The majority of teens are not geeks, driven to learn for learning’s sake. They go to school to meet their own intrinsic needs. For most adolescents, a group that is developmentally driven to prioritize peer friendships, the need met by school is strictly social.
Enter COVID, virtual school, quarantining, and what do you get? A whole lot of kids deep in the hole of academic fail: refusing to get on Zoom, stacking up missed assignments, watching their grades plummet.
I’m the most privileged young adult author on the planet. It took me ten years to write my first book, Dead Inside, but during that ten years, I taught high school English. Cha-ching! I used my work-in-progress as a textbook. Translation: my 958 beta-readers were real, live teens, I got feedback from them five days a week, and they trusted me enough to be honest. Whoa, Nelly, were they honest. I’ve boiled their lessons down to four key points on how to write killer-engaging YA; read on to let my students school you.
If you want your book to be…
If you build it, they will come” is the biggest crock of shit ever foisted. The second biggest is my own mental script: “If I write it, The New York Times bestseller list will come.”
*EHNT* Wrong answer.
How do I know? Because if that mess was true, my first title, Dead Inside, would have been topping that list. Seriously. It ticks all the boxes:
Right. So you’re memoir-motivated. You’ve lived through something intense, something different, and readers will find it fascinating. You’re off to a great start with that hella-interesting story, but you’ve got to keep your readers riveted with your writing style. How you gonna do that?
Well, pop quiz. Which is more exciting: riding a rollercoaster, or watching someone else ride a rollercoaster? Yeah, duh. Same principle. To keep readers glued to the page, you write so they’re living the rollercoaster, not watching it. Here’s how.
Let’s say you’re in a dynamic where you know, you know, that everyone has banded together in dislike of you. Could be your job, your neighborhood, or wherever you’re stuck spending a ton of time. It’s clear they talk smack about you. They’re united in making fun of your looks, your voice, your clothes, your walk, your everything. But you don’t know why.
And you’re the only one in the joint who’s connected to nobody. Zero friends. It’s the whole place versus you.
Now imagine they’re all in a room, these former friends of yours, and they don’t know you’re…
So you’ve got this life, and it’s an interesting one. It’s taught you a few things, and you’d like to share them with the rest of us. An itchy voice is playing on repeat in your brain: “You need to write a memoir!”
I had that itch, and I scratched it. The result? My self-published memoir landed me on NPR. Then it got me an agent, a two-book publishing deal, and multiple awards. Fast forward a few years and I’ve earned out my advance and Hollywood came calling. And it all started with a humble list.
Nice for me, but…
Vanity is party-neutral. I don’t go to my salon to be in a safe space with my comrades. I go because I want good hair, but I don’t want to pay the “Would you like a wine spritzer?” tax.
I made that mistake when I first landed in Carolina. I thought I’d find my groove at the chi chi joint in the college town that shared my values. You know the drill. Coffee Shoppe, indie bookstore, niche pizza. The cut and color matched my mortgage payment. On a non-union teacher’s salary? Unsustainable.
It was my dog walker — tight shorts…
When I was in college, I had the coolest professor. She taught history and politics with early hip-hop culture, when the human beatbox and breakdance cardboard were tools of the revolution. She taught philosophy through a book — a zine, practically — called Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing. That book introduced me to DIY as a commitment, a lifestyle. Do It Yourself, ironically, has led to my success in getting big-house published.
Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing introduced me to DIY as a lifestyle choice. The punk iteration of DIY — Do It Yourself — has nothing to…
You a Madonna fan? If yeah, you know the lyrics. They’re from “Burning Up,” from her black-rubber-bracelet/saggy-cotton-hairbow phase. Madonna kept it real. She wasn’t like the others. She had no shame. And neither should you if you’re a memoirist. I’ll give you four good reasons why.
If you want your memoir to be the one on The Hot List, you’ve gotta put your dirtiest laundry out there. The bleakest, nastiest, most humiliating scenes from your life need to land on that page. That’s what people will pay for because that’s what’s in short supply: brutal honesty.
I’ve read that authenticity…
Am I the only one who hates a con artist? Okay, that was rhetorical. Do over. Am I the only one who recognizes a con artist when she sees one?
That answer’s not so obvious, my friend. Prepare to learn there’s no Santa.
We’ve been laughing at the dupe who gets flimflammed since forever. Bugs Bunny had his trench coat full of snake oil in the 1940s. Mick Jagger told us, “Every man is the same, c’mon. I’ll make you a star” back in ’81. We’re soooo sophisticated nowadays, with our digital Encyclopedia Britannica’s in our pockets and our Snopes…