Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by Sarah Dessen to Make You a Better Writer


Sarah Dessen (born in 1970) is the acclaimed author of such novels as That Summer, Someone Like You, and The Moon and More.

Here are 5 awesome quotes Dessen has shared with us about her writing life to inspire you!

1. Each time, I think I’m never going to write another book. It never gets easier.

Sarah Dessen feels this way when she finishes a new novel. And I always feel this way, too. Writing a novel is so difficult I’m often amazed that I’ve been able to write twenty of them in less than ten years. Writing a book takes a lot out of you. And it never gets easier, truly.

But months go by. You forget the pain. You get excited by a new idea… and you write another one. Look at Sarah Dessen. Her debut was published in 1996. And fifteen books later she has another one coming out in 2019! Just because writing novels isn’t easy doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. As Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own: the hard is what makes it great.

2. I really just love to read, period, whether it be books or magazines or the back of the cereal box. It’s the one thing I can always count on to calm me down, take me away and inspire me, all at once.

Why do words calm me down so much? They calm Sarah Dessen down too, and they calm down millions of people out there, writers and non-writers alike. There’s something about blocking out everything else and just focusing on sentences that manages to be so incredibly soothing.

I typically don’t turn to cereal boxes for my reading, but it’s true that when there’s absolutely no reading material around I will search for anything. I think a big reason lots of people get into writing is that initial love for reading developed at an early age. Words mean something. Words can make a difference. And words absolutely calm us down always.

3. I can’t sit and twiddle my thumbs. I have to start writing even if it’s miserable some days.

The part of writing I hate the most is that period before you start where you have no idea what to put down on the page. This happens to me on every novel. Even if I stopped my writing the day before at a place where I know what the next scene will be, occasionally I sit down and still don’t really know how to get started. This happened less than a month ago, when I spent almost an hour trying to figure out how to get myself into one of the final scenes of my latest project.

The big takeaway from this quote is simply that you need to start writing even when it’s miserable. Yes, we all hope hope every writing day is going to go well, going to go fast. Those are the most awesome days, when the words just fly off your fingertips and you’re able to get you’re 2,000 words down in an hour or less. Most days aren’t like that. Most days are much harder. And the key to your success is writing even on days when you don’t want to write!

4. Maybe other writers have perfect first drafts, but I am not one of them. I always try to get the book as tight as I can, but you reach a point as the author where you have lost all perspective.

I don’t think Sarah Dessen is the first author to admit that she doesn’t write perfect first drafts. Who does? I would honestly be curious to know if anyone has written a near-perfect first draft, where everything works, where everything comes together in a way that pleases readers immensely. Neil Gaiman has famously said that the second draft is the step in the process where you make it look like you knew what you were doing in the first draft.

There are two big things I believe in when it comes the first draft: write it as best you can, and finish the thing. You can’t ever find success in your writing life if you don’t finish things, and that’s especially true if you’re writing novels. Don’t worry if your book goes astray at some point. Don’t worry if you, like Dessen, lose all perspective. You can fix things later. Revise things later.

5. I’m famously secretive about my work. Nobody reads my books till they’re finished.

I’m absolutely the same way when it comes to my fiction. I’d even go a step further to say that I won’t even tell anyone about my work until I’m at least two or three drafts in. I feel like just describing your work-in-progress to somebody, whether it’s a family member or close friend or stranger on the street, sucks some of the life out of the project. There’s something about only you knowing the ins and outs of the novel that makes it incredibly exciting. You’re working on something new, fresh, original, and there’s no telling if this might be the one that gets you published.

One of the worst things you can do is tell everyone who will listen about the novel you’re currently writing, or have one or more people read chapters and scenes before you’ve finished the first draft. Please, please, please don’t do this. There shouldn’t be any feedback given before you’ve at least reached the end of the manuscript. If you’re working on chapter 12 of 20, and people are giving you feedback about chapters 1–10, what are you going to do, stop and go back to revise? Doing so might prevent you from ever finishing the book in the first place. So stay secretive about your novel. As long as you possibly can!

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