Pizza, Patience, and Writing Tips By Natalie Blank
During my early twenties, I was childless, husbandless, and dogless. In other words, I had no human/creature to take care of, and therefore, I could write a full-length novel in a month. I would lounge across my bed with a Domino's pizza (because carbs were kinder to me then) and type for hours without distraction. Sometimes I would whip out 10,000 words in one night, feel super accomplished, and do the same the following night with leftover pizza. After a month, or sometimes sooner, I'd have my 1st draft. I'd run a spell check, read through it once, then send it to my mom. She would read it within a week and love it, of course. I'd do a few more edits and then start preparing my query letter to find my dream agent.
Little did I know, as I devoured another pizza, I was setting myself up for failure.
My carb-loaded, extemporaneous way of writing led to nearly a dozen (yes, a dozen) shelved stories and books. Countless rejections and no agent. I eventually self-published, which was a huge accomplishment all on its own, but I didn't receive widespread sales nor land an agent during the process. To deal with my disappointment and growing waistline, I became a CrossFit addict. Instead of writing late at night, I went to bed early so I'd be refreshed and ready to crush my 5 am workouts.
At 29, life changed completely. I had a baby, married, and adopted a zealous cocker spaniel. CrossFit faded out of my life due to injuries, and I longed to write again. I wanted to fulfill my childhood dreams, land an agent, and be traditionally published, but how could I without my daily 3+ hour, non-interrupted, late-night writing binges? And without pizza!?
Something had to change. And it started with my attitude. Did I expect this to be easy? Was it just finding the time to write or how I write?
I had to be flexible about my schedule (many new moms learn this the hard way), but more importantly, I had to change my expectations. In doing so, I wrote higher-quality work that garnished the attention of agents and, eventually, publishers. If I only had thirty minutes to work, I made sure those thirty minutes were well-spent. I edited as I wrote. I researched. And by research, I didn't just Google symptoms for such-and-such or watch a Ted Talk on YouTube. I talked to people in person or through email if that was their preferred way, about the information I needed to bring my stories to life. If it took me a year to write the first draft, so be it. If it took weeks to hear back from beta readers (other than my mom), I'd wait for their feedback before moving forward. I had to be patient.
I had to be honest with myself.
Reflecting on my own life and using what I could from past experiences, I brought honesty and rawness to my characters. This was the hardest thing to do because it made me relive some darker moments in my life. I had to be ok with my mistakes, my most embarrassing moments, and the countless times I got my heart broken. I also had to ask myself, why am I writing? What message do I want to send to readers? Answering these questions helped me to find an audience for my writing. Instead of writing for the whole world, I wrote for myself and the people I believed would benefit most from my stories (and thus would buy them).
I continue to work on the how and why to this day. Life is ever-changing, so my why might change as I get older and experience new things. The how might also vary depending on the type of book I'm trying to create. My current WIP is loosely based on my husband's life, and I've been working for over a year to polish and give life to the first-person male POV. I'm not rushing to send this book to a beta reader or my agent until I know it's ready to be read. I don't aim for perfection (you'll never be able to catch every comma error), but I aim for my best.
My advice to writers, young and old, is to work on the how and why. Google is great for initial research but try something more tangible to get the feel of your setting. Speak to people like your characters or who are experts on your subject. And if you have a scene that involves doctors or police, talk to someone in that field - you'll be surprised how many details you'll skip over if you don't. And if you can’t answer the why, consider scrapping or re-examining the story before moving forward. Sometimes you have to break up with your book if the relationship isn’t working out. I have a few shelved books that will always hold a special place in my heart, but I don’t plan to give them a second chance anytime soon.
Don't beat yourself up if you don't have instant success. Don't feel bad if you miss a writing day because your kid is sick or your dog decides to eat through another trash can. And if you want that medium 2-topping pizza from Dominos, allow yourself to have it (in moderation!) and don't feel guilty about it. Writing is hard work, but it shouldn't be a miserable experience. Give yourself the happy ending you deserve. Give yourself the chance to be the best writer you can be. But give yourself the time to do it!
Natalie Blank graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, with a BFA in Acting and a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies in Dance and Culture. She writes primarily YA contemporary, focusing on mental health and family relationships. She resides in Maryland with her husband, two children, and zealous cocker spaniel.
She is the author of THE TANGIBLES (2022)