Thursday, September 16, 2010

Writers Need Cheerleaders

Writers need different things from different people. They need feedback, help, snack-making, coffee-pouring, advice, editing, encouragement, encouragement, encouragement, enthusiasm, encouragement, and encouragement.

Writers need cheerleaders. Before feedback. Before editing. Before almost anything else but snack-making, we need to be convinced and reminded that we are GOOD. Feedback of the critical sort, however constructive and wise, can be deadly if it comes too soon. Possibly the most important person in our community, is our cheerleader. Do you have one? Several? Have at least one.

And no. You can not be your own cheerleader. At least, not your only one.

Here is how it goes:

In the beginning of working on a novel, everything shimmers with your genius. The newness, the never-beforeness, the unmitigated awesome, it cannot be repressed. You do not need a cheerleader yet. Just work. Enjoy this time, because it will not last.

It gets harder. You keep working. It is not as delightful to draw up your chair each day and get started. You think wistfully of the wonderful, uncomplicated dishes that need to be washed. And did you once think that character was so unique? Whatever made you think that? Delusional.

Wow. This theme is so tired. Will anyone care? I barely care anymore. And this scene seemed so cool the first twelve times I rewrote it. Have I killed it? Or is it just in a coma? Or am I in a coma? Huh. What is a coma? I think I'll google it and learn all about comas today . . .

--Paging cheerleader.--

There comes a time when you cannot summon even the phantom of the enthusiasm you once had for your great idea. You have to trust that you had it, and that is was genuine and deserved. I actually recommend making a list, while you are still in the throes of passionate love with your incipient book, of all the things you love about your idea. Be detailed. Later you can look at it and trust that you knew what you were talking about. This helps a little, but there is nothing that I have discovered that can rejuvenate your enthusiasm like wild and heartfelt PRAISE.

I think every writer I know has this wish at some point: that they could temporarily wipe their brain clean of their book and read it fresh, like a reader. We can't, of course, be we can experience that vicariously through our first readers, or as I have heard them called lately, "beta readers." It might work for you to wait until you have a finished draft. I usually need propping up well before then, and will give over chunks of partial book. I am blessed with a few wonderfully gifted praise-givers, without whom I am certain I would never finish anything. My wonderful husband Jim gives great praise, as does my best friend Alexandra, who gives only praise, and no criticism -- and she is not withholding anything, she is just an enthusiastic reader with a very generous heart and open mind, and she has revived my flagging spirits and brain so many times, like injections of writing adrenalin right to my heart, Pulp Fiction style. Stephanie Perkins is also an amazing reader, both for praise-giving and, later, for feedback. Thanks, guys!

If you don't have a cheerleader, get one. You cannot trust yourself to see your book clearly when you have been deep inside it for a long time. You are not to be trusted.

Do you have a cheerleader? And how about this: are YOU somebody's cheerleader? When a friend gives you something to read, consider carefully what they need at that moment. It might be that they need critical feedback, but maybe they aren't ready for it yet. They might know themselves well enough to tell you exactly what they need, and they might not. Do not ever be the one to kill someone's book by giving them critical feedback too soon. Bite your tongue. Nurture. Cheer. Drop off snacks. Rave. And be specific. Writers love to know which parts you liked, what made you laugh or cry or shout, "No!" in nail-biting dread, what parts were really smart or compelling or original. Just the good stuff, mind.

Rah rah!

Oh, and, awesome: Lips Touch made Booklist's Top 10 Romance Fiction for Youth 2010 list! *thrill thrill thrill* !!!!! Here is the fabulous list, with a bunch of mouth-watering books on it.


Myrna Foster said...


And the part about the coma is so true, even during revisions.

Alexandra Saperstein said...

Awww thank you for those kind and true compliments. I'll add that I'm also uncommonly exceptional and delightful because you obviously forgot to mention that. And it is very crazily easy to lavish praise on your writing because it' is just so mindbendingly original and just plain fantastic. Every time I think you can't write anything better than your last thing, you surprise me and do yet again!! Even with your portal cafe mysteriously gone, you will not be stopped.

Jaleh D said...

I've got a few of those cheerleaders. Emily White over at Stepping Into Fantasy is one of my best ones. I met her on the WD forums, and we've gotten together in person a couple times. I show my rough material (and all my frettings about it) and she tells me what is good and to keep going. And if I take too long before sending her some more, she pesters me to tell her what happens next, pushing me to get beyond my reluctance. She hasn't needed me for cheerleading as much, but I love her work. (Great blog, too.)

Anonymous said...

Is that the same Alexandra Saperstein who looks so dainty but yet bench presses 250 every morning while eating pumpkin pie on her lap over at the Hollywood LA Fitness? Shes the envy of every athlete in the gym.

