Welcome to Part 2 of our interview with Will Lavender, author of Obdience and Dominance! Please feel free to shoot me some comments or questions. Is your writing process like Will’s? Have you had similar experiences? What do you think of MFAs and two-book contracts? Let us know!
6. What is the “best education” for a writer? For example, are there particular ways of reading that writers should cultivate? Would you recommend college courses, MFAs, online forums or webinars?
I actually recommend the MFA. It’s gotten a lot of flack over the years (especially recently), but my MFA experience was so unusual, and so outside the realm of anything I’d ever done, that it was highly beneficial. At no other time in your career will have you have that many eyes on your unpublished work. It can be, if used correctly, incredibly helpful.
Otherwise I think writers should always be versed in their medium. If there are novels out there that are like your manuscript, then you should know about them. I do a lot of events with aspiring writers and am often surprised at how poorly read people are. I’ll mention books—extremely popular books—that folks will not recognize. You obviously don’t have to have Penguin’s spring catalog memorized, but it’s always beneficial to know the landscape so that you can write toward it.
7. Do you get feedback on works in progress (from editors, writers’ groups, friends, colleagues)? If so, how do you recommend “managing” feedback: for example, are there ways writers can evaluate feedback to determine what to use and what to set aside?
I generally don’t like to talk about my WIPs, but what happens in publishing is that they need you to talk about your unfinished work—they don’t want to be surprised by anything, especially by someone without a strong history of sales. I’ve gone off-track a few times while working on novels and had to be reigned in by my agent and editor.
But the issue for me is that the more I talk about it, the more mystery that’s sucked out of the thing. I like to work in total secret and then to be confident in the work before I show it to anyone. I’m a firm believer that things can be jinxed, and I’ve jinxed quite a few WIPs by blathering about them.
8. Do you have a sense of how writers should address ongoing changes in the writing/publishing world (online publishing, self-publishing, death of independent bookstores, blogging)?
Writers should always keep their options open. One should never say, “I would never self-publish,” or “I hate traditional publishing,” because you never know when you might have to go that route.
Things have radically changed in publishing just in the last five to seven years. Imagine five to seven years from now. I think there will be an entirely new and unthought-of process for getting books out into the world. Yes, printed books will never die, but they’ve been staggered and the writer should respect that.
The traditional publishing model has also been staggered. When people ask me about self-publishing I always recommend starting at the very, very top. Try to get your dream agent. If that doesn’t happen, then begin to adjust your goals. If you end up having to self-publish, then you do your best with that book and start another one. I think writers make a mistake sometimes by putting their soul into a book. The best and most successful writers are those who are always looking to reinvent themselves and begin something fresh.
9. How do you make a space for writing in your personal life?
It’s difficult with two young children. I generally write on evenings and weekends, but one of the more important things about writing well is sticking to a routine. Very hard to find that when you have a family and a 9-5 job. It takes a rigor that some of these professional novelists have down but the rest of us struggle with daily.
10. Is there anything you’d advise an aspiring writer NOT to do? (Pretty broad, so take it where you will.)
This is a tough one because there’s so much advice that works for some people and not for others, and some “never do this” kind of stuff that great writers do all the time.
I think one of the main things that aspiring writers struggle with is confidence. Confidence is an innate thing, maybe, but I believe a lack of confidence is also a byproduct of “art.” It’s not the coolest thing in the world to stand up for your creation. The artist has been taught to be modest, to be almost shy, and to “let the work speak for itself.” Those that get out in front of the art—and if you’ve ever been to a book fair you’ve seen the people who adamantly try to sell their work—are labeled as hucksters while the quiet ones among us who demure are the geniuses.
But to be published, you have to be able to talk coherently and strongly about your work. And for the work to even be publishable, you have to have belief in it—not the unerring, I’ll-never-change-a-single-word-of-this belief, but more of a sense that you know what the book is going to be and how it’s going to be sold. Many writers I talk to seem unsure about their product; “Well, I’m working on a zombie novel now, but I’m thinking of changing to a…” No, that’s not a good tack. One needs to be firm about their WIP and what it’s going to look like once it’s finished.
11. What are you working on now? In what directions are you taking your career?
I’m still under the aforementioned two-book contract. The novel I’m working on now is a thriller about…well, I don’t want to jinx it. I’ll let everyone know when it’s finished.