First Draft Episode #143: Morgan Matson 2.0 - Transcript
Date: June 5, 2018
Morgan Matson, New York Times bestselling author of The Unexpected Everything, Since You've Been Gone, and her latest YA, Save the Date, talks about having the eleventh book be the hardest yet, “flashpoint” stories, the Morganverse, her unusual editing process, and writing a book in movies’ clothing.
The original post for this episode can be found here.
[Theme music plays]
Sarah Enni Welcome to First Draft with me, Sarah Enni. Today I’m talking to Morgan Matson, New York Times Bestselling author of The Unexpected Everything, Since You've Been Gone, and more, whose newest YA, Save the Date, is out now… and the entire first printing will be signed. So, if you want Morgan’s signature in your copy, be sure to get it this week.
Morgan had quite the experience writing this book. Though it was her eleventh published novel, she said it was the hardest one yet. And she has a lot of knowledge to share about how she fought through the hard times, the unique process she and her editor found for working through the manuscript, and what lessons she’s taking out of the two years she spent on SAVE THE DATE.
A lot of valuable information. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the conversation.
Sarah Enni Hello Morgan Matson!
Morgan Morgan Hello Sarah Enni!
Sarah Enni How are you?
Morgan Matson [chuckles] I’m good, welcome.
Sarah Enni Thank you for having me over at your house again.
Morgan Matson Oh, thank you so much for coming. I’m excited to do this again.
Sarah Enni [laughs] Every three years.
Morgan Matson I love it. It’s like… I was about to say bi-annual but that’s not… that’s twice a year.
Sarah Enni Yeah, was tri-annual?
Morgan Matson Tri-year…? No? I don’t know what that is.
Sarah Enni I don’t think that’s a thing. Literally, nothing’s ever been planned for once every three years! So, we are talking for the second time. We have had a previous interview which I will link to, and people who want to hear about your origin story and how you started writing should definitely check out that podcast. But today we’re gonna talk about SAVE THE DATE.
Morgan Matson Yeah!
Sarah Enni I’m so excited. So, this will come out, like I said, on June 5th, so the book is out now, everyone should check it out. I read it and I loved it… so much. I can’t wait to talk to you about it. But we are gonna cover a little bit of the three years between when we chatted in, I think the summer of 2015?
Morgan Matson I think it was November.
Sarah Enni Oh my god. My memory of that whole experience… gone.
Morgan Matson You’re like, “It was night, in the summer.” I’m like, “Day, in November.” [laughs] I might be wrong too, a hundred percent.
Sarah Enni No, no. I believe you, I believe you. So, from 2015 to now, I want you to catch me up but I think that was basically the time of writing this book, is that right?
Morgan Matson I think I was working on it then. I had just started. I got the idea for it in the summer of 2015, because the book came out in 2016, so I think I was mid- one of my later drafts of The Unexpected Everything. And I can talk about how I got the idea for this book if you want me to. I don’t mean to be like suddenly be like, “Let me tell you…!”
Sarah Enni Well, let’s start there and then segue to giving a pitch for the book so we can talk about it in more detail.
Morgan Matson So basically, I was procrastinating revising UNEXPECTED EVERYTHING. I was on Twitter. I’m a big fan of a bunch of different movie and TV critics, and I follow them on Twitter. One of them made a reference to the comic strip For Better or For Worse, which I grew up loving and being obsessed with when I was a kid. I responded and then he responded back to me, and I was already star struck. And then one of the other critics who is friends with him--whom I’m also a huge fan of--responded to this thread and so then the three of us were having a thing about For Better or For Worse. And I was like, “This is the coolest thing that’s ever happened.”
But when I finally stepped away from Twitter, I was thinking about comic strips. And that was the beginning of the seed of SAVE THE DATE. There’s a comic strip that’s very important to the book, and I sort of used For Better or For Worse as a jumping off point in thinking about the kind of comic strip I wanted in the thing. So, that’s literally where this whole story started.
Sarah Enni Wow! Okay, because obviously I’m gonna ask about the comic strip but I didn’t realize that’s the foundational…
Morgan Matson I feel like it was the spark. There’d been a bunch of the other elements of the story that had been floating around and it was almost like it gave me a clothesline or it gave me a spine and it was like, “Oh! It could be this girl, and her mother is this cartoonist, and maybe it’s a comic strip like For Better or For Worse that follows the family and is very autobiographical, and moves through time.” It sort of all came from [that], and literally this was still the writing down ideas phase.
Sarah Enni Let’s do the pitch for the book and then I’ll ask more context for getting started on it.
Morgan Matson SAVE THE DATE–forgive me because I don’t have this completely honed yet–Save the Date is a story about Charlie Grant and this crazy, chaotic weekend in her life. Charlie’s older sister Linnie is getting married at the house this weekend. All Charlie wants to do is make sure that her sister has the most perfect wedding, and everything goes well.
Charlie’s the youngest of five siblings. She’s the only one still left at home, and she’s on this precipice of this big change, she’s gonna go to college. Her mother writes this long-running beloved comic strip that’s coming to an end this weekend. Her parents are selling their house. So, in the midst of all this change Charlie’s just trying to make this one perfect weekend. She misses her siblings. They’re all gonna come back. She just wants everyone to have this great weekend at home.
But of course, the weekend is turning into an absolute disaster. There’s a missing tuxedo, there’s an unexpected dog, there’s a papergirl with a grudge. So, in the midst of all this chaos, Charlie’s trying to make everything perfect. There’s also her longtime crush Jesse Foster… he’s back in town. The assistant wedding planner is very cute. And so, Charlie’s just trying to keep her head above water, make sure everyone has a good time, and in the process realizes that this family she idealized and thought she knew everything about, might have more secrets than she realized. And that sometimes, in trying to hold on to the past, you can miss out on the future.
Sarah Enni I love that! I think I would be correct in saying a characterization of this book is that it’s sort of a wedding farce.
Morgan Matson Yes, absolutely. Farce… that’s the operative word. That came in about the third draft where I was really focused on pacing. I love farce and I love reading or watching plays that are farce. Halfway through this book I read a quote by Michael Frayn, who wrote what, I think, is the best farce of all time, Noises Off. He talked about how it was the hardest thing he’d ever written. It took him ten years. His prize-winning novels, and his Pulitzer winning plays were much easier than his backstage, door slamming farce. And I was like, “I wish I would have seen that quote before I started writing this Michael Frayn, thanks for that.”
Sarah Enni Basically, I want to walk through how this book progressed because I know it was a challenging book for you to write.
Morgan Matson Yes. This was funny, because this is either my fifth or my eleventh book--if we count my secret identity books--but I’d done enough at this point that I was thinking I had a handle on things.
Sarah Enni Some kind of a system down.