Debbie Barr said...

Congrats! Right now my husband is the biggest cheerleader I have. Even though he's only read a chapter or two of my current work in progress, it's enough to remind me that it's good.

Plus, he reminds me every day that writing is what makes me happy and that the only way I'll get anywhere is if I sit down and write.

He's wonderful.

Gretchen Griffith said...

I am in a wonderful critique group and our first priority is cheering each along the rocky paths. I couldn't do this without my cheerleaders.

Alysa Stewart said...

Okay Laini, this is totally off topic, but every time I hear the song Hummingbird by The Weepies, I think of how you'd enjoy the imagery. I hope you'll find a way to give the song a listen. Let me know what you think. :D

tone almhjell said...

Cheerleaders (cheerreaders?)are the best! I have my Pan and my sister for those first timid drafts. Then, a little later in the process, there's my brother and two of my old role playing friends. Then, as they've given me their input and I've carefully ignored most of it, there's my old English tutor from the University. And then... you and Jim! Yay!

Lisa Schroeder said...

I read this yesterday and didn't even comment and say Congratulations on making that list!! When I read it, I didn't know if Lisa knew she was on it, but you let her know, of course! :) So exciting for both of you!!!

storyqueen said...

You are so right. Every writer needs cheerleaders.

I find that when I get to the part of my story and haven't shared even a bit of it yet, I start getting nervous....what if the whole thing sucks?


Congrats on the list! It was definitely one of my favorite books of the past year.


ann foxlee said...

cheerleaders, yes! We needs the cheerleaders!
I used to feel bad about it, like I must be some kind of narcissistic monster to need so much praise, but then I realized I only need a cheerleader to help me through certain parts-- I crave a critical eye just as much at other times. So... I must not be a monster, just a normal writer after all :-)

And hey, if it accomplishes the task at hand, then it's worth it!

PS, hope a nice new coffee shop opens up for you soon!!

Megan said...

I always love it when I find exactly what I need, exactly when I need it. Virtual cookies for your awesome timing!

This is all sooooooo true, and now I want to google comas, too... I've just begun plotting my second story, to be put into full swing this November, and while I loved the first idea I'm already doubting its goodness (for lack of a better word). Normally that would make me worry about if the story's premise is any good right off the bat, but my worries are because this is a new genre for me and I'm worried I can't pull it off.

I'm going to go make that suggested list right now! Thanks. :D And congratulations on the top 10!

Kjersten said...

This is such sage advice, Laini. I take it to heart. Thank you!

persnickety_jen said...

Once again Laini, you prove to be prophetic - I was just talking about this the other day with a friend. She's doing a page 1 rewrite of her first novel, and understandably, it's hard for her to delve into it with any enthusiasm because she knows how much work it needs. But I totally agree - hooray for the cheerleaders out there who help get from Point A to Point B!

Amber said...

I so loved LOVED Lips Touch, so YAY for that!!

Everything Alexandra said is true. You are amazing. Period. AND she is so beautiful when she eats while working out.


Andrea Eames said...

* Waves pom-poms *

(Is one a pom?)

Amber Lough said...

I should have read this post last week!

Kim Aippersbach said...

Everytime I come to your blog I get a message that I needed to hear. Thank you. And next time you need cheering up you can go to my blog (which you inspired me to start, by the way) and read the post about you being my new favourite author!

Stephanie Perkins said...

Wait wait wait wait WAIT. How did I miss this post???

My cheerleaders are MY FAVORITE PEOPLE ON THE ENTIRE PLANET. So, obviously, *YOU* are one of my favorite people on the entire planet. :)

Such a wonderful post.

Your Cheerleader


Taking online courses while writing your book can garner heaps of cheerleaders. The people in your class applaud you - and you them. Keeps one wanting to come back for more each week - if only to relish the sound of several hands clapping. If you don't already use a site for workshops and courses, try Competent teachers. Excellent writing students. Reasonable prices. I have been writing best selling books for 30 years. In my online courses, I learn something new every day.

JE said...

What a wonderful blog post! So true! Thanks to Dave Malone for helping me find it via twitter!!


Mae said...

I'm lucky enough to have a bunch of cheerleaders.

And, let me cheerlead a bit for you-
Blackbringer is my favorite book EVER, I L-O-V-E you advice for writer's, and I am DREAMING of Silksinger! Magpie Windwitch set me obsessing over the name Magpie!
(Which then set me on the road to the name Kestrel, which is know featuring in a whole SERIES!) You RULE!

Imani Wisdom said...

Great advice...Thanks for posting this blog. It's true. A writer needs at least one cheerleader. I'm blessed to have a five good ones.