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Posted in Writing

Why You Need to be Careful about Physical Telling in Your Writing

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In her craft book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, author Mary Kole says,

Writers try to show with a character’s body all the time, but it often starts to read like a medical chart that details the status of her internal organs, or a dance number that chronicles what her limbs are doing. I don’t care about your character’s oddly detached body parts.

Physical telling is unavoidable in your fiction writing, but you need to be careful about it.

In her book Mary Kole defines physical telling as “conveying a character’s emotional state with body language, gesture, and description of various internal organs.”

You’ll likely see examples of physical telling on almost any page of a book of fiction you’re reading.

Physical telling often comes in long scenes of dialogue because rather than having two characters speak to each other without any breaks in the pacing, the writer will often put in moments of physical telling, especially when the writer wants the reader to know how one of the characters is feeling internally at that particular moment.

Here’s an example…

“Do you know where Stephanie went?” Ethan asked.

Katie shoved her hands against her hips. “No idea.”

“Okay, thanks. Just thought I’d ask.”

“When did you last see her?”

“On the playground,” he said. “I feel like she’s avoiding me.”

Ethan turned toward the classroom door, but Katie grabbed him by the arm before he could leave. “Wait.”

“What?”

“I just wanted to tell you… I’ve never liked her,” Katie said. “I think she’s kind of a bully.”

Ethan scratched the back of his neck, his gaze still on the door. “Yeah, I guess.”

Let’s look at some of the physical telling in this scene I just made up. Some of it’s okay, but some of it could be changed or possibly deleted.

“Katie shoved her hands against her hips” is sort of a meaningless phrase. What does that tell us about her emotional state? It’s kind of vague. It might work as a way to break up the dialogue, but you should probably look for a better sentence.

The sentence that begins with “Ethan turned toward the classroom door” is more of a bit of action than physical telling, but at the end, a better example of physical telling is “Ethan scratched the back of his neck, his gaze still on the door.” The body language there tells you he doesn’t really agree with Katie’s opinion on the matter. The line “Yeah, I guess” kind of tells you that too, but that added line of physical telling helps get the point across in a clearer way.

The scene above is not a great example of physical telling, but it’s a decent one. It could probably use a couple of revisions, but you at least get the idea of what physical telling is.

The problem you’ll have in your fiction, especially when you want to get represented or published, is when you go overboard with your physical telling.

Again, you’re going to need some examples of physical telling in your fiction for pacing, for meaning. In visual mediums the physical telling is always clear, but in writing, your reader doesn’t always know what your characters are physically doing at every point in time.

But does your reader need to know what your character is always doing physically? Absolutely not. And yet many aspiring writers will feel like every sentence needs to bring a visual image to your reader’s head, even when two characters are just talking.

Here’s another example…

Ethan smiled at Katie from across the room. “Hi. It’s nice to see you.”

“Good to see you too,” Katie said, batting her eyes and licking her lips.

He crossed his arms tightly and started walking toward her. “I’m not friends with Stephanie anymore, by the way.”

Katie pushed her hands back against the closest desk. “That’s good. I never liked her.”

Ethan tilted his head to the left. “Why not?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just like you better.” She blushed.

“Sweet.” Ethan chuckled through his nose and ran his index finger across his mouth. “I’m so excited about this development.”

“Me too,” Katie said, grinning excitedly.

Okay, I can’t go on, I feel like my brain’s being fried by this terrible writing, but you get the idea. If you’re laughing at this point, that’s probably a good thing. If you think anything in that above example is working well at a dramatic level, yikes.

Notice how all that physical telling makes the scene ridiculous? I mean, that horrible dialogue isn’t helping, but giving the reader every single bit of the characters’ physical action does the scene no favors, that’s for sure.

But wait, you’ve been told to always show and never tell in your writing!

This is true. In many ways it’s better in your writing to show things that are physically happening than to just tell the reader how the characters are feeling. At least that above terrible example doesn’t have a moment like this…

Ethan loved Katie more than she knew, and he was about to prove it. “I’m so excited about this development.”

“Me too,” Katie said, waiting excitedly to kiss him. She’d loved him since freshman year and now was finally the time they could be together.

You start getting into that territory, and most of your readers will likely be vomiting into a bucket before they reach the end of the scene.

Showing is usually better than telling, but you need to show restraint in that regard too. A little bit of physical telling goes a long way, remember that. A really good example or maybe two in a scene of dialogue will usually be enough to give the reader everything they need to know.

