Posted in Books, Writing

10 Thrillers to Read if You Want to be a Writer

I absolutely love to read thriller novels, both for adult and for younger audiences, and here are ten of my all-time favorites…

1. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is one of my favorite novels of recent years, a sensational story that works in many ways on many levels. On a basic surface level, it is a hugely entertaining read, with endless twists and turns from beginning to end. The novel is alive with big surprises both in terms of the plot itself and in terms of Flynn’s framing of the story. Amy and Nick are fascinating protagonists, sharply drawn, greatly flawed, and relatable. Finally, I love the way that Flynn constantly ups the tension throughout the book through the use of stakes being raises higher and higher and strong chapter cliffhangers, even in the novel’s final thirty pages when other authors would feel comfortable in just wrapping things up.

2. A Simple Plan, by Scott Smith

A Simple Plan is one of my favorite thrillers. I find it outstanding in almost every way, with author Scott Smith, who to date has only penned one other published novel — 2006’s The Ruins — proving himself to be a master at suspense, tension, character development, setting details, point-of-view work, to mention a few. And of course the suspense is unbearable. Between the opening scene of the men finding the crashed plane and the four million dollars and the scene of Hank causing havoc in a middle-of-nowhere mini-mart, this book is nearly non-stop suspense, with even the quietest moments filled with constant tension. Scott Smith works like Alfred Hitchcock in a way, delaying that shocking moment, because he knows, like all the best storytellers, it’s the leading up to the gunshot that’s more suspenseful than the gunshot itself.

3. The Painter, by Peter Heller

The Painter is an impressive literary thriller that is insightful, harrowing, occasionally heart-pounding, and always fascinating. I love the complexity of the lead character and how flawed he is. Of course there are stakes in The Painter’s story-line, and moments of action and tension, but never is the complexity of Jim ever lost amidst the thriller plot. The stakes keep rising throughout the narrative, an antagonist on Jim’s trail, the police questioning him, and at one point it doesn’t seem he’ll make it out of this mess alive.

4. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

What’s not to love? The Hunger Games is one of the most popular young adult novels ever released, and it earns its popularity with terrific, tension-filled prose, a dazzling story, and a memorable lead character. One major reason the book works as well as it does is that Collins chose to write it in first person, present tense, and this immediacy and urgency gives the story its nearly non-stop tension. Secondly, I love that the violence is never shied away from, considering this is a book for teens. The violence is never gory or over-the-top by any means, but Collins wisely shows in detail that, yes, kids are getting slaughtered in this world. Additionally, Collins’ use of setting is vivid all the way through. Even in first person present, Collins makes the settings always pop in front of Katniss’s eyes.

5. Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

I absolutely loved this literary thriller. Author Ng is a tremendous writer and brings such love and care to her prose in this novel. I love the omniscient point-of-view, which allows for these stylish prose as well as the ability to go into any character’s head whenever she wants. Not only does that show us that someone outside the characters is in control of this story, that someone else knows more than what these characters do, but it also offers a great deal of tension. This is a murder mystery, after all, with secrets and twists galore throughout its pages, and Ng understands that even in a literary work she does need to keep the reader flipping through those pages.

6. Strangers on a Train, by Patricia Highsmith

One of my favorite films of all time is Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, and it was a delight to finally read the novel that inspired it, one written by an early master of the thriller genre — Patricia Highsmith. I enjoyed the book a lot, particularly in the way Highsmith highlights interiority in her characters. I have read thrillers that bypass interiority for action prose and suspenseful moments and chapter cliffhangers, but Highsmith often slows the narrative pacing down to let the reader get inside Guy and Bruno’s heads, and in the case of this story, that element is a plus not a minus.

7. Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen is a terrific literary thriller. One tremendous aspect of the book is Eileen herself, one of the most disturbed and compelling protagonists I’ve read in a work of fiction in a long time. Eileen is darkly funny, always smart, and sometimes vicious in the way she thinks, and I loved every minute spending time with her. The character development is solid throughout, and the thriller elements in the last fifty pages are extremely effective, all the more propulsive since the reader genuinely cares about the characters. The tension builds and builds, with the stakes constantly being raised.

