Swords and Shields and Unimportant Things

Something a lot of writers struggle with, myself included, is the dreaded Comparison. I like to imagine Comparison as an ugly, slimy, black blob of gnashing teeth and rotten breath, because that is precisely what it feels like when it slips up behind you and starts trying to drown you in a sea of self-doubt, writing related insecurity and horrible if-onlys.

Everyone knows about what-ifs, but if-onlys are what-if’s nasty cousin. We imagine ourselves into a hole, acting like a different set of circumstances would change our entire lives. But what you have to ask yourself when Comparison starts sneaking up behind you with its rotten breath and slimy black blob self, is what exactly do you want from this? So what am I looking for when it comes to my writing? To be published, yes. To make a living off of writing, so I can keep doing it, yes. But that’s not the most important thing. Not even close.

Reading has been the safest thing in my life for as long as I can remember. Kids read books in a different way to adults, in my opinion. They use them in a different way. I’m sure you’ve all heard of an adult brush YA off as “escapism”. And escapism it is, sometimes, for some people, in some situations. Escape from a bad situation, from fear, from loneliness. The word “escapism” boils a book down to a cure for boredom, when it’s so much more than that.

Books weren’t just a cure for boredom for me, when I was 8 and 9 and 10. Stories of rebellion, of fighting back, of survival against all odds, of hope against all odds — for some they may just be stories, but for 8 year old Eilís they were the air in my lungs, the things that kept me breathing when just that felt impossible. Books are swords. They were ideas, ideas I learned to fight for. Ideas I learned to fight with. And sometimes I wasn’t able to fight. Sometimes all I could do was try to hold on, and then, then. Then books were shields. They were blankets to hide under and walls to hide behind. They were defence against every bad thing in the world. They were the flashlights that kept the darkness back. They were a promise that things would get better. That things always got better.

It’s very easy to see YA or MG or children’s books as nothing more than a younger, more digestible version of adult literature. It’s a very different thing to watch a kid with no hope find it between the pages of a book. It’s a harder thing. It’s a better thing.

So it’s not a question of what do I write for — it’s who do I write for. And I write for that kid. I write for 8 year old Eilís who had absolutely nothing, and absolutely everything at the same time. I write for the girl who no one believes in, but finds the ability to believe in herself inside the world an author built for them. I write to build a place for the boy who has no place but this one. For the boy who needs the shield. For the girl needs the sword. For the kid who doesn’t read for escapism, but so that they can find warriors inside themselves. I wrote for that kid, and that kid will never have enough books. That kid will never have enough stories to tell them that they have a voice.

When Comparison rears its ugly head, I look at that kid. And I ask myself will they care if I’m a bestseller, or how many copies I sold, or what my reviews are like? I know that 8 year old Eilis wouldn’t have. All she wanted was her sword and her shield and her flashlight, not all this unimportant stuff. And if I’m writing for her, for others like her, then I need stop worrying about the unimportant stuff, and get back to making swords.