Questions, of the frequently asked variety!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

(And also infrequently asked) (And questions no-one ever asks but potentially could) (Just a random assortment of questions, really)

This frequently asked questions page is a work in progress! Feel free to email me at stephbowe (at) ymail (dot) com if you have a question about writing or my books that doesn't appear here (it makes me feel really important when you do that!). Or if you just want to say hi. You can do that, too.

On writing
How long do you spend writing each day?
At the moment I don't write daily. I really should, though. Once I sit down to write, I'll likely write for a couple of hours. I try and write at least a few times a week. I think spending a little bit of time writing very often is better than spending a big chunk of time writing rarely, but it depends on the writer. Here is some stuff I wrote about writing habits.

How old were you when you started writing?
I have written stories for as long as I can remember. I attempted my first novel when I was seven. It was called The Merryhem's First Adventure and it was a blatant plagiarisation of The Magic Faraway Tree, of which I was a fan at the time. It remains unfinished. The last scene involved the three siblings encountering the most shocking and incredible thing ever, which was so shocking and incredible that I couldn't figure out what it was and stopped writing. I finished my first novel when I was fourteen, a weird bucket-list novel called Gracie's List, about wacky Gracie and her boring twin Teddy and their mad adventures. I like writing stories about siblings! And wackiness! (Here's the start of a failed sci-fi novel from around the same time. I was prone to melodrama.) 

Do you have to be a certain age to be a writer? Don't you need life experience in order to write?
I wrote a blog post about this, which you might like. The short answer: you can (and should! If you want to) write at any age. You don't necessarily need life experience. You have a unique viewpoint and interesting stories to tell, and being young might help you write better stories for young people! Here are some tips on writing what you haven't experienced first-hand.
Was writing your second book easier than writing your first?
No. It was a much harder and very different experience, because I knew other people would read it and expect it to be good. It is a lot easier to write when you are just writing for yourself, and don't have to worry about other people's expectations.

How do you write boy characters when you are a girl? (And vice versa.)
I wrote a post about this. Sorry, I'm going to keep saying that. 

Do you base your characters off real people?
Not wholly. I really love being able to make up characters, but inevitably bits and pieces of myself and others will end up as part of my characters. So they are mash-ups of lots of different people and traits, but still my inventions. This way, no one can sue you!

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I have a fairly clear idea of my characters, their general story and a few events (including the ending) before I begin working on a novel, but I don't know exactly what will happen or plan any of it  outside of my head. That would probably be a good idea though? I don't know, I like being able to make stuff up as I go along - that might change in the future.

Do you have any special routines during the writing process?
Not anymore! I used to have a whole lot of things I thought I needed to write: something to eat, a cup of tea, a hat, silence, the right time of day... Eventually I realised I was just using all of these things as a way to delay writing. Now I just sit down and write. No excuses!

How did you get your agent?
I wrote a short post on how I got my agent here. 

Do you need to be homeschooled to be a teen author?
No, you don't! I was lucky that I had plenty of free time to pursue my writing in, as it can be difficult to manage a writing career and school. There are a number of authors that were first published while they were attending to high school, and lots of writers who manage to balance being an author with higher education or full-time jobs. So you can do it, too! Here's a blog post I wrote about homeschooling. 

Do you brainstorm? What type of brainstorming / planning works for you?
I think a lot, very in-depth, about my characters and their stories for ages, before I start writing a novel. I write some random notes of things I want to include in the first draft (snippets of dialogue and lines I think are brilliant but are terrible in retrospect), but I don't tend to actively try and write down plotlines or have any systems for planning.

How do you get your story ideas?
Ideas tend to show up unannounced. They're everywhere! Everyday life is full of inspiration (i.e. interesting characters on the bus). Here is some advice regarding ideas and inspiration. 

How do you tackle writer's block?
I'll go and write something else (another story, an essay, a journal entry, a poem, an email or letter), go and do something else (going for a walk, washing dishes - the more inane or mindless the better), or discuss whatever problem I'm having with my novel with someone else (usually my mum - sometimes she suggests something genius, but usually just talking about the problem aloud helps me work through it and I'm back to work before she has an opportunity to say anything). It's just a matter of time and figuring out what to write next. 

What are your favourite books?
I have so many! The YA novels I especially love are Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell, This Is Shyness by Leanne Hall, Preloved by Shirley Marr... I could go on for a while. (Here are books I loved as a kid.)

Will you read my manuscript?
It's awesome that you've written a novel! But there are much better people to share it with than me. I recommend sharing it with a supportive friend or family member first, and when you feel ready for some constructive criticism, look at joining a writers group. Writers centres are a good place to start, and there's one in every state, and often have listings of local groups - I'm a member of Queensland Writers Centre. If you want to chat writing or are after some writerly advice - feel free to email me! I am always happy to talk writing.

