Before Me Before You sold 8 million copies, Jojo Moyes wrote three books that didn’t sell at all.
In fact, she began her career with one of the most amazing lists of jobs I have read thus far – typer of braille bank statements and minicab controller being my two favorites. Jojo went on to study journalism and worked in that field for ten years before she turned to fiction. And when she did she wrote three novels that were all rejected by publishers. When she started the fourth, she knew she was no turning back because she couldn’t help but write despite the heartbreak of getting another no after years of hard work.
Once her first book was published, it wasn’t an overnight success story that followed. Jojo published 8 novels over 10 years before Me Before You came out. The wonderful thing about this conversation is her perspective on succeeding slowly. If she had written Me Before You first, one of her greatest joys would have been taken from her: the love that has been poured on all her earlier books now that people know her through a best-seller. They didn’t read Me Before You and walk away, readers found her and were able to build a relationship because she had such a robust back catalogue.
For anyone coming to writing after having had other jobs, or anyone who worries that there is no hope if your first book isn’t a smash hit, I give you Jojo’s story as the result you may prefer in the long run. She writes stories with romantic plot lines, but she is a realist through and through and this conversation is sure to inspire you on many listens. It gives me such great joy to share it. I hope it has you writing furiously the second it’s over.
Listen Up on iTunes or Stitcher | Jojo’s Site | Still Me | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
Discussed in Episode 90 with Jojo Moyes
- “I don’t want the book to wait anymore.” Caroline on being held accountable.
- KM Weiland, Outlining your novel
- Episode 100 on the horizon. New website launch is coming!
- Submit to our anthology: email email@example.com
- Mary Robinette Kowal
- Impostor Syndrome
- “I have to work really hard to create characters.” On starting a novel.
- “They both kind of landed in my lap, fully formed.” On the appearance of Louisa Clark & Will Traynor.
- Louisa is the character she feels closest too & is easiest to write.
- Me Before You not intended to be part of a trilogy.
- “Louisa was not allowed to leave my head.” On staying with a character though reader interaction and writing a film about her.
- “What happened after the headlines fade?” On still wondering about a character once their story has been told.
- “If you inhabit a character honestly, you have to slightly let them work at their own pace.” On stories going in different directions than what you’d imagined.
- NYC was logical place to move Louisa to, because it’s synonymous with ambition and striving and it’s also a major city without massive cultural obstacles such as a foreign language and food, like Tokyo or Rio de Janeiro.
- The problem with writing about NYC is that so many people have done it and done it well.
- The only way to do it authentically, for Jojo, is to do it as an alien.
- “There’s no substitute for actually smelling the smells and hearing the voices and walking out the territory.” On immersing in the setting you’re writing about.
- “It’s a sort of grubby love letter to the city… I like to see both my people and my places though a very un-rosy lens.” On writing her version of NYC in Still Me.
- “All good narratives thrive on tension.” On bringing class into her novels.
- Very conscious of how strong the fault lines of class are.
- “I wrote three books before I got published. …If you are a writer, you can’t not write.” On writing anyway, even in the face of rejection.
- “I wrote eight books before I had a best seller.” On being a writer, even when it’s not paying the bills.
- “None of us have the time.” On having the discipline to write every day.
- Immense validation of readers discovering her back catalog and liking those – not best-selling – books too.
- Loves her cover design.
- The Secret of the Old Clock
- The Woman’s Hour
- Map of Shadows
- The Great Work of Your Life
Danielle Lazarin didn’t realize she’d written a Feminist Collection of Stories.
Let me first say that I loved this collection. What struck me about Back Talk was how real the people inside the pages felt. Reading through the book, I was a bit surprised at how the critics had hailed it as a feminist collection, because it felt first and foremost like a collection of stories about women acting the way women actually act. But then it hit me, that is profoundly feminist because we come up against stereotypes in fiction all the time. Breaking them down is as feminist a choice as I can imagine.
In speaking with Danielle, she too admitted she hadn’t had a particular agenda in writing the stories, but that she had felt it was important to present women as they are in situations most fiction ignores. I loved this, and I loved how the stories forced me to confront my own bias and my own prejudice that comes from a lifetime of reading women portrayed as too emotional, irrational, or as other types that are easy to dismiss. As I read each of these stories, I saw the way I expected the plot to go, and then marveled at Danielle’s refusal to take the easy way out.
I adored both this book and this conversation. If you have ever written a female character, or ever plan to, you’ll find something to inspire you. Happy listening.
Listen Up on iTunes or Stitcher | Danielle’s Site | Back Talk | Instagram | Twitter
Discussed in Episode 89 with Danielle Lazarin
- “You get to rework them over and over in a smaller time frame.” On the difference between the novel writing process and the short story writing process.
