Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Writing Question: how do you keep going when you feel like you have no idea what you're doing?

Tim Walker.:
photo: Tim Walker

So I got this great question in an email, and it felt so universal to me that I thought I'd answer it here. It's been a while since I posted about writing. Here you go! 

My question is this: how do you keep going when you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing?

I’m working on the second draft of a MG novel I just finished. I loved writing the first draft – as difficult as it was to do – but now, everything I do seems wrong. The writing seems terrible to me and I can’t figure out how to get it right. I feel like I’ve lost my character’s voice and I suddenly have absolutely no idea what in the world I’m doing.

I’ve seen a lot of writers talk about what to do when writing the first draft, and most of the advice is along the lines of “Don’t worry about the quality of the first draft, it’s meant to be crap, and you can always fix it later!” But I hardly see any good advice on how to “fix it later.” What do you do when the manuscript you spent a year or more of your life on seems like a putrid mess… but you can’t give up on it? What do you do when you feel as though you can’t ever make your piece as good as you want it to be? 

So, in essence: what do you do when you’re hopeless?

Hi Rosie!

I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling hopeless. Please know that you are not alone! Let’s focus on the positive: you finished a draft! That’s HUGE. So many would-be writers never make it that far. I really think that finishing is the hardest part, especially the first time. If you have it in you to finish a draft, I think you’re going to be okay. 

So, what to do now?? 

First, I need to tell you: for me, first drafts are 90% misery, 10% blinding joy. 90/10. So I can’t relate to your loving writing the first draft. If only! And yes, the prevailing advice on first drafts is indeed: don’t worry about quality. Just get the story down, then make it better.

Doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried it. I keep trying it because it sounds great! Even on my current book, my eighth, I made a plan that sort of involved a fast first draft. I haven’t been able to stick with it. (Well, I did once. For NaNoWriMo years ago I forced myself to write and finish a fast first draft and the exercise murdered all interest I had in that book.)

Fast first drafts don’t fit my brain. It’s like trying to shove an American plug into a European outlet or something. Like: you can try to force it, but nothing good will come of it, and you might even hurt yourself. I need to love every chapter before I can move on. As soon as I sense that something’s gone wrong, I need to fix it. It can feel crazy slow, but the result for me is that my “first drafts” are much closer to a finished draft, and the revision process is the great, fun work of taking something you love and making it stronger, versus the hard, daunting work of turning a “putrid mess,” to use your words, into a book. 

I’m not saying that you should work the way I do. If you really loved writing your fast first draft, that may indeed be the right method for you, and your second drafts will be the place, maybe, where you’re 90/10 misery/joy. It just might be that way. As much as I would love it if writing were a generally fun and delightful pursuit, for me it mostly isn’t. I’m sorry to say it. The 10% is really, really great though, and the satisfaction of the finished book makes up for everything. So if any of your hopelessness is predicated on the idea that it’s supposed to be easier and more fun, dispel that. For some of us, it’s just not. But it’s still worth it. 

This still doesn’t tell you what to do. I can’t really tell you that. A fast first drafter might have tips for you on how to tackle those kinds of revisions. But it sounds to me like you could use a break from this manuscript. Put it away for a while. Write something else. If this sounds defeatist, it isn’t. I always advocate putting a first draft away if you can possibly can, to give yourself distance and be able to come back to it with a fresh perspective. 

Also, you know what happened when I put that NaNo draft in a drawer and wrote something else? Daughter of Smoke & Bone.

So yay! I mean, I had a good outcome because I ended up writing a book I was passionate about and that was successful, but the crucial thing is this: beginning something new revived my passion for writing. Morale was really low after that NaNo draft (my “ballerinas in space” book!). Writing felt like such a chore. I could no more have tried to revise that thing than…[insert terrible unpleasant labor here, something involving outhouses maybe]. So I set myself the challenge of writing something new and fun, to try to fall in love with writing again. On my blog at the time I called it the “new, weird thing.” It worked. That book brought me joy. It wasn’t 90/10, even. Maybe more like 50/50. I wish it was always like that!

—Put your draft away for a while. Maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months. 
—Write something for fun. A short story maybe. Or a new novel. What do you have to lose? 
—Go back and look at your draft later. Read it like somebody else wrote it. What’s working? What do you love? When writing a second draft from a messy first draft, you may end up picking out the good things and starting mostly from scratch, versus “revising” what you have. That sounds hard and horrible, but it’s also freeing. Revising is the opportunity to make something more awesome. Embrace it. 

You can do this. Just keep going. Figure out what works for you. If it feels like it’s harder than it should be, don’t despair. Adjust expectations and keep working. Consider finding a critique partner or group. Joining an organization like SCBWI can help you build a community (and if you possibly can, go to their conferences!)

Good luck!!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

STRANGE THE DREAMER - 1st trade review!!


Thank you, Booklist!!! 

