Readers ask writing and life questions

As promised, today I am going to answer the questions that Sherry sent into my MySpace account. They are rather timely.

What keeps you motivated to write?
Writing keeps me healthy and sane. When I am working on a story, I channel the dark, sad, confused, angry bits of me into something constructive and healing. I always feel better after a day of writing. I also love the challenge of solving the puzzle of how to create a story.

I know writing is a long process but when i can’t get the right inspiration i need to finish part of the story it stresses me out.
I totally hear you. I feel the same way sometimes. When you run out of inspiration, it’s usually means you don’t understand your character and the conflicts she’s facing. Brainstorm ten things that could happen next that would complicate her life, and then brainstorm ten things that would make her life easier. Somewhere in there, you’ll find a key to the next scene you have to write.

As an author do you think its best to plan the stories plot and whats gonna happen in the whole book ahead of time or do you think its best to just go with the flow and go wherever the story leads you?
It depends on the book and it depends on how quickly you want to finish it. With my historical novels, I have to outline carefully because the character’s journey has to take place within real historical events. With my YA novels, like TWISTED and SPEAK, I am more flexible. In the early drafts, I write whatever weirdness pops in my head. In later drafts, I sort through the chaos and try to give it structure and a sense of flow. But what works for me might not work for you. Everyone has their own process, as my editor Sharyn always says.

Do you ever set goals for youself as to when you’re gonna finish writing certain parts of the book?
All the time. And I never, ever reach the goal on time because I am a hopeless optimist and I always forget to schedule in sleeping at night. But I keep doing it. Goals are helpful. Making time to write every day helps even more.

And any other advise you could give me for writing a book would be very helpful please!
Turn off the television. Read every night before you go to sleep. Write for fun. Never, ever criticize yourself during a first draft. Do not pressure yourself by saying “I have to get this published by the time I am 20 (or 30, or 40, etc.) Write the story in your heart.

Great questions, Sherry. Thanks!

This came in from a 15-year-old girl in the Philippines.

… I’m a high school sophomore at an all-girls school in the Philippines.

I just wanted to say that I find Twisted and Speak really amazing books. I can’t fully say how amazing they are. If it weren’t for a book sale, I probably would not have heard of you, or any of your books, for that matter. I mean, I live here in the Philippines, and the bookstores here have limited copies of your books, mostly the ones for younger children. It took me a long time to find Twisted, and I still haven’t seen Catalyst or your other novels. Anyway, I wanted to thank you, too, for writing the way you do. I get to empathize with the characters, even though I haven’t been in any situation they’re in. That’s really something. I get inspired. I write too, but usually in non-fiction, and I write for our school paper. Also, I checked out your website, and saw the playlist for Twisted. It was so weird that those songs are on my iPod. I’m sorry if I was rambling, but I just had to say it. That’s all.

All love for the Philippines!! ::glowing::

I also got an email from a guy, a junior, who read TWISTED. It was a very emotional note, with details about how his life paralleled Tyler Miller’s. I don’t feel comfortable sharing the whole thing, but there were a couple of lines that are universal:

“i picked your book up in the library yesterday and read the first couple of pages and for some reason i couldn’t put it down. i consistently got yelled at today and even got a detention for reading during class. so i get home and i finally finish it and I’m just like “wow”. this IS the best book i have ever read. hands down…. i just want to be myself, and be liked at the same time, but its like that’s impossible. its either be myself and be hated on, or be fake and get worshiped, life sucks and its taken me this long to realize, that shit just isn’t going to change, and your book made me realize this…. it feels like I’m supposed to do something epic to let everyone know that I’m done putting up with people’s “fakeness”. like i want to go outside and scream as loud as i can for as long as i can….

I think he’s right. Our culture, especially in high school, doesn’t give kids much room to express the real person they feel inside. They feel under so much pressure to conform and it’s hard to understand and it damages their souls. (The next time you see an angry teenager, please remember this and be kind.)

This is why we write, friends, and this is why we read. To connect with other people. To feel alive. To stumble towards the answers.

I love my job.

19 Replies to “Readers ask writing and life questions”

  1. “Brainstorm ten things that could happen next that would complicate her life, and then brainstorm ten things that would make her life easier. Somewhere in there, you’ll find a key to the next scene you have to write.”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I really needed that advice right now.

  2. These are great questions and answers, and some really good letters to read. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    The last one reminded me of why I love being a teacher. Not only can I teach English/math, but I can provide a place for my students to be themselves, without having to worry about the pressures which certainly exist outside my door.

    In regards to loving your job (which I do as well), I recently e-mailed the one professor I had in college who really showed me how much fun teaching can be. In his response:

    “Good to hear you are having fun. I’m amazed that I get paid to teach math–some of my students are too…”

    It’s that attitude that makes it so much fun!

    –Brian

  3. Reading the last two letters reminded me that I’ve always wanted to share with you how much SPEAK has meant to me. I carry around a copy of SPEAK almost everywhere I go, and I’ll read certain passages depending upon my level of anxiety or need for inspiration. The only other book I’ve ever experienced this type of comfort from is THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton. Before I read these books, I did not realize that literature could become a type of security blanket, that just opening a book up and reading a stimulating passage is all I really need to calm down. So, I thank you for writing. I felt you needed to know how much I appreciate it.

      1. Just to add to the impact books can make on us, when my daughter was small she did not take a favorite stuffed animal to bed with at her night it was her favorite books. She would actually hug them until she fell asleep. They no longer go to bed with her at night but they hold a special place on her bookshelves and are not to be touched. She is a teenager now.

  4. The Philippines? You have readers in the Philippines? I am so green.

    Not that green, though, because the teacher side of my personality is wahooing that your reach is so long that you can save lives from thousands of miles away.

  5. You’re amazing, Laurie.

    Do you know that one of the things I constantly tell myself is “Pre-publication is a temporary condition”?

    A very wise woman once told me that. 🙂

  6. I’m glad you posted all of this, I always love advice about writing from you and I can definitely relate to the last email being a teenage guy that is under the same sorts of pressure.

  7. This is why we write, friends, and this is why we read. To connect with other people. To feel alive. To stumble towards the answers.

    Truth.

    My drama professor said something very similar to me once and it really touched me. So much in fact, that I went from being a dancer who happened to take a drama class for kicks to a full on performing arts major. Because I want to feel that connection in any and all ways at my disposal, whether it’s music or ballet or theater. And books, whoa. There is very little more intimate than reading the words, the story, that someone struggled with and shaped and brought forth from their soul and hearing them in your own.

  8. Its all true. All the wonderful things you inspire in people is all true. Think about the revalations these people, including me, have gone through from reading your words!!! YOU. ARE. TOO. COOL. 🙂

  9. “Do you ever set goals for youself as to when you’re gonna finish writing certain parts of the book?
    All the time. And I never, ever reach the goal on time because I am a hopeless optimist and I always forget to schedule in sleeping at night. But I keep doing it. Goals are helpful. Making time to write every day helps even more.”

    HOORARY, I AM NOT ALONE!!! I always make goals about “when I’m going to finish”, too, but I always meet my “deadlines” way after I planned. Nice to know I’m not the only one with this problem! 🙂

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