What you publish has got to be more compelling to readers than a TV show, a night out with friends, or a nap. Why should someone choose your writing over everything else in their lives?
Julia Phillips wishes her daily writing routine consisted of waking up early, writing thousands of words before breakfast and spending the rest of the day exercising and drinking green juice. The reality, the Brooklyn-based author informs us, is somewhat different. She sits down with WildMind Creative to discuss career success as a measure of self-worth, enjoyable book marketing methods and seeing your fellow writers as colleagues rather than competitors.
What made you want to be a writer?
I always, always wanted to be a writer; I don’t remember the time when I began. I was very lucky to have teachers early in elementary school who encouraged us to write fiction and got excited about whatever stories we shared. Those supportive, inspiring adults – my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Fine, for example – made reading come to life, writing seem worthwhile, and a career as an author something legitimate to pursue.
Do you have a writing routine?
I’m always struggling against the routine I have with the hope of making one that’s better. My routine now: I write every day, usually right before I go to bed, in a notebook I carry around with me (I write first drafts longhand then type them up to revise). I motivate myself by, from the minute I wake up, hating myself for not writing, and letting the energy of that self-loathing and avoidance build up for hours until all it spills over into actually having to put something on the page. My imaginary improved routine in the future: I wake up early, write thousands of words before breakfast, and then exercise and drink green juice and generally am a more virtuous human being.
Are you a plotter or pantser?
I become more of a plotter with every project. I love structure in a book and have found it works a lot better for me to focus on that from the outset, rather than try to feel it out midway through the work. For a tool to begin the writing process, I can’t say enough good things about John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. Truby’s outlining steps build a sound foundation for whatever thrilling story you can imagine. Anatomy of Story was recommended to me by a brilliant author, Jean Kwok, and I’ve gone on to sing its praises to everyone I’ve ever met.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Only the classic advice: read and write as much as possible. And remember that what you publish has got to be more compelling to readers than a TV show, a night out with friends, or a nap. Why should someone choose your writing over everything else in their lives? Why is the story you’ve told important? Make your writing urgent and its reason to exist clear.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for new authors?
Keeping in mind that publishing books is a long game that’s not zero-sum. Us new authors can put so much pressure on ourselves that any small setback for our work feels like it’s a harbinger of doom and happiness for another writer feels like it’s robbing our joy. I think it’s important to remind ourselves that none of that is true: we will write (and hopefully publish!) more books; what seems important today may not matter tomorrow; we are not competitors but colleagues with our fellow writers; we can be grateful and excited and easy in our hearts.
What methods of book marketing do you find the most effective?
At this point, the marketing methods I’ve enjoyed most are exchanging ARCs with other writers, connecting with readers on social media, and chatting in person with other folks who love books. It can be so isolating to write a book, so it’s a thrill to find community in promoting it.
What struggles did you face in the writing/publishing process?
Writing a draft, thinking I’m done, realizing I’m not, redrafting, thinking I’m done, realizing I’m not, redrafting…rinse and repeat. Every part of the process just takes…so…long.
How do you handle rejection as a writer?
I submit more. The more irons I have in the fire, the less it seems to matter when one is removed.
What is the best writing advice you have received?
It’s all-purpose art-making advice, really, from an interview with the actor and comedian Will Ferrell: when he decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue comedy, his father, who was a touring musician, told him, “If it was all based on talent, I wouldn’t worry about you, because I think there’s really something there. But you have to remember, there’s a lot of luck. And if you get to a certain point – three years, four years, five years – and you feel like it’s too hard, don’t worry about quitting. Don’t feel like you failed. It’s okay to pick up and do something different.”
I listened to Ferrell tell that story on a podcast in 2013 and felt so liberated. It came at a moment where I was tangling up the quality of my work with the validation it was (or, more accurately, wasn’t) getting from other people. I hadn’t achieved the outrageously ambitious goals I’d set out for myself, and I did feel like a failure. Hearing that anecdote reminded me in a lasting way that making a career in the arts depends on luck and opportunity and timing, factors that are out of our control and largely independent of our work. It encouraged me to stop looking at career success as a measure of my worth, to let go of ambitions that no longer serve me, and to keep my energy on what makes me most joyful: making up and writing down stories.