7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Emmy Laybourne

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Emmy Laybourne, author of MONUMENT 14) 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: Emmy 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: Lina won.)



Emmy Laybourne is a novelist, lyricist, and actress. She has
acted in movies, television, and improv groups including Chicago
City Limits and UCB. She lives in Chestnut Ridge, New York, with
her husband and their two children. MONUMENT 14 marks her
fiction debut. The trailer for Monument 14 features an original song.
A companion piece to Monument 14 can currently be found at
Tor.com. It’s called “Dress Your Marines In White” and it’s free!



1. I only write if have at least 2 hours in front of me. Most days, it takes me at least 45 minutes to calm down my mind and get ready to write. It’s a horrible 45 minutes, during which time the temptation to check emails and answer phone messages is nearly unbearable. But if I can wait it out, I will eventually find my way into the core of my own creativity.

Now, if I do all that suffering and finally get there and the words start to flow and then all of a sudden I have to stop because, say, it’s time to pick my kids up from school, or I have a dentist appointment, or I have to go have lunch with some dearly beloved friend – it makes me want to gouge my heart out.

That’s why I leave myself at least two hours to write – preferably four or even six.

(How long should you wait before following up with an agent?)

2. I write five days a week. When I am working on a novel, if I do not give it a certain amount of my bandwidth, I lose momentum. I think of it this way: I’ve asked a group of characters to come and hang around me while I tell a story about what is happening to them. I owe them my attention. It’s sort of like inviting guests to a party – if I don’t pay attention to them, they get bored and wander off.

Now, this is not to say that I write 5 days a week every week! No, I have to take weeks off at a time when I need to prepare for a book launch or a play reading.

But if I’m focusing on writing a novel, I try to clear my schedule as best I can so that I can not only write 5 days a week, but also:

3. I write at the same time each day. That way the party guests know when to show up! I used to know a comedy improviser who did eight shows a week in a big Off-Broadway improv company. He said that at 7:55 every night, whether he was working or not, he’d start to get an adrenaline rush and mind would suddenly sharpen up. You can train yourself to work that way too. Come 9 a.m., your ideas will start flowing, if you’ve started writing every weekday at 9 am for a month.

I happen to like writing in the morning. That’s when I have the most juice. I try not to do “office work” like answering emails or, ahem, writing blog posts in the morning. But I don’t want to spend my best stuff on emails and witty FB messages!

4. I don’t judge until it is time to edit. When I was working as an actor, I used to reserve a chair for my inner Critic. (Yeah, with a capital C.) I would rehearse the scene and then I’d sit down in the chair and review the scene as the critic, “Wow, you’re never going to get this part! You’re too old for it and why are you making your voice all dopey like that? They’d be crazy to hire you and your pants are horrible.” Then I’d stand up and turn and face the Critic chair and defend myself. “Screw you!” I’d shout. “I could totally book this and my voice sounds great and I’m only 28 and these pants are awesome!”

Then I’d go change my pants and ace the audition.

I don’t let that creepy Critic sit down with me when I start to write. My desk chair just isn’t big enough for the two of us.

5. I eat three meals a day with protein. Writing is hard. It takes brain power! A salad or a slice of pizza just ain’t gonna do it.

6. I don’t watch shows with “Real” or “Housewife” in the title. Because they make me sad and because I have better things to do. Like making soup. Or reading novels in my genre. Or giving myself paper-cuts. I’m being snarky, but the truth is that we tend to think of TV as something that entertains us – and gives us something, but I think it takes more than it gives. That wired, drained feeling I get after watching TV for a couple hours – I don’t like it. Plus, there’s so much reading to do!

(What to write in the BIO section of your query letter.)

7. I woolgather. Sometimes I’m too hard on myself. This is a trait I suspect I share with everyone on the planet. And today, with email and Facebook and so much media at our disposal every second of the day, I think we don’t allow ourselves the vague, do-nothing, star-gazing time that human beings need. So I walk.

