I’ve written for as long as I can remember. It has always been my dream to be a published author. I majored in English at Bates College, where I read and read and read, and wrote and wrote and wrote. My favorite class was Creative Writing.
Following graduation, my father encouraged me to go to law school, so that I could support myself. I took his advice, and stopped writing anything except legal briefs and memos for several years. But when I had children, I felt that familiar pull . . . I needed to write. I wrote partially finished manuscripts and stories that sort of fell apart in the middle. I took a creative writing class, hoping to bring my writing to the next level. It didn’t.
And then one day I had nothing to read, so I picked up a book I had already read and loved. I read slowly, and really paid attention to the voice, the descriptions, the story arc, and the characters. I underlined the book, wrote notes in the margin, and folded down pages. I jotted down ideas and thoughts in a notebook. By becoming more of an active reader, it was as if the author was teaching a writing class. I read more books – slowly and carefully. I finally understood why reading is so crucial to writing.
As the ideas started to germinate inside my head, I discovered something else. Sometimes my best ideas don’t come to me when I’m sitting in front of the computer screen, or with a pen perched in my fingers, but when I tune everything out and let my mind wander. Often, if I’m having trouble with a character, or a plot issue, the solution comes to me when I’m walking my dog. I usually start out thinking about the day’s activities, but soon into the quiet rhythm of the walk (no ipods!) my mind wanders and my imagination takes over. Other times a great idea comes to me as I lie in bed somewhere in the never-land between dream and reality, or when I’m driving alone in the car (no radio or cell phones!). In our very busy, hectic lives, we have so few times when we allow our minds to wander freely. And yet -- at least in my case -- these are the times when inspiration hits me like a lightning bolt.
For me, the part I enjoy the most about writing is letting the story unfold. I love listening to the characters as they become like real people living inside my head. Once my first draft is done I celebrate! And then, after a month, I look at it again and start to seriously edit. This is my least favorite part of the process, and the most work. I edit, edit and edit some more. And when I think I’m finished, I read the entire manuscript out loud. It’s amazing how many mistakes I catch! And reading it out loud also really helps when it comes to crafting natural dialogue. I want all my characters to speak beautiful, proper English. Unfortunately, people don’t speak like that!
So . . . I finished my manuscript, edited it, and read it out loud - twice. I submitted it and found an agent and a publisher, right? Wrong. It took me three novels and five years to find an agent and a publisher. I didn’t give up on my dream or myself, I kept trying, and finally, I found an agent and a publisher for my third novel, The Exceptionals. For all of you aspiring authors out there, here are the four things that helped me the most:
1. Be an active reader.
2. Unplug from the world and let your imagination take over!
3. Edit, edit and edit some more. Try reading your manuscript out loud!
4. Keep trying!
I hope these tips help you as much as they did me!