Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by Roald Dahl to Make You a Better Writer


Roald Dahl (1916–1990) is one of the most celebrated writers of the twentieth century. His many enchanting and timeless books include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and The Witches.

Here are five of his fantastic quotes!

1. A writer of fiction lives in fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.

Fear is absolutely one of the biggest obstacles you have to face as a writer, particularly when you’re hard at work on the first draft of something, whether it’s a 3,000 word short story or a 90,000 word novel. When you sit down in front of a blank page, there’s always going to be a little bit of fear. I just completed the first draft of my twentieth novel, and I still had to fight through the fear every day of the process of writing that book.

One way I learned throughout the years to push through that fear was to always stop your writing for the day at a place where you know exactly what’s going to happen next in your story, where you know exactly the following scene. Therefore, when you sit back down to write the following day, there’s no confusion about what to do, no need to sit there pondering ideas for an hour or longer. The scene is ready to go. All you need to do is write it.

2. When you’re writing a book, with people in it as opposed to animals, it is no good having people who are ordinary, because they are not going to interest your readers at all. Every writer in the world has to use the characters that have something interesting about them, and this is even more true in children’s books.

If there’s one thing Roald Dahl was supremely good at, it was creating unique and wondrous characters. I think a big reason his stories still resonate for readers today is the characters, more so than the plots, more so than the actual writing. His characters are so incredibly memorable. You hear the name Roald Dahl and immediately thoughts of Mr. Wonka and The Grand High Witch and The Twits and so many others come to mind. He was a master at creating outlandish, funny, freaky, fascinating characters.

Although what I write is a lot more realistic than what Dahl tended to write, I still think it’s necessary to avoid writing characters who are ordinary. Who don’t have something to interest readers they may never have seen before. No matter what genre you write in, no matter if you write for children or for adults, you need to find ways to make your characters stand out somehow.

3. The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him.

It’s one of the hardest parts about being a writer, isn’t it? To have nobody actually looking over your shoulder to make sure you get your writing done for the day. There’s nobody to scold you, nobody who’s really going to care that much if you get to your writing or not (well, unless you’re on deadline, I suppose!), and so it’s feasible to just put the laptop away for a week and not write a single sentence.

Such is the reason why I actually create phony deadlines for myself. I pretend the latest draft of my book is due on such and such date. I pretend there’s an editor out there waiting excitedly for my manuscript before it’s soon published and spread across bookshelves all over North America. Even though there is no editor (at least not right now). Even though there isn’t a deadline. I have a literary agent, but she’s never once asked me to submit a new draft to her by a specific date. I can take six months on my latest revision if I want to. But no, I create the fake deadline, and I force myself to work. It’s the only way to get things done in a timely fashion.

4. Two hours of writing fiction leaves this writer completely drained. For those two hours he has been in a different place with totally different people.

This is an aspect of writing that few people who aren’t writers don’t understand and probably will never understand. So many people think we’re just goofing off and having fun when we write our fiction, that it’s just a big game that takes little effort or skill, and while yes it is a lot of fun at times, it’s also completing draining almost all of the time. Especially when it comes to writing a new novel, it truly never gets easier. It’s very hard work, it often gives you a headache by the end of your writing session, and you walk away having no idea if what you put down on the page works or doesn’t work.

Such is the reason why I rarely write fiction for more than three hours a day. Three hours is sort of my maximum before I begin to fade. I’d even go further to say I have about two hours of really good writing in me on the day. Two hours where I can 100% focus on the novel at hand and not be distracted by anything else in my life. If you write fast, if you know what scene or scenes you’ll be working on day after day, you can absolutely do great work and write your books in a timely fashion if you can write non-stop without interruption for just two hours a day. You don’t need to write four hours a day or six hours a day, like I’ve heard some writers do. Two hours can often be all I need, and some days, when I’m really on a roll, it’s often more than enough.

5. If my books can help children become readers, then I feel I have accomplished something important.

I’ve been writing books for children since the beginning, and one of the big reasons why I do it is in the hope that one day one or more of my books will inspire children to become readers. That my stories will delight them to such an extent that they’ll have the desire to seek out even more books like that one, whether the other books are written by me or written by someone else.

