One of the primary tenets of writing that I’ve learned over the last few years is the importance of writing for yourself, first. Good readers can tell when a book or a short story is written out of love and interest and dedication, and one that is forced, contrived, or tossed out to meet someone else’s expectations.
When I first started working on this snowmobiling story, the intent was to provide a short novel for my reluctant teenage readers that was based on their interests: snowmobiling, outdoors, survival stories, true stories. I’m using Crabbe and Hatchet a little as models, as well as my observations of local teenage individuals and their experiences.
Yesterday, I had some of those reluctant readers take a look at the unfinished draft, both to get their feedback AND because they’d forgotten their independent study novels at home.
Their first and main reactions were dismay at the pages of words I’d given them — “Aw, man, so many words. I don’t wanna read words.” They enjoyed seeing some of their slang in print — “Look, she’s been listening!” — and liked some of the descriptions, but they lost interest by page three. One said there was too much talking, and another said too much happening, and a third said not enough.
As disheartening as this was, I realized today that I’m actually really invested in this story, now. As difficult as it was for me to get into at first, working with a genre and style that’s unfamiliar to me, I really want to know how it turns out. I’m not sure how well any of it is working — the voice, the details — and I want it to be something that my former teacher and the esteemed writer William Bell would enjoy reading and recommend to people who like his books. I want Gary Paulsen to read it and say, “Yes, this works.” I guess I’m looking for reassurance that I’m on the right track.
I’m also about 5,000 words behind in my word counts at this point.
So, I guess the bottom line is this: I started writing something for others, and it’s turned into something for myself. Despite the change in my goal, I’m still feeling nervous and inadequate on this, even more so than with other works I’ve done. It will feel good to finish this. Even better if I can get someone in my class to read it and tell me they like it. Hell, if the kids I’m writing for are able to read it from start to finish, without giving up, I’ll have done something right.