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This blog was featured on 12/11/2019
Sara Shepard on Writing YA, Writer's Block and Advice
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
December 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
December 2019

Sara Shepard is the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of the Pretty Little Liars series which was turned into a hit ABC Family television series under the same name. Her other popular young adult series include The Heiresses, The Lying Game, and The Perfectionists. This month she releases something totally new: an adult psychological thriller: Reputation.

“Reputation is about a group of people in a community who are affected by an email hack,” Shepard told Crime By the Book. “Some of them are affected directly, and some of them worry about being affected, as they have things to hide. But more than that, it's about family, friendship, secrets, dredging up old wounds, and how far you'd go to keep things hidden.”

And like most of Shepard’s books, there’s also a murder and a twisty investigation.

On Writing YA

Shepard has successfully written several series of books riddled with complicated emotions that resonate with teens, and she says she’s done so by talking to and connecting directly with her audience.

“As a writer, you have to put yourself in your character’s shoes and understand what they are feeling and the temptations that go with that,” she said in an interview with 88 Cups of Tea.

“When I started out, I spoke to a lot of kids online,” she said referring to the age of MySpace and chatrooms. “But the thing is, the emotions that they feel, they’re sort of the same emotions that I felt as a teenager. I kept a journal when I was a teenager, so I definitely look back on those to see how I dealt with friends, and cliques, and getting picked on, or boyfriend breakups.”

She says she also tends to avoid trends and current events in her novels to keep her storylines relevant for years to come.

“[I] gotta mention phones, obviously, and Twitter and Instagram and all that, but you want to create something that can be timeless as much as possible, so that it doesn’t seem dated 15 years from now.”

This excerpt was originally published in Media Bistro. Read the full interview here.

On Writer’s Block

Shepard admits she gets writer’s block like everyone else, especially when starting a new project.

“It’s hard to hit on an idea that actually has legs. I’m also not a huge fan of extensive research (I wish I was), so some of the ideas I hit on are so far out of my comfort zone I’m not sure I’d be able to do them justice writing about them.”

So, like many writers, she finds a healthy distraction that will help to clear her mind and hopefully lead to that spark that sets her back on track.  

“Often when I’m running, I’ll come up with a solution to a problem I’m struggling with. Then I write it down in ‘notes’ on my phone so I don’t lose the idea. You won’t believe how many times I think of something good but don’t write it down and then when I’m ready to write, the idea is gone.”

This excerpt was originally published in Books Musical Things Written. Read the full interview here.

On Process

Shepard says that she’s an outliner, which helps her organize and see the story’s big picture.

“For my adult book, The Visibles, I did not outline, and it took me two years to write because I just didn’t outline and I had no path. The other thing is, because I have really crazy deadlines, I have to write every day. So, I can’t just sit there and stare at the page.”

As a result, she commits to writing something. Anything.

“Even if it’s bad, even if I go back later, and I’m like, ‘This is such a bad chapter, and I’m going to have to revise it,’ having words down is better than having nothing.”

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

On Advice

Over the years Shepard has seen traditional publishing models change, making room for more writers and stories.

“My advice to aspiring writers is that it seems even easier to get yourself out there with digital / self-publishing,” she said in an interview. “There are also so many ways to reach out to existing writers for advice.”

She also recommends attending writing conferences for the opportunity to get in front of agents and publishers.

“Read a lot. Write a lot,” she urges. “Show your work. Because it’s going to do you no good if you’re hiding it on your computer, too afraid to let the world see it. People might critique you – everyone’s a critic – but that’s what makes you a stronger and better writer.”

In an interview on 88 Cups of Tea she spoke about being true to yourself:

“There are ups and downs and sometimes what you are doing is really popular and sometimes it’s not. It’s ok when it’s not. You still write what you love and still do what you love to do.” 

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