Thursday, September 18, 2014

The First Thirty, a guest post from Marion Jensen

Marion Jensen is a mild-mannered instructional designer at American Express by day, but at night, he puts on a cape and writes superhero books. Books that will make you laugh, cry (but only because you’re laughing so hard), and then hopefully laugh some more. In his spare time he enjoys running, board games, cooking, and reading. He’s also a board-certified, synchronized Pez-dispenser. He is the author of Almost Super, and the soon to be released Searching For Super, both by HarperCollins. He is represented by Sara Crowe.

A few winters ago I went on a hike up a canyon near my house. We’d had a blizzard the night before and I couldn’t resist trekking into fresh snow. You can see a few pictures of my hike that day here.

As soon I as I stepped out of the car, the familiar voices started up in my head. You've probably heard them before. They whisper things like:
It's too cold.
You're not prepared. You don't have the right clothing.
The snow is too deep.
It's too far to the summit.
For me, these voices have the most power in the first thirty minutes of a hike. The voices will tell you it's not really giving up if you've only just started. And since you've only invested a small portion of your time and energy, turning around is easy to do.
Sometimes the voices may speak truth. Perhaps you are not fully prepared. Perhaps the way is too difficult. You should always begin journeys with care and thoughtfulness.
But mostly the voices lie. And in the first thirty minutes, you are the most vulnerable to their deception.
Once I've left my car far behind, and the valley is spread out in my view, I find I can talk back to the voices.
The summit is still too far.
Then I will go as far as I can.
The snow is getting deeper.
I've walked through worse.
You cannot do this.
Yes, I can.
If I make it past the first thirty minutes, I usually make it to my goal. I see through the voices' lies, I've invested significant time and energy, and I plow my way to the top.
I've discovered a similar truth in writing. When you begin a new story, the voices are quick to speak up.
These characters are bland.
The plot is thin.
You'll never get to eighty thousand words.
Again, most of the time the voices lie, but it's easy to stop when you've just begun. It's easy to tell yourself that the story isn't as compelling as you first thought. You haven't invested the time, so it is a simple matter to close the document and move on to something else. Or perhaps give up altogether.
Don't believe the voices.
Lower your shoulders, pick a good pace, and plunge ahead. Write the first thirty pages. Or fifty. Whatever it takes. Ignore the voices and just move forward. Perhaps on page thirty-one, you can start to respond to those nagging doubts.
The characters are weak.
I'm getting to know them.
You'll never reach eighty thousand words.
Maybe not, but tonight I'll reach three thousand.
The plot is thin.
I will do this.
Ignore the voices until you've written thirty pages. Invest the time and effort that your story both deserves and demands. You'll find the next hundred pages will unfold.
One last thing. When hiking, I've found that at the base of the trail there are dozens of footsteps. The farther you go, the thinner the tracks as one by one, those who have gone before turn around and head back. Eventually, there is an exhilarating moment when you see the last set of tracks come to an end. You look to the trail ahead and see nothing but unbroken snow.

In writing, it's not good to compare yourself to others. There are far too many variables. But sometimes I like to compare what I'm doing now with what I've done in the past. Maybe first the goal is to just finish a short story. Then it's to writing something longer. Maybe you want to place in a contest, and then come in first. Then you may tackle a lofty goal such as finishing a novel, submitting it, and getting good feedback. Then that happy day comes when you sign a contract, and see one of your books on the shelf.
If you ignore the voices, sometimes you can go farther than you ever thought possible. All you have to do is tackle the first thirty.
*          *         *         *         *
Jill here. Do you hear voices like this in your head? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Also, we're going to give away a copy of Marion's book Almost Super. Here's a little info about it:
Perfect for fans of Pixar's The IncrediblesAlmost Super is a fresh, funny middle grade adventure about two brothers in a family of superheroes who must find a way to be heroic despite receiving powers that are total duds. Filled with humor, heart, and just the right kind of heroics, Almost Super is a winning story that will satisfy would-be heroes and regular kids alike.
Everyone over the age of twelve in the Bailey family gets a superpower. No one knows why, and no one questions it. All the Baileys know is that it's their duty to protect the world from the evil, supervillainous Johnson family. *shake fists*
But when Rafter Bailey and his brother Benny get their superpowers, they're, well . . . super-lame. Rafter can strike matches on polyester, and Benny can turn his innie belly button into an outie. Along with Rafter's algebra class nemesis, Juanita Johnson, Rafter and Benny realize that what they thought they knew about superheroes and supervillains may be all wrong. And it's up to the three of them to put asides their differences and make things right. They may not have great powers, but together, they're almost super.

If you like to read middle grade books, have a sibling that does, or are writing this genre and want to take a peek at your competition, enter to win a copy of Almost Super on the Rafflecopter widget below.


  1. I would love to win this book for my younger siblings. They always enjoy a new book to read and I am sure they would love Almost Super!

  2. I'd love to win this to give to my younger brother. He's very picky about what he reads and I think this would be something he'd enjoy! (Plus it looks cool and I might steal it sometime to read xD)

  3. Nice! I write MG fiction and I hardly ever find a modern book that I would like to read in that age group! Thanks for posting and thank you for the giveaway!

