I’m pinching myself that I get to write this post.
Why? Because the idea of writing in multiple age categories still feels so new to me. Being an author has been my dream my entire life, but for a very, very long time, I only ever imagined myself as a YA author. The idea of writing anything else, by comparison, has been a very new dream, one far less tested or sure of itself. But it’s a dream that has since become near and dear to my heart.
Some backstory about my journey: I sold four YA fantasy books before selling my MG debut and its sequel. My MG debut was the first MG book I’d ever fully written. I’ve since been working on more YA and even taking a whack at an adult project.
Look, I’m going to be honest in this post: my initial motivation to write in multiple age categories wasn’t for the sake of the art itself. Do I love my MG books? Yes, they’re possibly my favorite books I’ve ever written—in fact, no matter what I write in the future, I can see myself being more of a MG author than any other type of writer. But I didn’t begin this journey with a particular book idea in mind. I began it because I wanted to transform my writing from my side hustle to my only hustle, and since I wasn’t being paid enough from my YA books alone to manage that, I needed to write… more books.
“More books” could’ve meant a lot of things. Since my publisher only has the option (which is contract speak for something like the right of first refusal) to my YA fantasy books, I could’ve decided to branch out into a different YA genre, like contemporary or sci-fi. But I love fantasy. And so if I wanted to continue writing fantasy and only fantasy, my opportunity for branching out meant writing for a different age category.
And so the adventure began.
I hope this type of real talk doesn’t soil the writerly mystique a bit. But writing is as much a craft as it is a career, and so I want this post to read as such. That is also the major subject matter of this blog.
Before I took the first step toward my adventure, I had to ask myself: should I write older or younger?
This being a bookish adventure, I started with a reading list. The last time I’d read a MG book, I still had braces. And grown-up books? I read the ones that publishing sometimes dubs as “crossover,” but I didn’t have much of an idea what that meant. And so I curated a list of all stories from serious to silly… and I dove in!
I quickly realized that I was drawn to both categories, but I decided to start with MG.
My first attempt at MG was a complete bust. I “didn’t have the voice” my agent told me when I showed her the first chapter of a potential project. I agreed with her. The sample was tragic. I sounded like a 7th grader wearing brogued oxfords and a bowtie who was three years from paying back her mortgage.
It took me two whole years to realize what I’d done wrong: I’d been trying too hard (Funnily enough, my middle school self had a similar problem). I was attempting to write these MG stories with delicate flourishes and lyrical prose when I should’ve been writing about dragons—sort of like that year of college I pretended to be very into the Joy Division. Once I switched my mindset to one better suited to my personality, the style clicked.
It’s been a year and a half since then, and I’m currently drafting my second MG… and finishing my first adult (this one even agent-approved)! So here are some tips that I’ve learned over this journey for leaping between all these categories like a whack-a-mole.
#1 Read a lot of that category
Read the classic, cornerstone books of the genre/category. Read the current buzzy books. And, if you’re considering MG, also read the MG that you loved as a child (reconnect with that inner little you, pimples and braces and all!). Read, read, read.
#2 Figure out what sort of books you want to write
Hint: It’s okay if your new books are nothing like your previous books.
This might not seem like much of a hurdle, but it was for me. I don’t want to be the same type of adult author as I am a YA author, and I don’t want to be the same YA author as I am a MG author. That’s okay. (Ogres are like onions.) Whether you are venturing on this journey for the sake of an idea, a creative challenge, or—like me—a career move, you should still write what makes you happy.
#3 Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes
Until your book is on shelves, your manuscript is always a work in progress. If you accidentally wrote a paragraph in your adult book that was clearly devised by three kids in a trench coat, that’s okay! If your MG protagonist occasionally sounds like they have a receding hairline or develops a sudden urge to complain about the younger generation, that’s okay too! No aspect of writing—no, not even the elusive “voice”—is something that you can turn on and off like a light switch.
#4 Talk about it with your agent
When it comes to strategizing your career, your agent is your partner. And if you’d like to find representation in the future, make sure to consider all the age categories a potential agent represents.
Now that we’ve talked about the dreary stuff, let’s list the most delightful parts of writing in multiple age categories.
Number of times I use the word “poop” in my 2021 MG book: 3 times
Number of times I use the word “poop” in any of my YA or adult books: 0 times
In the same day, I got to write a steamy romantic scene in my adult project and an entire chapter in my MG book dedicated to the mystical art of mushroom foraging, featuring a truffle-hunting pig named Gustav.
Once you start writing in multiple age categories, you’ll have to consider your ideas from multiple angles. Is your protaginst eleven years old or forty-four? Do they have back pain? Would they or would they not laugh at a fart joke?
Your word collection in your journal will include options like “grubby” and “scuttled” as well as “incandescent” and “orison.”
I have made peace with the fact that I own twelve different blazers but still can perform the entirety of the Pokérap. That’s just my brand now.
You’ll write an adult character in your YA or MG book who is obviously just the background grown-up but you secretly have a huge crush on.
If you write MG, you can add “animated movie” to your list of writerly pipe dreams for your books.
One of your books might be 51,000 words long and the other 132,000. This is acceptable.
I hope this guide is helpful to those considering traversing into their own new adventure! Remember: it’s always a good idea to try new things. Even if you realize they’re not for you, you will certainly learn more about yourself as a writer along the way.