Posted in Writing

Why You Need to Avoid Writing One-Dimensional Characters


Strong Characters are Everything When It Comes to Writing Excellent Fiction.

And you have to take the time to develop them in ways that make them realistic, dynamic, and completely three-dimensional for your readers.

Focusing so heavily on my characters was something I never used to think about much, and instead, I mostly let the story rule the day. Yes, I tried to always give my characters specific qualities and traits. Yes, I even tried to make my supporting characters who only appear in a few scenes pop off the page for the reader.

But it wasn’t until I thought critically about how to give my characters more life on the page that my writing started to take shape in ways it never had before. Because you have to remember how important character is. It doesn’t matter how exciting your plot might be or how much of a hook your high concept might have. Character should rule the day always, not the story.

Here’s something you can do that might help: when you think of each of your characters, not only the protagonist, as in a way having a camera pointed at him or her, as being the center of his or her own universe, you begin to understand as a writer the necessity to not just put all the hard work into developing your main character to a reasonable degree and then merely sketching the side characters.

Once you put hard work into developing all of your characters in ways where you understand their viewpoints, their motivations, their desires, and what’s keeping them from their goals, in one scene after another, your fiction becomes incredibly richer.

Having better characters helps your fiction in so many ways. The dialogue becomes stronger. The conflicts become more dynamic. And your characters slowly begin to take on lives of their own, which is exactly what you want to have happen!

Each of Us is the Protagonist of Our Own Life, and You Want to Think This Way about Your Fiction, Too.

It’s such a weird way to think, isn’t it? Yes, we care about other people. Yes, we do things throughout our days for others. Especially in times like we’re in right now, we’re spending a whole lot of time thinking about family and friends and trying to be as selfless as we possibly can.

But essentially from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed, we are the star of the show. The camera is pointed at us every second of our lives. We are living our own story, and we don’t have the kind of access to other lives as we do to our own.

This is why fiction is so important as an art-form. And it’s why you have to give all your characters, not just some of your characters, their time to shine. That includes your supporting characters. That includes your antagonist.

That includes the character who has exactly one scene and three lines of dialogue in chapter twenty. Even characters with tiny, tiny bit parts in your stories should have a viewpoint that makes sense for the reader and that comes from a place of reality.

It might not be easy for you to develop your characters perfectly in the first draft — trust me, none of us gets it right in the first draft — but when you go about the revision process, pay close attention to how your characters act and behave, not just how the protagonist acts and behaves.

I had a literary agent once give me a super helpful exercise to go through my latest work-in-progress and look at each scene from the perspective of every character that plays an important role in that scene. That’s right — every single character.

The exercise was difficult and time-consuming, and it even frustrated me at times, but I believe going through this process made the novel all the better — and it will absolutely help your short story or novel, too!

Here’s the truth of the matter: it’s not enough to see the world of your story only through your protagonist. Yes, even if your book is written in the first person.

Just because there’s one central viewpoint in your story doesn’t mean all the other characters should be vaguely drawn on the page. Make them specific. Understand their point of view. Give them life!

Start looking at the world through all of your characters, and there’s no telling how much your fiction will improve.

Want to start making some money from your writing?

Check out my new book How to Find Success on 100 Tips & Strategies to Make a Profit with Your Writing, now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by George R.R. Martin to Make You a Better Writer


George R.R. Martin (born in 1948) is the world famous author of A Song of Fire and Ice.

Here are five of his wonderful quotes to inspire your writing!

1. The odd thing about being a writer is you do tend to lose yourself in your books. Sometimes it seems like real life is flickering by and you’re hardly a part of it. You remember the events in your books better than you remember the events that actually took place when you were writing them.

George R.R. Martin definitely brings up an important point about the writing life: a lot of life is going by in front of you as you spend days and months and years spent inside dark rooms creating your stories. This is the only way to do it, really. You can’t live your life 99% of the time and then focus on your writing just 1% of the time. You’re going to have to sacrifice some of that real life of yours and spend it with the characters of your latest story if you want to find success in your writing endeavors.

But, you know, there’s such a rush in writing that you probably won’t feel you’ve missed out on too much. Sure, it’s important that you step away from the writing desk from time to time to live a little and be with family and friends, but writing can be so exhilarating that losing yourself in a world of your own creation is often a wonderful way to spend your time. You’ll often be happier in the long run, and you’ll produce some tremendous art in the process.

