7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Sarah Maine

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Sarah Maine, author of THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES) 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.

Sarah Maine was born in England and emigrated to Canada with her family at the age of ten.  A small northern Ontario community was home for the next two years before the family moved south, and Sarah went to high school in Toronto. She returned to England to study archaeology, stayed on to do research and work, married there, and has two sons. THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES was published in 2016 and followed, in 2017, by Beyond the Wild River.  She is currently working on a third book, Ullaness. Follow her on Twitter.

sarah-maine-author-writer the-house-between-tides-book-cover

1. Enjoy the process! Writing fiction is a process, often slow and frustrating, but ultimately so rewarding. I love creating an imagined world and the characters who populate it, and it feels extraordinary to have a world into which I can step and exist for a while. Plots clarify and characters do unexpected things, taking matters into their own hands. When the enjoyment ceases, I know it’s time to leave it and return later refreshed and reinspired.

2. Keep reading. I find that inspiration often comes from reading, and all books have something to give. Some are to marvel at, some to reject, but they all teach something about style, dialogue, tension, and all those essential ingredients of writing.

3. Keep writing. When I return to my writing, it’s so much easier to spot the knotty bits. I find deleting large chunks very cathartic, and then the rewriting can begin. All part of the process and often the most creative part. Who wouldn’t want to delete some chunks of their life and rerun them? We don’t have that luxury, but the characters, at this stage, do.

4. Research. THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES is set partly in the past, as are my current projects. The past has to be believable, and this requires research. And research is fun! I enjoy exploring the landscapes, the sounds, and the smells, as well as learning about the events and the culture which shaped the past. And the characters grow as they respond to what I’ve learned, and so the process moves on, taking me with it.

Agent Donald Maass, who is also an author
himself, is one of the top instructors nationwide
on crafting quality fiction. His recent guide,
The Fire in Fiction, shows how to compose
a novel that will get agents/editors to keep reading.

5. Find an agent. This too requires research. I haunted libraries and bookshops to discover which agents supported similar books and then researched my shortlist. I was lucky enough to find a wonderful agent with my first overture and felt that my research had really paid off. Thank you for everything, Jenny!

5. Listen. My agent found me a publisher eager to get behind my work, and this was the exciting part, the next episode in a continuing process. My agent, my editor, and others made suggestions which encouraged me to look afresh at plot and characters, and it was worth listening. I knew that at this stage that everyone was pulling in one direction, towards success, and so I took on board what was said—well, most of it! Some things bring out a stubborn streak.

7. Patience. Perhaps the most important thing I have learned so far is patience. Patience with myself when nothing seems to go well, patience waiting for feedback from busy friends or professionals (and patience with their comments when they arrive), patience as publishers consider their response, and patience until that great day when the book is on the shelves. Patience isn’t always easy, but it is the oil that smoothes the process, taking me from the burning idea to the moment when I finally hold the book in my hands.


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