Breathe, enjoy it. You’re chasing a dream and whether you’re in the valley or the mountaintop, being a dream chaser makes you the luckiest person in the world.
Natasha Deen’s confession? She didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. Writing is the hardest thing she has ever done but she loves it because writing means creating stories, and stories change the world. We chat to hear about the five questions she asks to outline her books and how she balances self-care with a productive writing schedule.
Hi Natasha, please give us a brief overview of yourself and your work
I write in multiple genres (fantasy, contemporary, mystery, memoir, etc.) for a variety of audiences (kids, teens, and adults). My most recent work is In the Key of Nira Ghani, a funny, contemporary YA novel about a Guyanese teen trying to convince her “old world” parents to allow her to become a professional trumpet player instead of a doctor.
My career hasn’t been a straight line and there were a lot of twists and bumps along the way. Because of this twisty, windy path, I feel as though I have the authority to say that if you want to be an author, you can do it! This industry is tough, but if this is your dream, you can make it a reality. Keep going, keep going. If I can do this, you can do this. :D
What made you want to be a writer?
I wasn’t one of those people who grew up wanting to be a writer. Sure, I’d read a great book and think, “What must that feel like to be an author?” Or I’d go into a bookstore and wonder about the emotional high of seeing your book on the shelf. But be a writer? It didn’t cross my mind until one day, while I was chatting with my husband. He asked, “If you could be anything in the world, what would you be?”
And I blurted out, “A writer.”
Then I promptly shut my mouth because what are the odds for getting into publishing and being a writer?! But dreams are funny things. Once we speak them, they take on a life of their own, and suddenly, we’re facing small moments where we can turn them from a dream into a reality.
Do you have a writing routine?
I try to hold to a certain amount of writing each day, but I try very hard not to be rigid because I find there’s a fine line between holding myself accountable and holding myself to an impossible standard. And that’s the tricky thing for all of us, finding that balance between our daily schedule while also maintaining flexibility for the unexpected occurrences in life.
In my case, I wake up early (between 4 to 5 am) to sort through the administration/emails and get in some writing. Then it’s a break to walk our dog. Back home to do more work. Break for lunch. Back to it in the afternoon. Then, it’s dinner, break time, then a little more work before bed.
That’s the ideal, but as we all know, days can turn sideways. Sometimes the administration can take the full day, sometimes I have to take a break from writing because it’s not working.
I aim for self-care and being gentle with myself, and I hope you do, too. This industry can be more of a marathon than a sprint. Make sure you’re good to yourself.
How do you outline your work and begin writing?
I ask myself five questions (credit for the questions belongs to all of the writing books I read as I was learning the craft):
1. Where is my character at the start of the story (exposition)?
2. What happens to change it (inciting incident)? (Or, what creates the problem/goal in the story)
3. How does the character try to solve it (Rising action)?
4. How does it get worse (Rising action)?
5. How does it get solved (Conclusion)?
If I can answer those five questions, I know I have enough to start my story. For the outlining, I’ll keep asking questions 3 & 4 until I can reach the conclusion.
I love this as a way to avoid the sagging middle and to make sure the plot and character development makes sense.
Is there any particular incident that has happened along your writing journey that you’d like to share?
I think every incident has been notable. The little successes that spurred me on (like getting my short story in a hospital anthology. It didn’t pay, but it was my first acceptance, the first time I saw my name in print, and it encouraged me to keep going).
Rejections ask me how much I want this career—do I want it to try one more time?
Reading great books inspired me to learn how the author hooked me. Books that didn’t engage me asked me to ask, “Why didn’t I connect this book?”
I feel like there’s always a lesson, and most of the times, the lesson is, “Breathe, enjoy it. You’re chasing a dream and whether you’re in the valley or the mountaintop, being a dream chaser makes you the luckiest person in the world.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
This industry is subjective and one person’s path to publication may not be your path. It’s important to learn about the journeys of other writers because it will help you to see that many roads lead to success and it can help you to figure out what your path is. And that’s the trick, I think. Finding what works for you, what lifts you up, and then being true to it.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for new authors?
Managing expectations, both of themselves and others.
It’s easy to see someone’s journey or work schedule and want to copy it. After all, if it made them successful, then surely it has to be the right path, right? But that schedule may not fit you. It’s up to you to look at the responsibilities of your lives (job, family, health) as well as issues of self-care and fun, and decide for yourself.
I applaud writers who work 18-20 hours a day, but for me, I want time with my family and friends, and that type of workday wouldn’t lift me up. Conversely, I need to work every day, whereas other writers may prefer a break.
Once you know how you work best, it makes life much simpler. And if you keep learning about other people’s journeys and methods, you can continue to adapt and learn—and you get a much more realistic, clearer picture of what the industry may hold and how you can navigate it.
What methods of book marketing do you find the most effective?
Writing a book that connects with readers. There is nothing that beats word of mouth recommendations and reviews.
What struggles did you face in the writing and publishing process?
I think one of the most difficult things in this industry is to persevere. There were a lot of rejections in my journey and at any point, the desire to give up was overwhelming.
It can be very easy to lose hope and give up. But if you believe you’re meant to be a writer, then write, submit, take the hit (if any), and write some more. Repeat and repeat until you meet your goal. (That doesn’t mean being rigid. Take the lessons, keep learning, and adapting, but do keep going).
How do you handle rejection as a writer?
I don’t know that I ever “handle” it. I try to understand that rejection is the nature of the industry and self-doubt is the nature of being human.
So, when things get hairy, I try to remind myself, it’s part and parcel of this journey, take a self-care break, take a deep breath, and keep going.
I also make sure I have excellent people around me who encourage me to keep going, and who can hold my dream when I feel too tired to hold it for myself.
What is the best writing advice you have received?
Keep writing. I know it sounds trite and silly (I certainly felt that way when established writers would say it), but the longer I’m in this industry, the more I understand that writing is the answer to it all. It occupies our attention when we’re waiting to hear back from publishers and agents, it mitigates the sting of rejection, it sorts our days, it calms our nights. And more than anything else, it is our passion, and pursuing our passions makes every day better.