasures laughter and I think it is good to spread immature sarcastic humor to all. (a cranky neighbor once called my mom "a grinning idiot" because she smiled all the time!

my goals as a writer.
1. create a well crafted, funny story.
2. publication..
3.. hope that publication = connection, because connection is always the thing!

Edited at 2010-07-21 04:02 pm (UTC)
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:50 am (UTC)
Re: you are very wise!
Those are all such good reasons, beautiful lady.
Re: you are very wise! - carriejones - Jul. 25th, 2010 01:51 am (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Jul. 21st, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
That was so touching. It brought me right back to what reading books has meant to me, especially as a child.
Thank you!

Claudine
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:51 am (UTC)
Thanks Claudine! I am so glad it did.
(Deleted comment)
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:51 am (UTC)
There is such a great solace there. I love books that do that.
kellyrfineman
Jul. 21st, 2010 04:56 pm (UTC)
Well said, Carrie. As per usual.
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:51 am (UTC)
Aw, thanks Kelly. xo
jennifer_j_s
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reminding everyone that books are lifesavers!
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
They really are, aren't they? They've saved me soooo many times.
dampscribbler
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
Wow, Carrie. That "Whatever...." Hit me like a slap in the face. I hope I'm never that stuck in self-pity that I fail to delight in touching one life.

My writing group leader once asked us to consider why we write, and I said the more compelling question for me is why we read. Because, ultimately, I write to be read, and if I don't ask what a reader wants, I think I hurt my chances of reaching readers.

Thanks so much for this post, and thanks for the questions. I will be writing down answers to those and keeping them where I can see them if I need reminders.
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
I know. That's how I felt when it happened!

That's a really good question, and a really good way to look at it.
mindel_73
Jul. 21st, 2010 05:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this Carrie. As usual, you have keen insight into the "ego trap." As a person who is just starting on this road, it is a good reminder.

Why I'm writing my book:
1)Because I have to.
2)Because if I talk about some of the unusual things that can happen to you, maybe they won't feel so unusual.
3)To tell a good story.

Goals as a writer:
1)To say something that will hopefully resonate and help people.
2)To hone my craft so that it maybe worthy of accolades.
3)And, if I am honest with myself, to make money off my pen so that I can eat and pay rent and go on a trip or two.
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
1 is the ultimate reason, isn't it?
I am so excited about your road!
mostly_irish
Jul. 21st, 2010 07:25 pm (UTC)
Well said and hells yes! And you're awesome.

And I feel bad for Writer F. He will never feel happy and satisfied by focusing on the less important. :(
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
You are so silly. Thanks for the awesome, though. ;)
I feel so badly for him too.
lkmadigan
Jul. 21st, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC)
But ... but ... he really said "Whatever"? Is he made of stone?

Lists and awards are really nice ... but my favorite part of this whole author thing is getting mail from teen readers.

If he didn't value that very concrete proof of his book's value, maybe he should give up and sell toasters or something.

carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:54 am (UTC)
Seriously. He said 'whatever.' It broke my heart.

I know! Isn't mail the best? I can't ever believe it's real when I get it. We're so lucky.
akamarykate
Jul. 21st, 2010 08:39 pm (UTC)
One book taught me that love, a sister's love for her little brother, can save a planet from evil.

And that "like and equal are not the same thing at all".

I have a lot of dreams about what will happen if the books I'm working on now ever get published--thank you for reminding me that all it takes is one reader to make a book worth writing.
rockinlibrarian
Jul. 21st, 2010 10:16 pm (UTC)
(You and I have the same life-altering-life-affirming book!)