8. Big Driver, by Stephen King

Big Driver is a novella, part of Stephen King’s 2010 collection Full Dark, No Stars, that tells of a female writer who is raped and seeks revenge. The novella showcases so much of what I love about Stephen King’s work. First of all, I love the way he builds character in the beginning of his stories, always using humor and humanity in his storytelling long before he takes the reader into the deep horror. I also love King’s use of humor; even in his scariest stories, there is always an element of humor that puts a stamp on the narrative, never a deadly serious tone from beginning to end. One of the major elements I adore in King’s work is his use of tension and the constant raising of stakes, certainly two reasons why Misery remains one of my all-time favorite novels, and there are lots of examples of them in Big Driver, too.

9. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood tells of the real-life slaying that took place in small-town Kansas in 1959, and the capturing, courtroom proceedings, and ultimate death of the two killers — Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. It really does read like a thriller novel, with impressive prose throughout and unique viewpoints into his characters. I enjoyed the level of suspense throughout the pages, especially considering that this is non-fiction and I already knew what happened to Dick and Perry. There are moments of genuine horror, fear, tension. Chapter cliff-hangers do the trick, as do the parallel structure of the book, where Capote will spend a few pages with Dick and Perry, then with Holcomb inhabitants, then back to the two killers. Capote is not afraid to keep his readers flipping through the pages, and he infuses endless moments with genuine suspense

10. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

What did I love about the book? The Goldfinch is one of the ten best books I’ve ever read. A thick doorstopper of a literary novel is typically the kind of book I avoid; however, the story intrigued me enough to give it a try, and it only took a few pages to recognize the power of Donna Tartt’s imagination and writing ability. Sometimes literary novels have such a focus on the beauty of the prose that the story gets lost, but Tartt has a remarkable ability to blend strong writing with a consistently entertaining story, which, yes, absolutely reads like a thriller at times. Every character is sharply drawn — from the protagonist Theo to his antiques dealer Hobie to the best friend Boris. Tartt always uses just the right language to help the reader visualize the characters. In addition, the way Tartt keeps the painting The Goldfinch an important element throughout the narrative is impressive, and I loved that the novel mixes various genres, like coming-of-age, literary fiction, and thriller, at all times. Overall, The Goldfinch impressed me all the way through.
Posted in Books, Writing

5 (More) LGBTQ Novels to Read if You Want to be a Writer


As a gay person, I absolutely love to read LGBTQ novels, both for adult and for younger audiences. Earlier this week I shared five of my all-time favorites.

Below are five more I also adore with all my heart!

1. Better Nate Than Ever, by Tim Federle

This is one of the few middle grade novels to be published that has a homosexual character at its center, and it’s a wonderful, inspiring read. While at the beginning of eighth grade, Nate isn’t entirely sure if he’s a homosexual or not, it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that he is gay, and I loved the way Federle handled this aspect to the character. Federle wisely never makes a big deal out of Nate’s sexuality, but he also never truly hides it either. Better Nate Than Ever is a brisk, entertaining read that keeps the reader entertained all the way through.

2. Close Range: Wyoming Stories, by Annie Proulx

This collection features the famous novella, Brokeback Mountain, which is one of my all-time favorites. Even if you’ve seen the Oscar-winning film from 2005, do yourself a favor and read the breathtaking novella in Proulx’s truly impressive short story collection. Her prose is always simple and vivid, treating a loving relationship between two men as something entirely beautiful. The descriptions of the setting are gorgeous, too, giving the story a specific sense of place. So many of the lines give the reader specific images of what Brokeback Mountain looks like, and showcase the love and heartache the main characters are constantly going through.

