Learn more about WriteOut, a writing camp for teens founded by Ally.


The picture of the minivan is because as I was writing this post I was reminded of a comment by my friend Libby when we both ended up falling head-over-heels in love with our minivans, in spite of the aging domesticity and soccer momitude they suggested. One day Libby told me, “You know what I think when people say they will never, ever drive a minivan and can’t believe that I do?”

“What?” I asked her.

“I just feel sorry for them,” she said. “Think of all they’re missing! It’s like people who talk about how they will NEVER read Harry Potter!” I could not stop laughing.

But this post is not to talk about the awesomeness of minivans or Harry Potter, although I do like both of those things. Rather, it’s to address the issue of feeling like we have to justify ourselves for our writing. It came about because of a question Karen asked in the comments of a recent blog entry of mine:

How do you justify what you do to someone who thinks that writing fiction (especially for children) isn’t serious work?

I gave my short answer to this question on Tuesday:

I don’t.

By which I mean, of course, that I don’t justify myself. Perhaps it is because I have worked in a long line of careers that people tend to look down their nose upon: public school teacher, stay-at-home mom. I’ve gotten used to being the one that kills the conversation when people ask, “What do you do?” and then you tell them and then you can see their eyes scanning the room frantically for someone else to talk with.

So I’ve learned that if I have to try to convince someone that what I do is worthwhile, it’s going to take far too long and be too frustrating for both of us. Frustrating for me, because I honestly believe that what I do is worthwhile no matter what anyone else thinks, and for them because they honestly don’t (or else they are being condescending, in which case it’s even more frustrating).

So then what do you do?

You answer with pride, you open the door, and you hope for the shift to take place.

My husband is an economist. For many years, this was also a party-killer. “You do what?” someone would say.

“I’m an economist,” he’d answer.

“Like for a job?” they’d ask, making sure.

“Yes,” he would say, his eyes alight with joy at his chosen profession (people, the man LOVES economics and math).

“I hated that class in college,” they’d say, and then try to escape.

But then the economy tanked, and all of a sudden people were interested in the economy and in talking to him. People on our street would call him for advice. It was great, but he loved economics either way.

So what changed? It became relevant to people. Suddenly they cared because economics mattered to them and they wanted to know why and how and all those good questions.

So I hope for that shift. Maybe I can be the one who causes it, by asking if they remember a book they loved as a child. Maybe I can ask if they have a child, or love a child, or believe that literacy matters, or have spent time in a school recently, or have ever been carried away in a story. If so, then things might change. And we can talk. But if they still aren’t convinced, I can walk away, because I know that these things matter, and someday (I firmly believe this) they will remember that too. I can try to remind people why books, and reading, and stories, are important, but in the end life will teach them or remind them of the truth.

Reading to young people and writing for young people are two of most important parts of my life, and I don’t have to justify that to anyone.

+ comments (25)
  • Bob Corry
    April 6, 2011

    Great message.You don’t know how many times I have wondered if I’m really helping kids when I see how talented they are in every thing else that they do.
    I hope you have seen or heard about your display in the new foyer at Cedar High.

  • Tahereh Mafi
    April 6, 2011

    i couldn’t agree more. beautiful post, ally.

  • Clare Wilson
    April 6, 2011

    A great blog, and one that gives me hope. I too am a YA author and often find myself trying to justify it.

    I say, ‘I’m a writer.’
    They say, ‘what type of writer?’
    I say, ‘young adult fiction,’
    They say, ‘really? So what, you write like Harry potter stuff?’

    Very frustrating… There are many of us out there, and we are not trying to rip off JK Rowling!

  • Jennifer Lane
    April 6, 2011

    Isn’t it awesome when we don’t care as much what other people think? That’s one huge gift of aging, I’ve found. I love your confidence.

  • amber murphy
    April 6, 2011

    Great post! I finally talked my mom into reading Harry Potter this past fall after years of trying! She loved it, of course, and even wore my Mcgonagall hat to watch the movies in my living room : )

  • Charlie
    April 6, 2011

    Unless there is an abundance of teenagers out there without study to think about and with very good writing skills… I guess the way people view YA at the moment doesn’t help, but it’s sad, especially when you think of the issues that would come if no one wrote it.

  • Emy Shin
    April 6, 2011

    Thank you for this gorgeous post, Ally.

    Trying to justify ourselves and our profession to others is time-consuming and often does not work. It’s enough for us to believe in what we do — and hope that some day, everybody will, also.

  • warnagirl
    April 6, 2011

    Great post Ally! I’ve experienced the reactions you described and I agree with Jennifer Lane’s post that it is a wonderful gift as we age that we don’t care so much what people think. It’s so freeing!

    I also just finished rereading Matched last week and I fell even more in love with the story and your writing. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of reading and can’t wait for Crossed.

