Louise Knott Ahern is an award-winning journalist, fiction writer and writing coach/editor with more than 20 years of experience. Her journalism career has spanned both coasts and some of the biggest news markets in the country and has earned her many awards, including a 2014 Sigma Delta Chi -- one of the most prestigious journalism awards in the country. She founded CCWA in 2013 to help writers find the resources, motivation, and support necessary for navigating professional writing careers. Her debut novel, Seventh Inning Heat, was released in March 2016 under her pen name, Lyssa Kay Adams. You can find her at LKAPublishing.com and LyssaKayAdams.com
Louise is teaching our workshop this month on high stakes conflict. You're not gonna want to miss it. She gives great workshop!
What is your favorite part about writing? What is the most challenging part?
My favorite part? That’s easy. It’s when someone writes a review gushing over my book. It will never get old to see that someone loved something I wrote! But I also love that amazing part in the writing process when it all starts to come together and the million different threads in the novel start to weave together into something cohesive. It’s a great feeling to shut your computer down for the day and think, “Wow, I might actually pull this off again.”
The most challenging part? For me, that would be discipline. Writing is now my full-time job, which is a dream come true. But writing from home brings challenges that I didn't have when I was balancing it with a “day job.” When I sit down at 8:30 a.m., the day stretches before me and seems like SO MUCH TIME to write, so distractions more easily creep in. When I allow too many distractions, the day goes by pretty quickly. I have some tactics I use to stay focused (like using an old-fashioned kitchen timer and scheduling specific blocks of time in my planner for email), but it’s still really easy to talk myself into abandoning a particularly tough scene because there is laundry calling my name.
What’s the worst writing advice you ever received, and how did you overcome it?
I was told by a published author I admired when I was new to fiction writing that you have to write every day. No excuses. No exceptions. If you couldn’t carve out time every single day to devote to the craft, then it wasn’t really important to you, and you weren’t a real writer. It took years for me to realize that was complete and utter BS. And those were some tough years, because I tortured myself with my inability to live up to the credo. I was a full-time newspaper reporter, so I was writing every day—just not fiction. That meant my brain was dead by the time I got home at night (which was hard to predict, because the news laughs hysterically at your silly little plans). But I couldn’t see those realities of my life. All I could see was that I wasn’t living up to the “write every day” rule.
I overcame the bad advice because I was forced to: I had a baby. Balancing motherhood with everything else in my life taught me that I needed to develop a schedule that worked for me and to stop trying to force myself into someone else’s ideal. Being free of that arbitrary requirement actually made it more enjoyable for me to write, which made me more productive.
Having said that, I will advise writers that if you regularly find yourself going more than two weeks without writing, you might need to reevaluate how you’re spending your time or whether you’re working on the right project. Going that long without writing can pull you so far out of your fictional world that any time you finally carve out to write will be spent reacquainting yourself, not progressing in the manuscript. But write everyday? Nope. Don’t sweat it if you can’t.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you become an author?
I’m still a work in progress, so take this with a grain of salt…
From the start (as in, when I first made the decision that I was going to seriously pursue fiction publishing), I treated it as a career—not just a creative pursuit. I invested time, money, and energy into learning everything I could in both the craft and business sides of publishing. I attended conferences, joined writing organizations, networked, entered (and won) contests. I was also brutal with my own work. I detached myself emotionally as much as possible from books that were simply going nowhere so I could move onto something else. I knew that if one idea wasn’t working, there were a hundred others I could jump into.
Anyway, the career-focused approach paid off, because when I published my first book a year ago, I had 15 years of education and industry connections to draw upon. My book had a built-in audience of published romance authors who were eager and excited to share it with their own readers. I had tons of resources for marketing the book and friends who could guide me and cheer me on. And because of that, the book has sold well for a debut indie novel. I was able to qualify for Romance Writers of America’s official published author status in less than two months of publishing—which is unusual for a first-time indie author. And I’d like to think the dedication to craft worked, as well, because my second book (Wild in Rio) was recently nominated for a RITA Award by RWA!!! I am still in shock over that.
What would you change or do differently when it comes to your writing career?
Not much, to be honest. Would I have liked to be published sooner? Maybe, but the opportunities were different even just five years ago, so my career would have looked different. And, frankly, I don’t know if I would have been truly ready for an indie career if I’d started earlier. I have a wish list for my career, to be sure, but the only thing I would truly change about how I got here would be to never have discovered the distraction of the Internet. I shudder to think how many writing hours have been wasted because I get stuck in a scene and somehow sought the solution in recipes on Pinterest.
What are you working on now?
I’m madly working to get my third book out to the world. It’s the second in the Vegas Aces series, called Seventh Inning Hero. Then I will have six weeks to finish my next project – a New Adult novella called The Prospect. It will be the first book of my second (related) baseball series called The Long Ball Boys. (The series follows a summer baseball league where Major League hopefuls play in the hopes of catching the attention of a scout. It is a ton of fun to write, because there is a lot of crossover with my Vegas Aces world.) Anyway, by the end of the summer, I will have both series out in the world, and I’m already tired thinking about it.
Can we get an overview of your workshop?
Sure! We’re going to talk about “High Stakes Conflict.” I like to use the analogy of a road trip to describe writing. You are the driver. Readers are your passengers. Conflict is the fuel that keeps your engine running. Without conflict, there is no tension. Without tension, there is no reason for readers to keep reading. But there are different kinds of conflict, so we’re first going to go over those. Then we’ll examine how to layer those levels of conflict to make your story a page-turner. And finally, we’ll have some timed writing exercises to help you brainstorm ways to increase the conflict in your current work-in-progress. There will also be a giveaway at the end!
Be sure to stop by Schuler on Wednesday, April 5th at 7pm for a fabulous workshop!