Today we have author Erin Downing joining us and answering a few questions about her writing process and career. Thank you for joining me today for my Wednesday Writer’s Write series, Erin!
Thank you for having me!
What is your brainstorming process for a new book?
I’m always brainstorming new book ideas. I love to sit in public places and watch people, trying to get ideas for characters or scenes that could be a part of a new book. I also listen to Public Radio a lot to hear news stories and features about things going on in the world – I love stories about quirky people or weird goings-on that spark funny plot ideas. Usually, the way I start a new book is to get a great idea for a setting or a character trait or a specific scene that then sort of unfolds into a whole book. Most of my books start with a tiny little something, then they become an outline for a full plot, and finally progress into a real idea for a novel. I have a ton of “tiny little something” ideas that are all waiting for the spark to catch that will turn them into my next book.
For example, the book I’m writing right now (called KISS IT) had been sort of a jumble of ideas rolling around in my head for quite a while, and then one night when I was waiting to get my takeout cheeseburger from a local bar, the people and employees around me gave me this *feeling* that sort of brought everything together. I don’t know how that happened, but I was in a certain place at the right time with the right people, and bam – the scene and the characters all came together and I had a proposal for the book written in just a few weeks.
The thing that’s most important for me is trying to come up with the one line that summarizes the overall feeling/point of the book – if I can’t do that with a book, I know it won’t be marketable, and then my editor probably won’t want to buy it (and I probably won’t be able to actually write a book without having that driving idea holding everything together).
Can you explain your typical work week day?
Sure. My typical workweek involves a 9-5 job at Nickelodeon, then I come home to feed/bathe/play with my three kids (all under age 4), and then…at about 8:30 pm I start to write. I try to plan for a couple nights off a week where I just go for a run or meet up with friends or drink wine while watching TV or read. But when I’m in the last month of writing a book, I usually work almost every night. Even if I only write 200 words, I like to stick with my characters every day so they stay fresh. I usually finish writing by about 10:30 or 11, then I like to read for a while. Sometimes I don’t read other teen books while I’m writing, because other authors’ styles will rub off on me. I also work at least part-time on weekends, when I get to spend at least one afternoon at a coffee shop where I am surrounded by new people and fresh ideas and lots of baked goods to keep me going.
Tell us about when you made the decision to write.
I actually am one of the few writers I know who hasn’t always wanted to be a writer. I always wanted to be an editor. So that’s what I did when I finished college – I edited books at Scholastic. Then, after I quit that job and moved to Sweden for a year, I spent a lot of time people-watching and daydreaming in the parks and by the ocean, and I came to this realization that the thing I loved about editing was working with authors to plot their stories, and I suddenly felt like I had the confidence to go for it and try to plot my own book. My first full book was a long process—but I did it, and everything I’ve written since then has been much easier. I LOVE writing, and can’t believe I denied myself this fun activity all my life. I guess it was a lack of confidence that was holding me back – I just assumed I couldn’t do it, I suppose.
What suggestions do you have for aspiring writers?
Of course, read. A lot. And write. A lot. And if you want to be a published author, it’s important to also go to the bookstore often. Browse, see what other people are writing, pay attention to what is being promoted in store. That will give you a good idea of what sells – because writing a book that will sell is very important, if you want to be a *published* author (which isn’t mandatory – some people just like to write and write for themselves, and that’s amazing, too!). When I say look at what’s selling, that doesn’t mean you should copy what is out there, but pay attention to the types of stories that work and make sure yours has that “hook” that most books have that allow a publisher to sell it easily. Most importantly, be true to yourself – don’t try to write comedy if you’re not naturally a funny person. Don’t make a character that’s really depressed if you have a sunny disposition. If you write to express yourself and your emotions and your honest, deep down feelings, it will feel so much more natural.
Tell us about what you’re working on right now and what we can expect from you in the near future.
Well, first of all, my next two books are out this week! DRIVE ME CRAZY, my next Romantic Comedy from Simon Pulse, is now on sale. It came out yesterday, June 2. And my first book for Scholastic’s Candy Apple line, called JUICY GOSSIP, is now in stores,too. That came out on June 1. So a lot going on this month.
I am also in the final stages of writing a novel for Simon Pulse that will be published next summer, called KISS IT. It is quite a bit different from my first four novels. The books I have in the market now are all pretty light stories, with a lot of humor and silly plot points and sweet characters. KISS IT is quite a bit edgier, there are some uncomfortable moments, and it definitely discusses some sensitive subjects. It’s still very funny—that’s a must for me, because laughing is sometimes the only thing that keeps me sane— but it also deals with some really serious stuff and some very deep emotions. More than anything about this book, I love the main character, Chaz – she’s hilarious and confident and very, very ballsy. Very much the girl I wish I could have been in high school.
I will post an excerpt from KISS IT on my website (www.erindowning.com) sometime later this year, so people can get a feel for it.
Thank you for joining us, Erin! It was great to hear about your process as a writer, and upcoming works! For those of you who are interested in purchasing a copy of DRIVE ME CRAZY or JUICY GOSSIP, you can pick them up at your local bookstore or here.
Erin Downing is a one-time book editor who now works at Nickelodeon. She spent a few months as a cookie inventor (but had to quit after she ate too many). Erin has lived in England, Sweden, and New York City and now resides in her native Minnesota. Visit her at erindowning.com.