Writing Questions from Blog Readers!

Here a few questions blog readers asked me about writing:

What writing resource books you recommend?

emotional craft

Oh man, I have read so many great books about writing, both about the craft and the writing life. Here are some of my FAVORITES:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott *
The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass *
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
The Art of Slow Writing by Louise deSalvo
The Anatomy of Story by John Truby
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

* my favorites of my favorites

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? How did you develop your skills during your earlier years (such as during high school)?

I’m not sure I made a conscious decision about being a writer; writing (like wands) feels like something that chooses you. That said, I have always loved telling stories. I first decided I wanted to write a book when I was in 2nd grade. I tried my hand at fiction in 3rd grade (oh man, it is sooooo funny and dramatic!). In junior high, I wrote a soap opera in a notebook that I passed around to my friends, and in high school and college, I focused on poetry.

There are two things that writers have to do to develop their skills, no matter what age or writing-level they are at:

  1. Read. Fiction, non-fiction, in your genre and outside of it, with a healthy dose of poetry. Read like it’s your job. No, read like it’s your air.
  2. Write. It sounds silly, but just like with anything, practice is how we improve. This is true in sports and art and public speaking, in how to be a good listener, how to perform illusions, and how to train for a marathon. You have to write, write, write– and you will likely have to write a lot of crappy stuff first. But do it. Expel it. Get that time in on your training-wheels first.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other ways to develop one’s writing! Advice/critique/feedback/workshopping (whatever you want to call it) is critical. And you can learn about techniques like metaphor and what sounds are most satisfying to the human ear and how to manipulate your readers’ emotions (manipulate is such a harsh-sounding word, but most fiction readers go into a book hoping for this!). Two of the books I listed above– The Emotional Craft of Fiction and The Anatomy of Story– are craft books that get into the nitty-gritty details.

But at any (and every) stage? Read and write.

What do you do (or tell yourself) when you are unmotivated to write? Are you ever overwhelmed with how much work it takes to write a book?

First of all, YES, I often get overwhelmed with how much time and energy goes into writing a full-length work of fiction. In fact, in college, I focused on poetry partly because a poem can be so short, whereas fiction is such a big undertaking. But that’s why I have to take a novel one word at a time, one day at a time, and why I have to split it up into about one trillion smaller tasks or, as Anne Lamott would call them, “short assignments.” (I actually do call them short assignments on my to-do list!)

When I am unmotivated to write, I go back to my lists. I either choose one small assignment I am excited about or, sometimes, I might not even be excited about it, but I tell myself, “Just 20 minutes. See what happens in 20 minutes.” In both of these cases, my wheels usually get spinning and three hours later I am sad to put the manuscript away for the evening.

How much of writing is intuitive?

10000 hoursGosh, I don’t know. Sometimes the things that feel so intuitive to me are the things my writing group and editor hate the most. Sometimes, though, those things are a stroke of brilliance– and not even a brilliance I can attribute to myself. When ideas like that come from nowhere, it truly does not feel like I deserve credit. For someone like me, whose spiritual life encompasses all other parts of my life, I can see God at work in my writing. I think, if one has read a lot of great literature and one has put in hours upon hours of writing practice (Malcolm Gladwell says you need to practice 10,000 hours to gain expertise in any field), that intuition is going to be built in you. And if you add an outside influence into that? Mmm.

What’s the most important part(s) of preparing a book for querying?

Every part.

If we are talking fiction here, the manuscript must be as polished and perfect as it can be prior to querying. Along with that, you have to write a query letter that is intriguing, plays by the rules of the agent, and ends up in the right agent’s inbox.

Have any inspiration for young writers or those just getting started?

Yes! I love this:


Have other writing-related questions for me? Click here to ask me anything! 🙂

Writing Resources

writing resources2I’m no expert, but I do get questions of this sort enough to warrant a post.  I hope this will be helpful!

How do I become a better writer?
If you want to write well, the very best thing that you can do is read great books.  A lot of them.  In lots of genres, but especially in your own.  I highly, highly recommend also incorporating a strong dose of poetry into your life.

What books should I read about the writing life?
I suggest these.

How can I learn about professional writing?
I love thewritelife.com.

Check out these posts:
25 Editing Tips for Tightening Your Copy
How to Create Your First Invoice as a Freelancer
9 Online Gold Mines for Finding Paid Freelance Writing Jobs

Do I need a degree in English?
Depends on the person.  It sure does help!!  I learned so much about writing from my undergraduate experience.

How do I find a literary agent?
I recommend tracking down a copy of Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents.  I scoured this book to find agencies that represented young adult authors.  After that, I went to each agency’s website to find which agent seemed like the best fit with me and my book.  I made a list of 100 agents to query– thankfully, Steven Chudney was one of my top choices!

I also check the author acknowledgements in the backs of my favorite books.  Usually the author will give a shout-out to his or her agent, and then I’d go dig deeper online for more information.

Querytracker.net may also help you, especially the “backward” search that allows to look up an author and find out who reps him or her.

How do I write a query letter?
First, carve out a couple hours to spend on Rachelle Gardner’s blog.  Start with her post “How to Write a Query Letter” and then spend the rest of the time in her “Queries, Proposals, and Pitches” category.

Next, read some good query letters in Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Query Letters.  There are some great examples in there of successful queries!

Then, head over to Query Shark to read a literary agent’s take on various queries.  (It’s quite fascinating, and you might end up spending a lot of time here.)

A few hours of perusing and you’re going to have a good launching pad.

How important is a writing group?
It’s critical to have some form of constructive feedback in your writing life, whether that’s one critique partner or an entire writing group.  Be choosy: not all feedback is created equal, and you don’t want to be bombarded with advice from someone who has no talent in writing or criticism.

I wrote about the value of my writing group here and here.

There’s much more to be said– about platforms and proposals and revisions and more.  As I said, I’m definitely not an expert, but I often have good resources I can point you to.  What else are you wondering about?