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4 Quotes by David Foster Wallace to Make You a Better Writer

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David Foster Wallace (1962–2008) gave us the iconic novel Infinite Jest, along with the posthumously published The Pale King and the short story collection, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

Here are four of his quotes about writing to inspire you!

1. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside.

I don’t know about you, but writing for even just thirty minutes a day can do exactly what David Foster Wallace said: nourish me, heal me, and make me feel a bit less alone inside. Writing is an incredible practice if you let it take over. You feel a sense of purpose. You feel like you can do anything, especially when you begin a novel project you’re not sure you’ll ever complete but then weeks later you do, writing those two lovely words: THE END.

I genuinely don’t know how people who never write, and who have no interest in writing, vent their ideas and frustrations and beliefs and fears. The blank page is always there for me when I have something to say, and it’s there for you, too. There are endless possibilities. You can do whatever the hell you want. Write fiction or non-fiction. Write a flash fiction short story or write a 500-page novel. Write contemporary realism or hard science fiction.

So do exactly what you want as a writer and never look back. Let this process nourish you, heal you, and make you feel less alone inside every single day.

2. It looks like you can write a minimalist piece without much bleeding. And you can. But not a good one.

One of the most famous quotes about writing comes from Ernest Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.” And in a way Wallace took it a step further by suggesting that minimalism might allow you to bleed a little less. Because you’re not writing quite as much. Your writing is super concise. You get into the story and get out of it super fast.

Raymond Carver was one of the most famous minimalist writers, one who didn’t fancy up the language or describe every detail of the character and setting but instead implemented a stripped-down and matter-of-fact prose style that can be effective in its own way. Sometimes I like to read long passages of description and detail if I’m immersed in the story and the world and want to enjoy every second I spend in it. And then sometimes I like to just be told a story without the extra bells and whistles.

The problem with writing minimalist fiction is that you might bleed a little less, but the story itself might not be a good one. It takes talent and practice to write a strong and compelling work of minimalism, and it’s not for everyone. The reader has to do a lot of work on their part because they have to fill in the parts of the story that aren’t there, and the writer also has to work hard by figuring out everything that can be stripped out, as well as everything that needs to stay.

It might be worth your time to study minimalism and write a piece in that fashion just to see how it goes. But be prepared — it’s harder than you think.

3. I often think I can see it in myself and in other young writers, this desperate desire to please coupled with a kind of hostility to the reader.

Something that hurts your writing more than it helps it is focusing too much on your readers. At the end of the day, you have to write the story you want to write, and you want to write it for yourself. You want to write it to please yourself. Because you’re not going to please all the readers out there, it’s as simple as that. If you try to make everyone happy, your writing will suffer.

At the same time, though, it doesn’t hurt to imagine an ideal reader out there. The kind of person your latest story or novel is particularly aimed at. I write a lot of young adult fiction, and I often think about that fourteen-year-old closeted gay kid who desperately needs the latest story I’m working on. Thinking of your ideal reader in that regard is fine, and it can actually inspire you and motivate you more.

But Wallace was right in that when you’re thinking about a potential reader, there’s this desperate desire to please, as well as the feeling of hostility. You want to please everyone, after all. You want people to like your work and recommend it to friends. But there’s also hostility because you don’t want to be tied down by readers’ expectations either, especially when you write in a popular genre that comes with its own set of rules and obligations. So you have to find a middle ground, and, whenever possible, remain focused on writing the best story you can and try not to think about your potential readers so much.

4. I just think that fiction that isn’t exploring what it means to be human today isn’t art.

If there’s another quote you might want to write on a Post-It and stick to the side of your computer screen, it’s this one. I agree with it to the core of my being, and it’s something I’m always thinking about when I start a new writing project. Yes, you can write a fun adventure tale or a spooky ghost story or a mind-bending psychological thriller. You can take on whatever genre you love; you don’t have to write a stuffy literary novel about an impending divorce to create something that explores what it means to be human.

I actually think the mix of the literary with a popular genre creates the best kind of story because the reader gets to eat the cake and have it, too. They get the page-turner, and they get the story that explores the human condition. You want elements of both in your fiction. You want to write something compelling that has big stakes and plenty of conflict, but you don’t want the star of the show to be the plot. You don’t want your characters to be cookie cut-outs that have no real beating heart or backstory or motivation.

Instead, you want to write a great story that explores what it means to be human throughout. Create three-dimensional characters that have something they’re questioning, that they don’t understand about the lives they’re living. Allow moments of reflection from your characters, even if you’re writing a gruesome horror story that moves a mile a minute.

Give us characters we care about, give us stories that explore the human condition, and your work can eventually not only become art but also become stories people actually want to read.

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Alice Walker to Make You a Better Writer

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Alice Walker (born in 1944) is the author of The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Here are four of her fantastic quotes to inspire your writing!

1. Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn’t matter. I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book, If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for.

Anybody on this Earth has the right to be a writer. Anyone who wants to try to write essays or short stories or novels or plays or whatever should absolutely have the chance to do so. But I do think Alice Walker makes a good point in that how you live your life does play an important role in your writing, particularly the quality of the writing.

You have to be thoughtful to be a good writer. You have to read a lot and write a lot. You have to have discipline. And one thing that’s immediately apparent to pretty much anyone is if you’ve put in the hard work. You can scoff at all the advice you receive about the writing life and do it the way you want to do it, but if your writing is a mess, you won’t get very far.

Now, I don’t know what exactly makes a “bad person,” that’s pretty subjective, but Walker is right in that art makes us better, more empathetic people. And to do great writing, I think it’s important to have a good heart and a good soul to do work that resonates with other readers and has a lasting impact.

