Blog Archive

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Guilt and Insecurity of Writing: Author Interview with Dianne J. Wilson

Today's interview is with a writer  from South Africa, so you'll probably notice some different word spellings, between the two of us - which is fun. I love that I can get in touch with writers around the world from my computer for a chat about writing. 

Prior to writing this novel, what sort of freelance writing did you do? 
As a freelancer, my favourite thing to write was humour pages (All About Cats, Threads & Crafts, Shape) though I also found a niche in writing real life stories. I got to interview and write up the adventures of some fabulously interesting people. For a time I also wrote those odd little quizzes in women’s magazines – you know, the kind us women find ourselves doing while waiting to see the doctor.

What made you decide to take the big step and write a novel? How long did it take you to write your first book? 
I started writing Shackles out of a deep desire to produce something more than ‘fluff’. It took me five years to write. Shocking, I know. Part of that was insecurity (can I do this?) part of it was guilt (can I justify stealing this time from my family?) and part of it was sheer cluelessness (what am I doing?). I can’t really say that I re-wrote it at all, I had a wonderful group of beta-readers, who are each English gurus in their own way. They took on the editing as well. It was a team effort in every sense of the word.

Are you active with any writing groups? Who encouraged you along the way?
At the time I wrote Shackles, I was flying solo. My encouragement came from my beta readers. I’d write a few chapters and send them off, give up on writing because I was obviously useless and fooling myself, then they’d come back to me with comments like ‘please hurry up, I want to know what happens to so-and-so’ and I’d be back on the horse.

I currently run a writing group, having such fun seeing people grow in their craft and slowly become more prolific.

Did you ever want to give up writing your first book?
Many times.

What made you decide to go the indie-publishing route? Did you pitch traditional publishers or agents? 
I didn’t want to self-publish for a few reasons, mostly because I wanted to grow in my skill. I felt that self-publishing would only get me as far as what I already know. Shackles brought me a number of form rejections (so good for the self esteem), but also a good few ‘helpful’ rejections. I could tell that the editor had:  1) actually read it, 2) found some merit in it.

One of these came from an editor at Pelican / Harbourlight. She detailed what she loved about the story, but also listed reasons why it wasn’t a good fit for them. I spent the next year writing Finding Mia to their specifications and sent it to them. The editor remembered me (I nearly fainted) and they accepted it for publication. So while Shackles didn’t land a contract, it got my hairy toe in the door. At that point I re-read it and still loved the characters and the story.

Why did you choose Smashwords for the first book?
 I decided to put it up on Smashwords as a freebie sample of my writing to give potential readers the chance to see if they like my work or not. I love Smashwords as there is no initial cost—having three daughters is expensive, there’s not much extra cash hanging around waiting to be spent. Smashwords only take a percentage of any sales you make. They walk you through the process step by step and you retain complete control over your work. I’ve loved dealing with them.

How long does it take you to write a book? How do you write? 
My first took me five years and I pantsed it all the way. I started with a theme, an opening scene and my two main characters. Every time I sat down to write, I had no clear idea where the story would go.

The second, I planned using note cards. I started knowing what I wanted my reader to feel when they closed the book after reading The End. I wrote the beginning on one card, the end(ish) on another, and slotted key scenes I knew needed to happen in between. As the novel grew, I added and rearranged my scenes/cards. I did do a character sketch for my two mains before starting. I tried to write without doing that and I was stumped as I didn’t know how they would think or react. After getting to know them, I could put them in a situation together and watch the fireworks as they got on with it. Much easier! The second novel took me a year.

Where are you now in your writing?
I’ve just completed my third, Affinity. It is the first in the YA Spirit Walker series. This one had me in a headlock for a long time as it is Christian fantasy and required me to world build. Wow. What a learning curve.

I’ve been converted to outlining, it is so much quicker and you avoid problems of wrapping up wild loose ends at the finish. Having said that, each book has a life of it’s own and will seldom willingly yield to my ever-so-careful planning. In Affinity, I had two characters fall for each other that I hadn’t planned. There was chemistry from the first time I put them in a room together. I was truly shocked. Fortunately, being fantasy, the romance lines are less clearly defined than in your typical romance novel so I let them go with it.

What are some of the more difficult aspects of writing a romantic suspense novel? 
Keeping it fresh and free from clich├ęs is a challenge. I find all the rom-com movies I’ve ever seen pop to mind when I’m planning. Also avoiding the cheese factor in dialogue and interaction takes some mental gymnastics. There has only been one ditched novel. I liked the idea of it, but couldn’t fathom how to stretch it out to 80K words.

What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?
I wish I had trusted myself more in the beginning and just got on with it. I waited to be invited to the party. I felt that getting a publishing contract would give me the ‘right to write’. Now I know – if it’s in you, let it out. Don’t wait until it’s ‘official’.

I also wish I hadn’t spent so much time whining about not having enough time to write. I have two jobs and three kids and if I took all the time I lost bewailing my lack of writing time, I could probably have written another three books. Now, I’ve rearranged my routine slightly, get up earlier and I can consistently get out 500 words a day. It’s not a lot, but I’ll take what I can get.

What type of publicity do you do to promote your book? What has worked best for you in generating sales?
This is a tricky one to answer as I feel I’m just starting out. Finding Mia released in June this year, I ran a month-long give away on Goodreads which generated interest regarding the book. Whether those ticked over into sales… my first royalty statement will tell. I’m taking the slow and steady approach, rather than trying to create a big bang of interest at this stage.

What other books do you have in the works?
Spirit Walker books 2 and 3, though I’m currently detouring with a quirky inspirational romance project that sideswiped me and won’t go away. The only way to make it leave me alone is to write it, it seems.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
Lose the hang-ups and just write. Get on with it. Bad writing can be edited, but there is nothing you can do for no writing.

Are there any other notes you’d like to add?
If a scary-big writing opportunity comes your way, and there is the slightest chance that you can do what they are asking of you – say YES. I’ve taken on some projects that I had no idea I’d actually be able to pull off. I’ve always managed and learnt a ton in the process.

That's it for today's interview. There's no excuse for not writing. Treat it as a 2nd job you have to do as a time clock check-in. As Dianne says, "Get on with it!"

If you'd like to learn more about Dianne's writing, here's some great ways to do that.
Twitter: @diannejwilson
My lovely writing community on FB – all writers welcome:


  1. This is a great interview - thank you! Dianne's answers are refreshingly honest. Five years to write a book? Sounds about right for her circumstances - I've been there. 500 words a day? I think that's the most intelligent target anyone could have. (I doesn't mean you can't write more if it's going well, but it does mean satisfaction if you have other commitments.) I've ever seen other writers claiming thousands of words every time they sit down, and I think, well, yes, but what's the quality of all those words? I also concur with Dianne's thoughts on outlining. I came late to the benefits, and I still don't think you need to write a detailed synopsis at the start, but once you have an outline it really does give a healthy sense of purpose to the work in progress. All the best with all three books, Dianne, and thanks. Christine.

    1. Deborah, thanks for your feedback. Whether you write a quick rough draft or take the time to write and review as you go, the important part is doing the writing! Keep on writing, Deborah.

    2. Thank you for well wishes, Deborah! What do you write?