Today I’m super excited to be part of the blog tour for Soul of Cinder, by Bree Barton, the third book in the Series Heart of Thorns. Bree Barton stopped by to share the best 5 pieces of writing advice she’s ever received. Awesome stuff! There’s also a giveaway on Instagram for a signed copies of the three books in the series, a bookmark, and a customized candle (US only).
Soul of Cinder (Heart of Thorns #3)
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Bree Barton on the Top 5 Best Pieces of Writing Advice She Has Received
- “Write what you know.”
We’ve all heard this one, right? Look, I get it. I was eight years old when a famous author gave me this advice (can’t remember who, though, so clearly not that famous). She was probably trying to encourage me to stay grounded, hone my craft, and steer clear of writing overwrought fantastical stories about a Snog-Pig-Mouse.
I did write that story, though. It was my first work of fantasy.
And, like…now I write overwrought fantastical stories for a living?
Right now you may be thinking, Bree. Why did you include this in the best writing advice, if it’s actually the worst? It all depends on how you interpret “what.” You should absolute write what you know, insofar as what requires you to dig deep into your own lived experience to make every character as human as humanly possible. Even the villains! Especially them.
I figure, if I can imbue my stories with the many complicated facets of being alive—something I know decently well, being alive myself—then I’m on the right path.
Which leads beautifully to…
- “Don’t read to feed your writing. Read to feed your humanity, and let your humanity feed your writing.”
I owe this gem to Kevin Brockmeier, one of my favorite authors and teachers. Sometimes I get so fixated on wanting to “consume” books that I forget to actually, like, enjoy them. Or my brain switches into miserly analytical mode as I evaluate technical aspects, craft, structure, etc. The worst is when I get mired in envy, at which point I’m not reading at all. I’m too busy throwing a competitive pity party in my head.
Kevin, who reads more voraciously and widely than anyone I know (200+ books a year), gave this advice in a conference room packed with people. He stood at that lectern and spoke with such impassioned ferocity, I felt my heart lifting in my chest. Kevin urged us not to read as a means to an end. Or if we must, then change the end.
It was profound, what he was telling us. Read books to deepen your knowledge and appreciation of the human experience; to strengthen your empathy; to explore dazzling new realities; to learn more about other people and the thoughts and fears and dreams inside their heads.
And, wouldn’t you know it: when you become a better human, it makes you a better writer, too.
- “Write your passions. The things that set you on fire. Things only you could say in only your way. That’s what makes it fun.”
Here’s where I get to give a shout-out to Martha Brockenbrough, another wildly talented author who has inspired me more than she knows. In the early days of my publication journey, I wrote Martha a handful of plaintive, heartbroken emails about various aspects of writing, publishing, and my ongoing struggle with depression. Each time she responded with grace and generosity, writing gorgeous, compassionate emails that helped me through a dark time.
This advice is an excerpt from one of those emails. I loved it so much that I wrote it out on an index card and pinned it to my wall. It’s a brilliant reminder to write with blazing honesty and to have FUN. Now and forever, I pledge to do my best to write the things that set me on fire.
- “Write the book you needed.”
My agent, “Other Bri,” gets credit for this one. I was working on a magical middle grade about an eleven-year-old girl going through her first depression, a story that was curiously reminiscent of my first depression. You’d almost think I wrote it or something.
After the first couple of drafts, Bri said the magic words: “Write the book you needed when you were eleven.”
I did it, and the rest is history. The book comes out from Penguin next spring. J
- “Don’t write to please everyone. Write to please your one ideal reader.”
I consider myself a very lucky writer, because I don’t have one ideal reader. I have eight.
In the years since HEART OF THORNS came out in 2018, I have met the most incredible people through my books. They’ve found me on Instagram, at live events, in book clubs. I even met one young woman at a Rock ‘n’ Write dance class I was teaching! I adore all my readers, and eight in particular have a special place in my heart, because they did what every author dreams of: they created their own work in response to the HoT trilogy.
Fanfic, poetry, music, art—they’ve put all manner of beautiful things into the world. Which is why I built my SOUL OF CINDER virtual book launch around them. I’m in awe of their prodigious talent, and I wanted to share it with everyone else, too.
For my first two books, I fixated a little too much on reviews and what randos said online. But for SoC, all that mattered to me was these eight readers. They were my North Star, my core base, my kweens. When they started emailing and DMing me their ecstatic responses to this final book, I cried happy tears.
Don’t write for everyone. Find your eight, and write for them. That’s the best advice I’ve ever received.