Morgan Matson I did not. This was the hardest… I think this was the hardest book. I think it was the longest process. It was the most drafts. It was the most revisions. Which is interesting to learn when you’re five/eleven books into something. It really knocked me for a loop and there were a number of times during this process where I kept saying to my editor, “Maybe we call it.” Like, “Let’s call it. We’ve been working on this for two years…” or, a year-and-a-half or whatever it was. “Maybe I just write something else.”
He was like, “No, no, no. It’s okay. Just keep going.” But I think if one of these drafts had sort of not… I think he might have--honestly, at this point, he had been working on this for two years with me--and I think at some point he would have been like, “Yeah. Let’s call it.”
Sarah Enni Well, let’s do a little bit more of establishing. One thing that struck me, when I was re-listening to our first conversation, was the delineation that you had between your writing as Morgan Matson and your writing as Katie Finn. Was it [that] Katie Finn was a little bit more light-hearted and fast-paced and funny, and Morgan Matson–as the writer–was dealing with a little bit darker stuff, more emotional? And it tied into you talking about writing plays when you were in high school, that were either one or the other kind of in your mind, and I was thinking about that with SAVE THE DATE because SAVE THE DATE is straddling those two things.
Morgan Matson A little bit yeah.
Sarah Enni I was wondering if that might have been part of the challenge, was maybe of finding that balance?
Morgan Matson It might have been. I don’t outline as a rule and I think that’s gonna change now. Because I think if I’d outlined this book I would have saved myself about fifteen hundred pages that I didn’t necessarily have to write.
Sarah Enni Whoa. Oh my gosh.
Morgan Matson Yeah. I think my problem going into this book… I think also when you’re writing your fifth book you get a little bit like, “I got this. I know what I’m doing.”
Sarah Enni Oh, get cocky.
Morgan Matson I thought UNEXPECTED EVERYTHING was challenging, and in looking back I’m like, “You fool, you knew nothing! You know nothing Morgan Matson.” But, I hadn’t realized that I was changing format in a big way. And I think you need to. One of the reasons I wanted to write this book was… I wanted to challenge myself in a number of different ways. But I didn’t realize that in challenging myself, I might need to change other aspects of my writing process.
My last three books all took place over a whole summer. They all took place over three months. And I feel I had that kind of time frame in my head. I had the structure kind of baked in. The Fourth of July is about the middle of the book. You sort of know where you are in the summer so you know where you are in the book. And I feel like that’s a really helpful shorthand. It allows me to find the story as I write. It lets you meander… do other scenes.
Sarah Enni It provides external goalposts, or markers.
Morgan Matson Exactly. And then you can also do the thing where it’s like, “Three weeks passed and not much changed. And now we’re jumping back into the moment where things change.” This book takes place over three days. It originally took place over four. We lost a whole day in the first draft. I feel like I didn’t know how to write a book in a compressed timeline like that because I was basically telling everything, I was finding the story. I was telling every moment of every day… every bagel run. I didn’t know when to jump ahead yet, cause I didn’t know what was important to tell in the story.
Sarah Enni When you only have so much time…
Morgan Matson The structure of this was the hardest part. The first draft of this was six-hundred-and-ninety pages. The second draft of it was seven-hundred-and-twenty. It was like I couldn’t… I couldn’t figure out [pauses], now it’s basically Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Even in the second draft, Friday ended on page four-hundred-and-fifty. It was like, “Oh, my god. We have a whole other day of this!”
The structure of it was so challenging for me and I feel if I’d had an outline, if I’d thought through the story ahead of time as opposed to just doing what I always do which is like, “Oh, I kind of have some ideas for some scenes. I know the ending. I’ve thought a lot about the characters. Here we go!” If I’d really broken down… and that’s what I ended up doing in the third draft. It was like, “Okay… now let’s outline for god’s sake!”
I feel like that was one of the biggest challenges of this was figuring out the structure in this different time-frame for me. I’m beginning to work on a new project that’s gonna be out in 2020 and I’m gonna outline a lot for that. Your writing process changes and you realize what doesn’t work for you and this was two years of sort of beating my head against a wall until we figured it out.
I could have maybe saved myself all of that… or maybe not. Who knows?
Sarah Enni It’s hard to tell, right? It’s funny to me because it’s not like you’re a stranger to outlining. You went to grad school for screenwriting. Which is the most structured, I feel like, of all writing forms.
Morgan Matson I know. I think it’s because of that because it is so structured when you’re writing a script. I think I’ve always enjoyed the freedom of casting that off a little bit and I don’t think of my books in terms of acts. I don’t think of them in terms of film or play structure. I’d always enjoyed having them be very different in the process.
I think you always grow as a writer, and to bump up against something and to think you should think that you know what you’re doing when you go in, and then be knocked back on your feet and really have to fight your way back. This book was illuminating. It started working better in the third draft and it really started working in the fourth draft and then the fifth draft was fun. I’m so proud of this book and I think it’s my favorite book because it feels like every word was a battle.
Sarah Enni Mm-hmm. It was earned.
Morgan Matson It was earned. I really feel like this book has my scars on it which is so funny because it’s kind of a fun, family wedding book. But it was the hardest. It was the hardest one.
Sarah Enni You started out with the idea of the cartoon, the mom writing the cartoon.
Morgan Matson Yes. For a lot of my books everyone was always complaining that people only kiss on like the last page… or very far into the book. So, for UNEXPECTED EVERYTHING, I was like, “I’m gonna change that!” And I really tried to get them to kiss earlier and the earliest I could get was page two-hundred-and-fifty. And everyone was like, “Come on!” And I was like, “I tried!”
So, this book I was like, “Kissing. Page one. Done! Here you go. Librarians, you will hate this!” That was a little bit of why I did the little prologue.
Sarah Enni In the prologue, it’s sort of a cheat out of the three-day thing, right? To establish Charlie and one of her angsts a little bit.
Morgan Matson Yes.
Sarah Enni Which I thought was really effective.
Morgan Matson Oh good!
Sarah Enni Sometimes prologues and epilogues are like, you don’t know. But that was really useful because one of the things I want to ask about in a minute was character arc over such a short period of time.
Morgan Matson That was also hard.
Sarah Enni When did the wedding and the weekend… When did that structure roll into the idea?
Morgan Matson That summer, I was on Twitter, I started thinking about FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE, and I was like, “Oh! Interesting. Interesting.” And also, I write about writers a lot. There’s a lot of parents who are writers or love interests who are writers. It’s sort of like there’s all these writers in Stephen King’s books. You write what you know. You find a way to deal with what you do.
One of the things I wanted to deal with, with the mom writing a comic strip that’s based on her kids, I sort of wanted to explore… I’m cannibalizing my own life for my fiction. Just to look at what that is and what that can mean and what the cost of it is. And is it a good thing? I wanted that to be floating around… as an idea I wanted to touch on a little bit.