2. Fiction is such a world of freedom, it’s wonderful. If you want someone to fly, they can fly.

Let’s get into it: there is a huge pro and a huge con to that world of freedom. The pro, of course, is just as Walker says: you can do whatever you want, including having someone fly. There’s no limit to your imagination. You can start your story a certain way and take it in a weird direction nobody could have ever expected. You’re allowed to have fun and push your limits as a writer. You don’t have to do it the same old way. You don’t have to tell us a story that’s already been told a thousand times before. You’re allowed to be brave and lean into that incredible freedom every time you sit down at your writing desk.

But keep in mind there’s a con to this line of thinking, too, and what is it? Well, actually, it’s the exact same reason: you can do whatever you want. When you have total freedom as a writer, you might have the tendency to take your latest story or novel in a direction you probably shouldn’t. There is such a thing as having too big of an imagination when it comes to your storytelling. I’ve learned this the hard way, when not once but twice in my previous novels I got so crazy insane with my plotting that the stories went off the rails, in a sense, and displeased readers all the way through.

Your novel isn’t going to be great just because you throw in everything but the kitchen sink. There is something to be said about using restraint at times, too, and allowing events to play out in a way that’s authentic to the characters and not to the crazy plot you have cooked up in your brain. So have fun, enjoy the freedom, but make sure not to go too far into the world of the absurd if the story you’re writing doesn’t really call for it.

3. I started out as a poet. I’ve always been a poet since I was 7 or 8. And so I feel myself to be fundamentally a poet who got into writing novels.

We all have to start somewhere. And for Alice Walker, it was the world of poetry. I’m not sure what the percentage is of novelists who got started as poets, but I do think it can be the perfect place to begin because you can first learn the mastery of language and then learn the important elements and tools of novel writing later.

I was never a good poet, and I never really liked poetry. I enjoy reading it on occasion, but so often I reach the end of the poem and I admire the language and I adore the craft but I don’t understand what it all means. I love stories, narratives. I think language serves an essential role in storytelling, but when the entire piece is all about the language, I often check out.

But if you don’t have a good handle on language, your writing can suffer, no matter what kind of writing you do. And I wish I spent a little more time these days reading poetry and writing the occasional poem because I do think it would help me in my novel writing. So don’t be afraid of poetry, even if you think you’re not good enough or you don’t understand what it all means. To be the best writer you can, you want to try it all.

4. Creation is a sustained period of bliss, even though the subject can still be very sad. Because there’s the triumph of coming through and understanding that you have, and that you did it the way only you could do it. You didn’t do it the way somebody told you to do it.

It’s a triumph every time you create something out of nothing, never forget that, and it’s a special kind of miracle when you create something original, unique, and personal to you in a way only you could do it. When you write something in the way somebody told you to do it, or you’re creating something because it’s been assigned with a set of strict rules, you can only take your work so far.

But when you’re creating something for you, then the real magic can happen. Your subject can be sad or depressing, and that’s okay. Lots of great stories are sad and depressing. It’s all about what you do with it. You want to enjoy the creation part, that sustained period of bliss during the drafting process when you take out everything that was only in your head and spread it across hundreds of pages of your dazzling prose. It’s so amazing to create a new story from scratch, I’m telling you. And the more you do it, the more confidence you have that you can do it again and again.

So whatever it is you want to accomplish in the next few months as a writer, now is the time to get started, not later. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do or how to do it. Take that story you’ve been thinking about for the longest time and start the blissful act of creation. You’ll be glad you did!

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Kurt Vonnegut to Make You a Better Writer

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Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007) wrote such beloved novels as Mother Night, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions.

Here are four of his quotes to inspire your writing!

1. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.

When I started writing novels back in 2010, I thought I had a good chance of getting published, of making some decent money from my fiction writing. Oh, how wonderfully naive I was. Oh, how insanely wrong I was that this whole writing endeavor might actually be easy.

The truth is that you should do pretty much anything else if you want to make a living. Vonnegut was right: the arts are not a way to make a living, and anyone who tells you it is is coming from a place of pure delusion. Sure, a few of us might hit a jackpot at some point if we stay with writing long enough, but there are no guarantees, and you have to be prepared for that.

Instead, what the arts does for many of us is make life more bearable. I look forward to my writing every day not because I think my latest manuscript will make me filthy rich but because it makes me happy. Because it’s fun. Sure, there’s always hope the newest thing I’m working on might go somewhere and might earn me money. But you never really know. So pursue the arts not to make a living but to make your soul grow. Do it for the right reasons.

2. I get up at 7:30 and work four hours a day. Nine to twelve in the morning, five to six in the evening. Businessmen would achieve better results if they studied human metabolism. No one works well eight hours a day. No one ought to work more than four hours.

Here’s another example of the daily working life of a famous writer, and this one might be my favorite of all — partly because it’s how I’ve actually been working the last few months or so. It’s a new schedule for my writing, and I’ve really been enjoying it.

For the longest time I wrote only for one block of the day, but lately I write in two. I write for two to three hours in the morning and then one to two hours in the early evening. I usually burn out by noon, so I take a long break in my afternoon and do other things, and then I come back around five or so to write some more before I start making dinner.

Vonnegut was absolutely right in that no one works well eight hours a day. It’s too much. And I’m astonished when I hear of authors like Dean Koontz and others who write almost non-stop from nine in the morning to five in the evening. I would never be able to do that. I have only a few good hours of writing in me a day and then I crash, I can’t write another word. And I’m sure you might be the same way.

You don’t even have to write four hours a day if you don’t want to, or if you don’t have the time to. Aim for at least an hour if you can, but remember that success in your writing life comes from the consistency of your writing day after day. Better to write for just one hour a day seven days a week than to write for eight hours a day one or two days a week, never forget that.

3. Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.

