Despite spending nearly a decade in entertainment finance I came to the realization late last year that it might not be my true calling. Don’t get me wrong…I don’t regret the choices I’ve made so far because I have learned quite a bit about the industry, I’ve met great people, and I’ve been able to build up my resume. But the thing is that while I am a numbers person and I love spending hours on an Excel worksheet, I’ve come to the surprising realization that I enjoy something else a whole lot more…writing. Who would have thought?
I haven’t mentioned this to many people, but I have made several attempts at writing a book. Two years ago I wrote a 250+ page book but tossed it after I decided it was pretty terrible. I immediately started another book, and while I was much happier the second time around, I stalled after 150 pages. Why? I think I was just too unsure of my writing abilities to move forward and I didn’t believe in myself enough to think people would want to read what I wrote. No confidence = writer’s block. I knew that I would never be successful until I gained more confidence in my writing abilities. The question was how?
So I started this blog. I figured if my writing was good enough than people would visit and comment. And they did. Here I am months later with unexpectedly good traffic, great comments, new friends, and much more confidence. No I haven’t made a single penny from this blog, but the fact that I get emails from people who say they love my honesty, my sarcasm, and my blog? They really make my day.
I now feel just a bit more qualified to say that my long-term goal is to write a book and have it published. I am realistic though, and I know that writing can often be a long, difficult road. That’s why I jumped at the chance to interview Lisa Heidke, author of What Kate Did Next. I had the opportunity to review her book and was pleased to find out her thoughts on being a writer, the hardships she’s encountered, and her advice to those of us who want to be writers.
I hope you find her answers as helpful as I did.
An Interview with Lisa Heidke, author of What Kate Did Next
What Kate Did Next addresses the very relatable topic of juggling motherhood and a career. I know you are a mother and clearly successful as an author but when you signed my copy you mentioned this book is not an autobiography. Where do you get your ideas from? Does anything/anyone in particular inspire you?
My inspirations for storylines come from everyday conversations with friends, stories I see on the news and read in newspapers and magazines. I write contemporary fiction so my novels usually reference to pop culture and what’s going on in the wider community/world.
Marian Keyes is one of my favourite authors. When I read Watermelon, her first book, I thought it was fabulous and laugh out loud funny. I was interested to find out more about her life. Then when I read how difficult Keyes journey had been, I felt even more inspired and encouraged to write.
How did you start your writing career?
I wrote for magazines for many years and when I left to have my third child, I decided it was ‘now or never’ about trying to write a novel. I’d been talking for years about writing a book so I sat down at the computer when Mia, now nine, was a month old and started writing. I’d read several ‘how to’ books and decided I could write a Mills & Boon sweet romance. It was as simple as that!
Three months later I had written a 60,000 word sweet romance. The next week when I re-read it, I cried. It was dreadful. I kicked the cat, sulked and refused to wash my hair. But after my temper tantrum I decided that although I wanted to write a novel, I didn’t want to write a M & B. (Mainly because I couldn’t. Hats off to all my M & B friends because they are very hard to write well!)
Many bloggers aspire to publish something. Do you have any advice for them?
I would encourage anyone who wants to be published whether it’s a novel, short story, poetry or memoir, to go for it but to also keep in mind that it’s a long, hard road. You have to have a real desire and passion to write and keep writing no matter how many rejections you get. Persistence and patience – you need both of these in abundance.
Ask yourself the question, am I writing because I love creating interesting characters and stories or am I writing because I want to get published? If it’s the latter, you may lose your enthusiasm after the first ten rejections.
I’d also advise would-be writers not to write solely for money because unless they’re Stephanie Meyer or James Patterson, it’ll be many years before they break even.
What are some of the common mistakes aspiring writers make?
A common early mistake and certainly one I made, was thinking that my manuscript was good enough to send to publishers after only a couple of drafts. Usually you only get one chance to pitch your manuscript – so make sure it’s the absolute best you have to offer. Write the first draft and then stick it in a cupboard for three months. Absolute torture, I know. But after three months, you’ll have gained much need perspective and distance and be able to read your manuscript with fresh and objective eyes.
