Writing Advice from Page Count Authors

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Show Notes

We’re wrapping up 2022 with a compilation of writing advice from some of the authors who appeared on the pod this year. From writing routines to persistence, motivation, research, rejection, and more, these authors have you covered. Be sure to listen to their full Page Count interviews for more in-depth discussion of these topics and others.

In this episode:

Finally, at the end of this episode, we share a preview of our first conversation scheduled to air in 2023: an interview and query letter critique with literary agent Erin Hosier. That episode airs January 3, 2023, so be sure to subscribe to Page Count and stay tuned.


Laura Maylene Walter (00:02):
Welcome to Page Count presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, book sellers, literary advocates and readers in and from the state of Ohio. I'm your host Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:27):
Well, we launched this podcast only eight months ago, and in that time I've had the opportunity to interview authors, publishing professionals, librarians, and even a toucan puppet, one of my favorites. So for this, our final episode in the calendar year 2022, I'm compiling some snippets of advice from the authors I interviewed this year. The advice you're about to hear is geared toward writers, and it covers everything from carving out the time to write, motivation and persistence, research, rejection, and so much more. In early January, we'll return with a full length episode featuring literary agent Erin Hosier, who critiques query letters from Ohio writers and discusses publishing at large. Stay tuned at the end of this episode for a preview of that discussion. But for now, let's listen to the advice from these celebrated authors. First up is Negesti Kaudo, who reassures writers that there's no need to worry about how fast or how slow their careers might be progressing.

Negesti Kaudo (01:31):
Don't worry about time. There's no time limit on being a writer. There's no time when you have to have a book done. And if you have a full-time job like I do, just find those little pockets of time to write, you know, what you enjoy. Meet up with another writer friend at a cafe on a Sunday morning and just write for a couple hours. You know, if it's your passion, you'll find the time to do it. So don't worry about it.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:54):
When it comes to actually finding the time to write and taking your writing seriously. Short story writer Liz Breazeale offered her thoughts in our live episode recorded at Literary Cleveland's Inkubator writing conference.

Liz Breazeale (02:07):
Think of your writing as a job, kind of as a career, as a lifelong career, and in doing so, sort of give it that legitimacy to take time out of your busy day to write. What enabled me to maybe give writing a more central focus in my life is finding a routine that worked for me, finding a routine that was manageable and something that I could do sort of day in and day out. Because writing is such a grind, you guys, writing is such a slog some days, some days you don't want todo it. Some days it's so hard. So you have to find a routine that works for you that you can do even on the days that you really hate yourself and everything you're doing. I personally am a writer who writes best in the morning. That's when I feel most creative. I'm not sort of like worn down by my day job <laugh> as I sort of become through the day <laugh>. So writing in the morning for me works, and that's something that I can keep up.

Laura Maylene Walter (03:05):
Matt Bell shared how recordkeeping and spreadsheets help him stay motivated through the long slog of writing a novel.

Matt Bell (03:13):
You know, I keep some version of a writing log. It's often a simple spreadsheet where I just put in, I wrote this many words today. I worked for this many hours. Here's how I felt. Here's what I thought about. It's just like when you track things, you do a better job of it, right? You know, you write down the miles you run every day and you become a better runner. You write down the words you wrote every day and you become a better writer. It just makes me want to do it more because I'm writing it down. I think the other part of it is the process is so long that it's nice to be able to look at the log and see what I've done and just be like, I'm working really hard. Like you can see how much effort I'm putting in. So it's like I'm on the path. Or you look back and go, well, a month ago I had 20,000 less words than I have now. That's a good month. Even if you're in that uncertain middle where you're like, will this ever be done? Will this be good? And the spreadsheet doesn't answer that question, but it doesn't at least show that you're trying, and I think that's really, really helpful.

Laura Maylene Walter (04:04):
Children's book, author and illustrator Will Hillenbrand stresses the importance of doing research and finding your answers as you go.

Will Hillenbrand (04:13):
What if I said to you, how many toes does an ostrich have? These are questions that as an illustrator you might get, or as a writer, you don't have to have all those answers in your head. But if you don't know what that is, you're guessing. And if you're guessing that's not good enough, you need to do research. And research isn't a bad word, it's not punishment, and it doesn't mean that you're dumb, it just means that's important. Note that and find the answer so that you can draw what you know instead of draw what you guess. And writers write what they know. They don't write what they guess.

Laura Maylene Walter (04:42):
Jill Grunenwald addresses the competitive market for memoir by encouraging writers to pursue the stories they most want to tell.

Jill Grunenwald (04:50):
The advice I would give to anyone working on their own memoirs is if that's what you want, and you want to tell that story, just keep doing it. It's challenging for every genre right now. Publishing is challenging at the moment, but if that's the story you want to tell, and that's where your creative energy is being pulled, I fully support you in just continuing to write it and trying and getting it published if that's what you want todo. But I think ultimately, you know, writers just really figure out what story you want to tell and write that no matter what.

Laura Maylene Walter (05:23):
The MFA is always a big topic for writers, especially for those who feel they might be at a disadvantage if they don't have one. But here, Jyotsna Sreenivasan discusses how not having an MFA removed some pressure from her writing life.

Jyotsna Sreenivasan (05:38):
The other thing that is really great with not having an MFA is because like when you have the MFA, then you can get a job at a college as a creative writing professor. And then I feel like there's a lot of pressure to publish, right? For me, I think that would've been hard. I don't have any pressure to publish now. Like, nobody at work cares if I publish or not. <laugh> It's not something that I even talk about at work. So I have that freedom because we all get a lot of rejections, right? I mean, the more you send out, the more rejections you're going to get. And so I just don't have to worry about it because my livelihood is not on the line. You know what I mean?