(here's the text in case the image is hard to read)

By now, fans of Laini Taylor know what to expect: beautiful prose, strange and whimsical fantasy worlds, sympathetic monsters, and wrenching, star-crossed romance. Her latest, first in a two-book set, certainly delivers on that, and there’s something quietly magical at play here. Lazlo Strange, an orphaned infant who grew up to be a librarian, has had a quiet first two decades of life. But Lazlo, reader of fairy tales, longs to learn more about a distant, nearly mythical city, called Weep after its true name was stolen. When a group of warriors from that very place come seeking help, Lazlo, never before a man of action, may actually see his dream fulfilled. Weep, though, is a city still reeling from the aftermath of a brutal war, and hidden there is a girl named Sarai and her four companions, all of whom have singular talents and devastating secrets. What follows is the careful unfolding of a plot crafted with origamilike precision. This has distinct echoes of Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (2011), though ultimately it’s a cut above even that: characters are carefully, exquisitely crafted; the writing is achingly lovely; and the world is utterly real. While a cliff-hanger ending will certainly have readers itching for book two, make no mistake—this is a thing to be savored.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Venice! (from summer)

Hi there. *shy wave* It's been a ridiculously long time since I posted anything. I really fell into a writing pit and spent the better part of a year digging myself out of it. I want to write about writing Strange the Dreamer, but I feel like I have to work up to it. Not to mention that I never posted pics of our summer trip to Italy, so I'm going to do that first, while I gather my wits.

Starting with Venice, because: Venice.

We stayed in the Castello district, which I highly recommend. Venice is such a mob in the main tourist thoroughfares, but get just a little outside of it and that totally falls away, revealing a real city where people live and work. Above is our neighborhood, only a 5 minute walk to San Marco, but very few tourists to be seen--and in the afternoon when it got hot and we'd had enough trudging, we'd take the vaporetto a few stops and be on the beach island, Lido! Below is the apartment we rented on airbnb. It was the office of a pair of French boatbuilders at one time. 

From the outside: 

It's directly on the fondamente; below pic is just in front of the house. 
That spire above Clementine is St Mark's.

Here's the nighttime view:

Look at these colors. Doesn't it look like a postcard from the 70s or something?

Venice is...unreal. Even as you're seeing it, your brain is denying it, a little. Mine does, anyway. Cruising down the Grand Canal on a vaporetto, I look around and it's all SO RIDICULOUSLY MAGNIFICENT that my brain kind of slips into this weird mode like it's seeing something fake and refuses to be impressed. I have to keep going: no, it's real. Believe it. The only other place I've had that reaction is the Grand Canyon.

Jim and I got engaged in Venice seventeen years ago, on a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs. Here's a selfie Jim took of us *on* the Bridge of Sighs <3

And the Bridge of Sighs at night: 

Next time: Tuscany!

Monday, April 25, 2016


Hello hello! I'm thrilled to show you the covers for STRANGE THE DREAMER!!!! 

The above is the US cover; below is the UK cover. I adore them both, and love how they look great together too. I've been deeply deeply buried in the world of this book, and I really look forward to talking more about it and getting back to writing here about writing and life once I've unburied myself a little bit. I miss it here! I'll be back soon!! 

Would you like to read the prologue? You can find it HERE at Entertainment Weekly. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


I'm thrilled to announce the new title for the novel I've been working on all year! You may recall, when it was initially announced, that the title was given as "The Muse of Nightmares." Well, I still love that title too, and am happy to say that it will serve as the sequel to this book, which has morphed, in the writing, into a duology. A duet. A pair. A one-two punch. 

I should have known from the outset. Any story I come up with has a way of stretching its borders in every way possible. Prompts grow into novels. Novels spill over from one book to another to another. But after finishing the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, a standalone sounded really appealing! 

So much for that. This is a story that's been growing quietly in my mind for years, and it was never going to fit itself meekly into one book. So here we are!

I think that all I said in my initial announcement was this:

There was a war between gods and men, and men won. The few surviving children of the gods have grown up in hiding, dreading the day they know must come: when humans find them, and end them. 
That day is at hand.
Wheeeeee! You'll find an expanded description, plus an explanation for this new title over at NOVL, the awesome sight for book lovers produced by my publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers. 

I'm super excited, guys. I really love this title, these characters, this world, and I sincerely hope that you do too!


Monday, November 16, 2015


I'm going on retreat tomorrow! Not to the above island, which is waaay too distraction-filled. It'll just be me in a hotel room with nothing to do but write write write. (Well, I might possibly wander into the Plot Labyrinth, but not if I can help it!) Always such excitement and trepidation pre-retreat: big hopes of big productivity, and big fears of face-planting. 

Stupid fear. 

But excitement too! I'll be back soon!

(more of my thoughts on writing retreats here.)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"Paris is always a good idea." - Audrey Hepburn

(weird cool mirror sculpture in above photo, if you're wondering!)

A little slice of Montmartre:

Some random Paris:

(At Parc de la Villette, hard to tell the scale, but that mirror ball has an IMAX theater inside, so: it's big!)

We reallllly loved Les Invalides/Napoleon's Tomb/the war museums. 

The Palais Garnier (Opera House); one of our favorite places:

(Jim in a crown of light :-)

Heh heh, I bought a coupla these sweaters...

Another favorite place in Paris that we never miss: Passage Jouffroy!

One of the fabulous Belle Epoque covered shopping passages (the best one in my opinion). In addition to the wax museum (Musee Grevin) it has this amazing toy store, Pain d'Epice, where I could spend hours, and as luck would have it, a graphic novel bookstore right next door where Jim could spend hours. How convenient!

And across the passage, the perfect spot for tea & cakes...
Le Valentin, chocolaterie/salon de the.

We tried out a handful of smaller museums for the first time on this trip, notably: 
Musee Gustave Moreau, where here you see Clementine's halberd in the umbrella stand...

Isn't this the best staircase in the world???
This museum is in the lifelong home of the Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau, and has a huge collection of his paintings. Do you think anyone would mind if we moved in?

More later!

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