Erin Bartels is a longtime member of the CCWA family. In addition to teaching workshops, she has had a hand in planning past conferences and events. We are thrilled that she stopped by for a quick Q&A session, and even more thrilled to announce that her debut novel is scheduled to release in January 2019 from Revell Books!
1. What is your favorite part about writing? The most challenging part?
It’s hard to say what I enjoy most because I do enjoy all the different parts of the process for different reasons. I love the idea phase when anything is possible, the drafting phase when I am speaking worlds into existence, the revising phase when I am making this lump of words more closely resemble the perfect vision in my head. There are two contexts in which I feel more elementally me than any other: when I am silently and deliberately exploring the natural world and when I am writing.
The most challenging part is recognizing when you’ve taken a draft as far as it can go by yourself and it’s time to get some other eyes on it. The next most challenging part after that is deciding what, if any, advice from those readers you will actually follow. An ill-informed critique is worse, in my opinion, than no critique at all.
2. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received? How did you overcome it?
Write every day. Not that it’s bad advice, but it just doesn’t work for me. You should write consistently, but every day just doesn’t work for everyone at every time in their lives. I still have a full time job, I have a son to raise, a home to maintain, and three meals a day to figure out. Sometimes I write late at night, sometimes early in the morning, sometimes for a week straight, sometimes not really much of anything for weeks. I need time after drafting to sit back and not write. I need to let the well refill. And I think that’s probably true of most people. But when young writers try to write every day as they feel they should, sometimes all they produce is crap because they haven’t let their ideas percolate long enough, and it makes them feel like maybe they weren’t cut out to be a writer after all. That’s not necessarily true. You have to find your own rhythm.
3. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you become an author?
I kept writing. When I was querying my first manuscript, I didn’t stop writing as I waited for an agent to sign me. I immediately started researching a new book, I wrote a dozen short stories, I wrote and revised and revised and revised a second novel, and that second one is the one that ultimately landed me my agent. And that’s also the one that will be my debut. It’s just been contracted and will release in January 2019.
Had I continued to tinker with the first manuscript, which got more than 100 rejections from agents and was clearly not working, though they did often have nice things to say about my writing, I would never have found my agent and I still wouldn’t have a publishing contract.
I think so many people get discouraged by a few rejections and either self-publish something that isn’t ready or they give up on writing entirely or they beat that one thing to death. Sometimes you have to give up on your practice novel, acknowledge that it was a vital learning experience, and move on to the next thing.
4. What would you change or do differently when it comes to your writing career?
I wouldn’t tie myself to timelines I have no control over. We all have goals we want to reach by a certain time in our lives and we all have our ideas about how long it should take to get from point A to point B. But most of it, we have no control over. I can control how much effort I put into my writing. I can’t control how long it will take to get an agent or get a publishing contract or sell a certain number of copies or make a certain amount of money. Those types of things cause writers so much anxiety, but they’re out of our hands, so why worry about them? Easier said than done. But it’s something I’m working on.
5. What are you working on now?
Right now I am revising a novel about a young woman who must confront her past choices and past trauma in order to move forward in her career and her relationships. It’s about how our childhood friendships dissolve, how we misunderstand each other, how when we are young we can only see the world through our own eyes, and how we can forgive the unforgiveable. Also, it’s set on a lake in summertime and there’s an undercurrent of romance and family secrets, so it will make the perfect beach read.
I’m also busy developing a TV series about a laid-off New York editor who accidentally purchases a decrepit Detroit mansion, sight unseen, on an online auction site during her drunken pity party and decides to move in, fix up the place, start her own indie publisher, and get revenge on the man who fired her by stealing a prized author out from under him.