I started thinking about the comic strip and I’d wanted to write a big family book for a while. There’s a big family in UNEXPECTED EVERYTHING. One of her friends is the youngest of five siblings. And in that book, I kept on writing details about Palmer’s older siblings… who we never meet. And my editor was like, “This is her friend’s siblings.” Like, “What the heck?” He’s like, “Cut it all out.” I was like, “Okay. Maybe I want to write about being the youngest of five siblings.” That was a big thing in my brain.
So, I had the comic strip, I wanted to write about a big family, and I did want it to feel like the movie The Family Stone where a bunch of people come in. It’s drama and a fun, farcical thing. But originally it was Thanksgiving. So, I’d done all this thinking and thought about it. I think it was back in New York that fall and it had notebook pages filled with ideas and then went out to lunch with my editor and came back and pitched him what I was thinking.
I find that works really well for us, in person, to tell him my new idea. Because then we go into, “I don’t know. What about this?” Before I even write page one in a Word document, we’re figuring stuff out.
Sarah Enni Which is interesting because you’re not outlining.
Morgan Matson No.
Sarah Enni But this is some version of whittling down ideas.
Morgan Matson Absolutely. I’ve done that in the past with him and it’s been really helpful. It prevents me from going off in the totally wrong direction. And those pitches are like, “This is the character. This is how I see the character arc. This is how I see the ending.” But there’s not really any plot necessarily there.
Sarah Enni Unless you come into a contemp… You found it with the wedding as a hook, but with contemps sometimes it’s like, “This is a story about friendship. That’s kind of all it is.”
Morgan Matson And the character arc is she goes from here to here emotionally, which is huge, but… there’s this great quote--I always attribute it to Chekhov--if I’m wrong I apologize, sorry Anton--that he was saying of his plays nothing ever happens except one world ends and another begins. Because nothing really does happen in Chekhov plays except that someone’s whole life gets shaken up emotionally. I love that. I feel like most contemporaries are like that.
So originally, I was like, “Oh, it will be Thanksgiving.” I liked the idea of an event that would bring everyone home. I had some fun ideas about stuff that could happen, and then my editor was like [makes a noise of ambivalence]. He was like, “It’s a timing problem. Because if it’s Thanksgiving weekend the centerpiece of that weekend is Thursday.”
Sarah Enni Right, the first day.
Morgan Matson The first day. If there’s a big fight at the Thanksgiving table, everyone’s just gonna leave. And I was like, “Huh.” And he also was like, “Also, we’re the only country that celebrates Thanksgiving.” And I was like, “Oh!” [laughs]
Sarah Enni I was gonna say, for international audiences are like, “Huh? What is this?”
Morgan Matson So, one of my bonus materials has a scene that takes place at Thanksgiving, but two years before the book. I was like, “I have to get this in somewhere.” Then we started talking about what else this could be. I think he might have said, “What about a wedding?” And I was like, “Oh! That’s interesting.” Because I also feel like it touched on so many other things I wanted to deal with in terms of change, moving forward…
Sarah Enni It’s also not overly done in YA, for obvious reasons. There’s a whole lot of movies about weddings, but in YA it’s kind of newer territory.
Morgan Matson Totally. I liked the idea of--one of her brothers has been estranged--and I like the idea of something big enough that he would have to come back. He’s not gonna miss his sister’s wedding. And I was like, “Oh, that makes much more sense than just coming for Thanksgiving one year.”
Sarah Enni Right, right. And also, because I want to ask more about this later, but you have a unique relationship with your editor because you guys have had many books together. So, it’s so nice that you have this built-in trust. You know his taste, you know how…
Morgan Matson I feel like we tested it on this book. We never didn’t get along, we got along great, but I think he was really kind of like… [chuckles]
Sarah Enni Like, [in an exasperated tone] “That Morgan Matson!”
Morgan Matson Yeah, honestly. That never came through but I kept being like, “I’m so sorry.” It’s funny that you talk about scripts because revising this book felt like revising a script. In terms of a page one rewrite, in terms of like, “Okay. Throw out this whole day. Throw out this whole character arc, we don’t need this person.” Like, “Change the structure around.” Which is much easier to do when it’s a hundred-and-twenty-page screenplay. But literally my second draft was a page one rewrite. I wrote an entirely new book, almost none of that made it from the first draft to the second. I mean, little bits did, but it really was like, “Start a new page.”
Sarah Enni And when you’re talking about six-hundred-and-ninety existing pages it was a lot to throw out.
Morgan Matson It was a lot. It’s great because... and now he’s also sort of like the keeper of the “flame of hope” because I’ll be like, “This is terrible.” And he’ll pull up the e-mail in which I said this with UNEXPECTED EVERYTHING and when I said this with SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE. It’s usually around the same time in the manuscript where there’s always a moment where I’m like, “This isn’t working. I don’t think it’s working. What do you think?” And he’s like, “May I remind you…”
Sarah Enni “It’s right on schedule… the hopelessness train!”
Morgan Matson Yeah. So, that’s really helpful. And I also feel like we’ve done this enough now where I’m like, “I don’t think we should continue with this.” That if he was really like, “I don’t think we should either.” I’d be like, “You’re right.” He’s sort of the final [say].
I’m glad he didn’t let me abandon this because there was a moment where I was like [whiney voice], “I don’t think it’s working.” Just wanting him to be like, “It’s working!” But this one, I was literally like, “Let’s push this off the cliff. I don’t think we can get there.” And he was like, “No. We can.”
Sarah Enni Let’s talk about that moment.
Morgan Matson Because I did that with one book.
Sarah Enni [conspiratorial voice] Let’s hear about that!
Morgan Matson Basically, I wrote Amy & Roger['s Epic Detour]… And this is the thing that I feel is so hard between first and second books… [chuckles] as you’ll find out soon, Sarah!
Sarah Enni Oh brother. Oh my god… here we go!
Morgan Matson You’re like, “Oh no. I’m talking notes.”
Sarah Enni I’m like, “Give me advice… please!”
Morgan Matson I feel like you spend so long thinking about your first book. It lives in you your whole life essentially. And you’ve thought about these characters even if you haven’t spent that long writing it, you’ve been writing it in your head your whole life essentially. And then you turn in your first book and they’re like, “Okay. We need another one in nine months.” And if you’re on this schedule that publishers will love to put you on like, “Okay, how about a book next year?”
So, I finished AMY & ROGER and they were like, “Okay, next book next year” and I was like [makes an uneasy noise]. And I didn’t have anything that was dying to be told. I’d spent so long living with these people and I didn’t know at that point, that I could be like, “I don’t want a book out next year.” I didn’t know that I could push back.
