Because my life is completely entangled with writing—I’ve written three novels, hundreds of articles and essays, and I teach creative writing to kids—I get a lot of questions about writing from students, friends, friends of friends, third cousins of former neighbors, and strangers. So here are some of the questions I get asked most often and a few I’ve never been asked but wish I had (with answers to them all):
How did you get your first novel published? Several key factors helped me get my novel published. 1. I wrote a good book. It’s far from perfect and not nearly as good as the books I wrote later, but it was a good story and it carried some emotional truth. It was the result of the hard work we all put in: Four years of writing early in the morning and late at night and on weekends, in my kitchen, on trains, on vacation, at college reunions, as well as several novel-writing classes, a critique group with other writers, and feedback from friends and acquaintances. 2. I researched agents thoroughly and followed instructions well. I only sent query letters to agents who were clearly interested in the kind of fiction I wrote (contemporary women’s fiction) and I followed directions exactly. If they wanted the first chapter and a synopsis, that’s what I sent. If they wanted a synopsis only, that’s what I sent. I didn’t send a full manuscript unless they requested it. 3. I picked an agent who loved my book and loved the way I wrote, not the most famous agent. 4. I was lucky. I finished my book and got an agent in 2003, before the onslaught of e-books and $0.99 price points for novels changed the publishing industry into the crazy mess it is right now.
What is the first book that made you cry? When I got to the part in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where the Witch’s servants shave the lion’s mane, I started crying and couldn’t stop and couldn’t bring myself to finish reading the book even after I stopped crying. What I learned from this: I was only eight or nine, but I learned that books are powerful enough to make you weep, haunt your dreams, and feel more real than real life.
Do you believe in writer’s block? Sure; I know it’s something real that real people experience so I don’t doubt it exists— unlike, say, the perfect haircut, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist. Have I ever experienced it? Not really. As long as I’m writing about something I care about, something I feel emotionally invested in, I can always get words onto a page. The times I’ve gotten stuck in writing fiction have been the times I wasn’t honest enough with myself to admit that I didn’t really care deeply about my story or characters. [Read more…]