Children surrender to the books they adore. They tell their friends about them. They read the books over and over. When I’m struggling in my writing life, which is often, I sometimes quiet down and try to picture a single young reader out there discovering one of my books, falling under its spell, becoming enchanted with my story and my characters. It’s one of the big reasons why I don’t quit. It’s one of the big reasons why I believe with my whole heart I will get there someday, even if it’s still far away in the future.

If you have a belief in yourself as a writer, don’t give up. Find that image of your ideal reader, and keep going always. No matter what!

Posted in Books, Publishing, Writing

This is the One Thing a Reader Wants



In her 2012 craft book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, author Mary Kole says,

Today’s publishing marketplace is tough. Not all writers who set out to publish will see their dreams come true. And even if they do publish, readers will not automatically flock to your writing without good reason. The only thing a reader wants, at the end of the day, is to care about a character and a story. That’s it, that’s all. If you let them down here, they will not return to your pages.

The one thing a reader wants is simple.

A reader wants a character and a story to care about. That’s it.

A character. And a story. To care about.

Sure, there are other factors that will keep a reader flipping through the pages all the way until the end.

Big surprises. High stakes. Constant tension. A good mix of dialogue and description.

But a compelling novel especially comes to down to that one thing: a character and story to care about, deeply and completely.

I don’t know about you, but if I don’t care about both of those elements, I struggle continuing on with a novel I’m reading.

Especially when it comes to character. I don’t even need an extraordinary story if the characters mean something to me.

I just adored every minute of the third season of Stranger Things, and something that hit me by the end of the first episode was that I love the characters on the show so much that I’d still enjoy the show if nothing extraordinary happened.

If there were no monsters. If there were no big stakes.

If all the show did was explore those characters’ lives, I would still want to be there for every minute of it.

Such is the case with the best fiction.

You want your characters to be so compelling that very little could happen in the story, and you would still go along for the ride.

So when you do have a lot happen throughout the narrative, when you throw endless surprises and twists at the reader, when there’s a major death nobody sees coming, when an ending reveals something about a character that changes your entire perspective on the book…. your reader will absolutely love you for it.

Mary Kole is right: the publishing marketplace is tough. There are lots of reasons for an editor to say no to your novel.

What you want to do is write a story and characters that nobody will want to say no to.

That no readers will ever be able to put down… even if they try!

All a reader wants at the end of the day is to care about a story and a character.

If you can master that part of novel writing, there’s no telling how much success you’ll be able to achieve.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

Learn to Think Big with Your Stories if You Want to be Published


In her 2012 craft book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Mary Kole says,

Many beginning writers fall into the trap of thinking too small with their stories. The resulting projects lack multidimensional characters, tension, and stakes. The whole novel goes from point A to point B with only a few bumps in an otherwise straight line. None of the characters experience deep, seismic shifts in their lives, beliefs, or identities. And I fail to care even a little bit about the story because there’s not much of one.

If your reader doesn’t care about your story, it’s over.

There’s no way around it. There’s nothing you can do about it. And it doesn’t matter that you think every sentence of your story is lovely, that your use of setting is stellar, that your POV work is ambitious.

There needs to be a story that readers care about. And you need to write characters they connect with. I’ve struggled a lot in my writing life throughout the years, but one thing I’ve tried hard to do well when it comes to my short stories and novels is writing compelling stories with three-dimensional characters. Stories that make you keep flipping through the pages. Characters you can relate to.

I would much rather read a novel that’s just so-so written but has an amazing story and unique characters than read a novel that’s beautifully written but has no story or characters I care about. Something needs to pull you through the narrative. Something needs to keep you coming back. I’m a slow reader and often need a week or longer to finish a novel.

I can’t tell you how many novels I’ve started reading that I enjoyed for a few chapters… but then lost interest. I’m sure the same thing has happened to you, too. Sometimes I’ll make it halfway through a novel and then still give up. And with more and more years that go by, and less and time it seems, that book really needs to keep me hooked from beginning to end.

Such is why it’s important for you not to think too small with your stories, and instead think big.

But what exactly does it mean to think big with your stories?

You might think this means you need to write a giant epic fantasy novel that takes place in a whole new world with robots and cyborgs and magical lands and apocalyptic winters and death-defying action scenes.

No. Thinking big with your story doesn’t mean the story itself needs to be big and epic. You can still tell a realistic contemporary novel about a romance. You can write a suspense thriller that takes place in one day. You can tell a simple story about friendship and growing up, you can really do whatever you want when it comes to the actual idea.

