We spoke to YouTube superstar and writer of books Grace Helbig after the publication of her second tongue-in-cheek guide, Grace & Style: The Art of Pretending You Have It. She gave us a glimpse at her writing process backstage at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH before a Writers on a New England Stage event.
What is easiest - or most difficult - for you to write: the first sentence or the last?
I think, definitely, writing the first sentence is always kind of difficult, because I'm so used to creating web videos and having instant gratification, and really having that creation-destruction philosophy where the videos only last for a certain amount of time, so you don't have too much time to really overanalyze or overthink your ideas. You just kind of throw them out there and know that there will be more ideas built on top of them eventually.
But with a book, you have to be so patient and really commit to the ideas over time, much more so than in video. So, it's a different muscle... and I think starting to exercise that muscle is always the hardest part.
Do you edit as you go along or wait until the end?
I do a lot of stream-of-consciousness writing. I kind of let myself just freeform write and there's a lot of tangential moments that happen in the writing, because I really want to book to sound conversational when someone's reading it and sound like the way they would watch a video of mine, as if a friend is giving them information or telling them a story. And then usually I go back and make sure I haven't used so many diarrhea jokes and have to cut those down, and then do some editing here and there.
What's the most difficult distraction for you to get over when writing?
Oh, social media. It's just the most difficult distraction. It's my hobby and my job all at once. It's so easy for me, while I'm typing a chapter on a computer, to just quietly open another tab and look at what people are saying on Twitter, or shop at Topshop.com, and get immediately distracted. I've had to put my computer into offline mode to really get my stuff done.
Are there any habits you would recommend to other writers to help them avoid their distractions or make them more productive?
I think the most important thing is finding what works for you. I wrote the second book a lot differently than I wrote the first book. There was a lot more drinking involved in my writing process in the first book... [with] this one, I started to do that and I really wasn't clear on my writing, so I pulled that back. There was a lot more Adele listening involved in this writing process. Her new album had just come out around the time I was finishing up, and I really like to listen to music and dance around for a bit... I did a lot of standing and typing, and also pretending I had gone through a really recent breakup while listening to Adele's album and just feeling it and letting that influence the words. If there are any overly emotional moments in this book, now you know why.
How about environment - home or away? Notebook or computer?
I was on a lot of flights, and writing on flights for me is great. I've grown into this pattern where I associate work with airplanes now, because often times there's no wifi and it's a really nice, enclosed space where you can concentrate. There's nothing else to do other than face your work.
Also, I like writing at home. It's an environment where I look around and I just feel good about the interior design around me... there's a certain moment of the day, I think it's like 4, 5 o'clock-ish, when the sun is setting and the light is so beautiful, and I wish that that half hour of time lasted for four hours, because I always feel most productive in that moment in time.
Are there any books or websites, references to help them with their writing?
Find people that you're inspired by their work ethic and just kind of drown yourself in what they're doing as motivation. I have a friend that's a content creator, Lilly Singh, her name is Superwoman on Youtube. She just does so much, and she has this vlog channel where she documents all of the things that she's doing and when you watch one of her videos, you just can't help but feel like you're not doing enough. I would, a lot of times, watch her videos to inspire me to help me get my stuff done.
Or, I highly, highly recommend Dwayne Johnson, The Rock... his Instagram is amazingly motivating! And talk about a writer, [the] captions of his photos are like chapters of a book that he's been writing over the course of his career, and they're really, really inspiring!
What is the best piece of advice that you ever got about writing?
This might not be about writing, but about life overall... Larry King, I did an interview with him when I was promoting the E! show... asking him for advice on hosting, he said the one thing he knows is that he doesn't know. So he approaches every interview and everything he does with complete curiosity, and that just resonated so much with me. From someone that wrote a book about pretending to be a grown up, and now pretending that you have style, it's so important for me to stay true to the idea that I don't know. And that's not a bad thing, I think that's an empowering thing, and I think if you're able to find what empowers you in that way, it frees up a lot of overanalyzing that can definitely happen when you're writing.