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Should I Find A New Agent?

Every month in my newsletter, I invite readers to ask me a question. I pick one that I’ll answer in the next newsletter, and send them the book of their choice. (you can get in on that here.) One of this month’s questions came from another writer. She had a very specific question about a situation with her agent. I’ll rephrase the question more generally, for her privacy, but I thought it was worth answering here. How do I know...

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A Totally True Fact About Writing I Just Made Up

Here it is: A two-hour writing session (I mean a serious session, no goofing around on the internet, but two hours of straight concentration and actual work) is as mentally taxing as taking a standardized test for two hours. It’s as taxing as doing your taxes for two hours. Meaning: after two hours, you are mentally drained. Weirdly, I do not find this to be the case for other kinds of art. I can paint for two hours and I feel fine. I...

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How I Start a Book

How I Start a Book

  I just sent my editor a very early version of Book 6. While she’s reading it and making her notes, I thought I’d start to mull over Book 7. This is just one of many methods I might use to start a novel. I didn’t invent it–I believe this is actually a screenwriting technique. Here’s how it works: Start with one index card. Write the premise of the novel in just one line. It might be something like, “An...

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The Joys of Starting in Pencil

The Joys of Starting in Pencil

Sometimes artists fall into the trap of thinking that if they start with pencil, they’re not a real artist. They should be able to go directly into ink, or paint, or whatever. But this is nonsense! Imagine if writing worked that way. If every word I typed went straight to the printer and ended up in the final book. What a mess that would be. They’re even called DRAFTING tools! Drafting, like a first draft. A pencil is a two-part...

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The Self-Appointed Artists Residency

The Self-Appointed Artists Residency

A little over a year ago, I appointed myself Washington Park’s artist-in-residence. I’m not sure the people who run the park ever knew I was their artist in residence, but it didn’t matter. A self-appointed artist in residence doesn’t require anyone’s approval: that’s the singular benefit of doing it this way. There’s no application process. No deadlines, no mission statements, no work samples or CV,...

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It Doesn’t Matter How Good You Get

It Doesn’t Matter How Good You Get

So I’ve persuaded you to let go of this idea of talent, and child prodigies, and to put down the neuroscience and back away slowly. Maybe I’ve convinced you that you—yes, you—could, even with your meager, talentless, non-optimized brain, learn to play the piano or draw a picture. But! You might argue now. I can’t spend twenty years on this! I didn’t go to art school, and now I can’t. It’s too late. I’m too old. I can’t afford...

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I’m Calling Bullshit on the Whole Idea of Talent

I’m Calling Bullshit on the Whole Idea of Talent

  I can hear your objections already. But…child prodigies! I don’t know why some people are child prodigies and I don’t care. Child prodigies exist on one extreme end of a spectrum of what children are capable of doing. I wasn’t a child prodigy and neither were you, so let’s stop involving them in this conversation. But…neuroscience! I know. I get it. You have a vague idea that Science Says that some people’s brains are just...

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Your Sister Didn’t Take Art Away From You

Your Sister Didn’t Take Art Away From You

A couple months ago, I was sitting on a bench at the Atlanta Botanical Garden drawing pictures. A woman walked by and said, “Look at that! You’re so talented. I wish I could draw like that. I always wanted to.” “You can,” I said. “All you have to do is take some drawing lessons. That’s what I did.” “Oh, no,” she insisted. “I can’t. I don’t have the talent. My sister’s the artist.” I laughed, but I wanted to cry....

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“Did You Always Know…?” Here’s What’s Weird About That Childhood Question

“Did You Always Know…?”  Here’s What’s Weird About That Childhood Question

I get asked some version of this question a lot: “Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer, even when you were a little girl?” When I wrote a book about plants or bugs, it would be: “Did you love bugs or flowers or gardening when you were a child?” “Have you always loved to read?” “Did you draw and paint when you were little?” I’ve always thought this was a strange question. What...

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The Bling Layer: Try This When You’re Revising Your Novel.

The Bling Layer: Try This When You’re Revising Your Novel.

In a painting workshop with Carol Marine I learned this trick: At the very end of a painting, add the bling. The bling is that tiny, bright detail that makes a painting come to life. It’s the highlight on the rim of a coffee cup, the dark shadow under the tires of a car, the traffic light way down at the end of the block, glowing green. You can’t paint these details earlier in the process, because you’ll obliterate them with the broad...

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