So be careful when it comes to physical telling, all right? Find a proper balance. Be original with the words you use. Don’t just keep having characters smile and nod and laugh and put their hands on their hips.

Use physical telling in ways that always helps develop your characters and make them come alive for your readers as much as possible.

Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by Diana Gabaldon to Make You a Better Writer

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Diana Gabaldon (born in 1952) is the hugely popular author of the Outlander series. Here are five fantastic quotes she’s shared over the years to help you with your writing!

1. When I turned 35, I thought, ‘Mozart was dead at 36, so I set the bar: I’m going to start writing a book on my next birthday.’ I thought historical fiction would be easiest because I was a university professor and know my way around a library, and it seemed easier to look things up than make them up.

So many of us think we’ve missed our chances, our opportunities, if we haven’t been published by thirty, or thirty-five, or forty, or whatever random age you’ve designated for yourself. When I started writing fiction at twenty-five, I had a five-year goal. I wanted to be a traditionally published author by the time I hit thirty. At minimum I wanted a publishing deal by thirty. And here I am, thirty-five years old, twenty novel manuscripts under my belt and some writing successes here and there but still no publishing deal and certainly no books on shelves yet. Does this make me sad? Sometimes. But at the end of the day you need to step back and look at the larger picture.

I mean, think of Diana Gabaldon. She’s one of the world’s bestselling authors, she has a series of novels that’s beloved the world over, and she didn’t start writing fiction until age thirty-five. Her story is proof that you don’t necessarily need to find success in writing at an early age to find success later on, and you don’t even have to have started writing your fiction until well into your thirties! She’s been a publishing sensation for many years now, and whether you’re in your thirties or forties or fifties, don’t worry, there’s still time, I’m telling you.

2. I work late at night. I’m awake and nobody bothers me. It’s quiet and things come and talk to me in the silence.

This is how I worked in the beginning. I drafted my first three novels between 10pm and 1am, mostly because I was working a day job at the time and I am so not a morning person to get the words down earlier in the day. I actually came to love writing my fiction at night because, yes, it is quiet. Nobody bothers you. There’s not a ton to do or think about outside of the novel you’re composing. If you ever struggle to find time to write, doing it late at night is certainly recommended if you can manage it.

My problem as of late is that I just get too damn tired by 10pm. And also, this wave of laziness usually washes over me by 5pm, no matter what kind of day I’ve had. Sometimes I get a bolt of creativity and excitement about my writing late into the night. But usually I feel most energized to do my work between 10am and 2pm. That’s my golden time. Find what’s yours. If it’s late at night, great. If it’s early in the morning, that’s fantastic. Do what works best for you. And any time you choose that allows for things to come and talk to you in silence? Even better.

3. I don’t plot the books out ahead of time, I don’t plan them. I don’t begin at the beginning and end at the end. I don’t work with an outline and I don’t work in a straight line.

Every writer is different. There’s no one right way to get your words down on paper. We each have our specific processes, and we each do something that works best for us. What’s most important is that you find a process that ensures you work on your novel at least five days a week and ultimately gets it finished in the not-so-distant future. I think any process that ensures your novel gets completed is always a good one!

Some of us like to outline heavily. Some of us like to start with the end and then work our way back. I personally do two things before I start a novel. I write detailed bios for all my main characters. And I have very specific ideas about what the first couple scenes are and what the last couple of scenes are. Sometimes the ending changes as I work on the first draft, and sometimes it stays in line with my original intention. But again, find the process that works best for you and stick to it every time.

4. If you’re going to have more than one person read your book, they’re going to have totally different opinions and responses. No person — no two people — read the same book.

This is what I find so fascinating about writing novels. The novel means something to you. The story you’re telling, the characters you’re creating, you have such specific visions in your head. And some small part of you naturally assumes each person who reads your book will have the same vision, or at least something similar.

But the truth is that every single person who reads your book will have a completely unique experience with it. Some people might like like the book for the same reason, some people might share a favorite scene or something. But each person comes to your book from a different background, from a different viewpoint, and no two reading experiences will ever be the same. It’s why when you put your novel into the world, it doesn’t really belong to you anymore. It belongs to the readers.

5. Normally, it takes me about three years to write one of the big books. It is usually four years between releases because of the huge amount of travel and PR and just nuisance going on around them. I have a lot of pressure from publishers and agents.

