Guest Speaker Antony John

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This week we received a visit from young adult novelist and short story writer, Antony John, who also happens to be a GCAA parent. You can learn more about his work here. 

Here are a few of the insights we took away from his time with us:

  • When asked whether current events or politics affect your writing, the answer is a resounding yes! As writers, it is our charge to be close observers of the world around us. How can we not incorporate what we witness in the world? At the same time, there are some stories that are others’ to tell. For example, Mr. John said he wouldn’t write a story from the perspective of a Syrian refugee, even if it seems like a compelling opportunity, because it’s so removed from his experience as a white Englishman.
  • What to do when you experience writer’s block? Take a break. BUT don’t forget to come back. The writers who succeed — and the writers who make a living writing — are the writers who keep returning to stuff that starts out as crap on the page.
  • Do what you love and take every creative opportunity that comes to your mind. And contrary to what some people may be telling you right now, feel free to change your mind! For example, Mr. John started out as a composer. It wasn’t until he had an established music career that he started writing novels. All artistic experiences breathe life into each other.
  • It is important to have an amazing FIRST sentence. If you want to be a published novelist, you will be submitting short pieces of your novel to literary agents who want to be hooked right away. So devote careful time and attention to how you begin a story.
  • Phones are death to creativity. So much so, in fact, that Mr. John carries an old-fashioned flip phone with three numbers in it. Resist the temptation to be sucked onto a screen. You need to be in the present moment to tap into your creativity.
  • Revision is the real work of writing. The writing part is easy; it’s revision that takes tough work. But editors and publishers help out with the process.
  • Just because you may not like reading doesn’t mean you will not like writing. Mr. John described himself as a “reluctant reader” growing up, until he read The Outsiders. You don’t have to have read a ton of books to have something of your own to say.
  • It takes a while to write a book. By the time he’s doing publicity for his novels, Mr. John can’t quite remember the plot in complete detail, because it’s a several year process. A savvy writer is usually working on three books at once, each book in different stages.
  • You should use your five senses to write a story. That old phrase, “show, don’t tell,” came up again.
  • 500 solid, polished words a day is a good day for a writer! Now that’s something that we can do!
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