How Writers Write – An interview with April Kihlstrom
“The Acknowledged Mistress of Book in a Week”
I have taken some amazing online workshops since I started writing. Each of them has helped me tread easier along the writing path. The most recent workshop I attended was one offered by April Kihlstrom, titled – Book in a Week.
I truly needed the class because I am a slow writer. In fact, a single chapter can take me a couple of months to complete. I tend to procrastinate, and I’m a perfectionist. So… unless I know precisely what I am going to write, I stall. Not on purpose, yet through my own sabotaging efforts.
After taking April’s class, I completed – COMPLETED – two solid 12 single-spaced paged chapters in one week. Completed. Two chapters. In one week.
I was so thrilled this enthusiasm and momentum did not let up after the class, that I asked April if she would answer a few questions about the process for me and other writers. She graciously agreed to an interview, and I now happily share that with all of you.
Enjoy… and WRITE ON!
April, I want to first thank you for agreeing to talk with me. I was energized by your class and thought more people should know about what you offer.
I have to know straight off if it’s really possible to write an entire book – start to finish – in just one week.
Not start to polished final draft! But it IS possible to write the FIRST DRAFT of a book in one week. My last 10 or 12 books were written that way.
Have you always been a fast writer or was there something specific that triggered that desire for you?
Good heavens, no! I was dragged kicking and screaming into a challenge on GENIE (a bulletin board service in the old days). My previous first draft had taken 7 months! I was a slooooow writer–trying to get it perfect the first time around. But once I did the first draft in one week, I loved it. I realized my story was more consistent and more fun. So I kept writing my first drafts that way.
I feel if I haven’t fallen completely into the heart and mind of a character then I can’t write them the way I’d like – with deep POV. What do you recommend as a way of dealing with or overcoming the need for such details in a first draft?
Keep reminding yourself that it’s only a first draft. See what you naturally write. You may be someone who always needs to go back and layer in such things. One of the big lessons for me was realizing that whether I took 7 months or 7 days, my first drafts would essentially have the same weaknesses and strengths so…I could quit worrying about it. I knew that was how my brain worked and I could relax and use it to my advantage instead of fighting to try to make it work differently.
Quality writing time is an issue for many writers. Can you recommend ways to find that time?
First, make sure that writing is a priority in your own mind. If you don’t take it seriously, neither will those around you. Other strategies I’ve used over the years: go out somewhere to write, take a notebook with me everywhere so I can jot down ideas every time I think of them (and keep the story vivid in my subconscious when I can’t be actually writing), hire a babysitter even if I was going to be home so that I could close the door and write, experiment–discover WHEN you write best. Are you better off getting up early to write or is that worthless to you and you’re better off staying up late? Discover that even 5 to 15 minutes at a time can produce pages of material–IF writing is a true priority for you and you’ve got your notes and are ready to go.
How do you prepare for this writing marathon? Is there a certain process you go through to prepare yourself and your muse?
I set things up so I have everything I need handy and try to clear my schedule as much as I can. And I remind myself it’s only ONE WEEK. So what if it turns out to be trash? (It never does, of course.) I’ve wasted more than a week at a time putting off writing out of fear it won’t be good enough! When I sit down to write, I close my eyes and bring up memories of books I sold and how much fun writing has been. You’d be surprised how much power visualization has.
A chunk of writing often causes extreme issues with my wrists. Can you suggest ways in which we can enjoy this writing blitz without causing tingling in our extremities… and our butts. 🙂
Alternate writing methods–longhand, typing, maybe even a voice recorder or voice recognition software.
As a self-proclaimed perfectionist (when it comes to my writing), nothing I write sounds good unless I tweak it to death. What advice do you have for taming the ever-present inner editor?
IT’S ONLY ONE WEEK! Seriously, no one’s first draft is ever good enough.
What if a writer needs a specific detail, like say, how many miles or hours it would be from one location to another. Should s/he stop writing and research this information?
NO! Make a note (in colored font or highlighted) to look it up later and keep going.
Can you give us more information about your Book in a Week workshop, including how to register for it?
I expect to offer it again in late May or early June. I have information on my website and a button you can click to get added to my online class notification list. The class runs 5 weeks and it’s all handled by email so you can do it in your pj’s at 3 in the morning if you want! I take students through every phase of planning a book, a week of intensive writing, and a bit about publishing and revisions.
I have some questions from some fellow writers. Would you mind answering those as well?
Happy to answer.
This is from Barbara Atha –
Would you have some “bullet point” type suggestions to keep in mind regarding point of view, first person versus third person or other common issues writers face while trying to write fast?
See it as play–writing that first draft. It’s a chance to experiment if you’re not sure which POV will work best. That depends on the material and the genre (readers have different preferences and expectations in different genres). When you go back and reread the material, odds are you’ll be able to see which works better and that’s when you can make it consistent all through the book. In other words, don’t stress out for the first draft.
From Chessie Welker –
How do you avoid burn out and exhaustion?
See it as PLAY! Celebrate at the end of each day, take frequent breaks while you’re writing to get up and move around, eat healthy foods, and do at least 3 things a day that make you smile.
From Louisa Edwards –
How do you recommend structuring your day to get the most out of it? Is it personal choice? Or is it one of those things where it really is true across the board that the hours before noon are more productive than the hours after?
Every person is different. The key is to find out what works for you. And that’s part of the goal of Book in a Week–to discover when and where and how YOU write best. Put a 100 writers in a room and you’ll get 100 different answers about what’s best.
Also from Barbara Atha –
What can you tell us about showing rather than telling?
Think in terms of body language, facial expressions, voice timber and intonation and pace. Think in terms of what your characters do when they are in different emotional states and use those typical behaviors to cue the reader. These may be things you go back and layer in OR it may be one of your strengths and something you find yourself doing automatically.
From Linda Ford –
How do you stay motivated and how do you find the fun in your writing?
I choose to focus my mind and energy on happy memories concerning my writing. I choose to focus on what could go RIGHT instead of what could go wrong. And I keep reminding myself as I write the first draft that IT’S ONLY ONE WEEK! Even if I threw it all out after that week I’d at least have learned what didn’t work. And because it’s only one week, I can let myself go–putting in the things I would have dared risk if I was going to have to invest close to a year before I knew if it would work. And every time I’ve done so, the risk paid off. Stuff I was sure my editor would insist I take out she didn’t. Because it worked. And the books were more fun for me to write because I wasn’t constantly self-censoring.
April, this is such wonderfully insightful information. Thank you so much for sharing your passion and wisdom with us.
My thanks to April for the interview and for the class. And to everyone else – Write on, write now!