A few weeks ago, Gabby Lee asked me and Agay Llanera to give a talk in her Young Adult MA class. I was so excited to talk about what I love that I even found a way to skip my daughter’s field trip (sent someone else to go with her hehe) because I committed to this and I was so excited to talk in a classroom again — and a UP classroom at that. I’ve been to the University of the Philippines maybe like three times in my entire life and I couldn’t wait to be inside one of its classrooms (yes I’m a nerd like that).
But when Gabby sent us the questions, I was overwhelmed. Not only were they scholarly (well really, Ines, what did you expect? This was an MA class in creative writing) but there were questions asking how we dealt with YA not being considered a legitimate art form or legitimate literature. It made me sad but at the same time, I realized quite a few things about myself and my writing that I shared most emphatically in that class.
1. Who gives a *bleep* about fluff?
Agay and I like to say because we write YA romance, that’s a double whammy. First of all, people like to look down on romance, calling it all sorts of insipid names — fluff being one of them. But what more YA? Young adult fiction with its short sentences, simple words, fast pace, and juvenile target market. No way will this ever be considered literature.
If you want to go that route, my career has been nothing but fluff either. I used to be the editor of a teen magazine and a children’s magazine, and now I write YA romance. But really, despite my less than lofty and academic pursuits, I love what I do. As an editor of Candy magazine, I was able to interact with readers, give them advice on their problems, and write about what mattered to them. Now, as YA author, I still find myself doing that. Readers who could see themselves in my characters write me and tell me they too went through pain like that and if I were in their shoes, what would I do?
I take these things seriously. You can’t call this fluff. When a reader tells you that reading your book changed her life and made her feel that she can survive the heartache she is going through, that isn’t fluff. When a reader tells you she finally likes to read after reading your book despite years of parents and teachers pushing her to read, that isn’t fluff. When your heart is full because you can string words together to create a world bigger than yourself, that isn’t fluff.
And no matter what other people say, if this is what your heart wants to write, go for it.
2. It’s okay to be afraid.
The next thing I realized as I sat there giving tips on how to write YA fiction, was that the students were afraid.
I was afraid too. Heck, it took me 34 years before I finally wrote my first publishable book (all the others were stories I wrote as a child, stories I never finished). I told them not to wait that long!
I was writing since I was a child. So what held me back from actually putting my work out there? Sure, I wrote tons of feature articles, personal editor’s letters, and cover blurbs, but writing fiction was so close to my heart. And this was why I was scared. It was my biggest dream and if it didn’t work out, I knew the heartache would be even bigger. So I just didn’t do it at all.
I waited and pretended it wasn’t important to me, but when I found out Summit was publishing Chick Lit, my heart screamed. That was what I wanted to do. And I couldn’t understand how it seemed so easy for some people.
But see, I didn’t even try then. Instead, I did what I felt I could do. I offered to edit. This was a good move because I learned so much. But eventually, my brain got fed up and told my heart, “You can do this too! What are you waiting for?!”
It was only then that I turned on my laptop and wrote the words that would change my life.
3. Don’t expect perfection.
I also told them that they can’t and shouldn’t expect their first book or first story to be their best. They will and should only get better as they keep writing. It’s unrealistic to think your first work will be perfect. It won’t be. And that’s all right. It’s more than all right. Because you will write more and you will get better and you will continue to learn. But before any of that can happen, you have to start.
Stop thinking of what will come after. Stop thinking of your teachers’ reactions, your cover design, your reviews (good or bad). What matters is the story. You need to write it down. Get it out of your system. Work on making it the best story it can be then when you’ve done everything you can, release it into the world and let it go. The next step? Besides all the marketing stuff you need to do, is to move on to your next story, your next big dream.
There were many other questions, but these hit me the hardest. Because if I were sitting in that classroom, this is what I would have told my younger self. So if you are wondering if you should go for it, I say yes. Even if it isn’t writing. Listen to the clamor of your heart. What does it want you to do? Because it won’t rest until you’ve done it. And it’s tiring to keep running away from it. Believe me, I’ve had 34 years of practice but now there’s no turning back.