Hi everyone - I hope you're having a nice Monday so far. I've been in two minds as to whether I should write this post for a few days, but after some encouragement from Twitter pals I've finally decided to go ahead and talk one more time about the issues brought up by the Wall Street Journal's article 'Darkness Too Visible' (which I have no intention of linking to again - they don't need any more publicity) and the #yasaves hashtag.
I'm really going to TRY to avoid letting this turn into a giant rant but...well, cut me a little slack, OK?
If you look at the ridiculously comprehensive YA Highway round-up, you can see the scale of the response that came from readers and authors everywhere about this. It was exhilarating and heart-warming to be caught up in such a groundswell of love for YA novels, and such honesty about how they have changed and saved lives.
However, after that initial reaction over the weekend, I noticed that there was a little mini-backlash happening against the idea of #yasaves. Not from the people you might have expected - journalists defending their right to rip YA to shreds even if they'd never done a speck of research, or parents defending their right to read over their children's shoulders and sheild them from dark topics in fiction. No. The backlash came from authors.
The substance of the reaction against #yasaves came in two parts. First of all, some authors stated that they felt uncomfortable with #yasaves because they didn't want people to fall back into that all-too-common belief that books for young adults needed to contain some kind of moral lesson. That YA exists to teach or preach. These authors pointed out that they don't sit down and think: 'Now to write a novel which will teach youngsters the value of honesty and self-belief, haha!' They just wrote the stories they loved and filled them with characters they believed in. They just tried to create art.
I totally sympathise with that reaction. If, by reading a story and by following along with a character's choices, a young person is able to make their own mental and emotional connections, to take away essential truths and be transformed? I'm ecstatic about that. But I'm under no illusions - that is a reader teaching THEMSELVES. I'm not a teacher. I'm a writer. What I do is in many ways selfish. I write to please myself, not to educate anyone else. I just want to tell stories, and that's all I've ever wanted. If I let myself get too tangled up in the idea of being some huge moral influence on my readers I'll probably shrivel up into a pruney mess of insecurities and die.
The other part of the backlash was more extreme. It was anger, directed against everyone involved in #yasaves - even, presumably, the readers who had dared to share their stories. This part of the backlash shrugged off the very idea of #yasaves with a contemptuous snort, stated that saving anyone was not a writer's job, that it was too big of a burden to place on a writer, and the whole idea is ridiculous or presumptuous or some other word ending in 'ous' which expresses how much they loathed the thought of their books changing a reader's life.
And you know what? To those writers I say: Put on your big person pants and stop your damn whining.
You don't want your books to save anyone? It's too big a burden? Don't put that on you? Just what and who do you believe you are?
Every human being on the planet has the ability to change another person's life, for better or worse. You don't get to opt out of that by becoming a writer, dude. If that's what they told you when you signed up, I'm afraid they lied.
If you were only writing for your own satisfaction you wouldn't have queried, got an agent, sold the book and seen it published. You wanted people to read it. You fought and struggled and strove for them to read it. Therefore you have taken on the burden voluntarily.
Thousands of people get up every morning and head out to lives where they can influence, change and even save others. The obvious ones like members of the armed forces, police officers, firemen, rescue workers, doctors and nurses, get lauded for this. But the same is true for teachers, social workers, librarians, customer service operators, traffic wardens, bus drivers and - guess what? - that homeless guy asking for change on the corner. It's what being human is about.
Maybe it's as dramatic as lunging out into traffic to save a little boy from an oncoming bus. Or maybe it's just offering the girl crying on the bus a tissue, or having a conversation with the lady on the checkout about her dog and making her laugh. Maybe it's offering a friend a shoulder to cry on - or blowing that friend off because you're not in the mood. It could be ignoring the little old lady who dropped her shopping, accidentally tripping up the workman as he passes by you or giving that policeman the finger when he stops you for speeding. All these things influence and change the lives of those we come into contact with.
Yes, authors work in a kind of vacuum where many days of the week it's just them and their invented characters. Yes, we write because we want to create art. Yes, we write to please ourselves. But when you're done your work goes out into the world and it touches people. It moves them, annoys them, entertains them - and saves them. if you're honestly saying the very idea that your work might do that is anathema to you? You're in the wrong profession kiddo. 'Cos that's what books - what any form of art - DOES.
I'm not saying you have to care. You don't. You can just keep on writing what you want to write without ever reading a review, responding to a reader email or answering a fan's questions. You can tell yourself that your books aren't important, if that's what you need to believe to write them. You can pretend that no one but you will ever read it, even as you're pressing the send button to email it to your agent.
But if you turn around to your readers and say they have no right to react however they damn well please to your work? That they shouldn't laugh or cry or get angry or be changed or saved by it?
Frankly, it makes me hope that you'll stop writing right now, no matter how talented you are.