I love this quote. It’s definitely one worth remembering! Because it’s sad but true — if you’re a creative person, and you’re putting your art into the world, you are going to have critics who rage at and loathe your work. Who will tell other people to avoid your work. Who will go on Amazon or Twitter or elsewhere and attack your work with everything they have. And their words will hurt. They’ve hurt me on occasion, and sometimes it takes a day or two to recover from what a single person has said.

But whenever you’re feeling down about a painful negative review, remember that ultimately these people have put on full armor to attack a hot fudge sundae. Their attack might make them feel better, but it doesn’t add anything constructive to the conversation. And what have they written, anyway? What kind of art have they created?

If someone gives you criticism that helps your writing, then that’s one thing. I love getting criticism that can benefit either my latest piece of writing or whatever piece of writing I’m going to attempt next. But if the person’s intention is to merely destroy you and your work? Just ignore them. Mean-spirited criticism is preposterous, as Vonnegut says. And it’s in your best interest to move on.

4. One of the things that I tell beginning writers is this: If you describe a landscape, or a cityscape, or a seascape, always be sure to put a human figure somewhere in the scene. Why? Because readers are human beings, mostly interested in human beings. People are humanists. Most of them are humanists, that is.

This is such marvelous advice. It’s something I sort of instinctively knew about writing fiction, but I’m happy to finally see it put into words. It’s so true: we’re human beings interested in other human beings. And whenever I pick up a novel, I’m interested in the characters, not the landscape. I’m interested in what the character wants and how they’re going to achieve it and what’s going to prevent them from getting it.

I love reading literary fiction with the kind of stunning language I wouldn’t be able to write if I lived to be 500 years old, but one thing I don’t stand for is massive block paragraphs that describe things outside of the characters I care about. I’ve never read Madame Bovary, but one of my high school teachers told me once there’s a page-and-a-half description of a hat. I’m not sure if that’s true, but that quote from my teacher has always stuck with me. I can’t imagine reading two sentences about a hat, let alone nearly two pages.

Yes, there should be details about your setting and about the ground your characters walk on, but only give us what we need to know so we can put most of our focus on the story and the characters. Give us little strokes of the setting here and there, but please don’t stop everything for a page or longer to tell us everything about the city your characters live in. As soon as you go down that read of deadly dull telling, you’re in trouble. Especially if it comes early in your story before we’ve become invested in your characters.

Just remember we are interested in human beings, and so your primary focus on whatever kind of fiction you’re writing should be to create three-dimensional, fascinating, flawed, compelling characters. Don’t try to prove something about your mastery of the English language by describing a seascape for three pages. You’ll prove you’re a great storyteller instead by allowing the human beings of your narrative to flourish on the page.

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by John Updike to Make You a Better Writer

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John Updike (1932–2009) is the beloved author of the Rabbit Novels, along with The Witches of Eastwick.

Here are four of his fantastic quotes to inspire your writing life!

1. What art offers is space — a certain breathing room for the spirit.

We all have tendencies to want to be doing something super important every minute of the day. We don’t want to waste any time. We have a list of twenty things to get to and so we need to go, go, go. The problem is, even if you do accomplish many of those tasks you set out to complete, you reach the end of your day totally exhausted. And you’re not quite sure if you’re up for doing it all again tomorrow.

What art offers you in your busy life is that precious moment to take a breath… and relax. The trick is to find that hour or two or more in your day to give yourself over to art, to that incredible space where you can bring peace to your mind and body. You can’t just keep going and going without ever taking a break for yourself. Art gives you that break, and then some. What it really does, as John Updike so perfectly states, is bring breathing room to your spirit. And having a little bit of that every day will enrich your life enormously.

2. When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas.

Setting is such an important element in fiction writing, and yet I feel it’s something we don’t think about much when we’re getting ready to begin a new writing project. I’ve certainly been guilty of this. I’ll spend hours and hours thinking about my story and characters, but I’ll spend maybe five minutes on the setting. I do change up my setting in every new novel, which is important, but I don’t always spend the necessary time coming up with the absolute perfect place to set my story.

You might think you can only set your story in a place you’ve been to, a place you know well. You know its streets, its layout, its people. It’s more convenient in a sense. But at least occasionally you should take a chance on setting your latest story in a place you don’t know very well. I’ve had friends who wrote novels set in countries and cities they’ve never been to, and those books have been great successes for readers. The key is getting the details right, whether that means doing lots of research reading up on the city and country or going on Google Maps and looking at a few dozen streets to get a feel of the place.

Just remember that setting should be an additional important character in your story. Don’t just pick some random place. Don’t just set every new piece of fiction in the city you live in right now. How is your story different if you set it in Kansas instead of New York? If there is no difference, then you need to work on your story, actually, and not your setting. But no matter what, keep the element of setting in the back of your mind at all times — and use it often throughout the writing of your latest manuscript!

3. Each morning my characters greet me with misty faces willing, though chilled, to muster for another day’s progress through the dazzling quicksand the marsh of blank paper.

Is this not one of the most beautiful and hypnotic quotes about writing you’ve ever read? This one bowled me over with wonder, and I might even write it down on a Post-It and stick it on the corner of my computer screen. I’ve offered so many quotes now that give you great inspiration for your writing, but this is the ones you might remember the most. I certainly will.

When you’re writing a new story, especially a novel, you spend many days and weeks greeting your characters and taking them someplace new every time you sit down at your writing desk. When you’re drafting, you face the scary blank page, and you have about a million options of where you can take the story next. You can introduce new characters, kill off other characters, make a character or two disappear from the rest of the story. You can do whatever you want. Your characters are at your mercy, the astonishing result of your own creation. And what a wonder that is.

4. Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.

It’s impossible not to have dreams of some kind when you’re a writer. Those dreams can be of a smaller scale or a larger scale. It’s up to you, and it can of course change from day to day. Today’s dream might be to just be able to get that next scene written, while tomorrow’s might be to earn a million-dollar advance from your novel.

