We’ve all heard the tenet: Write what you know.
But let’s go further.
Write what scares you.
In The Reckless Club, five kids spend the last summer day before beginning high school serving detention at a nursing home. During the course of this one day, a Flirt, an Athlete, a Drama Queen, a Nobody and a Rebel reveal what they’ve done to earn detention, who they are when their labels are yanked away, and what they’re going to do now.
The Reckless Club has fun characters, a lot of humor, and experiences inspired by my own life. And, just as with every other book I’ve written, its themes are an exploration in what scares me.
Those fears include feeling unworthy, shouldering loss, hurting loved ones, losing friendship, and being judged. I put my characters through difficult, heartbreaking, awkward experiences. And you know what? They come out okay, giving me and, I hope, readers an understanding that they would, too.
When I began this project, I wanted to delve even deeper. To not only write what I know and what scares me, but also to step out of my comfort zone in how I write. This had always been first person, one perspective, past tense.
The Reckless Club was spread amongst five characters. Could I pull off having not just two but five viewpoints?
While I had always written first person, this book needed to be third person for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that each character was carefully guarding a secret. Could I handle that, too?
The Reckless Club is a middle grade homage to “The Breakfast Club,” particularly that realization of how a person’s whole perspective can shift in just the course of a few hours. Present tense would be the best way to conjure that anything-could-happen-any-moment mentality. But that would require yet another huge step out of my comfort zone.
I remember sitting at my kitchen table, where I had been plotting ideas for The Reckless Club, leaning back in the chair, and letting out a big breath. Tiptoeing out of my writing comfort zone was one thing. This project would require giant leaps. Could I do this?
I looked down at my character sketches. In my mind, Jason, who starts the story known as a Nobody and pushes himself to become a leader by the end, raised an eyebrow.
Yeah, I can do this. I reminded myself that I had written eight other books (eleven if you counted those first three that now live in a dusty drawer). Each one had been scary to send into the world. Each one had pushed me further as a writer and a human. Each one had been worth facing the fear.
Besides, I told myself. I now had a tried-and-true regiment of word count goals, a favorite corner table in the local coffee shop, and a group of friends who could talk me off the literary edge at a moment’s notice. With a support system like that in place, there was no better time to challenge myself.
Within weeks, contract with my amazing editor Julie Matysik of Running Press Kids and YA signed, it was time to write. And that’s when we found out that our family would be moving from our quaint little New England town to a sprawling suburb of Dallas.
Soon I was packing bulging boxes and saying painful goodbyes. We loaded up the car and drove fifteen hundred miles in three days. My son held his prized LEGO Millennium Falcon, my daughter carried a prized mini rosebush, and I clutched a fat, squirming dog prone to stress farts. (Only the dog survived the journey.)
The move not only meant losing that support system I had been relying on, it also ate up time, adding to deadline pressure.
I felt lost navigating this new space, surrounded by faces I didn’t recognize, all while staring my fear of incompetence straight on. Just like my characters.
I leaned into that connection, letting it root me, forcing that tenet of “write what you know” to truly braid with “write what scares you.” While I don’t necessarily encourage writers to move across the country on deadline, I do encourage you to occasionally leap from your comfort zone. Allow yourself to become unmoored and anchor yourself all over again.
The Reckless Club, just like its author, is stronger for the experience.
Beth Vrabel is the award-winning author of Caleb and Kit, A Blind Guide to Stinkville, A Blind Guide to Normal, and the Pack of Dorks series. She can’t clap to the beat or be trusted around Nutella, but indulges in both often, much to the dismay of her family. She lives in Texas, in the Dallas area.