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Chloe's Book Club

Want to write your own best-selling novel? This advice is *everything*

Hi, guys—it's Chloe Lukasiak here!

Back when I announced The Darkest Minds as the July pick for Chloe’s Book Club this summer, I knew it was going to be a really exciting read—there was so much buzz around the book, from the new film adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg to the recent release of the series’ latest installment, The Darkest Legacy.

What I didn’t expect was the friendship that I’d form with the book’s incredible author, Alexandra Bracken. It all started on Twitter, when I announced the July book—and Alex responded by sharing that she had always rooted for me on Dance Moms. Then, we finally met IRL at the red-carpet screening of The Darkest Minds—and she was just as wonderful in person.

I’ve been working on my own writing for a while, but I’ve been battling one big obstacle—and I knew Alex would be the perfect person to ask for some advice. Ahead, our conversation about finding the confidence to begin your own best-selling story.

CHLOE LUKASIAK:
Alex, thank you so much for speaking with me! I love your writing and your books so much, so meeting you was a major fangirl moment for me. So there’s something that I wanted to ask you about—and it’s related to a new personal goal that I recently set for myself.
 
I’ve *always* been an avid reader. But about a year ago, I realized that I really want to write a novel. Now, to be clear: I have no book deal in the works, and at this point I have no plans to even publish this novel! Right now, it’s just something that I want to do for myself—even if, when it’s all finished and I’m happy with, I’m the only one who ever reads it. It’s something I want to accomplish for myself alone—and I want to do it by myself, no ghostwriter. (I worked with a ghostwriter on a book about my life, but I want this project to be all me.)
 
But here’s the thing: I can’t get started. I keep putting it off because I’m really, really afraid that if I start writing and I realize I’m not any good at it, then all my dreams will be crushed — so I think that’s why I keep procrastinating. But I really do want to prove to myself that I can do it — and even if it’s bad, I know that I can always work hard to make my writing better.
 
So my question for you is…
 
When you started writing, did you deal with any self-doubt? Do you ever find it difficult to sit down and start typing? What suggestions do you have for someone who wants to be a writer, but has absolutely no writing experience? Any advice or tactics or tips you can share would be so appreciated!

ALEXANDRA BRACKEN:
Chloe! I am so glad you asked me this question. Let me start off by saying that you are absolutely not alone in this! Hearing this question, my heart gave a little squeeze because what you’re describing is what I go through every time I start a new project.
 
CHLOE:
Seriously? That makes me feel better already!

ALEX:
Yes! All writers, no matter how many books or articles they’ve published, dance a tricky tango with self-doubt. In my case, I experience it before I ever write a single word of a draft. I have a very intense fear of failure—I am constantly worried that my idea won’t live up to the version of it I have in my head, or that readers will hate it. Fear is poisonous to confidence, and it sets such a hard limit on the endless potential that we all have to grow and achieve our dreams.
 
CHLOE:
That makes perfect sense—I’ve definitely been through it with dance.

ALEX:
Exactly. Think of how hard and awkward it feels to try anything for the first time, whether that’s a certain dance move, a new sport, or getting up to give a presentation. It only starts to feel easier once you’ve done it over and over. We gain confidence and skill in the doing. With taking a big leap into the unknown and just trying. Writing is no different. The only way to find your unique storytelling voice and improve that skill is simply by writing. Writing in your journal, writing essays in school, writing poetry, writing letters, writing short stories, writing long stories, or even writing little scenes of characters talking or doing something that’s not part of a bigger story. No writing is ever wasted.
 
CHLOE:
Writing Instagram captions…just kidding. Kind of.

ALEX:
Sure, those count too! The idea of failing at something we love so much is incredibly painful, and it’s much easier to keep it a dream and avoid that potential hurt. Here’s the thing I’ve learned over the years: When it comes to starting on your writing journey, there is no failing. There’s only improving. The not-so-secret secret of writers is that we all write terrible first drafts.  T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E! Sometimes they’re so bad that we have to toss them and completely rewrite the book from scratch because it just isn’t working. All writers also go through extensive edits with critique partners, editors, and copyeditors, who help us strengthen a book. A published novel has gone through endless drafts and edits before it lands in your hands, and it can be totally unrecognizable from the first draft. That’s not the standard to hold your first drafts to—that’s where you’ll be later!

