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Sunday, April 12, 2009


Megan asks: How do you manage to come up with an idea and stick with it throughout an entire novel . . . Also, I was wondering how you were able to continue with your novels without getting bored with them or without quitting half way through one? I know a lot of people who start writing only to stop because their novels don't interest them anymore.

Well, I don’t quit because I’m not ALLOWED to. Don’t think I haven’t tried. I’ve explained the basic process of what I go through in my post on how to write a book.

But okay . . . you want to know what you do when everything slows down and goes splat. The problem PROBABLY isn’t that you’re bored, it’s that you don’t know what comes next. When you know what comes next, you rarely get bored. When you know what comes next, you often become an anti-social weirdo who spends all his or her time attached to the writing machine, eschewing food and sleep and the contact of others.

But scenes often get broken, or the next step is elusive . . . and then, the brain fog seeps in. This is because it’s actually quite hard to write a good story. It’s pretty rare for someone to just sit down and pound out a whole novel (or one that makes any sense) without having practiced the smaller steps that teach you about story, voice, and general writing discipline.

All that really means is that I think you have to start small and work big. I mean, I could probably build a house if someone taught me how.* But first, I would have learn all the basic skills—how to hammer, how to drill, how to put boards . . . in places boards should be . . . or whatever houses are made of. Plastic, concrete, ice, seaweed, ghosts in solid form . . . I have no idea.

The point is, I would have to learn the small, basic skills and do them a whole bunch of times. Then I could start fitting them all together to make an entire structure. Which is why when I get notes from people who are in high school or younger, worried because they are having trouble with their novels . . . well, first of all, you guys are brave to be working on them! I LIKE IT! But it’s no shock that you’re having problems. You’re trying to build a really big thing when you probably haven’t had the opportunity to work all the building blocks yet.

Does that mean you shouldn’t try, or should stop? HELLS NO! You learn to write BY WRITING. This is an annoying truth that every writer will tell you. Which is why I think doing things like Blog Every Day April is a good idea. Setting a commitment to yourself to sit down and produce something every day—even when you think you can’t, or don’t want to—it builds the muscles you are going to need. You must dare to suck. You must try even when you’re not sure where it’s going.

It helps me, I can tell you. I’ve written eleven blogs in eleven days. I can’t believe it myself. Since my blogs average in at 1500 words (sometimes much more, but that’s the average) . . . I’ve created about 16,500 words that I wasn’t really planning on. I just decided to do it, and I found them. It took time. It occasionally had me sitting at my computer until 2am. And I’m going to have to find about 28,500 more before the month is out. (This is all on top of my normal output.)

I’m not saying that to dazzle you with my fancy numbers. I just like to count.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I COULD do it, but I just did it anyway. The fear of failure really just has to be set aside.

So . . . my suggestion to you is to do something like BEDA, or NaNoWriMo, or a group or a class . . . anything that commits you to writing every day, so you build up the habit, build up the muscles, and stop worrying so much that you might be doing things wrong.

Say you finish your draft.

Amy asks: How do you deal with the internal critic when editing your book arrives? Or, if the annoying voice doesn't bother you, how did you frighten her off? Finally finished a first draft of a novel, but for the life of me, can't get through the next draft.

If you HAVE finished a draft of a novel . . . WELL DONE! And I do have some suggestions for what you should do now.

1. Take some time off

When you first read your work after you complete a draft, it often seems crazy. That’s because your brain is still hot and overworked and knows the words too well. You can’t read them correctly. You’re basically insane when it comes to your draft. You have to walk away for a while. A few days, a week, a few weeks. Don’t look at it! The critical voices are craziest right after you’ve finished.

At first, you won’t feel quite right.

2. Read the whole thing

When you return to your draft after a reprieve, you should be a little more kindly disposed to it. You might even have missed it. And here it is, an old friend, waiting just for you. Read it at least once without stopping—no pens, no notes. I often try to make this reading as pleasant as possible. Make yourself comfortable! Get a nice drink!

Have a nice read.

3. Now read it again

You have probably noticed a few things on the first read that you know need to be fixed. If you didn’t . . . if you read through your first draft and thought “Well, that’s perfect! Nothing to change!” . . . I’d admire your self-confidence, but, that’s not a good sign, really. First drafts exist to be wrong. You’re probably going to see things on all levels—wide-ranging story issues to individual lines. Worry about the big stuff first.

For myself, I usually take the entire first draft apart with a hatchet and dynamite. I kill characters and rip out scenes and change locations and endings and major plot issues. The book you see at the end rarely looks anything like the book you see in the beginning.

You must destroy the draft in order to save it.

4. Killing your darlings

This is a phrase you’ll hear a lot when people talk about writing. What does it MEAN? I’ll tell you. The “darlings” are those pieces of writing you LOVE, but you know don’t really belong in the story. Oh, they sound great! And you spent SO MUCH TIME ON THEM. But if they don’t add to the story, you have to remove them. You can certainly save them. Many a story has been created out of the scraps of a previous story. But you can’t leave them in if they don’t belong.

