Category: inspiration

6 Bestsellers Share Their Hard-Earned Writing Lessons


Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. She Writes University, a Camp NaNoWriMo 2018 sponsor, is an online, live webinar-based writing program for writers in all genres. Today, six of their featured bestselling authors share the writing advice they’ve come by the hard way:

Aspiring authors tend to make a lot of assumptions about what a writing career is and what it takes to get published. There is a lot of cloaked mystery around how to become a successful author and these six bestsellers are breaking down those barriers.

Each of these women were featured in the recent webinar series, She Writes University. Camp NaNoWriMo Participants receive 50% off any class or the full semester bundle using code CAMPNANO through May 31. She Writes University offers webinars aimed at helping writers write and market their books and new webinars and classes are available often.

Jesmyn Ward, author of Sing, Unburied, Sing

Jesmyn Ward is the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction winner, a Time Magazine Best Novel of the Year and New York Times top ten of 2017. Her message on voice is one all writers need to hear.

“Voice doesn’t come to you in one fell swoop. Voice is something you develop and refine over years. It takes patience and dedication. For those of us who are not precocious writing geniuses, this is how it works.”

When you’re just beginning to write, finding your voice can be both frustrating and embarrassing. Most start our modeling after those they admire, but as Ward points out, time and persistence are the only tools for developing a style that is uniquely your own.

Lisa Ko, author of The Leavers

Lisa Ko’s The Leavers is the winner of the Penn/Bellwether Prize for Fiction, a 2017 finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction and a Best Book of 2017 according to Entertainment Weekly, NPR and more.

Lisa Ko shared a tip that any writer at any stage can appreciate.  

“Storytelling craft can be taught and learned—you don’t need to figure it all out on your own.”

There is a major misconception that the best writers are naturals and few consider themselves to be, making success feel unobtainable. Ko’s advice should be reassuring to anyone dedicated and ready to learn.

Abigail Thomas, author of What Comes Next and How to Like It

Abigail Thomas, the New York Times bestselling author of three novels and three memoirs has what would appear to be a dream career to most authors. Some might be surprised to find when she got started though.

“I really do think I wasn’t ready to write until I started, when I was forty-eight. It is helpful for people to know that most writers start off writing badly, and get better. I was afraid to start. Who did I think I was? But honestly I wasn’t ready to try until I was forty-eight and that’s okay with me.”

For those who think it’s too late to start or question if they are even worthy of the profession, Thomas proves that neither are true.

Christina Baker Kline, author of A Piece of the World

Christina Baker Kline is the #1 New York Times bestselling author whose book Orphan Train spent more than two years on the NYT bestseller list. Her achievements may make her appear to have a secret recipe, but her advice is something every NaNoWriMo participant should heed.

“The only tip that cannot be ignored or denied: to be a writer, you must write. (And be willing to stick with your manuscript until the bitter end.)”

Even if it hurts, make it to the end. The best manuscripts can still be difficult to finish.

Kirstin Chen, author of Bury What We Cannot Take

Kirstin Chen’s novel Soy Sauce for Beginners was an O, The Oprah Magazine “book to pick up now” selection. Chen has received awards from the Steinbeck Fellows Program, Sewanee, Hedgebrook, and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.

Chen had this to say about what she’s learned in her writing career:

“Approach crafting characters with awareness and intention as opposed to simply by instinct.”

Though some may want to wait for the muse to strike, Chen is clearly an advocate for planning and deliberate creativity.

Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of nearly a dozen novels. Caroline has never been shy about the difficulty she faced to get to where she is now and her advice could catapult your career years ahead.

“Structure!  Definitely structure! I always thought you waited for that pesky muse and your writing ran on inspiration fuel. I would end up with 800 page novels that had to be pared down. Once I learned structure, it was like having a lifeline to writing—something to hold on to.”

Simply put, you can’t always depend fully on the muse.

Author Interview: Eat Your Dessert First

We’re partnering with StoryADay for Short Story Month this May, the perfect opportunity to track a new NaNoWriMo goal, or start a new Young Writers Program personal challenge. Today, author Sarah Aronson shares her advice to questions from Julie Duffy at StoryADay:

Q: What is your one go-to piece of general advice for writers?

