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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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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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Hate the Idea of Outlines? Try a Thumbnail Sketch Instead.

  Most artists begin with some version of a thumbnail sketch. It might look like this one: a tiny, rough drawing, made with the purpose of working out where the big shapes go. Generally there’s some attempt at indicating value (light and dark) as well. You might do four of these before you settle on a composition that works. When I do an oil painting, I’m generally working from a photograph, so I’ve already messed around...

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Stop Showing Your Art to Your Boyfriend.

Stop Showing Your Art to Your Boyfriend.

I was sitting in a park recently, drawing the trees, when a woman asked if she could sit down next to me and watch me draw. “Sure,” I said. “Are you an artist?” “I wanted to be,” she said. “I started to draw, but then I showed my drawings to my boyfriend and he said they were no good, so I quit.” “Stop showing your work to your boyfriend,” I said. She laughed. “Yeah, I guess I could do that.” ** Just last week I was on...

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“How Do I Start My Book?” I Have an Answer to That Question.

“How Do I Start My Book?” I Have an Answer to That Question.

“I have an idea for a book, but I don’t know where to start.” People ask writers for advice on starting a book all the time. I’m sure a lot of writers get tired of trying to answer that question. There you are, behind a table at a booksigning, at the end of a long evening, trying to summarize the incredibly messy and frustrating process of making 300 pages come together as a coherent whole while a dozen other people wait...

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