Guest Post: Three Keys to Being a Writer by Ned Vizzini

Ned Vizzini is the bestselling author of the acclaimed young-adult books The Other Normals, It’s Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah…. In television, he has written for ABC’s Last Resort and MTV’s Teen Wolf. His essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His work has been translated into ten languages. He lives in Los Angeles.



I’m 32 and I’ve been a writer for 17 years. My latest project is House of Secrets, co-written with Chris Columbus.

The advice that has helped me most since I started has come the voices in my head that crowd me out after I make huge mistakes. So here goes:

Start small

When I was 10, I tried to write a science fiction novel like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The only thing I remember about this failed project was that it had a character named V’leedk Jaja. I got five chapters in before I lost steam.What I learned was that writing books is hard and it’s best to start with short pieces.The catnip of writing, the part that keeps you going, comes from two places:

    1. Being satisfied with your own work
    2. Seeing your name in print

When you’re starting out, both are important. So write an article. Write a blog post. Write a short story. Write something that you can get out there so you can see your name and be proud of yourself. Because it’s tough to be so satisfied with your own work that you propel yourself to finish a novel when nobody else cares.

Start a database 

After writing for a newspaper for four years, I got the opportunity to publish my first book, Teen Angst? Naaah…. But I was worried — who would care about it? Why should they? So I started a database called ”book contacts”.“book contacts” began with six people: my editors at the newspaper and the one or two people I knew in publishing. I noted occupations, contact info, and the last time I spoke to them. Then I emailed them all and begged them for help in making my first book a success.

I have been on the lookout since then for a point in my career where I don’t have to email my book contacts and beg them to buy my work.

Guess what: it hasn’t happened!

In business, you have to make people say no. Make them ignore you. Don’t beat around the bush. You have a story out, or a book, or an article, and you are asking them to please please help you. And make sure that you help them too, by buying their books, going to their readings, and linking the things they write on the internet. This is called a community

….And it’s best to have a database to keep track of it all.

Remember: There will always be something else to regret!

I have tons of regrets from being a writer. But I’ve discovered something wonderful about writing — or, I guess, life — your latest regret will push your last one out of your mind.

If you make a mistake, don’t worry — soon you’ll make another one. Then you can worry about that one. Eventually you won’t even remember the HUGE blunders of your career.

The only thing you really can’t recover from is laziness, so keep reading and keep writing. But now we’re getting into advice that anyone could tell you.

I’ll close with a quote from Paul Auster‘s indispensable writer’s guide Hand to Mouth:

”Becoming a writer is not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you’re not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days. “

This is true, it’s all hard. But then you get to write something that gets a cool illustration like this and it’s worth it:

So keep it up. You’re preserving thought — and you’ll always be needed.

  • April 30, 2013 - 4:38 pm

    Lisa - While I am not a writer, and writing has not chosen me, I have mucho respect for those who do!

    Also, having that illustration in any book ever certainly must be worth it!ReplyCancel

  • May 1, 2013 - 12:59 pm

    Alexa Y. - I love Ned Vizzini! His tips are spot on, and I definitely am excited to check out this book that he co-authored with Chris Columbus. It sounds like a book I’d really like (in theory)!ReplyCancel

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