3. Golden Boy, by Abigail Tarttelin

I love so much about Golden Boy, and Tartellin’s use of the multiple POV in first person, present tense, is spectacular. I’ve read multiple POV in other novels before, but I think what Tartellin does is even more impressive because she balances six points-of-view and brings complexity and a sharp, unique voice to each one of them. Tarttelin’s book is a unique YA novel in that most young adult fiction depicts a teenager’s coming-of-age through familial hardship and emotional obstacles but never as literally as depicted in Golden Boy. Being a teen is hard, and Max has to deal with one of the greatest adversities any teen could possibly imagine: being intersex. This is an absolutely spellbinding read.

4. Highly Illogical Behavior, by John Corey Whaley

This is a terrific young adult novel that treats its subject matter with dignity and great attention to detail, and features three-dimensional teenage characters with necessary flaws and dreams for the future. This is the third young adult novel Whaley has written, and he infuses his work with a genuine YA voice and engaging, realistic teen dialogue. The author shows in detail what the main character Solomon’s illness does to him both physically and mentally, proving that breaking free from the agoraphobia will be a major challenge. But if his intense fears weren’t enough, Solomon is also gay, and this LGBTQ element brings even more depth and emotion to this riveting novel.

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

What a treat this book is, spending time with these characters, following their joys and their pains, and then getting to see the film, which is a beautiful companion to the book. I guess I needed to be more well-read, or more willing to get in touch with my emotional side, because for some reason this book didn’t hit me as hard when I read it by chance one weekend during high school. But the second read, and all the reads since then, of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which features a memorable LGBTQ character of his time, have brought me nothing but joy.
Posted in Books, Writing

Why You Need to Ask Big Questions When Reading Your First Draft


In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

During the reading [of the first draft], the top part of my mind is concentrating on story and toolbox concerns. Underneath, however, I’m asking myself the Big Questions. The biggest: Is this story coherent? And if it is, what will turn coherence into song? What are the recurring elements? Do they entwine and make a theme? I’m asking myself What’s it all about, Stevie, in other words, and what I can do to make those underlying concerns even clearer.

Yesterday I wrote about the great thrill it is to read through the first draft of your novel in one sitting, long after you’ve let the manuscript sit for four weeks or longer.

I made it clear that for the most part you’re not taking hundreds of little notes along the way. You’re reading the novel to read it. To experience the book like a reader. To see so clearly what’s working and what’s not.

Yes, you should be jotting down notes here and there if you notice something and don’t want to forget about it later. But for the most part, you’re reading for the experience itself.

While reading your first draft, pay attention to story problems, to confused character motivations.

There are two parts to reading through your first draft, and this initial step is important for sure, an important aspect that can’t be ignored.

When a character is acting one way in chapter five and then a different way in chapter six for no apparent reason, make a note of that. If there’s a huge story inconsistency at the middle of the book, write down what it is. If there’s a plot hole you find at the end, by all means take a minute and jot it on a pad.

If you finish your first draft on a Friday and then start reading through it the following Monday, many of these problems and inconsistencies you won’t even notice. You’re still too close to your story, your characters. You can’t see the forest from the trees.

Something might be so obvious and glaring you don’t even need to write it down, but if you think you might forget it, then yes, take a few notes, but remember to keep reading and not stop every third paragraph to write something down.

If it’s taking you all night to get through a chapter, there’s a problem. You’re focusing on too much minutia. You should focus on story, on character, on the top elements of a writer’s toolbox.

And you should also be focused on the Big Questions of your novel, most especially theme.

The second part of reading through your first draft is moving beyond concerns of story and character and focusing on the bigger picture. Focusing on theme. What your book is really about. What lies at its heart and what you want the reader to take away when he or she closes the final page.

Theme is so important to a great novel. In some ways theme is the reason for writing the book in the first place. It’s where the characters and setting and story often stem from.

