7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Kate Maddison

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Kate Maddison, author of THE INCREDIBLE CHARLOTTE SYCAMORE) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

GIVEAWAY: Kate is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Katie won.)


kate-maddison-author-writer      the-incredible-charlotte-sycamore-book

When Kate Maddison wrote the YA steampunk mystery,
The Incredible Charlotte Sycamore published by Holiday House,
her research included a trip to London for a behind-the-scenes tour of
Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Although this is her debut YA,
she’s written nineteen other award-winning historical romance novels
under a different pen name. When Kate is not battling mechanical dogs
in her imagination, you might find her with her family, hiking the
escarpment near her hometown in Toronto or taking photos of
the sunrise. Learn more on her website and connect with her
on Facebook or Twitter.



1. Do it your way first. When I first began writing, I made the mistake of showing my writing to well-meaning others too early. I incorrectly assumed that because other writers had been in the business longer than me, even though they were also unpublished, they knew the ‘right’ way to approach my story. What I’ve learned is that as writers, we know our characters best and only we know what excites us about telling this particular story. There’s plenty of time to get feedback after the first draft. That first draft is always mine.

2. Don’t start writing until you love the premise. Whenever I find myself playing the avoiding game with my writing, I ask myself why. The answer always seems to be that there’s something about where this story is headed that I don’t like. Sometimes this happens with the very first page. When I rework the premise – either going deeper with the characters, or changing some element of the plotline that isn’t working – I find I can’t wait to get back to the scene.

(How successful should a blog be before agents/editors will take notice?)

3. It’s the conflict that keeps readers turning the pages. Whether readers are five or ninety-five, everyone loves to read about ‘friends’ who are in big trouble.

4. Writing can be physically stressful. Who knew that sitting in the same position, staring at the same monitor, fingers flexed in the same manner for hours on end could be harmful? It can cause tension in the neck, shoulders, and hands. Writers are especially stressed when deadlines loom and they’re at the computer every waking moment for days at a time. My solution was to get a family dog – a cute little Bichon Frise named Amy – who’s a great companion and doesn’t let me forget she needs walking. I also joined a gym.

5. A great pitch can sell the story. I usually develop several different ways of wording my pitch, then pick the one that’s the most dramatic, exciting, or evokes the most emotion. There’s nothing like a one or two sentence pitch – a high concept – that gets the attention of editors and agents. It’s something brief and sharp about the story that not only you can easily describe, but so can your agent to an editor, and an editor in an acquisition meeting to other members of the publishing team.

6. Nothing beats face-to-face contact. After I signed with my new agent, Erica Spellman Silverman of the Trident Media Group, I flew from my hometown of Toronto to New York to meet her in person. It was a great way to get to know each other as people and how we would relate on a business level. It allowed for a longer conversation with immediate feedback and the opportunity to pick up on nuances that are impossible to convey through email. The meeting also gave me the chance to pitch several other story ideas beyond the proposal I initially submitted. One was the pitch that eventually became The Incredible Charlotte Sycamore, the book my agent first sold.

(Which writers’ conference is the BEST to attend?)

7. Believe in your talent. There’s magic in the assembly of words, just as there is magic in guitar strings when a seasoned musician strums. Talent doesn’t disappear just because a performer has the flu, a writer hasn’t written for three months, or the artist is scared. You will always be you.

GIVEAWAY: Kate is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Katie won.)



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19 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Kate Maddison

  1. BarbaraAnn

    Thanks for this article! I loved it. I have been wanting to right, but not sure how to start or anything….so thank you again! I love reading YA fiction & it inspired me to try to write my own!

  2. Kate Maddison

    Hi Katie! It’s not silly at all. 🙂 We all feel the same way as writers, especially when we hear “You must write every day.” I’ve never found that to be true. Good luck with your computer issues, and getting back to your writing!

  3. Katie

    I was struck by #7 on your list – my computer has been down for several weeks and I haven’t written a thing. I’m excited to get it fixed and get back to the grind, but I am a bit nervous. Silly, isn’t it?

  4. Kate Maddison

    Burrowswrite – Thanks for the comment on my cover! I think the artist did a great job on the hell hounds too. Boys seem to really like the mechanical creatures in the story. 🙂

    Debbie – I can tell that you can relate. Thanks for the feedback!

  5. Debbie

    You mentioned “only we know our characters best” and, thus, we have the greatest excitement. I love that the author is the truest fan. What joy for any writer! Thank you.

  6. burrowswrite

    I love steam punk-esk books. even though I am not into reading YA novels, I have to admit that Im interested. People say not to judge a book by the cover, but they have not seen that awesome mechanized hell hound on your cover, which intrigued me right away.

  7. Kate Maddison

    Daniel – Great question! It’s different for each book. But usually always before the first 3 chapters are written. By the end of the ms, I’ll often re-tweak the pitch. However, sometimes I develop the pitch before I start writing. This was the case with this book, The Incredible Charlotte Sycamore. Just going on a whim one day, I wrote the pitch in her POV, first person, and I didn’t know I was going to write the ms in first person until the pitch came out. (other scenes are written 3rd person in her friends’ POVs, which is kind of different to have a mix like that, but my wonderful editor didn’t blink.) I even had the title chosen before I started writing, which usually doesn’t happen for me. It helped me in writing the ms because I kept asking myself as I was character-building and plot-building: Is this incredible enough? Does this story warrant that title? That first-person pitch is on my website, for those interested in reading it. (on the Books page.) The book is about a girl who lives in Buckingham Palace, daughter of the Royal Surgeon to Queen Victoria, who secretly trains herself to become a ‘Robin Hood’ surgeon for the poor along with the help of her teenage friends.

    Julie – Thanks for mentioning that! It’s simple but difficult to do sometimes when we are surrounded by other writers. 🙂

  8. Kate Maddison

    Evagreen50 – Thanks for the comment! Good luck in your writing.

    Clae – Glad to help!

    MikeDM – It’s nice to know what you found most helpful. #1 seems so obvious to me now, but was hard to break out of it when it was happening.

    Violet – Well said! A good editor is a valuable asset.

    kscott112 – Hello to a fellow Canuck!

    lesliemillernow – You’re right about it letting the creativity flow. Thanks for the cover compliment! I take no credit. 🙂 Done by illustrator Antonio Javier Caparo. We’ve never met but I love his work, too!

    BingoBill – Good point about actually doing it, rather than procrastinating. I read a lot of craft books when I first started and they helped me, but everyone reaches a point where their own writing has to take flight.

    Thanks for the comments!

  9. BingoBill

    I love good advice from writers but I have to be honest;
    Number 8 should be:
    ‘Reading about writing should not be a substitute for writing.’
    I have a shelf dedicated to books on craft and clever quotes from established writers. I plan to let it gather dust.

  10. lesliemillernow

    I love the advice about the first draft. I always tell my clients, write it however you write it–but learn to revise! I think this lets the creativity flow unhindered in that first telling of the story. Best of luck with your new novel. I LOVE the cover.

  11. Violet

    Great article! Especially point 1! It’s your story…make it your own and keep it that way. Advice is great, but if it doesn’t sit well with your story or if it changes your original intent in a way you don’t like, then ignore it. Most likely you didn’t write it for anyone but yourself originally, anyway. A good editor will tell you what’s wrong with it and how to fix it, but they won’t commandeer it and make it their own story.
    – Violet: Freelance Editor with The Scribe’s Best Friend.

  12. Kate Maddison

    My pleasure. It was fun to write, and think about all the things I know now that I didn’t then. Hope it helps some other writers out there. 🙂


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