Hey everyone! I have something really fun for you today. Kelly McWilliams is stopping by to share some tips for any aspiring authors out there!
Kelly’s new book, Agnes at the End of the World, comes out this Tuesday, June 9th. It follows a girl, Agnes, who isn’t aware she is living in a cult. When she meets an outsider boy, she begins to question what is and isn’t a sin. As the Prophet who leads her cult becomes more dangerous, she realizes she must escape with her brother and leave everyone, including her sister, behind. But the world Outside isn’t safe either, for a viral pandemic is sweeping through the population. As Agnes navigates this world, she must decide between saving her family and saving the world.
Kelly McWilliams is the author of AGNES AT THE END OF THE WORLD (June 9, Little, Brown), which was recently named one of People’s 20 Best Books to Read This Summer. She lives in Colorado with her family. Visit her at KellyMcWilliamsAuthor.com or follow her on Insta @kellymmcwilliams.
Hi, I’m Kelly, author of the YA novel Agnes at the End of the World.
I’ve wanted to be a writer—and, specifically, a novelist—for as long as I can remember. And I’m going to level with you: it’s hard work. I once heard another author describe the act of writing (on a bad day!) as being like “breaking rocks with other rocks.” On the other hand, when you’re having a good day (they do come along, more often than you’d think!) it’s pure magic.
Writing a novel isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon. But the more good writing days you can string together, the faster you’ll get to that finish line. So here are my tips for getting as many good writing days under your belt as you possibly can—my tried and true tips, tricks and deep-held superstitions (we’re a superstitious bunch, writers!).
1. When there’s no wind, row.
An early writing teacher introduced me to this proverb, which has since become my mantra. Sure, it’s electric when inspiration strikes—when you can’t scribble or type fast enough to get down all the beauty and brilliance pouring out of your mind—but inspiration will only get you so far. Eventually, the winds will calm; you’ll start feeling meh about your current project. But now is not the time to watch Netflix, take a nap, or eat a burrito. No, my friends: Now is the time to grab your oar and get rowing! If you row long and hard enough, those winds of inspiration are bound to start blowing again. Even if they don’t—even if the whole writing session is just a wash and now your burrito is cold and you’re extremely grumpy and ready to @ me with some very angry words—you’ve just demonstrated something important to yourself: You didn’t come here to make friends. Writing a novel is hard work, but you’re willing to put in the effort to make it happen. You’re willing to row.
2. Word counts, schmerd-counts.
This is definitely going to be an unpopular opinion but… word counts don’t matter. Neither do writing “sprints” or word-count based competitions. No knock on NaNoWriMo—I’ve participated in their events and truly enjoyed the sense of community, the badges, the heady rush of working fast. They’re also a great non-profit organization in their own right. If you love doing NaNoWriMo, please ignore me and keep doing what you love!
But it took me years of religiously logging word counts after every writing session to realize that it wasn’t the right metric for me. While I could consistently hit 2,000 words per session, those words just weren’t any good, because I’d focused all my attention on the wrong goal.
Now, on any given day, I don’t care if I write ten words or ten thousand. I only care that I’ve written the best words I possibly can in the interest of moving the story forward. I never, ever pressure myself to write harder faster stronger.
If word counts do help you reach your goals, more power to you. Just keep in mind that word counting doesn’t work for everyone.
3. Read as much as you can, as often as you can.
While revising my book for publication, I stopped watching television. (Okay, I maybe watched an episode of Sabrina here and there… eh, I’m only human.) But mostly, I read every single night for as many hours as I could spare. Constant reading expands your well of ideas, makes you excited and inspired, and better still, it keeps you fluent in the language of storytelling. When I wake up to write after a night spent reading something amazing—or even something that’s just okay—I’m a stronger writer for it. I don’t know exactly why, but it’s definitely true.
General rule of thumb: While you’re in the midst of drafting, writing, or revising, read like it’s your job. Because it kind of is!
4. Keep your eyes on your own paper!
If you want to be a novelist, then you probably know lots of other people who also want to be novelists. One of them just finished an amazing manuscript, maybe, while you’re only halfway through yours. Another is working on a project with the best premise you’ve ever heard. Or maybe someone in your writing workshop is just off-the-charts talented: their sentences sing, the characters leap off the page, the whole workshop is in tears every week, etcetera.
You might even know some people who’ve actually made it: They’ve gotten an agent, or signed a book deal, or published the next Twilight, or whatever. But listen. None of that matters. None of it. When push comes to shove, the words you put on the page are all that count. No one can write the book that’s in your heart (not even that wickedly talented student in your writing workshop that you kind of hate a little bit).
Becoming a novelist isn’t a race: It’s a personal journey—almost a spiritual one—full of unexpected twists and turns. Whenever you feel the urge to compare yourself to others, take a breath, open your laptop, and write the book that only you can write.
5. Believe in yourself.
This one is super Disney, I know.
But it’s also legit, because no one is going to believe in you harder than you believe in yourself. And did I mention that writing a novel is really, really hard?
Inevitably, one day, you’re going to sit down at your desk to read over your first draft. And you’re going to hate absolutely everything about it. Self-doubt will show up, extract your soul from your chest, and then run it through the paper shredder while wearing an evil grin. Yeah, it’s going to totally suck.
But there’s a mystical antidote to self-doubt, and that’s belief.
When you face down that messy first draft, muster all your belief in yourself and your story. Tell yourself that you will fix the problems in your manuscript, no matter how long it takes. And if it helps, please know that every writer in the world has felt like the worst writer on the planet at some point. Personally, I feel like the worst writer in the world at least twice a week. It’s okay, because writing is hard.
I’ll tell you one thing, though: For all the money in the world, I wouldn’t give it up. Now go write that book.
Thank you so much Kelly for sharing these tips with us!
Now, my question for everyone: do you have any writing advice for new writers?