Monday, October 10, 2011

Maureen Johnson’s Writing Advice

Two weeks ago I went to Maureen Johnson’s launch party for her latest book “The Name of the Star” at Books of Wonder in New York City. Maureen spoke about her book briefly then took questions from the audience. She gave out two piece of good writing advice which I paraphrase here.

1. Don’t be afraid to suck.

I had heard this kind of advice before I started writing. I wish I had paid more attention to it. The essence is simple. Unless you are the kind of talent that comes along every 50 years your first drafts are going to suck no matter how hard you try. If you do try to make it all perfect you will end up doing what I did – endless rewriting and very slow progress. It took a pretty big effort from my husband to get me out of this habit.

2. Read as much as you can. You learn how to write by reading.

This is pretty easy for almost all authors because most of us got here by having a pretty heavy reading habit. If you want to write I think it helps to read with a few objectives in mind. Try to figure out why you like or don’t like an author. Is it the flow of their language? Is it their word choice? Are they really funny? Why are they funny? That analysis can help you to improve your own writing and help you edit your own work.

I took a third piece of information away from the reading – Maureen’s description of her inspiration and early drafts of The Name of the Star reminded me of the wonderful, exciting time that follows a really good idea. For me, that excitement is one of the reasons why I love writing so much.

This week you can win The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. To win, just put in the best writing advice you have heard. The best one will win!


  1. I think the best thing that I've heard is: just write. It doesn't matter if it's in order, or if it might not make sense now - just get it out and you can expound upon it later. I have problems with this, feeling like I need to go from start to finish and it's a big speed bump.

  2. Disclaimer: I am not actually a writer, unless you count my diary. But one piece of advice that makes sense to me came from Diana Wynne Jones. I can't remember the exact words, but it was along the lines of: "Everyone is different and so needs to write in a different way. The only way you can discover your way of writing is to do it."

  3. The best writing advice I ever heard is: Often, real writing occurs in the editing. Don't be afraid to edit, delete, revise, strip, change a draft as much as necessary to tell the story you intend to tell.

  4. The best writing advice comes from Anne Lamott (in Bird by Bird). She keeps a small picture frame on her writing desk and tries to remember that she only needs to start by painting a small picture -- a moment or part of a scene -- through her words. (I don't remember her exact words but something like that!)