2. With a book I am the writer and I am also the director and I’m all of the actors and I’m the special effects guy and the lighting technician: I’m all of that. So if it’s good or bad, it’s all up to me.

I complete understand where he’s coming from here since I’ve made films and written books. One short film I made in college had a crew of about twenty people, and the success of that particular piece was due to the hard work of so many individuals, not just myself. Any major theatrical film you see? There are literally hundreds of people working on it, from the casting to the filming to the editing to the sound and music. You see that “A Film By” credit all the time, but seriously —a film is made by way more individuals than the director.

A novel is different. You really are the writer and director and editor. You’re the star, and if the book doesn’t work at the end of the day, there’s not anyone else to blame but yourself. Sure, everybody should get help with their writing. You should get beta readers along the way, and later in the process, if you’ve had some luck and success, you’ll have a literary agent and an editor go through your manuscript and help you make it better. But the final decisions you make about your manuscript? That’s on you.

3. One of the big breakthroughs, I think for me, was reading Robert A. Heinlein’s four rules of writing, one of which was, ‘You must finish what you write.’ I never had any problem with the first one, ‘You must write’ — I was writing since I was a kid. But I never finished what writing.

I truly believe that the difference between an amateur writer and a real writer is the ability to finish things. If you’re serious about writing, you need to finish everything you start. That goes for poems and short stories, and yes, it absolutely goes for novels. Now, if on occasion you begin a novel that in the days to come you just know in your gut isn’t working and will never work, that’s one thing. Many award-winning talented writers have abandoned novels before, including Stephen King, including Michael Chabon. I’d bet even George R.R. Martin himself has abandoned something major in his long writing career (let’s hope it’s not those final two A Song of Fire and Ice books!).

The problem begins when you start abandoning everything. You start one new writing project after another, but you never finish anything because halfway through every project you suddenly get an amazing idea for something else, and so you immediately flock to that. Again, I understand this. That happens to me on almost every novel I write. I’ll be sixty pages into the first draft when another idea, a better idea, hits me from every angle, and I want to go after it.

You need to push against that tendency. You need to treat that other shiny idea as something else, as something you can pursue in the months down the road after you’ve finished what you’re working on now.

4. Start with short stories. After all, if you were taking up rock climbing, you wouldn’t start with Mount Everest. So if you’re starting fantasy, don’t start with a nine-book series.

What an excellent point this is! In some ways I feel I started writing novels too early. I wrote three short stories in 2009 and one more in early 2010, and then, boom, I thought I was ready to write a novel. Looking back I think continuing with short stories for another year or longer would have helped me tremendously when I later attempted my novels. Sure, you might not have a chance at financial success from writing short fiction, but writing short stories absolutely helps you find your voice, which is super important.

Write short stories to learn how to create a schedule for yourself and set deadlines. Try to write a short story in two weeks, 500 words a day. Then try to write a short story in one week, 1,000 words a day. Learn what it takes to write a lot of words in a short amount of time. Send out your work and try to get published in literary magazines. See what writing of yours is working well and what isn’t. Read a lot. Study a lot. And keep thinking of ideas that would make for great novels. Prepare yourself with the writing of short stories, and you’ll have more success with novels later!

5. When I’m writing from a character’s viewpoint, in essence I become that character; I share their thoughts, I see the world through their eyes and try to feel everything they feel.

This is essential in all kinds of stories you write, but it’s especially important when you write a story or a novel in the first person of your protagonist. You have to remember in this form of writing that you are not the main character. Your own voice can come through in some ways at times, but that character on the page is someone else, and their voice needs to be front and center.

Are you writing a similar character to yourself? Are you writing a character who’s wholly unlike you? Are you writing a character of a different gender? Are you writing a character who’s a lot younger than you or a lot older than you? Are you writing a character who shares different political beliefs? Are you writing a character that has a completely different worldview?

All of these questions need to be taken into account as you write your character and become that character, and that also goes for third person, too. Even in third person, you don’t want to just be this God-like figure commenting on everything and everyone from your own perspective and not your main character’s perspective. The sooner you see the world through their eyes and feel everything they feel, the stronger your work will become, I guarantee it!

If you’re looking for a little escapism this weekend, my YA novel Happy Birthday to Me and its sequel are currently FREE on Amazon. Click here to download your free copies!

Posted in Writing

Write More with the Free Time You Have. Or Don’t.


There’s this weird thing that happens when suddenly you have lots more time to write.

