My first novel, "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo", is available for free download from my web site (http://www.heatherwardell.
and most retailers, and I am thrilled to be giving away five sets of my
next EIGHT Toronto-series novels to International Chick Lit Month
participants. I thought I'd share with you a little something that five
of those books and one upcoming one taught me about writing and life.
"Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo" - Writing is supposed to be fun.
When I began this book in 2005, I had no idea that someday I would be a full-time writer with twelve self-published novels and three more on the way. I had no plans for the book itself, either, so every day after work I sat down with my laptop and started typing to see what happened next. My husband was away on a six-week business trip, so my main character's was too, and I just let my imagination wander and watched where it went. I loved every second of it.
I plan my books now, and I am definitely working instead of just playing, but I still try to remember how much fun it was to watch the words appear on the screen and I do my best to keep that same sense of fun and freedom as I work.
"Go Small or Go Home" - Trust your instincts.
This is the book that got me the closest to getting a literary agent. The two who were interested, though, weren't quite sold. One wanted me to add a number of sex scenes, and the other wasn't sure what she didn't like but knew the book needed something different for her to take me on.
I almost added those sex scenes, but the mere thought of it felt wrong to me. I didn't do it, and I self-published the book instead, and I am so glad that I didn't give in. Advice is great, but don't value someone else's opinion over your own. If it doesn't feel right for your book, or your life, then it's not.
"Planning to Live" - Dig deep.
This is the hardest writing I've ever done, a first-person present-tense story of a woman trapped and bleeding in her car in a blizzard. So much of Rhiannon's mental processes and attitudes reflect my own, at the time, and that made it even harder.
I did it, though, working deeply into my own beliefs about myself and work and life, and not only did it make the book stronger it also made me stronger and helped me find some healthier beliefs. Not everyone loves this book but those that do REALLY love it and I think it's because I didn't hold anything back.
"Stir Until Thoroughly Confused" - It's okay to choose a new path.
Up to this point I had been trying with each book to get a literary agent. I'd query at least a hundred, wait months for their responses, and once all hope was gone I self-published the book.
This time, though, as I began to prepare the query letters I realized I no longer wanted what I'd thought I did. My books were selling slowly at that point, but they were selling, and I loved the direct relationship I had with my readers. I could ask them for feedback on covers and titles and actually USE that feedback in a way that I wouldn't be able to do with a traditional publishing contract.
So, I let go of my original plan and chose the path of self-publishing first. It felt strange at first, giving up, but now I know I did the right thing. I am a perfectionist and a bit of a control freak and being 100% in charge of my own work is the best thing that could ever have happened to me.
"Blank Slate Kate" - Not everything has to be planned.
I said above that I plan out my novels, and I generally do know the basic plot from the beginning to the end before I start writing. In this book, though, my amnesic main character Kate didn't know who she was and why she'd lost her memory, and I felt strongly that I'd write a better book if I wrote to the point where I had to decide what had happened and THEN made that decision. I felt that knowing Kate better would help me to find the perfect solution to her mystery.
It was scary, writing along not knowing how it would end, but since Kate also didn't know how it would end it helped me identify with her. When I reached the decision point, an afternoon of brainstorming brought me what I still feel is the best wrap-up for the book.
I haven't stopped planning my books, since for me it does feel more comfortable to write if I know where I'm headed, but this one taught me that it's okay to not have every last detail laid out.
"Jasper" (tentatively titled "Everybody's Got a Story" and on track to be released in July) - Don't hide from something that matters to you: go after it!
This book is the story of Alexa and how she overcomes her abduction and assault by her boyfriend. It's much darker than my usual topics, and so when I came up with the idea of following Alexa through her now-ex-boyfriend's trial and her attempts to rebuild her life I said, "No way." I said it frequently in my head and occasionally out loud. I did not want to go there. It wasn't for me.
But I couldn't stop thinking about it. I could see what he'd done to her and what she would need to do to get through it, and though I didn't want to I could hear her voice. The story simply wouldn't let me go.
And so I wrote it. And it may be the best work I've ever done. It wasn't easy, but I love it, and I also love that I didn't refuse to answer the story's call. It might not be 'my usual story', but it wanted me to tell it and I'm so glad I did.
Thanks for reading! I'd love it if you'd do two things: pick up your free copy of "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo" (it's approaching 400,000 downloads and I'd love to see it hit that milestone), and leave a comment of one thing that you've learned from reading or writing as your entry to win one of the sets of eight novels.
by Heather Wardell