What Mary Kole is discussing in that quote is that you need to go beyond your basic story idea in order to write a truly compelling novel. It’s not enough to just come up with an idea you love and tell the story in a way that offers little in the way of obstacles and tension and surprises. It’s not enough to come up with a cast of stereotypical characters we’ve read in a hundred other books.

Sure, just getting a first draft of a novel completed is a major first step and worthy of celebration. A lot of people can’t even get that far.

But if you want to be published, you need to start thinking bigger. Imagine you’re the reader of your book. Would you want to read every page? Is there any place in the narrative you might find yourself drifting?

Kole talks about stakes in that quote. I believe having high stakes in a novel is immensely important. High stakes can be a lot of things, of course. It can be life and death for your protagonist externally or internally. It can be winning the state championship game, or getting the girl, or just surviving middle school. But the stakes need to be there somewhere, in every chapter hopefully. You can’t write a story that grips the reader without any stakes.

Stand out from the pack by thinking big, not small, with your latest story.

When it comes to your latest narrative, don’t just do the obvious. Don’t take your story from point A to point B in a way that twenty other writers would, too. Do something original. Throw obstacles at your characters. Tell your story from a POV that might not be expected. Include a twist in chapter five, not necessarily chapter twenty-five.

There’s a lot you need to do in order to be a published novelist. So many struggles you’ll face along the way, like I have. You can follow all the rules, do everything you think you need to, and still get rejected. You can write the best story you can, revise it to death over the course of two or three years, and still get rejected. You can sign with an awesome agent, have your work pitched to equally awesome editors, and still get rejected.

It’s why one of the first things you should do when you start a new project is think big, not small. Think about ways you can stand out from the pack. The idea itself doesn’t have to necessarily be super original, but the way you tell the story should be. You should tell the story in a way that no other author would.

You might not deliver on your first novel, or your latest novel, whichever number that may be. It might take you a few more. I just finished the first draft of my twentieth novel… and I’m still trying. I’m still going for it, thinking big every time.

If your dream is to become a published novelist like mine is, just keep writing, keep growing, and keep thinking big.

As long as you don’t give up, you’ll get there eventually!

Posted in Writing

How to Revise Your Novel in a Single Month


The revision process is as important as writing your novel’s first draft, and you can’t put it off forever.

Writing the first draft of a book is the necessary, difficult first step. A lot of us feel like we successfully reached the top of Mount Everest when we complete the first draft of a novel.

And yes, we need to celebrate. Have fun with your friends. Go on a weekend trip. Stay away from the laptop for weeks if you want.

But eventually you do need to sit back at your writing desk and get to work on the second draft. Stephen King recommends you wait six weeks before you begin the revision process. Six weeks to let the draft cool and allow your mind to wander to other things so that by the time you sit back down and read through your manuscript, you can bring a fresh pair of eyes to it.

I always love reading through the first draft of my latest novel, although it’s sad when you see a thousand mistakes in the first few chapters, and it’s disheartening when you notice entire scenes that don’t work at all.

No matter — you’ll get to fix everything that doesn’t work. And the best thing about revisions? You can do as many of them for your latest novel as you want for as long as you want.

I really do believe a first draft of a novel should be written quickly. Written as best as you can as fast as you can.

When it comes to revisions? You can go much slower. You can spend three months or longer on a second draft, which I’ve done before. You can revise a page a day if you want.

However, you can’t query your novel to literary agents and/or editors until it’s been revised a few times. And maybe you’d like to query sooner than later. To do that, you need to revise your books faster.

So how do you revise an entire novel in 30 days or less?

I write the first drafts of my novels in 30 days by committing to a strict word count every single day. If I’m trying to write 80,000 words in 30 days, for example, that means about 2700 words a day. I can go over that number if I want, but I need to reach it each day, Monday through Sunday.

And that’s what I just did in June! I wrote an 81,000-word YA novel in 31 days. June 3 to July 3. I started writing just 2,200 words a day actually, thinking I might take 35 to 40 days to complete it, but by the end I was writing up to 3,800 words a day before I wrote THE END.

You can totally write a first draft of a novel in a single month’s time!

And you can of course do a revision draft of your novel in a month as well.

Revising your book in 30 days or less is actually easier to schedule than the writing of a first draft. Because it’s not the word count you’re looking at this time.

It’s looking at your number of chapters.

