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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Best Writing Advice Ever!: Lani Diane Rich Guest Post

         We're at the halfway point of National Novel Writing Month.  And while some of you are pecking away at your keyboards with aplomb cranking out your latest masterpiece, others may have thrown their hands up in frustration on the verge of ditching the whole process and walking away without winning.  To the latter I say don't give up yet--there is still hope.

          In this post I offer a big dose of inspiration to encourage NaNoers everywhere and any other would be book author that your work is not in vain.  You can do it.  Others have, so why not you?

          The evidence I offer you comes in the persona of one Lani Diane Rich, bestselling author of nine novels, three of those having been the fruit of her labors during NaNoWriMo.   Lani holds the distinction of being the first unpublished author to have a Nano novel become published.  Her romantic comedy novel Time Off for Good Behavior written as her 2003 NaNo entry landed her an agent and a two book contract with Warner Books.   Not too shoddy of an effort I'd say.

        In her guest spot in this edition of Tossing It Out Lani offers some advice that might help you proceed in your writing with a bit less trepidation.

 Sunflower Seeds

        There's a scene in a fifth season episode of The X-Files called "Bad Blood." It's about Mulder and Scully tracking down a vampire, and my all-time favorite X-Files for many reasons, but there's one thing that I've taken from this particular story that has helped me through the years while writing Nano.

        Sunflower seeds.

        During one scene, Mulder gets drugged by the vampire, who can't physically overpower people, so he drugs them and drinks their blood while they're out cold. As Mulder is fighting the effects of the drug, he uses his knowledge of vampires—that they're horribly OCD and can't leave a mess behind—to distract the vampire and buy time. So he throws a package of sunflower seeds, spreading them all over the floor, and the vampire stops hissing, gives Mulder an annoyed look with his green glowy eyes, and says, "Aw. What'd you do that for?"

        And then, the vampire proceeds to pick up the seeds. It's this delay that saves Mulder's life, giving Scully enough time to crash through the door and chase the vampire off.

        What does this have to do with Nano? Everything. See, you've got an internal editor inside you who nitpicks at everything. Adverb! Lazy writing! Bad dialogue! Every thirty seconds, she's bugging you about one thing or another, and making it impossible for you to connect with your story, because you have to stop and make everything perfect first. In so doing, she drains you of your energy, focus, and enthusiasm. And for what? Nothing. She wants perfection from you, right out of the gate, and the problem with that is, there's no way to make it perfect. You must draft a load of crap, and then go back and fix it. As Nora Roberts has famously stated, you can fix crap, but a blank page is never anything other than a blank page.

       So, how do you get your internal editor to shut up? You inundate her with crap. She says, "Oooh! Weak sentence structure!" and you keep going while she stares at it, dumbfounded. Sunflower seed. Then, you use an adverb in dialogue attribution, and she gasps in horror... and you leave it behind as you race forward. Sunflower seed. Eventually, she's buried under a pile of sunflower seeds, silent, and you are writing, you are drafting, you are creating.

      You win.

      And yes, sure, some of it will be bad, and some of it you will have to go back and fix or delete entirely later, but the most amazing thing is that some of it—hell, in my experience, most of it—will be good. Really good. Great stuff you never would have written if you hadn't buried that internal editor under a pile of sunflower seeds.

      So that's my advice to you: Write crap. Write it abundantly and with glee in your heart. Then go back and fix it later. And tell that internal editor she has the damn month off.

      Until you get to revision. :)

Lani Diane Rich is a NYT and USA Today bestselling author of nine novels. She teaches writing classes at, and hosts the free daily writing podcast, StoryWonk Daily, with her husband, Alastair Stephens. She is currently writing magical romantic comedy for St. Martin's Press as Lucy March, and her first title, A Little Night Magic, is coming out on January 31st, 2012.

        Thank you Lani for your very creative approach to squelching our internal editors.  Now readers give us your thoughts on the topic.   Any comments or questions for Lani?


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  1. What an awesomely well written and humorous post, great job Lani! It's a shame I'm only finding out it's Novel Writing Month when it's half way over, I'd have loved to have posted up a story of some kind. Excellent post as usual anyways!

  2. That's a great way to look at it. Sunflower seeds. I loved that episode too.

  3. Great post. I'm not doing Nano--but am working on my novel. And I write a lot of crap---but at least you can fix that. You can't edit a blank page as they say!
    Your book cover is very cute.

  4. I love Nano success stories. I've had two of my stories contracted. The one I'm working on this year I sold on proposal. I have to admit I'm at that throwing my hands up part, but I'll see it through. :)

  5. nice post Lani and Lee! The new book seems interesting too!

  6. Agree 100%. Even Ernest Hemingway said that "The first draft of anything is s***." Editing is the cinch-y part. You just have to have something to actually edit!

  7. LANI ~
    Hey! I enjoyed reading that! (Do I seem surprised? 'Cause I am!) It was a very creative way of trying to solve a problem a lot of would-be writers suffer from.

    As Arlee Boidman knows, I usually hate these "Writer Advice" pieces. And I don't write anything anymore with the hopes of seeing it eventually published on a page, so most of this writing advice "stuffs" doesn't really pertain to me no how no way.

    Back when I was writing with "publication and/or money in mind", I usually didn't suffer too much from the "internal editor" anyway; I was too amazed by some of the "magic" that was mysteriously appearing on the page as I wrote and too busy wondering where it was coming from to think about stopping and fixing the "bad stuffs".