- “There are pauses when you’re putting together a book of stories where you can celebrate what it is and the work you put into it, then kind of put it aside for a little while.”
- Although creative writing is not seen as a practical degree, she’s still doing it.
- “People are always saying Creative Writing’s not a practical degree. Yes it is! I did it twice.” On getting a BA and an MFA in Creative Writing.
- We are trained on stories and so many people are told that they need to write a novel – but they’re very different skills.
- Stories allow you to experiment. With novels you’re stuck in a cave working with the same characters and plot and point of view.
- Stories allow you to play with voice and time frame. You will find your strengths and weaknesses.
- They’re going to say “this” but you have to write what you want to write.
- Don’t seek an agent until you know what your idea is.
- The world of writing and the world of publishing are 2 different things (You have to work on a story that is true to you.)
- Some people don’t want to write novels and some people always want to write novels.
- How short stories seem ideal for the modern reader.
- “Stories are intense and tiny. The more compressed something is the harder or more intimidating it is.” On comparing stories to poetry.
- Reading is an investment.
- “I’m a writer, I like suffering and darkness and hard things.” On the necessity of diving into the deep end of a story.
- I want to be in this world for however long it takes me to read this book.
- If you’re in a story collection and you don’t like the story you’re in, you can turn the page and go to a new story.
- “I’ve written a lot of projects by pretending I’m not working on them.” On writing a lot of the stories while “cheating on” the novel writing process.
- It’s all happening now, no one is calling me begging for a collection of SS, so I better just get on it.
- “Don’t have kids to motivate your writing, but it’s helpful.” On how life experience and time constraints made her a better writer.
- “We need more stories of women out in the world.” On pushing boundaries with stories and not censoring character feelings.
- All the narratives we’ve been fed (of what a woman is like as a love interest or a mother) have been written and controlled by men.
- It’s common for women to internalize thoughts and feelings and not act on them.
- We’re all taught to question the basic thing of not wanting children, it becomes so scandalous.
- It was very important to Danielle to write mothers that were normal people – the normal narrative of women in our society.
- Poking holes in the commonly accepted narrative of what mothers and women are expected to be.
- Getting feedback : we are so afraid of being told we aren’t quite there, so we sometimes scrap it.
- If it’s bothering a lot of people, you should look into it and use it in a way that will eventually work to the effect that you want it to.
- If they get fired up in a critique situation, it’s because they CARE.
- Watching where the attention goes in your story to realize what matters or what needs the dial turned back a bit.
- Writing makes you face your own conditioning
- “The way to write something is to try not to write it.” On resisting the stories that are so deeply hers.
- What is a book supposed to do? What do we expect it to do? We want to experience someone else’s life in someone else’s world. What makes it meaningful is that it’s a story we can relate to. (From Caroline)
- The best books are those we go in looking for something and we come out with something completely different.
- “You are writing to find out something you already know. You’re writing something you didn’t realize you knew.” On reading to learn things about ourselves.
- Readers pick up on things in stories that Danielle wasn’t super conscious of when writing.
- “It’s just between them and the page.” On space that readers make that has nothing to do with you.
Sometimes the hardest part about writing is getting started.
Dal Kular and I are on a mission: support writers in overcoming the obstacles that keep them from telling their stories. Whether these obstacles were imposed externally, or came up inside you as the critic, we want to band together to break through as writers.
We are currently accepting entries into an anthology we are assembling to showcase tales of anyone who felt the fear and wrote it anyway. Told by a teacher you’d never write? Tell us your story. Crippled by doubt and perfectionism despite support from those around you? We want that story too. Circumstances conspiring to prevent you ever having the time to write? Hell yes we want that story told.
Here’s how to submit to I Wrote it Anyway:
- *We are accepting submissions of up to 2,500 words
- *Please listen to the Secret Library Podcast Episode #88 to hear our discussion of the anthology’s mission
- *Submissions must be sent in by March 15, 2018 at midnight Pacific Time
- *Email your submission as an attachment to: firstname.lastname@example.org
- *Share this post on Social Media with the hashtag #iwroteitanyway
- *We will announce the essays we select for the final collection on April 30, 2018
Good luck! We look forward to reading all your stories. As Dal says in this episode, writing is a revolutionary act. We all benefit when more stories are told. Let’s share what helped us write.
All proceeds will be split equally to benefit 826 LA and Arts Emergency
Sometimes the hardest part about writing is having the guts to get started in the first place.
Dal Kular (episode 58) and I have been having a conversation for close to a year now. We keep coming back to the same question over and over and decided it was time to share it with the community: What stops people from writing?