I’m always really happy to see successful authors like Gabaldon not just pump out a book every six months but instead take her time with each new novel she writes. There’s something so wonderful about the ability to write in one series you adore, one series that has completely shaped your life and your success, and then spend a few years on each manuscript knowing full well there’s going to be a huge audience for it on the eventual day of publication.

When you’re just starting out, you feel like you have to be the most prolific writer alive to find success. But the truth is that if you can write a story that connects with people, if you create characters that your readers instantly fall in love with, there’s suddenly no urgency to pump out one book after another if you don’t want to. Some big-time authors like Stephen King publish at least one book a year, and that’s great, but others like Gabaldon only publish once every few years.

Listen — quality matters at the end of the day. And if you need extra time to write the best book you can, for God’s sake, take that time. Take all the time you need to be the best writer you can possibly be. Always.

Posted in Books, Film, Writing

Let Read. Watch. Write. Repeat. be Your Motto for a Successful 2020!

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Happy New Year, everyone!

I can’t believe it’s already 2020. I can’t believe it’s the start of a new decade, holy cow!

I’ve been a serious writer since the beginning of 2010, so ten years now. Ten years of writing short stories and novels and essays. Two Masters degrees. Lots of failure, and some success.

There’s nothing like an entire decade to make you learn a lot, and I want you to have the best decade ever!

What kind of a writer do you want to become this year, and this decade? How do you want to build on what you’ve already accomplished?

How do you want to make this your best year of writing yet?

No matter what stage you may be in when it comes to your writing career, let this be the year you fully take charge. Let this be the year you take the steps toward your writing dreams.

Let this be the time of your life where you immerse yourself in the world of storytelling in all its tremendous aspects!

That’s the motto of Read. Watch. Write. Repeat.

And it’s been my motto for many, many years now.

Every single day I try to surround myself with books, films, and writing. It can be just a little bit. It can be a hell of a lot. It all depends each day, of course, but any day I reach the end that had no reading, no watching, and/or no writing? It’s never as good as the day before or the day after.

I fully believe that to be a successful writer it’s important to not just write often but to also read as much as you can and watch terrific (and maybe even some not so terrific) films and television shows.

You don’t want to go too far in the extreme of either one of these. You don’t want to read for ten hours but do little writing and not watch anything. Similarly you don’t want to Netflix binge for ten hours but not read anything and only allow yourself ten minutes to do any quality writing.

Ideally you want to devote a similar amount of time to all three. Let’s say an hour to two hours of reading (all at once or at different times of the day). A two-hour movie (or maybe two episodes of television). And one to two hours of writing.

That’s about six hours of creativity. Six of twenty-four hours in the day to allow yourself to completely surrender to storytelling. Books. Films or television. Writing.

And then repeat. The next day, the day after that. Sure, some days will get crazy and all you’ll have time for is maybe a half-hour of writing and a few minutes of reading before bed.

This happens occasionally. And you know what? That’s all right.

But your goal always should be a few hours each day of reading, watching, writing. I truly do believe it’s the answer to a successful creative life!

This is why I created a publication here called Read. Watch. Write. Repeat. earlier in 2019, and it’s why I decided just today to launch a brand new Facebook group of the same name!

It’s a community I’ve been thinking about creating for a few months now, and I felt like today, the first day of a new year and a new decade, to be the perfect day to have it go live.

The group will be a place to discuss all things books, films, television, and, of course, writing. A place to discuss everything creativity. A place to help one another find great books to read, awesome movies and TV shows to see, and discover ways to make our writing flourish in the weeks and months to come.

It’s going to be a fantastic writing year, it really is. A time to discover what you really want out of your creative life. It can be anything you want it to be.

The goal, always, is to keep learning and trying new things and taking bold chances to get to where you want to be. Hopefully not at the end of this year but a whole lot sooner.

Read. Watch. Write. Repeat. Keep those four words in mind as you continue on your writing journey, and I’m telling you 2020 will be your most successful year yet!

Posted in Writing

What Kind of a Writer Will You Be in 2020?

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Tomorrow begins a new decade. What kind of writer do you want to be?

What do you want to focus on? What do you want to excel in? What kinds of stories do you want to tell? What kinds of dreams do you want to go after?

The greatest thing about the beginning of a new year, and in this case, a new decade as well, is allowing yourself the time to reflect on everything you’ve accomplished in your writing up to now and decide what you want the next year to be like, your next exciting chapter. What kind of writer do you ultimately want to be?

