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Elizabeth's Five Tips for Aspiring Writers
1) Write what you know, OR what you'd really like to know. It has to be something that excites and intrigues you in a big way. Do you have certain conversations or questions that crop up in your life over and over? What TV and movie subject matter pulls you in every time? Are you writing about those issues/subjects? Look at the books on your bookshelf: are there several by the same author? Are you writing at all like that? Do you have two or more copies of the same book? Are you writing that kind of book? Get to your true voice through your true passion. Write the book that is yours alone to write.
2) Write every day. Even if it's 15 minutes in the morning before work, or during your child's naptime, or on the bus or train. If you always write on a computer, learn to write longhand, even if just notes or ideas. Count that as writing time. It is! And it can greatly expand your total writing output if you take advantage of these small pockets of time. Keep your mind and hands involved in your story on a daily basis.
3) Get "collegial" support and criticism, i.e. from other serious writers. Several years ago I finally articulated in my own mind why having friends or family review your writing just doesn't work: If you get criticism from people with whom your primary relationship is personal, you WILL take what they say personally, whether positive or negative. It is not helpful to you as a writer. And it is usually not helpful to your relationships. Also, please note: Agents and editors will turn tail and run if you so much as mention, “My (husband, kids, friends, coworkers) think my novel is wonderful!”
A writing group can be hugely helpful, especially in the initial stages (years, usually) of learning the art of fiction, both how to evalutate it and how to write it. And most of all, how to rewrite it. I tell my students, "There is no such thing as a good writer, there are only good rewriters."
Reputable writer’s conferences and workshops can also be instructive and inspiring. Ask around, go online. You can often find free or low-cost workshops through your local library or writer's organizations.
4) READ. Read what you love. Look carefully at your favorite books. Why are they so compelling to you? What does the author do that keeps you reading and recommending her/his books? Take a chapter apart to explore pacing, character development, dialogue, setting, etc.
5) Write down your specific writing goals, both small and large, and post them near where you write. Look at them daily, and do the work to reach them. And, keep the faith!
A freelance writer for over thirty years, Elizabeth Wrenn's first published work was a children's picture book The Christmas Cactus. Turning to adult-length fiction in 2003, Wrenn's first novel, Around the Next Corner, was published by Penguin in 2006. The novel went on to win the Colorado Author's League award for Best Mainstream Fiction and, as Second Chance hit #3 on the UK's Heatseeker list. Elizabeth teaches fiction workshops, speaks on writing and other topics, and is currently at work on a new novel. She lives in Colorado.
For a description and review of Wrenn's second novel, Last Known Address please click on the WORKS page above.
Now available in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. US release date TBA
If you are interested in books I've recently read and enjoyed, please see my Newsletter page.
On Writing my first novel. . .
The process of writing Around the Next Corner was not only freeing, it was fun. Mostly. The research--raising a guide dog puppy for 15 months--required a monumental commitment of time, energy, emotion and patience. It was the most profoundly rewarding research I've ever done for a writing project.
I got the idea for the novel all at once, a lightning bolt strike of the muse. Could a woman who has lost herself to her roles of wife and mother expand herself and learn new lessons about love and adventure by raising and training a service puppy? And could that dog guide her out of her own particular darkness?
Many of us sacrifice ourselves somewhat to the Great Big Jobs of marriage and parenthood. When the latter’s active end is in sight, the former often gets tugged toward inevitable change, sometimes demise. I wanted to explore what part of nurturing was biologically driven, and where the choice was in all this. I also wanted to look at both the pain and the humor. Enter, the dog. Having a rambunctious Labrador retriever pup occasionally leading the way was a fun and poignant way to take Deena through some of the loss and rebirth of this big life transition.
Many people have asked me about the timeline for writing a novel and getting it published. I began writing Around the Next Corner in February 2003, and wrote an outline and three fast chapters. Then I began research on raising a service dog, something I’d thought I might like to do at some point in my life, but had no experience with it when I began my novel, nor did I intend to do it any time soon. I did some research online and soon found a local group affiliated with Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), based in California. Over the next few months I attended meetings and did in-depth interviews with two women who’d each raised several puppies for GDB. To every meeting I came armed with sometimes pages of questions, solicited anecdotes from the group, and took copious notes.
During this time I wrote three more chapters. Then, for the first time, the writing stopped flowing. I needed more specifics about puppy development. I'd had dogs all my life, written about dogs, worked at a Humane Society, but I didn't remember enough of the timeline of puppyhood. And I was learning that GDB puppies were rather extraordinary. So it was then that I decided that I would have a much more authentic and rich book if I actually raised a pup myself. On June 30, 2003, I held my shaking arms out and took in little eight-week-old Lucca, a neutered male yellow Lab.
Over the course of the next seven months, I wrote and raised, and raised and wrote. My daughter and husband helped enormously with both. I finished the rough draft of my novel in February 2004, almost exactly a year to the day after starting it. I was a little less than half-way through raising Lucca. I polished the novel as we spent our last few months with Lucca. In September of 2004, my husband and I drove "our boy" to Oregon for the next phase of his training, and life. A painful goodbye, but a unique and wonderful journey, in every sense of that word.
Finally, in January 2005, my agent and I discussed which editors and publishers should be our top six choices, and she sent each a copy of my manuscript. In early March, I got The Call, saying that we had an offer from NAL/Penguin. I was thrilled! I felt like my book had landed in the best possible place. The next several months I worked with my editor, the talented and funny Tracy Bernstein, tweaking the book even more. On August 14 I received an email from her congratulating me on the finished product. The book was published on 06/06/06.
So, the entire timeline, from idea to published novel, comes to twenty-eight months. And almost exclusively a great joy and thrill, working with amazing people all along the way.
And little Lucca? I’m proud to report that shortly after I had a book contract, he graduated from Guide school, and became a working guide dog in Georgia.