Turning Points: Those Pesky Voices in my Head by Eric Luper (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? I’m honored and excited to host their stories. Read on as Eric Luper reveals how he stopped chasing trends and decided to write what he most wanted to write…

When I attended my very first children’s writing conference back in 2001, I heard an editor say something that, in my mind, should have been introduced by the blowing of long trumpets. She said, “We are looking for humorous chapter book mysteries for boys.”

I wanted to jump up and yell, “I can do that!”

Now, I already had a completed contemporary fantasy manuscript in hand and was waiting for someone to recognize it was the perfect successor to Harry Potter, but this was in the era when I would have given my left leg to have a book published (after all, I’d still need my arms to type). So, I did what I thought any aspiring children’s writer should do: I raced home and began writing a humorous chapter book mystery for boys. Actually, I did more than that. I read loads of chapter book mysteries for boys to learn how they were constructed. I spoke to writers of chapter book mysteries for boys. Then, I began writing mine.

Somewhere through the course of writing that book, I read an interview with a different editor at a different house. He said, “We’re looking for quirky picture books and edgy young adult fiction.” I raced home to get started on those. That entailed reading loads of quirky picture books and edgy young adult fiction, speaking to writers of… well, you get the point.

For three or more years, I chased trends. I wrote with the belief that I had the inside track, that I knew something most aspiring writers did not. I wrote expecting that my manuscripts would conveniently fill the void I learned about at one writing conference or another, in one article or another.

And I racked up rejection after rejection.

Scores of them.

One flaw in chasing trends is that you are nipping at the tails of loads of other writers who happen to have gotten the same information as you. By the time I was able to produce something publishable, the industry had moved on to the next thing. And the other major flaw? I was never particularly passionate about my subject matter. For a writer, this amounts to several nails in the proverbial coffin.

That is not to say the gap between 2001 and 2004 was wasted time. I was learning a lot in that period. I was learning my craft, learning about the publishing industry, and making valuable contacts. I was reading tons of books. I was developing my voice and honing my skills. In essence, I was priming the pump.

And early in 2004 it hit me… I was struck with an interesting premise for a book (a teen who plays Texas Hold’em in an illegal poker room in his hometown and loses gobs of money from his family’s small business) and I made the conscious decision to write the book that I would have wanted in my hands when I was a teen. Editors’ wish lists be damned!

Big Slick

In less than four months, out came the first draft of Big Slick.

It seems like a short time for a full-length novel, but a lot was happening. Every time I sat at my laptop, I made that same conscious decision. I ignored all the talk about trends and vowed to write that one book I would have cleaved to as a kid. My hope was that there were other kids out there much like me who would cleave to the same sort of book. Once I freed myself from those editors’ pesky voices, my only trouble was my poor typing skills keeping up with the thoughts racing through my mind.

Big Slick was accepted within the first few submissions and needed very little tweaking from its original version.

Since then, I’ve learned to ignore all the chatter going on around me—I ignore talk about vampires and werewolves and zombies, I ignore talk about dystopian survival stories and talk about giant squids and evil umpires from Venus. Instead, I listen to the voice within me. Nowadays, it’s the only voice I listen to when it comes to my writing.

I’d still give my left leg to have my next novel published (although I’m not sure who would want my left leg or what he or she would do with it) but I’ve learned that writing what speaks to me is far more essential than writing what someone else tells me I should be writing.

—Eric Luper

Eric Luper has been writing for teens since 1999 when he decided to stop fighting the youthful voice that was trying to make its way into his “grown up” books. Since then, he has written a bunch of books for young adults, some of which have actually been published, including Big Slick, Bug Boy, and Seth Baumgartner’s Love Manifesto. Of Eric’s fourth novel (his first for middle-grade readers), Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets, Gordon Gorman says, “Hats (and tams) off to Jeremy Bender for a belly laugh not even the densest cupcakes could hold down!”  He is working on a few new projects but, for now, they are all super-ultra-top secret!

Eric lives in Albany, NY, but spends as many weekends as possible in nearby Lake George doing mountainey and lakey things.

Watch the book trailer for Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets:

Visit Eric at ericluper.com.

Follow @ericluper on Twitter.