You’re free to have all the dreams you want, really, as long as you do more than dream and also make sure to sit down every day and do the necessary work. It’s good, healthy even, to dream big as a writer, and I’ve been doing so for ten years now. I’ve written twenty novels and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and have grown so much as a person, but my number one dream remains the exact same one I had in early 2010 as I walked through a Barnes & Noble — I wanted to see a book on one of those shelves with my name on it. And I’ve been working toward that dream ever since.

I haven’t achieved that dream yet. I might never achieve that dream. But it’s important to hold onto it as long as I can because that dream is partly why I sit down every day and keep going instead of giving up and doing something else. You have to keep going to achieve your dreams. You have to push past all that nasty rejection. You have to learn from your failures.

And when you think you’ll never achieve what you want, remember this — lots and lots of writers who’ve come before you have achieved their dreams. So keep going, and keep trying, and it’s possible one day your dreams will come true, too.

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Mark Twain to Make You a Better Writer

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Mark Twain (1835–1910) is the author of many iconic novels like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Roughing It.

Here are four of his quotes to inspire your your writing life!

1. The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

This is absolutely one of the secrets to getting ahead, especially when it comes to the writing life. It’s why I and so many others suggest you write at least a little bit every day. It’s why working on something slowly over the course of many weeks and months is a whole lot more valuable than planning and talking about a new writing project that never ultimately happens.

Sure, it’d be nice to write everything super fast, whether it be a short story or a novel, and have every new manuscript be solid gold by the end of the first draft. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. It’s why you have to fall in love with the process to find success as a writer. You’ll get annoyed and frustrated at times, but as soon as you see writing as a necessary daily process that flexes your mental muscles the same way that exercise flexes your physical muscles, the more chances you’ll have at being published and finding loyal readers in the years to come.

The most important thing is getting started. It’s a scary, necessary step, but once you do it, I swear, the work gets easier after awhile. Just get started.

2. There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.

There truly are two kinds of writers in the world. There are the ones who just get up every day and do the work. Who write another 500 words of their latest story or novel. Who revise another chapter from that novel and don’t tire of the process even though they’re deep into the sixth or seventh draft. Who plan their next month of writing and commit to it every day no matter what, even when they have a thousand responsibilities, even when there’s only a half-hour of time they can devote to their work.

And then there are the writers who don’t accomplish a whole lot but love to talk about how much they’ve accomplished to their friends, to their family, on Twitter, on Facebook. Don’t get me wrong — it’s okay to announce in person or online something you’ve accomplished on occasion. I do it all the time! Did you finish a new story? Did you start querying your new novel to literary agents? Did an agent request it? Did you get something published? Then awesome! Tell us about these accomplishments, absolutely. It’s inspiring to hear about them.

But what you don’t want to do is fixate on telling the world every little thing you’ve done. What will bring you more success in the long run is just putting your head down and accomplishing the things, without any major announcements, without the spotlight in your face. Keep working and writing and dreaming and trying, and that spotlight you might secretly be hoping for will find you eventually.

3. A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.

I always feel bad for the people in this world who can read but choose not to. Those people who don’t have a single book in their house. Those people who have the time in their day to read but instead watch another episode of that dumb show or just have the TV blaring some innocuous hour of programming they aren’t even paying attention to. I mean, I understand that at times you want to turn your brain off and watch TV. We all have days and nights like that.

But there’s so much value in reading, even just for ten to twenty minutes a day, that it seems like such a waste if you have the capability to be a great reader but then never pick up another book in your life. Fiction doesn’t even have to be your jam; you can read non-fiction if you prefer! Reading is reading at the end of the day, and whatever kind of storytelling makes you happy is up to you.

But to just go year after year proudly never reading a work of anything never makes any sense to me. My dad hasn’t read a book since his college days, which astounds me. And a friend of mine told me recently he hated being forced to read novels in high school and so he hasn’t read any books since.

It’s so sad, isn’t it? It’s sad to think about all the amazing books out there people like these haven’t read and will never read. I read every single day and I weep for all the books out there I’ll never get to. I imagine there are hundreds of incredible stories I would adore from beginning to end that I’ll never find, and that pains me. And it should pain you, too.

But what shouldn’t pain you is the knowing that all that reading you do makes for a more inspired, creative, well-rounded life. And you absolutely have the advantage over the ones who choose not to read. They’re the ones missing out.

4. Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.

This is one of Mark Twain’s most famous quotes, and it’s hard to disagree with it. Although I’d throw in having the time to write in there, too (not to mention, finding love and making the occasional scrumptious buttermilk waffle), I agree that an ideal life is made up of good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience.

The first two elements are obvious. We are social creatures, and it’s important to have at least a few good friends you can spend time with and laugh with. I’m writing all the time and fail to spend enough time with my friends, but when I on occasion get together with those specific people that always bring a smile to my face, I’m one happy cat.

And then, of course, good books are essential to an ideal life, too. I love movies and television, but there’s nothing like curling up on the couch with an amazing novel (the longer the better!). It doesn’t happen with every book I pick up, but occasionally I discover one I immediately adore, and there’s nothing like spending those hours far away from my own life and instead lost in the world of a gifted storyteller.

And then there’s the third element — the sleepy conscience. What Twain means by this is to not be overly bothered by our conscience, our inner sense of what is right and wrong. Our conscience is there for a reason, naturally, but something we often give too much of yourselves to is that conscience. Sometimes we stay away from things we’re afraid of or believe we shouldn’t do… when we absolutely should be doing it. And sometimes we go after things our conscience tells us is the right thing, when actually it’s very much the wrong thing and we’re just wasting our time.

