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Pep Talk from Walter Dean Myers

Dear Novelists,

I am often asked, "What advice would you give to a young writer?" People want to know how to get that first book published, or at least finished. Since I've published over a hundred books and am still working at this lovely craft of writing, they think that I might have something useful to say. The question prompts me to wonder what I wish I had known as a beginning writer. I've got a few things to tell you.

1. Planning a book does not limit your creativity. When I take the time to plan a book, I'm exploring whether or not I really have a book idea in the first place. Is there only enough material for a short story? Is my idea clear enough to work toward a logical conclusion? I plan books scene by scene, and give myself permission to change anything if I come up with a better idea.

2. Start young! Ross Workman is a bright young man I met through an email correspondence when he was 13. He wanted to write and was pleased when I suggested that we write a book together, doing alternating chapters. It took us a couple of years to get through the drafts, but Kick was finally published in 2011. I started a book when I was 13 but an older "friend" suggested I was too young to write an entire novel at that age. What a mistake! Grab some paper and get to work! Just don't tell your computer (or notebook) how old you really are.

3. There are only two important elements to a great novel. The first is an interesting character. A character that you thoroughly know and feel will go a long way toward attracting a readership. The second element is an interesting problem. An editor will be attracted by the combination of character and problem, and is more likely to want to work with you on the book to see how you solve the difficulties you've created.

4. The best writers enjoy the heck out of what they do. If you like sitting down and creating characters, and exploring storylines, you'll probably succeed. I enjoyed writing in high school and didn't understand that enjoying the process was an asset.

5. Spend a lot of time writing, and not so much on listening to advice.

I wish you the best of luck on your writing journeys this November!

Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myers is the author of Monster (Printz Award and National Book Award finalist), Fallen Angels, and Slam, among 80 other books for children and young adults. In 2012, he was named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

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