Today, this week, this year, this life. This this this.
I'm finally back to doing my regular Friday afternoon writing inspiration. And boy, do I need inspiration, because between The Romantics coming out and getting married, I am way behind on all my deadlines.
Anyway, this one comes from fellow children's book author and storyteller extraordinaire, Neil Gaiman: “Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent.” ― Neil Gaiman
Key word, sometimes! And we're really lucky when it does.
I really like this quote because it reminds me of what I was going for in The Romantics. It might not be my own love story, but there's elements of my own experiences on every page. And I'm hoping that even though it's all technically a "lie," that it will feel true to readers out there.
Happy Friday and happy reading!
It's Friday, and I'm hard at work on kicking off new ideas and getting ready to promote the hell out of old ones :D
It's a good problem to have: Over the next 2-3 years, I'll have 4 books coming out. It's an absolute dream, and I am so thankful every day to get to do this writing thing.
But dream or no dream, when you're working on this many projects, it means as soon as you let something go you're off to concepting and drafting once again. The good news is, I can't exactly get lazy--I have deadlines to account for, after all (even if I do tend to always get them pushed just a little bit). But the bad news is, with all the writing going on, I've been a bit remiss in holding up Stephen King's second (and just as important) piece of advice: reading.
I've long believed that reading--and reading voraciously--is the best thing a writer can do to educate themselves. Better than an MFA, better than craft workshops, better than obsessively reading advice on the internet from their author heros. I'm not saying that all of these don't have an important place in improving one's writing, but no amount of instruction is going to even come close to the sheer amount of learning a writer does by simply soaking up other writers' words.
It's why I am not a snob about reading. I read in most genres, literally and super-commercial, high-brow and low-brow (though I hate those designations).
But over the past few months, as the deadlines have loomed and the emails from editors have repeatedly showed up in my inbox reminding me of another deadline once one has passed, I haven't taken the time to make much of a dent in my TBR pile.
So here's to reading! Over the last week, I've gone back to my first love and have tried to choose reading over TV/Internet/insert-timesuck-here. Because I love TV, and I like the Internet, at least, but nothing is so amazing as a damn good book.
So here's to writing--and reading--and taking King's advice to heart!
Happy Friday, y'all.
And by drawing board, I mean bulletin board. Because the only thing truly constant about writing is that you have to keep doing it. I'm working on a couple of different ideas right now for future projects, and here is my empty bulletin board, inspired by Blake Snyder's Save the Cat beat sheet.
The good news? This is the fun part. Where worlds and characters come to life. Where the writing is super raw as you try to chip away at the heart of your story.
The bad news? This part NEVER gets any easier ...
Wish me luck!
Living in New York City for most of my adult life, I always dreamed of having a home office. Well, first, I dreamed of trading the fluorescent lights of a corporate America for my couch, but once I'd done that for awhile, I wanted the real-deal. The much sought-after dedicated writing space.
This year, I was able to finally make that happen. My fiance and I found a great apartment with just enough space for me to really spread out. My friends reminded me that I used to say that my main goal in life was to settle down in Greenpoint (a residential neighborhood in North Brooklyn), write full-time, and get a dog. Well, it happened. And the home office was the icing on the cake.
Anyway, I'm obsessed with learning where writers do their work, so I thought it fit to share mine!
Here's my desk on a clean day (it doesn't look like that while I'm on deadline, err, right now). It looks out on a sweet little garden that I may not have access to but is frequently filled with cardinals, which makes me happy. I even went for an Aeron chair. It was part of my goal to take my writing more seriously. But more truthfully, I'm a design nerd, and I salivated over Herman Miller while working for years at Elle Decor, and I'd rather splurge on chairs than shoes ANY DAY.
For art, I looked to things that reminded me of the people I love and my travels. Left to right: A Georgia O'Keefe print of New York City, purchased in Santa Fe on a cross-country trip with my fiance; two paintings from Bali; and a painting by my sister over a collage of snaps from college.
Of course, no space would be complete without a color-coordinated bookshelf. (Yes, I realize this is so common it's annoying now, but I still love it.)
Seriously, you can't beat that!
Happy writing, everyone! I'm going to stop procrastinating now and actually use my office for deadline-meeting purposes.