Every day we try to find those elements that help make up our ideal lives. For me it’s everything creativity. I love to read books and watch films and tell stories. I love to surround myself with art and fantasy and imagination. The ideal life might look a bit differently for you, and that’s okay! Do what makes you happy. Surround yourself with things that inspire you. Explore your passions. Go after things that excite you, that scare you.

Do whatever you need to do to find your own version of an ideal life… and then never look back.

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by J.R.R. Tolkien to Make You a Better Writer

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J.R.R. Tolkien (1892–1973) is the author of the beloved The Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with The Hobbit and many other celebrated books.

Here are four of his quotes to inspire your writing life!

1. A pen is to me as a beak is to a hen.

Something that helps you be a successful writer, not to mention live a happy and inspired creative life, is to always be taking note of the world around you. Even when you’re not writing, you’re writing, in a sense. When you leave your desk and your house and you go on an adventure, you might think you’re not doing anything to help your writing when, in fact, you’re giving yourself the necessary fuel for your next writing session and your next creative project.

J.R.R. Tolkien was always writing, always creating, and he clearly took a pen with him everywhere he went. Having a writing instrument with you at all times is helpful in case something happens and you want to write something down. It’s helpful when you see a spectacular image and you want to remember all its details. It’s helpful when you overhear the most bizarre conversation between two people and you want to make sure you get every word of the exchange down.

I have a pen and a small notebook in three places: in my bedroom, in my office, and in my car. As long as I’m close to any one of those three places, I can write something down quickly when inspiration hits me. So yes, take this advice seriously if you want to be a writer — it’s best you keep a pen and notebook in a few separate places, too!

2. Not all those who wander are lost.

There’s this mentality, especially today, that you shouldn’t waste a minute of your day and that you should always be on some kind of clear path if you want to be successful. Taking the time to read books for hours during the day or critically think about something in silence or go wander somewhere outside does not make you lost, remember that. All three of these activities and many, many others are essential to a successful creative life.

Just because you’re daydreaming about your latest story or novel doesn’t mean you’re wasting time. It’s actually the opposite: you’re saving time! When you daydream about your story and characters and scenes and themes, you’re doing the necessary work that needs to be done so that the writing part will go smoothly. You’ll have put lots of thought into everything you want to do in your latest project, and so the drafting process will be all the more focused… and fun!

Feel free to daydream. And feel free to wander. It’s the wandering that makes for the best stories and gives you the inspiration to do better work. Ignore the naysayers who think you should be more focused on tasks that have a clear purpose. Instead, let yourself wander as often as possible. Wandering doesn’t make you lost. Wandering makes you an awesome creative person who takes writing seriously.

3. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

Oh my God, wouldn’t it? J.R.R. Tolkien was absolute right in that this would be a much merrier world if we focused more on the things that make us and others happy. Sure, we all need money to live a happy life, too, but so many people make money their number one goal. And when they get lots of money, they just want more money. They want as much money as possible! The problem is all of that wealth only gets you so much. It doesn’t buy you immortality. And, as they say, it doesn’t buy you happiness.

I think in the creative life it’s especially important to not fixate so much on money. We all want to be paid for our endeavors, of course, but when all you do is focus on how much money you can make from your latest creative project rather than try to be authentic in your storytelling, you’ll often find disappointment in the end. In the world of writing, readers can sniff out a phony from a mile away. They’ll know if you’re in this for the money or you’re in this for the art. Be in it for the art as much as possible.

Art is good for the soul, after all. Art is the place to explore your passions, your fears, your truth. If we all put a little more time on the elements that make life so valuable (and treated each other with a little more respect, too), we absolutely would have a merrier world.

4. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

We all have a finite number of days in this world. We get to choose what we do with the time that is given us. So ask yourself these questions: what do you want to pursue? What excites you? What might you regret at an older age if you don’t go after something right now? I always feel lucky in that I knew from a young age what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to tell stories. I didn’t care about the medium. It could have been short stories or plays or novels or movies. I just loved to tell stories from as early as third grade, and I’ve never stopped since.

You have to go after the thing you love. You can’t be afraid of failure because here’s the thing — you will fail, probably often. Failure is necessary to learn and grow. No matter how much resistance you might face from people in your life, and no matter how many rejection slips roll in year after year, you have to keep going. Because you truly do get better as the years go by, developing important skills and clearly understanding what works and what doesn’t.

If you want to be a writer, stop thinking about it and talking about it, and do it. I spent a few years in my twenties not writing a word of anything because I didn’t believe I was good enough. And it took a a leap of faith for me to finally write my first novel at the age of twenty-five. It was a huge leap of faith, really, and I’m so glad I did it! Take it from me — it’s okay if you’re afraid to start something new. I still get afraid to this day. The key is to acknowledge that fear… and then do it anyway, like Carrie Fisher once told us. The confidence comes in the doing, so do it. Go for it!

None of us knows how much time we have left. So spend that time doing the thing you love, and keep going until you reach all the dreams that you seek.

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Donna Tartt to Make You a Better Writer

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Donna Tartt (born in 1963) is the bestselling author of The Secret History, The Little Friend, and The Goldfinch, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Here are four of her fantastic quotes about writing!

1. Everything takes me longer than I expect. It’s the sad truth about life.

There are few successful authors working today more famous for taking long periods of time to complete their novels than Donna Tartt. She’s one of our most gifted living writers, and in the past forty years she’s only published three books — The Secret History in 1992, The Little Friend in 2002, and The Goldfinch in 2013, the latter earning her the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Would I love it if Tartt published a book every five years? Or hell, every eight years? A thousand times yes! I love her writing, and I’ve adored all three of her books.

But there’s something to be said about taking longer on a project if you need to. If all you do is crank out one mediocre manuscript after another and never improve, you likely won’t get very far as the years pass. And if you’re the kind of writer who does better work slowly, then go as slow as you need to.

