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How old are you anyway?

25. January 2007

‘Write what you know’ is one of those overused mantras in writing. So is ‘write from the heart’. A lot of people’s inclinations (mine included) is that you can’t take the what-you-know thing too literally. Research can be done, and after all, you constantly write about people/situations/time periods you don’t have a personal account of, do you?

but maybe there is another point to it. I’ve had this discussion recently (on the train, as you do) about writers of YA books. And how I, as a general rule, dislike YA books written by mothers of teens and/or teachers of teen grades. Why? because they just don’t ring true to me. They often sound too stilted, too trying to be cool.
I’m sorry, but just because you happen to run a b n’b (whether school or home) for teens does *not* put you in touch with teen life, issues and what they’re really like.
Now, I’m certain I’ve read YA books by people in that age bracket that I’ve enjoyed, but not because of their occupation/living in a research habitat, but *despite* it.
I believe in order to write a certain age, you need to be able to act that age. it’s like mental maturity or something. If you’re no longer in synch with your inner teen, it’s much harder to pull it off.

If you are writing YA, or thinking about it, ask yourself. Do you connect with what’s hot right now? Do you follow the lingo? Do you appreciate pop trash? Are you down with music trends, do you understand the clothes?
Where were you in your teens? Were you popular? Were you a geek?
And one of the things that always grates on me is the lack of techno gadgets in a lot of teen novels. Hello? We’ve evolved past cell phones and casual mentions of iPods. Some people use IM in their books. IMing is the new talking on the (landline) phone. Text messaging. Online gaming. Why don’t we see those more often?
because a lot of writers grew up before the tech overstimulation.

Maybe it’s just me, but I much prefer YA books written by people who are still around that maturity level. They bring a natural language to the game, a certain flow that rings true. These people *could* have teen children/teach at school, but most don’t. Most haven’t grown up themselves.

What’s my point? Maybe not write what you know, but act your age and write appropriately.

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