  • Beth
    April 6, 2011

    I’ve never had to justify myself to others–I think because I’m so bossy that people who don’t like books are afraid to say anything (and because I generally just surround myself with people who DO like books).

    But I do sometimes have to remind myself that what I’m doing is important. Letters from readers actually helps with that a lot…there is value in a story, any story.

    I read this article today–it’s supposedly by Neil Gaiman but I can’t find a source–and thought it fit quite nicely with what you were saying here: http://bethrevis.tumblr.com/post/4389858331/my-cousin-helen-who-is-in-her-90s-now-was-in

  • Brook
    April 6, 2011

    love it.

  • Sara Megiboq
    April 6, 2011

    I agree 100%! Nice post!

    And, I read my YA novels with pride too – covers open for the world to see!

  • Remilda Graystone
    April 6, 2011

    This is a wonderful post. I try not to justify myself to anyone either, and it takes a certain amount of confidence and just self-assurance all around. But it’s so much more satisfying living life without waiting for anyone else’s approval.

    Reading and writing books are very important. There are so many benefits to reading and writing that we’d be here all day listing them all. I feel bad for the people who don’t understand that.

  • Dot Hutchison
    April 6, 2011

    Absolutely beautiful- thank you for that. I frequently get that look from people when I’m I say I’m a writer at all, even before I mention YA at all. Also get that look from my father, who still doesn’t understand what being a writer means to me. It’s nice to see your answer to it.

  • This is a beautiful post. I so hope you’re right that life will teach or remind people of the value of imagination. I feel like I often have to justify why I read YA since I go to school with some literary snobs. I don’t understand how people think that the issues we have as teens don’t impact the rest of our lives. We’re all still teenagers at heart, still figuring out who we are and what we want from life. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that a children’s book that can only be enjoyed by a child isn’t much of a book at all.

  • Julie Dixon
    April 6, 2011

    I just had that “what do you do?” conversation at a party Saturday night, so this post made me smile. I love your attitude about it and I’m glad you shared. P.S. Minivans are the best.

  • Karen_St_Louis
    April 6, 2011

    Thanks for this post, Ally. I’ll think about it the next time I tell someone that I’m working on becoming a children’s writer.

  • becca
    April 6, 2011

    Most excellent post, friend. Well said. All.

  • Irvin
    April 6, 2011

    This was such a great post, and it hit home! I just started writing, so I never had to justify that. But I keep getting that question in regards to a million other things, mostly from my family. For example: “Have you nothing better to do than play Quidditch every weekend?” And I don’t bother, because I know my family will never understand the incredible friendships I’ve made, how good it felt to be part of a team for once (I never did team sports before), and how much fun we have unwinding after a stressful week.

  • Jeigh
    April 6, 2011

    The day I got my minivan was one of the best of my life πŸ™‚

    This is a great post, and I think it’s so great because really, anyone can and everyone should relate to this. There’s nothing greater than doing what you love, regardless of how many conversations you kill.

  • Heather Schick
    April 6, 2011

    You’re darn right you don’t have to justify it. I agree and appreciate your responses too.

    I get similar reactions to my day job. I’m a payroll clerk. People will say my job is important, but there’s really no conversation there. :>)

  • Melanie Jacobson
    April 6, 2011

    I’ve been an English teacher (love it, miss it, only gave it up for my kids), I’m now a stay-at-home mom and love it, and I write. And I tend to get so excited about what I’m doing that I don’t notice if other people are, too. And since I’m not selling them vacuums, it doesn’t really matter whether or not they are. I’m happy.

  • Mallary M.
    April 7, 2011

    Thank you! Often times when I tell someone that I hope to one day be a young adult fiction writer, I say it apologetically. I know I don’t need to, but I guess I’ve always feared what they will tell me. I took a young adult psychology class a couple of years ago because I thought it would be helpful to dive into the minds of teens. When I told my professor I wanted to write YA fiction he said, “That worries me, because they’re all filled with sex and drugs.” I quietly responded that not all of them are, but left it at that. So, thank you for your post. It’s something a lot of people need to hear. And from now on I will confidently respond that I’m going to be a young adult fiction writer.

  • MomRiding
    April 8, 2011

    Minivan > full sized van > minivan > SUV Sigh, I miss those minivan/van days. I miss the stay at home Mom days, too, but so glad to have the opportunity to converse with the YA readers in my library. Reading allows them so many opportunities. You must party with some fairly boring folks (sorry!) but I know that if you’d visit one our our Reading Adventure Parties the students would not look for anyone else to go talk too! They love Matched and are not waiting patiently for Crossed. Keep up the great writing. It makes us think and have a lot to talk about πŸ™‚

  • sammy r
    April 10, 2011

    that book was a classic romance u shuld write a sequel to matched

  • HeatherS
    April 14, 2011


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