Sarah Enni But also, could you have?
Morgan Matson Oh, I totally could have. It’s almost like I didn’t know I had the permission to do that.
Sarah Enni I think a lot of authors, because you do have a relationship with your editor and you have had many books out, I feel like you do have more clout. I think some newer writers would feel really nervous about asking for time.
Morgan Matson And back in the day--this was a different editor too--but my first book had just come out, you’ve spent so long trying to be published, it feels weird to be like, “I need more time.” So, I sent in some book ideas and they were like, “This one’s fine.” And I wrote a book… They were like, “Yeah, sure.” And I was like, “Okay.”
I hadn’t spent as long thinking about the characters, and it was really half-baked, and it wasn’t working and I forced myself to write this draft and turned it in. Then a few weeks later was like, “Put this in a drawer. I need to write another book.”
Sarah Enni Good for you!
Morgan Matson And then that became Second Chance Summer. Because I knew it wasn’t the right book. So, I had done this once before. Sometimes I’m like, “I don’t know if it’s working.” But sometimes I’m like, “Should this be in a drawer?”
Sarah Enni Which maybe is part of why you’re like [makes a hesitating, stuttering sound] and having that experience must have been a bummer.
Morgan Matson It was such a flawed book that I kind of… [sighs] If we’d actually gone through with revising it, I think it all would have fallen apart in revision pretty quickly. But I have strip-mined it. I stole the last line of it for the last line of SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE. I’ve stolen character traits for people throughout. There’s a bunch of stuff from [chuckles] – it should have been a sign – there was a bunch of stuff I used from it for the first draft of SAVE THE DATE… a bunch of subplots that got completely excised. There was a whole thing of trying to save a movie theater that was being closed down. There was a whole movie theater subplot in SAVE THE DATE in the first draft.
Sarah Enni That’s amazing!
Morgan Matson [laughing] Yeah. So, I’ve gotten some use out of it.
Sarah Enni Let’s dive a little bit into it because I am interested in… Once you had the wedding conceived, and you knew you were on so many days, it was a struggle to get there. But I also want to hear about how you were thinking about character arc. There’s really only so much your character can go through in three days.
Morgan Matson Yes, it’s true. Yes.
Sarah Enni To get where you want to go. How did you think about that?
Morgan Matson Figuring out Charlie’s character arc I don’t think really coalesced until draft four. And I sort of think… Realizing, having now written a much more plot heavy book, as myself, that I can do character. I can do plot in a draft, and I can’t do both at the same time. It was almost like the first few drafts were figuring out the timeline and figuring out the order of stuff, and figuring out how many characters were in this book and what they were doing and when. It was getting the bones of the story down and then drafts--a little bit three--but four and five were really about making sure everyone’s character arc worked. It was almost like I couldn’t do both at the same time.
Sarah Enni It sounds like you’re doing stage blocking.
Morgan Matson That’s honestly what it felt like. It was like, “Let’s make sure we know when people are coming and going.” There’s a character named J.J. in the book.
Sarah Enni He’s my fav!
Morgan Matson I know… he’s also one of my favorites. And he was so… my editor kept being like, “We have to pull back J.J. We have to pull back J.J.” Because he was, not the broadest character, but he’s a very comedic character. And he was the easiest to write because I had him figured out very early. It was easiest to give him big roles in a scene because it was like, “Oh, I know who this person is… great!” And it was like, “No, no, no, no, no. You have to figure everyone else out.” And I was like, “Argh!”
So yeah, I do feel the first few drafts were, like you were saying, who’s entering, who’s exiting, what’s the cast of characters, what’s the timeframe, what do all these scenes look like? And then I could really work on strip down the character arcs. The whole thing with Mike kept changing. Charlie’s relationship with Mike, her brother, the reason he was estranged from the family changed four times. There was a lot of internal character stuff that I had to really drill down on.
Sarah Enni Is your work process usually the reverse? Are you usually going from character to plot?
Morgan Matson Yeah. Usually I have a vague--I have something that kicks off the story--and then it’s usually about character growth within that story. SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE was a little different cause I did have the devise of a list, so that was structuring the story that each chapter was going to be doing one of these things. But one of those things would lead to character growth.
It was definitely different for me to feel like plot was leading and then I was figuring out characters within it. Definitely different for me.
Sarah Enni I’m trying to relate it to my writing experience, I guess. I think I come up with plot, or a hook first, and then develop the characters as it goes. I don’t recommend that [chuckles], it really does take a long time cause you work out the plot and then you’re like, “Oh, but who are these people and what do they want?” And that inherently, then, changes the plot.
Morgan Matson Yes. And this one, I’ve never had a book where people are so reactive, because stuff keeps happening and they have to scramble and deal with it. You don’t want to lose what they want and who they are at the beginning, and who they are at the end. But I do like writing flashpoint stories. Mostly it’s a summer, without the summer these people would be totally different. And so it was hard to bring this down to just three days cause, you know, it is just three days.
Sarah Enni That’s a lot in a short period of time.
Morgan Matson Yeah, it’s a lot to happen, but it was one of these moments of if someone isn’t really looking at things carefully… It was sort of the culmination of, she spent a long time with rose colored glasses on. She spent a long time deeply in denial, and this is the time where it all sort of comes out.
Sarah Enni I do want to ask about that. With Charlie’s character, you’re writing a first-person character, and she’s just reluctant to change. That’s her arc, is that she needs to accept change in her life.
Morgan Matson Yes.
Sarah Enni That’s a real challenge.
Morgan Matson That was also one of the problems with figuring out her character arc. It’s not that she doesn’t want anything, but what she wants is for things to stay the same--which seems passive. I feel like when we tweaked it so that it was what she really wants—actively—is to give her sister the best wedding possible, that helped a lot.
Sarah Enni And there’s so much external, with the wedding, these things need to actually happen so she’s being propelled through the world anyway. But it is a challenge.
Morgan Matson But it was harder. I feel like there were a number of subtler things I was trying to do in this than I’ve ever done before. Like I feel like the thing–I don’t want to spoil it too much for people–but I feel like the relationship with Jesse and the relationship with Danny… I don’t think I could have written those relationships four years ago. Because I feel like there’s a lot of grey in this book.
Sarah Enni You said that you want to be challenged by this book. Is that what you mean?
Morgan Matson Definitely. One of those things. One of the challenges I wanted to do was short timeframe. I wanted to do a big cast. There’s so many characters in this book. There was so many characters in the Unexpected Everything and I was like, “Let’s do more!” Just… small timeframe, big cast, big fun events. I wanted some of the relationships in this book definitely play on SHADES OF GREY in terms of, who’s a good person, who’s a bad person? Can people be different things to different people? I feel like I wanted to live in that. And I feel like getting that right was hard.
