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This blog was featured on 11/25/2019
Cynthia Hand on Emotions & Studying Writing
Written by
She Writes
November 2019
Written by
She Writes
November 2019

Cynthia Hand is the New York Times bestselling author of several books for teens including the Unearthly trilogy, The Last Time We Say GoodbyeMy Lady Jane, and more.

Her latest YA novel, The How & The Why, was released in early November. It is a contemporary piece from two points of view: one a 16-year-old girl living at a home for pregnant girls, writing a series of letters to the baby she's carrying, and the other the girl that baby grows up to be, trying to figure out who she is and what she wants from her life. 

On Place

When Hand started writing seriously at the MFA program at Boise State, she avoided writing about Idaho and based her early stories on broader, universal settings. Soon after, she studied Flannery O’Connor who wrote extensively about using the tools only you have, particularly the settings that you know.

“I decided to re-write my stories to set them in Idaho. That’s when people started to get excited about my work. All of my published short stories occur in Idaho, and one of those stories landed me an agent. In a way, embracing Idaho led to my career as a published author.”

On Emotions On & Off the Page

Hand says that she doesn’t write about current emotional events or situations since she recognizes that she needs time after the experience to garner perspective.

“There are parts of writing tough topics that become cathartic, things that I work through while writing. It helps to have a goal when writing this way, instead of bleeding out onto the page.”

While writing The Last Time We Say Goodbye, which tackles teen suicide, she says her goal was to shed some light on the grittier side, and avoid the romantic approach which often happens on television. Having experienced a loved one’s suicide, transparency on the subject was crucial for her.

“I wanted teens to see the bad and the ugly as I had known it, not to preach at them that suicide is bad, but simply to give them a truer picture of what it actually means.”

These quotes were originally published in Greenbelt Magazine. Read the full interview here.

On Advice

Hand has an M.F.A. in fiction writing and a Ph.D. in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. Even so, she says the school route in not necessarily the secret to success for all writers. On her website she says that school provided her with the time and financial support to write, a group of smart, capable peers, established writers as mentors, and overall a sense of seriousness about herself as a writer.

Instead she says:

“I think there is really only one way to get better at writing: WRITE. And then WRITE some more. And then WRITE SOME MORE.”

“Write what you love. That's it. Don't write what you think will sell, don't write what other people tell you to write, don't write because you want to be an Author with a capital A, but write out of love, out of the heart's field.”

She goes on to say that when asked for advice, the person is really asking how to get published.

“Which to me is a discouraging question, because if you're focusing on getting published, it's all about the outcome, and writing should be about the process. The journey. If you write what you love, and you keep at it, story after story, book after book, improving as you go, I think there's a pretty good chance that publishing will work itself out.”

On Becoming a Student of Writing

"Write every day,” suggests in an interview with Cosy Books.

“Your brain is like a muscle that you exercise. If you give it a writerly work-out every day, writing will get easier and easier. I operate best when I take some time to write every day.”

In addition to making writing a daily practice, Hand recommends that writers study what they read and consider writing as an art – an art in which one can always grow.

“When a person wants to be a great painter,” she says, “They look at other people’s paintings. But they also study: technique, theory, history. They grow, not only in their ability to put paint on a canvas, but in their knowledge of the craft. That’s what writers need, too: knowledge of the craft.”

On her Goodreads page she offers a list of books about the craft, which she recommends as writer resources. A few of these include:

“You can learn so much simply from watching others struggle to do the same thing you’re trying to do. Do exercises. Go to conferences. Go to readings. Ask questions. Consider yourself a student of writing like a beginning flutist considers himself a student of music.”

This excerpt was originally published on CosyBooks. Read the full interview here.

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