A few weeks ago we were super lucky to get the chance to sit down and chat with author, Holly Black, about her latest book, The Cruel Prince. While we were chatting to Holly she was very generous with her advice to aspiring authors. And we just had to pass it one because it was just so real and valuable.
So, if you fancy a lifetime of crafting words, here’s how to become an author…
Writing Her First Book Was Hard
It took me about 5 years to write my first book, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale. And I didn’t really know how to write a book. And so a big part of it was just trying to work that out. I went back all the time. And I think this is often a problem; you know when you are a good reader and a critical reader and you know you are not doing the thing you’re supposed to be doing and so you write it and you’re like “woa that is not book-shaped“. That doesn’t work. But I don’t know why it doesn’t it doesn’t work because I’m writing my first book. And I have no experience as a writer. I have tons of experience as a reader. And I think that was a huge part of both how I found my way, but also what got in my way.
I had that inner critic that said “This is wrong. Its wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong“. And I had to go back and I would change it and change it and change it. And then finally I found my way through. But I really despaired at finishing. It became “I wonder if this will ever end?” It takes time, especially the first book. And it will never be as hard again because you learn so much.
Holly’s Writing Process
I try to write everyday. I write about a 1000 words a day, which isn’t that much. I’m not that fast. Sometimes I can maybe write 2000 words on maybe a red-letter day. I have been trying what I call fast drafting which is basically bashing it out for maybe the last book I wrote, which is the sequel to The Cruel Prince. I’ve finished Wicked King, which is the sequel to The Cruel Prince. It is finished. I’ve never been this far ahead. I’ve written 20,000 words of it. I have a rough idea of where it’s going. I have a pretty good plan. Fingers crossed.
You Have To Write Even When It’s Not Fun
I think sometimes people think that writing is fun for me. It’s not! She says with a laugh. “It’s just as unfun for me as it is for you. I don’t know what’s happening either. And its frustrating. And I can’t wait for it to be fun.
For sure, sometimes it’s fun and when I was young I would only write when it was fun but I can’t do that. If you’re going to write professionally you have to write when it’s not fun. And I think sometimes that we worry that the stuff we write during those times is worse. But when you look back I guarantee you will never be able to tell which days were the days that if felt like pulling teeth and which days it came out of you easily. I always think it’s important to know that it isn’t you, that you feel this way where you’re like oh, why is this so hard?” It’s just hard.
And the other thing that I realized is that you have to write the book that your reader self would want, not the book that your writer self thinks you ought to write. You know, don’t challenge your writer-self. Do the thing your reader self is really excited about.
The Key Ingredient When Writing…
Showing and not telling. There are many cases where you need to show and not tell, but as an absolute rule I think it can really trip people up because there are times when you just need to tell the readers somethings and showing them to the reader will take a reeeeally long time and in fact just being like ok here’s this fact now we go to the story. Because what the reader care about is the story.
Criticism Is Necessary
I had a critique partner which was really helpful because at least it was one other person who was expecting it. It was a huge help for me. It can be helpful. It’s a person who will keep you accountable. And I think also it’s great to have someone who critiques your work, someone to tell you what’s working and really telling you this part is great. And it’s great to be able to critique their work because we learn to be a better reader of other people’s work and a better reader of our own work