CHLOE:
I can’t imagine you ever writing anything terrible, but I’ll take your word for it.
 
ALEX:
It’s true. And I think we all put so much pressure on ourselves to make things “perfect” the first time around when it doesn’t have to be. Once you give yourself permission to write a messy first draft, it’ll help you get through that fear of starting and trying. Do whatever you can to remove the pressure on yourself that the story has to be a certain way, or it has to be published by the time you’re a certain age, etc.
 
CHLOE:
Yeah, I love that. And that’s why I’m telling myself that when I write this novel, it’s just for me—nobody else has to read it. And maybe it’ll stay that way, or maybe I’ll change my mind. But I’m trying to take the pressure off.

ALEX:
That’s a great idea: Always write first and foremost for you, and remind yourself that no one ever has to read it if you don’t want them to. (To this day I still write the first few chapters of any book out by hand in a notebook—it helps the story to feel “mine” and takes away the element of that terrifying blank page and blinking cursor!) Write a story that you, as a reader, would love to devour. All that love and energy will come through on the page. You can’t edit and improve something that doesn’t exist, so just get those words and scenes down and remind yourself, however many times you need to, that even if it isn’t exactly right, you can and will make them better once you’ve finished the draft of your story.
 
The good news is all readers have a leg up on non-readers when it comes to writing stories and books! Each book you read helps you internalize how stories are constructed and the way characters grow and change. So here is my first tip: Read a lot, and read all kinds of stories! Even genres you don’t think you’ll be that interested in. I love fantasy books, but I’ve learned so much about how to set up plot twists and foreshadowing from reading mysteries and thrillers.

CHLOE:
Yes! That’s been one of the best parts about building the Chloe’s Book Club community—it was really important to me that we read a range of different genres, which has gotten me outside of my comfort zone and enjoying a lot of different types of books.
 
ALEX:
That’s so great! And another big tip I have is to start a notebook dedicated to your writing. After you finish a book that you loved—or didn’t!—open that notebook and write down what worked well in that story, and what you didn’t like. Many stories fall into a three act structure, and once you get familiar with it, you can also note what the book’s turning points were, and how the main character(s) changed over the story. It sounds like homework, I know, but I promise it’ll help you! I’m the kind of person who has to learn through examples and this method was key for me when I was first writing in middle school and high school.
 
In that same notebook, jot down ideas you have about stories, characters, or what-if questions like, What if one day all of the plants in the world began to die and no one knew why? (Sorry, that was a dark one!) I always have a notebook on my nightstand because I’m cursed to get good ideas juuuust as I’m falling asleep! I also use my Notes app on my phone if I’m out and about and an idea hits me. Try to keep all of your notes in one place, so you can easily find them again later.
 
CHLOE:
That is brilliant! What else?

ALEX:
OK, one last thing: I would not be the writer I am today without working with critique partners and, when I was younger, trusted teachers who gave me feedback on my writing. Critique partners are other writers you trade stories with so you can give one another notes about what you liked about their drafts and what you think they could improve. If you can find other young writers who are in the same place as you, you can create a circle of trust and really help each other. Ask your local librarian if the library hosts creative writing groups that meet regularly, or an English teacher if he or she might be willing to start one for other students who might be interested in trading work. Or simply find a friend who loves reading as much as you do and see what he or she thinks. The scariest part of writing for me is always sharing my work with others and deciding when it’s “ready,” but we really do need those outside eyes to see the flaws in the story we might have missed. 

CHLOE:
That’s so smart—I will definitely try that when I’m ready. Alex, thank you so, so much for chatting with me! This was amazing. You’re amazing!
 
ALEX:
It was my pleasure! And I know I threw a lot of information at you, but what it boils down to is HAVE FUN! Love your story and characters, take them on a journey that intrigues you, and give yourself permission to fix everything later. Be fearless and let yourself dream.  

CHLOE:
I’m writing that down. Thank you!

——

A version of this interview originally appeared on the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog. To view more exclusives from Chloe's Book Club, click here.

by Chloe Lukasiak | 10/4/2018
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