On Girl Saves Boy  
What happens to Sacha and Jewel after the end of Girl Saves Boy?
I chose to leave Girl Saves Boy relatively open-ended because I love being able to figure out ways the stories I love might continue after the last page. There is an obvious and very sad ending that I could have written, but I wanted it to end hopefully. Whatever you want to happen to Sacha and Jewel is what happens to Sacha and Jewel. Here's a post I wrote about this.

How long did it take to write Girl Saves Boy?
It took about six months to write and edit Girl Saves Boy. I completed a few more drafts over several months with an agent and editor to prepare it for publication.

How has Girl Saves Boy changed your life?
I am writing full-time at the moment, which is awesome and crazy and I am very fortunate. I also get invited to speak in schools! That's fairly brilliant. So it's changed my life in that I am beginning to make a career of something I love doing, and I've also become a more outgoing person since I've started public speaking.

What inspired you to write Girl Saves Boy?
I wrote a blog post about ideas.

On All This Could End

What inspired you to write All This Could End?
Apart from all the general inspirations mentioned above (life! music! creepily eavesdropping on conversations!), I had one big definitive inspiration for All This Could End, and that was watching the news. I am a big fan of the law and have never done anything illegal (I don't think I've even copied a CD), but I think crime is fascinating. Probably because it is so removed from my own life. When I was little I loved Crimestoppers, and was very certain that I would someday see a criminal out in the street and call the 1800 number and be hailed as a hero (this did not happen). I always wonder about what motivates people to commit crimes. The only reason I'd rob a bank would probably be if my mum asked me to. Fortunately she's not a crazy bank robber. But that's how the idea for this story came about - a girl who robs banks with her family, accidentally taking someone she knows hostage.

On publishing and being an author
How did you get published so young?
I wrote heaps, I sent my work out, and I was very lucky! Here is my advice to other teenage writers.

How did you deal with the negativity that often faces teen writers?
I haven't encountered too much of it, and it doesn't bother me too much. People will say negative things about you for some reason or another - becoming a writer makes you vulnerable to a lot of criticism - so I just ignore it. Don't be dissuaded from writing because of other people's negativity. Age doesn't matter in publishing as much as you may think it does. (You should read this post). Here is some advice on dealing with self-doubt, too.

Is being a published author everything you thought it would be?
This post sums up my thoughts. It's wonderful! But there is a tendency for unpublished writers to think that being a real author will somehow make writing easier, and it doesn't. It's even trickier.

Did you always want to be a published author?
Yes! When I was seven I decided I wanted to become a published author and buy a house. I may have overestimated how much money writers earn. Here's a guest post I wrote about my journey to becoming an author.

How long did it take from writing your manuscript to actually being published?
For my first novel, it took about a year and a half from when I started writing to when the novel was published. For my second, more like three years. It depends on the book. From when a publisher acquires a book to when it is published is generally one or two years.

How do you handle the editing process? How do you deal with criticism?
Not very well! I think everyone finds criticism hard to deal with (my technique largely involves collapsing on the floor and wailing), and it can be tricky trying to figure out ways to make the novel work better. Writing a novel is difficult because whether it is any good is so subjective, and it's hard to judge your own work. It gets easier. I think.
What's your favourite thing about being a published writer? 

Having people read my work and tell me how much they enjoy it! One of many things I love about being a published writer. There are lots of things that are absolutely wonderful about being a writer that are wonderful even if you aren't published, though - when the writing is going well, it's pretty much magic.
Is writing fiscally rewarding? (Or, more bluntly, are you rich?)
Very! I am going to go roll in my money right now! Unfortunately all this money is in the form of five cent pieces and as a result this is more uncomfortable than it may be if I had notes. No, but in all seriousness, I'm not rich, and not many writers are. It's a tough biz but lots of bizzes (bizzee? biz's?) are. You have to really love it, and you have to deal with the reality that you're going to need a day job, or do some freelancing, or try to get tons of speaking work, and even then you might be living on two-minute noodles for the rest of your life. It's a bit inappropriate to ask people how much they earn, though... this question is a bit of a pet hate of mine (here are some other questions not to ask writers, preferably). 

On speaking
Do you visit schools? Will you visit my school?
Yes, I do! I'm based in South-East Queensland but I travel a fair bit to speak, and have been lucky enough to visit lots of schools (and appear at festivals) for talks and workshops, with students from grade four to grade twelve. I usually talk about creativity and inspiration, and developing characters and plots, and make lots of silly jokes. If you're a student, suggest it to your teacher-librarian or English teacher.

If you're in Queensland, contact Speakers Ink.
If you're in Victoria, contact Booked Out.
Elsewhere, email me: stephbowe (at) ymail (dot) com.

Any advice for public speaking?
Here's a post I wrote of public speaking tips. The more you speak in front of people, the easier it becomes and the better you get at it. Not fainting beforehand is the main thing. I used to feel very ill before I had to speak, and now I really enjoy it! (And I think people enjoy listening to me a lot more.) Here's a weird/funny story about a speech I gave when I was twelve and running for primary school captain - remember, if something goes wrong, it'll make a good story later!
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