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Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Today, I’m going to be answering some of your questions about writing! I have somewhat mixed feelings about giving out advice, because there seems to be so much writing and publishing advice out there, much of it terrible and wrong. And I would never want to accidentally misstep and lead you astray.

But there is also very good advice, and this inspires me!

So I confine myself to areas in which I have personal experience--and my answers are just based on my experience, and the experience of Free Monkey.

But first . . . I see from the comments that some of you think I hate J.K. Rowling. Nothing could be further from the truth! Scratch an mj (actually, please don’t), and you will find a Potter fan to the core. I am the kind of girl who wakes up every morning and sings a rousing round of “Weasley is my King” (Gryffindor version) because Weasley IS my king! I was just a tiny, tiny bit happy when Lavender Brown ran into her little spot of bother in book seven. (Stay away from my Won-Won.) I always trusted Snape.

I tell you true . . . you have NO IDEA just how much I love Potter, or how much a part of my life Potter currently is.

I can say no more on this matter. I have secrets to keep.

Also, some other people helpfully suggested putting bars on my windows. Sadly, that won’t work. J.K. can chew through bars with the ease that most of us use to work through a piece of gum. Otherwise, this is an excellent piece of advice.

Advice! That’s what today is about! Advice!

Can you help me? I just got my very first editorial letter and it is twelve pages long. My fellow newbie writers tells me that means I am the worst writer alive. They all got short letters. is that true? What should I do? Give up writing? Kill myself?

This sounds like one of those crazy old adages, like, "If you get a cat, it will sit on your chest at night and steal your breath!"

There is, as far as I know, zero truth in this statement. I say this as someone who was an editor and wrote edit letters, as someone who has received many edit letters (both short and long), and as someone who was given at least the minimum necessary portion of common sense at birth. This sounds like one of those things nervous authors come up with when they in the Waiting Period, where you go a little crazy and start reading signs into everything. In this case, a Hive Mind has developed around the idea. Just because a group of people said it doesn't make it any less crazy.

Editors are people. They have their own style, schedule, and method of doing their jobs. There is no secret code or rote method for doing what they do. Some editors are chatty. Some are exceedingly busy. Some like to labor over long letters, some don’t. Some have colds and want to go home and go to bed and therefore are not capable of writing much. Some are avoiding other work by writing extremely long letters about books they like. Some have just had their computers crash and now have to write everything very quickly. Some are about to get married/go into labor and need to finish everything on their desk. Some like to feel out what they think would make the author feel better—a long or short letter.

Whether the book is good or bad, I honestly can't say . . . but the letter length is just the letter length.

Please put down the paperweight you planned on swallowing, and immediately do some excellent dancing to Abba. Clutch your twelve pages and be merry.

What do you think is wise for an aspiring writer to choose as their college major?

Luckily, Meg just answered this.

If a writer falls in the woods and no one is around to hear him/her, does he/she make a sound?

Forget SOUND. Whenever a writer moves, many adverbs are generated. Should you lack any adverbs because you are extremely still, go here.

Question, not directly writing advice related: What do you think of F. Scott Fitzgerald's method of "title first, book later"?

My first thought is . . . if Fitzgerald says it, do it. Fitzgerald is one of the greatest writers America has ever produced, and I have been a rabid, drooling admirer of his since I was 15.

My second thought is . . . you should do whatever works for you. If the title comes on hard and fast and strong and brings ideas with it, go with it. Use it! And if you have no title, okay!

Only thing to note: it’s not at all uncommon to have to change your title once the book is accepted. Try not to get upset. Title’s just a bow on the present. A big bow, but a bow. The Great Gatsby, for instance, was just one of many titles Fitzgerald was considering. In fact, he tried to change it to Under the Red, White, and Blue at the last second . . . but the publisher said it was too late. The book was already at the printer. (Ah, Fitz. Deadlines are deadlines, even for you.)

Try not to get upset if something happens to the title.

Is it wise to experience yourself with LOTS of reading of LOTS of novels, both good and bad, to hone and develope your own writing style (not saying overload, but you know)? I'm guessing it is.


Does one have to be a comic genius to write YA?

Yes. But I do it anyway. Sue me.

Maureen, Do you have moments of self-loathing ("Everything I write is wasting innocent data space on the hard drive!!")and how do you get past them to actually write something?

I remember in high school when people would say things like, “Believe in yourself!” And I would think, “I believe I would like to stab you in the eye with my pen, Captain Platitudes.”

I now know what it means, and it means things like . . . when you are sitting in front of your computer thinking, “Every time I write a word, a baby bunny loses a floppy ear in a terrible and largely inexplicable industrial accident” . . . you keep going.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a writer who didn’t experience this feeling. (And I’m not sure I would want to.) I definitely have. Ask Daphne about my two AM phone calls in which I threaten to overdose on Scrabble tiles. No one writes brilliantly all the time. It takes work. To do the work, you have to sit down and see it through those moments of panic. You can’t give in to this impulse:

Quite often, everything’s fine. Maybe it’s even some of the best stuff you’ve ever written. Who knows? It’s just fear talking, and fear must be BEATEN WITH A STICK.

