Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Writing Discoveries, Featuring Author Karen McQuestion

Once you’ve been at a job for a while or filled a specific role, you discover tricks of the trade -- things that make your days smoother and easier. It’s the same with writing. After months, a few years or even a couple of novels, you accumulate wisdom and possibly a few short-cuts, too.
I asked a popular author, Karen McQuestion, if she would share some pearls she has learned in her journey to writing success.

For those unfamiliar with Karen, she gives this description of her extraordinary career:
“In 2009, after nearly a decade of trying to get my fiction published, I uploaded my books so they would be available on Amazon’s Kindle. What happened next was astounding! From the start, sales were good and supportive readers gave the books positive recommendations and reviews. As a result, one of my novels, A Scattered Life, was optioned for film in November 2009. And then, just when I thought things couldn't get any better, I got (and accepted!) an offer from Amazon's new publishing division, AmazonEncore, to publish the book in paperback. It came out in August 2010."
Today Karen has five books under the AmazonEncore imprint, two of which will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The bottom line: Thanks to a vivid imagination, she has achieved her lifelong dream of being a well-read author and "couldn’t be happier.”

Here are several insights she’s grateful she discovered along the way.

  1. Not everyone will love my books. In fact, there will ALWAYS be a certain percentage of readers who don’t. Negative reviews used to devastate me ... until I noticed that all of my favorite books had at least a few one and two-star reviews. Once I realized some people out there hated To Kill a Mockingbird, it got easier. My take on it is that I always do my best, which is the only part of writing a novel I can control. Ultimately, people will have their opinions. So be it.

  2. The importance of writer friends. I love all my friends, but writer friends come in handy when I want to talk shop or celebrate something writing-related. When I first started hanging out with other writers, I had this immediate strong feeling that these were My People. Turns out I’m not as weird as I thought, or at least I’m weird in a way that makes sense.

  3. There’s no competition. I can envy another writer for his or her rich use of language, or New York Times bestseller status, but when the day is done, writers are not in competition with each other. Like literary fingerprints, each author writes the book only he or she can write. Besides, there are an unlimited number of slots to be filled and new readers are born every day.

  4. To trust the process. Partway through writing a novel I always reach a point where I feel like I’ve painted myself into a corner and I become convinced there’s no way to get the book to work. It's a scary place to be, considering the time and emotional energy I’ve already sunk into the story. At some point, I realized this is part of my writing process and there’s no need to panic. I still do panic (a little bit), but it’s reassuring to know I’ve worked through this problem before, and I probably can do so again.

  5. That nothing matters except the work. Not the reviews, not the rankings, not the sales. Many deserving books never get their due. There’s a lot of heartbreak out there for writers. If you really love writing, that will carry you through.

  6. Thanks, Karen. ... After reading her "thankful" discoveries, I'll add some of my own. So here goes: Other writers and their writings can inspire you.

  7. Everyone makes mistakes. One editor told me that it takes an average of 16 pairs of eyes to make a manuscript perfect. I totally bought that idea. Now when I miss a comma, I don’t get all that upset.

  8. Although talent’s important, good writing can be learned. James Scott Bell says in his book Plot and Structure, “I wanted new writers to know that they were doomed to stay where they were. [But] they could learn craft… craft can be taught and … you -- with diligence, practice and patience -- can improve your writing.” I believe James Scott Bell, and that gives me hope.

  9. There are lots of good books on writing craft. Jack Bickham’s Scene and Sequence, James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel, Dwight Swain’s Techniques of a Selling Writer, Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict, Jordan Rosenfeld's Make a Scene and Donald Maass's The Fire in Fiction to name some. Most can be borrowed from public libraries.

  10. Look for others on the same writing path you’re on. It’s fun to write with others and be part of a bigger community, such as the Romance Writing chapters or the National Novel Writing groups. The camaraderie of friends makes even rejections more tolerable.

  11. Good critique partners can improve stories. Writing is communication and one of the best ways to check its effectiveness is asking someone else for an opinion. Look for a critique partner who believes in the stuff you create, but who's also able to give constructive criticism.

  12. What goes around really does come around. Helping others pays off. If you get a chance to volunteer or to do a favor for someone, do it. Soon you may need a blog spot to plug your new release, a person to proofread your manuscript or a friend to take you out for coffee when you receive a thanks-but-not-for-us rejection.

