So many people say they want to write a book, but they don’t know how to do it. While there are more than a few ways to skin a cat, Believe.com sat down with up and coming author Natalia Sylvester and narrowed it down to 8 big tips.
Cleary this author knows what she’s doing. She’s currently contributing her expertise to the Debutante Ball – a website dedicated featuring five writers and five new novels each day of the week. Her first novel, Chasing the Sun, is being published by New Harvest and will be on the market June 3rd. Here’s what Sylvester had to say for aspiring writers.
1. What was your inspiration for Chasing the Sun?
Chasing the Sun was partially inspired by a piece of my own family’s history: when I was little and still lived in Lima, Peru, my grandfather was kidnapped for ransom. He was held for two months before being rescued. I’d grown up knowing this but not really understanding it: How can something like this happen to innocent victims, and how does a family overcome and survive it? Much later when I began writing fiction, I realized I could look for these answers through story.
I imagined not just my grandfather’s story, but the story of so many who’d been through a similar experience. What emerged were two main characters: Marabela, who is kidnapped just as her marriage is on the verge of falling apart, and her husband Andres, whose every decision as he tries to bring her back affects his relationship not only with his wife, but with everyone around him.
2. What was your writing routine like?
I go through writing routines in cycles and phases. Sometimes, I wake up a couple of hours earlier than usual, every day for weeks at a time, so I can steal some writing time before my day job begins. Other times I’ll just write at any free moment I can — even if it’s just one sentence in ten minutes or a new scene in an hour before bed. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a one-size-fits-all writing routine. You just have to find what works for you and your life in that moment.
3. What are your thoughts on maintaining a blog – either the Deb Ball or your own?
I think a blog is one of the best ways to create a community online, and that’s so important for writers because writing can be a lonely endeavor unless you have the support and camaraderie of others. But I do think that to do it right, it has to be authentic. Readers can sense very easily if you’re just blogging to build up a platform, or if you’re there to really connect and communicate. So I’d say choose a topic that you’re truly passionate about, one you’ll be excited to explore from different angles on a regular basis, so that your blog feels like a true reflection of who you are.
4. Did you use a writing group?
I’ve been lucky to have had three different writing groups in the last 6 years — it’s made all the difference! Not only do our regular meetings help keep me accountable and keep writing, but the feedback I get is invaluable. My current group is made up of 5 women. We met at a writer’s conference 4 years ago and have met every month since. They read my manuscript before I started looking for agents, before it went out on submission to editors, even after it sold and I was working on edits for my editor. They’re my most trusted readers every step of the way.
If you’re looking for a writing group, conferences or your local writing organization are great places to start. Don’t worry about criteria — that they write in the same genre as you isn’t as important as their level of commitment being equal to yours. In fact, I’d encourage getting different voices and perspectives on your work. The most important thing is that you’ll read each others’ work, provide thoughtful feedback, and meet regularly.
5. What were/are some of your favorite websites or books for writers?
A couple of year’s ago I listened to Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, on audiobook during a road trip. I don’t usually read audiobooks but this is one I recommend really listening to. He narrates the book himself and it’s like having a several hours-long mentoring session with Stephen King himself. Even if you’re not writing in his genre, I highly recommend it for any writer looking for both inspiration and insights on the craft of writing.
As for websites, there is no shortage of resources for writers online; in fact, it’s probably overwhelming at times! But a few great ones to start with include:
Nathan Branford’s blog: He’s a former literary agent, now author, who’s been blogging for years about writing and how to get published. If you’re just dipping your toes into this journey, I’d suggest starting at his FAQ page: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/08/faqs.html
Writer Unboxed: This is one of the first blogs I started following when I got serious about publishing, and it’s full of real-world advice from writers ranging from aspiring authors to NYT bestselling authors.
The Debutante Ball: A group blog maintained by 5 first-time novelists during the year of their debut. I began following the Ball in 2009 and was thrilled to join them this year. We basically share a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to publish your first book, and we share tips, insights, and anecdotes along the way.
6. How does one find an agent?
The most common way is to email an agent a query letter (a short pitch of your book) and a few sample pages, depending on what materials they request on their website/guidelines. If they like it, they’ll ask to see more pages, and hopefully fall in love with your book enough to offer representation. It sounds deceptively simple, but considering how many pitches an agent gets a day and how subjective any art form is, it can be an incredibly difficult process full of many, many rejections before you get a yes.
The best way to get the odds is your favor is to first and foremost focus on your writing. Don’t start pitching agents until your book is the absolute best it can be. I recently found a note dated January 2007 in which I’d written a list of agents I thought I’d pitch when my book was ready. I’d found them by looking in the acknowledgments sections of books I felt were similar to mine, through blogs I’d read, and also through publications like Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers. At the time, I had a first draft of a book. By the time I’d revised and rewritten it to the point I felt it was ready to pitch agents, it was October 2010 – nearly four years later.
7. How do you persevere through rejection?
I’ll be honest: I mope first. It’s true we writers have to develop a thick skin, but rejection always hurts. No one’s saying we have to be invincible to the sting of it, we just have to know when to move on. So when I’m dealing with rejection, I take it in. I let myself process the range of emotions that come with it — pain, disappointment, sometimes anger — and then I get ready to pick myself up. I see it as a chance to learn and become stronger. Most importantly, I keep writing. I’ve always found hope in the writing process, in the surprises it unfolds with each new story.
8. Why do you write?
Because we all just want to be heard, and writing is both listening and speaking. There’s something very beautiful about telling a story that is yours but then becomes a part of someone else’s narrative. It’s how I learn, communicate, and connect with the world around me.
Chasing the Sun should prove to be a great summer read. Head on over to her The Debutante Ball if you want to say hello and learn more about writing. Like our own faith in God, we must have faith in ourselves to get our own writing projects out there. People in the trenches are helpful to know!
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