I’ve written twenty books in less than ten years, and most of my books, probably 17 or 18 of them, have between 20 and 30 chapters. My MFA thesis novel has 30. My new YA I just completed has 27.

And the new middle grade horror novel I’m currently revising has 22.

This is how to revise your novel in 30 days. You revise one, potentially two, chapters every day.

Not scenes. Not pages. Don’t study the word count.

Just go chapter by chapter. Yes, some days will be easier than others. Some days you’ll have a four-page chapter to revise, and that writing session might be done in twenty to thirty minutes!

And then another day you might have a massive fifteen-page chapter in front of you to revise. Do it anyway. Do it all!

You can absolutely revise your novel in 30 days or less if you put your mind to it.

Now this is not to say the entire revision process of your latest novel will be completed in 30 days or less. I’m talking about a specific draft of your book. Draft two or three or five or nine or whatever it may be.

I used to complete three revisions of a novel before I queried it to literary agents or publishers. So that would have been three months or so to complete the entire revision process before I sent my work out.

Three months of the actual revision. That doesn’t include the months you should let your work rest between drafts, or the time you should allow beta readers to read and give you feedback on your novel (this should typically be after your third draft), or the time you need to take to write an awesome query letter and complete your synopsis.

This month, for example, I’m revising the fifth draft of my new middle grade horror novel, Dark Glasses. I wrote the first draft in December/January. I wrote the second draft in February. The third draft in March/April. The fourth draft in May.

And now in July I’m working on the fifth draft, as always, chapter by chapter. I started revising chapter one on Monday, July 8. And I’ll complete the revision of the final chapter on Monday, July 29. 22 days in 22 chapters!

So start today and not tomorrow, will you? Don’t let that first draft sit there another minute.

Take it out, give it a read-through, then plan a schedule for your revision. Plan to revise one chapter every day. If your book has 50 chapters or 60 chapters, aim to revise two chapters a day.

However long your book may be, you can absolutely revise your latest draft in 30 days or less. I’ve done it before, dozens of times, and you can, too!

Just believe in yourself, and believe in your story. Go for it!

Posted in Grammar, Writing

How to Tell the Difference Between Aggravate and Irritate

In their highly acclaimed craft book The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White say,

Many of the words and expressions listed here are not as much bad English as bad style, the commonplaces of careless writing. The proper correction is likely to be not the replacement of one word or set of words by another but the replacement of vague generality by definite statement.

There are many instances of the English language of two words that mean close to the same thing.

I’ve been teaching English as the college level for six years now, and I still get confused about the meaning of words here and there. So, of course, do my students.

Not a semester goes by before I need to perform a quick lesson for the students about some of those words in the English language that can be confusing at times. The ones I go over the most are EFFECT and AFFECT. I swear, every few months I get asked by a student how to tell the difference between those!

I also get asked about IRREGARDLESS and how to use LIE/LAY/LAID/LAIN and when to use THAT and when to use WHICH.

No matter how old you are and no matter how learned you may be, it’s still worth brushing up on some of the often confusing aspects of grammar and usage as you go along in your writing life. And Chapter IV from The Elements of Style — Words and Expressions Commonly Misused — is a great place to start!

Our first lesson today: the difference between AGGRAVATE and IRRITATE.

Honestly, I’m afraid to look up these words in the last twenty novels I’ve written. I bet I’ve used both of these words at least at some points to mean the exact same thing. When talking to a friend, you might use the words interchangeably. Because they mean pretty close to the same thing.

The bully aggravated the geek at recess.

The bully irritated the geek at recess.

Both sentences sort of conjure up the same image, don’t they? And you might be able to use either one of these words in a sentence like that.

But let’s look a little closer at the definitions of the words.

Aggravate: MAIN DEFINITION: make worse or more serious; INFORMAL DEFINITION: annoy or exacerbate (someone) persistently

MAIN: Burning the manuscript would only aggravate the writer’s depression.

INFORMAL: The professor aggravated his students with the promise of a pop quiz.

Does the example about the bully work? Only with the informal definition: the bully annoyed persistently the geek at recess. It might be able to fit.

Irritate: make (someone) annoyed, impatient, or angry; cause inflammation or other discomfort (in a part of the body)

The writer’s anger about having to complete another revision irritated her literary agent.

All of that scratching irritated the skin above his belly button.

Does the example about the bully work? Yes, it does! The bully annoyed and angered the geek at recess.

