Four Reasons Why Writing For Adults Sucked.

            When I heard an author say that it took years to complete their latest book, I assumed they were lazy. I mean, I wrote thirty-one YA novels in ten years. During that time I also got a puppy, moved across country, had two kids, went for (and failed) my California Driver’s license, went for it again (cheated) and passed, leased cars, bought a house, decorated said house, and did all the other things adult humans do to thrive and stay out of prison.

Then, in 2011, I had an idea for a novel. An adult novel inspired by my own dirty book club and I would call it, of course, The Dirty Book Club. Thanks to my track record, an intriguing title, and some Cuervo-flavored confidence, I was able to sell it over the phone from a villa in Mexico. As for the characters, the plot, the setting, the tone, the point? They would come. They always did.

“Writing for adults is different than writing for adolescents,” my agent warned.

“Puh-lease,” I said, with an audible eye-roll. “How hard can it be?”

Cut to 2016. The novel was four years late, and I knew the answer to my question. It was hard. Brutally hard. Like, write-the-first-100-pages-ten-different-ways kind of hard.

But why?

I blamed the full moon, burn out, my troubled marriage, the fact that it was sunny every single day in Laguna Beach and perfect weather does not evoke drama. Then, I dug deeper and exhumed the following four reasons for my struggle with the transition from YA to Adult:

  1. Adult novels are so incredibly…adult. Burps aren’t funny in women’s fiction. Self-worth isn’t measured by popularity, and no one is afraid of getting grounded. Puns, acronyms, snarky comebacks, aspirational settings, bone-melting first kisses, and annoying parents don’t fly. The metrics for drama and humor are completely different. I had to endure a lot of red-penned notes from my editor reminding me of this before it sank in.
  2. I wrote Middle Grade and Young Adult novels because I wanted young people to know that they’re not alone; the way they feel is the way we all feel. I also wanted to deconstruct the “mean girl” and show the tragic and ridiculous things we do to fit in. But what could I teach women that they didn’t already know? It’s the 21st century. How could I make the story of secret club that reads dirty books meaningful to the modern 25-45 year old? Sex is no longer taboo, so why would my characters hide? What was I trying to say? I thought about my own DBC. We were hardly sex-starved or repressed. Been there, done that, posted it. So what kept us hooked month after month? After a lot of soul searching, I realized that my dirty book club wasn’t about sex after all. It was about the intimate conversations these novels inspired. It was about truth, laughter, honesty, support, and trust. It was about the power of female friendship. And it turns out I have a lot to say about that.
  3. During this time, Fifty Shades of Grey had exploded (Pun? You decide) onto the scene. I’ve never been one to jump on a trend, but flies unzipped at the mention of my title and I felt pressured to give the people more of what they wanted. I downloaded several books on how to write erotica, rationalized that my parents would be conveniently old and blind by publication, and reluctantly began. What followed was awkward, unnatural, and cringe-y. Still, I sallied forth. Then, I typed the word, “nipple” and was instantly overcome with what can only be described as flu-like symptoms. Delete. Delete. Delete. I couldn’t do it. I’ve never done “intentionally sexy” well. I am, however, a master at walk-out-of-the-bathroom-with toilet-paper-stuck-to-my-wedge-bootie. So why wasn’t I owning that? In other words, I wasted a lot of time trying to be someone I’m not. Funny, that’s what my YA characters did, and I’d always been dead against it—theoretically.
  4. Those damn voices in my head wouldn’t shut up! Lisi, you’re a YA writer, stick to what you know. You’re not ready to eat at the big kid’s table. You’ve never read the classics. You can’t possibly live up to the promise of that title. Your friends are going to read this. Your kids’ teachers are going to read this. Critics are going to read this. Your parents will for sure. So will the neighbors. And what about those opinionated book club members? If they’re not finding flaws, they’re not earning their wine. But wait, what if no one reads it? Then what are you going to do? The voices were relentless and paralyzing. They bullied me into spending days on a single paragraph and scrutinizing every sentence until the words stopped sounding like English. I tried meditation, hypnotherapy, and Pinot Noir. But the voices couldn’t be silenced. Then Prince passed away. Prince! Small as he was, that man was larger than life, and yet, he was no match for death. And that got me thinking: “We’re all going to die. No one is going to remember this, so mute those damn voices and have some fun.” One for the textbooks? Nope, but it worked.

 

Fact: when we stretch ourselves we experience growing pains. We fail a lot before we succeed and we wonder why we ever bothered. We hear those damn voices. Then, when we’ve accomplished the seemingly impossibly, we know exactly why we bothered and we leap and stretch and grow again. Our willingness to endure this maddening process is why humans walk upright and have electricity and art and antibiotics and Amazon. It’s why we have stories to tell, and why all of them are about the journey, not the destination. And so I’ve learned to embrace the journey. Without it, no one would have anything to read about.

