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Ep 45 We’re back! What age do authors break through? How to write a 93,000-word book in 6 weeks. The 7-minute workout. And author Lisa Heidke on her new book “It started with a kiss”.

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In Episode 45 of So you want to be a writer: Hello 2015! A new storytelling platform, write 93,000 words in six weeks, the Thiel grant for online writing, are you at the right age for your breakthrough book? Think small for freelance writing success, the book ‘The art and craft of feature writing’ by William Blundell, 10 blogs for writers in 2015, Writer in Residence Lisa Heidke (plus a giveaway!), work out in 7 minutes, how to close you can be to your subject, and much more.

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

Copywriting Essentials course

A Modern Storytelling Platform

The Productivity Hacks I Used To Write A 93,000-Word Book In Six Weeks

Thiel Grant for Online Writing

What age did the greatest authors publish their most famous works?

Think Small in 2015 for Freelance Writing Success

The Art and Craft of Feature Writing: Based on the Wall Street Journal Guide

Top 10 Blogs for Writers 2015 – The Winners

Writer in Residence

Once upon a time, Lisa Heidke made a New Year’s resolution to write a book. Like most people, Lisa woke up on January 1 with a headache. Unlike most people who’d made resolutions the night before, she took two Nurofen and started writing.

The result was Lucy Springer Gets Even (A & U, 2009), followed by What Kate did Next (A & U, 2010), Claudia’s Big Break (A & U, 2011), and Stella Makes Good (A & U, 2012).

She also teaches Popular Women’s Fiction workshops at the Australian Writers’ Centre.

Website
Twitter
Facebook
Allen and Unwin on Twitter

Web Pick

The 7 minute workout

Working Writer’s Tip
How close can a case study or interviewee be to the writer – e.g., is a niece okay?

In most cases, doesn’t matter as long as the editor knows and then the editor can make a decision on whether it’s too close or not. It would depend on the story. eg if the story is about why lots of people are diabetic and your niece is diabetic, then the editor is unlikely to care. (You niece has nothing to gain from the piece, financially or with publicity) But if the story is about a CrossFit Gym and you want to interview your niece who owns a CrossFit gym, then the editor might care (because she will benefit financially, and it may not be considered an objective piece).

Sign up to the Australian Writers’ Centre Newsletter and win a copy of Lisa’s book!

Just fill in your details over here.

Join the Mapmaker Chronicles fan newsletter!

Find out more here.

Your hosts

Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait
@valeriekhoo

Email us
podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Transcript

Allison

Once upon a time Lisa Heidke made a New Year’s resolution to write a novel. The next day she woke up with a headache and starting writing. Fittingly, her fifth novel, It Started With a Kiss, was released on January 1, this year — no headaches. 

Welcome, Lisa!

Lisa

Thank you.

Allison

Hello, are you still there. Have you got a headache today?

Lisa

No! I haven’t.

Allison

Not at all. Tell us about that New Year’s resolution. Why did you think to yourself, “I’m going to write a novel.”? And why that particular day?

Lisa

Oh, just because I had been carrying on about it for so long. I think at the time I had three children under the age of five. I had just given up my job at ACP Magazines to look after the three kids and I just thought, “It’s now or never.” Plus I had bleated about it for so long.

Allison

So you had been working as a journalist at ACP Magazines?

Lisa

Yes.

Allison

In what area?

Lisa

I worked for Practical Parenting and also Bride to Be. So it would be like writing about mastitis in the morning and sexy lingerie in the afternoon.

Allison

Well that would just have been setting you up perfectly for your future as a novelist. How did you go from that sort of headache of January 1 — what year was that?

Lisa

That was New Year’s Eve 2001.

Allison

How did you go from that headache on January 1 to being a published author? How long did that take and what was the process?

Lisa

The process was long and difficult and needed a lot of determination and saving myself. I started writing fiction in 2001 and got the contract with Allen and Unwin for my first book in August 2007.

Allison

And that first contract was actually not for the first book you ever wrote, was it? It wasn’t for the first novel that you had ever actually completed?

Lisa

No, it wasn’t. That novel is languishing in a cupboard. Actually, Al, every January 1st I try to take it out of the cupboard and reread it, but I still can’t get past the first five pages.

Allison

That’s fantastic, so you haven’t rewritten it and then sent it out and it’s now out there in the world?

Lisa

No. No, no. That’s 60,000 words and I just am kicking myself, I’m sure there’s a few paragraphs in there I can use. Surely there’s 500 words of that 60,000 that is usable.