The important thing is to just keep writing every day, and if you need a few years rather than a few months to complete and revise and perfect your manuscript? Then go for it. We’ll be waiting.

2. In order for a long piece of work to engage a novelist over an extended period of time, it has to deal with questions that you find very important, that you’re trying to work out.

There are two reasons I would be mortified to spend, say, a whole decade on one long manuscript. The first reason is that I’d be scared to spend that long on a single book… and then watch it go totally ignored by literary agents and publishers. It’s one thing to spend one year on a novel and have it go nowhere. To spend ten years of hard work on a single project and not have it get published? That might actually kill me. There’s almost a safety net in writing lots of different projects because the rejection never gets to me. I just work on the next story, and the next one after that, until eventually the success comes.

The second reason I wouldn’t want to spend ten years on a single manuscript is that I’d worry about eventually losing interest in it. I might be excited about writing the novel in the first year, and the third year, and maybe even the fifth year, but after awhile I’d want to work on other things, and I’d lose interest in that longer project, especially if I hit problems with the storytelling hundreds of pages in. Donna Tartt has talked about losing eight months of work with The Goldfinch when she hit a wall in the story and had to work her way back to where the problems began. Eight months of writing down the drain.

She says she was able to learn from her mistakes and take the novel in a new, better direction that ultimately made it the masterpiece it is today. But that kind of strength and discipline can be hard to achieve in a single writing project, especially when it takes longer than a decade.

3. It’s hard for me to show work while I’m writing, because other people’s comments will influence what happens.

This is something you learn about the writing life sooner or later. In the beginning you want to show people everything. You want to show your mom and dad the first chapter of your novel and get their feedback. You want to tell everybody in the world that you’re writing your first book. You tell anybody who will listen what the story-line is and who the main characters are. You want to let people into your process.

But what you soon learn is that sharing your work and talking about your work while you’re doing it hinders your writing after awhile. You find yourself losing interest in the manuscript rather than gaining more excitement for it. And when you get even the smallest bits of feedback from people that criticize something you’re doing, you’ll get thrown off your game. My belief is that you shouldn’t talk about your latest novel project at all until you’ve finished the third draft, but you absolutely shouldn’t talk about it or share anything as you work on the first draft.

Let the first draft be something just for you and nobody else. Don’t talk about it. Don’t share it. Let it be a part of your world only, and your writing will improve in the long run.

4. To really be centered and to really work well and to think about the kinds of things that I need to think about, I need to spend large amounts of time alone.

Many of us are social creatures, and we want to spend parts of our day with other people — our friends, our family, the people we care about. It’s fun to talk to other writer friends about writing. It’s fun to get out of the house and go on an adventure. Spending large amounts of your time alone isn’t for everyone, I’ll give you that.

But if you want to be a writer, and especially if you want to be a good writer, you need to get used to spending time alone. Being alone helps you formulate your thoughts and obtain new ideas, especially if you allow silence into your world. Being alone allows you to focus on your newest project and get it done at a reasonably fast pace. Being alone is the marker of an inspired creative life, so if you absolutely hate being alone, writing might not be the thing for you. If you yearn for social company at all times, you’ll have to ask yourself what it is you really want to do.

But if you want to be centered and work well and think about the kinds of things you need to think about, the same way the brilliant and gifted Donna Tartt does, then start getting used to spending time alone. Doing so will reward you in your writing life for many years to come.

PS Ready to be inspired? I’m excited to announce my third craft book about writing!

From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Amy Tan to Make You a Better Writer

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Amy Tan (born in 1952) is the bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club, The Hundred Secret Senses, and countless other beloved works.

Here are four of her wonderful quotes to inspire your writing!

1. I wanted to write stories for myself. At first it was purely an aesthetic thing about craft. I just wanted to become good at the art of something. And writing was very private.

One of the best things you can do when you’re starting out as a writer is to write stories for yourself and not necessarily for others. Yes, you peruse the local bookstore and hope to see your book on the shelf someday. Yes, you hope and pray the manuscript you’re working on might impress an agent or an editor and find a home someday.

But here’s the deal — put all those other things out of your mind for now. Don’t think about publication or bookstore shelves. Don’t even think about anything beyond the first draft. Just tell yourself the story. Write something that makes you happy, that makes you excited to sit down at your desk every day and write. Don’t tell a bunch of people what you’re working on, and instead allow your process to be as private as possible. The goal right now is to finish whatever it is you’re working on and improve in your craft.

2. I started a second novel seven times and I had to throw them away.

If there’s anything harder than completing a first novel and signing with an agent and selling that book to an editor and actually seeing that novel become a best-seller… it’s writing a second novel. In all my years of writing, I haven’t had many expectations put on me, so I’m able to start each new novel project like it’s the first thing I’ve ever written, in a sense. There’s not a single person in the world awaiting my newest novel, so I can do whatever I want, and I can have the time of my life.

But once you actually have a novel published in the world, and especially if it does really well, then there’s a sense of anticipation among readers about what you’ll write next. That’s what happened to Amy Tan after her first novel The Joy Luck Club was released in 1989 and became a smash success. Everybody loved that book and wanted more from her, and those expectations can easily suffocate you. You want to write something that will please those readers but also give them something new. And of course you want to write something that’s better than the last book. Therefore, you might have to start your second novel a few times. You might have to throw out dozens of pages to get it just right.

But no matter what happens, stick with it, and do your best. There are far worse things in life than struggling with your writing of a second book when you already have a book in the world and readers around the world who can’t wait to see what you publish next.

3. I would find myself laughing and wondering where these ideas came from. You can call it imagination, I suppose. But I was grateful for wherever they came from.

