Fabulous Writing Advice from YA Writer Angie Thomas
If you don't know who Angie Thomas is, she is one of the biggest names in contemporary YA. Her books center around the experience of black people in America, police brutality, racism, and other hot-button issues that we've faced as a nation for generations. I've read two of her books (The Hate U Give and On the Come Up) and even reviewed the second one. In celebration of her third book, Concrete Rose, I want to share a few of Thomas' best bits of writing advice.
On querying your book to literary agents:
"Know that, you may get a lot of nos along the way, but it only takes one yes to change everything,"
As a writer who has queried two books on and off for years now, this is so encouraging to read. She's right. No matter how many queries you send out, no matter how many times you get rejected, it only takes one yes. It only takes one person to believe in you.
On choosing what to write about:
"Don't write it because it's a trending topic. Don't write it because it could be turned into a film. Don't write it because you think it's going to win awards. Write it because you enjoy it, because that's why you will enjoy writing it. If it's something that you enjoy, it'll be something you'll want to read."
I agree with this 100%. If you're only writing something because you think that's what everyone wants to read, or because it's trendy, you'll likely end up miserable. Imagine wearing clothes only because they're in-vogue right now, and not because you actually like them. You won't feel like yourself. You won't feel comfortable or authentic.
The same is true with writing. Tell the story that catches your eye. Chose the words that fit just right. When finally you assemble the story fabric by fabric, it becomes something only you could have written.
On the "rules" of writing:
"Don’t overwhelm yourself with “writer’s advice.” There are lots of tips out there, lots of so-called “guidelines” but at the end of the day, do what works for you."
Writing tips can get overwhelming. Some of them are subjective, some are contractionary, and some are plain bad. In general, though, I'm a fan of following writing advice and studying craft, but there can come a point when these "guidelines" interfere with your writing style or voice. Breaking the "rules" of writing is something each writer needs to decide for oneself, not because it makes one unique, but because it works for the story. You, after all, are the art-teest!
On writing characters with depth:
"For me, I always aim to write three-dimensional characters, and I believe that when you do that, you’re breaking away from stereotypes. Stereotypes are thin portrayals of people. But the more you humanize your characters, the less you have to worry about stereotypes."
I love this so much. How often have you read a book where characters meet all your preconceived notions? The jock is a dumb playboy; the nerdy guy has bad hygiene and is socially awkward; the cheerleader is the villainous but beautiful girl that all the guys want.
Most writers don't want to take this shortcut because we want our writing to stand out. The next question we usually ask is, well, how do I make my characters three-dimensional? Angie is exactly right: we humanize them. When we get to know anyone on a deeper level, they often subvert our expectations. They are no longer the stereotype we thought they were.
On her writing process:
"I always write a query letter first before I write the book. It sort of sets a map for me to follow. I used to try to outline every single chapter but I always strayed away from my outline, so I stopped doing it. But as long as I have characters and a query letter, I’m good to go."
Angie is not the first writer who's said this, so I actually tried it out for my third book. It was quite a fun exercise, and the query letter has changed over time as I've adjusted the story I'm telling. One thing was for sure: writing the query letter before the book is so much easier than writing the book first. When you write the book first, you know too many details, and it can be difficult to decide which ones should be most prevalent. When you've got merely the seed of an idea, you likely already know the main thrust of the story and what makes it unique.
I totally agree with Angie on outlining and characters, as well. She sounds like a pantser, just like me. Isn't it fun to just follow the characters around and see what happens?
On choosing which story to tell:
"Write the story you’re afraid to write. Sometimes we have that one idea in the back of our heads and we tell ourselves that it’s too “something”— too heavy, too sad, too difficult. But sometimes it can be just right. And if you absolutely can’t come up with an idea, pay closer attention to the world around you. There are stories waiting to be told."
I love this because I feel like I'm writing one of those books right now. It's a book that feels too big. A book that requires me to pay attention to the world around me--tell an old story from a new angle.
I also love her advice about looking at the world around you if you can't come up with anything to write about. When she says, "write the story you're afraid to write," what she means is that you shouldn't shy away from sensitive cultural issues. It's okay to hold a mirror to society and expose the dark places. As writers, this is exactly what we should be doing.
To read more about Angie Thomas, check out these interviews, which is where I got these quotes from.
Buy Angie's books here:
As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.