Sarah Enni And I was gonna say, again, she does want things to change, but also Charlie has seen things a certain way forever. And it’s the whole thing to show something and show the reader what Charlie’s thinking–how she’s interpreting it–but make it obvious enough to the reader that she’s missing…
Morgan Matson Something else is going on. That she’s missing the signs. Yeah, finding that balance was hard. But also, she’s my oldest protagonist. I’ve never written someone who’s on the cusp of going to college.
Sarah Enni Oh really?
Morgan Matson And I didn’t want to go to college. And I don’t like change. So, I really wanted to delve into that a little bit because I thought that was interesting. I feel like in so many books people are like, “Hurrah! Off I go!” And I was like, “I want to dig into someone who’s a little bit like, I don’t know if I want to go. I like my life here. I like things as they are.” We’ve all had those moments where life is coming for us. It’s a bullet train, and we don’t necessarily want to jump off. We’re just cowering in the corner. So, I wanted to explore that a little bit.
Sarah Enni And also–because obviously, you did go to college–several times in fact.
Morgan Matson [laughing] I know. I could not stop going after that.
Sarah Enni You know, what I love about it is–and this is something that I like exploring in my own writing too, so I feel like I was really connecting to it in your book–is the idea that you are being nostalgic about the present moment. And the wedding is such a perfect way to talk about that. She wants her sister to have this “thing.” And she has such a clear vision of what the weekend is gonna be. And then it just… It just is not anywhere near that “thing.”
Morgan Matson And I think it’s just nostalgia can be really dangerous.
Sarah Enni Very.
Morgan Matson And hopefully that comes through a little bit, that if you’re spending way too much time imagining how the past was, you’re missing out on what’s happening right now. Or, you’re lying to yourself. It might not have been that way. And she has this thing where it’s basically, the world has watched the idealized version of her family, and so it’s that much easier for her to buy into this.
Sarah Enni So, there’s two ways that I want to talk about that. One is with her romantic life. Let’s just do that really quick because, as you mentioned, there’s a prologue that deals with Charlie and a “flame.” I don’t want to spoil anything, ever.
Morgan Matson It’s like literally the first page. She’s making out with a boy name Jesse Foster, who she’s loved her whole life.
Sarah Enni Whole life, and has had just this childhood crush. And showing him over three days changing in her mind was, I thought, done really well.
Morgan Matson Oh good!
Sarah Enni And, of course, I had a crush on another character in the book.
Morgan Matson Yeah, there’s a very cute wedding planner’s assistant who shows up.
Sarah Enni And I thought that also was done very well because it was like in three days you have the time to develop a crush. Truly not, you know, much else necessarily. But that seemed to me, in this compressed time-frame, a really interesting way to have her pivot and rethink everything through like, “Oh, if this is true, what else is true?” There’s not really a question in there, but…
Morgan Matson I also feel like we’re all guilty of that even now in adulthood, it’s like you have an idea of someone in your head and sometimes you can hold onto this idea for years. And it’s just not the case. And it’s not their fault. They’re who they’ve always been, it’s just you’ve been thinking one thing.
Sarah Enni And you’re holding them to some standard that they’ve never agreed to.
Morgan Matson That no one could ever. But, didn’t you do that in high school? You have a crush on the person and they exist in your brain. You have this whole relationship with them in your mind. [laughing]
Sarah Enni It’s such a thing with celebrity too, right? Some types of celebrities too, you start to feel like you really know them.
Morgan Matson Oh, totally.
Sarah Enni This happens to me all the time now because I listen to podcasts so much, and podcasting is like such an intimate form of entertainment. So, then you’re like, “Wait. Uh, I know how someone feels about this.” Like, “Oh, my friend was saying this the other day.” Just kidding actually, it was a comedian on a podcast saying this.
Morgan Matson My friend… the comedian [laughs].
Sarah Enni [laughs] Yes! It’s such a weird, funny grey area.
Morgan Matson And also--this didn’t come through; this was originally in the first draft. I was trying to hit this harder--but I feel like with Instagram and Instagram stories, it seems so intimate. It’s like this idealized version we present to the world. But that’s not what it is. That’s not what anyone’s reality is, but I feel it allows this weird, hazy line.
Sarah Enni It does and it encourages that. For you and I and other people who have “brand management” things to consider, it also then is something I keep in mind. I find myself falling into that, right? Being like, “Oh, my gosh, this person looks so glamorous.” And blah blah blah.
Morgan Matson Totally.
Sarah Enni And it’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.”
Morgan Matson We all know.
Sarah Enni I’m basing this on Twitter, I’m basing this on Instagram, that’s not really like [how it is]. So, it’s hard… nostalgia. I think that’s why it’s such a theme that I am still so obsessed with because it doesn’t go away. And the idea of wanting to alter the present moment so that you can remember it as this thing is so insidious, it’s so tempting.
Morgan Matson I know, it’s so hard not to do that.
Sarah Enni Yeah. Okay, but let’s talk about the cartoon strip.
Morgan Matson Okay.
Sarah Enni I want to talk about everything about conceiving it and how you thought it would work through the narrative, but then it is her mom using the people around her--providing for them with that--but also…
Morgan Matson Mining their lives a little bit.
Sarah Enni Yes.
Morgan Matson So, there’s cartoons in the book, which are really fun. We have this amazing cartoonist, Eric Sailer, who did all the drawings.
Sarah Enni They’re so cute.
Morgan Matson He did such a great job. Originally when I was talking to my editor about this idea–that first pitch with him–I was like, “Could we do this? If we did this could we have cartoons?” And he was like, “Sure!” And I was like, “Oh great! That’s great.”
Sarah Enni Amazing!
Morgan Matson Amazing. And all my books now, a lot of them have a little extra of something. Like AMY & ROGER is sort of like a scrapbook, with pictures and receipts. And SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE has playlists. UNEXPECTED EVERYTHING has emojis. I like having there to be a third thing.
Sarah Enni It’s a visual element… that’s really lovely.
Morgan Matson Exactly, yeah. I loved For Better or For Worse, and Fox Trot, and Calvin & Hobbs growing up. I was such a fan of the Sunday – and even the daily newspaper comics. My brother and I would always fight over them. But I was always fascinated by For Better or For Worse because it was one of the rare – Doonesbury did this too, but it’s a little more absurd – but For Better or For Worse was based on Lynn Johnston’s family and it followed them through time. They didn’t stay stuck in a certain age.
Sarah Enni Which is fascinating.
Morgan Matson Yeah! They started out with kids who ended up with kids of their own. They moved through time and it went for twenty-five years I think, or more. I was reading some of the interviews with her kids where they would talk about like when she wanted them to do something and they didn’t, she would have their alter ego do it in the comic strip. And I was like, “That’s fascinating that you can literally comment on what you want your children, or spouse, or whoever, to do in this massive platform you have.”
