I just listened to a panel of authors at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference. Here are some questions and answers, as best I could write them down. The panel consisted of Kerrie Flanagan, Jon Davis, Chuck Wendig, Denise Vega and Warren Hammond.
The replies are approximations, not exact quotes, so please don’t hold anyone accountable!
What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
Denise Vega: Don’t follow trends
Chuck Wendig: Finish what you start
Kerrie Flanagan: When someone says “no” you say “next”
What consistent piece of advice you give your students?
Jon Davis: Start the next book
When you’re stuck; what do you do to get past that?
Chuck Wendig: I look at my mortgage payments
Denise Vega: I move. I free my brain up. I ask myself a question—whether about a scene or a character? Sometimes I take it to bed and wake up with the answer.
Warren Hammond: step back. let your subconscious work on it.
Jon Davis: I used to write screenplays. I let the computer read it back to me in its terrible voice. Gives me a new perspective.
When are you ready to submit when you’re? How do you know when its done since it can always be better.
Warren Hammond: It’s never finished; you just give up.
Denise Vega: Raymond Carver said when you take all the commas out and put them back in, you’re ready.
Chuck Wendig: Use beta readers; but once you have five or six books you have a feel.
Denise Vega: Sometimes you have to change your process. How do you work best? Try different things. I used to not plan or plot—now I’m doing it and it’s going so much better.
Jon Davis: Take a screenwriting course. It teaches you about the shape of a story. I’ve used a screenplay as an outline.
What things do you use to help creativity?
Jon Davis: I spent some weeks in a famine house in cold weather in Ireland. Being away from everyone for three weeks.
Kerrie Flanagan: Getting away. Go to a cabin with no internet. No TV. Just yourself and your thoughts.
April Moore NCW conference chair—we have a retreat. Being around other writers gives creative energy. (link)
How do you carve out the time to write?
Denise Vega: On Sunday I write out my schedule and put writing in just like any other appointment. It’s sacred time.
Kerrie Flanagan: Train the people around you to give you time.
Jon Davis: No one wants you to write—they want you to have written. It’s your job.
Chuck Wendig: Treat it like a job. A regular job. Would you treat someone in an office like this?
How far in your writing journey did you have the realization you are a writer?
Kerrie Flanagan: At Universal Studios. When people asked me I would say “I used to be a teacher.” At universal studios there was a sweatshirt that said WRITER. I bought the shirt and it reminds me all the time. We have to accept it and own it. So go get a sweatshirt.
Denise Vega: If you’re writing, you’re a writer. You don’t have to be published to be a writer. I had people around me supporting me.
What time of you day do you like to write?
Kerrie: Creative in the morning. Business in the afternoon.
Denise: I don’t check my email first. Morning tends to be better. But whenever I find the time.
What % do you spent on the business?
Denise: It varies. In children’s books there’s an expectation you’re going to help market. I’m spending a lot of time connecting with booksellers, readers, etc. But often it’s a procrastination technique; I’ll do that instead of working on my book. Checking email is not going to help you solve the problem if you’re stuck.
Chuck: 75% to craft. 25% to business. You don’t need to be on social media.
Denise: if it feels like a chore, it’s not good. I’m pulling back. I’m not convinced it helps with sales.
Warren: Publishers latched onto social media as free marketing. There are some success stories. Publishers push the marketing back on authors. There are a lot of authors who aren’t good at it. There are authors who get in trouble on social media. Social media should be more of an afterthought. Writers write. Publishers sell books.
Chuck: The more you’re willing to do, the less your publisher has to do. You’re training your publisher. Don’t do that. You want your publisher to get you opportunities. My career has kind of been made by social media. It’s not a great place to sell books. Keep that noise down. Promote other people. More people want to know what I like rather than what I promote. The professional value of social media is to engage with readers; to make professional connections. It’s a professional watercooler. I like social media.
Kerrie: One thing people don’t think of is writing for magazines. A byline is valuable and you can put your web site there. I get a lot of contacts that way.
Chuck: Branding might be a bad thing for writers- no one wants to read Coca-Cola.
Denise: Finding the joy in the work is key. I focused too much on “Will this book get published” I lost it. I had to re-find it.
It’s always good to hear other creative people talk about their process and their reality. The longer I’ve done this, the more I want to learn how to do things differently. And the best way do that is to listen to others.