When there aren’t as many excuses. When you don’t have many places to be or things outside the house to do.

We’ve entered a strange period where many of us suddenly have lots of free time throughout the day at home. We’re expected to stay home, after all.

And this seems like the logical time to get more writing done than usual. It seems like the time to finally write your book, finally get that project finished that you’ve putting off. If we’re not supposed to leave the house, if we have hours and hours to fill, then writing up a storm seems the best course of action.

I’ve said many times before how you should write every day if you want to be a successful writer. You can’t just think about writing or talk about writing. It’s important you sit down at your chair every day and get at least a little bit of writing done.

I always feel better once I’ve done some writing, or revised a chapter from my latest novel, or queried some literary agents, or whatever it may be.

At the same time, this period has filled us with fear and uncertainty… and so if you don’t want to write? Then you don’t have to write.

I’ve tried to maintain that old “the show goes on” mentality and have continued working on my various writing projects.

Last week I finished sending out query letters for my MFA thesis novel to literary agents, and this week I’ve been hard at work on the third draft of my latest young adult thriller, Fear of Water.

But I have to admit an odd feeling has overwhelmed me this week. I’ve had the sense that what I’m doing doesn’t matter, that these writing projects are so meaningless in the scope of what the world is going through right now.

Part of me wants to step away from the laptop because things aren’t normal, and they’re not going to be for awhile. How can I continue on with this revision in light of what’s happening?

The truth is that stories, both fictional and non-fictional, really are saving everyone.

Art is saving so many of us, and I don’t know where we’d all be right now without it.

As of now I go on. I write. I revise. I fall in love with storytelling again. Writing has a way of putting me at ease, and in some ways creativity makes me feel stronger inside.

But if you don’t feel the same way, don’t force it. Don’t feel like you have to write.

If you find yourself bingeing Netflix all day, maybe find an hour to give to your creative process. Even if all you’re able to do is write a few sentences, that’s progress.

But if you have no interest in writing right now, I understand. Who knows what these next few weeks have in store for us.

So take care of yourself, first and foremost. Do what you need to do.

Just remember this: if you don’t feel mentally ready to return to the world of whatever story you’re telling, it will still be there for you in the future.

If you’re looking for a little escapism this weekend, my YA novel Happy Birthday to Me and its sequel are currently FREE on Amazon. Click here to download your free copies!

Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by Lois Lowry to Make You a Better Writer


Lois Lowry (born in 1937) is the author of the beloved novel The Giver, along with its sequels and many other wonderful novels.

Here are five marvelous quotes from Ms. Lowry to help your writing life!

1. I prefer to surprise myself as I’m writing. I’m not interested in it if I already know where it’s going. So I have only the most general sense of what I’m doing when I start a story. I sometimes have a destination in mind, but how the story is going to go from Point A to Point Z is something I make up as I go along.

I know a lot of other authors write like this, including Stephen King, and I’m right there with them. Yes, I need to know a few things before I get started on my latest project, particularly a novel. I need to understand my characters well, and I need to have a clear vision of what the opening few chapters are all about and what the ending is going to be.

But I’ve never been interested in mapping out a novel from Point A to Point Z. Sure, it might be helpful to always know where exactly you’re going, but I feel that a strict outline prohibits creativity and makes you too focused on plot concerns rather than character. You don’t want to just wander through the middle of your book, but you should allow yourself a little freedom to explore the world of your story, too.

2. I’ve always been fascinated by memory and dreams because they are both completely our own. No one else has the same memories. No one has the same dreams.

Ain’t that the truth? It’s kind of incredible to think about the specificity of your dreams and memories and then realize nobody else in the world has anything remotely similar. Your journey has been yours and no one else’s, and that’s why I fully believe every person has a compelling story to tell. It’s why you should be putting down your story on paper now, not later.

Even if you come at a story idea you feel has already been done, remember that everything you’ve experienced in life has shaped you into a totally unique individual, and what you have to bring to a narrative that might sound similar to something else or even multiple projects will become wholly yours once you put your exciting spin on it.

3. I don’t for one second think about the possibility of censorship when I am writing a new book. I know I am a person who cares about kids and who cares about truth and I am guided by my own instincts, and trust them.

As a writer of mostly young adult novels, the idea of censorship sometimes floats through my head. I wonder if this YA thriller is too intense for teens, or if this choice I’ve made about a character might not pass the censors, and you know what? That kind of thinking will send you in the wrong direction. You have to be on the side of authenticity. You can’t censor yourself as you write your latest novel and do something that goes against what your character or characters might do.

