Louis Sachar (born in 1954) is the bestselling author of Holes and Sideways Stories from Wayside School.
Here are four of his quotes to inspire your writing!
1. I never think of an entire book at once. I always just start with a very small idea.
I think a big reason a lot of people don’t ever start their novels is the terrifying notion of having to produce hundreds and hundreds of pages. It seems like too much. It seems like climbing the world’s tallest mountain. Sure, they might be able to write a few chapters, but an entire novel? It’s scary, so they feel the best choice is to never begin.
This is actually the main reason why I didn’t write a novel until I was twenty-five, but as soon as I learned to focus on one small idea at a time, one chapter at a time, one scene at a time, one word at a time, the writing of my first novel stopped being so terrifying. Sure, you should have an idea of where you’re going in the narrative, but as soon as you focus on one small thing at a time and just try to stay true to your original idea and vision, you’ll be able to finish your novel. And then write lots and lots of novels!
2. I didn’t become a good writer until I learned how to rewrite. And I don’t just mean fixing spelling and adding a comma. I rewrite each of my books five or six times, and each time I change huge portions of the story.
Revising your novels, and revising them well, is key to being a success in the publishing world. For so many years I wrote a first draft to the best of my ability and then essentially just did copyedit revisions where I fixed spelling errors and typos and added and deleted commas. I would cut things here and there, but I rarely did the hard work of adding new details and scenes that needed to be there.
Unless you’re a gifted writer and super lucky, the truth is you’re going to have to change portions of your story when you revise. I actually find the better writer I’ve become these past few years, the more I change huge portions of my latest story because I can easily sniff out the mediocrity and the parts that clearly don’t work. It’s not enough to just be good enough as a writer, especially if you want to be a successful novel writer. Good enough won’t cut it. The competition is too fierce, and the agents and editors need to love your book to say yes. They can’t say, well, it’s almost there, it’s a solid B+, but that’s okay, we’ll buy it anyway. That’s not how it works. You have one chance to make a first impression to agents and editors, and you want your writing to absolutely soar from the first page to the last.
3. I don’t listen to music when I write. I need silence.
This is an interesting perspective because I have tried to write in silence, and I struggle every time. There’s something almost sad about it. You’re already in isolation for hours every day as you write your latest short story or novel, and there’s something about having a little music playing that makes you feel a little less alone.
But that’s only part of it. I actually believe the right kind of music can actually improve the writing you’re doing for the day. If you’re trying to get lost in the world of your story, you shouldn’t necessarily put on Top 40 music. Instead you should put on music that creates a mood. I like to listen to film scores when I write fiction. I find the score that best suits the emotion of my latest story, and I let that score play from beginning to end as I write furiously. But if silence works for you, then awesome! Whatever gets words down is the writing setting and ambiance you want to maintain.
4. Every time I start a new novel, it seems like an impossible undertaking. If I tried to do too much too quickly, I would get lost and feel overwhelmed. I have to go slow, and give things a chance to take form and grow.
There are definite pros and cons to writing a novel fast, and there are of course pros and cons to writing it slowly. I’ve tried writing a novel both ways throughout the years, and lately I’ve been writing them faster and not slower because I very much believe the main point of a first draft is to get the story down, and get it finished. If you take too long on the first draft, you might get so lost in the weeds, so to speak, that your story goes off the rails after awhile, or worse, you never finish the manuscript. When you give yourself a few short weeks to write the novel, you’re in the zone for hours day after day until the story reaches its natural conclusion.
However, going slow has its perks, too. I wrote my MFA thesis novel slowly over the course of an entire summer a few years back, and I do find writing it slowly made the quality of the prose incredibly rich in that first draft. And when I started the second and third and fourth drafts I already had a great base to work from, instead of something rushed and thrown together that’s going to force you to work harder during revisions. And in a way there’s not as much pressure when you’re writing a novel slowly. If you don’t reach 2,000 words a day, you don’t feel disappointed in yourself. You can simply aim for 500 words a day and enjoy the process rather than feel rushed to get to the endpoint. Although, again, I do think writing a novel too slowly can set you up for failure in the long run, especially when you’re focusing too much time on the language and quality of the prose and not on the story itself.
So, yes, there are pros and cons to both, so I would suggest you write a novel both ways. Write one novel fast and write one novel slowly and see how each process makes you feel. Whichever one works better for you? Then keep doing it that way for many years to come.
Are you ready to write your novel this year? My brand new craft book, Write Your Novel Now! 100 Tips & Strategies to Help You Draft, Revise, and Publish Your Book, will help you along the way!