Author Insights: 7 Tips From a First-Time Novelist (+ an Autographed Book Giveaway!)

Happy New Year, writers!

We're kicking off a new year here at Called to Write with a new author insights series featuring book giveaways. I'll be introducing you to writers who've taken their writing all the way to the finish line of publication, and they'll be sharing their "lessons learned" stories with you. There's nothing quite like learning from a writer who has made to the other side.

Plus, if you leave a comment at the end of the post before Tuesday, January 17th, you'll be entered to win an autographed copy of the author's book in a random drawing. (You must be located in the United States to win.)

Meet Donna Baier Stein, author of The Silver Baron's Wife

Let me introduce you to Donna Baier Stein. Donna was a member of my Called to Write Coaching Circle in 2012 when she was working on establishing a writing habit to help her complete her first book. And the proof is in the pudding, because, ta-da, her book The Silver Baron's Wife came out in the fall of 2016. So exciting! 

I asked Donna to share her greatest insights from writing the novel.

Seven Tips From First-Time Novelist Donna Baier Stein

Donna Baier SteinI chose the historical figure of Baby Doe Tabor as the main character of my first novel thinking her fascinating, event-filled, roller coaster life provided its own ready-made plot. I’d been writing stories and knew that my strength was language, not narrative structure. I’d even spent time in two radically different writing groups—one focused on literary fiction (heavy on characterization and language) and one focused on more plot-oriented genre fiction. I, rather arrogantly it turns out, preferred the literary focus. I was definitely a pantser rather than a plotter.

So I decided to write about a woman whose life story had already been the subject of an American opera – The Ballad of Baby Doe – and several other books. There were so many events to choose from her life: her work in the silver mines of Colorado and first marriage to a philandering opium addict, a second marriage to a man worth $24 million when they married at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, with President Chester Arthur in attendance, her years writing down her dreams and marking visitations of spirits on her wall calendar at the Matchless Mine in Leadville. All I had to do was write what had happened in Baby Doe (Lizzie’s) life, I mistakenly thought, and voilà, I’d have a novel.

So I started my research. I researched for years, taking occasional stabs at writing early chapters. But the writing of the novel was far less easy than I’d naively hoped it might be. Here’s what I learned from my mistakes:

  1. A writer can do too much research. I had boxes of hard copy files and dozens of folders on my computer. And in early drafts, I put far too much emphasis on describing the physical details of clothing, furniture, food of the era. I’d say “Bluchers” when saying “boots” would have sufficed, for instance. It was only in the final drafts that I realized I could focus only on the items that the characters came into direct contact with… and see them as they would see them, not as if they were described in a museum catalog.
  2. Narrative arc is key. I discarded many early chapters about Lizzie’s childhood because they didn’t serve to tell the story I ultimately wanted to tell. I had to choose certain episodes of her life, ignore others, and create new ones in order to show the change in Lizzie I wanted to reveal. The novel, unlike a biography, wasn’t just about re-telling Lizzie’s life. Its purpose was to reveal a theme and a transformation in my main character.
  3. When writing dialogue, be inside your characters. At first, I felt intimidated by them. How could I talk like a 19th century woman talked? I did find some historically current slang phrases to toss in, but mostly I wrote dialogue as I heard Lizzie and other characters saying it in my head.
  4. Be inside your characters as they move through a room, too. It was like being an actress on a stage. Instead of seeing Lizzie from an outside view camera, I had to metaphorically go inside her. See what she would notice in the rundown mining cabin in Dogwood or the extravagant villa in Denver. And feel what she might have felt living in such radically different environments.
  5. For me, writing in first person really helped me inhabit my main character. An agent once told me that third person limited narratives were easiest to sell. I rewrote the book that way and though it came close, it didn’t sell on that go-round. I went back to the first person voice I felt most comfortable writing in, and I’m happy with the result. That was the way I wanted to tell Lizzie’s story from the beginning.
  6. It’s hard, though certainly not impossible, to give adequate attention to every phase of someone’s entire life. The next novel I write will focus on a much shorter time frame than 81 years.
  7. Don’t be obsessive about rewriting until you’ve got your story down. I must have rewritten the first pages of the novel fifty times. I thought, mistakenly, that I had to have it exactly right before moving forward. This is not the way to get a novel written.

I’ve already started writing a new novel, and I’m grateful to have the first under my belt. I’m sure I’ll learn new lessons this time, too!

About The Silver Baron’s Wife

silver-barons-wifeKirkus Reviews called the The Silver Baron’s Wife “an artistic, sympathetic imagining of the life of a 19th-century woman who made headlines for all the wrong reasons.” Foreword Reviews gave it five stars and said, “A unique portrait of a time and place populated by fearless people, this reimagination of an uncommon woman is powerful.”