Sure, you should think about the market for your book and the age of your potential audience, but don’t try to write your novel toward anyone, really. You should be telling whatever story you’ve chosen in a way that’s authentic and true to those characters and that narrative. Never censor yourself about anything, even if you’re writing a book for children. Let other people tell you later what can stay in the book and what might have to go.

4. The grand surprise has really been the fact that being an author, which to me had always implied being a private person, actually requires you to be a public person as well, and those are two separate entities to me.

It’s such an odd predicament, isn’t it? To have enough success with your writing that you might have to one day be a public person, when for so many years you’ve enjoyed the quiet time at your writing desk as a private person. A big reason I write is that I enjoy the quiet, the isolation, the long hours spent in dark rooms creating stories and characters on the page.

But if you do well enough, there will be that time when you have to take the next step. You’ll have to do readings. You’ll have to meet people. You’ll have to do everything you can to sell your book or books. And if you’re a super shy introvert (like me), that step might sound terrifying. But remember, as Lowry says, they’re two separate entities. And because you love what you’ll do, you’ll eventually find the courage to be both.

5. I think when you’ve had success, publishers and reviewers and readers are willing to let you try something new if you’ve already proven yourself. They’re excited about what you’re doing, you have people interested in it, and actually waiting for it. It’s empowering.

This final quote is definitely a welcome one to hear. So often I feel like when you’ve had success in one kind of genre, all that you’ll be expected to do is write the same book over and over. That kind of existence spells death to me. I love to tell stories, and I love to tell different kinds of stories. Sure, I’m happy to spend most of my time in the middle grade and young adult worlds, and I have a particular affection for writing books of suspense and horror.

The truth is your devoted readers will expect you to write something similar each time out — that simply can’t be denied — but if you have enough devoted readers who are excited about your writing style and storytelling abilities, many people will be interested in seeing you try something new. You can’t ever grow as a writer if you stay in the same box, after all. If you just keep doing the same thing over and over.

So whether you’re just starting out in your writing life or you’re discovering your first hint of success, remember to push yourself to try new things and go after the stories that haunt you, that compel you, that fascinate you to no end. Always.

Looking for something to read these next few days?

Check out my new book How to Find Success on 100 Tips & Strategies to Make a Profit with Your Writing, now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Madeleine L’Engle to Make You a Better Writer


Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007) wrote the timeless A Wrinkle in Time book series, along with countless other novels, poems, plays, and short stories.

Here are four wonderful quotes she shared with us about the writing life!

1. With each book I write, I become more and more convinced that the books have a life of their own, quite apart from me.

There are a lot of signs that tell you if the writing is going well on your latest novel project. One is that you actually look forward to writing the book every day rather than dread it. When you’re excited to write that next scene, that next chapter, you’re probably producing some good words every day.

Another sign is that the drafting itself goes by pretty fast. You’re not sitting at your chair for five hours struggling to get out sentence after sentence. If you’re flying through your 2,000 words every day, then you’re doing something right.

Another way you know what you’re writing is good, potentially great? When the world of your book truly begins to have a life of its own quite apart from yourself. When the story and the characters begin to feel real to you. When you find yourself constantly thinking and dreaming about that new book you’re writing.

The more real it all feels, the better your work will be, and the more your eventual readers will fall in love with what you’ve created!

2. The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.

People ask me all the time how I’m able to write young adult fiction when I have many years separated from when I was an actual teenager. I’m lucky in that I’m a teacher and I’m able to interact with kids around the same age as the kids I write about in my fiction, so listening to them speak and watching them interact with others certainly helps me find that authenticity.

But another reason I’m able to write teenagers well is that just because I’m in my thirties now doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what life was like at sixteen or seventeen. I still have clear memories from that time of things I saw, things I felt, friendships I made, dreams I couldn’t shake.

Sure, some of the specific details have faded, but so much is still there in my memory that I absolutely feel confident in writing characters of that age. The older you get, the more ages you’ve been, never forget that — and you shouldn’t hold any fear about writing characters of a different age ever.

3. Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.

I see this quote often from so many talented writers, and it’s expressed so much because it’s so damn true. The worst thing you can do as a writer is sit at your desk for an hour or longer just thinking, pondering, procrastinating. You might not be exactly sure how to start that next scene, so you tap your fingers against the desk trying to come up with that perfect opening sentence or line of dialogue or whatever.

