Today, my guest is Laurie J. Edwards. This lifelong reader has a lot of great advice, so sit back, relax, and enjoy!
1. When did you start writing?
Year ago when my five children were all under eight years old, I began writing for sanity’s sake. I signed up for the Institute of Children’s Literature course. It was the best thing I could have done. I learned so much about writing and marketing my work. The first article I sent out was a class assignment, and I was thrilled when Highlights accepted it. I didn’t realize at the time how unusual it was to have your first submission accepted by the first publisher you sent it to. I soon learned that rejection letters are the norm.
2. Are you a pantser or a planner?
A bit of both. I prefer to know the beginning and ending before I start. Most of the time I usually know a few key scenes in the middle. Then I write to find out the rest. I love going in unexpected directions as I draft.
3. Can you give us an idea of your writing process?
It varies a lot depending on what I’m writing and what deadlines I have. When I’m on a tight deadline, it isn’t unusual for me to write 12 hours (or more) a day. When I’m not facing a deadline, I sometimes have trouble motivating myself. The only thing that remains consistent, deadline or not, is that I prefer to write late at night. I do my best writing between 11 pm and 4 am.
Because I write everything from picture books to adult novels as well as nonfiction books and educational articles, my actual process varies a lot. For nonfiction, I usually research until I find at least one fun or key fact that I can use to surprise readers. Once I have that, I try to work my other information around that so the article builds to that point.
For picture books and easy readers, I often write words on slips of paper—a few animals, favorite kid topics (sports, cars, princesses, dinosaurs), and some problems/fears young kids face. Then I stir up the slips, select 3 or 4, and use those to make up a story.
For middle grade and YA, I often hear a voice speaking to me. I write down what the character says, and the story proceeds from there. I have a few of those conversations that I still don’t know the rest of the story. Those sit and wait until the character is ready to tell me more. For my YA set in Ming China, I was in Beijing in the Forbidden City when I heard a young girl say, “You must tell our story. Not all of us wished to come here.” That launched my tale of a concubine who didn’t want to be taken to the emperor.
Most of my adult novels to date have been inspirational novels. The ideas for those come from situations I see that bother me. Often the stories are allegorical, although many people only see the surface layer, which is usually a romance.
4. Which authors have influenced your work?
From the time I learned to read, I was never without a book in my hand. Until I was published and had too many deadlines to allow it, I read 20-30 books a week. So I would say over the years I’ve been influenced by thousands and thousands of writers.
5. What are you plans/future projects/new releases that we should be aware of?
Recent releases include the 5-vol. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes and a YA story in the anthology A Community of Writers. I just finished a series of 90 educational articles on children’s authors; they were a lot of fun and very inspiring. Presently I’m ghostwriting a celebrity biography and a YA historical series set in the Wild West. And I’ve been asked to write some picture books on bullying. I also have several novels in progress or almost completed.
6. Any tips for new writers?
Trust your characters. I consider every story idea as a gift and see each main character as the narrator. It isn’t my story, it’s the protagonist’s. I try to step back and let her or him do the telling. Sometimes this takes a while, but in the end, if I don’t rush them, my characters reveal a more interesting tale than I would have made up without their help. As long as I can hear their voices, I know I’m on the right track. Sometimes I have to stop and wait because a narrator isn’t ready to tell the whole story. Some people call this writer’s block, but I don’t see it that way. I strongly believe that when the character goes silent, she’s drawing strength to tell a difficult part of her story. If I’m patient, the events that emerge next are often the saddest or most moving ones in the whole book.
The other piece of advice I’d offer is to make friends with other writers. No one will understand your strange inclination to put words on paper and walk around talking to nonexistent characters better than someone else who has the same affliction. The best thing I ever did was join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and RWA (Romance Writers of America). Go to every conference they offer. Learn about the craft, meet editors and agents, and learn what they’re looking for. But most of all, find writers who will critique your work. If you’re serious about getting published, getting to know other writers—published and unpublished—is the best thing you can do for your career.
I got my first writing and editing jobs through a member of my SCBWI critique group. And every manuscript I write goes to my critique group (often multiple times) before I submit it. I’ve learned so much from other writers. Without them, I’d never be where I am today. Every writer from my original critique has now been multi-published. One is even a New York Times Bestselling author.
7. Any tips for old writers?
You mean old in age? You’re never too old to start (or too young). Scott O’Dell and William Steig didn’t begin writing for children until they were in their 60s. Both managed to write about 30 children’s books before they died, and many of those books won major awards.
I suspect you probably meant tips for writers who have been writing awhile. If you’re a seasoned writer and you’ve been published, look around for a writer you can mentor. Pass on all the knowledge you have gleaned. New writers everywhere are eager to learn what you can teach.
If you’ve been writing for years, but haven’t been published yet, most people will tell you to be persistent. That’s good advice; it isn’t always easy to break in. But I also think many people send out their manuscripts way too soon. I strongly believe that everyone’s first 3 manuscripts should never see the light of day. Let those be your practice manuscripts. Wait until you’ve written 4 or 5 manuscripts before you send one out. If you do, you won’t ask why I’ve given this advice. You’ll know. By the time you’ve written your 5th manuscript, you’ll be embarrassed to think that you actually considered sending out that first one. Believe me. I’ve seen it hold true for almost every writer I know. And many of those who found someone to publish their early manuscripts wish they hadn’t.
You’d be better served by studying everything on craft you can find, attending workshops, and networking. Give yourself time to grow as a writer. Five to ten years isn’t unusual to put in studying the craft before you’re published. The old rule that you should devote 10,000 hours to practice is a good one to follow. Become a master first, then submit.
Laurie juggles a freelance editing career as well as writing for both children and adults under several pseudonyms. In addition to more than 2000 magazine and educational articles in print, her most recent books include Rihanna (People in the News) (Lucent, 2009), Pirates through the Ages (Cengage, 2011), and the 5-vol. UXL Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes (Gale, 2012) as well as stories in two anthologies, Summer Lovin’ and A Community of Writers. She is also ghostwriting a celebrity biography and a YA historical fiction series and has several books coming out on cyberbullying. She is also hard at work on several adult romances under a pseudonym. You can visit Laurie at her website, her blogs (Susquehanna Writers and Downtown YA), friend her on Facebook at Laurie J. Edwards, or on Twitter @LaurieJEdwards.
website – http://lje1.wordpress.com
Facebook – Laurie J. Edwards
Twitter – LaurieJEdwards