Revision of a novel is helpful in so many areas, but one area it’s extremely helpful in is highlighting and enhancing the theme of your story. It’s taking elements that are already there in your first draft and bringing them out even more and making them clearer to your reader.

Now keep this in mind that you don’t want to beat your reader over the head with your themes and larger issues. If the reader gets distracted from the story because you’re shoving the theme in his or her face, that’s a mistake. You want to enhance the theme considerably when you revise, but not to the extent that it become too obvious. There’s a balance you want to find.

Ultimately your read of the first draft will make your novel better in the long run.

The last five novels I’ve written going back to 2015 are better than anything else I’ve written for a few reasons. One, I was attending an MFA in Creative Writing program that helped me considerably in my writing skills. Two, I reached out to more beta readers during that time, signed with a literary agent during that time, and have been able to strengthen my novels through lots of feedback from others.

And three? I took the necessary time to let each first draft rest for awhile, preferably six weeks or longer, then I took each novel out of the drawer and read through the entire manuscript in one single sitting. Before I even started the second draft, I was able in that sitting to catch so much of what was working thus far and what problems were so entirely obvious.

Those problems don’t always come to light when you revise a chapter a day. But they do make themselves clear when you read it all through at once.

So take the time to read your first drafts quickly and carefully — in one sitting if at all possible. Look at story and character problems that might arise, but also take the time to ask yourself the Big Questions too, especially when it comes to theme. Your novel will be all the better for it!

Posted in Books, Writing

Here’s When Reading Your Novel Can be a Thrilling Experience


In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

[After six weeks of rest], take your manuscript out of the drawer. Sit down with your door shut, a pencil in your hand, and a legal pad by your side. Then read your manuscript over. Do it all in one sitting, if that’s possible. If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of letting your novel rest between drafts. You want to do it for a month at minimum, and preferably six weeks or longer.

There are all sorts of reasons to do this. It will make you see the flaws easier. It will make the revising go better. You will ultimately have a better time going through your work when you haven’t looked at it in awhile.

The other reason to let your novel sit between drafts?

When you take out that first draft and read it for the first time, the experience will be a total thrill.

Stephen King is right: reading your fiction after you haven’t looked at it in a long time is a completely exhilarating experience. Because enough time has passed that you can read it as a reader, not as a writer. Enough will be new to you that you can experience your book the same way a reader might.

Don’t do what I’ve done in the past. Not letting my manuscript rest at all and just going straight into the next draft with barely a breath taken. You might think you’re being smart in doing this, that you’re saving time, but the irony is you’re actually wasting time, because your book will never receive the revision it needs.

Worse? The experience reading through your novel over and over will become a chore the more you do it. You will have memorized every little moment that there will be no more chances for surprises.

Not taking breaks will also take a toll on your mental health too, I’m telling you, so yes, please take breaks from your novel!

Take long ones. A month if possible. Two months if you can manage. The longer the better really. The longer time you take the better the next revision will go.

But before you begin the second draft, take a few hours and read through your novel in one sitting.

This is a part of the process I didn’t start doing until recently, and let me tell you something — I absolutely love it.

Again, you might find this to be a waste of time. Actually reading your novel without revising along the way? Who has time for that, you might think.

Now, first of all, you should make the time for this because you will be able to experience your novel like a reader for maybe the one and only time. You simply cannot experience your novel like a reader when you revise a chapter every day, when you only look at a select group of pages every day.

You need to read your novel all the way through, and in doing this, you will automatically see the biggest problems the manuscript has. I always do.

And by all means, take occasional notes on a piece of paper along the way. When you notice something terrible in chapter twelve, sure, you might not remember what that problem was when you reach the end of the read. So jot down some things here and there.

At the same time though, do not stop on every page and make notes. You won’t have the thoroughly exhilarating experience of reading through your entire manuscript in one sitting.

So take the time to read through the first draft of your novel. You will love it!

You won’t love it if you finish your first draft on a Friday and then read it all the way through on Saturday. You will still be thinking about the ending, about what you did or didn’t do well. You’ll still be too close to it.