Save the Cat has quite a reputation in the writing community, both for screenwriters and novelists, and now that I've finally read it, it's not hard to see why. It lays out structure in such a clear, easy-to-understand way, and even if you've written lots of stuff before, it makes all the rules you know and rely on all the sharper.
Screenwriters live and breathe structure, but novelists and short story writers, not so much. At least we're not told to. Creative writing classes, from high school through college and beyond, often focus on the prose, itself. They tell you to show instead of tell, to make the dialogue natural and conversational, to avoid cliches and trite phrasing, to not be so heavy-handed, etc., etc. This is all well and good, but this is all part of polishing. Making the words themselves beautiful, engaging, honest. This all assumes that you know how to craft a story in the first place.
Which so many of us struggle with. In fact, many of us get the advice that we should just write the story as it naturally comes to us and not get bogged down in structure and rules. It's literature, after all! Art!
That's why I love this quote of Blake Snyder's. You can break the rules. You can turn them upside down and defy cliche. But it's a lot easier to do once you know and can articulate exactly what those rules are.
On this fine Friday, I'm honing in on an idea for my next novel. I'm talking, beat-sheet, spur-of-the-moment trips to Barnes & Noble to finally read Save the Cat, kind of honing. I've posted about this before, and I know there are two pretty divisive schools of thought on whether outlining does or does not stifle creativity, but I consider myself pretty solidly in the outlining camp these days. And books like Save the Cat only help me sharpen those skills. So I'm wondering if you guys agree with this quote from the awesome Joyce Carol Oates. I saw her speak at a reading in New York a couple of years ago, and she said something very similar. It struck me at the time, because I was a non-outliner then. Now, however, while I wouldn't go so far as to say that you have to have the ending fully planned out, I definitely recognize the benefit of having a solid game plan.
What do you guys think? Is this kind of advice stifling or simply practical?
Happy writing, and happy Friday!
This is what I did this afternoon. The fact that I now have a home office has completely upped my plotting game. What I used to do on a tiny Word doc is now spread out on a huge, color-coated bulletin board in all it's insane glory (don't worry, I blurred the content of the actual notes so as not give away any plot points).
Now I guess I just have to write it?
Nothing says "welcome back" like the chance of 3 feet of snow in New York City. Most of you already know, but my time in California has ended, and I am back in the great city of New York, Brooklyn to be precise.
When I told everyone in California I was moving back to New York--in January, no less--I got a whole lot of, "Are you crazy?", responses. And promises that I'd be regretting my decision as soon as I had that first taste of winter.
Well, I've been here three weeks now, and I can honestly say: I've missed you, winter.
Here's the thing about having mild, perfect weather all the time. There is no progression of time, no outward marking of change. A friend told me once that an artist friend of hers spent ten unproductive years in California, and got his act together when he went back to more traditional seasons. While I believe that writers and artists can work anywhere (I wrote all of my upcoming novel in San Francisco, in fact), I do think there's a lot to be said about experiencing the ups and downs of the weather, winter included.
There is something wonderfully contemplative about staying in the house, watching movies and reading, messing around on the computer and knowing not only that you are not going to do anything else, but that even if you wanted to, it would be impossible. There is something inherently productive about being snowed in. Even if you don't hit your word counts or start that new idea, there is a mental pause that is absolutely necessary as you get ready for whatever it is you're going to do next.
California was full of endless sunny, wonderful, lovely days. It was filled with hiking and biking and drinking wine and eating really good, really local food. But there's something inspiring about sitting in a room, watching the snow fall down, and knowing that you only really have access to mental entertainment.
So here's to winter--and a few forced snow days--I hope everyone stays warm and safe indoors!
Normally, I'd take this lovely writing Friday to share an inspiring quote or writing tip, but today, after reading a conversation among writers about doubt, and asking myself how exactly I do overcome the doubt during the inevitable writer low-points, I realized something: I've been writing for as long as I can remember, but really in earnest since just after college. That's going on 8 years. And I think the longest I've ever gone without a real idea I could mould and shape and work on is about six months.
The reason I keep writing is because I keep finding things I want to write about.
And if that's not something to be thankful for, what is?
Fellow writers: How do you get ideas? What's the longest you've ever gone without one in mind?
