Dawn Patterson is long-standing regular attendee of our Saturday critique group. We asked her to tell us a little more about herself, her writing and the role Charlotte Writers Group has had in her journey.
Question: What role has Charlotte Writers Group played in your writing journey?
Answer: Being a member of CWG has increased my writing knowledge in a compressed amount of time. The internet provides tons of advice and techniques on writing, but nothing compares to someone pointing out specific areas for improvement in your own stories. Personal instruction provides more impact and greater retention of lessons while in a friendly, supportive environment. Outside of meetings, friends from CWG provide me with editorial support, industry insights, and oft-needed encouragement. (Thanks, Caryn and Ann!)
Question: What propelled you into the world of writing? What/who was/is your inspiration?
Answer: I wish I could say I began writing as a child because that would make it sound like I was born with a gift. However, I did not enter the industry until my thirties. An avid reader, I’d never ventured into speculative fiction until I read the Harry Potter series to my children. My creative jaw dropped. I thought, “That’s what I want to be able to do.” (Wouldn’t we all?) The feeling was so powerful. So, I sat in front of the computer screen for an hour before giving up. I decided I needed an idea first. A year later, I conceived of a premise that got the ball rolling. Today, my inspiration comes from YA writers like Mary E. Pearson, John Green, Tahereh Mafi, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Rick Yancy and adult fiction writers like Margaret Atwood, Diana Gabaldon, and Gillian Flynn.
Question: Describe your writing process. (How do you begin? What comes first–character or plot? Do you outline? Is your process the same for every project?)
Answer: My process begins with a premise. I roll it around in my head for weeks or months and ask, “Can I live with this story for a long time?” If the answer is affirmative, I begin with a rough outline. Actually, “outline” may be a bit of an exaggeration for what I do. There is a starting point and an ending point. Sometimes there are a couple middle plot points. Then I start writing, using any research notes or comparative literature as a touchstone to reign in or expand my story as needed. I find when I attempt to outline too much, I choke or, conversely, plan many things that don’t end up working. Writing is like a song. There are verses, choruses, and bridges. When I’m writing, I intuitively feel what should happen or at least what the elicited emotion should be. Too much outlining prevents me from hearing the musical flow of the story. All that being said, I do experiment with each novel. I’ve never approached the writing process in exactly the same way. I am open to learning how to better and more efficiently create the next novel.
Question: Describe your routine as a writer. (Is it daily or weekly? How you structure your day/week? How many hours of writing versus research? How much time is spent on “business” – queries, seeking an agent or publisher, marketing/sales?)
Answer: Weekdays, I wake via the assistance of coffee, get the kids off to school, walk my Otterhound (a big, hot mess of a dog), and then write with a second cup of coffee. Sometimes I throw a shower in there when I’m feeling considerate of others. Due to my love of eating, there are days I’m preoccupied with food. Often I will allow myself to eat lunch before I write—say at 9:30 am—in order to limit the interruptions of my stomach’s desires on my writing flow. That way I’m not daydreaming about what I’m going to eat for lunch all morning long. Once I’m fed and focused, I write for about four hours. If it’s simply not working, I switch to researching or querying. I love to research, but it can be a black hole that’s hard to find your way out of. I’m learning to be more disciplined and not spiral into hyperlink hell. About twenty percent of my time is spent on research. With marketing, I tend to go in spurts, kinda like with cleaning and exercise. Nothing zaps my creativity more than selling myself so I have to feel there is an imminent (or threatening) reason to engage in it. With a B.S. in Marketing, I appreciate the psychology and science of selling, but it battles for my writing time so it’s like the red-headed stepchild (a cliché only—no offense to redheads or stepchildren).
Question: What resources are essential to your writing process (software, writing tools, research sources)?
- Coffee—the thought of writing without caffeine makes me sad
- Music—the louder, the better
- Thesaurus.com/Dictionary.com—‘cause there are so many luscious words out there
- Novels—to study author techniques
- Art on Pinterest—to inspire
- CWG critiques—to bring the story to perfection, of course
Question: Talk about your perspective on representation (pros and cons of having an agent) and any attempts you have made at securing representation.
Answer: I don’t believe everyone needs an agent. For me, however, an agent is key to knowing my work is up to snuff. If I had self-published the first draft of my first work, I would be horrified now. Writing well is really, really hard, and I was very proud of completing a novel. That pride inhibited my ability to see my skills properly. As I work on becoming a better writer, I’ve moved away from dewy-eyed vanity, and then toward dejection, and then toward self-confidence (but sometimes I can feel all three in one day). After more years of growth and feedback, if I feel I have reached a point where the quality of my work, as evaluated by peers and mentors, exceeds the ability to get an agent, I would consider dealing direct with a publisher or self-publishing.
To date, I do not have representation (call me!). My best attempts have occurred from pitching my work at one-on-ones during writing conferences. I’ve had multiple requests for partials and fulls based on pitches and even some blind queries, but no dealmakers. I currently have a respite from querying agents as I work on a new novel. If the time comes that I am offered representation, I will make certain I accept because I respect that agent and know he/she has a passion for my work. In an industry that’s difficult to break into, it’s important to reign in feelings of desperation that could lead to bad decision-making.
Question: Share your experiences interacting with publishers (query letters, the editing process, cover design, marketing/sales). If you have self-published, describe the pros and cons to this process.
Answer: My publishing debut is with the webzine, Bewildering Stories. They were terrific to deal with. Given several points of views, I was awarded the discretion of selecting which edits to take and which to dismiss. Similar to receiving CWG critiques, it can be interesting to see what different people say about your work. I try to zero in on the things that more than one person has issue with unless something else really rings insightful and true to me.
Dawn G. Patterson pens young adult short stories and novels. Her work will appear in the webzine, Bewildering Stories, in the spring of 2017 and in the Charlotte Writers Group anthology anticipated this summer. Find her at http://www.smudgegirls.com or on Twitter @pattersondawng.