Is your life full of crazy ups and downs – drama, suspense, romance – mixed with colorful, over-the-top characters? Have you always wanted to learn how to write a book, but upon sitting down with only your writing medium and your mind, you’re not quite sure where to start?
We recently chatted with TakeLessons writing tutor and professional journalist, short story, and fiction writer Sarah B., to pick her brain and find out her advice for aspiring writers who want to know the “secrets” of a published author – and how working with a mentor of your own can help you find your passion and improve your writing skills.
Sarah herself needed the right tools to firmly understand the writing process. A strong educational background and passion for writing helped her along the way, leading to a professional writing career.
So break out your notepads and jot down Sarah’s great advice from one writer to the next. Let her journey serve as a fantastic example if you’re wondering how to a write book and work toward the career of your dreams!
- When did you start writing?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid. Of course at first, not much happened with it. You know, book reports, then essays, then business writing that took me into marketing and advertising. Lots of fun, but excruciating deadlines.
After leaving advertising in 2000 to write text for a book packager, I began a three-year stint writing features for the Fallbrook/Bonsall Village News. Seven of those stories garnered Society of Professional Journalists awards.
It was then I ventured into the world of make-believe, writing fiction between newspaper deadlines. I nearly levitated when my first short story showed up in the San Diego North County Times newspaper. Following this momentous event my writing appeared in Bravura, the literary magazine of Palomar College. Then in 2005, along with author Carmi Cosmos, we published “Out of Our Minds: Wild Stories by Wild Women”.
- How many books have you written and published?
I’ve written three books, two of which are published. The books I’ve published are “Out of Our Minds: Wild Stories by Wild Women” and “Twenty-One Steps of Courage”.
- Are you currently working on any books right now? How about future book plans?
The one I’m writing now is “The Lost Diaries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton” which is an 86,000-word historical fiction account of the early years of the American suffragette whose campaign for the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. It is a fictionalized version of her life, from her childhood through her marriage to Henry Stanton.
The idea came to me because I was interested in how Elizabeth became the person she was. I wrote about her childhood up until about the time she got married.
I think my next book is going to be a compilation of short stories.
- How much work goes into writing a book? How long does it take to write a book?
Oh my god. It really depends on the topic, for heaven’s sake. For me, let’s discount the short stories.
“Twenty-One Steps of Courage” took me six years to write. That was primarily because of the research required.
For “The Lost Diaries of Elizabeth Stanton”, I went to the courthouse where her father had been. That kind of research you can’t find any other way. I was able to feel it, you know, be in their skins for a while. That one has taken about five or six years to do, too. I don’t know what’s going to happen with it next.
- Out of all of your books, which is your favorite and why?
My favorite book, right now, is the one I’m currently working on. There’s something about closing a book and walking away from it. For example, people ask me if I’m going to write a sequel to “Twenty-One Steps of Courage” and for me that book is finished, there’s no reason to go back to it. I get excited about writing about new people and new experiences.
- What comes first, the book or the agent? Is it beneficial to have a literary agent?
Oh, there’s no reason to go out and get an agent. The agent doesn’t know you from squat. They get 500 queries a day, so acquiring an agent can be tough for many. Any serious writer should learn how to perfect the craft. Read the writer’s magazines. Figure out how to write with practice and research.
- What is the process like working with a publishing agency?
As a creative writer with a background in journalism, I’ve found that it’s difficult to transition between the two writing styles. At a publishing agency, your writing is creative and detailed. You’re writing to sell a book. When I was a journalist, I liked to add creative details to my articles, but I’d get a call from my editor saying, ‘Sarah, you can’t say that. You don’t know if it’s true.’ The two disciplines sometimes get mixed up.
- You teach online writing lessons - what is the experience like for students taking writing lessons with you online?
Well, the reason I enrolled at TakeLessons is because I tutored at Palomar [College] for ten years. I tutor because I like the dialogue of a young person. The relationship feeds off one another. The student shares the enthusiasm for writing with the tutor, no matter if the tutoring is face-to-face or online.
The experience has been fun. I have one writing student from Tanzania. He actually lives in Indianapolis and works as a software engineer. He came to TakeLessons to improve his English writing. We work together on Skype. Before a lesson, I ask him to send me his documents first, and I highlight my comments and send it back to him. After that, he calls me through Skype and we start going through the corrections together.
- What kind of advice can you offer for aspiring writers? Do you have any advice for children or teenagers who want to pursue a career in writing?
The writer’s life is all the same. Whether you’re me or Stephen King, you’re writing every day. You’re writing down ideas on notepads and scratch paper all day long. Just write, but don’t expect to make a lot of money. If I had to do anything over, I would get a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. Keep developing your craft and keep writing.
Sarah B. offers English tutoring in Fallbrook, CA, as well as online lessons. Her specialties include academic writing and creative writing. She joined the TakeLessons team in October 2013. Learn more about Sarah, or search for a tutor near you.