The words, as you can see, are very similar.

But in the case of the bully example, the better word to use would be IRRITATED.

Why? Because, according to The Elements of Style, AGGRAVATE means to ADD TO an already troublesome matter, while IRRITATE means, more simply, to annoy.

There are already problems before the use of AGGRAVATE should come into play, while there aren’t problems necessarily happening yet before the use of IRRITATE is presented. Make sense?

Think about the term AGGRAVATED ASSAULT. That’s worse-than-normal assault. You wouldn’t say IRRITATED ASSAULT, that makes no sense.

So, again, when talking to a friend or writing something informal, the two words can often be interchangeable, but whenever possible use the words in their stricter meanings.

AGGRAVATE: to make something worse

IRRITATE: to annoy

He aggravated the major plot hole in his novel by cutting chapters four and five.

She irritated her brother every time she typed on her keyboard too loudly.

Don’t worry, you’ve got this! You won’t be committing grammar sin by interchanging these two words occasionally in your writing.

But at the end of the day, the more you use AGGRAVATE and IRRITATE in the proper way, the better off you’ll be!

Posted in Books, Publishing, Writing

Here are the Essentials of Young Adult Fiction


In her 2012 craft book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Mary Kole says,

Bookstores have an MG area and a YA area. They’re not sharpening their saws to build a special hybrid shelf just for your project. These guidelines will help you make an educated decision [of which market you’re writing for].

It’s important as a writer to learn the difference between middle grade and young adult.

Don’t ever think you can lump them together, as Mary Kole says.

Sure, there’s the rare instance like the Harry Potter series, where the first three books are middle grade and then the rest of the books veer more into YA territory, with Harry aging and the themes growing darker.

But in pretty much all cases, MG and YA are separate things. Yes, they’re both kidlit. Yes, many literary agents will represent authors who write both MG and YA, and many editors will be on the lookout to buy both MG and YA. And many authors write both successfully!

But when it comes to your novel, it should never be a little of both. It should be either MG or YA. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. It honestly wasn’t until I picked up Mary Kole’s book in 2014 that I finally began to understand the major and minor differences between MG and YA.

Let’s take a look at the essentials of young adult fiction!

Young Adult Essentials

Here are some rules you should try at all times to stick to when writing YA books…

  • Your main character or characters should be fifteen to seventeen years old. Sixteen is typically ideal.

Of the twenty books I’ve written, fourteen of them are young adult. This is the market I love to write for the most. I’ve written all kinds of YA. Realistic YA, fantasy YA, horror YA, thriller YA, LGBTQ YA. I’ve tried so many different kinds of stories for the young adult market.

And one thing I have found over the years that has brought me the most success is writing main characters that are sixteen years old. This age seems to be the sweet spot. Seventeen works, too. And fifteen as well, although I’ve never actually written a YA to date about a fifteen year old.

Keep in mind that most YA readers are younger than the age of your protagonist. Like eleven, twelve, thirteen. These readers want to read up, so sixteen or seventeen is typically ideal for your character’s age.

One thing I’d recommend? Try not to write about an eighteen year old. A literary agent once told me to my face, “I can’t sell YA with an eighteen-year-old protagonist.” I was told this five years ago. Maybe things have changed.

But if you can, try to make your protagonist sixteen unless there’s a really strong and specific reason why the character needs to be older or younger.

  • The length of your young adult novel can go as short as 50,000 words, but unless you’re writing fantasy, try not to go over 90,000 words.

I’ve tried all sorts of lengths in my YA books. The longest one I ever queried was 82,000 words. The shortest one was 58,000 words. I didn’t have success with either one.

You want to know the lengths of the YA novels I did have success querying? Between 65,000 and 70,000 words. That seems to be the sweet spot for YA word counts because it’s long enough to tell a complete story but not too long to overwhelm any of the agents who might request your book. 75,000 is fine, too, of course. 80,000 probably won’t raise any eyebrows.

But I’d think long and hard about querying a novel that was longer than 90,000 words unless you have a really good reason for it. If you’re writing hard science fiction or fantasy, then maybe. But as soon as you hit 100,000 words and up, you’re going to have lots of agents click over to the next query letter in a heartbeat, remember that.

  • You can go edgier in your subject matter in YA than you can in MG.

