This week marks a big step forward in my writing career: I sat for my first interview.
That’s right. Yours truly was the subject for an eighth grade honors English student researching her future career as a novelist. Alexandra’s questions were elegant and informed, thoughtful and thorough; so she has set the bar for my future interviewers.
She wanted to know about the qualities that make a good writer, which courses to choose in high school, and how long it takes to publish. I told her to definitely enroll in as many English classes as possible. More than any other subject, English will allow her to practice the craft of writing while expositing her to the literary canon. A good writer is aware of what has been written before and what makes those stories work.
I hope I helped your research project, Alexandra. Best of luck with your writing.
What are the biggest pros and cons of being an author?
Creatively, the biggest pro of being an author is working in the field that makes you happiest. For us, there is nothing more fulfilling than the act of creation and no substitute for doing what you love.
The biggest con of being an author is the uncertainty of your career. Most people are not able to financially support themselves solely with their writing. A day job is usually necessary, which requires you to write at night or any spare time you can find.
There is no single way for a writer to become successful. For many authors, it takes years of trying until they find an audience. What separates the talented writer from the successful one is a lot of hard work.
How long did it take you to become an author and to publish your first book?
I published my first short story eight years after I started writing with any seriousness. I had been practicing fiction for only two years then, but I had another six years of screenwriting and playwriting experience to build on. In short, you can never write enough.
While I have yet to publish a novel, I have written one (in two different ways), and I am drafting the second. I’ve also completed two feature screenplays, a stage play, and assorted stories, poems, short plays, and films.
Right now, your focus should be on developing your craft. I’ll get into more specifics in the following questions, but don’t worry too much about the business side of writing just yet. For now just remember to read, write, repeat.
What is the best way to get inspired when you have writer’s block?
I don’t believe in what is traditionally known as “writer’s block,” or the inability to write what is next. That way, I can’t blame some exterior force for not being “inspired.” What usually stops writers from writing is laziness or avoidance. As much as we love our job, sometimes it’s difficult to make ourselves sit down and do the work. For all those other times you reach resistance in a story, it becomes a matter of problem solving and figuring out what logically happens next or what may not be working before that point. Just keep writing, and fix the problems in the revision stage. After all, writing is rewriting.
Where do most authors get their ideas?
Everywhere. Sometimes you will overhear a line of dialogue or see a cool detail. Always carry a pad and pen to write these notes down. Over time, they will marinate into something bigger. Since they appealed to you in the first place, your artistic sensibility is telling you to take note; there is something important or interesting happening.
What are some strategies to writing?
Make time to write every day; there is nothing more important. Some people believe in “free writing” to loosen up their creativity. The idea is to write everything that comes to your mind in two minutes without thinking or stopping, even if it’s gibberish. Afterward, your mind is supposedly more open.
Free writing doesn’t work for me. Since every writer is different, you need to experiment to find what works for you. For me, the key to productivity is either to set a specific time you will sit down and write–for example, “I must write for an hour today”–or to set a goal, such as one or two pages a day. Even on tough writing days, you will feel accomplished for completing that goal. All these numbers are changeable, so figure out what works for you.
How hard is it to publish a book?
This is a major debate in publishing today. The short answer is that the publishing process is different for everyone. The more complex answer regards legacy versus self-publishing.
The first step in any situation is to write a great book. When it comes to legacy or traditional publishing, where a publisher prints copies of your book and gets them in bookstores, it’s important to remember that this a business. The companies that invest money in your book want to see a return on their investment. A well written story will get rejected if they don’t know how to market it to readers.
The new trend is to bypass traditional publishers in favor of self-publishing. Places such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble offer ways for writers to publish the books themselves in either paperback or e-books. You can upload your digital book today and have it available to the world tomorrow. This route is easy because there are no barriers to entry. The hard part is that you have to edit, design, market, and sell the book yourself since you don’t have a traditional publisher to help in these areas.
There are pros and cons to both situations with many factors that influence an author’s decision to go either route. In the end, the choice is personal.
How do you know when it’s time to end a series/novel?
It’s time to end a series/novel when the story’s over, when the conflict is resolved, and the protagonist has changed. There are many popular authors who continue to write books about a particular character because they are money-makers, not because the author has new and compelling stories to tell. Creatively, the conventions are stale.
When it comes to finish editing a book, my rule of thumb is that the manuscript is ready when you’re making changes only you will notice.
What makes a good author in general?
A good author is a good listener. One who is sensitive to the emotions of others and the details of the world will begin to see how everything in life connects. From those connections, conflicts/stories arise. It’s important to keep an open mind; otherwise, you will miss the tale residing within those moments.
And finally, be persistent. Never give up. If you want to be a writer, you’ll find a way to make it work. The true author loves the process of writing and rewriting. Publishing and selling are only the means that allow you to keep doing what you love.