Jandy Nelson (born in 1965) is the bestselling author of the novels, The Sky is Everywhere and I’ll Give You the Sun.
Here are four of her terrific quotes about the writing life!
1. Second novels are bears. As are other people’s expectations for them. I think taking the time you need with the second book is key. Writers spend years and years on their first novels and then are often expected to turn out a second at warp speed, a recipe for failure.
This is something in the traditional publishing world that isn’t talked about much (or at least, I haven’t read much about), but I’ve heard a couple of my writer friends complain about this throughout the years, and I totally get it. If you’re lucky enough to get a traditional publishing deal, it’s usually a two-book deal, in that the editor buys your initial book that was submitted for consideration along with a second book you have yet to write.
That first book is always solid because, naturally, you’ve spent months and months, likely years, revising and editing that initial manuscript to perfection. That second novel, however, is an entirely different beast. You actually have a deadline this time, a finite number of months you can work on it. And you have high expectations from others on that second book, too. You want to deliver something as good as, if not better, than the first book, and yet you have a lot of intimidating elements working against you.
Jandy Nelson is right in that if you are expected to turn out that second book at warp speed, you’ll likely have a recipe for failure. There’s no way you can write something as good as the first book when you’re on a time crunch. Of course you might not have a choice in the matter, and this is why learning how to stick to a schedule and reach a desired word count every day earlier rather than later is so important.
2. I have had this longstanding interest in going back to school to get a Ph.D. in art history. I was especially interested in exploring this idea of the ecstatic impulse in an artist.
Many people think that to go back to school when you’re older is foolish. That you should grab all the education you can by the time you hit your mid-twenties, and then that’s it, it’s time to focus on your career and building a family, there’s no more time to learn anything outside the box! I 100% disagree with this with every fiber of my being.
My mom occasionally talks about going back to school even for a class or two to learn something new, and I always tell her she should go for it. Her worry, of course, is that she’ll be the oldest one in the classroom — the oldest one by decades, possibly. This is a hurdle you have to get over. I’ve been teaching at the college level for seven years now, and often that one adult I have occasionally in one of my classes is the most welcome student of all. They always have amazing stories to tell, always have a devotion to the subject matter and to doing a great job.
I’m a big believer in trying to learn something new at all times if you want to be a writer. You can’t just turn your brain off for years on end doing the same old thing and expect to write incredible, original stories that move people. Your work will begin to grow stale after awhile. When you’re constantly learning new things, you just never know when you can use it in your fiction!
3. For me, there’s nothing better than getting immersed in a sprawling, epic, multi-generational family saga, and ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the most sprawling, epic, and multi-generational of them all.
I’ve written twenty novels in ten years, and something I haven’t attempted yet but very much want to in the years to come is a sprawling, epic, multi-generational family saga. It would be really, really hard, but I want to try it at some point because these kinds of books are some of my favorites to read!
There’s nothing like getting lost in a huge book about a family. The Nix comes to mind, and so does Little Fires Everywhere, and so does The Corrections. Books that aren’t so much about plot but are about characters and family dynamics and secrets and lies and betrayals.
If you can make the reader believe that your fictional world truly exists and that those characters are living and breathing, you can work the kind of magic on your reader rarely found in even the most enchanting fantasy novel. And whether you’re writing a huge epic family saga or a more intimate examination of just two or three characters, always remember that character is everything. If you can get your reader to care about your characters, you’re well on your way to producing a great piece of writing.
4. I love art, and it plays a huge role in my life. It’s definitely one of my greatest joys, and I’m a bit fanatical about certain painters and poets and musicians and sculptors.
Similar to the idea of going back to school to learn a new discipline, it should also be in your interest to study and engage in other kind of art-forms than just writing. You want art to fill up your life in every way you can so you’re able to approach the blank page with endless possibility and imagination.
This is why, at the very least, you should be reading every day. When you’re writing for hours a day, sometimes you forget to find even thirty minutes either early in the morning or late at night to pick up a book and read a chapter or two. You don’t want to forget to do this! You will always learn something when you read.
And then when it comes to other art-forms like painting and sculpting and poetry and music, you should dig into any of the disciplines that appeal to you. Try something that excites you, that you’ve never explored before. You can study them if you feel more comfortable that way, or you can participate in them if you have the motivation and the interest, too.
Always remember that the more art that’s in your life every day, the better writer you’ll be!
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