About two and a half years ago I was having one of those days. You know the ones: There were plenty of things to do, and lots of tasks on my to-do list. But I couldn’t get motivated. I sat at my computer and surfed aimlessly, avoiding thinking about all the things I should have been doing instead.I’m not really sure where I first saw the link for www.dearteenme.com – probably twitter. But I clicked and started reading…and reading…and reading.
If you aren’t familiar with DearTeenMe.com, it’s a website that hosts authors (usually YA authors) writing letters to their teen selves. The site is fascinating, not just because you’re getting personal insight into your favorite authors, but because they’re offering advice for teenagers and adults alike. Their words are heart-wrenching, their advice well considered and thoughtful.As I clicked through the list of contributing authors on the site and read letter after letter, the premise grabbed my attention. I considered writing one of these letters myself, just for my own interest. After all, so many of the authors were addressing issues and describing experiences to which I could relate in detail.
And one thing kept coming up that made me nod and smile. Many authors opened their letters with a very similar sentiment:“I know you won’t listen to me when I say this, but…”
As I sat there, imagining a conversation with my teenage self, that very thought kept cropping up. I knew myself - as a thirty-something adult, and as a sixteen year old. There was no doubt in my mind, if my thirty-something self ever actually had the opportunity to talk to my teen self, my teen self would be intrigued…but when she heard the advice I had to offer, she’d nod and agree and talk like she believed me, but inside she’d be saying “Yes, but…”I knew she’d listen without listening, then hare off and do whatever she wanted to anyway.
I considered all the different approaches I could take – sage advisor, stern parental figure, cool and understanding, flippant friend, reverse psychology… but no matter how I played the conversation out in my head, I couldn’t see my teenage self taking the advice truly to heart.It saddened me. Made me wonder what lengths I’d go to as an adult to try and move my teen self in the right direction.
And then I could see it. I could see a teen self and adult self who were intimately involved, but somehow at odds. Because of their different perspectives on what was happening, they’d appear to work against each other at times.I started writing in a frenzy that afternoon – and for the next few weeks.
But it wasn’t just a book. It wasn’t just a fictional plot device. I wrote my teenage self, and an adult self similar to me in my late twenties. The book didn’t just flow as a story, it was an analysis of my (difficult, painful) high school experience.It was harrowing. So much so, that I wrote a blog post about the heaviness of it. And after a few weeks, I had to put the draft aside. It was drawing out too much pain – pain that I thought I’d already worked through. I ended up sitting at a table with an author friend, crying for my teenage self, railing against her enemies.
In the end I had to take an emotional break.I returned to the incomplete draft a few months later (having processed much of the emotion the story had raised in me) and kept writing until it was done. But I knew it had to change. It wasn’t a novel, it was an analysis of my own life. My very own “Dear Teen Me” letter, except it was over 90,000 words long. Writing it had been cathartic and therapeutic. But if I wanted to truly make it into a book, it needed to be a story, not a fictionally set memoir.
Fast-forward to eighteen months and about eight different drafts later and Breakable (then titled “Listen to Me”) had become a very different book. Oh, the plot was still pretty much the same, but the characters were very different, and their experiences no longer followed the flow of my own. It had become a novel (which meant it wasn't painful to write anymore!) and I loved it. I hoped other people would too.It’s been a long journey for this book – from finding an agent, to getting editor feedback, to losing my agent, to deciding to self-publish. But throughout, one thing has remained the same: though this book no longer mirrors my life, the experience of the story is drawn from that first day. The concept of an adult having the opportunity to talk to and advise their teen self. And the conflict that arises from that.
People all over the world (literally) have heard the premise and been intrigued by the idea. After all, we all have moments in our life we’d change if we could, right? We all have experiences from which we’d like to protect our younger selves. Who would turn down an opportunity to go back and try to change history?Well, I certainly wouldn’t. I didn’t. I wrote a book about it. And it went in directions I never would have anticipated.
But if you want to experience those, you’ll have to read the book.