To cap off our National Novel Writing Month workshops at Dream Midtown, Lindsay Champion, author of Someday, Somewhere and Food + Wellness Director at PureWow, ended the month with a handful of writers, teaching them how to write a novel with a full-time job, sharpen their writing voices, and find an agent. We caught up with Lindsay after her writing and Q&A session for a few questions of our own.
Dream Midtown: What’s your biggest piece of advice for someone who is starting their first novel?
Lindsay Champion: I want to say this the right way… it’s okay to suck. A lot of stuff, especially with first drafts, is going to get tossed out anyway. I think a lot of beginning writers are so nervous about having the Great American Novel or the absolute best piece of writing that they can do. Just know that nobody’s writing starts out that way. Don’t fear being bad or just letting it out there. You can always fix it later. The very best books go through sometimes 10, 15, or 20 revisions before they get to the bookstore. So don’t be too hard on yourself.
DM: What’s your biggest writing challenge?
LC: My biggest challenge with National Novel Writing Month was that I tried to do it three times, and every time I remember beating myself up so much because I felt like I had failed because I didn’t complete the challenge. The most I had ever written was 35,000 words, and that’s a lot of words! I remember thinking, this is so sad, I didn’t do 50,000, I failed. But it’s really about jumpstarting your writing. It’s not about having something perfect and polished or having the most words and “winning”the competition. It’s okay to not write as much as you promised yourself you would at the beginning of the week. Just know that any word, even if it’s just one word that you wrote today, is one more word than you had yesterday.
DM: How do you cure writer’s block?
LC: I think just continuing to write through it is the best thing. I mean, it’s great to take breaks if you’re feeling drained. Reading other things also helps me a lot, or I’ll watch movies that are in the same genre.
DM: Do you have a favorite spot to write?
LC: I love writing on my couch and lying down. I read that Truman Capote also always write lying down, so I think I’m in good company. I am at a desk all day long, I’m always sitting up. I have to sit up straight, I have to have both feet on the ground in this static position for 10 hours a day at my day job, and I really don’t want to be. So I go between lying down on the couch or sitting on the floor cross-legged with my laptop on the coffee table because I want to be in any position but sitting at a desk.
DM: How do you find the time to write novels on top of having a full-time job?
LC: It’s really tricky and I’ve been trying to play with different routines. Most recently I’ve been writing in little bursts throughout the day. Maybe when I wake up I’ll write for 20 minutes or half an hour, then if it’s a nice day, I’ll walk to work. Then maybe something will have come up on my walk to work and I’ll write another few lines when I get to work. I try to steal 15 or 20 minutes as I’m eating lunch to jot a few more things down. After work, if I need to stay at the office late, I’ll try to break it up. Let’s say I’m there until 9 p.m. Maybe from 8 to 8:30 p.m. I will try to write a little bit more of whatever fiction project I’m working on.
I also try to block off really big chunks of time on the weekend, and I call that my binge-writing time, where I literally do nothing except for write and eat and sleep. I have come back from these crazy writing sessions and I’ll walk out and my husband is like, “Have you showered in two days?” And I’m like no, definitely haven’t, I’m sorry. But it gets it done and I really think there’s no wrong answer as long as you’re doing it and you find a way to do it that works for you.
DM: What’s your favorite thing you’ve written?
LC: I think my favorite thing is always the thing I’m about to start. I think a lot of writers get into this crush phase with their book, where they’re so excited about this idea, this wonderful thing, and it’s going to be so great. Then you get halfway through writing the first draft and you’re like oh, this isn’t really turning out as I expected. It’s kind of like you’ve been dating a guy for three months and it’s not really working out and you’re like ahh, can I salvage this? It’s just like all of a sudden you see it falling through your fingers and wonder how you’re going to fix it. Then you get into this mode where you’re patching everything up with duct tape and bandaids and stuff. You’re almost trying to move things around in order to make it good again. So my favorite thing as of right now is the thing that I’m just about to start writing that’s still in the idea phase. I am so excited about it. I can’t tell you about it, but talk to me in 4 months and we’ll see where I’m at.
DM: Once you have a book written, how do you get it published?
LC: It’s really tricky. If you go online, there are all sorts of stories about this. I think the most famous one is J.K. Rowling famously went to a ton of different agents before she was able to finally get her book published and she had so many no’s. Writers need to take that to heart and know that it takes incredible persistence to find an agent and get a publisher. Also know that the manuscript that you get your agent with might not necessarily be the book that ends up getting published.
I find publishersmarketplace.com to be a really great resource for this. It is subscription-based and it has every deal that’s ever been made in publishing available to you. Sometimes it’ll tell you how much the deal was made for, which agent, which publisher bought it, and which editor at the publishing house acquired it. You’re so creatively focused when you’re writing the manuscript, but then you have to turn on this business-minded side of yourself in order to become a sales person. It’s a tricky dichotomy where a lot of artists aren’t great at selling themselves. Remember that you owe it to yourself if you gave yourself this much time and you worked this hard on the manuscript. Get a great query letter together and make sure the book is really done. You can’t half finish something and then have an agent say, “Hey, send me your book.” I wouldn’t quit until you’ve queried at least 100 agents. Give it a fair chance because just that one is going to be the difference that’s going to completely change your career. You just need one yes.