I have tried to tap into many different sources of inspirations--needs, really--to motivate myself to complete this book.
First, I had a lot of student debt and a few part-time jobs. A book I could write in the meantime; it's not like work was hard or really a time-killer. And a check for that would both put a dent in the debt and set myself on a path toward a career ... or something. Since then, the situation has changed: different job and more managed debt, but much less urgency.
Then I tried to tap into my love for my sisters, whom I care about deeply. For them I want to be an example of success. If they couldn't motivate me, then nothing could. Well, it's not their fault I'm not finished. The are a constant source of energy, and remain a contributing factor in the story. (That Aedan has a younger sister originates in this background; although their relationship and subsequent story has little to do with my own, my connection to my sisters still informs the emotions involved.)
And then there's my altruistic sensibility. I've long admired artists and activists who advocate for social justice. Not that I want to start a movement, but I've often considered the necessity of my writing to engage with a cause beyond my own issues or 'art for it art's sake.' A cause was all I needed. (I once even thought I could write topical, satirical plays that engaged with timely issues. Somebody might be able to, but not me.) I thought I would just need to "get my war on" to breach the reservoir of words and passion trapped in me. There are no lack of current issues that intersect with my story. (Poverty and housing in New York; mining disasters; workers' rights; child sex workers.) Serving something outside myself ... that's still an attractive idea.
And I've even taken a more selfish angle--just write it for yourself. This has two distinct meanings. First, I feel I need to complete this novel as an act of self-discipline, self-realization, self-improvement. I have some qualities to complete a novel--but those I need to develop to finish this project will actually help me become a better person (or the one I want to be), or at the very least a more productive one. It might set me on a path to resolving my issues with "purpose" and "potential." And surely there are discoveries ahead that I can't even anticipate. But such an adventure--such a commitment--is scary. I am very risk-adverse, lazy, and complacent. Of course writing a novel isn't a proper therapeutic exercise, but maybe it can be. To paraphrase Ned Flanders' dad, 'I've tried nothing, and I'm all out of ideas.'
The second meaning of "write for myself" considers my intended audience--a young me. Why not write the book I would have wanted to read at thirteen? Of course, at thriteen I didn't read YA fiction. But there's the challenge. (As if trying to get a current 13-year-old to read a history book isn't challenging enough.) Or hell, why not write a book I would want to read now? The Book Thief was the best book I read my junior year of college.
So, getting to my point, a month ago I came to the following realization (quoted below.) It was at once surprising, daunting, and encouraging. And I return to it now as I return to working on the story, because keeping this all in mind might be the only thing that keeps me writing.
I can reach more topics—more timely topics—than I’d realized. If I can do it appropriately. And I think that many of them can be relevant to a teen audience. Alienation. Empathy. Escape into drugs, alcohol. Music. Love. What you’re supposed to do versus what you want to do. PTSD. Emotional and physical abuse. Identity/perception of roles and sexuality. Confronting Poverty & Cruelty & Avarice. Ambitions, dreams, possibilities. One person making a difference. Diligence, second chances. Self-expression. Parental relationships. Sibling relationships. History and science and technology.
All that … that’s the story. That’s a lot of stuff. A lot to talk about. But you don’t just talk about it—you show it, play it out in scenes implicitly or not. You need to approach things with your particular angle, but you’ll need to let them figure out what to take away from it. Some ambiguity isn’t terrible, but it can’t come off as condoning something you don’t. Explore complexity and contradictions.
To educate, inspire, and delight.