Changes: Or Being an Adult Writing for Teens

When I was nine, we moved to a new house. The house we’d been living in was a basic tract home, in which I shared a bedroom with one of my sisters. It was pretty much a nice-sized box, with some remodels my dad had one and a smallish backyard with a swing-set for us. Nothing super fancy. The house we moved into was one my parents had designed by an architect to their vision, it was on top of a hill with an awesome view of the ocean, and it had a huge yard (already being filled with the fruit trees I would have to weed around for the next 9 years, but we won’t go there…). It had bedrooms for all of us, for which we each got to pick a new bedspread and hanging lamp (It was the seventies, barely, so I won’t go into the gruesome details of my choices). Three stories, big rooms, you name it.

I liked the old house better.

I can’t remember how long it actually took between the time my parents bought the lot and when we moved into the completed house. It had to have been at least a year, right? Plenty of time to adjust. But to me, at the time (okay, possibly still a little), the change felt sudden, dramatic, and even traumatic. I can remember walking along the framed-in rooms, everybody else excited and happy, and me thinking nothing but, “I’m going to have to move here.” I may have pouted. A lot.

Obviously, I didn’t do change well, as a child. I’m pretty sure my sisters did it a lot better, at least that time. I pretty much hated change–I always felt things were okay, fine, safe, happy–whatever, the way they were, and then…boom! Someone or something would come along, and I’d have to step out of my comfort zone and take risks.

I’m not a child anymore. Obviously, I know change still happens out of nowhere–unfortunately, it’s usually the bad things. And I think I’ve probably been lucky in the last couple of decades, just about all the changes in my life (although not all) have been of my choice, of my making, and with all the lead-up time I needed to feel right and, if not always happy, at least accepting of them. Still…things also feel, I don’t know, as if they  have more context. This week, a very good friend is moving out-of-state. As much as I’ll miss her, I think this change has been coming for a while. THINGS have led up to it, and the things she’ll be doing in her new place are, I think, building on the person she’s been becoming. Also, while there are going to be losses and nervousnesses, I can see (and I know she can) the good things that will be coming to her from this change she’s making.

Is it just that, as an adult, the changes are more often in my own court? I don’t (completely) blame my parents for making the move without consulting me. But, obviously, every time I’ve moved as an adult, I’ve been–if not in charge–definitely one of the active participators in the decision. Or is it that, when things do change, I have more of a life to set them against–more past to reassure me that change can be okay, even good, and maybe even a longer view into the future to know there may be some excitement and even fun coming from this change? Was I, as a child and teen, less able to step out of the moment when change hit and less able to experience it as anything but a shock?

Either way, I think it’s a place of difference for me, now, and for the teen characters I’m writing about. Yes, obviously, change has to happen more dramatically in adult novels or we’d put them all down and just read MG and YA (Oh, wait…). But I wonder if this construct of fiction isn’t even more so in writing for and about teens. It may be why I so love the genre–because change at that age is so much more…more extreme, more sudden, more impacting. I always feel, when I’m reading a really good book for teens, that this hero is on the edge of something, of a moment that has the capacity for awakening, decisiveness, transformation. As much as I believe that I, at my age, am still very capable of growing and changing, it’s all based on a history of having done it before. It’s part of a continuum. Perhaps change, to teens, feels much more like a first. And perhaps that’s why the books are so engaging to readers. To me.

What do you think? How do you see change in your life versus change in the books you’re writing? Do you have to find a way to consciously shift from your older point of view, back to the time when you didn’t want your own bedroom, thank you very much, or does it come naturally when you sit down at the keyboard? It’s not a matter of vocabulary or sentence length, I don’t think, but an entire perspective/feel. A challenge to achieve, yes, but worth it.

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9 thoughts on “Changes: Or Being an Adult Writing for Teens

  1. This is so good, Becky. Thank you. (I cried when the road past our house was upgraded. Yes, I resisted change as a kid…)

    You’ve got me thinking — is my 10 year old protagonist dealing with change the way a 10 year old would? I think so, but maybe it could be more so. (I’ll see when the manuscript comes back from evaluation.)

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  2. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I am still surprisingly resistant to change. It especially drives me crazy when some part of my life that has been working well becomes more difficult for no good reason. (Even something as small as a change in procedures at my day job.) And a change about gaining something seems easier than a change which involves losing something.

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    • beckylevine says:

      Jenn, yeah, the difficult changes, the losses, are definitely harder to take. And I do think I’ve been really lucky on those (knock on ALL THE WOOD I can find!). Still, I’m not sure they wouldn’t have hit me even harder when I was young.

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  3. Such an interesting point. I think when I was a child/teen my world was so self-centric that it was hard to notice the build-up to change. (Also, I had a major change in high school that was genuinely sudden, when our house burned down.) I hated change then. During most of my adult life I’ve hated change imposed from without but have been almost infatuated with self-chosen change. During the last decade I’ve become more of an incrementalist about the latter, and more philosophical about the former. But it has taken me a lot of years to get there!

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    • beckylevine says:

      Kathryn, I think that’s it–that I didn’t see the build-up. Not that my parents didn’t give us plenty of warning about the move, which I’m pretty sure I just used to just get more and more resistant. I can’t imagine the shock of having the house actually burn down! And, yes, a big difference between change from outside and in. I love the word “incrementalist”–lines right up with my philosophy of baby steps. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. I think I’m not terrible at change, necessarily, but that I’ve got an unhealthy predilection for nostalgia. When I was 14 we moved house. It might have been the music I was listening to (lots of Smiths, Cure) but I moped like I meant it. I also wrote my old house a letter (telling it how much I was going to miss it and how upset I was.) I hid the letter in the radiator. Wonder if anyone ever found it? That teenage self, because she was so raw and open, is not that hard for me to access when I write YA. She’s in there, standing on a precipice waiting, knowing that every little thing is of overmastering importance. Yeah, she was a drama queen, but man, she knew how to live in the moment!

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    • beckylevine says:

      Is there a moving (or burning!) house theme here? I remember something, when my son was young, about talking about moving houses, and hearing him say we were NEVER going to move out of ours. Luckily for him, we aren’t! I SO love that you wrote your house a letter and hid it there. I just stuck with the moping. Yes, totally, about the precipice. I just don’t feel that way about myself anymore (thank goodness–I’ll be happy if I can get/keep it in my writing, don’t need it in my actual psyche!). As my son gets closer to leaving home, I have a sense of him on that edge…it’s a whole different feeling than being there myself.

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