My training to be a writer of teen fiction consisted of the following:
1.Being a teenager. Great fun, but definitely not for sissies. Rampaging hormones, social pressures, horrific fashion mistakes . . . My teen years were mainly spent trying, unsuccessfully, to copy hairstyles of famous female pop figures. However, I did manage to make some truly profound observations of teenage-hood. It’s just too bad I didn’t understand them until years later.
2.Writing. All the time, anytime. While I was growing up, you would find underneath my bed, among the detritus of discarded clothes and cookie wrappers, several spiral notebooks full of short stories, unfinished novels, elaborate doodles for future tattoos, and a comprehensive thesis on who was the cutest member of Duran Duran. I didn’t realize I was preparing for a career, but all that practice made writing feel comfortable–almost like a reflex (which, coincidentally, is a song by Duran Duran). Later, I received degrees in English and Journalism, which also helped, but not as much as regularly jotting down my thoughts.
3.Living. I’ve visited many beautiful places in the United States, Mexico, and Europe, and whenever I meet new people, be it in a foreign marketplace or local coffee shop, I realize how remarkably diverse everyone is–and how very dull I am in comparison. But I also realize I can draw on these experiences to use in books. Even the various odd jobs I’ve held have in some way prepared me as a writer. The editorial assistant position taught me how to type really fast. Clerking in libraries and bookstores exposed me to all kinds of great writing. My jobs as a nursery school teacher and host for a cable TV show both taught me how to quickly make stuff up on the spot–either to entertain a crying child or to fill up airtime while someone figured out what was unplugged. But it was my years as a middle-school English teacher that proved most valuable. Although much of it was spent trying to convince 14-year-olds that “definitely” has no “a” in it, it also gave me priceless insight into teen life. I might have learned more from my students than I taught them.
Other writing aids:
–Cups of extra strong Columbian Supremo with cream and an eensy bit of sugar. Every year I personally see to it that the coffee industry earns record profits.
–Unflappable family members who don’t get mad or call 911 when I stay in my office for hours, typing and muttering to myself.
–Wonderful friends who love me for the flibbertigibbet that I am. These people don’t mind when I call them up in a caffeine-induced frenzy, reading aloud sections of my draft and asking oddball questions.
–Time spent not writing. When I’m not plugged into the computer, I refuel by reading great books, watching cool films and irreverent cartoons, twisting myself into yoga positions, and hanging out with above-mentioned friends and family.