This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Born in the Deep South to a family of storytellers, Maddie Dawson has been conjuring characters and constructing plots all her life. Here, she talks about her journey to becoming a published author and finding inspiration in overheard remarks in cafes, songs on the radio, newspaper stories and even random memories. Maddie’s latest novel, The Opposite of Maybe, is out now.
It’s a funny thing about books and inspiration: when you’re open to writing, anything can trigger an idea for a story. Everyday life, overheard remarks in cafes, songs on the radio, newspaper stories, even random memories can lead me to start thinking, “Well, what if…?” I guess that’s how most stories start… “What if there was a woman, and she found herself pregnant for the first time at age 44, when she’d thought she’d made that decision not to have children, only now things have shifted in her life…?” And then I’m off on imagining her, and she becomes real in my head.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
Ah, if only there were an average writing day! A perfect writing day is when I get up and go for an early morning walk with my friend Kim, then come home and sit down and read the pages I’ve written the day before. I tinker with them a bit, take a bath while I think of what comes next…and when I get back to my laptop, I’m usually all fired up with writing the next section.Sometimes I write at the kitchen table, sometimes at Starbucks, sometimes in the library. I’ll write for a few hours, then take a break to do something else – like dance to music, talk on the phone, or take another walk, work in the garden, cook dinner – just so I can come back and look at my book with fresh eyes later. Meanwhile, my brain seems to be always spinning. Very often at night, I’ll sit down and write a few more pages before I go to sleep. And waaay too many nights, I look up and it’s 4am, and I’ve been writing for hours without even realizing the time has gone by.
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
Sometimes it’s fun to read other writers to help me get into the voice I want in the book. It’s like a mood setter.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Wow, this is a tough one! I love so many women’s fiction authors, and so it’s constantly shifting which book would be my favorite book of all time. I adored Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg for its depiction of women’s friendships; I also love fiction by Anne Lamott, who writes so well about family relationships and always makes me laugh. Right now I’m reading Liane Moriarty, who keeps me turning pages madly, when I should be off writing my own book.
What female writer has inspired you?
So many have inspired me, but I guess I’d have to say Anne Lamott, because of her bravery in writing about her personal struggles and making them funny and lovable.
Can you give us three book recommendations?
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
Anything by Anne Lamott
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
Forget diving – that sounds way more elegant than what I do. I jump in with both feet, thrashing about like I’m in a mud puddle. I write down thoughts, impressions, snippets of ideas – whatever comes to me. I allow myself to make a whole mishmash of a story at first, letting the characters guide me and lead me to the shenanigans they get themselves in. I can go for about 20 pages like that – and then comes the moment of truth. I need to know what’s going to really happen in this book. That’s when I start mapping, planning and outlining…when I decide if this really is a book, and if so, where it’s going. I probably rewrite the first 50 pages 30 times or so, until I’m sure I have the voice just right. Once that section is right, then I can fly through the rest, being pretty secure that I have the story down. Sometimes it’s like taking dictation; sometimes it’s more like herding cats. Usually the book goes through four more drafts before I’m completely satisfied with it.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I’m one of those people who knew since babyhood that I wanted to be a writer. I think I was probably writing a love story between the obstetrician who delivered me and the labor nurse – that’s how inherent this writing thing feels. I was the kid sitting off in the corner while everyone else learned to climb trees and swing by their knees. I ended up going into journalism so I could keep writing and make a living at the same time, but I always had a novel in the drawer that I worked on whenever I didn’t have to be doing anything else. I had three kids and a full-time job as a feature reporter, but I was scribbling on this novel in every spare moment between carpools or while waiting for the macaroni to boil. Seventeen years after I began it, it found an agent and a publisher and a book deal.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That it gets easier. Each novel presents its own set of problems; you’re only an expert on the one you just wrote. That’s what keeps it fresh, too: you are always learning and always working out a new way to tell the story that is before you.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Keep at it. After 17 years writing my first book, I’m the poster child for perseverance! Don’t expect that publication is going to change your life; write, instead, because you can’t not write, and don’t let yourself get discouraged by the vagaries of the publishing industry. People love stories, and you have to keep at it, keep revising again and again, keep honing your craft, keep showing your work to others and improving it.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing a novel about a 35-year-old woman who’s adopted and whose life is plunged into turmoil when she finds information about her birth family.