Writing advice from Judy Blume

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Judy Blume is turning 80 next week. Not impressed? How about this: Judy Blume has been writing and publishing books since the 1960s. There are probably very few people you know who have never read something she’s written. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Blubber. Superfudge. Or my favourite, Just As Long As We’re Together. The woman understands writing, particularly writing for children and young adults.

When I saw that she would be teaching a MasterClass on writing, I knew I’d have to sign up. And I’m so glad I did. Over 24 lessons, Judy has gone over topics including finding ideas, creating memorable characters, writing dialogue, and handling rejection. It’s so clear that Judy is not only good at what she does but that she also loves what she does. Her passion for writing comes through loud and clear. She also makes the entire process of writing seem approachable and fun.

“I start a book on the day something different happens in that character’s life.” This is probably the best writing advice I’ve ever heard, and even though Judy is not the first author to share this tidbit I still appreciated the reminder. Her class is full of great advice. So much so that it was actually kind of difficult to narrow everything I learned down into a list for this post. So I just chose five random writing tips to share with you here because I highly recommend taking Judy Blume’s class. She made me laugh and cry at various points in her lessons. I don’t know how you could watch her talk about the loss you experience when you’re done writing a book and not shed a tear. She’s not afraid to let her emotions show, so by the end of her MasterClass you feel like you know her. You feel like you have a writing buddy.

So, as I said, there’s no way I could put all of her advice into a short blog post. So here are snippets of writing advice Judy Blume shared in her class.

Take a walk
“I go on a morning walk every day, and when I see people with their headphones on and I know they’re listening to music or they’re listening to a podcast or something, I think to myself, oh, what a shame, because that’s the time that I would get my best ideas. Just not thinking of them, just going away and doing something else and letting your mind roam.”

Get yourself a box
“If I get an idea, I don’t just sit down and start writing about it. It’s living in my head for a long time. It’s on the back burner. It’s cooking. I have one simmering right now. I used to keep a little recipe box, one of those little metal recipe boxes, and it was called Judy’s idea box. And I kept that for a long time. I don’t think I ever wrote a book using one of those ideas, but having the ideas —that’s the thing that gives you security, to know that there’s another idea.”

“How do you really learn to write? You learn to write because you’re a reader. And you read and you read and you read. How else could you possibly know how to put a book together? You read and you say, oh, I see how it’s done. And you can start here. You can start with dialogue. You can start with action You can start with an interior voice. There’s no right or wrong way, but you would never know any of this if you weren’t a reader.”

Write realistic dialogue 
“What makes good dialogue is believable, realistic, the way people really talk, and dialogue that’s going somewhere. And what makes bad dialogue is, I don’t know, characters who talk in full sentences and never interrupt each other and talk in some literary way that’s not the way people talk to each other. So it’s a question of capturing the voice, capturing the way that people talk when they’re talking to each other on the street, in the workplace, wherever.”

Write one scene at a time
“You can’t think of this as a book because that’s so scary an idea. A book—a book, 200, 400 pages, I’ll never be able to do that, so I never let myself think that way. I think only one scene at a time, one conversation at a time. If scenes occur to me out of order, and they will, and I hope they continue to, I’ll write them in a notebook. It’s like, oh wait, I’m not ready for this, but let me write it down. I write it in a notebook so I don’t lose it. I have it, and I can come back to it if I want to.”


P.S. If you’re wondering if this is sponsored by the fine folks at MasterClass, it’s not. I bought myself an all-access pass and I’m making my way through as many as I can.

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