The Silver Baron’s Wife is available on:

About Donna

Donna Baier SteinDonna Baier Stein is the author of The Silver Baron's Wife (PEN/New England Discovery Award), Sympathetic People (Iowa Fiction Award Finalist), and Sometimes You Sense the Difference.

She founded and publishes Tiferet Journal. She has received a Scholarship from Bread Loaf, a Fellowship from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, three Pushcart nominations, and prizes from the Allen Ginsberg Awards and elsewhere. Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Virginia Quarterly Review, New York Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and many other journals and anthologies.

She is currently completing a new collection of stories based on Thomas Hart Benton lithographs. You can find Donna online at www.donnabaierstein.com.

Enter to Win a Copy of The Silver Baron's Wife!

Donna has graciously agreed to give away 3 autographed copies of her book to my readers. Leave a comment on the blog about one of your own writing lessons or something you learned from Donna's insights before Tuesday, January 17th at 5 p.m. Pacific Time and you'll be entered in the random drawing. You must be located in the United States to win.

 

It’s our 5th anniversary… and we’re having a sale!

As I promised in yesterday's post, we're having a special sale to celebrate the 5th anniversary of my Called to Write Coaching Circleand it starts today!

Waaaayyyy back in 2011, we launched our first 'beta test' group for the Circle. Now we're running five groups, with a talented coach at the helm of each one.

To celebrate, we're offering an ongoing savings of 10% on ANY of our subscriptions, whether a single-session, a four-session, or our popular annual subscription when you sign up using the coupon code HAPPYANNIVERSARY.

You'll love how good it feels to take action on your writing and make your writing life happen right now

When you join us, you'll have access to our coach-led group writing sprints to boost your writing energy, coaching calls to help you keep writing (led by yours truly), and daily, personalized coaching support from your small group writing coach.

You can find out more and register for the Called to Write Coaching Circle here. Just make sure you register by MONDAY, September 12 before 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time to join us and use coupon code HAPPYANNIVERSARY to save 10% on the subscription of your choice. Your rate will be locked in for the life of your subscription.

We can't wait to write with you!

Warmly,

Jenna 

Got Questions?

If you have any questions about the Circle, feel free to ask! The fastest way to get a response is to email us at circle@calledtowrite.com or use our online contact form here. We'll get back to you ASAP.

Are You Waiting for Permission to Write?

In the teleclass I taught last week: "Called to Write: Align Your Daily Actions with Your Soul's Deeper Purpose", something that resonated for my lovely group of attendees was the idea of no longer waiting for permission to write

(If you missed the live class, you can still sign up to get the recording by clicking here.)

I waited for years to start writing fiction.

Inside, I felt like I had to get some kind of stamp of approval before I was "allowed" to write. That I needed an expert or agent or mentor or master writer to see my potential and encourage me to pursue writing. That otherwise I was chasing a fool's dream or breaking the rules somehow. 

Change Your Mindset

I think many writers or want-to-be-writers do this. It's tied to perfectionism. A belief that we have to be "good enough" before we start. That there's a qualification level we have to reach before we even begin.

But how can we learn how to do anything, until we actually start doing it?

One of my mentors, Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU.com, talks about how he makes a point, every two years, to learn a new skill, so that he always remembers what it's like to be a beginner. This helps him develop the programs he runs for new writers because he can put himself in our shoes. I'm willing to bet he doesn't wait for permission to learn karate or poker or horseback riding. I'm betting he picks something that interests him, and goes for it.

Why can't we do the same with writing?

Perfectionism, again. This has to do, in part, with the black and white nature of writing in this digital age. Back when I wrote drafts on paper, I didn't hesitate to scratch things out. I knew I was writing a first draft. (I can even recall telling my father that I didn't think I could ever write without real paper! How times have changed...) There's something about seeing our words looking so final that makes them seem like they should be final draft, publication quality. Which is entirely unfair to our early stream-of-consciousness drafts.

Underneath the perfectionism is also fear, the lurking originator of perfectionism and other writerly issues, which tells us to play it safe and protect ourselves from potential failure, ridicule, and rejection. It's a powerful force that works against us and our writing.

But again, how can we learn, grow, and develop ourselves as writers without actually doing the work?

We cannot.

We have to change our mindsets from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

And we have to stop waiting for permission -- for some kind of pre-approval that will guarantee our success -- otherwise, we are really just kidding ourselves.

Don't Wait for Permission

Here's the thing.

You do not have to wait for ANYONE to validate you or tell you that you are good enough or deserving enough or talented enough to write.

No one has to “see” or recognize your writing as “good enough” before you can write. There’s no outside evaluation or assessment of “potential” needed or required.

YOU ARE A WRITER.

You are a writer because you are CALLED TO WRITE.

You know you are called to write because you have been persistently nudged, cajoled, and pestered by your deeper, higher, wiser self to write. 

That means, by definition, you have been invited by the Universe to write.