Laura Maylene Walter (06:11):
Every writer in the world gets rejected. And here, graphic novelist Derf Backderf offers his frank thoughts on the subject.

Derf Backderf (06:20):
Well, it's the usual challenges, you know, it's the same kind of pitfalls that you face in any publishing venture. Nobody seems to want you pay you quite what you're worth. And sometimes you run into roadblocks here and there. I've been at comics a long time, and to have a career in comics is to live with rejection. You get told no a lot, and I've just never really been able to listen to it, you know, I have these comics in my head that I want to do it. I keep searching for a way to get them done.

Laura Maylene Walter (06:50):
Short story writer Christopher Gonzalez shared how working for a literary magazine changed his perception of rejection.

Christopher Gonzalez (06:58):
Reading submissions sort of clued me into things that maybe I was doing that I didn't particularly like. What kind of stories do I like to read? What things don't appeal to me? And like, am I doing that in my own work? And also it made me understand a little bit more like, oh, a no is not an insult against the writer. Sometimes stories can be perfectly good, but not a right fit for the journal. And I think that was something I really needed to hear early on in my writing career that, oh, okay, my story is fine. It just wasn't a match for this journal or that journal.

Laura Maylene Walter (07:31):
Negesti Kaudo also acknowledges the inevitability of rejection as she encourages writers to apply for residencies.

Negesti Kaudo (07:39):
If you want to like embrace this writing lifestyle more, definitely apply for a residency. The worst thing that a residency can say to you is no. And writers get a lot of no's, and we are very good at taking rejection. And so apply for residency, especially if you have a job with PTO or unpaid time off, apply for residency and then if you get it, someone will give you three to 25 days where they will feed you and give you a bed to sleep in and put a roof over your head. So all you have to do is write.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:11):
One of my favorite moments during an interview was when I asked Thrity Umrigar how she thinks publishing has changed over the years. She in turn made it clear that she focuses on what really matters and what should matter to writers most of all: the work itself.

Thrity Umrigar (08:27):
Laura, I can say the usual stuff that most people would hold to be true, that Amazon has certainly disrupted the publishing industry, that more consolidations of houses have happened, that the book industry seems to be following more and more the model of Hollywood, which is everybody wants that first new novel that's going to be a blockbuster. That's sort of the phantom that everybody is chasing...but I'm sitting in my little corner of Cleveland, Ohio writing away.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:01):
In addition to buckling down and doing the work, writers also need some form of community to survive. Matt Bell shares his thoughts on the importance of community.

Matt Bell (09:11):
You know, the craft stuff is how to do it. The community is the thing that helps you survive while you do it. And I think if you don't have a community you want around you, you have to make one. And I think you have to feed the communities that you're in so that they sort of survive. Until you're the person whose book is coming out, you're the person who needs it. I guess I've really kind of been lucky for a long time to have people to go to readings with or places or bookstores to go to readings or libraries that are doing lots of great things. And I think I've always kind of wanted to be like in the mix in that way, and I find that very sustaining. I also find the sort of service parts of writing very sustaining. You know, you doing this podcast is part of that, right? The things you do for other writers are also part of the learning and part of the thing that leaves you sort of inspired and encouraged to go on.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:52):
Every writer must also be a reader. And Rachel Elizabeth Cargle discussed what this means for her.

Rachel Cargle (09:59):
The thing I definitely have learned is that to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. And so I have really built up what I call my literary ancestors <laugh>, which are all of the people who came before me, whose work really speaks to the type of writing I want todo, the type of connection I want to have with my readers, the type of heart that I want to put into my words. And that's been a really powerful way for me to build the framework for my own lane as a writer, is look and read past writers who speak to and even present writers. I say my literary ancestors cause I'm talking about Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Joan Didion, a lot of people and women, particularly Black women, but also others who have really captured the emotion, the intention, and kind of the shape of writing that I want my work to have in the world.

Laura Maylene Walter (10:48):
Finally, children's book author and illustrator Tracy Subisak brings us back to the heart of why we do this. The joy of creation.

Tracy Subisak (10:58):
My advice would be to draw what you want to draw, and if you really love doing it, just keep going. Play around with different materials. If you are an aspiring storyteller, you can make your own stories, you can take some paper, staple it together, and challenge yourself to write a story and read it to your family, read it to your closest friends, and have fun with it. I think having fun is a huge part of this.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:31):
On that note, we're going to wrap up this final episode of 2022. Here's a preview of our next episode, airing January 3rd with the literary agent Erin Hosier. Happy New Year everyone.

Erin Hosier (11:44):
I just learned so, so much writing my own book and co-writing or ghostwriting for others because I now realize that the part where you're writing alone in a vacuum is very important. Clearly it's how it is, but it's not great for your mental health, number one <laugh>. And you need the support of other writers or other people who know what you're going through, through the process to help you see the bigger picture, to guide you through, to give you prompts, to tell you when it's not working to tell you to take a break. It's just a long-term project. So the first thing I do is I tell the new writer I'm working with to buckle up and that this is about the long game. And that every time you start to hear that like, "oh my God, I have to quickly turn this around and make this chapter sing by next Friday or the world will end," that is just not the world of book publishing. We're talking about deep future. You might be in another decade of your life by the time this book is in stores, but that's what you've signed up for if you want to have a book.

Laura Maylene Walter (13:05):
Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the book at Cleveland Public Library. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and leave a review for Page Count wherever you get your podcast. Learn more online or find a transcript of this episode at OhioCenterfortheBook.org, follow us on Twitter @cplocfb, or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email OhioCenterfortheBook@cpl.org and put "podcast" in the subject line. Finally, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening, and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.


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