Which brings me back to commenting on the main post, which is that it all reaffirms what I probably love best about young people's literature vs. adult lit-- kids books are much more likely to Completely Change Somebody's Life. Which makes them in the long run far more important than any Great and Important Work of Adult Lit, no matter what those cultured types who look down on kid lit think. (Not counting of course adult books that people read as teenagers-- THEN they still have a lot of power to be life-changing-- but adult authors weren't WRITING with those teens in mind, like a flat-out YA author might). Said book is STILL my Favorite Book of All Time, even though I've grown up and read all the Important Adult books that academic types have to read. It has had far more influence on my life.
(no subject) - carriejones - Jul. 25th, 2010 01:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - carriejones - Jul. 26th, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - carriejones - Jul. 25th, 2010 01:54 am (UTC) - Expand
carrie_boo
Jul. 21st, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
I don't understand why writer F wasn't just stunned with pride that his words helped change a boy's life. He was kind of a hero and he doesn't even see it. But I am so happy for that boy who was touched by his book. And I'm glad that you "get it" Carrie, and that there are other writers out there who "get it" like you too :)

Thanks for this!
Carrie
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:55 am (UTC)
I can't understand it either, Carrie. I really can't. I'm still happy for that boy, too, because it's Writer F's book that matters and that boy.
reneesweet
Jul. 21st, 2010 10:10 pm (UTC)
I <3 <3 <3 this post. This is so critical for all of us to remember. We need to know why we're writing when we begin our journey and we need to keep in touch with it along the way. It's so easy to be distracted but you've got it, Carrie--it's all about connecting with someone (at least for me). Writing a story that lights someone up inside, that makes them feel.

Thanks. :)
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:56 am (UTC)
Aw, thanks Renee Sweet of Awesome. I am so glad that you liked it. It IS so easy to be distracted. I just got distracted this week actually. *Sigh* xoxo
edgyauthor
Jul. 22nd, 2010 12:49 am (UTC)
He said whatever? Seriously?

Wow, I can't ever imagine reacting like that, because the only reason why I keep trying to get published is not for any potential awards or fame, but to reach readers. Ever since I was diagnosed with diabetes, I've wanted to see characters like myself in fantasy and always come up disappointed. As a result, it's been my mission to include characters with diseases and disabilities in my books so future readers won't have to feel the same. If I'm able to accomplish that with at least one reader, and even make them laugh, or perhaps even inspire them, then I can die a happy writer.
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)
He really did. I still can't believe it. I love that you have that as part of your mission. I am rooting for you, you know. ;)
achluomania
Jul. 22nd, 2010 07:17 am (UTC)
I completely agree, Carrie. :] As an aspiring author I can honestly say that my motivation for writing is to potentially make a difference in someone's life. Reading has been an escape for me for as long as I can remember, and as a 16 year old girl that hasn't changed. I've read books that have given me personally the strength to go on for a few more days, and books that have given me the courage to change. Books are gateways to new possibilities that we haven't explored!

As for the prompt, I'd like to share my answers.

I'm writing my book because:
1) I love to write. As simple as it is, it's what I want to do for the rest of my life, even if I can't get published.
2) I want to help people the way other authors have helped me through their writing.
3) I think writing is a way to show the world for what it really is. Even if a book is about pixies and werewolves or angels and demons, it can still show how bigotry effects people, what it's like to be a social outcast, and, as mentioned in your post, how to deal with being different.

My goals as a writer are:
1) To get published, and soon! I want to show people that even though I'm young, I can still achieve things. Most adults don't realize what teens are capable of.
2) To make a difference to someone, no matter who they are or how I did it. Even if they didn't like what I wrote, I want them to be able to get something out of it.
3) To make my writing as realistic as possible (for said writing). And I don't mean no magic or anything, I mean I want to show that there are terrible things in the world and great things in the world, and everything in between.

Well, I feel like I've written an excessively long comment... So I apologize :] Great post. I'm glad to see that authors/aspiring authors aren't only in it for the awards in money, but are in it for their readers.
carriejones
Jul. 25th, 2010 01:59 am (UTC)
It wasn't exceptionally wrong; it was exceptionally awesome!

And I am so glad you're writing and that you want to give back. And I love everything about this comment!

You are amazing.

xoxo
(no subject) - achluomania - Jul. 25th, 2010 02:02 am (UTC) - Expand
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