If you’re like me, you have a People’s Magazine advertisement for the Divergent Series taped onto the wall where you write. You don’t keep it there for inspiration. You keep it there to bully you. Because when you sit down to write and 5 minutes later find yourself doing “research” on Pintrest for your “Dream Wedding” board, you look at your wall and see a 26 year-old-author worth $20 million who sold her New-York Best Seller to Summit Entertainment before she graduated college.
She mocks your “research” and shames you back onto Word. If you’re emotionally stable (i.e., not like me), you look at success and see opportunities to learn. What would Veronica tell me about details? What were her tricks to revision? In an attempt to be a less-dysfunctional human, I’m going to look at some of the best selling YA authors and learn their best tips.
1. Plan, Plan, Plan!
“Always plan your work; writing aimlessly sometimes throws up a good idea or two, but it is no way to produce a whole story.” – J.K. Rowling
If you’re one of those writers who likes to take an idea and run, this quote might rub you the wrong way. But here’s a woman who spent five years planning her story before writing page one. As the first author in the world to reach $1 billion net worth (or get a kick-ass theme park!), I think she knows what she’s talking about.
2. Cultivate Patience
“Cultivating patience doesn't just mean that you're patient while you wait for query responses or critique partner feedback or what have you. It means that you are patient with yourself, and with your plan for your life. There are so many paths to take, and so many definitions of success, and so many second, third, fourth chances to get it right.
Don't pressure yourself or badger yourself or other people to make things happen now now NOW. Go at a pace that feels comfortable, and that makes you love the process of writing.” – Veronica Roth
(Do you think she wrote this one with me in mind?) As new/unpublished authors, cultivating patience is just as important as cultivating our writing. When we’re ready to put our stuff out there it has to be the best—the best idea, the best writing, the best we can do.
That means waiting out writer’s block. That means enduring multiple revisions. That means spending months or even years before it’s ready to be looked at by an agent or publisher. It’s grueling, but if we have to wait, we might as well be patient (or watch Netflix) while we’re doing it.
3. Don't Stop, Don't Give Up!
“I have a folder called Follies, which contains an impressive collection of abandoned stories…Something else about my Follies folder: It contains the final drafts of my novels Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. They are follies, too—finished ones.
Whether you’re reading or writing, there is nothing magical about how you get from the middle of a book to the end of one. As Robert Frost put it, ‘The only way out is through.’ So here’s the pep part of my pep talk: Go spit in the face of our inevitable obsolescence and finish your @#$&ng novel.” – John Green
Let this quote be the push you need. Whether you’re on page 1 or page 100, keep writing until the book is done. If you don’t, you’ll never see your “folly” turn into the masterpiece it could be.
4. Know Your Audience
“I think the nature of the story dictate[s] the age of the audience from the beginning…You have to remember who you’re trying to reach with the book. I try and think of how I would tell a particularly difficult event to my own children. Exactly what details they need to know to really understand it, and what would be gratuitous.” – Suzanne Collins
If you’re writing for yourself, that’s great — put it in a diary. If you’re writing to have your story and voice heard, know who’s supposed to hear it. When you know who’s reading, you’ll know how to write it.
5. Network, Network, Network
“Networking is key. Almost every author I know—and certainly myself included—can trace their publishing success back to someone they met at a writers conference. If you want to get published, I can’t think of any better advice.
Attend every conference you can find and afford. Not only will you find editors and agents (and you can’t overstate the value of face-to-face meetings), but you’ll also meet other authors and aspiring writers who can help your journey.” – James Dashner
If the word “networking” makes you cringe, you are not alone. Networking makes me think of uncomfortable suits, ugly name tags, and forcing a smile on my face while I scheme about how to escape a stiff conversation and get back to the snack table. But in any career, networking is key.
Networking is the person who walks your resume into the head of recruiting’s office, the personal call that tells the agent to read your manuscript first. In Dashner’s case, networking with a fellow author helped him sign with the agent that launched his career. If it worked for him, it can work for you, too!
6. Be Open to Feedback (but Believe in Yourself as a Writer!)
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman
It took me 20 years before I actually showed someone what I was writing. “They’ll see it when it’s published!” was what I said to hide my fear — fear that they wouldn’t like it and fear that I wasn’t a good writer. Now that I’m over that hump, I’m teaching myself not to fear feedback. So let’s get over this fear together.
Every opinion helps us see our stories in a new way, consider new things, create new possibilities. If you want to share your story with the world, start by sharing it with a friend.
7. Take Inspiration From All Around You
“There was a curious local character, an old man who used to go about sweeping gossip and weather-wisdom and such like. To amuse my boys I named him Gaffer Gamgee, and the name became part of family lore to fix on old chaps of the kind. At that time I was beginning on The Hobbit.” – J.R.R. Tolkein
If a funny old man can turn into Bilbo Baggins and an epic quest for treasure, think of what that funny girl from work or that weird guy on the street might be. You can go beyond inspiration and take the real thing.
The funniest things I have ever heard come out of the mouths of my friends. When they say something that has me crying, I pull out my phone and write it down. While most of it can’t be put in a YA novel, I’m sure I’ll find a place for it when I hit success and HBO commissions a comedy from me or something obscure and specific like that…
So there you have it! Thanks for readings and stay tuned for more tips on how to make your writing dreams a reality!