To illustrate this principle, here is the same video from above, just with key words left out. See how much better it is?

Naturally, the world of writing advice is LARGE, and there is no one way of doing things. There’s no right or wrong. HOWEVER you manage to write a book is the right way of writing that book. These are just some ideas.

As always, please SEND IN MORE QUESTIONS, as I have many days to go! You input is APPRECIATED!

* You probably wouldn’t want to live in it, though.

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Anonymous Leslie B. said...

Hey MJ
I'm a teen writer and I finnished my first novel. I know all the steps get it out there into the fast pace world of publishing. But there is one thing standing in my way: THE PARENTS. (Okay that's two I'm a writer don't think I have to be good at math. DO I?) Anywho I have my queries ready to be emailed but here lies the other problem: NO EMAIL ADDRESS. They told me I could send the letters with their email but that's stupid I'm Seventeen not a baby.
Please help me!

Yes this is the same question from the last time post but you said you needed questions pluse I added an !

3:42 AM  
Blogger Jennila said...

What happened with Free Monkey?

4:09 AM  
Blogger Plucky the Dragon said...

Do you find the Easter bunny as frightening as I do?

4:23 AM  
Anonymous Marlee said...

AS SOON as I saw the first video I thought of the second... gotta love pervs.

4:53 AM  
Blogger Nadia Murti said...

Ha ha! I dare to suck!

I love the second video. :D

I entered your contest on Twitter.

Do you ever get sick of writing?

5:32 AM  
Blogger Melanie said...

I have three months coming up wherin I will have no obligations (and very little money) - what shall I do with myself?

6:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do writers portray guys/girls as perfect people?

6:31 AM  
Anonymous Joey-la said...

I like counting too
For a while I knew the amount of seconds the average woman lived (it's a much smaller number than you may think, which is very scary- also, I obviously have may too much time on my hands if I know the average life-expectancy of a woman, and could work it all out...... sad......) - I memorised it, I was very pleased with myself
ahhh, I love calculators

Which that leads me to my strange and random question (strange questions are good as they often lead to entertaining answers)
What is your favorite piece of technology?

Also, I'm 14, love writing and reading, but I am a TERRIBLE speller, do you need to be a good speller to be a writer?

p.s. I have a boys name, but I'm a girl, just to clear things up!

7:02 AM  
Blogger Callidora said...

I am in college and have no friends. How can I make new friends in my classes?

7:08 AM  
Blogger Hollishillis said...

that second draft is WAY better.

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Kelly said...

Thanks for the post! I just posted on the topic of how to edit a novel a few days ago, in that I have (had, thanks to you) no idea where the hell to start.

I haven't looked at it for 4.5 months, so I'm doing AWESOME at your step 1. Yay me! But I guess I should progress at some point...

8:39 AM  
Blogger Miss May said...

I've decided to think of a new question every day for each of your blog posts. Kind of like a mini-mini-mini-BEDA. Or it could just be QEDA.

Anyway, I think my question for today will be...

If you could live inside one of your books, which one would it be and why?


11:40 AM  
Blogger Joey said...

Should I vlog?

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maureen, what's the best kind of deoderant you have found?

12:08 PM  
Anonymous AllyB said...

Did you get out for Good Friday at your high school?

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's better when writing a YA novel? Funny/clever or serious/dramatic?

7:30 PM  
Anonymous foraysinflats said...

This is driving me crazy because I know that I read it somewhere and now i don't know where and john says you made it up and now I am really confused and feel like I really need to know. Were you and John Green on a cooking show together?

8:24 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

Oh, I love that second video way to much.

Do you like verification words? (For instance the one I'm looking at is 'sesse'.)Do you ever think up meanings for them and imagine who would use them on a regular basis?

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Effy said...

Have you ever thought of writing a screenplay? I was just wondering. You could probably be finished sooner, and I bet it would be hilarious.

10:57 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I've got a question!!!

what is your favorite color?


and also, if you wrote a screenplay, i would watch it over and over and over.

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Kayli said...

Favorite Harry Potter character?

Weirdest subjected class you ever took? (Like Kristina Horner and her childbirth class, for instance.)

Ever had any adventures involving window blinds? Some practically attacked me yesterday, so this is why I ask.

Any more visits from our good friend J.K. Rowling lately?

3:05 AM  
Anonymous Nuwon Wearspants said...

How did you decide on where you went to college?

How did you afford it?

What was your favorite part?


Thank you! I'm beginning/inthemiddleof the college search and it is a lot of work. So I thought maybe reading about your experience could clear things up. :D

3:50 AM  
Blogger Zoe Brimhall said...

Okay, I laughed my head off at these Count videos because I was watching them on YouTube a few days ago, before I'd read this blog. Ha Ha. I love Sesame Street.

7:20 AM  

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