1.) In the spirit of Pretty Girl-13 have you ever had to fight/ work hard for something? What was it, how old were you, did you ever feel like giving in?, etc. (Ex: getting published/ writing a book)
Becoming a published writer has definitely been one of those experiences where the odds are stacked against you and you have to let the set backs roll off you, instruct you, or inspire you. I had a few false starts—wrote a romance when I was 22 and never did anything with it, wrote children’s stories for the magazine market on and off till I was 32. Then I got serious and wrote the first scene for my first YA novel at 38 (2000). Along the next ten-year journey there were certainly days of despair, weeks when I couldn’t walk into a bookstore without tearing up, years when my children asked me why I was still trying. Two things kept me going—one was that going into the endeavor, I wasn’t naïve about the difficulty I was going to face; the second was that I wanted to set an example for my kids of bouncing back after defeat and persisting and I wanted to be more that the person who made their macaroni and cheese (still their favorite meal). The most helpful advice I got in a writing workshop was from Tobias Buckell, who told us that setting goals over which you had control was vital. His goal was to get 500 rejections, which meant he had to be productive and he had to send his work out to get it rejected. So I set a goal to use up a box of 100 submission envelopes for short stories and to write ten novels before I would allow myself to give up. Fortunately, in 2010, I started selling before either one of those goals was met.
2.) Advice you have for aspiring writers
Aside from Tobias’ advice about setting goals which you can control, I advise aspiring writers to focus on the three C’s—craft, community, and commitment. No matter how well you write, you can always improve your craft. Watching my own style mature through the years has been fascinating. Craft improves with practice, with critical reading, and with critique-style feedback. Be warned, your relationship to the written word will change. Community is vital for emotional support, for the aforementioned critique partners, for mentoring, and for developing connections. Even if you write your words in sweet solitary confinement, belonging to both physical and virtual communities of writers will be necessary to your eventual success and happiness. Finally, I can’t emphasize enough the degree of commitment it may take to break through and break in. Ten years, ten manuscripts, ten thousand hours—these are the kinds of numbers you hear when writers share their stories. Enter eyes wide open and you will do fine. Coffee and chocolate are important, too.
3.) Do you have that one thing you repeatedly do, knowing the outcome will be the same? Why do you continue?
I am a “pantser.” I write my novels without developing detailed character inventories/sketches/profiles ahead of time and without outlining. I end up with a first draft that grows organically and reveals itself to me, sometimes painfully and sometimes in a rush of inspiration. There are definitely “stuck” times as I work through. I don’t always know how I am going to get my characters out of the mess I’ve put them into. The outcome is that about 75% of the time, my trusted first reader, my sister, says, “That’s not how it ends.” I tear my hair and think and ponder and try to figure out why the ending isn’t right. Usually it’s because I have let my protagonist off the hook too easily without a final seemingly insurmountable hurdle. So then I have to figure out how to torture him/her one more time to bring out the kind of deep understanding or change needed for a satisfying end.
Why do I continue? The one time I tried writing with an outline I felt incredibly bored. As excruciating as it is to take the leap of faith of starting without an outline, the best part of writing for me is when it feels like I’m reading. I become immersed in a story that unfolds page by page as if I’m taking dictation. When I catch myself looking for the book I put down because I’m anxious to know what happens next, and I realize it’s my own novel in process, I feel like I am onto a good thing.
Liz Coley writes fiction for teens and for the teen in you.
Her first published work was science fiction short stories, published in Cosmos magazine and several anthologies.
Self-published YA novel Out of Xibalba features a contemporary teenager thrown back to ancient Mayan times.
The story starts when the world ends.
Pretty Girl-13 from HarperCollins will be released in at least ten languages on five continents, in print, ebook, and audiobook.
There are secrets you can’t even tell yourself.
Liz lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband, her teenaged daughter, 18-year-old Tiger the cat, and kittens Pippin and Merry. When she’s not involved in writing-related activities, she can be found sewing, baking, shooting photos, playing tennis, and singing.
Liz loves reading aloud.
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