There’s a big difference between writing Teen fiction, and writing for teens.
I’m only saying this as a preamble to what comes next, which is not meant to be provocative; simply that in the simple distinction above lies, for me, the absolute crux of good writing and bad writing.
Yes, I write teen fiction. But I do not write for teens. I write books that get published and are marketed at teens, but I do not write the books for them, or aimed at them, or with them in mind.
In every ‘dinner party’ situation I find myself in, when people find out what I do and want to know a bit more, I’m asked questions that go something like this; “But how do you get into the head of a modern teenager?” or “Who are your books aimed at?” And these are fair questions, but having been asked them enough times, and stumbling out some answers I didn’t really believe myself, I came to the realisation that I do not attempt to get inside the head of a modern teenager, nor do I aim my books at anyone. Anyone at all.
What I’m going to say next might sound arrogant, but I promise it isn’t: I don’t write for anyone else, I write for me. Why isn’t that arrogant? Because I believe that precisely the reverse is true – the arrogant thing would be for me, a 44 year old to assume that I know what a modern British 14 year old boy wants to read, or how an Australian 12 year girl thinks, or a German teen or a Brazilian or… You get the point. How could I possibly know those things? And this is really part of a much broader point – whenever anyone writes anything at all, teen, adult, horror, romance, sci-fi, they should be writing it for themselves, because to assume that any of us know what is desired in another’s head is an act of extreme arrogance.
So I write for me, and if there’s something youthful about my writing, it’s because, I believe, that those of use who write for children or teens are still deeply in touch with that part of their lives, in some part of their brain at least, and are seeking to understand it. At the most, then, I concede I might be writing for a part of me, one that is still thinking as I thought aged 16 or so.
Now, as it happens, it seems that my books work well for teens, or so I’ve been told, and I’m also often told that I don’t seem to patronise, or talk down to teens, and if that’s true, then you can guess why I believe that is – because to try and guess the mind of anyone else, adult or teen, is to patronise them.
That being said, I am realistic enough to know that what I’ve put in a first draft might need to be edited a bit, adjusted, changed – but I promise you that in all the edits I’ve ever made to a book, none of them, not one, was because I was thinking of my readers as young people, not adults – every change I’ve ever made in a redraft is towards one goal only – to make it a better book, no matter who reads it.
You should write the book you want to write, and do it as well as you can, with as much truth and passion and energy as you can. And when you’ve done that, you can then hope that something in it will be something that someone else might want to read, but at least you’ve been true to one person – yourself. And with that start, you might just have something.