2017 has just begun, which means it’s time to make (and stick to) your resolutions.
If one of your resolutions is to write more, maybe finish that novel you’ve always meant to write, you’re not alone. And Mashreads has your back. We went to not one, but two of YA’s best authors: David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. Not only are they award-winning and bestselling authors in their own rights, but together they’ve collaborated on such amazing books as Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, and its 2016 sequelThe Twelve Days of Dash & Lily.
Keep reading for Levithan and Cohn’s advice on writing, reading, and collaborating to get you started on all those writing resolutions.
How long have you been writing?
DL: I always date my writing career to a story I wrote in third grade, which is the first time I remember being proud of a word Id chosen. (It was in the middle of a chase scene all of my stories were chase scenes then but while the chase genre did not survive into my YA career, the wonder at finding the right way to say something endures.)
RC: Im going to be honest and admit that my writing ambitions took root when I was a teenager and completely in love with ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings. (I loved his Canadian accent and the particular flourish he gave to the word Nicaragua.) So, like many writers, I started out writing fan fiction: romances involving me and Peter Jennings, which I passed around to my friends. They kept asking for more, I liked the attention and eventually moved on to other kinds of story writing. (Never did have that mad affair with Peter Jennings IRL, though. Sadness.)
What’s the biggest obstacle you had to overcome early in your career?
DL: My horrible singing voice. Oh, you mean WRITING career.The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was IT IS NOT EASY TO WRITE A NOVEL. But I tricked myself into thinking I was writing a short story that got longer and longer … and thats how I finished Boy Meets Boy, my first novel.
RC: My biggest obstacle may have been all the people insisting of course I could write, but getting published was probably an unrealizable dream. To which I responded by placing my hands over my ears and proclaiming BLAH BLAH BLAH until they stopped talking.Very mature, I know. But tuning out all the noise saying how hard it was proved my most effective tool for just getting that first novel finished.
What is your process when you start a new project?
DL: Goat sacrifice. Only, Im a vegetarian, so the goat is made of tofu.Then I just sit down and write.I am not an outliner by any stretch.
RC: I hate that he can just sit down and write. My process involves 90 percent procrastination (cleaning, eating, shopping, staring off into space) and 10 percent just finally sitting down and writing. Sometimes I outline before and sometimes I dont; every book is different. For me, character comes first, and I try to tap into that characters voice by just writing random scenes, and seeing if it clicks, and if I feel like theres more story to tell. Then theres more procrastination and then I finally write. In the time it took me to do this process, David has written and edited five new books.
What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever been given?
DL: A high school English teacher told me to forget about fiction and focus on writing essays, presumably for the rest of my writing life. But even from this bad advice came a good lesson: Sometimes proving someone wrong can be an excellent motivating force.
RC: Write what you know. Sure, try that. But dont limit yourself to that edict. Its OK to totally make stuff up that has nothing to do with anything you know.Spoiler alert: Its also kind of fun.
What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
DL: Dont be afraid to fail, because nobodys going to see a thing you write unless you decide to share it with them.
RC: A book signed to me by Ellen Gilchrist: Keep writing remember its just typing, and love.”
What’s the best utility tip for writers (apps to use, products, practical process tips)?
DL: I use this revolutionary program called Microsoft Word. Its SO MUCH EASIER THAN A TYPEWRITER!
RC: A typewriters not bad, either. Wait, you meant more recent technology?I use the Notes app on my iPhone to remember random ideas and pieces of story or dialogue for books Im working on.
What’s the best advice for collaborating with another writer?
DL:Go along for the ride. Dont try to control the story, but follow it where it goes. Try to make your co-author laugh as much as possible. Use collaboration as an excuse to try different things.And, most of all, have fun.
RC: Trust is key. Understand that you both have a shared interest in and love for your characters, and you need to trust that what the other person does with those characters is the right thing, even when its not the choice you would have made. Or ply your collaborator with enough sugar and flattery to make them believe that any changes you suggest are actually their idea.
Besides reading, what are good hobbies for a writer?
DL:I dont know if editing counts as a hobby … but putting your own words down for a while and focusing on someone elses can be helpful.
RC: Any kind of theater or live storytelling. Listening to audio books.Exercise even if its just walking around the block to combat too much time sitting hunkered down at a computer and also give your brain a rest.(And often the time away from the computer will allow your brain to answer the writing questions that might have been slowing you down anyway.)