2017 marked the 50th anniversary of S.E. Hinton's classic, The Outsiders and to wrap up the year Hinton wrote the exclusive piece below; about her post-Outsiders writer's block, and the motivation that finally got her back on the typewriter.
If The Outsiders is one of the titles on your, "I really should read that sometime" list, there's no time like the new year. A word of caution though: once you've read The Outsiders you may experience a burning desire to read Hinton's other books. Do not be alarmed. They are (in my opinion) just as good, and if I'm recommending which of them to read next I'm going with personal favorites That Was Then, This is Now (you'll learn more about this book below) and Rumble Fish.
The Outsiders was the third book I’d written, the first I tried to get published. I started writing in grade school. I loved reading, and I wanted to make stories the way I wanted. Being one of those horse-crazy little girls, I wrote mainly horse stories in the beginning. Then I switched to cowboys. At one point I had a whole Western town, multiple characters, and even separate time periods: before, during, and after the Civil War. I was writing constantly.
Many, many years later I used some of the same characters in my novel Tex.
The first draft of The Outsiders was forty pages long, single-spaced, typed. I went back over it a couple of times, adding details, flashbacks, etc., but the main story was always the same. The draft the publishers saw was my third draft. People ask me why I “killed” Johnny and Dallas. I didn’t. I wrote the story that came to me.
I flunked creative writing the year I was writing The Outsiders, my junior year in high school. In all honesty, I was probably ignoring my assignments to work on my book. Also, I found out that publishers don’t count off for spelling.
I did get a lot out of that class, though. While wandering around, I came on the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” by Robert Frost. I thought, “This is what I am trying to say in my book,” and went home to write it in. Needless to say, “Stay gold” is one of the most famous phrases in the book.
I received the contract for The Outsiders on graduation day. I sat through the whole ceremony thinking, “This is nothing, I’ve sold my book.” By a strange coincidence, I received the contract for my second novel, That Was Then, This Is Now on my wedding day. I just looked at the contract and thought, “This is nothing, I’m getting married.”
I had writer’s block for four years after the publication of The Outsiders. Yes there is such a thing. I’ve had times when I couldn’t think of anything to write, didn’t feel like writing; being too paralyzed to write was totally different. I couldn’t even use the typewriter to write a letter.
For the first time, I was aware of an audience. Since I had never before written with the idea of publication, I was suddenly very self-conscious.
Finally my then-boyfriend (now husband) said he was tired of my gloom and doom depression and told me to write two pages a day. Two pages a day couldn’t kill anyone. (Spoken like a true non-writer.) So if he came over to take me out, and I hadn’t done my two pages, he’d just sit down and read the newspaper or something.
I wrote my two pages, sweating over every sentence and put them in a stack with my other two pages, and when the stack got the size of a book I sent it to my publishers. That’s how I wrote That Was Then, This Is Now. My motivation was I wanted to go out. -- S.E. Hinton
Looking for more? You might also like:
- It's Been 50 Years, Ponyboy.... A Q&A with S.E. Hinton
- Best Young Adult Books of 2017
- Best Books of the Month