Honestly this is a big reason why I often choose to write books for the YA market than the MG market. I don’t like to feel restricted about what I can and cannot do in my storytelling, and what’s so exciting about YA is that you can basically write any story you want, without restrictions, without too many rules or guidelines.

The truth is that librarians and parents are much stricter toward what MG books kids might read, but there’s not as harsh a strictness for YA books kids might read. In YA, for the most part, almost anything goes.

A few more rules to keep in mind…

  • Teens have a sensitive, built-in BS-o-meter, so for the YA market especially, authenticity is super important.
  • Realistic, contemporary stories do really well in YA.
  • There are fewer opportunities to target boy audiences in YA than there are in MG. You’re taking a gamble if you target your YA to a solely male audience.
  • Conflicts in YA tend to be bigger and all-consuming and are resolved in a more bittersweet note than MG.

Pay close attention to that first one. It’s critical that you bring authenticity and reality to your YA novels. Even if you’re no longer a teenager and aren’t around a lot of teenagers, you need to find that authenticity through any means necessary!

At the end of the day, feel free to do what you want in your YA writing.

Follow that story you love, that compels you. It’s important to take chances in YA and offer something new and exciting we’ve never seen before.

At the same time, be sure to keep at least most of these rules in the back of your mind, especially as you begin the process of writing your latest novel.

Once you’ve master the essentials of young adult fiction, there’s no telling the kind of incredible stories you’ll be able to create!

Posted in Writing

3 Quotes by David Cronenberg to Make You a Better Writer


David Cronenberg (born in 1943) is one of the finest directors of his generation, the creator of such classic films as The Dead Zone, The Fly, Dead Ringers, and A History of Violence.

Here are three of his fantastic quotes to give you some inspiration today!

1. Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.

I love this quote from David Cronenberg. Of course it makes me think of his superior horror film The Fly, my favorite movie of his. But it also makes me think about how writing and creativity essentially allow me to fend off all the madness and chaos of real life. I think it was Ray Bradbury who said to stay creative so that real life never crushes you, and such is the case with Cronenberg’s quote here, too.

We all have our problems. We all have issues to work through. And I don’t know how non-creative people are able to deal with all of life’s craziness. When I’m hurting, when I’m suffering, I turn to the blank page and write. I create characters and tell stories. I can’t tell you how often writing has been a life saver for me. How often it’s been therapeutic! Fiction or non-fiction, doesn’t matter. If we’re all mad scientists and our lives are our labs, use writing to experiment to find a way to live as often as you can!

2. Re-writing is different from writing. Original writing is very difficult.

So simple and so true. Re-writing I find more enjoyable than original writing, in the long run, because there are already words on the page. That’s the main reason, of course. Sitting down to already see words on the page fills me with joy, not potential dread! But another reason I love to re-write is that when I’m re-writing my latest novel, whether I’m on draft two or four or six or whatever, I have a better understanding of my story, my characters, my world.

When you’re writing the first draft of a story or novel, you’re trying to walk through a giant forest of trees late at night. You can’t really see very far in front of you, and sometimes you have to make up your turns and movements as you go along. There’s certainly joy in the first draft of any new writing project because of two reasons: it’s fresh, and it’s no big deal if you make mistakes. But Cronenberg is right: it is very difficult, and I’m always happier when I’m at work on a re-write, rather than the first draft of something. Try to find something great about each step of the process, but push past the difficult part as fast as you can so you can get to the part that truly matters.

3. But when you’re writing a script — for me anyway — you have to sort of create an enforced innocence. You have to divest yourself of worrying about a lot of stuff like what movies are hot, what movies are not hot, what the budget of this movie might be.

Cronenberg here is talking specifically about screenplays, but his thought can easily be translated to short stories and novels. It’s so hard to get outside your head, especially when you’re writing the first draft of something, but it’s simply critical that you focus on your story and characters, that you create an enforced innocence so that you can concentrate on your work and not be fixated on matters that don’t really have anything to do with your latest project.

When you’re writing fiction, you might feel compelled to think about what stories and novels in the genre you’re working in are currently hot, or currently not popular, or what an agent might say about your work-in-progress or what an editor might say or what your mom might say, and so on and so forth. It’s why it’s key that you always write the first draft of something for yourself, and no one else. Tell yourself the story. Write the piece that speaks to you, that comes from your heart, that no one else in the world can write. Maintain that enforced innocence when it comes to the writing process as often as possible, and amazing things can happen!