This moment is kind of a milestone for me because ten years ago to the day I made the decision to write my first novel. It was December 31, 2009, and I’d spent the last few years completely immersed in filmmaking and screenwriting. I lived in Los Angeles at the time and I was deep into my second year as a feature film casting associate.

But no matter how many scripts I wrote, I wasn’t feeling creatively fulfilled. And for years I’d wanted to write a novel. I decided that day I was going to write a novel in 2010 no matter what. And in May 2010 I wrote THE END on my first ever book! I loved the process so much that later in the year I wrote a second novel, my first ever for the young adult market.

And to date? I’ve written twenty novels, holy cow. Twenty. Novels. In less than ten years! Do I plan to write another twenty novels this next decade? Oh, hell no. Sure, I still have more novels to write in the years to come. Still more stories to tell.

But what’s the kind of writer I want to be in 2020 and beyond? One who does a whole lot more than just write novels. Up until 2018 that’s pretty much all I did. I was always writing the first draft of one book and revising the draft of another and querying something else. It was this workshop of endless fiction writing year after year, and there was something kind of blissful about that, there certainly was.


Keep this in mind as a writer, however: it’s always a welcome time to change things up a bit.

If what you did as a writer the last year or the last five years haven’t led you to the place you want to be, then it’s perfectly fine to change course. Jump from one mode of writing to another. Try a different genre. Take a break. See the world.

Anything, really, you think might enrich your creativity and bring you closer to your dreams.

I have big plans for 2020. Lots of things I want to do in my writing life. In 2019 my goals were to write my twentieth novel (which I did — a young adult thriller called Fear of Water) and write a lot more stories for Medium (which I most definitely did — hundreds of stories on all sorts of topics since March).

For 2020? Here are just a few things I have planned…

  • For the first time ever, I’m going to take a year off from writing a new novel and instead spend some time revising the many unpublished novels I’ve already written, including the one I wrote last summer.
  • When it comes to new fiction, I’m going to write at minimum four short stories in the new year and submit them to literary journals.
  • I’m going to be looking for new literary representation, and I will soon be querying my MFA thesis novel, currently in its twelfth draft!
  • I’m going to slow down on Medium slightly and not feel obligated to write a new story every single day. I’m also going to take a break about writing about Medium and instead focus on fiction writing, life lessons, and other topics.
  • Read. Watch. Write. Repeat. is becoming a Facebook group tomorrow! A fun and collaborative space to discuss everything books, film, television, and writing. More on this in the hours to come.
  • After five years I’m returning to Self Publishing. I’m already putting together a book about writing for Medium, and I’m excited to finally share in the months to come a few of my young adult novel manuscripts with the world!

These are just a few of the ideas I have moving forward. It’s a lot for sure, and five years ago all of this might have seemed too overwhelming to take on.


But something you need to learn is how much you can accomplish when you devote even just a little bit of time to multiple projects every single day.

30 minutes to this, 30 minutes to that, 30 minutes to the other thing. Then repeat, repeat, repeat.

This is what I tell writers all the time who want to write their first novel. That you don’t have to sit down for seven hours a day to do your work. You really can write a novel with just 30 minutes a day as long as you treat your writing time like exercise, and do it at least five days a week.

If you want to accomplish a lot in the new year, don’t feel like you have to accomplish a lot in one particular day, or even one particular week. Just keep your goals at the forefront of your mind and work toward each one a little bit every day.

And you’ll be surprised to discover how much you can accomplish as the months pass, I’m telling you!

So take the time now and the rest of the week to decide just what kind of writer you want to be in 2020. What projects do you want to focus on? What are you most passionate about? Do you want to write more for Medium, or write a novel? Maybe both?

You can start small or think big. You can go after five projects or just one. It’s. Entirely. Up. To. You.

Whatever you end up doing, remember that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to, and that the world is waiting for your voice to enter the conversation! I wish you the best in the coming year with all your endeavors, and I sincerely hope the next part of your journey is everything you hope it to be and more.

Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by F. Scott Fitzgerald to Make You a Better Writer

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F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940) is the legendary author behind such classics as The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and This Side of Paradise.

Here are five fantastic quotes he shared with us about writing!

1. All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.

This quote is kind of amazing. I feel like I’ve heard it before, and I didn’t until now know it was attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald. It sounds funny at first, but the man is really telling the truth here. Because good writing absolutely is swimming under water and holding your breath, hoping what you’re doing might end up everything you’re hoping it to be once you reach the surface.

