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Pep Talk from Sharon G. Flake

Dear Novelists,

Okay, so I will admit it. During my 20s, when I was writing off and on, I could not abide reading some of the most gifted authors on the planet. Toni Morrison, for one. I had read several of her novels in the past. How brilliant and rare a talent she is; each line makes you stop and marvel.Yet, in my mind, she was eons from where I ever thought I could be. So I set her work aside and did not pick it up for years.

You see, reading her work did not so much inspire as intimidate me. I found myself shrinking, not growing, in the light of her gifts, metaphors, characters and creations. Later I discovered we writers often shrink in our own light as well. We over-analyze, critique and judge our work. This is especially easy to do when working on our first drafts. Jiminy—you'd think we were about to hand the blasted things over to Hemingway or Maya Angelou to read.

So here’s a bit of advice:

Relax. No, celebrate. You were meant to be on this road you’re walking. And because others have walked it before, you can do so as well—if you do not give up.

By now, you may be nearing completion of your first draft. Think about it: on November 1, you were staring at a blank page, scratching your head. Today, you have pages filled with words. A world has emerged from inside of you, and found its way onto the page. Not in spite of you, but because of you. So bravo! Hang in there. Persevere.

I’m no genius. Most likely you are not either. And I’m just betting Toni Morrison, with all of her greatness, would say the same about herself, too. Yet what we all have in common, I believe, is our desire to tell a well-crafted story. To create characters and worlds that stand the test of time—be it one month, five years, or a hundred. So do you. Tell your story. Marvel in the completion of your first draft.

But remember, the evidence, the real proof of your commitment is not in the longing and wishing—but in the doing. It's the thing that will set you apart from all the others who simply wish, and hope, and dream of writing but, for whatever reason, do not actually do the difficult work of completing the task.

It is so in you to complete this journey. To soar. Just pull out your pencil. Or power up your computer. And fly.


Sharon G. Flake writes for children and young adults, and is the author of nine novels. She has been the recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award and the YWCA's Racial Justice Award.

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