Ideas are a funny thing because they come from all sorts of places. Sometimes an image you see before you inspires a new idea. Sometimes a strange or sudden or memorable occurrence that happens to you one day sparks an exciting idea for a short story or a novel you want to start writing as soon as you get home. Sometimes reading a book or watching a movie gives you ideas that you can make your own, too.

And then of course an amazing idea can drop down from the clear blue sky, which is always a blessing when it happens. Taking a daily walk or run helps with this. Silence also helps a lot. As soon as you clear your head and try not to think of anything in particular, sometimes an incredible idea can hit you from out of nowhere. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter where the best ideas come from. Just be grateful when you get those good ideas, and hold onto them as long as you can.

4. Placing on writers the responsibility to represent a culture is an onerous burden.

Amy Tan is a Chinese-American born to Chinese immigrants, and her first novel The Joy Luck Club is all about the Chinese-American experience, one that’s particularly focused on mother-daughter relationships. Since that first book was such a beloved bestseller, later becoming an award-winning motion picture released in 1993, Tan has obviously felt the pressure to continually represent her culture in her later works, even though she should have the freedom to write whatever kinds of books she pleases.

Tan might be Chinese-American, but that doesn’t mean she should feel the responsibility to represent her culture in everything she writes. She has her life experience, which she is free to share with readers and has shared with readers many times, but if she wants her next book to be about a lonesome British boy or a white American married couple on the brink of divorce or an ensemble of characters that represent many different world cultures, she should be able to.

As a gay person, I write about a lot of gay characters in my short stories and novels, but I’ve also written books where all the main characters are straight, too, such as in my most recent novel. I don’t want to be forced to do anything in my storytelling because of my background or my culture or my sexuality or whatever it may be. And the same goes for you, too.

Don’t feel pressure or some kind of responsibility to do anything you don’t want to do. Write what your heart wants you to write, always.

PS Ready to be inspired? I’m excited to announce my third craft book about writing!

From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon. Take a look if you’d like!

Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by R.L. Stine to Make You a Better Writer

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R.L. Stine (born in 1943) is the bestselling author of the Goosebumps and Fear Street series.

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

1. If you want to be a writer, don’t worry so much about writing. Read as much as you can. Read as many different writers as you can. Soak up the styles.

If you want to be a writer, you need to find the time to read, it’s as simple as that. You’ll never get any better as a writer if you don’t read because then you won’t try new things, you won’t experiment with different styles. Especially in the beginning of your career, you won’t have a voice developed quite yet, and reading works by lots of different authors will help you find that voice.

Pick a time of day you can read for even ten to twenty minutes. This can be right after you wake up, this can be on your lunch break, this can be late at night as you’re soaking in the bathtub. Have a book close by at all times, and then dip in whenever you can. And don’t just read the same author and genre over and over. Try something out of the box at least once in awhile so that you can absorb different voices and styles.

2. When I write, I try to think back to what I was afraid of or what was scary to me and try to put those feelings into books.

Writing books as adults that are aimed at children can be tricky because so much time has passed since we were children. You’re so set in your ways as an adult now that you might need to reflect a bit harder to remember what being a kid was even like. But the great thing about being an author of children’s books is that you don’t necessarily need to remember what your day-to-day activities used to be long ago. What’s most important is that you remember what your emotions were. What made you happy? What did you dream about? What terrified you? What made you laugh?

Kids will go along with your books as long as you capture that authenticity of their emotions. And if you write horror books aimed at kids like R.L. Stine does, and like I do, it’s pivotal you take the time to remember what freaked you out the most when you were young. Was it something simple like a monster hiding in the closet, or was it something more disturbing, like waking up one day to find your parents have abandoned you? Those emotions that were real to you at the time can absolutely translate to a book you write today, even one written in contemporary times.

3. It’s hard for children’s authors to be accepted when they try to write adult books. J.K. Rowling is the exception because people are so eager to read anything by her, but it took Judy Blume three or four tries before she had a success.

R.L. Stine is of course world famous for his long-running Goosebumps series and Fear Street series, but did you know he has tried his hand at adult fiction throughout the years? His first adult novel Superstitious came out in 1995, and I remember being so excited as an eleven-year-old fan of his to read something he wrote not aimed at kids. And then more recently in 2012 he had another adult novel published called Red Rain, which I haven’t read. But try as he might, adult fiction hasn’t been the easiest crossover for Stine. His books for kids have taken off to such an extent that his name has become a brand for children’s horror, and there’s little at this point he can do about that.

Sure, some authors have managed to write for both children and adults, like J.K. Rowling, Judy Blume, and even Roald Dahl, whose adult books I’ve read and are amazing. But it can be hard no matter what kind of writer you are to find success in one age market and then find equal success later in a different age market. You can try different things when you’re starting out, but once you find success in a specific niche, many of your readers (not to mention, your literary agent and editor) will want you to produce more books like that one. And you have to be prepared for that.

If you get popular enough, you might be able to stretch a little and try different genres and/or age markets, but you have to be prepared for skepticism from readers and potential low sales when you stray too far from what’s expected of you. This is why, of course, you want to love the genre and age market you do write in. You want to get popular in something you could write with great enthusiasm for another 100 years.

4. People always ask, ‘How do you write so many books?’ And I say, I work a lot. I work six or seven days a week. And I set a goal for myself everyday when I write — 10 pages a day.

Some writers sit down and say they’re going to write 2,000 words a day, and some writers sit down and say they’re going to write ten pages. To each his own. Stine prefers to think of the day’s work as the number of pages reached, and if that works well for him, then great. Ten pages a day is an awesome goal, especially for children’s books when the page count is usually less than your average adult novel.