Writing a short story, or a novel even, is basically like diving deep into the ocean and not coming up for air until you reach THE END. And when I say deep, I mean really deep. So far down you can’t see much of what’s in front of you. It’s dark. Scary. Intimidating. But you keep swimming anyway. You keep trying to do your best work week after week, month after month, until you reach the other side.

Nobody starts a new writing project knowing for sure it’s going to be good. It’s all a bit of a mystery, and the best thing you can to create something worthwhile is hold your breath and go swimming for an indefinite amount of time… and ultimately see what happens once you’re back to dry land!

2. Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.

I use exclamation points all the time in much of my writing. Blog entries for sure. And e-mails, oh my God, I use them so many times in e-mails! Sometimes I need to do a quick read-through on my e-mails to make sure I don’t have too many of them and sound totally like a crazy person.

An occasional exclamation is totally fine in these two modes of writing as long as you don’t go overboard, but when it comes to fiction? Fitzgerald is right in that they should be almost entirely wiped out. My brand new short story published in The Saturday Evening Post has one exclamation point about halfway through. Every time I revised the story I considered taking it out, but it stayed and stayed and stayed. And it’s there in the published version and I still believe it’s warranted.

But there’s only the one, and I think you can always make a case for one. But for three or five or ten? Now you might start losing your reader. I believe the only place you can have a lot of exclamation points in your fiction is in dialogue, and even there you want to be careful about how many of them you’re using.

3. My idea is always to reach my generation. The wise writer writes for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.

This is one of Fitzgerald’s most famous quotes, and it’s easy to see why. Most of us write for a non-specific audience. We have stories to tell, and we hope there are people out there who might find them one day. But the more you understand the market you’re writing for, and the more you feel inclined to take chances in your material and give something to people they haven’t already read before, you have a chance at connecting with the youth of your own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.

Such was definitely the case for Fitzgerald, who wasn’t exactly appreciated at the time by his peers and didn’t come into fame until after his untimely passing. This is not to mean that we all need to write the kind of work that won’t be read and enjoyed until after we’re dead, but there’s something to be said about writing the kind of material that truly lasts long after its initial publication.

I write young adult novels in the hopes that one or more of them will find the youth of my own generation, that’s what’s most important to me. The critics? The schoolmasters? These things don’t matter as much, and they shouldn’t mean the world to you either. But there’s certainly no doubt it’s almost every writer’s dream to be appreciated one day by them too, is it not?

4. You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.

In the last ten years I’ve written twenty novels, and on too many occasions I sat down to write a novel because I wanted to say something instead of because I had something to say. I found that the best novels I’ve written in the past few years have been the ones where I had a story inside of me just desperate to break out and that I needed to put into the world by any means necessary, not the ones I wrote because I had a free summer and I merely had an idea for something.

To write only to write isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it can actually help you improve your craft, but the best work will always come from you when you’re not writing just to write but are instead writing because you have something important to say. Because there’s something about your take on things — your take on a story, your take on an idea, your take on the world — that will be of value and achieve resonance for your readers.

It’s clear when you read the work of Fitzgerald that he had lots to say on many issues, and his work still remains relevant decades later because he had so much to say in his fiction and he said it so very well.

5. You can stroke people with words.

This final quote is super simple but oh so strong. It’s a reminder of how powerful words can be. About how words and sentences can conjure incredible images in readers’ heads, about how the right story can change the life of another, about how your voice can provide others with something truly special. You can make a huge difference with your words, never forget that!

You can stroke people with words alone, absolutely. It’s a power that you should never take for granted in the work that you do. It’s important not to fixate on that power too much, and instead tell your story, whatever it may be, to the best of your ability. And then repeat, repeat, repeat.

Let your talent shine through with the words that you choose, and then allow the readers of the world to discover all the beautiful things you have to offer!

Posted in Fiction, Writing

My New Short Story was Published in The Saturday Evening Post!

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It never works out this way.

At least, it never did until this year.

I’ve written more than a dozen short stories the past few years, and many of them languish in submission hell for what seems like forever. There’s a piece I wrote in 2012 that didn’t get published until 2016. I wrote a story in 2015 that wasn’t published until this year.

