By Claire Booth
This past week, I participated in a local high school’s Career Day. Students got to pick three occupations they were interested in and go from session to session hearing representatives from each of their chosen careers talking about what their jobs entail.
I spent three sessions trying not to say that my job involves a lot of staring off into space. Instead, I talked about what it was like to be an author and what my career path has been like. The best part for me, as it is with any speech I give, is the Q&A. And I was dazzled by some of the questions these students asked.
- How do you construct an original narrative?
This teen is already serious about writing. It was obvious she’d thought a lot about it. Her question generated a great conversation with the whole group about avoiding things that seem tired, or repetitive, or really common in other books. And I told her that the fact she even asked the question showed that she’s well on her way to avoiding the problem. We also talked about an author’s “voice,” and how that’s the most original thing he or she can bring to a story.
- How do you avoid stereotypes in your characters?
I have a very definite viewpoint on this one. Meet as many people as you can. Have as many different experiences as you can. The more you know, the better and more well-rounded your characters will be. And, like with the previous question, the fact that they’re asking about it indicates that they’ll work hard to avoid stereotypes and very likely succeed.
- Is writing a career or a hobby?
Wow. This was especially appropriate, seeing as I was there for “Career Day.”
This is what I said: It won’t pay all of your bills. But what pays the bills is a job. Writing is the career.
- Is it hard to stay motivated?
Oh, yeah. I told them that establishing a routine helps me.
- How do you get past writer’s block?
I get up and move. For me, that’s the best remedy. I take a walk or water the garden or find some physical activity to do, so that my mind can wander around and figure out things while I’m otherwise occupied. Several teens really seemed receptive to this – that you don’t have to chain yourself to your desk until your writer’s block breaks.
- When you’re trying to get an agent, do you send off the whole manuscript at first?
This one forced me to go into what a query letter is (the spectacularly written explanation of your book that needs to convince someone you’ve never met that he or she should represent you, or at least ask to see your first fifty pages). That naturally led to rejection rates and when I said how many I’d gotten, there were audible gasps. I stood there thinking - how did this turn so quickly from inspiring to horrifying?
- Does your agent work just on that book or on all your books?
In most circumstances, agents are evaluating the manuscript in front of them, but they’re signing you as an author, not you for a single book. This made the students relax a little bit from my previous horror show of an answer about rejection letters. Once you get an agent, you don’t need to go get a new one for the next book.
- When do you come up with your titles – before or after you write the book?
It depends. I had examples both ways. My first Sheriff Hank Worth novel, The Branson Beauty, had that title from right when I started to write. The second, Another Man’s Ground, didn’t have that title until the book was finished.
- What’s the salary? How much do you make?
I was hoping they wouldn’t ask this. There’s not really any way to put a positive spin on the numbers. “Usually, not very much,” is what I said. But, I added, if you love to write, it’s the best career in the world. There are authors out there at every income level, and there’s nothing that says you couldn’t become one of those with a string of bestsellers. The key is to keep writing.