Collected Wisps of Thought

{July 3, 2007}   Why I Write for Teens

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the past. Specifically my teenage years. Most adults could probably say they hadn’t thought about this time period in ages… but not me. When you’re a writer for teens, you spend a lot of time accessing those emotions.

What’s strange is that this is the career I’ve ended up with. You see, my teenage years were definitely NOT the best in my life. If you’re a teen reading this, don’t listen to the people who will tell you this is the happiest time in your life — no! The world is huge and there is so much more out there waiting for you. So many teens have to grit their teeth and get through the intense highs and lows of high school as a rite of passage that allows them to then move on to other areas where they can be happy.

When I was a teen, I was definitely ready to move on. I’d hated school since kindergarten and that’s a lot of years to have to do something you can’t stand. I was absolutely determined to leave those years behind and never look back. When choosing a college (much to my parent’s dismay) my one and only criteria was that it be out of state. I went through college and then through volunteer service and for a while, I really did feel like I had a new life. I was a completely new person unencumbered by the past.

But then…

As I get older, I’m beginning to believe that anything left unresolved in your life will come back to you later on. I’ve seen it happen way too many times. Little by little, those teenage years have crept back in. The friend that I lost touch with when I moved away. The first unrequitted love I pined over for years but never had the courage to find out why he hadn’t liked me back. The guy who had an unrequitted crush on me (who’s now my wonderful husband!). The other friends you hear from one by one. And most importantly the emotions. The unworthiness, the intensity, the awkwardness, the sibling rivalry, the longing for more out of life, the desire to please or maybe to push away…

These are the reasons I write for teens. The teen years are powerful ones and they’re full of experiences that shape who you’ll become and how you’ll see the world for the rest of your life. For many of us, you can try to leave them behind, but they won’t let you go. For better or worse, sometimes both at once, they’re part of what makes us who we are. Chances are, if you try and escape them they’ll revisit you anyway in some other form.

Writing for teens gives me a chance to capture the emotions of this time on the page. If I do my job right, I can take those years and reveal them to the reader. I can say, “Look, you are not alone. We are all the Fat Kid.” Or maybe I can say, “Yes, the world is broken and unfair, but there’s good out there too. Hang on a little longer.” Or just maybe I can help someone resolve something now so that it won’t haunt them later.

There are times when I wonder why in the world I have this job — a job that requires me to go back into schools (which literally can still make my stomach churn), and that ties me even closer to a past I was so desperate to get away from — yet when I think about teens today, specifically the ones like me who can’t wait to graduate and move on with their lives but must first make it intact through this tumultuous time, I’m grateful I have this job. And for all that I complain about my teenage years coming back to haunt me, the reality is, it’s part of what makes me a good writer. 

I write for teens because I remember.

For better or worse, I remember…


et cetera