This is all a waste of time, I’m telling you. Sure, when you’re not writing, you should be thinking about your latest project and where you hope to take it in the next scene or chapter, but when you actually sit down to write… write. Don’t think too hard. Don’t second guess yourself.

The inspiration doesn’t come if you’re just sitting there. The inspiration comes as you begin writing and exploring your story and characters. If you mess up, fine — you can fix it later. Just get started on the writing and the rest will take care of itself.

4. A book comes and says, ‘Write me.’ My job is to try to serve it to the best of my ability, which is never good enough, but all I can do is listen to it, do what it tells me and collaborate.

Here’s the truth when you’re a dedicated creative writer and novelist for life: some books simply demand to be written. Lots of ideals swirl around your head for weeks, months, maybe even years, but the ones you have to write are the ones that never go away.

I recently wrote a novel I had been thinking about doing for twelve years. Yep, more than a decade. For the longest time I thought about that idea, and I was scared by it, terrified actually, so year after year would pass and I would never attempt it.

Finally, when I was in my third year of my MFA in Creative Writing program, I needed to write a thesis novel, and I decided it was finally time to put that story on paper. I was still scared to do it — terrified, actually — but the required thesis project gave me the kick in the ass I needed to face my fear and write the book. If I didn’t do it then, I was never going to do it. So I wrote and finished the book, spent more than two years revising it with the help of many people — and I’m now I’m querying it to literary agents!

Sometimes it’s necessary for your mental health to finally put that idea to rest in book form. Once the story is written, that initial idea doesn’t bother you anymore, doesn’t keep you up late at night. Find those books that need to be written, and give them your all every time. Yes, they might never be good enough. Yes, you might struggle a bit along the way.

But if the idea is strong, and if you serve it to the best of your ability, there’s no telling how much success you might have in the future!

Want to improve your skills as a writer and earn some income in the process?

Check out my new book How to Find Success on 100 Tips & Strategies to Make a Profit with Your Writing, now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

6 Quotes by Ursula K. Le Guin to Make You a Better Writer


Ursula K. Le Guin (1929–2018) was the celebrated author of the Earthsea fantasy series and countless other acclaimed novels.

Here are six wonderful quotes she shared with us to help your writing!

1. My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world, and exiles me from it.

What an astonishing quote this is. I’ve never really thought of the imagination in this way before, and I love it. Because what Le Guin is saying here is absolutely true: your imagination gives you the world, it allows you to see things most people don’t, it allows you to truly surrender yourself to everything the world has to offer.

But at the same time your imagination often forces you to become exiled from the glorious world we live in because you’re spending so much time in dark rooms creating fictional stories and characters that don’t exist. You’re using things from the world, from your life, in your storytelling, but you choose to not engage with the world in a way when you’re writing, instead choosing isolation and the blank page.

I believe this way of living is a noble one, a worthy pursuit, even if it makes all of us a little bit foolish. You have to go after your passion, and if that means taking a step back from the world from time to time and letting your imagination become center stage, then so be it.

2. There’s a good deal in common between the mind’s eye and the TV screen, and though the TV set has all too often been the boobtube, it could be, it can be, the box of dreams.

What a golden age of television we’re living in, isn’t it? I’d actually call it an insane golden age because there’s just so much incredible content out there and so little time to watch it all. Every time you feel you’re making a little bit of progress with a few new shows watched from beginning to end, ten other good shows have dropped on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu and now you’re even further behind.

Movies will always be my number one source of storytelling, they’ve been my number one since childhood, but I absolutely believe that to be a great writer you need to do your fair share of both film watching and TV watching, especially in 2020. It’s my philosophy that you should read a little every day, watch some content every day, and write a little (or a lot!) every day to do good work.

Don’t feel like you should spend less time watching TV. Watch more of it if you want! Try different genres, try shows you know nothing about. You can learn so much and be inspired by great television content.

3. As great scientists have said and as all children know, it is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception, and compassion, and hope.

I do believe many people out there lose sight of their imagination as they get older. If they’re not doing work in a creative field, if they’ve hit some unfortunate struggles, if their childhood is in many ways a distant memory, the imagination can sort of go away, never to return.

And that’s a pity. Because keeping your imagination soaring every day, no matter what you do for work and what kind of life you’ve made for yourself, is super important. Your imagination keeps you happy, ambitious, passionate, loving. And it absolutely helps you achieve compassion and hope for the future. Imagination is something we hold onto dearly as children, so why is it so many adults push against it and focus instead on pessimism and cynicism?

