I recently posted this Paolo Coelho quote on my Facebook page: "Don't try to be useful. Try to be yourself."
I don't know about you, but I think I've spent an awful lot of time trying to be useful. In fact, after my debut, BREATHING, came out I remember thinking something along the lines of, "Okay, I've got my foot in the publishing door now, but to stay here I'd better make myself useful." And I then proceeded to write according to what I thought would please "the publishing community," whether that meant my editor or agent or librarians or teachers or award committees, etc. I thought maybe I should try to write more like Laurie Halse Anderson, who writes about important issues, or more like my friend, Jandy Nelson, who uses language in such incredibly beautiful ways or like so many other authors whose work offered something of value.
It's taken me a lot of years and a ton of heartache to realize I'm barking up the wrong tree. BREATHING was published because it was all me. It wasn't trying too hard. It just was. And manuscripts I wrote after that weren't published because they were me trying to be anyone but me.
I recently finished a middle grade manuscript that I had a blast writing. It was fun because it wasn't trying to be anything other than it is and because it bubbled up from inside me all on its own. Maybe it'll get published. Maybe it won't. But I know I am a whole lot happier writing this way.
So my turning point, my bit of growth to share with you on this sunny spring morning, is all about being oneself and remembering to value that. I think it's a lesson we learn in many ways. It's a lesson our young adult characters often learn as well. I'm hoping I've finally got it figured out. But if I don't, and I falter, hopefully some of you will remind me!