It's been awhile since I've posted (hi readers!), and a lot has changed in the past few months. Let's start with the fact that I quit my job, and I'm now doing this writing thing full-time! (See above GIF.)
A lot of things have happened since I said so long to my day job. I've gone to Hawaii, rocked out with two of my favorites at Coachella, and taken an amazing two-week trip to New York, filled with Sleep No More after-parties, Belmont Stakes fanciness, and a ton of time with friends.
Life has settled down a bit now, and it's back to the thing that's always waiting for me: writing, along with all its joys and struggles. The project I've been working on for the last year and a half is buttoned up for the moment, and I'm back to that magical/frustrating/exhilarating stage of coming up with something new.
Yesterday, as I was thinking about my new idea, I realized that each time one comes, it feels like it's going to be your last. I know some writers are chock-full of ideas and have a binder or Word Doc with all these potential plots written down, but that's never been me. I wait around, I think, I write indulgent and disjointed mini-scenes that I know are going nowhere, but then eventually--and it hasn't failed me yet--an idea comes. And then I play with it awhile and hope it doesn't suck.
Every time I get a new idea, it feels like a miracle, a two-year reprieve, or extension, before I have to go down that path again.
But no matter how much I don't think a new idea is going to come, it does. I don't have a fully formed plot yet, and I'm not sure of a lot of things, but today I wrote 1,000 new words, and that is something to be thankful for.
Happy writing and reading, everyone! And if you're in the idea-generating stage, have patience. Something awesome is on its way!
Better late than never, right? Happy Friday! I've been a tad remiss in doing my Friday inspiration posts, but this evening, I'm back with a bang. Thanks to my boyfriend for sending over these awesome rules for writing, from George Orwell's Wikipedia page. Most of them are common sense, but always worth keeping in mind. Enjoy!
Above: So true and why I never quite could get into academic writing.
This one is a toughie. They are so easy to use these, and you can even come to rely on them when you're quickly getting out a first draft. The good news is that they send off red flags when you read them because they sound so trite, so they're easy to clear out on edits.
Even when you're just begged by the pen to do so.
This is one that I feel pretty confident in, since I have a background in journalism and I write YA. I think it keeps the writing really fresh, and frees readers to follow story, your own crafty similes and the like, rather than tripping over words they may not have been exposed to.
There are so many variations on this from other writers. Truman Capote: "I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil." The famed "Murder your darlings," first coined by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Basically, don't be afraid to get rid of stuff. Can definitely be applied to characters and subplots as well!
And finally, my favorite. Because at the end of the day, no advice should be followed to the letter if it doesn't work with your style. The most brilliant authors got that way by breaking all the rules.
Happy Friday, and happy weekend!
I'm not one for New Year's resolutions--if I'm going to gym it or diet, it's not going to be tied to Jan 1 or any major holiday--but I do enjoy taking some time to reflect as an old year ends and a new one begins, and I've been thinking a lot about writing and how I can grow this year.
It's funny because all my life, my main writing goal has been to publish a book. Well, 2013 was the year it happened. It's hard to believe sometimes, but it did. Of course, I could say, I want to publish a better book, to a bigger audience, and have a huge marketing plan and a movie deal and on and on and on, but for the most part, those things are all out of my control. The cards will fall where they fall, and the only thing I can do is to be the best writer I can be. So that said, here are this year's goals.
#1 Be less lazy. I don't mean sitting on the couch, and I don't mean not writing, but I mean allowing yourself to write below your level (first drafts don't count). I mean those damn sentences you write and think, hmm, I could make this better, but it just seems like so much work or you really want to make a deadline or what have you, and you leave it. Or a plot move that feels just the tiniest bit convenient, even to you. Now, a good editor or agent will catch those things, but I figure the more of them you catch yourself, the more the agents and editors can spend catching other things, or making what's already pretty good even better. So one goal this year is to stop myself when I have that tiny thought in the back of my head that I could do just a little bit better and move my cursor back a bit and actually DO BETTER.