Hell, there’s a story I wrote in January 2016 that still hasn’t been published, even after multiple rounds of submission and endless revisions. That story is called “The Girl at the Winery” and I’m bound and determined to find a home for it eventually! Even if it takes me another year or longer.

Thankfully things changed for the better this year big time. In May I wrote a new story called ‘Walter’ that was accepted by an editor just three months later and was eventually published in Bosque Literary Journal. The editors at Bosque even chose me as their Fiction Discovery of the Year, which continues to amaze me.

That definitely felt like success, at least as a short story writer. That felt like a great way to end my first decade as a serious writer!

But wouldn’t you know it, there was one more surprise in store.

In October I started writing a new experimental short story, written in second person and coming in at less than 2500 words. Most of my short stories are super long, especially in the first two drafts.

Last year, for example, I wrote a story that came in at a whopping 8,000 words, before I eventually got it down to about 6,500 words. I love that story — a magical realism tale called ‘Gretel’ — and it’s definitely gotten some interest from editors, but it’s been a hard sell because it’s just so damn long.

Since the summer I’ve had an idea for a story about a student who fails an English class, and it took me a few months to figure out how to do it. When I decided on the second person idea, I got super excited about it, so I started writing a few hundred words a day this October.

The first draft came in at 3,500 words, and I spent a few more weeks revising it down, all the way to 2,484 words before I began submitting the story to a few literary magazines in late November.

I expected another long wait. I expected a year, two years.

I didn’t think I’d be accepted to a magazine just two weeks later, and then published one week after that!

This turnaround was insane. I’m still in disbelief. I send the piece out in November, and it was published on December 13th, woo hoo!

The story is entitled “F,” and it’s now available on The Saturday Evening Post’s website as part of their Friday Fiction series.

 

I had no idea if this story worked or not, I had no idea if it would ever be published, but it has, and I’ve already gotten lots of great feedback. I’d love for you to take a look at the story if you have the time and let me know what you think of it!

This whole experience is yet another example of why you simply must keep going as a writer. Until this year I had few successes with my many stories, and I started to wonder if I should only focus on novels and forget about the short fiction format.

2019 changed all that. I had four short story publications this year — wow! — and I’m stoked to start writing lots more new stories in 2020 and beyond.

Even when you’re rejected for the hundredth time, even when you’re feeling down on yourself, keep going, trust me. I’m proof that a lot of time and effort and hard work can result in some truly wondrous surprises!

Posted in Writing

6 Quotes by Carrie Fisher to Make You a Better Writer

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Carrie Fisher (1956–2016) is best known as the world-famous actress of the Star Wars saga, as well as When Harry Met Sally, The Blues Brothers, and countless other movies.

But she was also an extremely accomplished writer throughout the decades — novelist, screenwriter, essay writer — and she has given us some amazing advice that will help inspire your creativity!

1. I always wrote. I wrote from when I was 12. That was therapeutic for me in those days. I wrote things to get them out of feeling them, and onto paper. So writing in a way saved me, kept me company.

I feel this way about writing too, always have, ever since I was a kid. I had my share of friends when I was younger, but sometimes the best company I kept was with the writing I was doing on my ancient early ’90s PC computer. I wrote so many stories between ages ten and twelve. Unfortunately only a few of those have survived, but in the ones that have I can recognize how much I was in love with writing, how clearly therapeutic the process was for me back in the day.

It was probably most therapeutic for me then because I had no plans of getting anything published, of making any money from my words. I just wrote for the love of it, for how writing made me feel. My head would be full of these strange and amazing ideas, and instead of having them languish there for days and days, I could write them down. Sometimes I showed my stories to friends and family, sometimes I didn’t. Every day I would be excited to write something new, and while I still have that creative drive today, nothing can ever match that drive we have as kids, am I right?

2. I have a mess in my head sometimes, and there’s something very satisfying about putting it into words. Certainly it’s not something that you’re in charge of, necessarily, but writing about it, putting it into your words, can be a very powerful experience.

As I said before, it’s so satisfying to take ideas that have been bouncing around your head for days, months, sometimes years, and finally put them down on paper. Fisher talked about this, and Stephen King has talked about it as well. Sometimes writing isn’t something you feel like doing; sometimes writing is something you have to do just to keep from going insane! I’ve written twenty novels in the past ten years, and I’d say at least half of those novels came from a desire to get an idea that simply would never leave my head and put it down on paper so the idea, in a way, could finally be put to rest.

