I’m Just A Teenage Mailbag, Baby: Reader Question #1
Figure 1. Norman Reedus, being his beautiful, excellent self. This has nothing to do with writing.
Because I’m having all these annoying writing problems today and am waiting for some genius answers from this lady, I think I will take a minute to write about an inquiry I had recently from a reader named Bre.
Bre read Sex & Violence and is recommending it to her school library, which is obviously nice, in my opinion, and quite lovely of her. She also professed so much love for the character of Baker Trieste, which warms my icy heart so much! Baker gets no love because people are usually busy hating Evan’s guts, so that is especially nice to hear. But when she wrote to tell me this spectacular stuff, she also had a good question, one I get a lot from my students:
I’ve read plenty of advice on writing a story after coming up with an idea, but my trouble is coming up with one. Do you have an advice to give about this?
So, normally, I’m a little wary of writing advice. Giving it, taking it. It can be helpful or it can be horrible. And often it’s presented as gospel, when really the whole point of this writing thing is figuring out how it works for the individual, not becoming some acolyte of someone else’s process.
But anyway. Maybe this will help someone? Who knows. Here is what I told Bre:
Your question is a familiar one: where to start? How to start?
A couple of things to remember. At your age, it is very common to start projects and then abandon them. Or have lots of first drafts of things that you never returned to. Do not feel bad about this. All authors can tell you about the unfinished or abandoned projects that they have sitting on their hard-drives or in their notebooks. I have lots and lots of these myself. You still learn a lot from the process of these projects, of course, but sometimes it feels like a failure because it’s not “finished.” It is not. It’s practice and you need lots of that. Fan fiction is great practice as well.
It may take a long time to figure out what story is yours to tell. Which one you really NEED to tell. This again seems counter-intuitive, because our culture really pushes us to hurry! hurry! hurry! achieve! My opinion is that this doesn’t result in a good novel or story and it doesn’t really feel good to the writer in the process, either. Good stories take long thought and reflection. This means you have to just go forth and live your life and contemplate what you think about the experience of being human. Which is really all a good story is about: the experience of being human.
So keep reading and studying and living. Meet weird people. Go new places. Fall in love. Get your heart broken. Break someone’s heart. Make a bunch of mistakes and try to fix them. You know: just be alive! That kind of thing.
Along the way, the ideas will come. And you will know it, because it will feel really good to get it all down on paper. This my last piece of advice: writing should mostly feel good. It should make you lose track of time, lose track of your reality, forget what you were doing before you sat down to write. The idea you want will be one that makes you smile and makes you feel really excited and never ever quite leaves you until you finish the story. Certainly there will be times when you get stuck or the editing process is annoying or you’re unsure about what to do next in a chapter. But generally, writing should feel good. And if it doesn’t feel good, or make you feel better once you’ve done it, then I don’t know why you’d want to do it in the first place.
Figure 2. Ask me something. Why the hell not, right? I’m down for it.
Thanks to Bre for letting me share her question!
Got your own questions? About writing, or books, or Norman Reedus? Send me an email and I’ll see if I can’t come up with something compelling and persuasive and possibly helpful…