And I’ve never taught physics grad students, and I’ve never written a doctoral-level monograph in history; but I would bet you good money that at least some of the difficulties in doing those things are not greater than the difficulties in teaching freshman physics lab or writing a history text for fourth through sixth graders but rather are different difficulties. Don’t believe me? You can go ahead and explain pogroms to a 9-year-old audience in words they understand, that will get the concept across with due gravity but without scaring the kid so badly that they have nightmares for weeks about man’s inhumanity to man. Also perform this task in less than 200 words, and also make sure that the words you choose will not offend parents, teachers, librarians, etc. either by their explicit nature or by their coy omissions. And remember that yours may be the very last reference to the subject they see until they take a history course in college, if ever. See what an easy romp that is — why, it must be! It is for the sweet little childrens!
Mrissa points in the direction of a larger truth, which is that writing for any specific audience requires skills that don’t always make themselves apparent on the casual read. However, writing for kids in particular is not easy, I’ll bet, for all the reasons Mrissa notes above: Not only to you have to satisfy the kids as readers, you also have to walk the tightrope satisfying the gatekeepers to the kids: parents, teachers, school boards and assorted busybodies who will aim to ban your book even though they haven’t bothered to read it. All of which makes YA lit even more full of hoops which must be jumped if one wishes to play in that arena. The only thing you get out of it as a writer is that if you’re lucky, you’re creating a lifelong reader through your work.
As it happens, not long after I finished Agent to the Stars I took the excess momentum I had after that and banged out several chapters of a YA attempt. Among other things, it convinced me that writing YAs was not just a happy side lark; if you’re going to do it, do it right. My friends Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier are examples of that; they both write YAs that I’d rather read more than a lot of adult novels that I’ve come across, because the work and skill is there.
The YA I began remains unfinished because — obviously — I have lots on my plate now as it is. I’d like to return to it one day (or start a different one), but I’d need to be able to make time to devote to it. Nevertheless, I thought it might be fun to post up the first chapter so those of you who want to see it can have a look. How is it? Eh. I liked it at the time (and I still like the overall story), but the better part of a decade on I can see quite a few things I’d choose to work on before it made it to release. It’s not nearly as good as Scott and Justine’s works, which comprise the quality benchmark to which I would need to aspire before I could feel comfortable doing YA.
It’s not horrible, mind you. It just needs work. But, as I said, it is a useful reminder to me that YA is work if you want to do it well. Perhaps it’ll be a useful reminder to you as well, should you feel that Young Adult writing is less craft-intensive than any other sort.
The chapter starts after the cut —