#2 Read what scares me. I have a confession to make. I have never read John Green. It may come as a surprise, because I have a freaking quote up on my site of a blogger comparing me to the contemp master, and I am thrilled about that, but I have not actually read a single one of his books. Don't get me wrong, I've read passages, and I've thought they were just gorgeous, but every time I go to pick up one of his books, I have this thought in the back of my head. You know the kind. Something like ... THIS IS THE YA CONTEMPORARY MASTER. YOU WILL NEVER BE HIM. BETTER JUST QUIT NOW. This is ridiculous. I will never be him, because I am not him, because my books are not his and nor is my writing. And just because someone else creates something heartbreakingly beautiful DOESN'T MEAN YOU CAN'T. There isn't a limit on the amount of emotional beauty allowed in the world. I repeat, there is not a limit on the amount of emotional beauty in the world. And just because someone else is really skilled at creating it, doesn't mean you can't do so, as well. So mark my words. This year, I'm going to read more contemporary YA, and I am going to turn off the comparisons, and I am going to enjoy these wonderful books by my contemporaries. And it might just help me make my writing better.
#3 Write truthfully. My goal as a writer has always been to be honest, but this year, I want more moments of truth in my writing. You know what I'm talking about--the passages that make you put the book down and look up at the ceiling and just think for a second. That make you press highlight on your Kindle. That make you want to tear out the page and send it to everyone you love with words highlighted in bright pink and say, THIS IS WHO I AM. NOTHING EXPLAINS ME BETTER THAN THIS. I want that rawness and that honesty in every one of my characters and every one of my passages. I want even the most minor characters to be achingly real. And I want more of those moments, those stop-everything, this-is-how-the-world-really-works moments. I have no idea how to get them, but I'm hoping that the more I get to know my characters, the more of myself I pour into my writing, the more frequently they'll come.
#4 Be more thankful. I am almost ashamed to say it, but publishing a book can be very stressful. It can make you doubt yourself and hassle your ever-patient agent with crazy questions. It can make you never want to write again. And when the occasional ultra-harsh review comes it, it can make you feel like the biggest failure. But on the very same day, you will be filled with so much joy that a story that was important to you is out in the world and PEOPLE ARE READING IT. You will do an event and look at the excitement and admiration on people's faces and realize that they think you've got something kind of special. You will get your first fan mail and start crying. You will see sales rise and fall and rise and fall, and you will always have this crazy thought inside that people are paying money to read something you made up. It really is quite wild when you think about it. I have hit all of these highs and lows this year, but all I can say at the end of it is that I am so very lucky for the chance to share my writing with readers. And in 2014, more than anything, I want to cherish and recognize this gift, both of writing, and of being heard.
Happy belated New Year, and happy writing! xo, Leah
In my journey into writerdom, there are two (of many) pivotal moments that are of particular relevance today. The first was when my 8th grade English teacher suggest I read Pride and Prejudice. The second was when I was stressed about my college graduation and my dad gave me some of the best advice I've ever received.
Jane Austen first. Needless to say I devoured Pride and Prejudice, and went on to read all of Austen's novels within the next year or so. I guess you could say Austen spoke to me like no one else ever had. Despite the old-fashioned language, her books were insanely digestible. They were lighthearted, funny and romantic. They were page-turners. And yet they weren't cheesy or fake or overly dramatized. They felt real. I've said it before, but I think her writing style is a big part of what led me to YA. The language, while brilliant, is simple and direct, letting the story and the characters shine through. Austen doesn't rely on complicated metaphors or symbolism to get her point across. She tells it like it is, and as a result, her novels are timeless accounts of human nature, whether in her era or ours. Even though I write about completely different subjects, in the end, I write about people and their interactions with each other, and if my writing is half as authentic as Austen's is, I'll know I've succeeded.
And now to that moment just before college graduation. When I was freaking out about what to do next with my life, as nearly everyone is at that time. As I weighed the different paths and options available to me, my dad gave me some awesome advice. I'm going to misquote it, but it's something along the lines of this: "Don't worry about all those different choices, because I know that you're going to be a published author." He said it as simply as that, and I know he believed it. And it turns out, he was right.
So Happy Birthday to Jane Austen and my dad. Looks like December 16th is a great day to be born!
