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Pep Talk from Tracy Deonn

photo of Tracy Deonn by Kathleen Hampton

Hello fellow writers,

Writing a novel is, for me at least, part alchemy, part organization, and part emotional rollercoaster. Does that last bit sound familiar? It’s the way that one day your writing fills you with an incredible, irreplicable sense of achievement and wonder—and the next day it makes you question what you’re doing and if your book will even make sense to anyone else.

If this rollercoaster is one you’ve ridden, then be heartened! There are tools that can help you manage the emotional ups and downs of working on a creative project the size of a novel. I may not know all of the ones that will work for you, but I am happy to share some of mine:

  1. Lists: Yes, I am sharing the value of lists within a list. Think of the novel writing process as one big task built by many, many branching subtasks. There’s character, plot, and setting at the top level, then there’s individual character arcs, subplots, and scene-level settings, and on and on. When feeling daunted by the work, I break each layer of my book down. I make a list with bullets, sub-bullets, sub-sub-bullets, etc. As many as I need to get the “to do’s” of the book out of my head where they have the space to grow wild and create anxiety, and onto a piece of paper where they can’t do quite as much damage. Externalizing the work can make you feel much more in control, and this is where pretty colored pens and sticky notes come in handy as well!

  2. Mind breaks: These are activities where I am away from the screen and doing something physically repetitive or automatic to rest my story brain—the active, analytical, problem-solving part of my mind that I use when I write. This type of mental rest is really important to prevent burnout, but it can also help move your story along faster and more gently than just sitting at your desk. First, showers! I cannot tell you how many times I have used a hot shower to “reset” my brain and manage my emotional state during a heavy deadline. Every single time I take one I a) have at least one revelation about a plot problem and b) return to work feeling more clear-headed and capable. Baths can provide this same experience, as can walks or bike rides. Even food prep for dinner can be a good break because I’m focused on chopping vegetables instead of staring at a screen. In any case, stepping away from your computer and, if it’s comfortable to you, being in your body for a short break can be a very powerful tool for both your mental health and your writing arsenal.

  3. Write 250 words of “just for you” fanfic: To preface, you don’t have to be a fanfic reader or writer to try this out! Some days you might sit down to write and be so overwhelmed by your own project that you stall out at the keyboard. Then, it’s a choice between staring at the screen to try and brute force the work (not always a good idea, mostly bad, in fact) and walking or clicking away…only to feel guilty for not working. I have found that a quick burst of fanfic that no one will ever see is a fun middle ground option. This trick eases me into writing for the day, keeps my writing muscles warm, and feels playful without the pressure of my novel project looming overhead. For this tip, the “just for you” part is absolutely critical. Pick a book or a movie or a TV show you like, and just start writing in that world. Make something up for your favorite character to do. Rewrite a scene from memory. Describe how someone’s magic feels. What you write doesn’t matter, it’s more important that you are writing with the safeties on in a document no one will ever see. Once I get these 250 words out, it’s so much easier to slide back into my own world.

As you write this November, always remember that writing is not just “mental work,” but emotional and physical work as well. Novels are massive undertakings. Getting to the finish line on this novel will feel great, for sure, but I want you to have moments of feeling great along the way, too! After all, developing and employing supportive writing practices are how the next book will get written, and the one after that, and the one after that…

Happy writing, friends!


Loved Tracy’s pep talk? Let her know!

Tracy Deonn is the New York Times bestselling and Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe Award winning author of Legendborn, and a second-generation fangirl. She grew up in central North Carolina, where she devoured fantasy books and Southern food in equal measure. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication and performance studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tracy worked in live theater, video game production, and K–12 education. When she’s not writing, Tracy speaks on panels at science fiction and fantasy conventions, reads fanfic, arranges puppy playdates, and keeps an eye out for ginger-flavored everything.

Tracy is a champion for diversity and representation in science-fiction and fantasy literature and media. And when Tracy’s mother told her that the women in their family were Black Bene Gesserits, she believed her.

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