We are thrilled to visit with Jennifer Donnelly, author of SEA SPELL, here today as she shares four key points on how to become a successful author.
Writing – any kind of writing – will hone your ability with words. As you keep writing, you'll learn how to do more with less. You'll get a feel for simplicity and elegance...and how the subtle art of suggestion can lend incredible power to a paragraph or scene.
A question I get asked a lot is: How do I become a published author? But the question really should be: How do I become a writer? And the infuriating answer is: By writing.
Writing – any kind of writing: journals, term papers, letters to your grandmother – will hone your ability with words. As you keep writing, you'll learn how to do more with less. You'll get a feel for simplicity and elegance, when to let rip and when to hold back, and how the subtle art of suggestion can lend incredible power to a paragraph or scene. These are all things I still struggle with. I have a tendency to overwrite, but when I do nail a scene, I can sense it, and it's a tremendous feeling.
"Read. Ask. Learn"
Reading is also incredibly important. It shows you how other writers do it, how they succeed and where they fail. Whether it's a novel, a newspaper article or the copy on the back of a cereal box – it's all writing. Someone had to think about it and make choices. It's your job as a reader to decide how well the author did. You may not be aware of it, but every time you get lost in a story, or intrigued by a magazine article, you're also picking up pointers on structure, plot, and style. I couldn't afford to go to grad school, or take a workshop, when I started trying to write, so I used what was available to me – good books. Go to your bookshelf or your library. Get something excellent and read it. Once for pleasure. As you do, delight in the language and the story. Then read it again – this time as a master class. Read critically, ask why. Learn.
"Finishing is what makes the difference between ideas and books"
Another crucial key to writing is finishing what you start. Lots of kids, and older people, too, tell me that they have so many stories started. Started is good. Beginnings are good. But you have to finish. Finishing is what makes the difference between ideas and books. Force yourself to sit down at your desk – glue your butt to your chair – and work through the problems. It's very important. It's very good discipline. It forces you to see an idea through from beginning to end and to do the hard work of bringing the various threads of the story together in a satisfying way. Do this and you’ll become more confident in your ability to tell a story. The problems of structure and plot and narrative drive may not get easier for you – they certainly haven’t gotten any easier for me and I’m on my eleventh novel – but with experience and a bit of confidence, you’ll become braver about facing them…and besting them.
"Writer’s block is like the monster under the bed – it only exists if you believe in it"
Here's another important piece of advice: Writer’s block is like the monster under the bed – it only exists if you believe in it. So don’t. We all get stuck, but stuck isn’t a death sentence. Here’s how I get unstuck. I get away from my computer screen and I grab a pile of scrap paper and a pen and I start writing down questions about the problems I’m having with the manuscript. They can be specific, like: How can I make Chapter Four more suspenseful? Or they can be general, like: Why does this story suck so bad? And I swear, after I write the question – in longhand, has to be longhand – the answers start to come. Just like a Ouija board. I take those answers back to my manuscript and I start writing again.
"Stand still and hear your own voice"
Lastly, listen to your own thoughts and feelings very carefully, be aware of your observations, and learn to value them. When you're a teenager – and even when you're older – lots of people will try to tell you what to think and feel. Try to stand still inside all of that and hear your own voice. It's yours and only yours, it's unique and worthy of your attention, and if you cultivate it properly, it might just make you a writer.
Finishing is what makes the difference between ideas and books... See an idea through from beginning to end and do the hard work of bringing the various threads of the story together... Do this and you’ll become more confident in your ability to tell a story.
ABOUT THE BOOK
by Jennifer DonnellyAt the end of Dark Tide, Book 3 in the Waterfire Saga, Astrid leaves her mermaid friends to confront her ancestor, Orfeo, the evil force behind the rise of the monster Abbadon. Orfeo possesses one of the six talismans that the merls need in order to keep the monster locked up forever. But without the ability to songcast, how will Astrid be able to defeat the most powerful mage in history? Meanwhile, Serafina and her Black Fins train goblin troops for battle against her uncle Vallerio's death riders. Will Sera ever see her beloved home--and her beloved Mahdi--again, or will the Volneros take over the mer realms while Orfeo takes on the gods themselves? Nothing less than the fate of the underwater world is at stake in this breathtaking finale.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Donnelly is the author of nine novels - These Shallow Graves, Dark Tide, Rogue Wave, Deep Blue, Revolution, A Northern Light, The Tea Rose, The Winter Rose, and The Wild Rose, - and Humble Pie a picture book for children. She grew up in New York State, in Lewis and Westchester counties, and attended the University of Rochester where she majored in English Literature and European History. Jennifer lives in New York's Hudson Valley with her husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs. She is the author of THESE SHALLOW GRAVES, DEEP BLUE, ROGUE WAVE, DARK TIDE and SEA SPELL.