So let your novel rest for 4 weeks or longer, then pick a morning or afternoon or evening where you have nothing to do, sit down with your novel (preferably hardcopy, but on your laptop or a tablet works, too), and read it from beginning to end, in one sitting if at all possible.

In the life of a novelist, this is one of the most incredible reading experiences you will ever have, trust me! It won’t be a slog. It won’t be painful. It will be loads of fun, I guarantee it.

Don’t feel like you have to sit and read your entire novel after every draft. I don’t necessarily do it after I complete the second draft, or the third. Or the tenth.

But after you complete the first draft, definitely give it a period of rest, and then pick that one glorious day where you read through the entirety of the novel. It’s nothing short of a total thrill!

Posted in Books, Writing

5 LGBTQ Novels to Read if You Want to be a Writer


As a gay person, I absolutely love to read LGBTQ novels, both for adult and for younger audiences, and here are my five all-time favorites…

1. Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan

I wish I could’ve found this book when it came out in 2003, when I was living in Los Angeles, in the closet, scared and alone. This would’ve been the greatest gift back then, but at least I finally found it. All I knew when I started reading it was that it was a love story between two teenage boys, but it’s so much more than that. You know what really stood out about this story? It’s not depressing, it’s not cynical, it’s not tragic. Boy Meets Boy was the first truly uplifting gay love story I’d ever read, and it changed the way I looked at what an LGBTQ novel can be and do.

2. A Home at the End of the World, by Michael Cunningham

I love everything about this novel, from Cunningham’s stunning prose, to the four fascinating central characters, to the interesting side characters like Jonathan’s father Ned and Jonathan’s on-and-off boyfriend Erich, to the lived-in settings like Phoenix and New York, to the LGBTQ aspect of the novel that is always handled with dignity and complexity. This is a rare novel in which I never have a moment of wanting to glaze over certain details or dialogue to get to the next part.

3. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth

This is a fascinating, observant LGBTQ novel, written with great care and honesty and passion. It reads like a big, sweeping John Steinbeck book — except instead of a story about an Oklahoma family traveling to California, this one’s about a teenage lesbian in rural Montana. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, I’d highly recommend you give it a look!

4. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez

Rainbow Boys is an absorbing young adult novel that is grim and realistic, showing the aches and pains gay teens have to go through to find acceptance with their friends and family. Despite being more realistic than many other LGBTQ YA novels published in the last twenty years, though, it absolutely has the same level of romanticism. None of the three characters hates that he is gay; from the first page on, they all want to find love, and by the end, they do. The entire Rainbow Boys trilogy is well worth a look!

5. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamine Alire Sanchez

This multiple-award-winning novel is a subtle LGBTQ love story that progresses like the movie Boyhood in many ways, emulating the joys and hardships of real life without any forced character moments or sentimental plot developments. Saenz’s writing is easy to read and draws the reader in, with his insistence to not over-complicate his prose and instead use only as many words as he thinks each moment needs.
Posted in Books, Writing

5 Literary Novels to Read if You Want to be a Writer


There are lots of great literary novels out there, but these are five I highly recommend you take a look at!

1. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch is one of the ten best books I’ve ever read. Sometimes literary novels have such a focus on the beauty of the prose that the story gets lost, but Tartt has a remarkable ability to blend strong writing with a consistently entertaining story. Her style of writing is as specific as it is highly approachable. Almost every page offered at least one sentence that wowed me. Every character is sharply drawn — from the protagonist Theo to his friend Boris to the thugs in Amsterdam. The way Tartt keeps the painting The Goldfinch an important element throughout the narrative is impressive, and I loved that the novel mixes various genres, like coming-of-age, literary fiction, thriller, and, I’d argue, young adult. Overall, The Goldfinch impressed me all the way through.

2. Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

I absolutely loved this literary book. A few elements separate this novel from a typical supermarket-selling adult murder mystery, and the stylish prose is certainly one of them. The second literary quality is the choice of omniscient point-of-view, which allows for these stylish prose as well as the ability to go into any character’s head whenever she wants. Author Ng is able to create a whole world with this point-of-view choice, giving us so much when something like first-person from one character never could have done the job. Another literary quality is the emphasis on backstory. Again, many authors would have been perfectly willing to have this entire narrative play out in the present, showing how this family reacts to Lydia’s death, and that would have made a strong novel to be sure. But about half of this book takes place in flashback, building up the backstory of all the characters, and this strategy not only adds terrific tension to the current events but also allows for worthwhile character development.

3. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye is one of the most highly regarded works by Pulitzer Prize-winner Toni Morrison, and it’s easy to see why. This is a gorgeous, unusual, affecting novel, Morrison’s first to be published. I sat down expecting a book all told from the perspective of eleven-year-old Pecola, and the first big surprise I admired was Morrison’s ambitious and playful use of POV. The unusual POV structure is a central literary element of this book, but there are others. Early in this short novel, Morrison stops the narrative to deliver setting details of the city for three whole pages. And the style of her prose is always striking, using short, punchy sentences when writing in first person, and more stylized sentences when talking in third, I was also impressed by the frank and involving discussion about race throughout, Morrison never shying away from the truth. These issues make up so much of what the book is about — uncertain identity, fear of the other — and Morrison explores them in great depth and detail.

4. The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

The Little Stranger is a fantastically spooky horror novel, and I love its many literary qualities. The first literary quality I admired was its attention to setting, which often relates to Hundreds Hall. A non-literary horror novel would make mention of a few of the house’s qualities, but not as many as Waters makes the time for early in the book, again, allowing the estate to become its own major character. A second literary quality in the book is its focus on character rather than plot. Unlike many horror novels that focus on a series of scary moments and increasingly tense actions made by the main characters, The Little Stranger is always more concerned with making the reader care about the characters before anything unfortunate happens to them. A third literary quality is the quality of the prose, which is often striking and memorable. It must be noted of course that Waters never goes overboard with stylish prose; even in her sections of big, block paragraphs, her sentences are imaginative but readable, a little wordy but clear, never outrageous in its pursuit of the truth.

5. Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen is a terrific literary thriller well worth a read. First, the novel is literary in its focus on character over plot, and I would argue it’s most literary in this regard. The book has a harrowing finale with a major twist, but Moshfegh is much more interested in the journey Eileen takes to get there. The book is literary for its stylish prose, as well, especially when it comes to description, and the historical time period — Christmas 1964 — makes for a literary element as well. One tremendous aspect of the book is Eileen herself, one of the most disturbed and compelling protagonists I’ve read in a work of fiction in a long time. Eileen is darkly funny, always smart, and sometimes vicious in the way she thinks, and I loved every minute spending time with her. This one’s definitely well worth a read!

Posted in Books, Writing

5 Quotes from Richard Adams to Make You a Better Writer


Richard Adams (1920–2016) was a supremely gifted writer most famous for his acclaimed novel Watership Down, which has been read and shared all around the world. Here are five quotes he said over the years that will absolutely help you in your writing!

1. If I had known how frightfully well I could write, I’d have started earlier.

Some of us get started writing at an early age. The first short story I remember writing was called “The Haunted Library” during the third grade, so I would have been nine years old. Writing every word of that story was a total thrill… and I haven’t really stopped since. There was a period where I was only writing screenplays and not fiction, from the ages of fourteen to twenty-four, but I’ve always been writing.

It’s a good thing to recognize something you’re good at as early as possible. But if you never start writing? Whether you’re too scared, or too busy, or too unsure of yourself? That’s one of the worst sins of all. To not share your gifts with the world. To not go after the dream. I’m sure there are thousands of people in this world who could be amazing writers, but for one reason or another have just never gotten started.