Walking satisfies that part of my personality that always wants to be engaged and active and productive, but it’s a trick. The part of my brain I’m feeding is the dreaming part. The woolgathering part. When I think of woolgathering, I imagine a little Shepard girl wandering the mountains and plucking tufts of wool off bushes and brambles. That’s the kind of walking I love the best and I always find bits of wool along my way, if I keep my focus soft. Bits of dialogue. Phrases to describe scenery. Actions my characters are destined to perform. That’s my favorite – suddenly my characters come to tell me things they’re going to do that shock and surprise me, yet seem totally inevitable.

GIVEAWAY: Emmy 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: Lina won.)


Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.



Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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16 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Emmy Laybourne

  1. AnnaTherien

    I have two “offices” at home. One I wander off to for the obligatory two hour writing session and anything other time I can cram in and one for the business of Real Life. Glad to know I’m on the right track 🙂

  2. margorowder

    All Emmy’s tips ring so true! I have GOT to have at least 2 or 3 hours to sit and work – 4-6 is just so much better, though. I’m also a huge yes on protein and walking wool-gathering. I’m saving up for a treadmill desk – no joke.

    Speaking of funny, a friend of mine (a writer and former improv-er here in LA) knows Emmy and was just telling me about Monument 14. Small friggin’ world!

    Thanks, Emmy and Chuck!

  3. ratstar1001

    Wow, this sounds exactly like me. Writing in the morning, taking forever to get started, have to have a schedule or not much gets done. Thanks for sharing your “7 things,” they are helpful and entertaining.

  4. bennettc9

    It’s a hard thing to birth the writer in you and then when what you are doing doesn’t seem to be same as everyone else you start doubting if you really are a writer. There has to be a quiet piece of time stretched out before me or my brain just doesn’t want to take on the task of writing. It’s nice to know that someone else does 1, 2, 3, and 5 and is a published author. Thanks for the tips.

  5. Artambrosia


    I agree with everything you said, and not just because I’d like a copy of your book. I especially get the “woolgathering” part. I do that pretty much every day when I’m writing, whether I can get out for a walk or not. I also try to give myself a block of time because once I start, I never seem to want to stop. I actually write until it hurts – when the ideas are coming that is. I’m afraid to let them get away. I sort of feel like my characters have invited ME to the party and I’m trying to get their story down. Crazy huh. Best of luck with your book. I think I will be reading it soon, one way or the other. It’s on my list.
    http://www.tswitt.wordpress.com (under construction)


  6. maseyville

    I ABSOLUTELY LOVED the inner Critic dialogue. As someone who is my own worst enemy I can related to that so much! Lots of great advice too!


  7. whynot1956

    These are great tips for someone just starting out on a career path of writing. My biggest problems are sticking to schedules and staying focused. I have just begun the habit of turning off the tv and FaceBook while writing. This is definitely helping me to stay focused on my writing. Now if I could just stick to a schedule I would be great. I am a night owl and that is when I do most of my writing. Thank you for the wonderful tips.


  8. Christine

    I’ve turned off the t.v. and turned on my computer and just write or blog or read about writing. I also like to observe people and things so if I’m somewhere I will take some notes to keep for future ideas.

  9. caityann29

    My usual writing routine is basically:.
    anywhere, anyhow, anywhen that I have a pencil and a scrap of paper (or my Android), and spare time to develop my story.

    I agree with your #6: I feel the same after watching too much TV – like I could’ve been doing something more productive instead.

    Happy writing and congrats on your book’s success,

  10. learn2teach

    I’ve found a lot of these same techniques useful this past year. Glad to see others have a similar process. The book sounds great, too. I can’t wait to read it.

  11. Andrea M

    It’s good to hear that other people take some time to get into “writing mode” even when they have a routine. Thanks for the interview.

    Monument 14 sounds like an interesting read!

  12. Lina Moder

    Monument 14 is on my wish-list! I’ve been “stalking” it for such a long time and have been hearing all these awesome things about this book:)

    It’s so interesting to hear about how authors build a routine that works for them, and I love what Emmy says that she has to act like her characters are guests and she has to listen to them, expect them to show up each day.

    Love the wool-gathering metaphor – and I too find that walking really unlocks all these awesome ideas:)

    linamoder at gmail dot com


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