Sarah Enni And it’s so interesting of course, as writers, we identify with that.
Morgan Matson Oh totally! And that’s I think why I was so fascinated writing about a writer but not in a directly analogous way. Because we all mine our lives and our friends. At some point, where does the fictional stuff end and your life… It gets very blurry. That was one of the things I wanted to explore.
Sarah Enni And does that make her… I mean, it totally was fascinating to see the characters grapple with that and I loved that it was the mom character so you weren’t… You know, we are in our own heads and we can justify our behavior to ourselves but you were able to put us outside of it. I was like, “Man, this isn’t always very cool.”
Morgan Matson Yeah, and there’s one character–most of the kids are okay with it–there’s one character who isn’t and has never liked that he didn’t have a say in this. That his life is being used for other peoples’—strangers’—entertainment every day [chuckles]. You put it that way and it’s like, “Oh god! Yeah, I see his point.”
Because I’m sure some of my family members aren’t thrilled about the fact, I mean, you just use stuff from your life. It’s just what happens. I was really interested in using that as a device to explore that. Charlie loves the comic strip. She thinks it’s great cause it’s this highlight reel of her life that is famous around the world and people love it. But it’s the perfect version of them. Everything’s good. Everything’s easily resolved. It’s done in four panels.
Sarah Enni It’s edited. It’s funny. It’s concise.
Morgan Matson Yeah, it’s just the good parts. It’s the highlight reel. So, that was really fun. Basically, I knew I wanted comics, and it was sort of a mixture of how many? We decided basically… I think there’s four or five there now. With every day that starts, there’s a new comic, and then there’s one at the very end.
Sarah Enni And how did you design them?
Morgan Matson I started with Erick, with the artist, and I basically sent him – even before we hired him – my editor was like, “Okay, give us character descriptions. What they look like, what they could be wearing. And then we’re gonna send this.” To see what they would come up with. So, I did some physical descriptions and clothing descriptions and kind of energy descriptions. And he came back with an initial pitch, almost.
And it was great. And so, we were just like, “Okay, this guy’s awesome.” And then it was kind of a matter of… I can’t draw at all, and I realized why. I think there’s very few cartoonists who one of them comes up with the words, and one of them draws. But most cartoonists do both cause it’s so hard to write a script for a comic.
Sarah Enni And I think strip comics… It’s mostly people who do both. And then you get into graphic novels and picture books. It is though consistently shocking to me because doing the artwork is way harder!
Morgan Matson Oh my gosh. I feel like I have some visual sense, but it was so hard for me. These scripts were so long because it was like, “Okay. In panel one we see the mom and the dad, they’re sitting at the kitchen table.” And also, since this strip pans so many years, I had to let him know what ages people were. So, it’s like, “Okay, they’re sitting at the kitchen table. Mike’s thirteen, the mom’s this, Charlie’s this.” And give everyone their ages. And it’s like, “This is what’s on the wall. This is what they’re wearing. This is what’s happening. He opens the fridge. This is the one thing of dialogue he says.” I had to write all of this out.
Sarah Enni It could be a thousand words.
Morgan Matson Yeah! And someone who is an artist could have just sketched it and been like, “Oh. That’s not right.” But to think about all of that, they took me a lot longer than I they would. I’m really happy with them but it was like… Yeah, but I’m so happy with them now. The fact that they exist in a book, I’m just like, “Oh my god, this is the coolest thing.”
Sarah Enni It’s very cool.
Morgan Matson It’s so cool.
Sarah Enni There’s a special fascination with movies within movies, and all that kind of thing, so it’s fun to have.
Morgan Matson The really fun thing is I’ve been able to, usually now I’ve figured out what my next book is by the time the book is going into copy edits, so there’s a reference to this comic strip in UNEXPECTED EVERYTHING.
Sarah Enni Amazing.
Morgan Matson It makes it feel a little bit more of a real world.
Sarah Enni It’s the “Morgan-verse”.
Morgan Matson Exactly!
Sarah Enni The “Matson-verse.” Have we come up with a name for it yet? I’m not sure if we have an official name but…
Morgan Matson That’s fun.
Sarah Enni That’s one of my favorite things about your books is that you do that, because I think that’s so fun for contemporary. I think someone tweeted, or there was something out there, about a reader being like, “I wish contemporary books came with maps inside.”
Morgan Matson Oh yeah! Someone did say that.
Sarah Enni And they were referencing your book in particular and being like, “I want to know!” Like, “Where’s this town where all of this is happening?
Morgan Matson I have to say now this is my third book that’s all set in this town. The other two it’s peripheral, it’s not really there. And it’s like you already built the set. It’s like, “Oh! They can go here and they can go here.” And you’ve saved yourself so much time. You can move into something that already exists.
Sarah Enni I’m in the process of doing that right now. We’ll do a different high school, but it’s down the block.
Morgan Matson Right. You can still keep the landmarks and the coffee shops and it’s so much easier.
Sarah Enni Okay good, cause I’m very interested in cutting that corner. You were just describing this the other day to me and I was like, “Huh?” Because the way that you and your editor go through edits and do all of this stuff together is really different. I would love to hear you describe your process.
Morgan Matson Sure! So, we started working together midway through SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE, cause I was with my editor, and then she left to go to a different publishing house in the middle of that process.
Sarah Enni What is your editor’s name?
Morgan Matson Justin Chanda, he’s the best! So, we’ve basically done this, the way it’s been working now, for two books. And it’s very different and I don’t know if I would have been able to roll with it in the beginning of my career, or maybe he knows I can handle this now. I explain it to a lot of people and they’re like, “No.”
Basically, I don’t tend to revise a lot before I send it to him. I kind of finish the first draft, read it through… I mean I spent the whole time reading it through for spelling mistakes. Every day when I finish writing I print it out, I read it with a pencil and paper [looking for] little things I don’t like, like little turns of phrases, spelling typos… And so I look at it.
Sarah Enni Really? You print it out every day?
Morgan Matson Yeah.
Sarah Enni That’s [wild]. I did not know that.
Morgan Matson Yeah. I used to be an editor, and I don’t know if it’s like I like the pen and paper. I feel like I see things differently when it’s on the page. And sometimes I wait until the next morning to read it through. So, I make little corrections as I go and I write in order. So, by the end of it, it’s fairly clean. It might have massive problems, but it’s fairly clean… There’s no spelling mistakes.
So, I’ll finish it. I’ll email it to him. He usually reads it in a day or two. He reads it–we’re usually running late–but he reads it. Sometimes he’ll take a week, but rarely more than a week. Then he’ll call me. We’ll get on the phone for three-and-a-half to four hours. I like to say this in one of my acknowledgements, it’s like the first time we did this I was like, “We’ve been talking for an entire Lord of the Rings movie!” So, now we call them our Lord of the Rings calls [chuckles]. We just talk about everything.