  13. Blogging is fun. Especially when others respond to what you write. I love to hear from you all.
    No doubt you’ve learned much along your way. I'm hoping you’d like to share a gem or two. Karen and I look forward to your comments.
    By the way, Karen has a new release this month -- Secrets of the Magic Ring -- that

I’m betting you’ll enjoy. Here’s a brief blurb:
"Nine-year-old Paul thinks getting a new swimming pool in his backyard is going to be the big excitement of the summer. But when he discovers a peculiar box in the construction hole, his life becomes crazier and more incredible than he ever imagined. It turns out the box contains a magical ring which grants wishes. At first this seems ideal, until he finds out the magic can backfire if the wishes aren’t just right. Before long, Paul is dealing with a mysterious boy who’d like to steal the ring, an annoying talking dog, and an aunt obsessed with swimming. As the wishes spiral out of control, Paul must figure out a way to set it all straight before it’s too late. ..."
Wouldn't you like to


  1. Thanks for sharing those thoughts on writing. I struggle with it constantly and am always impressed with people who have found a way to press on.

    My biggest hint? Eat more chocolate!

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with you. One I might add is, remain teachable. There's always something to be learned no matter how many books you have published.
    Great list. Happy T13!

  3. I think serious authors discover all these things; it improves their craft and outlook. I wish you continued success in your writing. Thanks for sharing.

    The Food Temptress

  4. I've had the "I've written myself into a corner and there's no way out" feeling too - it's one of the hardest things to overcome, I think.

    Thanks for sharing these words of wisdom - every writer needs a little reassurance from time to time, and these should surely do the trick!

    Happy TT!

  5. Hey CountryDew,
    I'm with you. I like the chocolate eating idea.

  6. Adelle Laudan,
    Yeah, remaining teachable is something we adults have to constantly remember. Thanks.

  7. Rekaya,
    Thanks. I appreciate your good wishes.

  8. Kimberly Menozzi,

    I'm glad other people had/ have experiences like mine too. Just knowing we're not alone in our experience, makes situations better. :) I appreciate you sharing too.

  9. what wonderful insights - I aspire to write a book one day - for now I blog! :) happy thurs 13

  10. Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom. I'm in the middle of NaNo and also panicked, wondering if I painted myself into a corner. Funny, but the characters keep giving me direction.

    Congratulations on your many achievements.

  11. Lady Rose,
    I wish you the best. I like writing books and blogging too.

  12. maggieblackbird,
    I'm doing Nano too and I probably should stop blogging for a while and work on my Nano word count. Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and advice, Karen and Brenda!

  14. Most of this we all have to learn along the way whether we want to or not.

  15. Good writers show me how far I have to go. I try to let them inspire me and I try to remember that I am doing what I do and trying to improve that.

  16. You're always welcome, Heather. :)

  17. Alice Audrey,
    I think you're right, but for me, it's good to hear again.

  18. Colleen,
    Good writing and writers inspire me too.

  19. Thanks so much, Brenda, for letting me be a guest on your site. I loved coming up with the list, and enjoyed reading your additions and the other comments.

    Happy writing!

  20. Absolutely wonderful insights! It's always great to see posts like these. The validate the things we've already come to learn, and give us new things to think about.

    Thanks for sharing :)

  21. I think it's so interesting that there's so little competition between writers. thanks for the insight

  22. Karen,
    Thanks for coming. You've been an awesome guest and you continue to be an inspiration to me.

  23. Xakara,
    Gosh, thanks. I appreciate you saying that.

  24. The Gal Herself,
    Yeah, I think it's cool. Most writers I know are helpful.

  25. Great post and the perfect guest blogger. Thank you Karen and

  26. Brenda, no need to thank me! It was my pleasure.

  27. caseyclifford,
    Thanks. Karen's great to work with and the post was fun to write too.

  28. Brenda, I responded to your email. If you didn't get it, check your spam folder. :)

    And again, thanks to everyone. I loved reading the comments.

  29. Nice list Karen and Brenda. The books and classes are great for improving technique, but it's always comments like these from other writers that help me get through the tough patches.