Allison

OK, so how many did you actually write before you got that first contract?

Lisa

Excluding the first manuscript, because that was written in third person, what I decided I needed to do was write like I speak, which is very conversational and first person… so by the time I got the contract with Allen and Unwin I had three manuscripts that were about 80 percent done.

Allison

Wow, OK. How did you get to that point? Had you been doing competitions? Had you just been sitting at home by yourself staring at your computer? How did you get to the point of having three that were ready to go, basically?

Lisa

For the first couple of years it was just me staring out the window and staring at the computer and just the cat and myself writing when the kids were sleeping. What happened was I would get to a point where I would finish the first draft, say, of
Claudia’s Big Break and send it out to a publisher. While I was waiting for three months for it to come back, for it to be rejected and come back to me, I started on another one, which turned out to be What Kate Did Next. And then I started working on a third one Lucy Springer Gets Even. So, I was juggling three because I would have nothing to do in between the time when I sent out one manuscript, waiting to be rejected, so I would start a new one.

Allison

Essentially the first three books came out in the reverse order of how you wrote them, is that right?

Lisa

Yes, absolutely.

Allison

I’m really interested in this thing, because you know how I feel about this, I’m very interested in this fact that you would send them off and then rather you sort of sitting around climbing walls and opening your email 50,000 times and all of that sort of stuff, you started on the next book. I call that productive waiting, and I’m actually considering writing an entire eBook on the subject — not really. I just think it’s so important. I think that so often authors get so hung up on one manuscript and they waste so much time waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen, whereas you’ve got on with it. So at the time that your break did happen you had three novels ready to go.

Lisa

Absolutely.

Allison

How important is that, do you think?

Lisa

It’s essential. As Stephen King says, “Once you’ve finished that novel, that manuscript, and you’ve sent it off forget about it.” You have to just close your mind to it and start on the next project the next day. Now I didn’t do that. I probably, you know, fussed around for a little bit, but it was certainly that attitude of, “OK, I’m going onward and upward. What’s the next project?”

Allison

Is that how you’ve managed, because you’ve been pretty much doing a book a year ever since that first contract, so is that how you’ve managed it? You had three ready to go to start with?

Lisa

Yes, absolutely. That’s absolutely how I managed it. Yes.

Allison

Have you had to — because you’ve now got five, so in the last couple of years have you been writing a book a year still? Is that how it’s been working for you?

Lisa

In an ideal world I would like to say ‘yes,’ but it’s actually become more difficult to write a.) because my kids are older and actually require more attention, having to be driven around and fussed over.

Allison

Don’t tell me that.

Lisa

And b.) because being a published author means I have more commitments to do the marketing promotion and library talks and just getting myself out there. There’s less time, actually, to stare out the window and stare at the computer.

Allison

Let’s talk about that, how do you manage that? Because I’m actually sitting here today looking at my email inbox and thinking about the stuff that I would like to be doing, which is proofreading book two of my series or finishing the edits on book three, or something practically useful like that. But, in actual fact I have eight billion emails to respond to. How do you juggle that? How do you juggle that sort of balance between actually getting the writing done and doing that promotion stuff that you need to do?

Lisa

I think it’s just… well, writing a to-do list is very important to me. Some nights I will go to bed feeling absolutely overwhelmed and wake up at 3:00 in the morning and just go, “OK, stop, write a list, what absolutely needs to be completed today?” And then I’ll do those, answering those emails, or writing that guest blog, or answering questions from a newspaper or whatever it is that absolutely is essential to promoting my current release, and then it’s very much about sitting down and working on my next project.

Now some days, Al, if I don’t feel up to creative writing as such, I will do research on the internet. For example, in my latest book Friday is, Friday is the character’s name, and she’s a naturopath. Now, I’m not a naturopath, so what I did was on those days when the writing wasn’t flowing, I would research naturopaths on the internet and just become more familiar with my character and doing things like that inspired me again.

Allison

It Started With a Kiss is out there, you’re obviously going to be pretty busy in the next little while. Are you actually working on another project as we speak? Have you got another books in the works?

Lisa

Yes. Yes, I am.

Allison

Fantastic. Good luck with that.

Lisa

As you know I’m a pantser, so I’m about 73,000 words into it, and I have a little bit of an idea how it’s going to end, but I must say I’m procrastinating on that, because I know once I finish the first draft at 80,000 words then I can really get stuck into it, rewriting it and developing those characters more.