    But I do know that many writers suffer horribly from that "internal editor" and I think this SUNFLOWER SEEDS analogy is just the ticket to help 'em out.

    Very clever and very entertaining approach.

    And as Lee will surely attest, for me to be this effusive in my praise of any "Writer's Advice" piece is rare indeed. As I said, I ordinarily HATE this kinda stuffs. I'm always saying, "Just shut up and write!" (Right, Lee?)

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  8. I never watched The X-files, but I do love this advice. Sometimes it's too easy to get caught up looking at all the bad things, or even potential bad things, instead of just writing.

  9. My internal editor is Freida Schultz. You just described her. Except she always wins. I'm guessing I need a bigger bag of sunflower seeds.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Hi, Arlee :)

  10. A well-written post, and the voice that comes through tells me I'd probably like Lani's writing.

    A little support:
    Keep at it NANOers. One page after another, just like that. This is the time to listen to the storyteller, not the editing muse.

    Thanks for sharing, Arlee and Lani.

  11. Haha. When I read this, I was telling myself "what the hell are you doing with an editor like that?" I missed the spot about it being yourself. I haven't run into this problem yet. My second novel in the first draft had spots like CITYNAME and MICROPHONETHING, because I had yet to name the city they were in and I couldn't remember the word Intercom. Instead of stopping, I just plowed through.

  12. Thanks for the advice! I'm still a little behind in my word count but I'm pushing through, sprinkling those sunflower seeds all over the place... :)

  13. I'm not doing NaNo but this is excellent advice for any first draft. I'll try to keep those sunflower seeds in mind.

  14. Such a great post (and I loved that epidsode too). My internal editor NEVER shuts up. It's been hard keeping her in check during NaNo, but we've seem to come to an agreement that she'll leave me alone...for the time being.

    Thanks for the great post!
    Author of Concilium, available July 2012
    Concilium: The Departure, November 2012

  15. A great post, wonderful to read. Thank you.


  16. What an inspiring post. BTW, that is my favorite episode of The X-Files too. Wishing you continued success Lani.

    Thoughts in Progress
    Freelance Editing By Mason

  17. Excellent tip! And I remember that episode of the X-Files well. Yes, I was an X-Files junkie.

  18. Very inspiring post. It gives us NaNoers something to hope for.

  19. Arlee, thanks for introducing me to Lani. Congrats to her for being the first NaNo to be published from a previously unpublished author!

  20. THANK you, Lani! I loved the X-Files so that part cracked me up. Such great advice about just getting out of our own way. Just was talking to a girlfriend about this and you wrote it so perfectly.

    Lee - Thanks for an awesome guest!

  21. Fabulous advice! That is my biggest problem when it comes to writing, and I end up putting my computer away after an hour because I drive myself nuts! It's a relief to know none of us get it exactly right the first time around...


  22. I love it! "Sunflower seeds" will be my new mantra.
    I heard Mike Meyers (the Austin Powers one) say the same thing as Nora Roberts. I wonder who said it first?

  23. LOVE this post. I suppose pistachios would work as well? Or how about spilling a bag of crushed potato chips?

  24. Lani, congratulations on your NaNo success. WHle not everyone who finishes their Nano project will enjoy their success, for sure those who don't finish their books, won't.

    Would agree with everything you wrote about writing crap, and not allowing onself to be waylaid by a need for perfection, BUT...

    That's not OCD. The mental disorder that hangs up on neatness and a need for perfection is ocPd. Not the same thing, though they sound very similar.

    (I know, nitpicky of me, right?)
    FMI on perfectionism gone amok, OCPD-Scattered Thoughts from the Front Lines

  25. Lovely post! Congrats to your success, Lani!

  26. Great advice for getting through a 1st draft. Congrats to you, Lani.

  27. Great tips. I've had to write through a lot of "crap" just to get it on paper. Now I can call it tossing out sunflower seeds :)


  28. while im not exactly a writer, this could help me a lot

  29. This was great, thank you! I, too am doing NaNo and I just hit a rough patch so I'll be following your advice in about an hour. =]

  30. Great post!

    I usually try doing the opposite to get my inner editor to stay quiet; that is, write so carefully that it slows me down when I should be writing fast to keep up with NaNo. I'll have to remember the Sunflower Seeds tactic. :)

  31. Oh, X-Files! I've been wanting to go through and watch all of those again. Loved that episode! Very interesting attribution to writing. I tend to write through and edit once I'm finished, whether it's NaNo or not, but sometimes I certainly do have to fight that inner editor to do it. I'd like to say we have an understanding, but sometimes she can be pretty bossy.

  32. Lani emailed me with the following message:

    Hey, Arlee! I linked to the post from a couple of places, and tried to comment once, but it wouldn't let me. Blogger always gives me trouble, for some reason; I have the worst time commenting on Blogger blogs! I'll try again. But thanks so much for having me, it was really fun!

    I've heard this similar lament from others. Too bad. Not sure what the problem is. It would be nice if all blogging platforms were consistently easy to leave comments on for everyone.

    I want to express my thanks to Lani Diane Rich for this entertaining post and her creative solution to keeping that blasted editor quiet when we're trying to write.

    And as always, a great big thanks to all of the readers who took the time to leave a comment. It's always appreciated.


  33. Awesome post. Loved X-Files, but never saw that vampire, sunflower seed one. Hilarious. Way to join the story and your advice together. You have a gift. Thanks for sharing!

  34. Awesome advice! Thanks. Can't wait to read your books.

    Kathy M.


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