And therefore, you have all the permission you need, right now.

diamonds

Coaching CircleReady to fulfill your calling as a writer? Join the January 4th session of the Called to Write Coaching Circle and start getting your words out in the world where they belong. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com. Save $30 on your first session with coupon code NEWYEARWRITE and lock in our 2015 rates as long as you keep your membership active.

 

Survey says . . . !

I haven't really taken a proper day off this Labor Day weekend, though we did get to take the boys swimming up in warm Sacramento on Saturday, which was lovely. I hope you're having a terrific Labor Day if you're off work today. 

What's been preoccupying me lately is been looking over the results of the survey (and packing up books for our winners, so fun!).

It's been fascinating to see how the answers spread out in response to the question, "Do you struggle with any of the following with your writing?"

Here's a look at all the survey results for this particular question (click the graphic to open it up into a larger window):

Do you struggle with any of the following with your writing?Survey Results

 

Over 71% answered "procrastination," which doesn't surprise me. Interestingly, 71% of you also said you felt called to write "without a doubt".

Isn't that an interesting statistical match up?

The statistic that really stands out to me though, is the second one in the list, which comes in at 44% -- "Jumping from project to project and never finishing anything". 

It's worth talking more about why this happens and what to do about it, but I'll give you a hint right now about what underlies that "habit": Perfectionism coupled with self-doubt and normal resistance (but perfectionism takes the lead).

And of course "Wishing you had more time" comes in close behind it at 38%.

The next batch of highest ranked challenges makes an interesting collection too:

  • Thinking you aren't creative enough or don't have good enough ideas, 35%
  • Not feeling like a "real" writer, 35% 
  • Being too busy with work, 34% 

Followed closely by:

  • Struggling to find big blocks of time to write, 31%
  • Feeling that you need more training, 29%

Can you relate to any of these?

Some of these are "trick" questions of course, and I'll be telling you more about why that is when we talk for the teleclass. (N.B. I'm postponing this class until later in the fall and will keep you posted!)

The answers that were "other" included things like:

  • Insecurity and self-doubt
  • Being afraid to finish because of being unsure what to do next
  • Feeling like no one will want to read what you write
  • Feeling under-skilled and ignorant
  • Failing to set firm boundaries around your writing time
  • Feeling depressed because of other life issues
  • Not getting up early enough or scheduling writing time 
  • Struggling with organizing and editing 
  • Perfectionism
  • Not enough income

And of course I have thoughts and suggestions about how to deal with all of these too, which I'll aim to discuss in the teleclass.

Thanks to everyone who participated! 

diamonds

Join the Writer's CircleIn the meantime, if you're struggling with any of these challenges, my best solution (and/or doing private coaching with me) is my Writer's Circle group coaching program. The next session starts this coming Monday, September 14th and we'd love to have you join us! 

 

 

And the winners are…

Thanks to the almost 100 of you who participated in my Called to Write Survey!
I appreciate your input so very much.

It was fascinating to look over the results.

So many of us feel called to write, but struggle with all the challenges of bringing it into reality.

For instance, in answer to the question, "Do you feel that you are called to write?"

  • 71% answered "without a doubt"
  • 21% answered "would like to believe that"
  • 8% answered "not sure"

But even though so many of us feel called to write, there are still lots of struggles with procrastinating, being too busy, being uncertain about what to work on, and more.

I'll be looking further at the data and seeing what else I can glean, as well as reviewing all the great questions and issues all of you brought up. Thank you so much!

And without further ado... 

Our book drawing winners!

Here are the TWENTY winners from our random number generated drawing:

  1. Courtney
  2. Dorit 
  3. Michele (with one 'L')
  4. Debi
  5. Beth
  6. Jodie
  7. Marion
  8. Steven
  9. Karen
  10. Rebecca
  11. Christine (@yahoo)
  12. Jo Ann
  13. Risa
  14. James
  15. Antoinette
  16. Amy
  17. Linda D.
  18. Nikki
  19. Candace
  20. Selen

I don't have last initials for everyone, but everyone has been emailed who won (check your spam folder if you think your name is on the list but you don't see an email from us).

IMPORTANT: Winners have until Monday, August 31 at 12 noon Pacific Time to respond with their mailing address and book preference, after that we will move on to our Runners Up.

 

Thanks again to everyone who participated!

 

 

Share your input + be entered to win

I'm working on prepping a class called "Called to Write: How to Align Your Daily Actions with Your Soul's Deeper Purpose" and I'd love to have your input.

If you can spare a few minutes of your time to fill out a short survey, I would be grateful!

Everyone who participates will be entered into a random drawing to win a print copy of The War of Art or Turning Protwo of my favorite books by Steven Pressfield. Multiple copies are available, courtesy of the lovely Callie Oettinger at Black Irish Books, so there will be multiple winners!

The drawing will be held on Wednesday, August 26th and winners will be announced then.

You can enter the drawing and participate in the survey by clicking here.

Thank you so much!