Three Things to Tell Your Teenage Writing Self: #1 Don’t bite the basketball

My teenage writing self wanted to write novels. Whole series of novels.

I wanted some kid my age to go to the library (I was very uncommercially-minded in those days) and ask the librarian for something “funny and real, but not so real that you cry when you’re reading it while you eat breakfast, you know? and the heroine is like me only unbelievably cool, even if, okay, she’s sometimes a bit of a doofus.”

And the librarian would hand that kid one of my books. And she’d read it and go crazy and come back asking for more, and the librarian would point at the 10-foot-long shelf with 150 of my books on it and the kid would get this big hot *SIGH* – you know? That sigh of relief when you’ve found a new author you love and you realize it’s going to be, sheesh, a couple of months or more before you’ve burned through all their titles, by reading one a day on weekdays and two or three on weekends, because homework and band practice et cetera.

What worried me, as I set out to write my 150 novels, was that that was a lot of books. A good series doesn’t get so far without careful planning. But I was a kid, and impatient, and I’d get sick of worldbuilding and designing backstory and fleshing out secondary characters and stuff and I’d just start writing, and then discover that this whole-book thing was no joke. Plus, I’d get stuck once I found I hadn’t fleshed out the right secondary characters. There was a lot of standing on my own hands and trying to do the high jump.

So the first advice I would give that kid, speaking from my dizzying height of twenty novels published and five series is this: Don’t bite the basketball.

You won’t write it all in one go, on a weekend say, in some imaginary alternate life when your parents leave you the heck alone for two hours at a time and there is no band practice. Yes, 400 pages is a big chunk. But they don’t get written all at once. Write a page a day to start with.

  • There are actually many great reasons to write a page a day, especially when you’re a beginning writer.
  • You’ll be done inside of a year, because I promise you, many days you won’t be able to stop at just one page.
  • You’ll build discipline, and eventually you’ll be writing on days when you feel crappy, or when you know you’ll be sitting on a hard chair in the gym playing the oompah French horn part to Pomp and Circumstance until your lips fall off while a bunch of idiots graduate.
  • You’ll find that, as Nora Roberts says, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.” It pays to write a sucky draft, a minimum of a page a day. You’ll thank yourself when it comes time to rewrite it.
  • It’s the kind of quiet indoor activity that parents love their kids to get committed to, because they know where you are for those couple of hours and they might even let you be to get on with it.
  • You’ll find that if you just keep writing your page a day, even if you don’t know where it’s going from one day to the next, it’ll come out making sense once you write “The End.” Some kind of sense, anyway. Maybe not what you thought it would be. Still, a book.

Whereas biting the basketball only leads to tears.

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