Wednesday, December 26, 2012

3 WOW Wednesday: Robison Wells on What It Takes to Be a Writer

Today's WOW guest is Robison Wells, the author of the YA science-fiction thriller, Variant (HarperTeen 2011), and of Feedback (HarperTeen, Oct 2012). Variant was named as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2011, and one of the YALSA Picks for Reluctant Readers. Those weren't his first published books, but they were the ones that let him start writing full-time. He lives in rural Utah, with his wife and three kids. To learn more about him, hop on over to his website, or follow him on Twitter as @robisonwells, to learn more about how he broke out, read on!

Want to be a Writer? Then WRITE

by Robison Wells

I've been writing seriously for thirteen years now, and I've read dozens of books (and probably hundreds of blog posts) on the subject of How To Write. But no advice I've ever read has been as important as the very first bit of wisdom I got, way back when I first decided to try my hand at writing.

At the time I was in college, working on a history/political science degree, and my brother (fellow YA author Dan Wells) was working on an English degree. At the time, he was very serious about writing and had always planned on a career as an author, but writing was very new to me: I simply had an idea for a book, and was casually telling him about it. The advice that he gave to me then, which has been more useful than any other advice I've ever heard, is this: "Everyone says they have an idea for a book. Everyone says that one day they're going to sit down and write the Great American Novel. The difference between writers and everybody else is that writers actually do it. Writers sit down, put pen to paper, and work. They WRITE."

And in the last thirteen years, I can truly say that whenever I have followed that advice, things have gone well. And when I have not followed that advice--when I've spent too long fiddling around with worldbuilding, or taking some time off to "relax", or getting caught up in the business side of writing--my productivity and personal happiness has always suffered.

I suffer from mental illness (from a whole pantheon of mental illnesses, actually), which has made writing very difficult at times, but I can still honestly say that forcing myself to write--even when the writing is terrible--has always been good for me in the end. It keeps me positive, and it keeps my head in the game. It keeps my skills sharp, and it gives me drive to continue moving forward.

And, of course, there's always the simple law that practicing something makes you better at it. Orson Scott Card famously said that your first million words are crap. I don't necessarily agree with the number, but the principle is definitely true: when you first start out writing you're not going to immediately be a master. My first manuscript was terrible. But I finished it, and pushed through and wrote "The End". And then I wrote another manuscript and that one was a little better, and then I wrote another and that one was a lot better.

So that's my advice: WRITE. And then finish what you're writing, and then write some more. And then some more after that. It may sound like simple, obvious advice, but I'm amazed at how effective it is. I go to a lot of annual writers conferences, and it's easy to spot the writers who are going to be successful: they're the ones who, after not seeing them for a year, tell you about the two manuscripts they've finished since the last conference. They're the ones who talk about getting up at four in the morning to get two thousand words written before they go to work. They're the ones with active writing groups, where they present chapters every single week, no matter what.

I realize that it's not very creative advice. It's not some secret revelation that will awe and thrill you. But I guarantee that it's more effective than any gimmick, more reliable than any trick, and will lead to more success than any other single piece of advice. Just write, and write, and write some more.


  1. Thanks. This is a very pertinent post and the advice is absolutely right. My New Year's Resolution is to make appointments on my calendar to write every day. I hope I can be as dedicated at Robinson Wells.

  2. That's amazing advice to receive right at the beginning of your journey as a writer.


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)