 

TTYW,

Lisi

23 Comments

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  • Susan says:

    Just about done with “The Dirty Book Club” and want to know if there’ll be more about the gals. I picked the book off the shelf at the library on a whim – not knowing you were a YA author. Sure surprised me when I saw your bio on Wikepedia.

    Don’t stop writing “adult” novels. Remember, those young girls you’ve been writing for now will grow up and need good books to read later.

  • Arianna says:

    So far I’m loving the new book! I haven’t read too far into it due to grad school and work, but it’s great! I’ve missed your writing so much! I feel like I’m putting on an old sweatshirt, but instead of wearing it with my 2006 gauchos that were an absolute nightmare, I’m wearing it with leggings. I’m still comfy as hell, just a bit more stylish.

    Hope release week is going great for you!!!

  • Kelsey says:

    Hi, Lisi!

    You know, a great way to solve this problem is with your Clique sequel idea. It’s familiar but new. A more adult Massie is a gift the world doesn’t know it needs yet! I’ve written a roughly 3-page intro script for a TV show or movie spinoff but maybe you’d prefer to stick to books. Either way, I’m happy to help. What is the best email/anything to send my spinoff idea to more privately? I’d be honored to assist you in any way. Even if it’s just getting coffee 🙂

    Much love

    • FashionConfused? says:

      what TV show did you write?

      • Kelsey says:

        Hi! Thanks for your interest. The TV show is at a very early stage but my idea is for Massie to seek a new PC member to update their “brand” after returning to Westchester from London. I’m developing a new character based on myself & my friend. She’s an artsy, independent black girl who brings new flavors to Westchester that Massie couldn’t possibly understand, let alone compete with – but she attempts to. The PC tries to recruit this new girl but she refuses to accept beta status, meaning Massie meets her match. She’ll have to either defeat the new girl or befriend her without trying to control her. The new girl isn’t scared to fistfight either so it’s totally new territory for Massie.

  • Xya or X says:

    Hi Ms. Lisi, I had a summer job as a lifeguard and read your entire Monster High Series. I as a young adult (F17) I really enjoyed your books. I was wondering if you were planning on writing a Book 5 for the series?

    • Lisi Harrison says:

      Hi X,
      I’m sorry, I will not be writing another Monster High book. I have a new novel that just came out last week. The Dirty Book Club. I hope you like that one.

  • Reginald says:

    Hey Lisi I was wondering do you have any new writing advice? I’m still struggling to maintain my status as a writer and it’s become tough and frustrating. I feel like I’ve lost apart of myself, like Serena Van Der Woodsen lost her way on The Upper Side. Please help me find a way to get this writing process going 😩

    • Lisi Harrison says:

      Hi Reginald,
      I’m so glad you reached out. I will write a bigger post about this soon. But in the meantime hear my words: WRITING IS HARD. There are good days and bad days. Lots and lots of bad days. Write anyway. Don’t judge yourself, just keep going. The more you write the better you get. My writing motto: Commit to Sh*t. Just keep going and trust your future self to be able to edit it and improve it when the time comes.

      And your status as a writer? If you’re writing, you’re a writer. It’s that simple.

  • Lauren says:

    Yay! Congrats on releasing your new book, Lisi! It looks really good, I’m thinking about buying it. Reading this post, made me realize you’re so smart and educated. 🙂
    Random thinking but… what TV show/movie is your new book “Dirty Book club” most like? Can’t wait for next weeks post, xoxo
    L

    • Lisi Harrison says:

      Interesting question Lauren. Maybe ‘Sex and The City.’ If you want a signed copy of my book email: Lisa@LagunaBeachBooks and order from her. I’ll personalize it and then she’ll ship it to you.

  • Laila N says:

    It’s been a while since I’ve been on this blog, but wow, reading that was something else, Lisi. For someone who’s never actually written a novel, but thinks about it a lot, that’s every worry I’ve ever had. I’m glad you got there 🙂

  • Kiana says:

    What a great blog post! This was something very personal. It was a rant, but I see how hard you struggle to come to where you are. I could tell you to never lose your confidence, but clearly you know that. ☺︎
    You manage to succeed in everything you do no matter how hard life is. Great job and I’m even more excited to read your new book. Thank you so much for being the best author in the world! You’re my muse.

    • Kiana says:

      By the way, what is your life motto?

      • Lisi Harrison says:

        Thank you Kiana,
        I love your comments. And my motto? These days it’s: Everything in life is either a gift or a lesson.

        I look at each situation and try to figure out which one it is. Spoiler alert: They’re mostly lessons.

  • FashionConfused? says:

    Omg so inspiring :’)

  • What an inspiring and true blog!
    My DBC book arrived 10 minutes ago from UPS. I’m going to take out the garbage, make dinner and curl up and read…can’t wait.
    Lisi, you are wise beyond your years! I actually typed “ears” …you are wise between your ears:)

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