Mes amis, I usually keep my guest posts to Wednesdays and Thursdays, but today’s guest is such a special friend and writer and teacher that I’m bringing her in early this week so you can meet her.
Lani is a New York Times best-selling author, award-winning podcaster, and story expert, and she is my dear friend. She’s published 12 novels with Hachette, St. Martin’s Press, and Penguin, and has taught storytelling, screenwriting, and television production at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Her book, How Story Works: An elegant guide to the craft of storytelling is the last book you will ever need on story structure and craft, and it’s available now. You can learn more about her podcasting through her media company, Chipperish.
Welcome to the blog, Lani.
Y’all. Before I get started, let me tell you a little bit about how awesome Nan is.And this lovely woman was like, “Hells yeah!” and we went out to dinner, after not having seen each other in… I don’t know… eight years or so? We went out to dinner and talked about her romances with Tule (how awesome is that, by the way?) and all the books she’s writing, and then we got to me. “So, what’s the new book about?” she asked. This is a standard question writers ask each other, and usually, it’s easy to answer, because writers know what their book is about and often have an elevator pitch at the ready. Not me. I’m terrible at telling people what my book is about. Like… so bad. I don’t think in terms of elevator pitches; I think in terms of whatever part of the book I’m working on right now. So when someone asks me this question, what comes out is often something like, “Okay, so there’s this woman and she’s like… she’s tall… that’s not really relevant except I have this joke that feeds into the tall thing in the third act, I’m writing that scene now, but that doesn’t matter… anyway, she meets this guy and he’s, like, not as tall… again, not really relevant, but it’s part of this joke…” And that’s about when I realize I’m rambling and I just power down like a robot with a dying battery and finish with something like, “I’m really bad at talking about my books.” Trust me, the books I write are great, but when I’m writing, I just should not be allowed to talk about them. But there I am at dinner with Nan, and she asked me about the book, and I thought that maybe I’d be better at talking about it because… I don’t know. Trauma changes your brain and stuff. But… no. I proceed to ramble awkwardly about my book for about ten minutes until I power down, and say, “I’m really bad at talking about my books. Nan being Nan, she just smiles and says, “Well, it sounds great!” She’s so sweet. The thing is, this is the first book I’ve written in nine years. My last book was published in 2015, but I finished it in 2014. Not long after, I went through a devastating personal trauma that took me a very long time to recover from. Now, I’m finally writing again and… I’m not gonna lie. It’s weird.I’ve written and published 12 novels. I teach writers how to write. I’ve spent 20 years studying story so I could write with confidence, and I wrote a non-fiction book called “How Story Works” that has everything I’ve learned about story boiled down into an easy guide. And after all of that, I guess I thought when I came back to writing, it would be with this wave of hard-earned confidence. I thought I’d finally be able to write a story and when someone asks me what it’s about… I’d be able to tell them in a way that makes actual sense. Oh, well. Here’s the thing; writing itself is always hard. Even with everything I know about stories and how they work, even with all the people I’ve taught and coached and edited, even with all of my experience… writing is always hard, and I’m always gonna be awkward as hell when anyone asks me what the new book is about. And that’s okay. The reason I’m even able to write is because, about a year ago, I decided I wanted to participate in a workshop to give me the communal energy I needed to write again. So, I started looking for writing workshops that were community-based; like Nanowrimo, but for a whole year. Because you need a year; you need at least a year. Not just for drafting, but for the whole process; discovery, drafting, and revision. I couldn’t find one, so in the end, I built one. The Year of Writing Magically was my last-ditch effort to not allow trauma to stop me from being who I was; a writer. I pulled it together in a few months, filled the roster, and in March of 2023, I started walking myself and 20 other writers through the process of writing a long-form fiction project and oh my god it worked. For me. For them. It went so much better than I ever thought it would, and it’s all because I decided that while I would teach craft, I wasn’t going to make it all about the craft. It was going to be about how it is to be a writer. How awkward and unsure the process can be. How important it is to start every book by acknowledging all of your fears about writing. How necessary it is to look at your life and decide what can go in order to create the time, space, and energy for this endeavor. The workshop isn’t just about how to write; it’s about how to be a writer. I’m never not gonna be awkward when describing my work in progress to someone. When I’m writing, I’m too deep into the weeds to be able to speak clearly and eloquently about what I’m writing. And that’s okay. What’s important is that I’m writing. I’m back in the game, doing the thing I was born to do, alongside other writers who bring their enthusiasm and creative energy to a space where we can all work together. The Year of Writing Magically has been truly magical. If you’re interested in being part of the 2024 cohort, applications are open now. If you’d like to learn more about the Year, I’m doing a free pre-workshop workshop on November 14; you can sign up here. Thanks, Nan, for meeting me for dinner at a moment’s notice, for having faith that my book will be good even if nothing I said about it made any sense, and for inviting me to guest on your blog. You’re the best.I’m working on a novel this year, and there are a couple of times during the novel-writing process where a road trip does me so much good, so I get in the car and drive. And I mean… drive. In mid-October, I left on a road trip from my home in Denver all the way to the Hudson Valley in New York. About halfway through, I was filling my car up outside of Indianapolis and it had been years since I’d seen Nan, so I just… texted her.