Sarah Dessen On Perfection, Writer's Block, and Once and for All


Sarah Dessen stopped by the 106.7 Lite fm studios to hang out on The Public Library Podcast with Helen Little. Known as the Queen of Young Adult Novels, Dessen just released her 13th contemporary YA novel Once and for All. She's been writing for 21 years, and is able to complete a manuscript in just 6-9 months. If her writing process takes longer than that, the Margaret A. Edwards Award recipient revealed, something is probably wrong. 

While Dessen has published 13 novels, she opened up with Helen about dealing with rejection and writer's block. While her loyal fans have been able to devour her published books, Dessen has just as many unpublished books. She's completed 13 manuscripts that have either been nixed by her agent or even herself. "They were hard conversations, but I did know in my heart," Dessen said of the difficult situation. "I think even with some of these books, like Once and for All, when I finished it...I had a sense that there was good in there, but then there are other books that I just knew that I wasn't digging as deep as I should." 


Not only can Dessen tell when a book is working or not, she's also figured out a helpful way to deal with writer's block. She's been super candid with her fans on her blog, especially concerning a serious bout of writer's block after she published her 12th novel Saint Anything, and gave some great advice with how to deal with. "Go back to the last place it was working," Dessen said of facing the issue head on. "If you were writing along and things were fine and then all of a sudden you're stuck, go back to the last place you were cruising along and see what changed. Did you bring a character in? Did you change the scene? Did you make some decision? See if you make a different decision, if it picks up and goes in a different direction." 

Dessen's candor about her abandoned manuscripts fits in neatly with a theme sown into the plot of a few of her books, including Once and for All, which is perfection. "I've always been interested in the idea of perfection and imperfection. I'm a perfectionist that's constantly failing at being perfect, as we all are," Dessen said. "Louna, who's my narrator [in Once and for All], has this kind of perfect love and it ends in a bad way and she's very damaged by that. She feels if a love isn't perfect, then it can't last. Over the course of the book she finds out that perfect isn't the way that life actually is. The perfect romances that we see in the movies or read about in books usually end at a certain point. You walk into the sunset and the story is over. In real life, the sun goes down and comes back up again the next day and you're still dealing with things. It emphasizes that life is messy and complicated, and that's exactly how it should be. We shouldn't be aiming for perfect." 


Dessen wasn't able to pick which of her 13 novels was her favorite, saying it was like choosing between your own children, but admitted her 2009 novel Along for the Ride holds a special place in her heart because she wrote it while her daughter was a baby. Whether your favorite Sarah Dessen book is Along for the Ride or Truth About Forever or her very first book That Summer, one thing can be said about all Dessen fans: they are loyal and passionate about these books. Dessen said that the love she gets from her fans can sometimes brings tears to her eyes. Books saved Dessen during her unhappy high school days, so the fact that a book she's written can help young girls deal with their own problems is wonderful. 

Check out the full conversation to learn more about Sarah Dessen and her 13th novel Once and for All. From her own favorite author to the inspiration behind the town of Lakeview in her books, The Public Library with Helen Little has it all! 

Helen Little

Helen Little

Listen to Helen Little weekdays from 9:30am-3:00pm and tune in to her Public Library Podcast on the iHeartRadio App! Read more


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