When and how did you start writing?
I’ve hardly stopped writing since I was seven years old, at school and home. But by the age of fourteen I was writing two novellas simultaneously around high school (and sometimes in class, because I was in a laptop program and writing on a page could be work couldn’t it?). I’ve been juggling multiple wips ever since.
How does a story begin for you? Is it an idea, a conversation, a title, or an image?
As someone who has often struggled to express a range of emotions, and can be quite disconnected from their own feelings, emotion is normally the spark for me. I’ll feel something, then my subconscious will choose a soundtrack for it. Next appears shadowy characters, whose dialog or actions matches whatever I’m feeling. They tend to act out a brief scene like a movie in my head. From there I choose specific details to elaborate on, and some of these imaginings become scenes, which I write notes on. When I’ve sketched enough scenes to have an (often vague) overall idea of conflict, pov characters and their roles -I’ve got a story.
Is the experience of writing fiction different to writing poetry?
Very much so. My poems often being short, I find my poetry is about capturing certain feelings and thoughts. With poems, the structure just comes to me and all I have to think about is the words to best frame and express feelings or ideas. With novels, I find developing structure can be more haphazard, and in the case of developing my characters, it takes a lot more editing.
How does being part of writing groups help you?
Writing groups have given me everything from encouragement and inspiration to keep going when I’m getting sick of editing and or querying, to being a great source of writing craft and authoring resources and information. The beta readers for my latest wip are all members of informal writing groups I’ve started on Twitter or Discord. During lockdowns (in which I may be spending just as much time in 2021 as I did in 2020), writing groups have been my main source of lockdown company, conversation and a boost to my sanity.
What writing advice have you been given that really helped you?
Find what works for you. On Twitter and in general there seems to be a LOT of emphasis on writing daily. If you don’t -you’re ‘not a real/ serious writer’. I call b.s. on that. I teach small children (currently many with special needs), full time. That takes up a LOT of emotional energy and headspace (normally, not just online during lockdown -my current situation). If I try to jam a novel into my headspace during the week, and edit on a Monday and Tuesday, that overworks me enough that I’m run down and sick by Friday. Yes, writing is about discipline. But I can put down a wip for two to six months, then spend a week re-reading and getting my head into gear and continue that wip. All of my seven, novel-length wips have been written that way.
As it turns out, what works best for me is pantsing not only the first draft based on the scene notes I described above, but also the second and maybe third draft, in which I dig down into story structure and character actions and reactions which drive the plot. Then I look at beats, character arcs, and the pacing of them throughout my story and write revision/ edit notes. So ‘find what works for you’ gave me the freedom to find the best process to write AND edit my novels.
What do you consider your greatest writing accomplishment? And which was your biggest challenge?
I consider the third book in my first YA Fantasy to be my biggest accomplishment. It contains more pov characters, delivers more promises made to the reader, and allows more seeds planted throughout two novels preceding it to blossom more fully than anything else I’ve written so far.
My biggest challenge has been getting any novel finished. I’ve mentioned how sporadically I sometimes write and edit, and I find I can only CP for one writer at a time, so both writing and editing take years. Then there’s the fact that I’ve found that as a pantser, once I start a book in a trilogy, I can’t finish editing it properly until I’ve written and done at least some structural edits of book two and three, because some significant details mentioned in book one normally get changed in book two or three. So only in fully drafting and partially editing three books can I actually finish the first.
What’s the best thing someone has said about your writing?
I’m not good at taking compliments, so positives my beta readers mention don’t stick with me as well as their constructive criticism, which I pounce on when editing. But with novel pitches, I’ve had enough compliments that I simply can’t forget them, my favourite being that I’m ‘a pitch whisperer’ because of my ability to re-write other people’s book pitches, homing in on character, story conflict, drama and what’s original about any particular story.
What would you do if you didn’t write?
If I didn’t write, I’d have struggled far more with my mental health, and would have been on medication and needed serious professional help in my teenage years. So the answer for then would be: I’d be a complete mess.
More generally speaking, in my teaching career, I’d possibly have worked my way up to vice principal by now, which doesn’t interest me very much, because I’d much rather be working in a classroom with students. So in both respects, it’s definitely a good thing that I’m a writer!
What is your ultimate dream as a writer?
Having spent many years editing and over a year ‘in the query trenches’ (which was mostly lockdown fatigue and not querying), my dream is to have all seven of my wips become published novels (self published or traditional for any), and a small but dedicated readership.
What advice would you give other writers?
Find your writing community. You may not realise that you’ve never consciously thought about (and perhaps don’t handle very well) any particular aspect of writing craft until you hear someone else talking about it. You may not realise multiple things about how to write an engaging, effective book pitch until you read more experienced people’s pitches and or witness people critiquing them. And while you could sign up to many writer organisations, and get so many emails you don’t read most of them (or is that just me?), it’s much easier to join a Discord (like mine) or Slack with an events channel, where other writers share conference and webinar links you may otherwise have missed. And the huge part of a writing community is having a network of people who speak your language, can share your journey, help you with feedback, support etc, to whom you can give back, and the friendships that can grow from that. If you’ve heard ‘writing can be lonely’ -the simple way to escape that is finding your writing community.
Also, don’t edit your novel umpteen times before getting critical readers! And try not to worry about scene level details like description, dialog eg., let alone sentence structure, until you’re confident you’ve nailed story structure, point of view characters, past or present tense etc. Doing either of these things can mean finding a solution that involves heavily re-writing or deleting carefully edited scenes -so save yourself the time and trouble!
Elise is often exploring fantasy worlds and speculative ideas via writing or reading. Energetic and enthusiastic, they have novels in progress from drafting to querying. Elise is also a primary school teacher and a traveler. They enjoy photographing everything which captures their imagination and writing poetry about it.