Sarah Enni Are you both sitting down with--you have a copy in front of you, he has a copy of it in front of him?
Morgan Matson Usually this first call we’re not even… It’s more like, “Let’s talk about the big things. Let’s talk...” It’s so macro. It’s like character arcs, structure. We haven’t drilled down to page numbers yet.
Sarah Enni And this is after initially when you’re doing the idea. You’re talking out doing a kind of rough brainstorming, then you get here and you have another macro talk.
Morgan Matson Yes, really big talk. I think with the first talk with the first draft, it was like, “Lose Thursday. We have to lose Thursday entirely. Thursday’s not giving us anything.” Like, “Thursday’s gone.”
Sarah Enni Get out of here.
Morgan Matson Get out of here. And I think in the beginning he was a little bit like, “Uh…” And I’m like, “No, let’s get rid of it.” Cause he’s like, “This whole subplot needs to go.” And I’m like, “No more movie theater.” And I’m fine with that. I feel like I overwrite so much that it’s helpful for me to find out what we can lose.
So, we have a really, really long, really good talk about everything, and then about a week later he’ll send me a letter. Usually they start at about twenty or thirty pages. This goes into what we talked about but also the breaks it down by what we talked about. “Okay, Charlie. This arc, this problem, this thing. Danny. Mike. JJ.” Sort of breaks it down by character, breaks it down by Charlie’s arc, the setting, the time-frame, the whatever. So, he’ll overarching things, and then he’ll break it down by the subjects that we talk about during the conversations.
Sarah Enni And in there, is he doing any like, “Here’s a solution.” Is he suggesting things or is he just pointing out issues?
Morgan Matson I feel like a little bit of both. I feel like that stuff comes more in the conversation and then in the letter sometimes, “As we talked about, maybe think about losing Thursday. Maybe think about this.” But a lot of times it’s like, “Find another way to do this.”
Sarah Enni I feel a lot of time editors are so good at finding problems, and at least I found in my life that most of the time I’m like, “You nailed it.” But then every time they’re like, “What about this solution?” And I’m like, “Wrong.”
Morgan Matson He’s not super… It’s more like, if a solution came up in that discussion…
Sarah Enni Mm-hmm, got it.
Morgan Matson Yeah. But sometimes it’s like, “No, the solution is… forget about this weird movie theater subplot. Why is it in here? Go.” We never need to see Charlie in school, we don’t need that. It’s those kinds of big things. Mostly for what to cut, not necessarily for what to change it to. And then I’ll get this letter and then I’ll start to work on the second draft. And then we do that four or five more times.
Sarah Enni Wow. Is it once per draft?
Morgan Matson Yeah. So basically, I’ll turn in the next draft and then we’ll get on the phone again and every time these get a little shorter, usually. I feel like the second draft might have actually been a little longer–our conversation.
Sarah Enni Well, the book was longer.
Morgan Matson Yeah, Jesus. But by that point we now have two data sets to work from. It’s like, “Okay, this wasn’t working in the first draft, you changed it to this. This also isn’t working.” Sometimes in trying to do something you can… Maybe that’s still not right, but you’re getting closer to the solution. And I knocked out two possibilities. We sort of do that draft by draft.
Sarah Enni Why I’m asking you to go into such detail…
Morgan Matson It is unusual. Most people don’t do this many versions of something. And we never leave it. My former editor, it used to be a really long time between turning in the book, getting my notes, and then I’d be with it for a long time for my one revision. And this is sort of like, I turn it in. A few days later we’re on the phone. So, we never leave the bubble which is helpful in a way. You don’t forget who these people are, we just stay in this for – in this case – two years [laughing].
Sarah Enni That’s a really good point because letting it get cold can add so much.
Morgan Matson But some people, I don’t think, could handle this. Some people really need to sit and marinate and think and wouldn’t like, necessarily, to be talking about something for four hours three days after they finish something. But I really like it.
Sarah Enni Good! It’s good to know that it works for you but it’s also interesting to me to think about this as… I don’t know… I’ve been talking on this show with people about big “R” revision and little “r” revision and I don’t think everyone revises that much. So, I love hearing about it cause I’m like, “Oh, page one rewrite. That’s my jam.” I’m all about that. Tossing out drafts and just starting over and then the stuff that you forget probably shouldn’t have ever been in there to begin with.
Morgan Matson And the really nice thing is if you’ve cut a lot, a lot of the vestigial stuff still lingers. And sometimes, in a way, it’s almost like I’ve done a whole lot of backstory we don’t see, but characters can mention a thing that I wrote a whole scene about that we cut the scene of but you still hopefully get the baked in texture that this existed at one point and these characters lived it.
Sarah Enni Yep, the world is…
Morgan Matson Hopefully, richer for it.
Sarah Enni Right, exactly. Like you’re talking about all of the siblings of a side character, it’s like, “Uh…” but then those have rich connotations when they are brought in and that makes it feel real.
Morgan Matson Hopefully. That’s the goal. But it also feels like… I look at my first two books and sometimes I’m like, “Oh god no.” I feel like there’s no word in this we haven’t look at. By the time we’re in the fifth revision it’s like, he and his assistant and I have all had eyes on this the whole time. And then when I go through the copy edit, and then I get first-pass pages, and then we get on the phone, again, for two hours… and our marked-up sets of first-pass pages. And we go through, “Do you have anything on page one? Yes. Do you have anything on page…” We go through the whole manuscript together one last time.
So, I feel like whenever my books come out I’m like, “Oh this has had eyes on it, on every word, the whole way through.” Which is a relief.
Sarah Enni That’s a real, real partnership with you and your editor. His hands are all over this. Which is great to that level of trust. For a creative endeavor is amazing.
Morgan Matson Yes. I love that he’s so willing to let me zig and zag, you know what I mean? This is different than my other books. There’s not a central romance, it’s not a summer thing. It’s about family, it’s about a wedding, it’s on a weekend, there’s a comic strip. It’s a lot of different elements, and he was like, “Sure!”
My new book is really different than anything I’ve ever done and he was like, “Great!” It’s so different and he’s fine with it. And so, I love that sort of feeling like he’s letting me go where the ideas are taking me.
Sarah Enni Yeah, that’s awesome. Okay, so the reason I want to ask about this being a movie…
Morgan Matson Oh my god, I’m excited! [laughing]
Sarah Enni Is that Diya Mishra and I were sitting around raving about this book right in front of Morgan and we were like, “Oh my god it’s such a movie!” The comp for it is Father of the Bride meets Sixteen Candles, and I kept thinking of Father of the Bride during it, it’s so funny, it’s so sweet. It has a lot of elements of movies that I loved. But you were so funny, you were like, “No. This wouldn’t work as a movie.” I’d love to hear you talk about why you think that.
