Big thanks to longtime WU contributor Sophie Masson for allowing us to reprint here the interview she conducted with Therese Walsh about the genesis of our first Writer Unboxed book, AUTHOR IN PROGRESS.
Sophie Masson: How did the idea for Author in Progress come about? What was your vision for the book, and how did that evolve as time went on?
Therese Walsh: The book came about after I met with the Phil Sexton at the Writer’s Digest conference last summer (2015). He mentioned the idea of doing a book with them, and that took root with me over a month or so. I had a follow-up phone call with Phil, and he mentioned the freedom we’d have to do the type of book we wanted to do. After that, the idea for Author in Progress fell into place rather quickly, as I considered what I knew to be true about writing a book – because there are some things I always say when someone who is not yet published asks, ‘How did you get published? What did you do?’
The book is broken into parts, following the stages a writer will likely go through on the road to publication: pre-writing considerations, the writing itself, critique-related topics, ways you can improve yourself as a writer, rewriting, perseverance, and releasing the project once you’ve served the work.
SM: Author in Progress is a very different kind of how-to writing book, as it doesn’t assume that the journey ends when your book is published. And it offers the advice and experience of many different contributors. How did you go about gathering and editing contributions from so many people?
TW: Assigning essays was much easier than it might have been, in part because Writer Unboxed contributors are exceptional to work with (I’m not at all biased!). I think the other reason it was relatively easy was because of the adaptability of the contributors, in that many could write to several stages of the book. That said, there was a certain magic to the match-ups and I’m particularly pleased with how that went; everyone delivered something about an issue that resonated with them personally.
In terms of gathering and editing, I created a deadline for essayists to turn in their work and that deadline was met almost without exception. I then read over each essay, and suggested revisions when I thought they might make the book stronger. I then did a final edit for clarity–adding headers and correcting for typos. This is what was then submitted to Writer’s Digest and our in-house editor there, Rachel Randall, who took everything to the next level in terms of polish and readiness for publication.
SM: Author in Progress is aimed not only at aspiring authors, but also authors who have already been published. What do you think authors at different stages of their careers could get from this book?
TW: One of the things authors will be able to see is that the stages of story creation are cyclical, repeating with every book. Sure, you learn things early on that you apply to each book thereafter, but that doesn’t mean you don’t hit each stage in some way. We’ve included some articles under a header called ‘Eye on the Prize,’ which addresses how a topic (e.g. critique) becomes important in a different way when you’re a published author (e.g. accepting notes from an agent, editor, even readers). We also have boxes throughout the book marked as ‘Pro Tips,’ which, again, help to root the reader in the reality of why something is important if you’re to make a career of writing.
All that said, I think the larger reason published novelists might want a copy of Author in Progress is because when we’re in the middle of a project–or at the start of one–we sometimes forget that all of this is normal. The anxiety, the doubt, the block, the research pitfalls, the need to go deep with character (and how to do that), the need to continue to learn and grow (and what steps you might take to push to the next level). I think even published authors need to remember that we’re not alone, and that the angst is part of the process, too.
SM: Is there any particular tip or bit of advice that you would offer an author starting out on the journey–and those a bit further along?
TW: I would tell that author starting out and an author a bit further along something similar. Writing a book is tough at times. Many of us might say, ‘If I knew how long it would take, what it would ask of me, maybe I wouldn’t have finished. But I’m glad that I did.” Perseverance is one of the key ingredients for any author in progress, and so I’d tell both of those writers to keep going, and remind them that they are not on that road alone. Truly, they are not.
SM: The book is closely associated with Writer Unboxed, the writing blog you founded some years ago with Kathleen Bolton, which has become prominent and respected in both the author community and the publishing industry. Can you tell us about the blog, and about the insights into authorship it has given you?
TW: Writer Unboxed is my writing family, and it’s my hope that we are other writers’ online family as well. We are dedicated to producing content daily about the craft and business of fiction on our website, but it goes beyond that with our Facebook community (5,000+ writers strong in a promo-free zone) and Twitter feed (@WriterUnboxed). Our ultimate goal is to provide positive and empowering support for writers of any genre.
I’ve learned a tremendous amount about writing simply by being present for the day-to-day business of the site, but I think the most crucial lesson is that it is truly a cyclical process. You envision. You create. You revise. You learn the lessons the book is there to teach you. You serve the work. You release. Repeat. As someone who hasn’t always had an easy road myself, there’s a lot of power for me personally in seeing that this process is what it is. It’s the job of being an author. It’s not always easy. In fact, it can be grueling and draining and crazy making at times. But it is a wonderful and gratifying thing to be able to do this job–build stories, reach readers. Writer Unboxed has helped me persevere to do just that. I has helped me, too, to write on.
Our book is now available as an e-book as well. Write on!