A: PLAY. Don’t be afraid of failure. Instead, experiment. Try everything! Or as my first editor said, “Eat dessert first.”

When I started writing The Wish List series, I called it my “peach sorbet.” It was a sort of palate cleanser, after the “real” work was done. It was a project I wrote just for myself—no expectations.

It wasn’t long before I realized that play, or writing without expectations, makes me a better writer. When I play, inspiration emerges. Intuition doesn’t feel so impossible. I enjoy myself more!

When I challenged myself to banish my internal editor, I found that I could write all kinds of stories—and that I enjoyed the process a lot more!

Q: How do I find interesting topics and stay true to myself?

A: I turn off my phone. I go for long walks. I listen to what is happening around me.

When I get inspired, I don’t rush. First I journal—with a pencil. Sometimes I draw. Sometimes, when I don’t know how to process what I’m feeling, I draw squares! I think about the universal themes that are important to me. I mine my memories for emotions and details.

And every day, I keep writing.

Remember: at first, story can be elusive. In other words, my books require re-imagination!

Characters don’t usually emerge fully formed. For me, this early writing helps me figure out what my characters want—what makes them three dimensional and interesting—and what will generate tension and conflict. So I stay patient. I dig. I write poetry. I read poetry. I think what is important to me and what I want to say.

The truth is: I never save my early drafts. Instead, I write them to discover. To uncover. To figure out what I want to say in the story.

Q: Should I share my work? When, and with whom?

A: Sharing your work is an act of bravery. But it is essential. For a few reasons.

Constructive feedback helps you figure out what you are doing well.

It also helps you see where the reader is not that vested in your story.

Handing over your story to a trusted reader also gives you some distance from the story—so you can go back in fresh.

No one writes completely alone. When you have a strong, supportive writing community, you will feel braver. You will take more chances. You will have someone to talk about craft with. You will have someone to share this journey.

Writing Dare from Sarah Aronson

Write a scene that happens before the start of your story.

It can be the first thing your character (or you) remembers. It can be an event that changed the way your character sees the world. When your done, take a step back. What does this scene say about your character and what she wants? How does this story affect the way your character sees the world?

Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published three novels: Head Case, Beyond Lucky, and Believe. Her most recent books are part of a new young MG series, The Wish List (Scholastic, 2017–2018) as well as a forthcoming picture book biography, Just Like Rube Goldberg (Beach Lane Books).

“I don’t wanna be just an escape. I’d like to be your next destination. That one place you’re excited…”

“I don’t wanna be just an escape. I’d like to be your next destination. That one place you’re…

“i don’t want you to smile because you’re a woman i want you to smile as a person.”

“i don’t want you to smile because you’re a woman
i want you to smile as a person.” -…

“Where is this going and how willing are you to meet me there?”

“Where is this going and how willing are you to meet me there?” – N.M.Sanchez

“They ask, “Are you in love?” And you sit there quietly, realizing you must not be if you had to…”

“They ask, “Are you in love?” And you sit there quietly, realizing you must not be if you had…

“I’m a romantic and that’s the tragedy.”

“I’m a romantic and that’s the tragedy.” – N.M.Sanchez

Author Interviews: Finding your Unique Story Perspective

We’re partnering with StoryADay for Short Story Month this May, the perfect opportunity to track a new NaNoWriMo goal, or start a new Young Writers Program personal challenge. Today, authors Abby R. Cooper and Martine Leavitt share their advice—and a couple of writing dares:

Abby R. Cooper

Q: What if I feel I don’t have anything important to say?

A: Here’s the thing. Even if you’re writing about a rock, you are the only person who can write about that rock from your point of view, with your unique thoughts and feelings and descriptions and ideas. No one else in this world can write about that rock exactly like you.

You’re probably wondering, well, who cares what I think about a rock? It’s not about the actual rock—it’s about you.

Your voice is special. It’s one-of-a-kind. It matters.

(Related: some of the best stories I’ve ever read aren’t about anything we typically consider important. Doesn’t matter. If it’s interesting to you, and you write it in your voice, it is important. And awesome. Really, really awesome.)

Writing Dare from Abby R. Cooper

Look around wherever you are right now and ask yourself “What if?” What if the chair you’re sitting in made you invisible? What if the raindrops tapping your window were giving you a secret message? What if your closet was a portal to another world? Write a story where you answer one of your “What if?” questions.