Love ManifestoCommenters on this post were entered to win an audio edition of Seth Baumgartner’s Love Manifesto… and the two winners are: Lillian and Janice. Congrats! I will email for your mailing addresses shortly. And thank you so much to 
Eric and Playaway, for donating this awesome device and audio edition for the giveaway!

Want more in this blog series?

The Turning Points series will continue with new guest posts three times a week. Subscribe to distraction no. 99 to keep up with the series, or read all the posts with this tag.

Here are the posts in the series so far:

You can keep up with all the open giveaways on the giveaways page!

Series images by Robert Roxby.

47 responses to “Turning Points: Those Pesky Voices in my Head by Eric Luper (+Giveaway)”

  1. How inspiring! This is very true. It’s great if you happen to be writing the “trend” but most of the time, you need to write what calls to you because it’ll show through in your writing.


  2. This is one of the truest things about writing for publication and one of the hardest to deal with. Those anxieties that come with chatter about trends are powerful hard to resist. I really do believe you have to write for YOU to ultimately be successful. Also I don’t know what a PLAYAWAY is but I want one.


    • A Playaway is an mp3 player that only holds one thing: a book. You plug in headphones and pop in a battery and you’ve got an audiobook in your pocket. Great for libraries, especially for kids who can’t afford an iPod or who don’t have a computer at home. You want one, Sara.:-)


  3. It’s so tempting, and exciting, to listen to all the other voices around us. They’ll always be around us. We’ll just have to know when, as you did, to listen to the one inside us. Thanks for sharing your experience.


    • My pleasure, Mieke. I still struggle with this but I’m getting better at listening to the voices inside my head. Not sure if that is entirely a good thing… 🙂


  4. Great interview as I drown out the noise and just write! I never heard of a PLAYAWAY but I am pretty sure I need one!


  5. Those voices can get loud. Sometimes I have to take a few days off from the internet, particularly when there’s a “trend storm” conversation brewing. Thanks for the great post, Eric!


  6. And speaking of vampires…thoughtlessly following trends in style as well as substance can be detrimental to your writing too. I’m referring to the unnecessary and confusing “frame” that begins each of the Twilight books for no apparent reason other than, perhaps, some vague idea that every book must begin in medias res–and if it doesn’t, then you must pretend it does by slapping on a frame or force it to by filling it with flashbacks. We’ve all heard the advice that it’s better to begin a story in medias res, but while this may be true much of the time, it isn’t true all the time. As a reader I’ve read books that were slow getting off the ground, but I’ve also read books where the chronology got hopelessly confused by the over-use of flashbacks in an otherwise simple story that could have been more clearly told straight through from start to finish. In the Twilight books, opening with a two-page snippet that’s virtually meaningless taken out of context from the middle of a 500-page book does nothing to draw me in–quite the reverse–and by the time I reach that point in the story several hundred pages later, I no longer remember having read it before, so it has no resonance. If you’ve ever been bored silly reading an opera synopsis–and then completely captivated by what you see on stage–you know that how you tell a story is just as important as what that story is. Finding your voice as a writer involves figuring out what story you most want to tell and then listening to how it best needs to be told.


    • Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I’ve never read Twilight. And, frankly, it’s not high on my list. However, whatever she did worked for her. To copy that because it worked for her is a mistake. Writers need to do what works for them.


  7. About chasing trends, a long ago comment by Katherine Hepburn to the famous fashion designer Halston come to mind: “Fashion,” she said, “is for the timid.”
    I’d say don’t chase anything.
    Love this series. Bravo Nova, and thank Eric Luper for sharing.


    • This, I think, is true. It’s far more easy to imitate than it is to strike at something with an original bent. That’s not to say that we can’t learn loads by studying what others do well and what others do poorly. But that’s an entirely different discussion!


  8. Thanks for this blog post and series. I can really identify with the issue of stopping the mind’s “chatter” about the book you are writing, and the one you want to write, and the new amazing one you just got an idea for, and the one springing from a book you just read from the library, and…

    Conscious decision – focus on the book I am excited to write about. Not what others are saying will be popular.


