Blog Archive

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Write When You Don't Feel Like it: An Interview with Maddie Dawson

What made you decide to write your first novel?
My first novel came to me all in a rush--a result of years of contemplating and writing short stories and essays and being inspired by authors like Elizabeth Berg and Anne Tyler and Alice Munro. I had no idea how hard it would be, or how many drafts it would go through--but I loved working on it.

The trouble was, I was working full-time as a newspaper reporter (the bills must be paid, you know), and I had three kids, a husband, and numerous carpool runs and soccer games and dance recitals to attend. I was constantly carving out time to write in ten-minute increments. Hence, the book was finally published in the seventeenth summer after I'd begun it. My children were stunned. They'd grown up watching me typing away. My son asked what I thought my hourly rate might be for that book. I'd say one half-cent per hour most likely--but who's counting? 

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension?
Oh, different parts are hard at different times. Starting is hard because you have to feel your way into the story, writing out of faith that something good is coming. Characters tell you the story at their own rate, and there is no way to rush them. It unfolds gradually, and you have to give yourself permission to write badly, even though everything in your being is claiming it should be possible to write the final draft first. It's not.

Each beginning is a brand new world, and you have to learn that world, and learn those characters and their story just the way you do with your human, fleshly friends. It takes time and heart to find the story. 

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
To keep going.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of how you learned to write past it.
Rejection is very hard. There is no way around it. Your work won't appeal to everyone, and it's tough when you can't get past the gatekeepers. As a magazine writer for years, and then a novelist, I've had work turned down many times. How do I cope? I give myself time to have a little bit of sadness about it, because it doesn't work to simply push things away.

But then I try to get back in the game--either sending the piece out to somewhere else (where it is often wanted) or to get busy writing something else. It's the writing itself that heals the pain of rejection. It helps to remember why we are writing in the first place: not for the public necessarily (although that's nice when it happens) but because it gives us a chance to express ourselves. And so we keep going. 

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing?
I think the thing that surprised me the most is how much authors need to do to get the word out about their books. Publicists are overworked and often have dozens of authors, and after they send out press releases, they have very little time to follow up. These days authors need to get the word out about their own books and be willing to schedule readings and blog posts and social media appearances to let people know there's a new book in the world.

I've also been so surprised at how friendly and warm other authors are, and how much we rely on each other for help and camaraderie. We truly depend on each other for so much support.

What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner?
Ha! I think the thing that I didn't know is that it really wasn't going to get any easier! If you're a bricklayer or a ditch-digger, I would imagine that with each subsequent wall or ditch, you gain some skills that help you when it comes time to do the next one.

Not so with novels! Each novel presents its own set of challenges (which is also what makes it fun and keeps it from getting boring.) And the novel you just wrote is now the only thing you're an expert on--and chances are there are things you'd even change about that if you only could.  

How have your books been received by your readers?
I'm so grateful to all the readers who've already read and reviewed my books, including many who have contacted me personally to tell me their own life stories and their brushes with magic. It's been so gratifying to know that these characters, who lived alone with me in my head for so long, are out in the world, affecting others. I'm so pleased that they've been well-received. People have no idea how much it means to authors when they review books. It makes our hearts sing! So thank you!

What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
The best advice--and I teach writing, so I give this advice constantly--is to write every single day. Even if it's just for ten minutes, devote that time to your book. Stay in it. Otherwise, the next time you go back to your book, you have to reread (oftentimes from the beginning), and the more times you do that, the tireder you will get of your own words, and finally, you’ll lose interest.

When you write every day, the characters show up and talk to you more often, your subconscious writes things while you're off washing the dishes or trying to sleep...and the whole project grows exponentially. Writing is all about practice and staying in the game, and being open to the ideas that seek you out.

Don't wait for inspiration to strike. Write when you don't feel like it. Write when you have to drag yourself over to the computer or the notebook. Give yourself a goal, and stick to it. Believe me, when the book is done, you won't be able to tell the difference between the pages you wrote when you thought you didn't have even one idea, and the pages you wrote when you couldn't wait to start writing. It's uncanny. 

Are there any other points about writing that you would like to add?
Find some people you trust to read your work and give you honest feedback. You might not always take their advice, but it's so helpful to see what effect your words are having on others. It will help you guide and shape your book, and your writing will get better. 

You just released a new book. Would you give my readers a short synopsis of Matchmaking for Beginners?
Sure! Matchmaking for Beginners is the story of Marnie McGraw, a woman who wants only an ordinary life--a husband, kids, and minivan in the suburbs. Now that she's marrying the man of her dreams, she's sure this is the life she'll get. Then Marnie meets Blix Holliday, her fiancĂ©’s irascible matchmaking great-aunt who's dying, and everything changes--just as Blix told her it would.

When her marriage ends after two miserable weeks, Marnie is understandably shocked. She's even more astonished to find that she's inherited Blix's unfinished "projects": the heartbroken, oddball friends and neighbors running from happiness. Marnie doesn't believe she's anything special, but Blix somehow knew she was the perfect person to follow in her matchmaker footsteps. And Blix was also right about some things Marnie must learn the hard way: love is hard to recognize, and the ones who push love away often are the ones who need it most. 

To my delight, the book became a Washington Post bestseller on its first week and has been on the Amazon bestseller charts since before its release date. The Associated Press called it "simply captivating from beginning to end." 

That’s all for today’s interview. If you’d like to learn more about Maddie’s writing, here are some options

Her newsletter:  www.tinyletter.com/maddiedawson.