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Pep Talk from Robert Lipsyte

Listen up, Word Warriors.

You have to stop thinking of yourselves as sensitive scribblers waiting for inspiration. It's perspiration you need. Forget about muses; think coaches. Grab a couple of metaphors off the weight rack and follow me.

We are members of a varsity team that kicks sentences, dunks paragraphs, passes pages, slugs out stories. We need to train just the way physical athletes do—hard, consistently, with discipline and goals—because that's the best way to improve.

For warm-ups, read. And read like a writer, not like a reader. Look for what you can use in your own work.

Just the way school ballers study college and pro athletes, young writers have to learn the moves of their favorite authors. Examine their techniques, how they handle dialogue, description, plot, sentence structure, simile. See what they do that you like. See where they swing and connect—or swing and miss. Be sure to read not-so-good writers, too, and try to figure out what you would have done to make the story better.

Now you're ready for your own workout.

Before NaNoWriMo, try to write every day—the same way you would work out physically, but instead of running, lifting, and stretching, you'll be listing ideas, writing notes, character sketches, and outlines. Always carry a notebook. You don't want to miss a good thought—but more importantly, you need to get into the habit of thinking of yourself as a varsity writer in training.

Writing is usually something you do alone. But as with most athletes, it's always better to have a coach and a team for support. By coach, think of a teacher, friend, or family member who can keep you motivated. By team, think of all the other young novelists, online or in your class, with whom you can share problem-solving and ideas.

Okay, let's get out there.




– Robert Lipsyte

Robert Lipsyte is the author of Center Field, One Fat Summer, and The Contender, among others. A lifelong sports journalist, his work has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, New York Post, and USA Today. An Accidental Sportwriter: A Memoir is his latest book.

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