What I wish I knew when I wrote my first novel

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve dreamed of writing a novel. Even before I could technically “write,” I would dictate stories to my mom to write down for me. But, as I found out when writing my debut novel Love and Other Alien Experiences, actually writing a book is a lot harder than simply rewriting the story of Disney’s The Beauty and the Beast like I did as a kid.

I certainly don’t consider myself enough of an expert to give writing advice to anyone…after all, I’ve written one book, and how many have Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates written? (Spoiler: many) They can probably give you better advice. But while I would never tell you what to do, I can tell you about what I learned while I was writing my book. With NaNoWriMo well under way, many of you are probably working on novels right now, and that’s awesome! I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

Writing is hard

I mean, duh, right? It’s easy to assume that all writers just sit down at their computers and let the words effortlessly flowing out of their fingers. You know that scene in every movie about a great writer where they’re tapping along at their typewriter and it looks like they don’t have a care in the world? Yeah, writing’s not like that. Well, maybe it is for some people, but not for me. It involves a lot of staring at the screen, a lot of deleting, and a lot of wearing yoga pants. It’s hard, and that’s normal. If you’re struggling, don’t give up! It’s all part of the process.

It’s important to take care of yourself.

When working on any big project, it can be easy to let everything else fall to the wayside. That includes friends, family, and, of course, health. It might be tempting to skip your workouts and subsist entirely on takeout orange chicken and fun-size bags of Skittles, but trust me. After a few days of that, you’ll feel terrible and your desk will seem like a cavity-inducing prison. Schedule in some time for a walk (bonus: long walks are great times to figure out plot problems!) and eat a vegetable (or just a non-Skittle food) every once in awhile. Your body will thank you.

Writer friends make everything better

No matter how supportive and encouraging your non-writer friends are, they’re going to get really tired of you talking about your characters’ motivations or whether you should switch from first person to third person. You know who will totally love talking about stuff like that? Other writers. Depending on where you live, it can be difficult to make IRL writer friends, so take to social media and follow other writers, strike up conversations, and talk about the books you love. YA writers, especially, are some of the nicest and most welcoming people on the planet.

Reading helps. A lot.

I started writing the Young Adult Education column for HelloGiggles in 2012, and since then, I’ve written about a lot of YA books…which means I’ve read a lot of YA books. Reading a ton in my genre of choice has taught me so much about structure, plotting, and what I like and don’t like. No matter if the book you want to write is science-fiction, romance, or J. Franz-esque literary fiction, read widely in your genre and outside of it. You’ll learn what’s popular and what’s missing.

There’s no right way to write

The world is full of writing advice, and some of it is great. Stephen King’s On Writing is fantastic, Bird by Bird is awesome, and Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping Into the Open is fantastic. These books are great for teaching you the basics, motivating you to work, and recharging you when you’re feeling down. But writing advice isn’t made of hard and fast rules. You’re allowed to do whatever you want! That’s the cool part about writing. Learn about the rules, sure, but sometimes they need to be broken. What works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you.

You can do it. Really.

If you don’t know any writers, it can seem like writing books is something only certain people can do. I know I felt the same way when I was growing up! I thought all writers had to live in a major city, hang out in cafes, and be ultra-rich and ultra-educated. But here’s a secret: anyone who wants to can write a book. I have no special qualifications or secret connections. I don’t have an MFA or a rich mentor. You don’t need any of that stuff to write a book—all you need is the desire to write one and the willingness to put in the work. Putting in the work is the main thing that separates writers from non-writers. If there’s an idea in your head that’s bursting to get out, write it down! There are tons of books in the world, but you’re the only person with your specific point of view.

I learned a lot while writing Love and Other Alien Experiences, but the biggest thing I learned is that the whole process of writing a book is worth it. If you’re working on a novel right now, I hope you’re learning a lot along the way, too.

[Image via 20th Century Fox]

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