I like to retweet things about writing that speak to me…I actually find Twitter inspiring when it isn’t a giant billboard or time suck. This week I stumbled across a tweet that made me think:

Try to know your target person when writing and who you are writing for. Even if that’s you. =) …Your Writing Vision

I won’t state the author of this tweet only because I think I may have offended her/him in the conversation that followed, which was never my intention, so out of respect I will keep that person’s Twitter handle out of this conversation. But when I retweeted it, I expressed some discomfort with this advice. I don’t disagree entirely…certainly as writers we must serve our readers…but my key question was, doesn’t story come first? How can I know who I am writing for until I write my story and figure out what story I am telling?

It’s a big question and, as at least one person pointed out, well beyond the scope of Twitter’s 140 character limit. In my conversation with the original poster, her/his comment was that you can’t, for example, write an erotic thriller and then market it to middle grade. Which, again, is totally and completely valid. But that’s not a writing problem. That’s a marketing problem. Marketing isn’t writing.

I’ll say that again: Marketing isn’t writing.

One of my favorite authors, Kirby Larson, has said that when she sat down to write her Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky, she thought she was writing a children’s book. For many reasons, including the age of her main character, the publisher decided to market it as a young adult book, and her audience has been wide. I’ve had adult book groups love that book. I’ve met fourth grade girls who love that book. I’ve met 16 year old girls who love that book. Kirby served her audience…her entire audience…by writing a damn good book.

None of this means you can’t be an author who writes young adult (YA) or children’s or any other category of book. But it’s important to keep in mind that story comes first.

Why does story come first? Because we respect our audience. Whether they are nine years old, or fourteen, or twenty-six, or seventy, our readers deserve the best we have. We don’t talk down to them. We don’t pander to them. We don’t want to write what’s been written before. The reason YA is a category and not a genre or style of writing is that young adults, like everyone, deserve ALL of the best stories we can tell: literary, dark, romantic, funny, whatever your story may be. Need to trim explicit content to market it to a certain group? That’s what second drafts are for. You can write a story or you can market it. When you do both at the same time, you run the risk of becoming just like everyone else. You want to read a story created by a marketing survey? Yeah, me neither.

It’s entirely possible I’m wrong here. I’m one person, and I can take it if you disagree profoundly with me. On anything. Just please don’t tell me YA is a style of writing. Because I was a teen librarian for six years and one thing that I expect is respect for YA readers. And writers who consider writing “to” them rather than writing an excellent story “for” them don’t respect them.

So I made the mistake of arguing with a stranger on social media. Which went about as well as that usually does. But then, just when I was regretting that life choice, Twitter was nice enough to float this quote my way:

“To gain your own voice you have to forget about having it heard.”

-Allen Ginsberg

And that’s really what this all boils down to, isn’t it? We writers-in-training (if you’re not still in training please tell me what that feels like because I’m dying to know,) we are trying to find our voice. And we can’t…we just cannot sculpt it into the kind of voice that “gets heard” without losing what makes it real, and unique.

Go write your story. The best one you have. Let the microphones, the megaphones, and the readers find you. Or you can be like everyone else, I guess. But where’s the fun in that?

Happy writing,