What’s most important to marvel at and absorb some inspiration from is Stine’s work ethic. I heard a story he told once where he said at the peak of his popularity in the 1990s he was writing a new Goosebumps book and a new Fear Street book every month. That’s right… two new books every single month. That meant he wrote a new novel every fourteen or fifteen days, which is absolutely insane. But he was making so much money at the time, and the demand from readers was so rabid, that he was able to do it, at least for a little while. And trust me, when you have lots of money and adoration from readers coming in on a daily for something you love to do and have worked toward for years, you’ll be capable of just about anything.

5. If you do enough planning before you start to write, there’s no way you can have writer’s block. I do a complete chapter by chapter outline.

So how exactly was Stine able to write two new books a month for awhile there in the 1990s? He planned his books so well there was never a moment he felt lost during the writing process. Before he wrote a single word of a new Goosebumps or Fear Street book, at least in that time period when he was pumping them out like popcorn, he did a complete chapter by chapter outline. He started writing each novel knowing every single thing that was going to happen in it.

This is certainly one way to write if it gives you structure and if it prevents you from ever having writer’s block. And if you’re on a wild deadline like having to write a novel every two weeks, then yes, you probably will need to come up with super strict outlines. But I do feel at a certain point outlines rob you of the joy of writing. Because discovery plays a large role in the writing life, too. You want to always have an idea of where your story is going next, and you want to have a pretty solid handle on what the ending is going to be, too, but a sense of discovery always makes the process much more fun, at least in my experience.

You can write a book any way you want, of course, as long as you do it as best you can, and as long as you finish it. R.L. Stine has written hundreds of books in his lifetime, and with his large amount of planning he’s been able to finish every one of them and pump out one bestseller after another. What you need to do is find the way that helps you the most in writing your novel, and then stick to that process every time you start something new.

No matter what, continue to look to the great R.L. Stine for inspiration from time to time, as I always do. His books got me obsessed with reading at a young age, and they influenced me more than any others when it came time for me to write my novels. His colorful characters. His fast-paced storytelling. His iconic chapter cliffhangers. Stine is one of the masters, and he’s the perfect author to turn to whenever you’re looking for some helpful writing advice… or just a really good scare.

PS Ready to be inspired? I’m excited to announce my third craft book about writing!

From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon for just $4.99.

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by John Steinbeck to Make You a Better Writer

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John Steinbeck (1902–1968) was one of the most celebrated authors of the twentieth century, his novels Of Mice and Men and East of Eden still read widely today by millions.

Here are four of his wonderful quotes about writing!

1. The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.

This is one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve received from any author! This is so incredibly true. When you’re writing your latest story or novel, you’re in your own little bubble. There’s no telling if this newest project will be a success or even be published. But if you want to take it all the way, you have to believe it’s the most important thing in the world. You have to believe in it with your whole heart before anyone else will.

So many of the novels I’ve written in the last few years have gone nowhere, after years of writing and revising, after working with beta readers and literary agents on them. After years of work, now they’re just sitting in my drawer with no readers, no audience. And for many reasons these particular projects weren’t ready for prime-time, and that’s okay. While I was working on them, I believed they were important, and that mentality is the one thing that will get you to that eventual manuscript that is ready to make you a superstar in the publishing world.

2. It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.

Sleep is one of the most important things in your life (and it’s also a lot of fun, am I right?). Sleep is that reset button so many of us writers need at times. Because you can sit at your writing desk for hours, and for whatever reason you just can’t figure out how to get from A to B in a scene or how to solve the problem of that huge plot hole in chapter 15. At some point you have to step away and let the problems of your latest manuscript work themselves out on your own. A run around the neighborhood helps. Getting comfy on the couch and reading a book can give you the answers you need.

But one of the best tools of all is getting a good night’s sleep. Because often the next morning the idea of what you need to do hits you when you’re least expecting it. Sleep has the power to solve all kinds of problems. It’s good for your health. It make you more alert the next day. And, like I said, it’s kind of a re-set after a day when your writing didn’t go so well. If you had a terrible writing day yesterday? It doesn’t matter. Because today you’re going to do better. Today you’re going to write more, and you’re going to fix what went wrong. Sleep is essential for all of us, but it’s especially helpful for writers!

3. I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.

Teachers have been my heroes for a long, long time. Teachers got me interested in what I love to do now, and they have been my source of great inspiration since I was a little kid. People are shocked to learn I remember the name of all my elementary school teachers, and I also remember the names of most of my middle school and high teachers, too. Especially the English teachers. They all gave me the tools and the love for storytelling that stay with me to this day.

I’ve been an English instructor at the college level for nearly a decade now, and I do find that much of the job in a way is being an artist. You’re putting on a kind of performance every day to get the students involved in the day’s lesson and activities, and you’re using empathy and compassion, and you’re discussing all things about the human mind and spirit. It’s a great job, and on the best of my teaching days, there’s nothing else like it. I’ve walked out of classes so happy I feel ready to take on the world. And to be able to change the lives of even just a few select people in your teaching life is a gift that keeps on giving.

4. You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.

I thought it was finally time to address what it means for you to actually take advice from so many popular and bestselling authors. The idea is to find inspiration and take chances and try something new you might not have thought about trying before. What you don’t want to do is try to do everything that’s suggested to you because, yes, some of it won’t work for you. And that’s okay. Stephen King is my all-time favorite author, and even some of his advice I don’t necessarily put into practice every day.

But if there’s something you should do, it’s this — try not to only take the advice to heart you already agreed with. Inspiration can be helpful, sure, but reading quote after quote and just remembering the advice you already agreed with isn’t going to help you in the long run. You want to push yourself. You want to aim for something that might be different or scary and see where that road takes you. If you just keep doing the same old thing, little about your writing life will change.

But if you challenge yourself to take the occasional advice from other writers you don’t necessarily agree with and implement it in your work, then there’s no telling how much success you’ll be able to achieve!

PS I’m excited to announce my third craft book about writing!

From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon for just $4.99.