Michelle Hodkin (Writing for Young People) is the author of the New York Times bestselling Mara Dyer trilogy. Her first novel, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, is a work of young adult fiction centered around a sixteen year old girl who wakes up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there, and believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her strangely unharmed. (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011). It was a 2012 YALSA Reader’s Choice selection, and the trilogy has drawn praise from, among others, Cassandra Clare, Veronica Roth, and Lev Grossman. The LA Times said, “There are echoes of Stephen King’s classic Carrie in this young adult series kickoff… Hodkin’s transitions from the mundane to hallucinated horror are unexpected, seamless and creepy, packing the same sort of cinematic punch as scenes from The Blair Witch Project. Rights to the series have sold in over fifteen territories. Before she published her first novel, Hodkin practiced as an attorney in civil anti-terrorism cases. She has a B.A. from New York University and a J.D. from Michigan State University College of Law. Her third novel, The Retribution of Mara Dyer, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2014.
Michelle Hodkin—Writing for Young People
I was never taught how to write fiction, but I was taught to read. One day, after 27 years of reading but not writing, I became a writer. I had an idea for a book that Teen Me wanted to read but couldn’t, because no one had written it yet. And so I ended up writing it myself.
I am a writer because writing is something I do. I am an author because an agent loved my book, and thought an editor, a publisher, a sales team, and a marketing department would too. That agent was right. But that doesn’t make me more talented or special or wise than any of my students or my readers, for that matter. Age and even experience don’t matter—every reader can teach every writer something, so if you know how to read, you can learn how to write. Because anyone who writes is a writer. Published authors are simply writers who didn’t give up.
And many writers (if not all) want to give up on a story or a novel at some point—writing isn’t coal mining, but it isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, either. You will get stuck. You will get bored. You will get confused. You will get depressed. You will get lost. But if you love what you’re writing, you will keep doing it. Sometimes it takes 11 manuscripts to get to get published. Sometimes it takes one. All you have to do is a) read books and b) not quit.
But it certainly helps to have voices to tell you when your characters make them cringe (in a bad way) or swoon (in a good way), or tell you when you’ve used the word ‘just’ twenty times in one paragraph. It helps to have voices to encourage you to keep on keepin’ on with [insert awesome thing you wrote here] or back far, far away from [insert highly questionable thing you wrote here]. My goal as a mentor is to be one of those voices. You will write awesome things and intriguing things and interesting things, and you will write stuff that’s…not. And I believe that learning how to tell the difference begins by helping you figure out what you love in stories and what you hate in stories, what captivates you and what bores you. What makes you laugh. What makes you cringe. When you learn how to recognize and articulate these things, you’ll be able to learn how to create scenes and characters and sentences that other people will love (and some, inevitably, will loathe), and more importantly, you’ll learn how to write and rewrite until you ask the questions of yourself that you’ve been dying to know the answers to, until you realize the story you are writing is the one you’ve been waiting your whole life to tell. And by learning how to write that story, you will learn how to make readers feel its a story they need to keep reading. All you need to do is have an open mind and a thick skin.
(And a sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either.)