I've always been more of the, "the apple really is just an apple" camp, when it comes to symbolism. I think that's why I connected much more with my creative writing classes than with my lit classes in college--I always felt like in the lit classes, we were playing a game called, "what was the author really trying to say?" And I always enjoyed focusing on the actual text than when I thought was secretly inserted into it. Today, my good friend passed on this story on Mental Floss, on a student who surveyed several famous authors on whether they intentionally use symbolism. Many of them say no, and many have a lot of funny things to say. Definitely check it out. This is perhaps my favorite piece of insight and advice, from Ray Bradbury:
"Not much to say except to warn you not to get too serious about all this, if you want to become a writer of fiction in the future. If you intend to become a critic, that is a Whale of another color…Playing around with symbols, even as a critic, can be a kind of kiddish parlor game. A little of it goes a long way. There are other things of greater value in any novel or story…humanity, character analysis, truth on other levels…Good symbolism should be as natural as breathing…and as unobtrusive.”
Then there's this, from Norman Mailer:
"I’m not sure it’s a good idea for a working novelist to concern himself too much with the technical aspects of the matter. Generally, the best symbols in a novel are those you become aware of only after you finish the work.”
So I guess I shouldn't feel so bad that I do a whole lot of writing and very little thinking about what I'm writing, at least in the early stages. Fellow writers, do you ever consciously use symbolism? Do you find that some symbols have appeared during or after you finished a work?
I'm coming up on the finish line for the first draft of my new work, and, given that it's National Novel Writing Month, I've been thinking a lot about time and writing. How much time is enough? Too much? Does a good novel take more time than a subpar one? Is ten years better than ten months--or even--ten days?
THE AFTER GIRLS took me, all in all, probably three years. I'll leave it to you to decide if it's quote-unquote good or not. How much was on a first draft or a second or a third or revisions, I cannot tell you. That novel was such a discovery all the way through, that I doubt I could pin down any real start or finish. But I'd ballpark three years.
My first manuscript, which was fairly autobiographical and is better suited to my eyes than the general public's, took me four months for a first draft. Let's just say I was a rather prolific twenty-three year old. But that novel wasn't near as ambitious as THE AFTER GIRLS, and I think that's one of the reasons why it went so fast.
Now, my current project looks to be finished (first draft-wise) soon, which would put the total first draft time at around ten months. I chalk up the speed to an extremely detailed outline, a fully formed idea (the whole plot came to me around Christmas last year, in a 2 a.m. burst of inspiration), and the joys of Scrivener. That said, it is in need of a deep revision, and I'm not sure how long that will take.
So the answer, for me at least, is twelve months, if I average four months, ten months and twenty-four months (I'm guessing two years for the first draft of THE AFTER GIRLS). But what about others?
Ernest Hemingway wrote a draft of THE SUN ALSO RISES in just two months, while Donna Tartt took about ten years for THE SECRET HISTORY (I once read an interview where she said she enjoyed every moment of those ten years, and didn't want it to go any faster, and I have a hard time believing that).
ON THE ROAD apparently took Jack Kerouac less than a month (and one taped-together strip of 120 sheets of paper), while NO GREAT MISCHIEF, by Alistair MacLeod, took thirteen years to write. That's a middle school child.
So the answer, I guess, is ... however long it takes you ... and for many of us, it will take longer than a month. Though I admire NaNoWriMo for giving many writers a much-needed jolt, and perhaps some people do find success through it, I've never been able to make it work for me. The daily word counts were simply too stressful. There are many days when I exceed the suggested NaNoWriMo count on my own, but there are days that I don't. I average about 1,000 words a day, but I don't necessarily write every day (yeah yeah, I know EVERY piece of writing advice says that you should).
Furthermore, I think it would be great if we all could let go of the speed goal and just focus on the writing, itself. There are countless Google searches for "how to write a novel in a month" and "how to write a novel in 30 days," but, I gotta ask, what's the rush. If it's really the story you're meant to tell, why the need to pack all the fun into just 30 short days?
Fellow writers, how long does it take you to complete a draft? Have you ever had any luck with NaNoWriMo?