You’ve heard someone say it before, I’m sure: “I might try to write a book one day.” Most of these people won’t write the book. But a few might, and what’s a shame is someone in their fifties or sixties or even older suddenly realizing how well they can write. They should have started decades earlier! Just you being here, reading these words, looking for inspiration in your own work, is definitely a good place to start.

2. We are all human and fall short of where we need to be. We must never stop trying to be the best we can be.

You can think of this quote in all aspects of your life, but I think it definitely relates to your writing because you should never stop trying to make it the best it can be. Writing is extremely competitive. There’s so much talent out there. So many manuscripts. So many people vying for readers’ attention. You can’t just be decent. You can’t get 70% of the way there on a manuscript, and say, ehh, good enough.

You’ll never be able to make your writing perfect. Please, don’t even strive for perfection. But you should always, always, always try to make your writing the very best it can be. Don’t settle for something less. Settling for less means all the hard work you put into this particular project might have been all for nothing. Why not put another month of work into it and get it to the place it needs to be? It’s the best thing you can do for your writing, and it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.

3. You know how you let yourself think everything will be all right if you can get to a certain place or do a certain thing. But when you get there you find it’s not that simple.

Another reason you should always try to write to the best of your ability is that you’ll find time and time just how hard writing is, and that reaching the end of a first draft is a mere stage in the process. You might get to the end of that first draft thinking, now I’ve done it, now everything will be simple. I have words on the page! I have my complete story down on paper! Everything from here on out is the easy part!

Not so fast. There’s difficulty in completing the first draft of a manuscript, particularly a novel, but there’s a different kind of difficulty in revising, and revising well. You get to the revising stage thinking it will be fairly simple, that all you’ll need to do is read your wonderful work through a few times and maybe fix some typos and cut a sentence here and there.

Such is the farthest thing from the truth. Revising is is no way simple. It takes a different side of your brain to do it well in a way, because while you’re still being creative, you’re using more of an intellectual thought process in terms of what you have to do to make your writing shine its brightest. Unless you’re super lucky, and your first draft is absolutely brilliant, you’re going to need to revise your work often, taking on one draft after another, until it’s finally ready to be seen by others.

4. I’ve always said that Watership Down is not a book for children. I say: it’s a book, and anyone who wants to read it can read it.

This is the truth of all books, isn’t it? Even though when you write a novel for children, you need to think about certain guidelines that will help sell your book, specific kinds of expectations you should have in the back of your mind at least when you’re revising. For example, don’t write a young adult novel that features a twenty-year-old protagonist. And don’t write a middle grade novel that’s 135,000 words.

But once you achieve success as a writer, and your book is finally out in the world, that book belongs to whichever readers find it. If you’ve written a young adult novel, don’t for a second think that only teenagers will ever read it. All kinds of people love to read books aimed at younger audiences. And many younger audiences love to read adult novels, too! I remember reading Stephen King books as early as age 10. And now that I’m an adult myself, I read middle grade and young adult books all the time.

Don’t look at your latest book as a book for children. It’s a book, plain and simple. And anyone who wants to read it will read it.

5. The thinker dies, but his thoughts are beyond the reach of destruction. Men are mortal; but ideas are immortal.

This is why books are so important. It’s why Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 still resonates to this day. The idea that you can destroy the thinker and thereby destroy the thoughts that come from that person is a falsehood. It’s why people die twice in a way — once when they die, and second when the last person on Earth dies who remembers him or her. The thoughts themselves? They never die, as long as people are still sharing those thoughts.

Books live forever in a way because people share the stories with others long after they’ve turned the last page. Decade after decade, century after century, books stay with us, become part of us. And to be an author means, in a way, that you get to be immortal, too. Because long after you’re gone, your ideas and stories remain. They still move people, still entertain people, still open up a world to a child or an adult in ways you can never even imagine.

We’re all mortal, and one day we’ll no longer be here. But our ideas? Our thoughts? Our stories? They’re forever.