Swoon Author Kristen Orlando: A Coffee Date and Some Writing Advice
When I was writing the novel that became You Don't Know My Name, I did it in secret. I could count on one hand the number of people who knew I was writing a book, let alone knew I had posted my manuscript on Swoon Reads (I even had a pseudonym on the website! Sophia Kelley I believe it was.). So when it started to leak out that I had gotten a book deal, friends, co-workers and family members were pretty shocked. I was so lucky to have tons of support and excitement once my good news had made the rounds.
But the next thing that happened surprised me. Out of the woodwork came friends, co-workers, former classmates, acquaintances and friends-of-friends who asked for coffee dates. The reason? They also had dreams of becoming authors, but just didn’t know where to start. I was happy to let them pick my brain and give them as much advice as possible, because I was fortunate enough to have a couple wonderful authors who helped me along the way (looking at you, Julia Devillers!).
So, let’s pretend you’re one of my hopeful author friends. Grab a cup of coffee and pull up a chair. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to writing a book:
1.) The Idea Isn’t the Hard Part: A lot of people think coming up with the idea for a book is the difficult bit. But honestly, that’s the easiest part of this whole journey. The hard part is writing and revising and revising again and then revising one more time when you can’t stand to look at your book any longer. I cannot tell you the number of people who say they have an idea for a book but have yet to write a single word (and their ideas are great!). Writing is difficult, time consuming, and mentally exhausting. And often, life gets in the way. So once you get that great idea, celebrate! You have an awesome idea… hooray! But then get ready to work your little butt off.
2.) There Is No "Right" Way to Write: I cannot start a book without a proper outline. Now, this is just me, of course! Some brilliant writers compose an entire book with NO outline at all (I heard Gillian Flynn speak once and she said doesn’t outline, which blows my mind because her plots are so intricate!). But for me, an outline provides a very important roadmap for the book. I write a synopsis of what I want to happen, but I also write a chapter-by-chapter outline with the main plot points and emotional beats. When I started writing You Don't Know My Name, I wrote character descriptions for the major players. What they looked like, their personalities, music they liked, hobbies they were into, their backstory, etc. For me, outlines are imperative, because they give me a guide and help push me forward. But if you like to write by the seat of your pants, go for it! There’s no wrong way to write.
3.) Butt-In-Seat + Typing = Book: Writing when you have all day to do it is hard. Writing when you have a full-time job and kids and laundry and dinner to cook and activities, seems impossible. So build yourself a writing schedule that works for your life and stick with it the best you can. When I was working a very strenuous advertising job (with long hours and lots of brain-draining creative thinking), I’d dedicate my weekend afternoons to writing fresh content and my weekday evenings to editing (after a long day of work, I didn’t have the energy or headspace to come up with new material!). And even if I wasn’t in the mood or would rather be doing just about anything else, when Saturday and Sunday afternoon rolled around, I forced myself to sit in that chair and type. Inspiration eventually does come. Sometimes you just have to force it out.
4.) Get Several Unbiased Opinions: My mom thinks everything I write is fantastic (she is my biggest cheerleader!). So when it came to finding beta readers, I knew my mom and other people I was close to wouldn’t be able to give me the honest and impartial feedback I needed to make the book as strong as possible. So I gave my manuscript to people I didn’t know very well or didn’t even know at all: writers I met at conferences, cousins of friends, a sister of a former intern, the list of very random people I had read my book goes on and on. The best thing you can do is not be too precious with the book and ask for feedback that is brutal and harsh so you can get it in the best shape possible. Then get ready to revise, revise, and revise again.
5.) Write for You: The biggest piece of advice I tell aspiring authors is to write for yourself. That’s what I did when I was writing You Don't Know My Name. I wrote the book because I absolutely loved writing and wanted a creative outlet. I didn’t do it because I wanted to be famous or make a ton of money or because I thought I’d be the next John Green or J.K. Rowling. I wrote because it was my passion and it fulfilled me. Becoming an author is tough. Reaching that New York Times Bestseller level is even tougher! So write books because it makes you happy. And if your manuscript doesn’t go anywhere, write the next one because you love telling stories. If anything happens with those beautiful words you’ve strung together, then it’s just a cherry on the top of a fabulous sundae.