I like to moonlight as editor of the SCBWI Metro NY Chapter Blog. We wrapped up our season with Nova Ren Suma speaking on Finding Your Own Unique voice. I was the writer on this one.
To check out other articles and events go to: SCBWI Metro NY Chapter
The journey of being a writer is not an easy one. Suma
explained how voice is deeply connected to that journey and often
develops from hitting a low point, such as failing to find an agent or
publisher or feeling your career has stalled.
She described a low
point in her own career when she doubted her place in the YA publishing
world. She no longer felt connected to her readers or her publisher. So
in her next book, 17 and Gone, she tried to please everyone. This only created a feeling of more distance and she began to question everything.
I take a break and write something else?” she asked. She was advised,
“Embrace what is going on in YA right now, and write more commercial
“Is this the way to carve out my place in the industry?” Suma wondered. “Should I actually try to be more commercial?”
much soul-searching, Suma decided instead to write one last book that
was all her own. She put together what she calls “a weird book proposal”
doing exactly the opposite of all the advice.
“I wrote just for me,” she said. “I am weird, so I write weird!”
left the large house she had been working with and submitted the
proposal to smaller publishers. It was picked up by Algonquin House at a
new literary imprint. So, Suma was starting over with a new house, a
new editor, and a smaller advance.
She very quickly saw she had
made the right choice. “I received wonderful support from the publisher,
went to conferences, and got good responses to the book, including
seven starred reviews and a review in the NY Times.” The Walls Around Us became the most successful book of her career to date.
Suma had spent many years ghostwriting middle grade books, chapter books, and media tie-ins. The Walls Around Us was
the first book that was completely hers. However, she did learn a lot
from writing other people’s characters, and working with editors, so
that experience was not wasted.
So how does a writer stay true to
her own voice? Suma suggests, “Look for a spark, make the reader
connect. Use specific details to bring a place to life.”
writing workshops, she tells her students, “Take risks, let pieces of
you filter into the story. Push yourself until the story deeply connects
with you. If this was the last book you were going to write, what would
you want to put in it?”
Her “impractical” advice to all writers: “Don’t worry about becoming the next John Greene or writing the next Hunger Games. Instead, be the first, unapologetic, original version of you.”