How long have you been writing for?
Even if you have only recently started your first full-length manuscript, chances are that you have been writing in one capacity or another since childhood. Through your dedication to the craft of writing creatively, you probably have a lifetime’s worth of habits and tricks up your sleeve.
But don’t be afraid to change things up and try new writing techniques!
Sometimes, we have to let go of certain writing styles, quirks, and techniques because they no longer serve the stories we tell. Remember: trying to get your book published means trying to speak to a contemporary readership. That means you’ll be adapting to the contemporary writing landscape, what readers are looking for, and what you, as a changing and growing artist, are learning.
In today’s article, author Ellen O’Clover goes over some changes she has made to her writing habits as she navigates being a debut author and how she stays true to her voice while still responding to the writing community at large.
OUR SPECIAL GUEST TODAY IS…
Her debut novel, Seven Percent of Ro Devereux, is available now!
When eighteen-year-old Ro's senior project—a future-predicting app based on the game MASH—goes viral, she and her app-selected match/ex-best friend Miller become the public faces of a phenomenon that quickly spirals out of control.
What is the most memorable writing tip or technique that you have heard, and how did it influence your process?
Start your project with a beat sheet! As a recovering pantser, I used to think that plotting a novel to beats would turn it into a formula and strip the process of all its magic. I wasn’t a mathematician, I was an artiste. But after writing a couple of books that needed massive, torturous revision because their plots were so erratic—and signing with an agent who likes to see synopses upfront—I knew I needed a better way.
Writing habits can be scary to change because they feel so sacred. Every time I sit down to write I tap into a sort of magic that I can’t quite explain, and messing with any part of the process is intimidating. But a critique partner recommended Jami Gold’s Basic Beat Sheet to me, so I put on my big girl pants and decided to give it a try.
The first time I used a beat sheet to plot a novel, I wound up with a book that flowed so freely—and was so fun to write—that I completed its first draft in 10 weeks. The two manuscripts I’d written previously took me over a year each! Knowing exactly where my plot was going every time I sat down to write didn’t limit my creativity; it freed me to be even more creative because I had the security of knowing my story was clicking along as it needed to. That book turned into Seven Percent of Ro Devereux, my debut novel.
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What was the biggest obstacle you faced in your publishing journey?
Pursuing traditional publishing is opening yourself up to rejection—there’s no way around it, and even the most beloved books have negative critics. At every stage of the process, from querying to going on submission to receiving reviews of published work, you hear “no.” For some people, only a few times! For some people, quite a few times.
Rejection is part of the process, and I knew that, and I was never alone in it (every writer I know has a healthy stack of rejections!). But still, it’s tough. I’m the first to admit that I don’t have a thick skin: I feel it all, and I feel it a lot. Because our writing is often so close to our hearts, sharing it is incredibly vulnerable, and it can be crushing to watch rejections stack up for a project you’ve poured yourself into.
I had two different novels fail to sell on submission with two different agents before my debut sold in a two-book deal with a Big Five publisher. And as I moved through that journey, I learned that it’s really not possible for me to separate it out: I write because I love it, and the road is hard and painful because it matters so much to me. When my heart is so fully in something, there can’t be one without the other. I have to feel every joy and sorrow of the process and keep showing up anyways—bruises and all.
All of which is to say, the biggest obstacle of my publishing journey has been protecting my magic in the face of rejection. Giving up sounded so delicious when I’d been writing seriously for four years and still hadn’t signed a deal! But I always knew that the only feeling worse than rejection from a career I wanted so badly would be rejecting myself. The only dream you’re guaranteed not to get is the one you stop showing up for.
But take breaks when you need them! And hold tight to what you love about your story, even if it feels like you’re the only one who loves it. Your opinion of your work matters the most.
What is one thing you wish you had known about the publishing process before going through it yourself?
No two publishing journeys are the same. And that’s okay! Nearly every author I know has had a different experience at every stage of the process. Agents operate differently; some books require more rounds of edits than others; no two books are marketed in the exact same way. It’s helpful to hear from other writers about their experiences so that you have context, but try not to compare to the point of despair. Do what you can to focus on your story and the team in your corner.
How do you balance finding time to write and managing other obligations and responsibilities?
There’s been a learning curve, especially this year as I’ve figured out how to work under contract for the first time! I have a full-time job that I also love, so my writing happens in the early mornings, late evenings, and on the weekends. When I’m drafting, I’m usually not very social—I have to retreat into my writing cave. It’s a sacrifice, but one that’s always felt worth it to me.
What's one writing "rule" or piece of advice that you decidedly break?
For a long time I thought that I had to write every day to be “serious,” but I’ve realized that working in focused bursts works much better for me. My process usually involves buckling down for a couple of months to crank out a draft—at the expense of sleep and socializing, hah!—and then taking a few months off to become human again. I go long stretches without writing anything at all, which lets me charge up my creative muscles. The only writing rules that matter are the ones that actually work for you! No one gets to decide the best way for you to be a writer except for you.
Since stumbling upon your YouTube channel and watching as many of your short pieces as I can, I have to say I look forward to everything. Finding you on Substack is a blessing. Keep up the good work, and check out my page if you ever get the time...