Allison

Obviously you and I have known each other for quite a long time and you’ve always been a pantser, even though you’ve now written five novels, you’re obviously onto number six, do you do things any differently to how you did when you started?

Lisa

I think my writing is faster because I know what I’m doing. I’m not overwriting as much, I’m not — I’m showing a lot more, I’m not telling. My first drafts, I think, are a lot cleaner than they were back say 2004 and 2005, and so they should be.

Allison

So your editing process is easier now than it used to be?

Lisa

Yes.

Allison

OK.

Lisa

I really do think so.

Allison

You’re very much an advocate for persistence with writers and you need the passion to keep going and stuff like that, but how do you keep going on the days when it’s not going well? I mean you’re saying at the moment you’re procrastinating because you’ve got a vague idea how it’s going to end or whatever, but I mean how are you going to push through that procrastination and actually get the manuscript finished?

Lisa

That’s an excellent question.

Allison

Don’t do podcasts with me…

Lisa

If I knew the answer to that I would have done it. Look, I have developed techniques. For example, I will finish my writing in the middle of the scene, so the next day when I come back to writing I will go, “OK, I know that scene, I’ve finished that in the middle of a scene,” finished in the middle of a sentence or what have you, and then I will just carry on from there.

Allison

So you know where you’re up to and you’ve just got to keep going, as opposed to, “Where am I starting now?”

Lisa

Absolutely. So, I try to finish in the middle of an idea. Also, again, if I’m not familiar with the character or I’m stalling on a character what I’ll do is write — pretend I’m that character writing to a girlfriend that I haven’t seen for ten years. So, filling her in on all of the information that has been going on in my character’s life in the last ten years. Sometimes that will trigger a new scene.

Allison

You’re kind of tapping into your subconscious really, like trying to find the things that link together?

Lisa

Yes, absolutely.

Allison

You write and teach contemporary women’s fiction at the Australian Writers’ Centre.

Lisa

Yes, I do.

Allison

Can you explain to us contemporary women’s fiction is?

Lisa

Contemporary women’s fiction I would say is a story that centres on a woman or on primarily women’s issues. It’s not necessarily the romantic relationship. That is included, but it’s the whole women. It’s the women’s relationship with her aging parents, or her children, her colleagues, her best friends, it’s the whole woman’s story, not just a romantic story between a man and woman, or a woman and a woman, that sort of thing.

It’s fiction — it’s just modern day stories about modern day life.

Allison

What makes it different to chick-lit, because everybody talks about the fact that chick-lit is not a thing anymore, what makes it different?

Lisa

I think that women’s fiction is a broader title and chick-lit falls under that title of women’s fiction. For example, even though she would hate to be called it, Jodi Picoult is women’s fiction. I mean basically because it’s about women written by a woman. Now, of course, we don’t have men’s fiction, but that’s a whole other topic.

Allison

Yeah, we could debate that for days, couldn’t we?

Lisa

Yes, we absolutely could. For some reason women get pigeon holed and I think it’s purely a marketing device, especially by the publishers and then by booksellers.

Allison

What do you think are the most important factors in creating a successful contemporary women’s fiction novel? What are the factors that make it work?

Lisa

I think that you need to have three dimensional characters. So no one character is all bad or all good. Your characters, like real people, have flaws. Obviously, you want the reader to empathize with your protagonist because if they don’t empathize in those first couple of pages they’re going to put the book down. So if your readers open a book and the character you’re writing about is perfect in every way, beautiful, successful, has a fantastic career and a fabulous love life, your readers are going to put the book down because they’re going to go… “Oh god, that’s boring…” because what drives the story is conflict. The protagonist has got to have a conflict or a crisis straight up, something that the reader can recognize and relate to and then go, “Oh, wow, I wonder how she’s going to work through this? I wonder what’s going to happen?”

Allison

What about voice?

Lisa

Voice, really important. For example, I believe when you pick up a Marian Keyes or
Jodi Picoult you know immediately what you’re getting into because they have a brand. So they have a tone, they have a style and they have voice. I would say for new writers the most important thing to do is developing your own voice. So we’ve already had Stephen King, we’ve already had Jane Austen, Marian Keyes, so it’s not about copying them or recreating Emily Bronte, it’s about finding a new voice, a new and exciting voice that will be your own.

Allison

Do you have any thoughts on how people can tap into that? Because I know that a lot of people — it is actually quite difficult to write as their self.

