With permission, I'm posting a correspondence between a teen reader and myself. I think the things she asks about are very, very common questions, regardless of whether you are sixteen, nineteen, twenty-seven, or sixty. Or somewhere in-between, because oddly enough those aren't the only ages where self-identity is a question. Also, this is one of the only emails I've answered in over a month. So if you've written and haven't gotten a response, you will. Soon. Soonish. As soon as I either finish Para3 or it finally succeeds in killing me, in which case I will come back from the grave just to respond to your emails--see how devoted I am?
Hi, Mrs. White!
I love your book. I don't normally write fan letters/emails; actually, this is my first one ever, but I just wanted to tell you that I think that Paranormalcy is fantastic and that I am definitely going to buy Supernaturally.
I have three older brothers, and the eldest asked me not that long ago why I still read YA books since I'm 19 now and in college. I don't really have that much responsibility yet, and I'm still maturing just like those characters, unlike what I think of for adult novels...But even more so than that, it's that books like yours are amazing and funny in a light-hearted way that's more suited to me. You are also really funny, and I love reading your blog. Which brings me to a different issue. I admire the way you seem to really know yourself, and I remember a post you made on a Taylor Swift song - the one you thought that she was saying that she loves herself? I remember it because you advocated for girls to have more self-confidence... and I guess my question, though it's super generic and maybe not even answerable, is how do you go about doing that? Because you sound so sure of yourself, and having three older brothers has destroyed my sense of self in so many different ways. Sorry, this is really heavy for a fan letter, I guess, but you just seemed like somebody I could ask. And I hope that even if this question is unanswerable and something I need to figure out for myself, you know that you're a wonderful role model. Thanks for all your words and for the enjoyment I've taken from your novel, blog, and writing. And thank you if you've read this too. Have a wonderful day,
Sorry it's taken me so long to respond! Besides being hard at work on the third Paranormalcy book, I've also really been thinking a lot about your letter and how to answer. Because, like you said, it's a tough issue. Mostly because it's like how I feel when people ask me for advice about writing--everyone has to find what works for them, and what worked for me might not be what works for someone else, nor should it be.
(Also, I seriously wanted to just hug you after that email.)
I think most people make it out of their teens wondering who they are and who they want to be. But that's the great thing about where you are now, right now, is that you get to decide! You're in college, which means you're not in that same pool of high school where everyone knows everyone. I found when I got to college it felt like my whole world opened up since no one knew me anymore or had any ideas about who I "should" be. Follow your passions. Explore things that aren't your passions but that maybe you've always wondered about. Don't be afraid to do things you're "bad" at--art, writing, dance, whatever--because maybe you'll find a new way of expressing yourself that you'd never had access to before. Surround yourself with people who like you and let you know, and people who have a positive outlook on life. Surround yourself with people who remind you of who you'd like to be.
Aside from finding new ways to discover yourself and look inward, don't forget to look outward. I find that when I can get out there and help and serve other people who truly need it, even though I'm not technically doing anything for myself I come away happier and lighter and feeling like I'm closer to who I want to be. I worry less about what I see as my flaws--because I have plenty of them--and just enjoy what I have.
This is kind of a random note, but I'd also say try to spend as little time as you can online with things like facebook. (Except my blog. Keep reading that.) (Just kidding.) It's too easy to get sucked into this black hole where you feel like you're connecting with people but really it's just words on a screen, words that can make you feel so alone and so much less than everyone around you. It's not true; it's just the dang internet. Get outside. Hang out with people who make you laugh. Remember that just because someone can write something on a screen does not make it true.
Example: I am 5'7"! I am 5'7"! I have long, willowy legs and dance with the grace of a thousand baby unicorns.
Nope, still not true.
In the end, like anything else, it's a work in progress. Some days I know exactly who I am now and who I want to be and how to get there. Some days I don't quite like myself, but I try to take those days and turn them into something positive--look at why I am feeling that way and how I can improve the next day. Sometimes it's as simple as taking those negative thoughts and feelings and saying, "I know that I feel that way, but I don't care. I'm not going to let myself think that way anymore because I deserve to be happy. I'm going to do the following things to help myself get onto a better path of thinking..." It helps to have a specific plan, but that's going to different for everyone.
You do deserve to be happy, and I hope you know that. And it's okay if you don't know exactly who you are right now, because that's changing every day--and it should be. Now is the time to accept and love who you are and plan for and work toward who you want to be. And if you aren't exactly sure who you want to be yet, that's okay, too, as long as you decide what you want to be. The answer to that should be: Happy and fulfilled and loved. Start by loving yourself and the others fall into place very quickly.
I hope this was helpful. Not quite as good as a hug, but as close as I can get without being creepy since we don't actually know each other. I am sending you my best wishes!