  4. I love to win this book for my little brothers. Also for myself though...I love MG. :)

  5. I really ought to read more books in this genre... Well, I might as well anyway, even if I don't win. ;)

  6. I hear the voices for the first few minutes of writing everyday. Once I get past those vicious beasties, it's smooth. Sometimes, though the voices are right. Sometimes the voices are a clue that the particular scene I am working on doesn't belong.

  7. Because MG is my true passion! I often see a lot of YA stuff on here, and while that's awesome, MG is my absolute favorite.

  8. I think my ten year old brother would like this book. He doesn't read much, and is very picky.

  9. I love reading MG and I write it sometimes, this is a book I would pick up at the library when I research.

  10. I heart these voices all the time. Less about writing and more about day-to-day life, but they are the same. I agree, if you can plow through the first 30 minutes, or 30 pages, or whatever the 1st down is, you can usually get through. Luckily for me, writing is what actually helps me get through much of this. Great post and great thoughts! And I'd love this book for my son . . . okay, and for myself. :)

  11. I've also noticed similarities with hiking and writing, though I've never hiked in fresh snow. I love how you compared that to pushing yourself to go farther with writing. Thanks so much for being here, Marion!

    1. Glad I could stop by and share my thoughts!

  12. Great post! Thank you so much for it. It was perfect timing for me.

    I've been hearing a lot of voices lately--voices I've never heard before, actually. "Your MC is acting perfect, and not at all like he was in the first book. Your fans from book one are going to be disappointed. You call this a decent book two? This is junk!"

    But after reading your post, I started writing anyway. And the great thing was, after a few minutes of writing, the voices went away, and I was left in peace to write the 100th page of my novel.

    Thank you so much, Mr. Jensen.

  13. I don't reallt hear the voices that often, I might be a little over-confident about my story. If the enemys of that family are Johnsons, then I am their enemy!

  14. I hear these voices all too often. Thanks for this post!! And for the giveaway. :]

  15. I love your responses to the voices, Marion. I'm going to give that a try the next time they start bothering me. Thanks so much for the post!

  16. Thanks for the post! To me, the first 30,000 words always seem like a good thing to pass. I guess I feel like I am actually getting closer to the end then! :) Later when I write I'll have to remember this...

  17. Haven't we all heard the voices? Everyone who has written something knows them.

    The voices whisper in my ear, telling me it's not enough. There's something missing; the characters aren't relatable; they're too unbelievable and fictitious for anyone to develop any feelings for them; the plot line is exceedingly lame; the whole idea for the book was just a major flop which came from a sleepless night and a overworked brain.
    Way too many times after hearing the voices, I throw away my manuscript; but everything I've written this year (I think) I've saved, because even if they do need fixed, at least it_ can be fixed._

  18. I would like to win this book because I have several siblings who would probably devour it. :)

  19. I would like to win this book to keep my children (aka The Book Eaters) happy.

  20. Great post! Thanks so much for sharing the advice and encouragement. :D

    I would like to win this book because it sounds (almost?) super cool and I think my younger brother would love it. And I might love it a little myself. ;)

  21. This post was really uplifting! It remind me a lot of Camp NaNoWriMo. Thanks for writing it! I'd like to win because Almost Super sounds really funny and I (along with all the people I'm sure I'll be recommending it to!) will totally love it!

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  23. Wow, great post! I'd like to win this book because love reading and writing Middle Grade books.

  24. Great post! More and more I find that exercise metaphors work surprisingly well for writing. (The first "leg" of a run, the first thirty minutes of a hike, etc.) I guess I'll be even more cheesy and say that I never thought I had the stamina for either until I tried...

    I'm hearing the voices now, in fact, but I'm wondering if they're telling the truth about whether or not I should shelf the the first draft of my novel and the first chapter of my novel, or if I should have listened to the voices approximately a year ago when they whispered in my ear that this plot wasn't going to fit together. *sigh* But I'll push on through 100 for 100...The technique practice will be good for me no matter what I decide to do.

  25. I never heaed voices, but so many times when I should've been writing I have chosen to read instead

  26. AH yes voices... like the ones that are making me procrastinate from writing.... and read this instead... * goes back to trying to write. *

  27. These books sound awesome! I daresay both my kids would love them, and they are definitely going on my list of books to buy for them. Good to see you on GTW!

  28. I love the advice about the unbroken snow... so true and inspiring! :)

  29. Great advice! And I love the unbroken snow photo.

  30. I'd love to win this book because it seams like a dun read and I know my little brother would love it!

  31. I HEAR THOSE VOICES ALL THE TIME!! Now I know what they are...! :O *mindblown* This sounds really bad, but I've never made it to page 30 in a manuscript...whoops. Actually, that's not true. I made it to page 42 in one manuscript, but I basically hated everything I'd written except for a few lines of dialogue. SO IT DOESN'T REALLY COUNT AGAINST WHAT YOU'RE SAYING. All of that to say.... I'm definitely going to make myself reach AT LEAST page 30 before giving up on my current story. ;) Thanks for the inspiration!! :D

  32. This book looks adorable! I think my siblings would like this...

  33. Ooh I must check this out! I loved The Incredibles :D
    And I shall not give up on novel, though it's been about 10 months since I started it and rewritten it over and over. This time, I'll get it because I know where I'm going. *stops comparing myself to others since I'm too awesome for that*

  34. Cool posts! I definitely hear those voices every now and again, but there will be no giving up here!
    And your book sounds so cool! My family adores The Incredibles, so we'd probably love this.

    Alexa S. Winters