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Love is the only way through

Draft 1. Draft 2. Draft 32. National Book Award Finalist Kathi Appelt wrote 32 drafts of The Underneath before it was published. THIRTY-TWO. I thought of her sitting down to write, and rewrite, and rewrite again. Over and over and over. Is that what it’s going to take? I wondered. That kind of stamina? How could anyone make it through thirty-two drafts of anything?

When I finally I asked how she stuck with it, why she didn’t lose faith along the way, she told me: “Love. Love is the only thing that gets us through.” Love for the characters, love for the story, love for the reader, and love for the writing itself.

Kathi’s words resonated with me. Maybe because it’s almost Valentine’s Day. Maybe because she wasn’t the only writer talking about writing like that. Ray Bradbury once said, “Love is the answer to everything. It's the only reason to do anything. If you don't write stories you love, you'll never make it. If you don't write stories that other people love, you'll never make it.” Even hard-nosed John Gardner said that love was at the heart of all fiction. Yes, that John Gardner.

The idea that love is what motivates us, that it will get us through the hardest parts of our work, and that it is, ultimately, what makes good fiction good, isn’t meant to be simplistic. A writer who loves her characters spends the time walking in their shoes, examining their backstories, and discovering their voices. A writer who loves her story is willing to explore every plot permutation and possibility. A writer who loves her readers respects them enough not to preach or condescend. And a writer who loves the writing itself chooses her words as carefully as a poet.

Love is about commitment and dedication. It’s about recognizing that we, as writers, are doing something bigger than just putting words on a page. Stories, our stories, can change lives. They can make our readers feel more at home in the world by opening doors to other cultures, by building empathy, and by providing safe places for them to explore.

For some writers, reaching completion on a book is an almost Sisyphean task. But if you have love in your heart, you’ve got more than you need to get through to the other side.

Danielle Sunshine provides developmental editing for picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels. She also offers editorial assessments, line editing, and query critiques. Find out more about Danielle here.

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