Wednesday, February 24, 2016

3 On Giving Up by Hannah Barnaby

This week, we're welcoming Hannah Barnaby, author of WONDER SHOW and the just-released SOME OF THE PARTS, to the blog. In a world where writers pressure themselves to meet fast-paced writing goals, Hannah's story of success is utterly reassuring. She's here today to speak on the importance of not giving up.

On Giving Up by Hannah Barnaby

Let’s talk about giving up. Well, not exactly giving up. Let’s talk about giving up’s little sister: not starting in the first place.

Elizabeth Gilbert (currently the patron saint and fairy godmother of all us creative types) says that everything that holds us back from creating is based in fear. Procrastination, writer’s block, all of it. Ideally, we find our inner strength and push through that fear and come out on the other side with something we’re proud of. Sometimes this is what happens, and sometimes it’s not.

I don’t like to give up. Which is why I often don’t start things that seem like they’ll be difficult to finish. Like writing a novel.

I put off novel-writing as long as I could. I graduated from college with a BA in English, I finished an MA program and an MFA program without completing a novel-length manuscript. Then I decided to really challenge the universe and I applied for a grant from the Boston Public Library to be their first children’s writer-in-residence. If I won, I would agree to spend twenty hours a week at the library for nine months and hand in a finished first draft of a novel at the end of it.

A finished draft.

But that was fine, because of course I would not win.

But then I did.

I’m happy to tell you that I managed to complete that draft, but there were plenty of times I didn’t think I could. I kept myself going with research, music, chocolate, and dogged refusal to stop. I had no idea what I was doing and the draft I “finished” was full of holes, but I was proud of myself for having written it and I handed it to the nice people at the library and I didn’t touch it again for two years.

When an editor who had been one of the judges on the library committee wrote to ask about the project, I had to admit that it had been a while since I’d looked at the manuscript. But she wanted to read it and I could hardly pass on such an opportunity—so I dusted off the pages and read through them, and I embarked on a full revision. Then a second. Then a third.

Eventually, that story was acquired by another editor altogether and became my first novel, Wonder Show. I was proud of myself—I hadn’t given up!—and then I went another two years without starting my second novel.

I think you can see the pattern here.

Prior to the beginning of every new project, there’s a giant, looming question mark that appears and haunts me for a while. Do I know what I’m doing? If I start this, can I finish it? Knowing that I will be tempted to quit along the way, I make the choice again and again to take the first step, and I trust that my intense dislike of giving up will carry me the distance.

Now, here’s some pragmatic advice for getting started and not giving up.
1.     Make a list of what you need to know about your character, her environment, her family and friends. Use those question marks to your advantage! Let them fuel your curiosity.
2.     Make yourself accountable. To a writing partner, a critique group, a public word count calculator on your website, whatever works. Track your progress and make sure someone else knows that you’re writing.
3.     Avoid the comparison game. Don’t worry about whether someone else is writing a story like yours, or convince yourself that they’re writing it better or faster or with more kissing. Blinders on. Your story is yours and no one else’s.

4.     Reward yourself! Every three chapters, every five thousand words—whatever you decide—treat yourself to something special. (Not chocolate, because be honest: you’ve been eating that the whole time.) Take a moment to be proud of yourself. Then get back to work.


Sometimes bad things happen, and we are not the same when they are over.

For months, Tallie McGovern has been coping with the death of her older brother the only way she knows how: by smiling bravely and pretending that she's okay. She’s managed to fool her friends, her parents, and her teachers so far, yet she can’t even say his name out loud: “N—” is as far as she can go. But when Tallie comes across a letter in the mail, it only takes two words to crack the careful fa├žade she’s built around herself:


Two words that had apparently been checked off on her brother’s driver’s license; two words that her parents knew about—and never confided to her. All at once, everything Tallie thought she understood about her brother’s death feels like a lie. And although a part of her knows he’s gone forever, another part of her wonders if finding the letter might be a sign. That if she can just track down the people on the other end of those two words, it might somehow bring him back.

Hannah Barnaby’s deeply moving novel asks questions there are no easy answers to as it follows a family struggling to pick up the pieces, and a girl determined to find the brother she wasn’t ready to let go of.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

About the Author

Hannah Barnaby has worked as a children's book editor, a bookseller at independent children's bookstores, and a teacher of writing for children and young adults. She holds an MA in Children's Literature from Simmons College and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College. She began writing Wonder Show, her first novel, during her time as the first Children's Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library. Ms. Barnaby lives in Charlottesville, VA.


  1. Being accountable to another writing buddy is great advice. Along with rewarding yourself, not being afraid of the big "if's", and avoid the comparison game. Thanks!

  2. Great post! I'm so glad you won that residency and changed your life.


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