Morgan Matson It was interesting because I was also thinking about, more than books, I was thinking about a lot of movies when I started writing this. I love the movie The Family Stone, it’s one of my all-time favorites. That’s another five-kid-family in which someone brings someone home and it doesn’t necessarily go well, and there’s family secrets. I just love that movie so much.
So, I was thinking about sort of movies like Family Stone, but also eighties farces in which you have a paperboy who’s stalking the family, and you have the angry neighbor. All of the fun, chaotic…
Sarah Enni These campy, funny elements.
Morgan Matson Yeah, and also movies like Rachel Getting Married, all of these people in the house and it’s overwhelmed. That’s a much more serious film, but the sense of there’s all these people all the time.
Sarah Enni And there’s a lot of stagecraft. I think about those great Frasier episodes when someone’s in the kitchen and they’re doing something in the living room.
Morgan Matson Honestly, I watched a lot ofFriends episodes. I watched a lot of Frasier episodes, I’ve re-watched the movie of Noises Off just to get the feeling of that kind of farcical, door-slamming, people coming-and-going. But I don’t actually think this would work. I feel like it’s already so much a movie in a weird way, I don’t actually think it would work as a movie.
Sarah Enni After you said that I was thinking more about it, because you write movies, so you would know. You have some insight into what makes a good film. And I was like, “This is so true.” What’s successful about it is it’s taking the things that we love about those movies and translating it for a book. And that’s end-game for this story. It’s just so interesting. But I love that it’s very cinematic.
Morgan Matson Yes, hopefully it feels like that. And a lot of reviewers have said it feels like watching a movie and I’m like, “That’s good!” But the climax is still an emotional climax. It’s still Charlie coming to terms with something. It’s a small internal climax. And those don’t work on film [laughing].
Sarah Enni Right! It’s so funny.
Morgan Matson And also, like you said, in terms of… I was talking to a friend who was working on adapting her book for the first time and I did a little Screenwriting 101 with her. And I was like, “Character has a want and a need, and they’re not always the same thing.” But, “They have to want something. Maybe they want to win the prize, but what they need is to reconcile with themselves.” They’re two separate things. That’s what you need for a screenplay.
Like we’re saying, Charlie has a want, but it’s a very almost passive want. And that also doesn’t translate. You could do this, I mean, I feel like because I write scripts with every book I’m like, “Oh, what would I do if someone handed this to me and it was written by someone else? How would I break this down?” And you just have to change a lot. This is sort of like a book in movie’s clothing. It’s pretending to be a movie in a lot of ways, but it’s still really a book at heart.
Sarah Enni I love that! It was great to be like, “Oh, this is like a uniquely Morgan achievement.” [both laugh] Because you are so inspired by TV and movies. But this is the right medium for this story. It’s very cool.
Well, this has been such a joy.
Morgan Matson This is so fun!
Sarah Enni Hopefully, in 2020 we’ll be chatting again.
Morgan Matson Yes, that will be great.
Sarah Enni But I do want to wrap up with advice.
Morgan Matson Okay.
Sarah Enni I would just love to hear if, based on what you went through with this book to get over the finish line, do you have any newer advice based on that process you went through?
Morgan Matson I feel like, especially if you are a starting out writer, it’s really hard to keep the faith. I feel like if this had been just me, and this book wasn’t under contract, and there wasn’t a release date, and no one was waiting for it, I think it would have been a lot harder to fight my way out of something that wasn’t working properly.
Sarah Enni Well also, this is reminding me of in the first conversation, you talked about the first book you finished, I think it was the Katie Finn first book. And you were like, “I really think if it wasn’t under contract I would have quit.”
Morgan Matson No, honestly! I think one of the hardest things being a writer is, like with that book that I forced myself to write that wasn’t working, is knowing when something isn’t working and knowing when you just haven’t found it yet. And I feel like it’s hard because you can only really find that through experience, but I think there was something in me that knew I could get there.
So, I think--especially if you’re doing this on your own--if you can have people read a draft who you really trust. Who are gonna be kind and thoughtful in their advice that they’re gonna give you, that’s kind of the best way to fight your way through a difficult first draft, I think. But don’t give up. If you feel you want to tell the story, and you are getting good feedback from people… It’s so much easier to just stop. But then no one gets to hear your story.
Sarah Enni Right. And I think this is where that advice of “just finish it” comes in, because it would be so much easier to quit at the three-quarter mark and it’s so much harder to get back into being motivated to finish something that isn’t done. And once something is done, then you can have someone look at it.
Morgan Matson Yes. And you can get a little perspective. So, I would say, just keep going. And hopefully this is helpful for someone. It takes two years and five drafts sometimes for something to be readable. That it’s not on the first draft. Not even on the second or the third. It really takes a long time sometimes, and that’s just what this book was.
But yeah, I would say that. And also, I would say it’s okay to give yourself a break. I know a lot of people are like, “Write every day.” I’m like, “If you don’t want to write every day, don’t write every day.” I think I took a month or two off in this book and just said, “You know what? We need a minute from each other.”
Sarah Enni Palate cleansing.
Morgan Matson It’s okay, and don’t beat yourself [up]. Don’t think you need to write every day. Writing is so individual and there’s not one prescription that works for everyone. And if you need to take a break, that’s fine.
Sarah Enni It’s so necessary a lot of the time. I just talked to Susan Dennard for an interview that will come out much later, but she just ran herself into the ground with the previous book that she wrote. And she was like, “The one thing I learned…” She was like, “All I had to do was take three weeks off!” In the grand scheme of things that is such a short period of time. Just give yourself that minute.
Morgan Matson And after I finished this book, I took a few months off and it was just sort of like [sighs], I was so burned out because I’d been doing this for two years. And it was just…
Sarah Enni [softly and encouragingly] “Take a break.”
Morgan Matson And it’s okay. It’s all good. So, I guess that’s my advice based on this is sort of both [laughs], “Keep going, and take time off!” [laughs]
Sarah Enni But also pay attention to your individual journey is what it sounds like.
Morgan Matson Yes. And also, that you sometimes are not the best judge of if a book is gonna work or not. When you’re really in the weeds and you want to give up, you might not see what other people can.
Sarah Enni Find trusted advisors.
Morgan Matson Yeah, honestly. And I think that’s a big part of being a writer, is finding your community of people.
Sarah Enni Totally. That’s huge.
Morgan Matson Yeah.
Sarah Enni This has been so lovely. Thank you so much Morgan.
Morgan Matson Thank you so much for having me again, Sarah.
Sarah Enni And we’ll talk again soon.
Morgan Matson See you in three years.
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