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Elizabeth's Five Tips for Aspiring Novelists
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 because you are entering into a committed relationship with it. Long term. Probably monogamous. It's hard enough to write one novel at a time, let alone two.
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) BIC. Do you know what that is? Not a pen. It's Butt In Chair. Every successful novelist knows that acronym. Your aim is to write every single day. Learn to grab "pockets" of time: 30 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! Taking advantage of every little bit of time the day serves up to you will pay off. Keep your mind and hands involved in your story on a daily basis.
SIO. This is my own personal acronym: Shut It Off. Those who write in solitude, with no (zero!) internet or phone access are 97.3994% more productive than those who write with half their brain.*
(*based on personal experience)
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!
I have been writing professionally for over 30 years. My first published work of fiction was the children's picture book,The Christmas Cactus. My first novel, Around the Next Corner, (Penguin/NAL) came out in 2006 and went on to win the Colorado Author's League award for Best Mainstream Fiction. The same novel in the UK is Second Chance(HarperCollins/UK). HP/UK also published my second novel, Last Known Address (see below).
My biggest post-pub thrill? Probably when Second Chance hit #3 on the Heatseeker list, behind Mitch Albom and Nora Roberts! When not writing, I teach fiction workshops, speak on writing and other topics, and volunteer in my community. I've just completed my third novel, which is quite different from my first two. I was a life long Colorado resident until the end of 2014 when I moved to the fabulous PacNW. I can say definitively that oxygen and a little moisture in the air are GOOD things!
For a description and review of my second novel, Last Known Address please click on the WORKS page above.
Now available in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
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 was hair-raising. That is, I raised a yellow labrador guide dog puppy, the all-time champs in shedding. Raising "Lucca" 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 our kids leave the nest, we often find our marriage a little worse for the wear. Whether a few strands are loose, or the whole thing is unraveling, we all want to explore what it was, what it is, and can it be resurrected. I was particularly interested in exploring what is biology and what is choice in marriage and mothering. I was interested in the genuine pain of losing oneself, even temporarily, and the humor inherent in all families and relationships. Especially when you add in one rambunctious Labrador retriever puppy named Heloise. And of course, I had to make Deena even more inept at raising a dog than she is at raising teenagers. I had a ball letting Heloise lead Deena through trials and tribulations, guiding her to a whole new sense of herself.
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.