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Heather Kennison: What It Takes to Write a Book

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Starting a book is easy. You’re inspired by your idea and you fall in love with your characters – I know I did, and I’m sure that’s how many of my classmates felt several years ago. But looking back, I’ve come to find that almost anyone can start a book; only a few select will actually finish one.

Finishing a book is the hard part. Once I lost my initial energy with Dragon’s Destiny, I left it alone for a time. I still thought I would get around to it someday, but I didn’t know when. Just over a year later, I had my answer.  I hope that I can encourage you all to pursue your own writing goals, so I’m here to tell you what it takes – and why it’s all worth it.

Get a support group

Besides being an entrepreneur and all-around author muse, Brandy is also the president of the Elko County Writers. Having met me at Art in the Park, the previous year, Brandy encouraged me to join the club in January 2013. It’s probably one of the best choices I made for my book.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a group backing you up. For any of you up-and-coming authors, I’d recommend you look in your area right away. You never know what hidden talents might be organizing in your town. If you can’t find a group, start one.

These people will be invaluable to you as you begin to write, or continue writing, your novel. With the Elko County Writers, I was able to share ideas, gain insight into my characters from other people, and find the motivation to keep going.

Keep going

One of the hardest things to do as an author is to keep writing – even when you don’t feel like it. I have to share a little advice I got from Brandy: Writing is like marriage, and sometimes you aren’t going to be in the mood, but you have to do it anyway, and the mood will often come of its own accord (I expanded on this metaphor on my own blog here).

There were times I didn’t feel like writing. Even now, I’ll often go weeks without touching a poem or novel that I’ve grown tired of. But when I joined the Elko County Writers, I learned that this wasn’t going to help me finish my book. If I didn’t do it right away, who knows how long I would have put it off (authors are often the best procrastinators).

I still had one major obstacle to finishing my book: with a full-time job and living with noisy housemates, how would I find the time to write?

Make the time

About the time I joined the Elko County Writers, I got recruited to be a beta reader/editor for Brandy’s book, The Write Time: How to find the time you need to write a book. I can now see how fitting it was that she asked help of someone who was having that particular problem.

As her guinea pig, Brandy could watch my progress to see if her method really worked (Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Brandy’s intention was not to exploit my success or use me to get her famous – haha – but rather, to help herself learn the flaws or strong points of her suggestions).

In her book, Brandy focuses on making priorities to allocate your time. There are exercises following each chapter that are designed to get you thinking about your priorities and why you chose to write to begin with. She also emphasizes that when it comes down to it, you can do almost anything you want to with your time. It’s your choice what you do with it.

I did most of the exercises, with the exception of one where she asks you to make a time journal of everything you do in a day. I decided that was a little too nitpicky for me, and I didn’t want to become obsessive over every little thing. However, I did make out a list of things that I did that were probably taking up too much of my time.

Through this, I learned where I could save 20 minutes here or 10 minutes there. I learned that I do my best writing at night, when there are no distractions. And I found the time to make myself write, and finish, my book by my self-made deadline. In a few months, I had finished the first draft of Dragon’s Destiny.

Find an editor

There are some people who probably think they can edit their own book and be done with it. This is a lie.

I did edit my own book first. This is important, because you don’t want to hand over your rough draft to your editor. It wastes both of your time, and he or she won’t be impressed with all the errors that you should have easily caught and corrected.

After you edit your own book, and maybe done a little rewriting, you will want to find an editor. This has to be someone with time available to read your book thoroughly. It’s best to choose someone with experience editing manuscripts. I chose Karmin Dahl, whom I also met through my writers group.

Karmin was able to make my book even better by eliminating some of the awkward phrases and grammatical errors that I couldn’t catch. I also discussed my book with Brandy, who helped me get around some of my major plot holes. Afterward, Karmin helped find me beta readers.

Don’t rush it

You should never rush the editing process. It’s a lot of work, and you’re probably going to hate it as much as I did, but it saves you a lot of embarrassment in the end.

Beta readers (or test readers) can help. They are often best at seeing different ways you can approach your book, or scenes you can add to make the plot better. Try to have at least five, and a few proofreaders, to be extra careful.

Make your choice

Finally, you should determine if you want to self-publish or go through a publisher. Self-publishing gives you a lot more power, but also a lot more responsibilities. Most major publishers require you to have an agent, because they don’t take unsolicited manuscripts. Writer’s Digest can help you find a publisher, and there are online resources available for you to find an agent.

If you decide to self-publish, as I did, you should make sure you can find a good cover artist, preferably one who can also do graphic design. For my book, I had a cover artist and a graphic designer. You should also find someone who can teach you to format a book. I had much help from Brandy, but there are also online tutorials to help you out.

Finally, choose your self-publishing platform. I prefer CreateSpace because it is free and easy to use. Through CreateSpace, you may publish your book in paperback and for Kindle.

Take a deep breath and celebrate

The night I hit the “publish” button on CreateSpace was one of the most stressful of my adult life. Every beat of my heart was pounding out to the rhythm of “stress, stress, stress, stress, stress.” I had a release party the next day, and I was nervous as hell.

Believe it or not, everything will be OK. Sure, there were a few snags with my book. The Kindle version looked funky and didn’t publish until five minutes before my party started. Some people say the margins of my book are too wide. But all of this is minimal compared to the time and effort it took to put it out there.

It’s been three months since Dragon’s Destiny was published, and despite book sales slowing down, I still feel great about it. I did what a lot of my classmates in high school only said they’d do. I got help and made it happen, and if I never publish another book then at least I can say that I wrote one. In fact, I actually wrote my second book in one month as part of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. It isn’t publishable yet, but it will be.

I encourage other writers to take the challenge of writing their first novel. As Brandy says, even if it’s the worst piece of crap you’ve written in your life, you’re still ahead of the game. Take the challenge, do the work, and reap the lifetime benefit of knowing that you can write a novel. Perhaps you’ll even try it again.

Find out more about author Heather Kennison and her book at heatherkennison.blogspot.com.

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