YA Author Nicola Yoon inspires, advises US writers

11/28/18 07:10:pm
| Category: Upper School

Just as they push towards the finish line of their National Novel Writing Month projects, students in Upper School 3 and 4 English classes had an inspiring visit from critically-acclaimed young adult author Nicola Yoon, who spoke to them about her experience, writing process, and answered questions about the writing life.

Yoon began by detailing her own life experience, going from birth in Jamaica to her move with her family to Brooklyn, NY. In college, Yoon majored in electrical engineering, and recalled that she was one of only six women in her major. Not to be deterred by the lack of women in STEM at the time, Yoon pushed on, taking time to explore something she was equally, if not more, passionate about: writing.

"I took a poetry writing class, and it was the hardest class I ever took," said Yoon.

In a humorous bit of hindsight, Yoon admitted that at the time, she was "suffering from unrequited love." “I wrote bad poetry, bad short stories, bad screenplays, and bad one act plays about unrequited love. One day, my teacher took me aside and said, 'First of all, you’re not always going to feel this way. Second, you have potential.' I realized she liked my writing. And she was right: I did get over the boy, but I never got over my love of writing."

Fully bitten by the writing bug, Yoon continued to study writing in addition to engineering. She worried that she could not make a living and have a stable life as a writer, so she pursued a day job while scrounging whatever time she could to write. In the evenings after work, and in the wee hours of the morning before work began, Yoon worked longhand on stories and novels. "It's the most frustrating thing in the entire world [to write]," she said, "but my favorite thing about it is that you can make up an entire world."

She continued putting her mathematical prowess to work on Wall Street in the finance sector, but suffice to say, it wasn't enjoyable for her. Inspired by her young daughter, it was during this time that she penned "Everything, Everything." Luckily, she said, a friend of hers was a writer represented by an agent who took an interest in her work. She was careful to underscore to the students that while preparation and hard work are essential to success, so, too, is a bit of luck.

After her first novel was published and made into a movie, she was encouraged by the fact that "you could make an impact as an artist in this world." She went on to pen "The Sun is Also a Star," now in production for its own spot on the silver screen. Yoon and her husband, David, also a writer, and her daughter, Penny, had brief cameos in the films.

Before opening up for questions from the students and faculty in the audience, she gave the students some hard-won advice to apply to their own creative pursuits, whatever those might be. Though Yoon of course was more eloquent in her talk, we've summarized a few of the main points here:

* The first draft of anything you have is going to be terrible. You just have to accept it, finish it, and then you can get to revisions.

* Read everything, read broadly. Don't judge yourself for what you want to read. If you want to read romance, read it. If you're a girl and you want to read science fiction, read it.

* "All of the things that are weird about you are actually things that are great about you. The way you see the world, your strangeness, when you put that into a book, it makes the book unique."

* "Don't let anyone put you in a box and tell you who you're supposed to be or what you're supposed to do."

* "Everyone deserves to see themselves as the hero in a story," she said, encouraging students to read and write diversely, creating representation of characters who look like them, even if others discourage that.

Yoon spoke more of her writing process (she writes a loose outline, then creates the work longhand in notebooks and then transcribes every few days) and her passion for diversity in childrens' literature (she cofounded a nonprofit, We Need Diverse Books, with some of her contemporaries) to close out the session. Finally, she gave a very important reminder for any burgeoning creative: "Remember, it's very hard to get published. Just because someone rejects you doesn't mean you should give up."