Pep Talk from Sue Grafton

Hey, boys and girls!

This is Sue Grafton, just checking in to see how you’re doing. I’ve been thinking about you often and I hope your work is going smoothly. In the event that it’s not, I wanted to assure you that I get bogged down all the time. Someone asked me once if I ever got writer’s block and I said, ‘only once or twice a day.’

For reasons absolutely unknown to Science, many writers begin their novels with a burst of enthusiasm. There’s a measurable outpouring of time and energy. I experience this myself. At the outset, my optimism rides high and my hopes are boundless. This book…this book, I say to myself…will be clever, inventive, fresh, original, witty, and profound. My characters will be complex, textured, and amazingly true to life. My prose will sing. The pacing will be relentless, yet the story will ebb and flow in a manner that will produce both thrilling surprises and quiet moments where the reader can reflect on what’s gone before. My descriptive passages will be evocative, bringing scenes to life in a way that will later translate into a movie sale with all the attendant fame and glory and big bucks. (Personally, of course, I’d never sell my character to Hollywood, but you get the point…)

This hype, this glorious feeling of Omnipotence sometimes continues unabated until Chapter Two. By then, most puzzlingly, I might notice something is amiss. You may find yourself in a similar position at this point in the game. Whether you’ve written a thousand words or ten thousand, you may find yourself faltering. A little note of doubt may creep into your consciousness. This, I assure you, is not about the merit of the work you’ve done so far. It’s an artifact of your own insecurities. You’re probably beginning to wonder what your mother will think of those steamy sexual passages. Perhaps you’re suddenly uncertain your immediate family will appreciate your rendition of their annual drunken Christmas antics that result in all those accusations, renunciations, and slamming of doors. You might suspect that your mate (and let’s not even talk about your kids) might take a dim view of what’s visible through the little window you’ve opened onto your soul.

This is my advice. Disregard the nagging voice piping up from the back of your brain. You aren’t stupid. You won’t fail. You won’t humiliate yourself (that much) in front of all your family and friends. The important point is to keep up your momentum regardless of the fact that you might stumble now and then. Most people you know have never written a novel at all, let alone pounded one out in a jam-packed thirty days.

Look at it this way; you’re not compelled to show your manuscript to anyone, right? In fact, I’d advise you do the opposite. Keep it under lock and key. Guard it with your life. This is your opportunity to express yourself, safe from the opinions of the dolts around you, who don’t know bad literature from good. If you’re smart you’ve kept your mission a secret, but suppose you’ve already blabbed your goal to anyone who’d listen. What was the initial response? Did your loved ones and colleagues scoff or pretend to be supportive while making faces behind your back? Either way, if you bravely soldier on, you can make them eat their words. You can throw their skepticism back in their faces and laugh yourself silly that they had so little faith.

Believe me, getting from beginning to middle to end is an incredible accomplishment in itself! Literary quality is in the eye of the beholder and who’s to say your novel won’t be right up there among the greats? All you have to do is work. All you have to do is push. Focus on the job at hand. Ignore the urge to second-guess yourself. This is not the time for introspection; it’s a time for charging on. Believe in yourself. Be determined to keep the promises you made when you first began. Your commitment to do this will see you through, even over rough ground.

So. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and write. You said you would do this so nod your head and say, “I will do this. I will do this. I will do this.” And then do this.

Sue Grafton

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