  9. Thank you for sharing your thoughts—they are just what I needed to hear. Because of a lot of STUFF (getting hit by a stupid driver and my car being towed away, my cat being diagnosed with cancer), which should not get my writing off track, but. . .you know how it goes, I’ve been rethinking what I’m writing and listening to that weasely voice that says, “Maybe if you wrote THIS instead of what you’re writing, you’d have been published by now.” Thank you for reminding me why I write.


    • The heart, being the heart, can be fickle. Remind yourself every time you sit down to write to listen to what you need to be doing. My reminder is on a post-it note over my computer.


  10. Awesome post! I think one of the most important things a Young Adult author can do is develop that voice that says “I would have killed to read this as a telen.” Not as easy as it sounds, but a good instinct for that goes a long way!


  11. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’m always realizing that the project I’m working on has been written about before. But I keep chugging along anyway because it’s how it’s executed that counts, right?


    • Try not to fall into that trap, Janice. Everything has been written before, it’s just been packaged and wrapped differently. You bring to that same story something that is uniquely YOU. That’s where the magic happens.


  12. Good for you, Eric! Editors’ pesky comments about trends can be daunting. I just checked a call out from a literary agent that was interested in very specific themes and types of writing. I could have chucked everything off my desk and started from scratch to fulfill what she was looking for, but decided, no, I’m just going to find another agent! One that likes the stuff I ALREADY WRITE!!!! Great tips. Avoid the trends. Listen to yourself and write what you feel called to write. Gotcha.

    Thanks for sharing.
    On Twitter: @ZaraAlexis


    • Zara, the dirty little secret is that editors HATE when they are asked about trends and what they are looking for. Every editor is looking for great writing and a story that grabs on and won’t let go. Write that.


  13. “writing what speaks to me is far more essential than writing what someone else tells me I should be writing” — yes! So true, and something I’ve been learning and re-learning lately (I think the first time I “learned” this it was in my head; had to re-learn it to really take it to heart.) Why is it so hard to trust our own voice, our own heart?

    Thanks so much for this post. 🙂


  14. “I was never particularly passionate about my subject matter.” If you can’t convince yourself that you like what you wrote, what makes you think the readers would? I’ve learned something about this the hard way. It’s always hard to write something you’re heart’s not into. It’s always easier if it’s about something I like because the words come out naturally and I think even the readers would know that. Writing is expressing your passion on paper, so obviously you can’t write something you’re not interested in.

    And I don’t think those pesky voices ever go away. Inspiration and ideas come at the most random time in my case. 🙂 Great post, Eric!

    I tweeted: https://twitter.com/#!/amaterasureads/status/164260063605821441


  15. I am NOT a writer, I am a reader. I admit that I can’t write, so that is why I enjoy people like you who can. You put words into my mouth that my brain could not think up on their own. Thank you!!


  16. Eric, your post and these replies are exactly what squashes whatever remains of the whiny little inner voices that used to be shouting, “No, no, don’t write THAT. There aren’t any middle grade novels about THAT”. During the years it took to write ‘THAT’, although I’ve made a serious search, no books on this subject dear to my heart have yet surfaced.I thought, back then, and still think, that there ought to be.

    I would have loved to read this very book when I was in fifth grade. In high school English class, I wrote a short story about the subject. That story stayed in my mind for so many decades.And here it is now, expanded into a book, first chapters being seen by a publisher. I hope it will find a home right there. The story they’re considering, goes beyond the one book, so I’ve begun another. From writing advice I’ve read, this isn’t recommended. But it’s okay—-I’m writing for me, remember, and for the fun of it, and to show readers of all ages the inside view of something most people have heard about, and which many people need on a day-to-day basis if they are to improve their condition.

    It’s great to see so many writers who feel as I do about trends. For awhile, I thought I was truly odd.I may yet discover that I AM. Maybe that’s what it takes to write about horses and folks in the particular setting I put them into. Even the in-person research it takes to keep on track, is a joy. I never want to leave when my observation/note taking sessions are over. No, trends aren’t for me. Actually, when this book ever comes out, and I know it eventually will, I hope it starts a trend of its own. It could.


  17. This giveaway is now closed and winners will be announced soon. Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prizes… and for being so awesome and replying to all the comments!!


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