Q&A: Bestseller Brenda Novak on how she wrote 35 novels in 11 years, how to conquer writer's block, and more.

Publish date:

Bestseller Brenda Novak has written nearly three dozen novels since her debut from HarperCollins 11 years ago, and has three romantic suspense titles forthcoming this summer—White Heat, Body Heat and Killer Heat. (To read her article on the current state of romance books in the publishing business—and how you can make it in the genre—check out the May/June 2010 issue of WD.)

Moreover, Brenda hosts an online auction for diabetes research every May, featuring oodles of publishing-related items and opportunities, from author promotion packages to book editing to getting your name in a John Lescroart novel to a manuscript critique by yours truly. She's also offering a writing contest with a grand prize of a six-month mentoring package and guaranteed reads from her editor and agent. Check it all out here.

Finally, feel free to comment or respond to her writing prompt below for a shot at winning an autographed book. We’ll pick two random commenters for the swag next Monday.

* * *

You used to think you didn't have a creative bone in your body, and math and science were your subjects of choice. How'd you end up unlocking your writing potential?

Desperation. Seriously. I had just caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup to get them to sleep all day while she watched soaps. At the same time, my husband was a real estate developer with 30 homes in various stages of construction, all pre-sold, but because of a big slump in the market, the appraisals were coming in below our cost. We were losing his business, our home, everything—and yet I felt as if I couldn't leave my children to work because I no longer trusted others to care for them properly. This forced me to figure out something I could do at home, in snatches, while I babysat. I decided to try my hand at writing fiction—and finally figured out what I was meant to do with my life (the silver lining to a dark period).

You've now written 35 novels since your 1999 debut. What's the key to such a strong output?
Basically, I give myself permission to write whatever comes out, and worry about refining after. I find this really increases productivity because my internal editor can't stifle the words before they even hit the page. Sometimes I'm surprised when a story will veer off from what I expected, something that wouldn't be possible for me without this free-flowing process. Pacing is another answer to this question. Because I have five kids who come before my work, I have to pace myself and work consistently in order to accomplish so much—and to make sure it's all the best work I can produce.

In your regular writing process, what slows you down the most on a daily basis?
Interruptions. Because I also run a major charity event—my annual online auction for diabetes research—it's as if I have two full-time jobs. I'm constantly juggling. Add to that the kids I mentioned when answering the last question (one of which has insulin-dependent diabetes), and you can picture the amount of interruptions I get. Now that my kids are getting a little older, however, and I'm able to concentrate on one job or the other for longer stretches of time, I'm finding I interrupt myself by checking e-mail way too often. This addiction costs me a lot of productivity and is something I have to work on in the future.

What best fuels your creativity?
Movies, books, TV, music. Anything that's done well in the creative field—even a painting that speaks to me—can work as inspiration. I remember the first time I saw Les Mis. I loved it so much and felt this sort of hum of excitement every time I heard the soundtrack.

Have you ever endured a particularly nasty patch of writer’s block?
Writer's block can hit at any time because it generally happens when I've taken my manuscript in the "wrong" direction. The creativity suddenly dries up and it feels as if I have nowhere to go.

How do you overcome it?

My writing process is a bit like sculpting. It's as if my subconscious sees the shape and form of the story long before my conscious mind. So I retrench to a point where I feel confident the book was working and branch off in a new direction. It always ends up being better than the original and seems to solve the problem. So I'm safe from writer's block as long as I remain in sync with what my subconscious has already created.

What’s the overall best craft advice you can offer?
I think it's important to keep filling the well. It's tough to have something to offer if you don't constantly absorb fresh ideas. For me, remaining inspired is all about continuing to learn, then offering up my own particular slant on the world.

How about the best publishing advice you’ve ever received?
Rejection isn't personal. It's part of the process and is valuable in defining a non-market. I think this advice helped me put rejection in perspective and to expect it as part of the normal course of a writer's career.

Finally, do you have a personal writing mantra?
I don’t have a writing mantra unless it’s, “Never give up!”

WRITING PROMPT: Courtesy of Brenda Novak

free to take the following prompt home or post your
response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail it to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

You’ve just arrived at your brand new cabin at the lake and are excited to start your summer vacation when, using a pair of binoculars, you see one of your new neighbors carrying what looks like a body out of his cabin and putting it in the trunk of his car …

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