Tuesday, March 3, 2015

All Kids Have a Story To Tell! Go Write Yours! by Hilary Wagner

I remember being in middle school and being so genuinely in love with my crush-of-the-month that I thought I might literally die — and I mean fall over, grab my heart and die a horrible death. I also remember thinking my family knew absolutely nothing about life (and I mean zero). My mother was the only mother at my school who wouldn't let her daughter (i.e. me) wear the same cool clothes other girls wore and my older brother only existed to mortify me and me alone. I was also pretty much sure I was the only girl on the planet who had to put up with such rampant injustices on a daily basis.

Okay, I'm all grown up now, and I know none of the above is true (except maybe the brother part), but I still remember those feelings—how strong they were and how I truly believed them at that time in my life. I suppose what I'm trying to say is when we're young the feelings about all the things mentioned above run deep. Deep enough, that some good writing could tumble out of you if you let it.

It doesn't have to be the sort of writing that turns into your first published novel, just writing that makes you feel. Writing that lets me, as the reader, know who you are—what you're going through. Why it's important to you.

When I wrote NIGHTSHADE CITY, that was a key element for me — pulling from those gut-wrenching middle grade days, when everything was so intensified. You may not realize it now, in fact you may feel the exact opposite about your life, but as a would-be writer, you are very lucky. If I so clearly remember those long gone days now, just think how you can pull from them being that you're still living in them! The worst thing a writer can hear is that his or her characters are contrived or not believable. When you think about it, we all love the books we love because we believe in them—they are real to us. When we read them, they become our reality. We feel exactly like those characters—and all those books were written by adults (boring moms and dads like me), so just think what a smart tween or teen could come up with! You could write what grown up authors write, only in real living color because you're living it!

 Writing this, I wish I could go back and start over. That whole, "If I only knew then what I know now," expression keeps rolling through my head. I should have kept up with my writing when I was younger instead of wondering for months on end if Chaz Mulroney was going to ask me to the school dance. (He didn't ask me to the dance. But he's bald now, with a gut, and my husband is super cute so things worked out very well!)

More and more brilliant kid writers are getting noticed, getting praise, and yes, I'm saying it, getting published!! You don't have to be published to be a great young writer, but it certainly puts things in perspective. All those out-of-control emotions do count for something, and in some weird way, maybe those feelings make it possible for dreams to come true! A dream you may not have even known you had. When I was a teenager, I sure didn't know being a writer was my dream — but here I am now — living it!

So, my question — or maybe my challenge — is why aren't you giving it a shot? Do you really want to sit around for days and days pining over a guy named Chaz? ;)
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  1. Wonderful invitation to young writers!

    (I was the mortifying older brother, by the way--but I think my sister has forgiven me. Almost.)

    1. Ha! I bet you were! My brother is still that way! :)

  2. Hilary, love this post! It made me laugh and cringe remembering all those awkward tween moments and days when everything was do or die and black and white. I'm re-reading my diaries from that period to immerse myself in that age again for writing from a tweens voice (and am laughing and cringing all over again for my sad, silly, naive, awkward young self).

    This also SO speaks to the assembly presentation I'm putting together for kids - and trying to inspire them that they are just as qualified as grown ups to write (maybe better because their creativity isn't all bogged down with icky grown up stuff!).

    And YAY for picking the right guy :)

    1. Emotions run so deep when we're young. I'm glad I didn't keep diaries back then. I'd be mortified to read them! :)

  3. Thanks for sharing a bit of yourself today, Hilary.

    While I'm an only child, I had my hands full dealing with my family, who I often feel are the oil to my being water, hard to mix well, but I'll not go there today to keep positive (Yesterday was a "Garfield" kind of Monday...)

    I'm certainly glad I first wrote "GABRIEL" when I was 16, and yes, it's been a LONG, emotional, tear-stained road to get it to where it is now, soon to be published!

    The more I learned/read about books from the writer's mindset, and realized how few male characters in fiction broke out of various gender and/or ethnic stereotypes, it made me all the more determined to publish Gabriel, which (I hope) inverts male stereotypes and give boys and young men who felt like me had a friend they could identify with-

    Someone who is introverted, but NOT a hermit.
    Takes pride in being smart without needing to be a "Type A" braggart.
    Sensitive without being a pushover.

    The hardest thing for me (beyond the technical stuff writing wise, and learning about publishing) was three-dimensionalizing Gabriel's frenemy (Friend+Enemy), Rum.

    While we often warn each other as writers about not coming off didactic or preachy, it is important to let our present selves inform our work for the better.

    Only as the adult I became (as I got to the final version of Gabriel that sold in 2012) did I empathize with Rum as much as I did Gabriel, and gave his character the depth and layered respect he deserved as much as Gabriel.

    I wouldn't have had the maturity and empathy to round out Rum (my antagonist) to be more than just a two-bit thug without tapping into my present perspective.

    I since learned that those who bully can often be as much a victim of mistreatment as those they torment. Doesn't make it right, of course, but you do better get where it comes from. Rarely is it for sadistic "fun" of it (Batman's Joker, anyone?)

    After all, Judas didn't know he'd grow up to be the betrayer of Jesus, right?

    Or (for a non-religious example) Nicodeamus (from "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH) didn't know what his falling out with Jasper would lead to on the grand scale of things.

    Ironically, I did loosely (and I do mean mean loosely!) base Gabriel and Rum's friendship dynamics off theirs, but goes a far different direction.

    1. Taurean, thanks so much for sharing a little about your writing. Rats of NIMH was such a powerful book for me. I think it had a great impact on many a young writer! :) Go Gabriel!

  4. Thanks for sharing this! I agree that we love the books that become real for us!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!