Rather than give your manuscript to friends and family who may gush over the fact you’ve written 85,000 words but not honestly tell you what they think of your writing and the story you’ve laboured over for six months, pay a free-lance editor to offer constructive criticism and advice on where to take your manuscript from here.
The other mistake I made was trying to write a story I thought would appeal to publishers, aka the Mills & Boon disaster. In doing so I squashed my own voice. It was only when I threw away my first manuscript and started writing a story I believed in, that my words flowed naturally. Instead of forcing an artificial writing style, I let my inner and natural writing voice take over.
Do you have any advice on how to handle the writing process and how not to get discouraged by (sometimes constant) rejection?
Now that I’m published I could say both books were easy to write but that’s definitely not true. There were too many drafts to count, many tears and many times I wanted to give up. Writing is a solitary pursuit and when no-one is encouraging you or interested in what you’re writing it’s easy to feel despondent.
This was especially true when I sent manuscripts or partials (three chapters and a synopsis) to publishers and received rejection form letters back. I think I’ve been rejected by every mainstream Australian publisher and American ones too. When I look back, I can understand why. I was too eager to send my stories out when they weren’t polished.
After each rejection, I’d stomp around the house and tell myself to give up. ‘Why bother?’ This was especially true when my children would tell their friends and their friend’s parents, I loved my computer more than them. (And that’s not true ninety-six percent of the time.)
But after a day or two of feeling sorry for myself, I’d turn on the computer and either rework a manuscript or start something new. I was determined to keep writing and eventually get published so I kept going, though at times it was incredibly difficult to keep my spirits up.
What do you love about being a writer?
I love that I get to create real but flawed characters who often behave appallingly and say and do things I’d never dare to in real life. I have a lot of fun writing and thinking up plot twists and turns. It’s great seeing a story come together. I start with a blank page and think, ‘how am I going to fill this with 85,000 words?’ I love disappearing into a world of make believe. The possibilities…
What do you find the most challenging about being a writer?
One of the greatest challenges I find is forcing myself to be disciplined, and making myself write every day, even when I feel tired or uninspired and don’t know what to write about.
On the other hand, when I’m having a good day and the words are flowing, I hate having to stop because it’s time to pick the kids up from school. On those days I’ll write myself a few notes so that the next day I can pick up from where I left off.
Generally, I write Monday to Friday during the school term. I don’t get a lot of writing done when the kids are around. After they’ve been packed off to school, I’ll check my emails and float around Facebook for an hour or so before I settle down and start writing.
If I’m working on a new manuscript, I try to write about 2,000 words a day, five days a week to get the story moving ahead. I try not to think about spelling, tenses and grammar. My main objective is to write the story. Of course that changes once the first draft is written and I’m editing and re-writing.
What are some of your favorite books of all time?
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. l was captivated by the sweeping melodrama and romance, the highs and lows, and Bronte’s intricate weaving together of secret lives and private passion – Jane falling in love with Edward Rochester, then running away, and her ultimate reunion and marriage to him. Yes, indeed! Jane Eyre has it all. I’m a huge Bronte fan but Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) are two of my all-time favourites.
I’ve already mentioned Watermelon by Marian Keyes and it’s one of my favourites because I love Keye’s sense of humour, her take on modern life and her first person confessional tone of writing. I think she is a very funny and clever writer. I also admire her ability not to take herself too seriously.
A must read for all writers is definitely Stephen King’s On Writing. When I read this book which is part memoir, part tutorial, on the craft of writing, it all clicked for me. I’ve always loved story writing but King’s book really opened my eyes to the craft. His anecdotes and personal struggles as well as his practical advice on writing have been invaluable to me. At least once a year, I’ll go back and reread On Writing and I always learn something new. Stephen King is an inspiration.
What are you working on now? What are you future plans?
Last November, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) an international writing competition where the aim was to write 50,000 words of brand new material. I did that and am thinking about developing the manuscript further to see where it takes me. The story is set in suburbia and it’s about the secrets people keep and the lies they tell. I am enjoying the process enormously.
Thank you again Lisa, for taking the time to answer my questions!