As writers it’s pivotal you hang onto that imagination of yours and keep it working for you all hours of the day and night. The best authors out there have wondrous, vivid imaginations, and if you want to keep up, you have to keep your own imagination sharpened throughout your life as much as you can.

4. The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.

This is honestly the most difficult reality of having a novel you’re written go unread. You spend months, sometimes years, on a novel project and give it everything you have. You give it your whole heart and hope it might touch other hearts along the way, too.

But then you query your novel… and no literary agent takes it on. Or you sign with a literary agent… but he or she can’t sell the novel to anyone. At a certain point, if you want to be traditionally published, that manuscript you adore might have to go back in the drawer, and you’ll be forced to start another one.

That book that’s in the drawer is still a part of you and your imagination, but it truly is little black marks on wood pulp without readers, without an audience. And that painful reality can get to you after awhile. Just remember that whether you self publish the novel at some point or get representation for a different novel in the future, there might be life for those unread manuscripts of yours one day.

5. It had never occurred to me before that music and thinking are so much alike. In fact you could say music is another way of thinking, or maybe thinking is another kind of music.

I honestly can’t imagine what life would be like without music. A great song can lift me up and give me confidence for the rest of the day. A song I loved long ago can instantly take me back to a time from my childhood with just a few simple chords.

Better yet, music is simply critical to being a good writer. I know of writers who write in silence, and I understand that to a degree. For me I love to listen to film scores as I draft a new short story or novel. Film score puts me in a mood to write the best story I can. I often go with something that fits my genre, and nothing has ever helped me write more words and better words than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor.

The same way music goes with movies so well, I do believe music goes well with the writing life. The right music at the right time will give you the inspiration you need to be more productive for the day and give you the images and feeling you need to get the best scenes possible down on paper. So think about listening to more music when you write. You might find yourself improving your skills in the process.

6. The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.

This quote makes me think of something Julia Roberts says in the 2013 film August: Osage County: “Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.” There’s so much truth to these quotes, isn’t there? That a big part of why life remains so exciting and filled with possibility is that uncertainty of what comes next, that hope for something better.

I often joke that I never would have gotten started as a writer if I could have seen the future back in 2010. If I could have seen that throughout ten years I would write twenty novels and dozens of short stories and ultimately not have much to show in terms of publishing success or career growth. Writing is hard, after all. Really hard. And when I got started I thought it would take me two books to get an agent and a publishing contract. Maybe three.

But no — here we are ten years since I wrote my first novel, and although I’ve had glimpses of success here and there, I still don’t have any traditionally published books in the world. I’m not sure I would have had the strength and the drive to do what I’ve done if I had known from the beginning I was going to struggle for this long.

However, at the end of the day, that uncertainty makes the whole journey with it, doesn’t it? Because who knows what might come six months from now or a year from now… even a single week from now? Everything can turn around with the right project at the right time with the right person who believes in you, remember that.

So no matter how hard you’ve been working toward your dreams and sometimes think about quitting, keep going anyway. Keep fighting. Something truly exciting could be just around the corner.

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Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by Harper Lee to Make You a Better Writer


Harper Lee (1926–2016) was the celebrated author of the award-winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Here are five wonderful quotes she shared with us about the writing life.

1. So many writers don’t like to write… I like to write, and sometimes I’m afraid I like it too much, because when I get into work, I don’t want to leave it. And as a result, I’ll go for days and days and days without leaving my house.

Let’s be real for a second: a lot of us love the idea of writing. We love to think about writing and talk to people about writing. We love to spend months and months thinking about that story or novel we can’t wait to eventually put on the blank page.

But the truth of the matter is that writing is really, really hard, so many of us steer clear of it as much as we can, and only when we can’t stand the procrastination anymore that we finally sit our ass in the chair and put some new words on the page.

Yes, writing is often hard, and yes, it can sometimes be a slog. But when the writing is good? When your imagination is fired up and you have a handle on your story and your characters? There’s no other bliss quite like the actual writing. You can escape your life and the world you live in for a few hours… or a few days if you want!

When you find yourself loving the process enough to not step away from the writing desk, that’s when you know you’re doing great work.

2. I’m a slow worker; I’m, I think, a steady worker.

One of the hardest things about being a writer in 2020 is having such easy access to social media to see how much faster it’s taking for other writers to find success. You’re slowly working away on a new manuscript, and boom, there are five more authors you follow on Twitter who just signed new big publishing deals or landed new literary agents.

