Pep Talk from Holly Black
Greetings fellow writers,
Here are some things I wish someone had told me when I was writing my first book. I want to say them to you in the hopes they will help and encourage you. Even if you’ve heard them before, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded.
1) No one can tell if the writing was fun or if it was hard. Trust me. I know it seems like writing that pours out of your brain in a passionate flood should be better than writing that comes slowly and miserably, but the only person who will ever know the difference is you. So no excuses—get the word count done.
2) You don’t have to believe you can; you just have to do it. I remember everyone telling me I had to think positive when I was writing my first book. If I believed I could do it, then I could! If I pictured myself published, then it was going to happen! Which sounded great, except…could I do it? If I didn’t think I could, was I doomed to fail? What if I was almost totally sure I would fail? I am here to tell you—what matters is sticking with it. Even if you don’t know if you can make it through NaNoWriMo, just get through today. Then get through tomorrow. Don’t worry about the day after that, until it’s today. Then you know what to do.
3) There aren’t good books and bad books. There are finished books and books that still need more work. Please don’t let wondering if there’s a market for your book or wondering if the book you’re writing is genius or evidence that you should be heavily medicated get in the way of the writing. Remember, right now you are not writing a good book, you are writing a good draft. Later, you will have lots of time to kill your darlings, make the suspense more suspenseful, to add foreshadowing and subplots. Later you will have time to change the beginning or change the ending or change the middle. Later, you will have time to cut and polish and engooden. For now, trust the process and write (that said, if you suddenly wake up in the middle of the night and realize what’s wrong with Chapter 7, then by all means, jot that down for later).
4) Figure out what happens next. Some people swear by outlines; other writers are like to find the story along the way. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, before you quit for the day, write a little bit of the next scene or a couple of lines on what you think will happen next. That way, you are never looking at a blank page.
5) Write for your reader self, not your writer self. You are the best audience for your own work. If you would absolutely love a character like the one you are writing about, if you adore books like the one you are working on, then you are going to know how to make the book appealing—write it like you were the person who was going to read it. Remember the fun bits, the juicy bits, the stuff you linger over in other books—the good stuff.
6) Talk it through. When you get stuck, sometimes it helps to talk through the book out loud—even if only your cat is listening. Sometimes hearing the plot is enough to engage a different part of your brain in solving the problem.
7) Give yourself regular rewards. A fresh cup of coffee (even if it is your 353rd) when you get to the end of a scene, an episode of your favorite show, a snack, a couple of minutes rearranging your My Book is Awesome mix—if you give yourself regular motivational rewards, you will have small goals to work toward.
Over the course of this November, you are going to feel frustrated, despairing, elated and exhausted. You will walk around in a foggy haze at your job or the bank or the supermarket. People will talk to you for twenty minutes and you won’t have heard a word they said because you just thought of a fantastic new subplot. You will look up things on the internet that make you look like a serial killer. But it’s good practice—just think, once you become a professional writer, that’s how you’ll behave all the time!