Lisa

I understand that. So a lot of it comes down to — firstly, practice. Practice, practice, practice, because you might think you’re not good at writing dialogue, or you’re not good at writing sex scenes, but until you actually do that, how do you know? So it’s very much practice and finding out what you like. You might think, “No, no, no, I don’t want to write in first person because it’s too scary,” but until you practice with all of your points of view how do you know?

I definitely think there’s practice and there has to be, at a certain point, a trust that, “OK, this is the way I write and I’ve just got to let my writing flow and see where it leads.” And then, of course, it becomes determination, persistence and just bums on seats, basically.

Allison

Getting on with it.

Lisa

Yes.

Allison

What surprised you most about being a published author?

Lisa

Well, maybe I wasn’t rich and famous.

Allison
Overnight? What do you mean?! Are you telling me that’s not true?

Lisa

No, I didn’t jump the queue at Target, that people didn’t recognize me in Myers, that I couldn’t just go, “Hi, my name is Lisa Heidke…”

Allison

Did that really surprise you? Did you really expect that?

Lisa

No, of course it didn’t.

What surprised me, I’ll tell you truthfully what surprised me was a.) the excitement when I walked into a bookshop and saw my book on a shelf — that was exciting. Yes, I guess that didn’t surprise me. What surprised me was the absolute anticlimax the day or the next week when I walked back into that same bookshop and the books were still there. Now, yes, they could have sold out and had been replenished, as family and friends would tell me, but there was that certain anticlimax of, “Oh… the books are still there… no one is buying them… I’m a failure…”

So all of that self-doubt that you’ve been trying to push down during your writing process absolutely comes back when you’re published, because then you’re subjected to reviews and online reviews and those critics can be very harsh.

Allison

So it never really goes away, the self-doubt? Like even getting yourself over the line is not enough? 

Lisa

No, it’s not. For me, it doesn’t. Probably — I don’t think Stephen King worries about that kind of thing, but I would say most authors have incredible self-doubt once their book is released.

Allison

What are your thoughts on the author platform? Let’s talk about that because you know it’s a big part I think of what publishers expect from authors these days.

Lisa

They absolutely do, yes.

Allison

What are your thoughts on that, where do you focus your efforts when it comes to that?

Lisa

I have a website, which has just been completely updated for the release of
It Started With a Kiss. I have a sporadic blog, and how I’ve come to terms with that, because I know I have to keep blogging, is that I’ll invite guest authors on, or guest editors, to be apart of that. Then I’ll promote that blog and my website through Facebook and Twitter.

Allison

You’re getting help in the sense — blogs are hungry and trying to maintain the constant content as well as doing all of the other things that you do — so you’re taking more of a team approach and getting some help?

Lisa

Yes, I am.

Allison

Which is great. I think that’s great.

Lisa

All authors I know are reciprocal. They will say, “Fantastic, you’ve got a new book coming out, why don’t you come on my blog?” I find that works. Twitter I’m getting more into now, but I like Facebook because I can come back and forth and it’s more of time thing with me.

Allison

Yeah, yeah. You get a conversation that lasts longer on Facebook I think.
Lisa

Yes.

Allison

As you say you can dip in and out of it, which can make that easier to maintain.

Lisa

Absolutely.

Allison

All right. Let’s finish up with your top three tips for writers, because that’s how we like to finish up.

Lisa

Oh gosh.

Allison

Come on, pull them out…

Lisa

Commitment!

The burning desire to write, regardless of whether you’ll get published in print form or not.

Discipline — having the discipline to sit down and go, “OK, I’m turning off all of those things like Facebook and Twitter and I’m going to focus on my writing for the next two hours or whatever time you have.

Also, Allison, being yourself, writing because you love to write and also I think writing the kind of novels or short stories that you want to read.

Allison

OK, write what you like to read.

Lisa

Write what you like to read, be yourself, have the discipline and then have the commitment to see the project through to the end.

Allison

Those are all extremely good tips and you’ve given me four for the price of three, which is a massive bonus.

Thank you so much for your time today, Lisa. Good luck with your fifth novel.

Lisa

Thank you. Thanks, Al.

Allison

It Started With a Kiss, which is available in all good bookstores as we speak and is a fantastic holiday read for those who are looking for a bit of January fun. You can visit Lisa at www.LisaHeidke.com Where would we find you on Facebook?

Lisa

LisaHeidke-author

Allison

Fantastic. I will put all of those links in the show notes. Thanks again, Lisa.

Lisa

Thanks, Al. Nice talking to you.

Jan 21, 2015 Podcasts Australian Writers' Centre Team

Written by Australian Writers' Centre Team

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