Friday, January 14, 2011

Happy Writers Society: Love Lists by Stephanie Perkins

Oh, do I have some treats for you, Happy Writers. I have gathered a bunch of my writer friends for HWS guest posts over the next few months! These people are way cooler and smarter than me, and many are published or soon will be.

First up we have THE Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna and the French Kiss. If you didn't know, this book is making some serious waves, and rightly so. It's freaking awesome. Steph is an amazing writer and person. I feel lucky to know her. She challenges me as a writer. She gives me hope as a friend. So, without further ado...

by Stephanie Perkins

Whenever I begin a new project, I also begin a list called “What I Love About This Story.” I start by writing down those first ideas that sparked the fires of my mind, and then I add more ideas to it as I discover them during my push through early drafts.

Sometimes, my list stays short and simple:

a beautiful boy
boarding school

Sometimes, my list grows long and detailed:

crushes on cute baristas
a dead city
the scent of grapefruit bringing back memories
velvet waistcoats
a bald heroine
loose change in unfamiliar currency
cats who know too much
secret radio stations
honeysuckle vines
mysterious round stones
a funny pop song that can’t be escaped
eyes rimmed in kohl
strawberry-frosted sprinkled donuts
a lost painting
elaborate cages filled with orange birds
a stranger with a limp

(I'm not actually writing that second book, but now I want to!)

I use this love-list as a touchstone to remind myself during the hard times why my story is worthwhile. It’s easy to forget the GOOD STUFF when I’m wading through the muck, and the end is still months away, and it feels pointless and hopeless to continue. This list becomes a crucial reminder: Yes! This is a story worth telling! If I saw this sitting on a shelf, I would want to read it!

Making a love-list also serves a second—and perhaps even more important—purpose. By taking conscious note of the things that I love about my story, I have a handy guideline during the revision process about what ideas I should be building up (this good stuff, of course) and what I should be slimming down or cutting entirely, a.k.a. the stuff that didn’t make the list. (Like, oh, that depressing sub-plot about the protagonist’s brother’s junk habit.)

A good rule of thumb: Anything boring or un-fun for you to write will be boring or un-fun for your readers to read. Enrich your pages with ideas that you love, and someone else is bound to love your pages, too. Your enthusiasm will shine through.

If you keep a list of ideas in your novel that make you proud, you will CREATE a novel that makes you proud. My love-lists help to keep me a happy writer.

They might help to keep you a happy writer, too.


  1. J'adore! J'adore!

    I'm going to try this. It's amazing how a story can begin to unfold from a love list. I can picture something for that second list!

    HUGE help! Thank you both! *skips off to write love list about WIP*

  2. I never thought of this. It's such a wonderful idea!

    *rushes to compile a love list for current WiP*

  3. Thank you! This is a great idea!

  4. What a fantastic idea! I think I need to implement this ASAP because I really, really don't like my book right now. I guess it's time to remind myself about why we fell in love in the first place!

    I can't wait to read Anna, I'll probably start this weekend!

  5. That second list cracked me up! My favorite line: "Elaborate cages filled with orange birds."


    Seriously though, this is a fabulous idea. I'm totally going to try it.

  6. You had me at "a dead city"...what could be more interesting?

    This a useful idea that I can see putting in to practice in the near future. Thanks! :)

  7. This is an awesome idea! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  8. I can even see this working with my non-fiction writing. A list like this can transform what could be dry and flat recitation of facts and propositions into something that could transform perceptions and actions.

  9. "cats who know too much"? Brilliant!!!

  10. What a fantastic idea! I sometimes lose my focus when writing and start to doubt my story. I love the idea of focusing on the "love" moments that inspired the novel in the first place.

    I can't wait to create mine!

    Thanks, Natalie and Stephanie!

  11. That's a terrific idea!

    A bald heroine, huh?

  12. This is brilliant! I'm currently revising my WIP to make it all shiny before I query, and after working on it for about a year, I've completely forgotten what I love about it. I'm going to spend my writing time today making a love list!

    Also - Halfway finished with ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, and it's been really encouraging and fun to read.

  13. I love this idea. I've been up into the wee hours thinking of everything I hate about my book and all the things to change, but tonight I'll make a list instead! Thanks for the idea.

  14. Oh, I love this idea! Thanks so much for sharing it. Brilliant!

  15. I love this idea! I'm going to do this for my WIP immediately. Thanks for sharing :)

  16. I love this post so much. ANNA is sitting on the tippy-top of my to-be-read pile. Now to make time.

    Thank you, Natalie, for sharing Stephanie with us.

