Let me clarify that. We aren't defined by our mistakes if we learn from them, grow from them, move forward, and strive not to repeat them.
I love writing flawed characters. I love writing people who make mistakes. I love writing people who at the end of the book, have grown and learned and have changed but they still aren't perfect. None of us are, after all.
I love writing YA because everything is fresh. It's new. Most of the experiences you have you're experiencing them for the first time. Like my friend Allie Brennan (or was it Jolene Perry? One of them. They're both smart ladies who inspire me often) said recently teens are going through new life experiences without the tools they need to deal with them. No, not all teens, but most of us. I know that was me.
Once upon a time I was a big-hearted, sixteen-year-old girl. I was "the friend" like I've said many times. I had a lot of boy friends, but we were just that. Friends. My girlfriends always had real boyfriends but I really never did. It wasn't easy. They might not have known it, and my mom or my teachers might not have known it, but I struggled a lot with that. I didn't think I was pretty enough or skinny enough. I was this romantic girl who wanted to be loved--who believed that being loved by a boy meant I was worth something. That desire led me to make some pretty stupid mistakes. Thankfully, everything turned out okay and nothing happened that changed my life forever but it could have.
Actually, let me rephrase that. The knowledge I got DID change my life forever, and for that part, I'm thankful.
The desire to feel loved, to have those things that our friends have, to feel important to someone is powerful. Especially when I didn't have the tools to deal with it. Especially when I was embarrassed to talk about it. Especially when all my emotions were BIG and everything was the end of the world because I was young and naive like most of us are.
But I'd like to think those mistakes, that desire to feel like I meant something to someone, didn't mean I was stupid. That it didn't mean I was weak. No, I know it didn't mean those things. At the time, when I realized what I'd done, I hadn't believed that though. How could I be so dumb? How could I be so naive? Why couldn't someone just love me?
But now I know. Now I know what it's like to really be loved. Now I've gained tons of life experience. My emotions aren't all over the place like they were when I was a teenager. I know things now, that I didn't know then, like ALL of us.
Hope is a powerful emotion. Love is a powerful emotion. Self esteem or lack there of is powerful. Being a teenager is HARD. Add all those things together and I was destined to screw up. How would I know the things I know now if I didn't? How would I have been able to recognize the difference in the way my husband loves me compared to the way that one boy treated me when I was sixteen years old?
My daughter is ten and I'm already so worried about her teenage years. It starts younger and younger. She had a birthday party recently and made a comment that if it wasn't fun, people wouldn't want to invite her to any of their parties. Her "best friend" replies, "You're kind of right." I looked at them both and told them that is WRONG. A real friend will want to spend time with you regardless, but I'm just a mom. Who do you think she's going to believe? Me or her friend? Those are the people she longs to impress just like I did when I was younger.
Again, that does NOT make us weak.
It does not make us dumb.
It makes us human.
I want to tell all young girls (and boys) this message. Hell, as an adult I screw up sometimes. As a teen, it was inevitable. Last week I spoke about how the culture of what makes a man, a man needs to change. That the idea of football being a "mans" sport in regards to Michael Sam coming out, needs to change. Coming out didn't make him less of a man.
Now I want to say that I think this idea that screwing up, or falling for someone's lies, or making a mistake because of that need to be loved, makes a person weak or stupid needs to change too.
Once upon a time I was a sixteen-year-old girl. A boy lied to me. I believed him. That says something about the kind of person HE was, not the kind of person I was. But because of that, when a nice boy came along, I was more careful, but I also had the tools of experience to know the difference.
PS I have never written about my experiences in a book. Just wanted to put that out there :)