Of course when you have a mess in your head, sometimes it’s necessary to simply write. It doesn’t have to be a novel or a short story. It doesn’t even have to be something anybody ever sees. When there’s something inside of you begging to be expressed and if you have no one to talk to about it, often the best thing you can do is write, write, write. In diary form. In essay form. Whatever works best for you. For me it’s often writing fiction but sometimes it’s writing a long essay. However you can make sense of the mess in your head by using the written word, trust me, you’ll feel better afterward.

3. I trust myself. I trust my instincts. I know what I’m gonna do, what I can do, what I can’t do. I’ve been through a lot, and I could go through more, but I hope I don’t have to. But if I did, I’d be able to do it.

One of the best things about writing every day for many months and years is that eventually you come to recognize what you can do and what you can’t do. You begin to trust your instincts as to what topics you should be exploring in your writing and what kinds of stories in the fiction world you feel you can really get a grip on. You find what your strengths are as a writer and then you keep writing those things that best show off your voice and your talent.

At the same time, you won’t ever get better as a writer if you just write the same thing over and over, so it’s important that you challenge yourself too, and experiment, and try something brand new even it if fails. Write in a new genre once in awhile. Write an essay that’s super personal to see how it makes you feel. Trust in your ability to put your thoughts on the page. If you’ve been able to do it successfully before, you’re going to be able to do it successfully again no matter what the subject might be.

4. I did the traditional thing with falling in love with words, reading books and underlining lines I liked and words I didn’t know. It was something I always did.

Writing has been therapeutic for me from an early age, but something I also loved to do when I was younger, of course, was read, read, read. Read morning, noon, and night. Read everything I could get my hands on. I always wanted to read up. I always wanted to read something I wasn’t allowed to read. By age ten I was reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz and John Grisham. I didn’t always understand everything between those covers, but from an early age I fell deeply in love with the written word.

And even today I feel like if you don’t love language, if you’re not interested in words and sentences and how they look on a page and how they sound, you’re going to struggle at times in your writing life. The ideas, the characters, the settings, the genres — those are all incredibly important. But you also want to be invested in the language itself. You want to be interested in discovering new words, and using a word in a sentence in a way you’ve never used it before. The only way to keep growing as a writer is to keep discovering, keep learning new things. And paying attention to words and sentences as you read will forever help with that.

5. There is no point at which you can say, ‘Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.’

This is true in all professions but it’s especially true as a writer. Look at Stephen King. He could have slowed down or stopped writing twenty years ago, and his legacy would have stayed in tact, but what does the man do? He gets up every day and writes, works on the next book, does his job just like he did in the 1970s and earlier. Carrie Fisher was the same way. The woman was always working. Acting, writing, performing. She did uncredited rewrites on tons of screenplays too, did you know that? The woman never stopped working until the day she died, and because of this she remained successful throughout her life, even when she was battling her inner demons.

There’s no such thing as finding success in writing and then being able to take a nap, take a long break, not write anything for five years because you can relax now, the success arrived, you’re good to go for the rest of your life. It doesn’t work like that. Even J.K. Rowling went on to write and publish after Harry Potter. Even Suzanne Collins has gone on to write a new Hunger Games novel after the success of her original trilogy. With success comes new opportunities, not an excuse to get lazy. Take advantage of all the opportunities that come to you as a writer, and remember that success often means you should work even harder.

6. Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.

This is my favorite Carrie Fisher quote. I first read it soon after her untimely passing at the end of 2016, and I honestly think about it often, especially when I’m put in a situation where I’m scared, or nervous, or unsure of myself, or whatever it may be. I think of this quote. So often in life you feel bad about being scared of something, but what Fisher said here is that it’s okay to be scared. Stay scared. Recognize the fear that you have… but then do it anyway. There’s always going to be things that make you nervous. You’re going to have moments when you feel like you have no confidence. As long as you do the thing that scares you anyway, the confidence will come through in the action.

And that’s especially true when it comes to your writing. There’s so much self doubt. So much fear. You think you’re not good enough. You think you have nothing to say. You think nobody’s going to give a shit. You know what? Allow all those thoughts to brim to the surface if they must… and then write the thing anyway. I was terrified to write a novel for so many years, and when I finally did it in 2010, the confidence came, and I recognized that I was capable of more as a writer than I ever thought possible. Don’t let fear ever hold you back as a writer. Acknowledge the fear if you must, even embrace if you want to, but then write the thing anyway, and the confidence and success will ultimately follow!