  17. Simple. Helpful. Brilliant! Thanks for sharing.

  18. Love the idea of a Love List!

    (Was kind of hoping 2nd list was a sneak peak for LOLA... :P)

  19. I read your book this week and loved Etienne! Thank you for the idea of a Love List; I can't wait to make my own!

  20. What a clever idea! One of the things I loved most about ANNA was the character development, the quirks, and now I can see why.

    Using a list like this could not only remind me what I love about the story, but what I love about each character as well. Nice!


  21. I love this idea! Thanks for sharing.

    Word verification: Mycletus
    Had to share =)

  22. Wow! That Stephanie Perkins a super awesome!!! Thanks for this!

  23. I love this idea. This is really going to help me, actually... thank you!

  24. This post ... everything about it makes me smile :-)

  25. I have not really done this...but am going to to it with the thing I am revising right now. Maybe it will help me focus.

    Love this post....if I had a love-list of posts, this would be on it.


  26. I love your post, that second list especially. I need to try this!

  27. Okay...this I've gotta say is a really good idea. I'm gonna try it with my next project I think! (After I finally finish with my current one of course...)

    Thank you! :D

  28. This is a fantastic idea. And so versatile, too! I think I'm going to make a version and link back here. Lists! Love them!

    However, cats can never know too much. Go on. Just ask them.


  29. Wow, this is great advice! Definitely going to be using in the future. :)

  30. I love the idea of love-lists! Thanks for a great post!

  31. That is so cool... I'm seriously wanting to read that 2nd love list book.

    Thanks for the idea :)

  32. This is FANTASTIC advice. And the velvet waistcoats and bald heroine sound fascinating. Thanks so much for this post--just what I needed!

  33. i'm just wondering if i can get stephanie to write MY love list. :) seriously though, i loved her ideas and can't wait to get my love list jotted down.

  34. I love this exercise. What great inspiration! Thanks, Stephanie and HWS!

  35. Spectacular idea with impeccable timing. Thank you!

    I do need to be reminded that I once liked this story.

    PS Why are you NOT writing the book from the second list? Ornate bird cages? Grapefruit smells? I'm there.

  36. I love this idea! Especially 'crushes on cute barristas'. That is definitely on my love list for my WIP.

  37. These sound totally awesome. I'm going to have to start including these in my writing.

  38. First off, Natalie, thank you, thank you for your blog. I am working on my first draft of my first book and I feel overwhelmed, excited, confused, passionate, and distressed all at the same time, on an almost 24 hour basis. In any event, finding your blog through Nathan's has been a wonderful resource. I don't feel quite as alone in this venture as I used to. Thank you, thank you!

    I am actually going to write up a love list right now because I am slogging through a chapter that I can't wrap my mind around but I know that the book is good and based on a very good idea.

  39. So making a love list today! Thanks!

  40. Stephanie Perkins. I <3 you.

    No - not that way. Sheesh. I love this list idea and I loved your book. and I have been stalking your website. mwahahahaha

    Natalie. I am so glad I follow your blog! <3

  41. Terrific idea! I do this in my head sometimes but actually writing it down needs to happen - it's too easy to forget when you're midway through a project.

  42. Brilliant! What a great way to keep yourself out of the "I hate this project and everything I write" doldrums!

  43. So applicable to life too. Now I'm tempted to make happy lists for everything.

  44. Genius! This is such great advice! Thanks for the awesome post.

  45. Okay, this is 90 kinds of brilliant. I'm so trying this with my next project.

    Natalie, Steph, thanks for sharing.

    - Liz

  46. Great idea! I did (kinda) do this after I'd finished the rough draft of my last novel, but you're right. It would probably have helped me clue-in faster to what was working if I'd made an actual list while I wrote. Sigh. ;D

  47. This is such a great idea! I'm definitely going to give this a go :)

  48. I love this idea! And if you DO decide to write that second book I'd be sitting on the edge of my seat waiting!

  49. Love this idea! I'm definitely going to start doing this. Thank you!

  50. Just: what a great idea and a positive post and I've been inspired to post in similar vein. Love it.

  51. A bald heroine with an omnipotent cat? Now that I'd like to read :) Liking the idea of the love list, it certainly beats starting from "what does this character carry in their pockets?"