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Pep Talk from Kevin Kwan

photo of Kevin Kwan

Dear Writer,

By now you’ve probably read a few of the witty, brilliant pep talks written by some of my esteemed colleagues. So I’m going to spare you another one and I’m just going to tell you what happened to me. For two years, I had worked sporadically on my first novel, cobbling it together in fits and starts. It was a folly, a distraction, something I fiddled around with at the desk in the corner of my living room, or while I was commuting for work between New York and Chicago one winter—writing in airport lounges while waiting out yet another interminable weather delay at La Guardia or O’Hare. (Avoid both airports in winter. Actually, just avoid them period.)

Then something happened. My messy manuscript somehow, through a chain of extremely fortuitous events, got put into the hands of an agent. Not just any agent—the agent of my dreams! It was such a long shot that I didn’t even expect to get a rejection email.

But then one day she called, much to my disbelief. We arranged to meet up for lunch, where she told me she was interested in my manuscript, but there was one problem… she was confused by the ending.

“The ending?” I asked. “But that’s not the ending. I’m not even halfway through my story.”

She looked me straight in the eye. “How long will it take you to finish it? Can you be done in a month?”

“Suu-uure,” I found myself saying, not quite believing my own words.

So there I was, in a situation not dissimilar to the one you find yourself in. I had thirty days to write 50,000 words. This was my chance of a lifetime—the gauntlet was thrown, and now I had to prove myself worthy of her deadline. I was so unbelievably freaked out, I didn’t know what to do. Was I insane? How in the world was I going to do this? On top of work? On top of having to shower and shave and pick up prescriptions in that long line at CVS and wait for the F train and do everything else that it takes to just survive in this godforsaken city?

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This is what I did. I went home and turned on my email auto-responder. The next morning, I got up at 7:00am, made a cup of tea, and sat down at my computer. I did not turn on my phone or load my emails. I told myself I would check my messages and emails only after 4:00pm, and even then I would only respond to emergencies. And then I wrote. Or on some bad days, I at least tried to. I wrote and wrote from morning to late at night and paced around my apartment and screamed and cried and laughed and kept on doing it for thirty days straight. I didn’t shave for a month, I did not bathe sometimes for three days in a row, I did not see any of my friends, and I ordered way too much bad Chinese takeout. But at the end of those thirty days I had somehow, miraculously, finished my novel. And I had written far more than I had even intended to—my final draft came in at a little over 140,000 words, and yes, my agent kept her word, found an amazing publisher, and a year later Crazy Rich Asians was published.

I guess I’m just trying to say that I know you can do this. I have been there myself, and I can tell you firsthand that it is absolutely possible to write a novel in a month. If there’s anything I’ve learnt from my own experiences over the past few years since that novel was published, it’s that we are all capable of infinitely more than we think. So much else is possible beyond what we can imagine. So I want to wish you the best of luck, and godspeed. And find a good Chinese takeout place that doesn’t use MSG.



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