In a time where it has never been easier to publish a book with indie publishing on the rise, I still hear from person after person afraid to take on the title of “writer” for themselves, sometimes even after publishing several books. The statistics have reported that 4 out of 5 people would like to write a book, but far fewer people do.
If this is a dream for so many, what is getting in the way? Dal and I share our own personal stories about what slowed us down early on and encourage you to share yours with a new anthology we’re compiling: I Wrote it Anyway.
After Dal and I introduce the topic and the anthology, we have an excerpt of a conversation I had with the writer, Win Charles, on her podcast about her writing routine. Win is a prime example of writing it anyway, since she has lived with Cerebral Palsy her entire life. See links below to listen to that full conversation on her show.
Finally, the magical Mary Laura Philpott (episode 22) is back with a must-read selection for early 2018. Every book she has told me about has been pure gold. In addition, she shares some wisdom about writing her own forthcoming book despite the fact that she is inundated with intimidating titles on a daily basis in her work with Parnassus Books.
We hope you enjoy this Ira Glass “a story in 3 parts” episode and that you start dreaming up something to submit for the anthology. Happy listening!
Listen Up on iTunes or Stitcher | Dal Kular’s Site | Win’s Site | Ask Win Podcast | Mary Laura Philpott’s Site | Parnassus Books
Discussed in Episode 88 I Wrote It Anyway:
Part 1: Dal Kular
- Obstacles faced by writers/aspirational writers.
- Working Class Writers movement on Twitter.
- “My Name is Leon,” by Kit de Waal
- “The way for a better society ahead is to hear real stories from real people about real experience.” Caroline
- “I never want anyone to feel, if they have an impulse to write, that it’s not important.” Caroline
- “I think that when we live in societies that are super-striated and people don’t hear stories from anyone whose experiences are different from theirs, then they just make up a story about what that’s like.” Caroline
- “Every story that’s told fills in a little space.” Caroline
- “That whole process of writing, it just lights something up inside the deepest part of yourself.” Dal on what writing can do for a writer.
- “Writing is a revolutionary act.” Dal on the power of writing down your experiences.
- “If you write over a long period of time, it changes you.” Dal, on what writing can mean to the writer.
- Submit your piece for consideration in the I Wrote it Anyway Anthology: email email@example.com Topic is obstacles or ways in which you’ve felt inhibited regarding writing. Submissions open now until March. 152,500 words max.
- Proceeds split between 826 LA, Arts Emergency
Part 2: Win Charles
- Have a notebook, digital or paper, with you 24/7.
- Listen to the full conversation on Win’s show.
Part 3: Mary Laura Philpott
Paula Priamos is no stranger to suspense.
She spent her childhood in courtrooms thanks to her father’s career as a defense attorney. She learned the language and the pacing of this world and dove into the underworld connected to the law when she wrote her first book, a memoir about her father’s life and death called The Shyster’s Daughter. In her second book, Inside V, Paula moves to fiction to tell a dark twisting story about a couple thrown into chaos by an accusation and subsequent trial.
In this episode, Paula and I discuss writing thrillers, character development, and how to keep suspense in a story as you write it. I was particularly taken with her desire to subvert cliche in characters by looking at how we expect certain tropes to behave: the other woman, a man accused of sexual assault, the young accuser and all the other figures that appear in the book.
If you’ve thought about writing thrillers, this episode will have you on your way. There is no shortage of readers out there who love to read them, so if thrillers are calling your name, listen up and get writing!
Listen Up on iTunes or Stitcher | Paula’s Site | The Shyster’s Daughter | Inside V | Facebook | Twitter
Discussed in Episode 87 with Paula Priamos
- How early in writing a suspense novel do you know what the ending is going to be?
- “I first started with the characters.” On beginning her latest book.
- Important for her to write supporting characters that were fully fleshed out, not one-dimensional.
- Using settings.
- “I wanted to immortalize my relationship with my dad.” On her memoir, The Shyster’s Daughter.
- “I’m not afraid of the blank page.” On starting her books in blank notebooks.
- “Their lives start to play out in my head.” On starting the first scenes.
- “You don’t know how you did it but you’re just happy it worked out.” On those elusive moments of writing flow.
- “They can drive you crazy.” On living with the characters in your novel.
- “It anchors you. It gives you a compass that you’re a writer first.” On writing every day, around a day job.
- “It makes me feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.” On writing every day.
- “Even bad writing can somehow turn into good writing.” On staying engaged, even when its not going well.
- “As long as you care about the language, you’re a literary writer.” On the flexibility of the literary genre.
- “It has to have some type of meaning behind it or else why read it, or why write it?” On knowing what your story is about.
- “It’s a certain type of freedom, to write in a notebook first.” On staying away from technology on first drafts.
- The writing is the best part of the entire book producing process.