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Pep Talk from Kwame Mbalia

photo of Kwame Mbalia

First, a mantra. A reading from the gospel of writers, if you will:

You’re going to write.

And if I say you’re going to write then you have to say you’re going to write.

And if you’re saying you’re going to write then we’re saying you’re going to write.

And if we’re saying it, no one is left to stop you and the only thing left for you to do…is write.


Now then…what’s your story?

Just for a moment, forget the pens and the pencils, the fancy journals and the writing devices, the word counts and the plot structure. Ignore the Twitter threads and Booktok and the workshops meeting at your local coffee shop.

Tell me about the first time you thought of your story.

The moment when you saw the neighbor’s collie alert to a squirrel and you pictured a girl and her dog trekking across a wasteland to get back to her little sister. That time in the carpool lane when you thought you heard your dead father warning you about the accident happening in the next five minutes. When you were putting on your shoes after soccer practice and accidentally overheard your best friends talking about you.

Tell me about that moment when inspiration struck, when synapses fired and your nostrils flared and your pupils dilated and your heart skipped a beat and your breath quickened all because you thought of a story.

Tell me about that. Focus on that.

Peel back all the wrappings and trappings that surround the act of writing. Chapter breaks and scene breaks and dialogue tags and point of view and tone and voice and upmarket and breakout and commercial and trends and and and and

Dice through the unnecessary. Trim away the fluff. Find the core, the kernel, the spark before the flame, that single instant of raw imagination, the chaos before the Big Bang, the heart just before it pumps. There is, for everyone, a singular moment in time when you recognized a concept within the millions of stimuli processed in your brain, and something formed. A character. An idea.

A story.

Tell me about it.

(Loved Kwame’s pep talk? Let him know! Need another boost? View our entire pep talk archive.)

Kwame is a husband, father, writer, a New York Times bestselling author, and a former pharmaceutical metrologist in that order. His debut middle-grade novel, TRISTAN STRONG PUNCHES A HOLE IN THE SKY was awarded a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and it—along with the sequels TRISTAN STRONG DESTROYS THE WORLD and TRISTAN STRONG KEEPS PUNCHING, out October 5th—is published by Rick Riordan Presents/Disney-Hyperion. He is the co-author of LAST GATE OF THE EMPEROR with Prince Joel Makonnen, from Scholastic Books, and the editor of the #1 New York Times bestselling anthology BLACK BOY JOY, published by Delacourte Press. A Howard University graduate and a Midwesterner now in North Carolina, he survives on Dad jokes and Cheezits.

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