Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Six Secrets About Writing

By Holly Cupala

Part of the How They Do It Series   

JH: Today, we have Holly Cupala, author of Tell Me A Secret, which hits the stores today. She shares six secrets she learned about writing.

Holly wrote teen romance novels before she ever actually experienced teen romance. When she did, it became all about tragic poetry and slightly less tragic novels. When she isn't writing and contributing to readergirlz she spends time with her husband and daughter in Seattle, Washington. These days, her writing is less about tragedy and more about hope. TELL ME A SECRET is her first novel. Ten percent of the author's proceeds go toward World Vision's Hope for Sexually Exploited Girls

Take it away, Holly...

For my first few years trying to start up a writing career, I would go to every class, SCBWI meeting, conference, book signing, and talk to as many famous writer friends as possible to unearth the Secret of Writing.

And there were lots of them. From Janet Lee Carey, I learned about surviving the writing life. From Bonny Becker, I learned about novel structure. From Kirby Larson, the "five sentences a day" method. From Justina Chen and Libba Bray, I learned about writing from the heart. (There are so many more mentors, I could spend a day writing about them!)

There is no one secret to writing a novel, I discovered. But I did learn a few things as I wrote TELL ME A SECRET:

1. There really is no substitute for Bum in Chair

Writers write, they say. Not necessarily every day--some people are Mozarts (fits and starts) and some people are Beethovens (structured and consistent). It took me a little time to find what worked for me. It helped that after our daughter was born, I suddenly had a lot less time on my hands and learned to focus!

2. The second draft (and the third, and the fourth) was a lot less painful than the first.

I spent a lot of time beating myself up over my first draft, giving myself the "You are the worst writer in the universe" speech - a huge waste of time. It was already difficult enough!

3. It's a really good idea to have someone of the opposite sex (or at least very different from you) read your book.

At a writer's retreat I attended, Bruce Coville talked about plot vs. character and male/female storytelling energy--think Steven Segal versus Emma-- and how the best books come in at the middle. My wonderful spouse read through my whole manuscript, helping me to "take out the boring stuff." Thanks, honey! My story is much tighter thanks to you.

4. Endings are a thousand times harder than beginnings. 

Everyone focuses on beginnings, because that's what's going to hook the editor (well, hopefully). But nobody really talks about how to wrap it all up. In the end, that's what's going to hook readers and make them remember you. I worked hard to make my ending satisfying, and I hope it worked!

5. "That" and "just" are the literary equivalent of "ummm." 

I cut out 300 instance of the word "that" alone. Eeek!

6. When I wrote a second book (STREET CREED, Fall 2011 from HarperCollins), I discovered a tool that will forever be my trusty weapon against writing angst: the timer!

Writing hundreds and then thousands of words in 15 minute increments helped me outrun the "worst writer" speech--and even better, I found the flow of the muse. Take it to the next level by teaming up with a friend and cheering each other on.

There are so many more things, but I will leave you with the one that resonates with me the most: we must open doors for other writers. Several years ago, at an SCWBI summer conference, Justina Chen opened a door and gave me permission to walk through when she asked if I'd thought of writing about the daughter we lost. Many others have opened doors for me along the way. Now I hope to do the same.

Thank you, Janice, for having me!

Tell me a secret, and I'll tell you one...

In the five years since her bad-girl sister Xanda's death, Miranda Mathison has wondered about the secret her sister took to the grave, and what really happened the night she died. Now, just as Miranda is on the cusp of her dreams-a best friend to unlock her sister's world, a ticket to art school, and a boyfriend to fly her away from it all-Miranda has a secret all her own.

Then two lines on a pregnancy test confirm her worst fears. Stripped of her former life, Miranda must make a choice with tremendous consequences and finally face her sister's demons and her own.

In this powerful debut novel, stunning new talent Holly Cupala illuminates the dark struggle of a girl who must let go of her past to find a way into her future.


  1. What a fab post. love it - very honest and encouraging too. And the premise of her book sounds very intriguing... must go and hunt it down.

  2. Congrats, Holly! Hope today's launch is amazing.

  3. Powerful post - thanks, and congrats to Holly!

  4. Great advice, thanks for the guest post!

  5. Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Janice! And to everyone who stopped by - your comments are encouraging to me, too! Thank you.

  6. Great advice Holly. Your husband must be way nicer than mine. My husband is too critical to be a good critiquer. Good luck with your book launch today.

  7. Those are excellent tips. THanks for sharing them. And she's right, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th drafts are easier.


  8. Good, good stuff!
    Thank you!

  9. "That" and "just" are my downfalls! UGH!

    Thanks for the wonderful tips!

  10. I love number 3! I agree completely. It's so important to have a member of the opposite sex read your ms. My mc is a man and I needed a guy to look it over to make sure he wasn't too girly. Very very helpful!

    Oh, the dreaded "Worst Writer In The World" speech. I think we all have it memorized, don't we?

  11. You are all very kind - I'm so glad these can be a little bit of help...writing is a crazy, lonely journey. Whatever did we do before the internet?!

  12. Thanks again for stopping by, Holly! "Just" and "only" are my downfalls. And "still." I always have to trim out those after a draft. I probably add 1000 words just on those!

  13. "Endings are harder than beginnings." So very true. I let my first two books go on for at least 50 pages after they'd ended. I think newbies do that a lot. One thing that helps is to tie up the subplot first.

    Thanks Holly!

  14. Definitely - that's great advice, Anne. I always write too much in the middle and not enough at the end. Here's a scary confession: between drafts 1 and 2, I cut over 30K words. Some of it was just me psyching myself up to write the next scene, but...a lot of extras. Then editor got me to cut another 10K, which did wonders for the pacing!

  15. Handy. I often squint at my "that"s, "just"s, and "very"s, and usually there's a better way to put it. Sometimes, though, I leave it when I can't hear the narrator saying it any other way.

    I usually hit the "I'm the worst writer EVAH" stage while revising, though. :-/ And endings aren't usually hard for me--if I can actually manage to get to them, they tend to fall into place. It's the middles that give me headaches.

    I guess that's a side effect of everybody being different.

    *studies the teaser* Usually I stick to paranormal stuff, but I'll keep my eye peeled for this. I have one friend in particular who will find this right up her alley.

  16. Great post, i am a journalist and I always go back and take out "that"
    it is one of my little writing tricks as well

  17. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the notion that anyone could have MORE time on their hands as a result of having a child. You must be blessed with energy of the gods!