Read the full interview here.

Abby Cooper lives in Minnesota with her miniature poodle, Louis, and a whole bunch of books. A former teacher and school librarian, her favorite things in the world (besides writing) are getting and giving book recommendations and sharing her love of reading with others. In her spare time, she likes eating cupcakes, running along the Mississippi River, and watching a lot of bad reality TV. (Photo credit: David Cooper) 

Martine Leavitt

Q: What is your one go-to piece of general advice for young writers?

A: Don’t let anyone tell you there’s only one way to be a writer, or one way to write a story, or one way to do anything at all. Rules shmules—creativity is all about breaking the rules!

Someone once told me to “Write about what you know.” Problem was, I didn’t know anything. But I discovered that by researching and using my imagination and practicing radical empathy, I could write about things I didn’t know.

Another teacher taught me that “Said is dead.” In other words, writers should use other ways to express “said" in dialogue, like “‘I’m going to the store,’ she exclaimed.” That sort of thing. WRONG. Use “said” as much as you possibly can—it’s invisible.

My point is, be highly suspicious if anyone tells you that writing has to be done in a certain way.

Writing Dare from Martine Leavitt

You character finds out they can go back in time and change one thing about their life. What would it be? Tell me the story.

Read the full interview here.

Martine Leavitt has published ten novels for young adults, most recently Calvin, which won the Governor General’s Award of Canada. My Book of Life by Angel was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and winner of the Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book of the Year. Currently she teaches creative writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, a short-residency MFA program. She lives in High River, Alberta.

“I feel like falling leaves like my soul is taking me to a place in which I was always meant to…”

“I feel like falling leaves
like my soul is taking me
to a place in which
I was always meant…

Author Interview: Jerry Spinelli on How to Start a Story


We’re partnering with StoryADay for Short Story Month this May, the perfect opportunity to track a new NaNoWriMo goal, or start a new Young Writers Program personal challengeToday, Newbery Honor author Jerry Spinelli shares advice to questions from Julie Duffy at StoryADay:

Q: How do I decide what to write about?

A: Ask yourself “What do I care about?” In fact, make a list of five or ten things. There’s your start.

Q: But all I know is my family and my town. All I do is go to school and hang out with my friends and play a sport. Is that enough to write stories about? Don’t I have to have had real adventures?

A: That’s all you need to know. Every human life is an adventure. That person sitting across from you is a walking, breathing story, even if he or she doesn’t know it. Your job starts long before hitting the keyboard. At this point your job description has only two words: Pay attention. Get out of yourself and into everybody and everything else. Find a place at night where light pollution is minimal. Look up… look up, dissolve yourself into the universe and wonder. Every good writer is a terrific wonderer.

Q: What if I don’t really know how to go about writing a story?

A: Start by writing story elements. Just a few lines, a half-page. A dialog between two kids arguing here, a description of an abandoned dog there. Stories are patchwork quilts you stitch together with words. And this: read. Read. Read. Read.

Q: How can I made readers care about my story and my characters?

A: By caring about them yourself. Pour that caring, that paying attention, into your story and they will care.

Writing Dare from Jerry Spinelli

Play a game one day. Call it Seed Day. Spend the day paying attention. Try to see, try to feel a little deeper than everyone else seems to be doing. At the end of the day identify at least one thing that you suspect was noticed by nobody but you. That’s your story seed. Now one more thing. Ask yourself: Does this touch my heart? If it does, that’s the water. OK, you’re ready… write!

Jerry Spinelli is a Newbery Award honored author. Spinelli’s hilarious books entertain both children and young adults. Readers see his life in his autobiography “Knots in My Yo-Yo String”, as well as in his fiction. Crash came out of his desire to include the beloved Penn Relays of his home state of Pennsylvania in a book, while Maniac Magee is set in a fictional town based on his own hometown, Norristown, PA.

Julie Duffy is a writer and the host of – a creative writing challenge that happens each May (and yes, you’re invited). She writes articles and courses to help other writers get their creative groove on, and speaks to writers’ groups and conferences about creativity, short story writing, self- and e-publishing, and social media.