My meeting with Jennifer Weiner

Last night I attended Jennifer Weiner’s speaking engagement at my neighborhood Barnes & Noble (because that’s what writers do).

She was strikingly pretty, extremely witty and downright relatable.

After the hour spent in her presence, I wanted to download everything in her brain and store it for both immediate and future reference.   Since I left my USB cord at home, all I could do was ask her a question.

“Yes, you in the back row,” she said, confirming I was the chosen one.

“Can you tell us a little about your writing process?” I lamely asked.

After a funny James Lipton quip she answered.  I hung on every word, knowing she was about to divulge (a) the secret to eliminating the road blocks in my writing, (b) exactly how to firm up my sagging middle (of my novel, people) and (c) her stellar connections that got her a pre-screener of that night’s Bachelorette episode.

Instead her response was far more advanced than I had wanted.

“I submit a draft to my agent who gives me 20 pages of notes.  I rewrite.  I submit another draft to my editor who gives me 30 pages of notes.  I rewrite.”

Damn, I don’t have an agent or an editor.  To whom will I submit my pages? I whined in my head.

She continued, “only about half of the words that were in that first submitted draft end up in the book you are holding.”

JUST WRITE.

If compelling structure requires ‘action’ and ‘reaction’, compelling writing must command both ‘writing’ and ‘rewriting’.

It’s elementary, I know.  It wasn’t new information, but in that moment I understood it in a different light.  You see, I can get paralyzed by an idea.  I cling to it like a three-year-old to his mother’s leg on the first day of school.  I think about it to the point of obsession.  I can’t get out of my own head when what I really need to do is just write.

I’ve got my work cut out for me, but I’m in this for the long haul.

When you are stuck the answer is simple – do whatever you need to do to get unstuck. Your sagging middle?  Write a new one.  Out of ideas?  Write a list of your all-time favorite scenes.  Put those thoughts and concerns tumbling in your brain down on paper.  Whatever form the exercise takes, it must involve the written word.  Anything less simply will not do.

 What do you do when you are stuck in your writing?  What techniques do you use to get over the humps in your material?

17 thoughts on “My meeting with Jennifer Weiner

  1. She’s so funny! I love her books and her tweets are insanely hilarious. So envious you got to see her. Love your question. I started writing a second book because I wanted to have lots of options if I got stuck. Now if I hate what I am writing I switch scenes or books or whatever.

    • Right? If she has to rewrite that much, I shouldn’t feel bad about having to spend quadruple the amount of time doing the same. AND it doesn’t have to be “perfect” before someone might think it has potential!

  2. I’ve never gone to see an author speak like this but I would love to someday! How awesome you got to go and I love her answer as well. Just get the words out and be prepared to rethink and rewrite – over and over again. What a great, honest and humble answer and wonderful truth!

  3. Thought-provoking post. What do I do when I’m stuck? I read. Nonfiction, fiction, contemporary, classic, picture books, magazines–terrifying as it is, because I’m absolutely sure everything out there will be magnitudes greater than my own (insert adjective here according to day, time of day, time of month, etc., ie: “great” or “great pile of shit”) writing. But I always–without exception–am inspired instead of intimidated.

    • That’s some great insight. I am often too scared to put up a book – fearful that it will discourage me, or that it will take me off track. You are right though, those words can be so inspiring and the “greatness” of the published word so liberating.

  4. We are so similar it’s scary! I also want to figure things out in my head before I take an action. When I let myself just sit down and write whatever comes to mind, I enjoy the whole process more. I also sometimes leave a message for a friend (or a voice recorder on my phone) rambling about the story I’m trying to find. A fabulous post on the entire painful process! And meeting Jennifer Weiner – so envious!

  5. Well, first of all, I wish I’d been there with you and I would have been holding a 2,000 calorie B&N coffee so I totally could have joined in sagging middle conversations. I think it was brave of you to go, and to raise your hand. And I think no one knows brave like a writer and a blinking mouse on a blank page. But, one of my professors helped me the most when I said, I get scared of that damn white page.” She was practical. “So fill it up,” she said. “With what?” I asked. “You think I care?” she said. “Fill it up with your grocery list. Fill it up with why you got mad at the gas station. Fill it up with letters that don’t make words. I don’t care, but as soon as you get typing, you’re going to find an idea in there.” Damn those professors. They will always be the wise I want to be.

  6. Needed to stop in and say that I am so appreciative of how much you’ve shared about writing, and the effort that you’re making to move further into your writerly self. It’s helped me to realize that I’ve been doing quite a bit of “blogging”, but not as much “writing”. Just had to tell you that I’m over here, listening very intently 😉 And practicing, of course!

    • Thank you so much Kim! Some days I worry that I am straying too far from my original “voice” with all this silly writing stuff. I still think I am actually. But it’s what I am going through right now and I need to exercise it. I trust that it will all fall into place with a little time.

  7. I am SOOOO jealous that you got to go! She is awesome. No good tips, but I do read everything and anything, which I think helps. Also, since the little ones don’t exactly make watching the news easy, can I count my Star magazine obsession as research for staying up on important current events? 😉

Leave a Reply