I know this runs contrary to almost all of my advice, which is to FEAR EVERYTHING, like the sun, and jellyfish, and tiny birds. I’m not talking about those things. That kind of fear is sensible! That is good, solid biology! Fear about yourself, or your general capabilities, or speculating on what you might do wrong, or what people will think of you . . . that’s the fear you have to get past.

I liken it to my swimming lessons. I don’t have the best relationship with the water—never have. And when someone was standing there saying to me that it was Time To Get Into The Pool . . . I had about ten million reasons why I shouldn’t. It was wet. It was cold. What if someone dumped in a hundred lobsters by accident? What if my foot was made of lead and I didn’t know it and I slowly sank to the bottom, unable to be rescued? What if I got sucked into the drain?

And the swimming teacher would just stand there and nod and say, “Into the pool.” Because they were used to people not wanting to get into the pool. And the pool was cold and wet, but no one ever released any lobsters. And I’m not the strongest swimmer, but I can swim. The whole point is . . . you have to get in the pool.

Well, not literally, of course! That’s insanely dangerous! You know what I mean. Hopefully.


Not yet! But soon! Very soon! And some of you are making some very good guesses.

What must we do to win these amazing prizes?

I don't know yet. Hopefully nothing DANGEROUS.

We might be needing to make "Free Alan" shirts soon...

You have no idea how much I want a FREE ALAN RICKMAN shirt. No idea. I literally cannot express my want . . . except maybe in dance.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I like jumping in the water!

9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh mj, you always give great advice. I will never again consider overdosing on Scrabble tiles.

But dominoes still seem like a good idea.


12:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can express just about anything with a dance! Just the Native Americans!

12:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*ask* the Native Americans!

12:25 AM  
Blogger Amee said...

I agree about the water. You never know, a whirlpool could develop and then you would regret getting in the pool.

12:41 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I should get a prize. Because, you know, I'm the sixth commenter and six is considered a magic number in some countries, such as Flubafia (see the unpublished children's book by Stephen Friedrich and Erin Hemmelgarn) and Pokrovia (see the very published work by Kristen Miller).

Just thought you might like to know.

12:57 AM  
Blogger lili said...

JK owns that adverb factory, yes? or at least has shares?

1:21 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

haha, totally get lili's comment.

I've been told adverbs are bad, naughty things that should be done away with. They are like those jellyfish that everyone should fear (I do) and stay far far away from (I do). I tried that. It didn't work too well. but thanks to you I can go around saying 'Well, MJ said they were okay. So ha!' because I like adverbs. They're pretty and sparkly. They glisten in the sun brightly, heck, the glisten in the DARK brightly. I love adverbs.

So thanks for the advice...I really need me some FREE ALAN RICKMAN shirts... I might make some...hmm...that's a good idea. :D

reveal the

1:39 AM  
Blogger Reese said...

I have fawesome news.

THEY'RE OPENING AN IKEA NEAR ME!!!! Is that exciting or what? IKEA I'M EXCITED!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

can some1 who already won a suite scarlett prize win the big super secret prize?

3:23 AM  
Blogger K. said...

Thanks for answering the Fitzgerald question!! I am in love with The Great Gatsby and since hearing FSF's piece of advice I've been thinking of titles and ideas non-stop. Like JK and how she thinks about better locking up Alan Rickman. :)

3:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey. *sighs* I am thoroughly numb. I was on nerdfighters and this guy commented me. I have been very careful not to give away any personal info and have been very suspicious of the guy who commented. He was charming and nice and all, but it was completely odd and he asked to be my friend. I said okay, but then I found out that he was a total religious freak and admired aldolf hitler. Just finding that out (from his own info that he put down on his page) makes me want to puke. I immediately deleted all comments and the friend's request I sent him. I am a strong believer in coexistance between the religious groups and feel very stupid for falling for this. I am glad I am smart enough not to give away any personal info, but I still feel stupid for actually requesting someone to be my friend how admired hitler.
**note: I also realize that he has a right to his opinions, but I am just shocked that anyone would admire a cruel person like Hitler.

Please help me feel less stupid and help me be happier. Please.

Also, on the topic of writing. I love to write and write all the time. But I can never finish a story. It is my goal this year to actually finish one, but after this numbing experience on nerdfighters, I feel stupid and everything I write sounds dumb. How do i get over this and how can I actually finish a story?

Please help me. :0(


4:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

should be *who*
and extra PLEASES.

4:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just found the coolest title!

The Agony and the Ecstasy...In Your Pants!

8:01 PM  
Blogger Lil said...


Yeah, so evidently at this site you can quickly create your own t-shirts. This is one my friend designed after I told her about the shirts. Or you can easily screen print one I think..

It sure is neat! And yeah, we should all make shirts and wear them. Then we'd know fellow MJ fans when we see 'em! Plus you know, I do feel so badly for Alan being trapped in her basement.

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i just read 13 Little Blue Envelopes. And I really like it. it's actually kind of funny; i didn't look up your blog because i read the book. i looked up the book because i read your blog ._o.

anyway. would you actually recommend a 17 year old to go off to europe alone? i think my parents would think this a Bad Idea. however, if given the chance, being 17, i would go in a second. i might even fight someone for it.

2:29 AM  
Blogger limeywesty said...

I have resorted to banging my head on a piano before, but that's when I can't make songs sound the way they're meant to...

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