#SpotlightOn: Brandi Willis Schreiber
Ready to polish your writing? Brandi Willis Schreiber is our #SpotlightOn author this month and she's here to give you 5 C's for pursuing your dream as a writer...
I am thrilled to connect with the Pink Heart Society readers! My name is Brandi Willis Schreiber, and I live, work, and write in West Texas, on El Llano Estacado, a landscape that is as lonely and mysterious as it sounds. It’s an intensely beautiful part of Texas, full of fascinating history and influences. Because I’ve lived here most of my life, I’m drawn to characters who are also from the American South/Southwest. It’s an intriguing place to write about!
I’m very humbled to be sharing some thoughts with you in this #SpotlightOn column. When I first started writing this piece, I thought, “What do I possibly have to offer readers as someone who is struggling through my first novel and isn’t published in book-length yet?” And then that word - struggle - struck a chord. Writing a first book is hard work, and I’ve learned so much through the process that I want to encourage other writers who are also learning this craft. It’s my hope this post will help you remain inspired, productive, and positive as you work your way toward “The End.”
First, a little background on my writing journey. I have always wanted to be a writer of some sort. I vividly remember reading my first children’s book, looking at the author’s name on the cover, and thinking: Making someone feel that way must be the best job in the world! Even as a child, I understood the power writers possessed, for someone could write words, and the words could whisk you away and make you feel a certain way! That moment was profound and shook me to my core. And then I ran outside to play and promptly forgot that thought for approximately 30 years.
I always read a ton and dabbled in writing, but I never, ever thought that I could write a book, much less pursue publication in fiction. Although I earned my B.A. and M.A. in English, I still did all my story dreaming in private. It never occurred to me until I was in my 30s I could try. Like many writers, I decided to write the story I wanted to read, and that’s when my writing education really began! My journey so far has been the most exciting and soaring experience of my life. It’s also been one of the most challenging, for learning to write genre fiction and pursue publication is not for the weak-hearted! Although I am in the process of editing my first novel, these tips have helped bring me back to my creative purpose when the work gets hard.
1. Compassion: Practice It
It’s hard to believe, but this is one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned while writing a book. I conceived the novel I’m working on three years ago, and for three years, I’ve worked on it, as Toni Morrison beautifully suggests, “at the edges of the day” before work, during lunch, and on the weekends. During this time, I’ve also grayed, moved houses, taken on new roles at work, experienced heartbreak, and celebrated milestones. In other words, life has swirled and changed around me while I’ve worked on this one thing that constantly occupies my mind. At times I am hard on myself that it’s taken me this long to produce the vision in my head, but then I have to remind myself that anything worth doing takes time, and that writing requires just as much compassion as craft.
If I forget to have compassion for myself in my writing, the joy gets sucked right out of it. My lowest moments have been when I’ve compared myself to other writers and their productivity. But I have to remember I am no “worse” a writer than anyone else because my first novel is taking more time than I thought it would. I’m just new to fiction writing and finding my way. You, too, as an aspiring author have to have compassion for yourself as you write. Give yourself room to play, to learn, to make mistakes, and forgive your limitations, both in ability and time. You will get there, and your future (published) self will thank you!
2. Craft: Study It
Now, about that craft I mentioned. It’s true that the only way you learn how to write a book is by writing a book, and you need resources you can flip to when you get stuck scratching your head. This is a list of craft books that have proven their value to me time and again:
Simply Synopsis by Michelle Somers
The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Emotional Trauma by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
And these books have brought me back to the magic and joy of writing when I start to get too frustrated with my output:
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
3. Contests: Judge Them
Many writing organizations and RWA chapters sponsor contests as a way to raise funds and provide
entrants with access to feedback and industry professionals. When I first started writing, I was excited by
all the possibilities and started entering my fledgling chapters for feedback. While this was helpful (when the feedback was constructive and kind), it was expensive and, honestly, premature, at least for where I was in my writing. Lately I’ve found the best learning experience for my own novel writing has come from judging contests instead of entering them!
Contests are always needing judges to provide thoughtful feedback, and this is one of the very best ways to read others’ work and learn what makes a really good book. Almost every contest I’ve judged has had detailed score sheets or a training blog that walked me through the elements of good writing and what agents and publishers are looking for. Those score sheets and blog posts are mini book writing lessons for me and have helped guide and shape my own story.
If you can sign up to judge a contest, do it. You will learn from the process and anonymously encourage another writer, which is a great feeling! HERE is an open link to RWA chapter-sponsored contests. Visit individual contest websites to inquire if you can help judge. It’s not very often you’ll be told “no!”
4. Change: Do It
When I get so stuck on a problem with my manuscript that my eyes cross, I know it’s time to write something different for a session, a day, or a week. Sometimes I’ll write author interviews, which are my little love projects, or I work on a short story.
Short stories are great because they don’t require the type of plotting or length that a book does, and they are little lessons in pacing, setting, and character development. I’ve also had unexpected success with them, which has been a real boost to my writing self-esteem!
My short story, “The Family Tree” was published in the Romance Writers of America’s anthology, Second Chances: A Romance Writers of America Collection, and my short story, “Sea Glass,” will be published in 2 Elizabeths Literary Magazine’s first print anthology this spring. I can’t tell you how much these two publications have lifted me up and reminded me that yes, I can do this. If your writing is giving you trouble, take a break and write something different: a nonfiction piece (Hey, maybe the Pink Heart Society would like to hear from you!), poetry, a blog post, or even a recipe. This will give you a creative rest and fresh eyes for your manuscript.
5. Connections: Pursue Them
The final bit of advice I want to leave with you is pursue connections with other writerly human beings. The Romance World is full of wonderful, generous people. Every writer I’ve talked to has been inspired, uplifted, and encouraged by someone else. Be that person. Write emails to authors you admire. Leave *good* reviews and skip the bad. Be kind and positive on social media. Share because you love something, not because you are seeking a benefit. One of my favorite things to do is to blog about authors who’ve inspired me and share their words on my social media. Books change lives, but so do the relationships we develop with others. I’ve experienced this myself and developed some fabulous friendships as a result!
Do you have tips you can share with other authors? Would you like to be featured in our #SpotlightOn column or to join us in our new writers group on Facebook? Get in touch via email, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and until next month, happy writing!