It’s easy to see the success of others online and think you’re a failure. That you’re not good enough. That you’re not fast enough. You’re thirty, forty, fifty years old, still without a book deal, and you wonder if all your effort has been for nothing.

Take a breath. Calm down. Relax. It’s okay if you’re not a writing superstar by the time you hit thirty. I’ve written twenty novels in ten years, and now at the age of thirty-five, I still have no traditionally books in the world or much that I’ve written that truly qualifies as a success. And you know what? I’m okay with it. I’m slowly but surely working toward my dream because I know one day I’m going to make it. I don’t care if it takes another ten years and lots more manuscripts. I don’t care if I’m working a little bit slower than everybody else.

Don’t feel like you have to be a fast writer to be a success. As long as you put in a little bit of work every day and stay consistent, you’ll be well on your way to a completed manuscript and potential success in the near future.

3. Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.

If you take away no other pieces of advice from others, it should be these: stay consistent in your writing, like I just said, and finish every writing project you start.

Writing takes a lot of time and effort. Trust me, I know. And to this day I’ll be about halfway through a new novel manuscript and think it’s a mess and that it sucks and nobody’s going to read it and I’m a fraud and maybe I should just stop and start something else. I feel this all the time, and you’ll feel it, too.

Even scarier? That moment before you begin a new writing project, particularly a novel. You stare at that blank page knowing you have to fill up 200 of them, 300 of them, maybe more, and how in the world are you going to do it? It can be a terrifying prospect, even if you’ve written a novel before. And it’s made even worse if that first day you don’t get very many words down.

But do it anyway. Be courageous. If there’s a project you believe in, don’t put it off another month or another year. Find a window of time and just get started, even if that means a couple hundred words a day. Begin that project you believe in and see it through no matter what!

4. It was something I never expected to — I never expected the book would sell in the first place. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers.

What never fails me to fascinate me about Harper Lee is how brilliant and beautiful To Kill a Mockingbird is and yet she never went on to publish another book (yes, Go Set a Watchman, I know, but that doesn’t really count). She didn’t expect To Kill a Mockingbird to sell. She didn’t expect it to be so universally acclaimed and win the Pulitzer Prize. She didn’t expect it to be a bestseller and be made into an Oscar-winning movie.

It was all clearly so overwhelming to Lee that within a few years after her book’s publication she pulled away from public life and, while she may have written more material in the decades to come, she never opted to have any of it published. And I always tend to wonder if To Kill a Mockingbird hadn’t been such an instant smash if she’d maybe had a few more quality books in her.

I don’t know about you but I would be sort of terrified to have my very first published novel be received on the level of To Kill a Mockingbird. It would be so surprising and thrilling and chaotic I’m not sure I would have the ability to write and publish another book for a long, long time. Look at John Green, who was a prolific author of young adult novels before The Fault in Our Stars was released, and he’s only managed one more novel in the past eight years. Look at Gillian Flynn, who still hasn’t published any novels in the eight years since the release of Gone Girl.

There’s good and there’s bad to having a runaway bestseller. The truth is you can’t really think about the potential success while you’re working on a project. You have to just write the story you’re passionate about and go from there. Whatever happens after that? It’s sort of out of your hands.

5. Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it.

When it comes to the writing life, especially if you’re at the start of it, you’re going to get advice every which way you turn. Friends and family will tell you things. Other writers will give you advice about how to write a novel and how to get your work published and so forth. You’ll go online and read mountains of advice there, too.

I think it’s important as a writer to see what’s worked for other writers before you and get a sense as to how you can do your finest work. You can’t always write in a bubble, after all. The first draft is all you, but when you get into revisions and the eventual publishing sides of things, you’re going to want to take advice from others and get lots of help wherever possible.

Harper Lee is right in that everyone can easily receive advice but it’s only the wise that actually profit from it. It’s not enough to just read tons of advice and then see what you remember or don’t remember. You have to implement the best pieces of advice you see or hear and find sooner than later what works well for you.

Writing is a difficult and lonely life, but there’s also a tremendous community for you out there, both in person and online, where you can learn more about the craft and be inspired and find ways to improve your skills each and every day.

Take in as much advice as you can… and then use it! If you’re smart about the way you take advice from others, there’s no telling how great your writing can be in the months and years to come.

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