Advice Category

I am in no way against nepotism. Of course, I doubt that is a surprise, since I am an upper-class type person and that is how we perpetuate ourselves

Recently, I was talking (and later about) a very impressive acquaintance of mine who wants to get into the same field as one of their parents, but is too proud to ask that parent to use their influence on the person’s behalf. I understand the reasoning here. If you use nepotism to secure a position […]

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Cixin Liu’s THE THREE BODY PROBLEM

When this book came out, I read the description and was like, “Huh? I don’t get it? What’s it about?” And there was a good reason for that. It’s because this book is completely bananas. The short answer is that it’s about aliens who’re planning on invading the earth. But the way they do it […]

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How to get your novels marketed as ‘literary fiction’ rather than ‘young adult / fantasy / romance / women’s / science fiction / etc’

Because I write young adult books, I sometimes field inquiries from people who’ve written books with age 13-19 protagonists and want to make it clear to potential agents and publishers that their book is not a young adult novel. This is a problem that particularly affects women writers, because there are entire genres whose purpose is, […]

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Sometimes, when you’re in the darkest and gloomiest part of the writing process, the workshop cliche is what saves you

Usually, the suggested fixes that you’re given by a writing workshop are pretty mechanical and, oftentimes, not very coherent. The thing that workshop does well, though, is diagnose the problems that need to be fixed. Because stories are so complicated and need to work on so many levels, it’s very possible to create a story that’s all tone or […]

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Sometimes the key to writing a novel is situating yourself at the right point in your protagonist’s emotional journey

Actually managed to get to chapter 2 today!!! Not sure that I’ll stay there. I’ll probably end up getting two or three chapters in and then find myself back at chapter one. It’s very strange, because I know pretty much what the world is like and the emotional journey is going to be and what’s […]

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It’s inadvisable to begin a novel with both an unusual event and a weird setting

With the end of the semester, I went back to work on my whimsical children’s novel (no joke, I am currently writing the 32nd draft of the first chapter). And I realized that one of my problems was that my first chapter contained both: a) a pretty atypical setting; and b) an event that was, […]

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Writing a novel is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle composed of pieces you carved yourself

I’m trying to write a whimsical children’s novel (you know, something in the style of Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket or Dianne Wynne Jones’s oeuvre), because I wasn’t in the mood to write another short story and I wasn’t in the mood to write anything long and complicated. Whimsical children’s novels (WCNs, for short) tend […]

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Ten lessons on writing and conceptualizing a novel (illustrated using a world composed only of escalators)

Over this spring break, I’ve been working on a long-form project, and it’s made me reflect on all that I’ve learned about novel-writing. If I’d been able to internalize these lessons four years ago, then, well…I could’ve skipped four years of learning. However, whenever I try to explain these lessons, all I get are blank […]

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Let go of things you wrote while you were in undergrad

Just went with my MFA classmates to see a production of Seminar at the Roundhouse Theater in DC. This is a play that’s about four aspiring writers who are in a workshop with a crusty old instructor who alternates merciless abuse with tepid praise. It was extremely enjoyable. However, most of it was not specific to […]

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An age-old novel-writing question: How can I sustain a plausible love story using the minimal number of actual scenes between the two principles?

I am awful at love stories. A friend of mine was telling me the other day that all her stories are about the guys she’ve dated. I can’t even imagine doing that. It’s not that I dislike love plots. I like them alot. I find them very warm and wonderful. But I just don’t have […]

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