Happy Friday. After a bit of a hiatus (including sunning on Miami Beach and a lot of writing), I'm back to the blog. This Friday, I'm finding particular inspiration in the amazing Margaret Atwood. I'll admit, I'm rather late to the Atwood game. Though I've heard myriad good things about her over the years, I only recently read her work, beginning with THE HANDMAID'S TALE and ORYX AND CRAKE, and I'm just now finishing THE ROBBER BRIDE. I can't say enough about her style, the way she weaves words together, the way she explores metaphors to the Nth degree, the way in which language is important even to her characters. In her works, Atwood asks a lot of questions about science, society, sex, women's role in the home and the world, and so much more. She asks "what if" a lot, and what she gets back is often terrifying. It is in this asking, however, that she shows us just how important our own humanity is. Without it, these what-ifs could come true. In the case of THE HANDMAID'S TALE, many of them already have.
In the midst of these larger questions, Atwood tucks in smaller ones, and maybe those are even the most enchanting. Why is their no comparable word for "fraternize" is one of my favorites. In THE HANDMAID'S TALE, Offred says: "Fraternize means to behave like a brother. Luke told me that. He said there was no corresponding word that meant to behave like a sister. Sororize, it would have to be, he said. From the Latin. He liked knowing about such details."
It is the role of all of us to ask questions, writers and otherwise, and while we may not yet be adept in asking the types of questions that Atwood does, we may also not be meant to ask these same questions. This is why I love her quote so much. It's not so much that there are right and wrong answers, but rather that we all have our different questions. And by posing those, we hopefully share some glimmer of truth with our readers and ourselves.
Writers, what questions do you ask? Do you find answers as you write?
I usually save my writing inspiration posts for Fridays, but in honor of the legendary Tom Clancy, who passed away last night, I wanted to share this wonderful quote of his. It's hard to sum up the writing process any better.
RIP, Tom Clancy. You were truly prolific.
Thanks to Business Insider for sharing the quote.
Like all writers (and all humans), I have a tendency to get down on myself sometimes. And with a published book, sometimes it can be pretty easy. Is it selling as much as X, X or X? Why did so-and-so get a positive review from such-and-such and I didn't? Why is review #23 on Goodreads so mean? What did I ever do to them? Do they know that I still read every single review? Do they know how much their words can sting? Why is a 24-year-old a bestseller? By that logic, at 28, I should be a bestseller a few times over! During times like this, it's easy to forget about the good things. That Booklist loved The After Girls, that, for awhile, at least, the book was rocking the Top 50 on Amazon, that a reviewer, who, for all intents and purposes, appears not to be delusional or crazy, compared my writing to that of John Green.
And beyond all that commercial stuff, the fact that I receive emails like this:
Hi! I just finished reading your book After Girls and wanted to tell you it was really good! I felt like I was in the book and experiencing what Sydney and Ella were. It felt like Astrid was my friend.
Or that this adorable teen thought it fit to record a hilarious review for her YouTube channel.
There's also this: The After Girls is not the only story I have in me. That I have a new idea that I love and my agent loves, and I feel like readers will love, too.
There are so many things to be thankful for as a writer, and more than anything else, the fact that you get the joy of writing and sharing your work with the world, whether that world is your partner, a friend, your doting mom or a million loyal readers.
For those of you struggling (like me) with the inevitable writer self-doubt, for those looking for an agent, an editor, a second publishing lottery ticket, or simply for the strength and dedication to complete your story, I encourage you to meditate on the fact that we all feel this way sometimes. And to remember that, if you've suffered any of the setbacks that come with writing and publishing and you still want to write, you must have something to say, because there are a lot of easier ways to make money (and a ton of easier ways to have fun).
One of my favorite authors, and now, one of my favorite quotes. I'm not sure why Anthony Trollope never gets taught in school. He's a British serial novelist who is, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant. His stories are so captivating and enjoyable, yet still very well-written, like a high-class old-time soap opera. But of course, Dickens get all the praise and attention when it comes to serial novelists. I actually only found out about Trollope through a bookseller in Williamsburg's recommendation. I owe to him a better lit education than I ever received from a college professor.
Anyway, anyone who's read Trollope (and please, read Trollope! Start with He Knew He Was Right. Plus, than you can watch the BBC miniseries.) knows that his writing appears effortless. His books are thousands of pages, and I've yet to come across so much as a turn of phrase that's awkward. It's refreshing to know that what appear so easy for him, was actually quite labored.
So here's to lots of work--and lots of beautiful writing!