Kimberly Reid is author of the Langdon Prep YA mystery series, featuring a high school girl named Chanti Evans, who's mom is an undercover copy. Book 2, Creeping With the Enemy, is out this week. Since I'm writing an advice book for writers, I've been asking writer friends to share their own writing tips. Below, Kim shares the best writing advice she ever got and her tips on other good writer sites (besides She Writes).
For more on Kim and her books, please visit her website and her Facebook page. Definitely check out the "fun stuff" page Kim created herself (!) that features pop-ups of Chanti's fictional Denver neighborhood and other cool things. Seriously, it's an amazing way for authors to engage their readers!
A little background about Kim and how she came to YA:
I had a few trunk novels completed by the time I wrote my memoir, No Place Safe [about being the daughter of a police detective working on some of the Atlanta Child Murder cases]; that was just my first book published. My life was only interesting enough for one book, and even then, the story was told in the framework of a well-known serial murder case that my mother, a police detective, investigated when I was a kid. But writing that book taught me two things that put me on my current path: I’m very comfortable writing from a teen’s perspective (the memoir covered the years I was thirteen to fifteen) and I like writing crime stories. It didn’t occur to me until after the memoir that the unpublished novels I intended for adults all had teen or early adult protagonists and all involved a crime. So writing YA crime fiction was a natural evolution, and what I believe I was trying to write all along but took a decade to realize.
What's the best writing advice you ever received?
When writing fiction, entertain the reader. If in the process you also happen to educate, enlighten or make them ponder life’s great questions, fantastic. But aim to entertain. I once had dreams of Pulitzers and National Book Awards (okay, I still do) but mostly I hope my readers finish my books and think, “That was a fun ride. I want to go on again.”
My second favorite piece of advice: embrace revision and learn to love being edited. Both will make you a much better writer. Don’t accept every suggestion because sometimes even the best editor is just plain wrong. But realize those times are rare. Usually they are right.
Be flexible and open to possibilities other than the Writer’s Life you’ve imagine for yourself. Between my first and second published books, in addition to the YA my agent was wise enough not to shop, she did shop an adult novel that we both loved but couldn’t find an editor who did. My agent shopped that book for a year and three rounds of submissions before we both had to say, “Okay maybe this wasn’t meant to be, at least not right now. What’s next?” There is life after four (or more) years without a contract – you have to be willing to see a different way.
For new writers, I recommend staying immersed in the writing part until you are really, really sure you want to be published. The business part can be soul-crushing at times and you don’t want to let it get in the way of learning to write and enjoying that process. Even then, make sure you can compartmentalize the two. Writer and Author are two different but complementary job descriptions and you have to learn to juggle both.
When it comes to advice on writing for paid publication, which is a whole different beast, the best advice I received for making dreams happen in any aspect of life applies to getting published: show up. Everyone likes the idea of writing and being published, but few have the constitution to go the distance. Strip away all the imagined glamour associated with being an author and it’s a job – the best job in the world – but still a job. I can’t tell my day job boss that the muse hasn’t moved me to implement the software or finish the budget or sell my commission quota of shoes. As much as this is creative work, if you want to publish and be paid for it, you have to produce the widget. As in any job, there are days you hate it more than you love it, you desperately need a two-week vacation or you will absolutely lose it, or the words just refuse to come. But I make sure I don’t string too many of those days together or it becomes too hard to get back into the groove. If I’m still in a funk, I allow myself to (knowingly) write crap until I find the groove, which is easier to revise than nothing.
It’s tough because you have to produce without any promise that a publisher will buy it, or if it does make it to the shelf or you self-publish, that the readers will. The rejection at every phase can be debilitating if you let it. So you can’t let it. Basically, you have to really, really love writing. Even more than you love writing, you have to love the idea of people reading what you’ve written. There are easier ways to make a lot more money. I’ve had a few jobs, some I enjoyed and most paid better. Some days I think I should just scrap the writing and stick to those jobs full-time. Then a reader tells me they loved something I wrote, or I become absolutely possessed by a story idea or I’m in the zone and discover I’ve written 5,000 words without glancing up from the keyboard. No way can I let that go. There’s a satisfaction in those moments that I can’t describe, which is saying something since my job is to describe stuff.
What are your favorite books and/or websites and blogs for writers?
I like books for writing advice – that just seems right – and blogs for business information. For new writers, I recommend staying immersed in the writing part until you are really, really sure you want to be published. The business part can be soul-crushing at times and you don’t want to let it get in the way of learning to write and enjoying that process. Even then, make sure you can compartmentalize the two. Writer and Author are two different but complementary job descriptions and you have to learn to juggle both.
Writing Fiction – A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway
Inventing the Truth – The Art and Craft of Memoir, edited by William Zinsser
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat
* The best thing to do is to read a lot – nonfiction, fiction and poetry – in and out of the genre you write.
Websites for the business of writing: