Rachael Herron is the bestselling author of the novels The Ones Who Matter Most, Splinters of Light and Pack Up the Moon (all from Penguin), the five-book Cypress Hollow series, and the memoir, A Life in Stitches (Chronicle). She received her MFA in writing from Mills College, Oakland. She’s a New Zealand citizen as well as an American, and she is a proud member of the NaNoWriMo Writers Board. This semester, she’s teaching writing extension workshops at both UC Berkeley and Stanford, and she is currently a Writer in Residence at Mills*.
How to Stop Stalling and Write Your Book
Take Rachael’s online anti-procrastination class now!
“After listening to the very first video lecture, I knew this class was what I needed to help me gain the focus and courage to write. The video format makes it seem like Rachael is sitting in the room with you, all the while giving straight talk about writing that writers need to hear.” L. McDonald
In Person Teaching
Feel free to contact her about teaching at your writing conference/seminar.
Revision: Where the Real Party Is
Trad- or Self-Pub: Which is Right For You? (aka Show Me the Money)
Finish That Novel
Plotting Vs. Pantsing: Who’s Right?
Time Management for Writers
Breaking Into Romance
Frequently Asked Questions
In what order should I read your books?
You can read them in any order, but chronologically, the Cypress Hollow novels are:
1. How to Knit a Love Song (Eliza’s Gift in Australia)
2. How to Knit a Heart Back Home (Lucy’s Kiss in Australia)
3. Wishes & Stitches (Naomi’s Wish in Australia)
4. Cora’s Heart
5. Fiona’s Flame
(Short Story: Honeymooning)
(Novella: Eliza’s Home)
What if you’re not teaching anywhere near where I am?
When did you decide to write professionally?
I’d always wanted to, since the time I knew what a book was. I wanted to be one of the people making them real. I wrote stories all through grade and high school, and in college I got a Bachelor’s degree in English from Cal Poly SLO and then a Master of Fine Arts degree from Mills College. But even after I finished grad school, I didn’t settle into writing regularly, with the intention of publishing, until 2006, when I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time.
You always mention that NaNo thing. What is that?
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual writing project in which people attempt to write a novel in the month of November. Writing 50,000 words (1667 words a day) makes you a WINNER! Even if all your words are crap, and you didn’t have one original idea, as long as you did the writing, you win. Of course, the beauty is that during the month you WILL have smashingly original ideas, thoughts only you could come up with. Writing fast and hard means you shut off that internal editor that sits on your shoulder saying you suck. You don’t suck. You’re a great writer. You just have to write more; we all do. So do it fast! Fix it later! Oh, BOY, I love NaNo. It changed my life.
So you wrote 50,000 words and published a book, just like that?
I wish. No, I put the 50,003 words away in a virtual drawer and didn’t think about them for a while. I pulled it out the next August, and started cleaning it up and thinking about how to end the darn thing. Then two readers of my blog (Michele Z. and Janice M.) sent me comments encouraging me to enter an online contest for Best First Romance Novel, which I did. I finaled in the top five, which made me clean it up some more. Then I started sending it out to agents, and the rest was easy — all downhill from there.
Was it hard to find an agent?
It’s not hard to FIND the agents (AgentQuery is a great place to look), it’s just hard to get them to read your work and offer you representation. There’s a lot of competition out there, so before you start worrying about how to find an agent, concentrate on getting your manuscript in the best shape you can possibly whip it into. Then do a little more work on it. Once you’ve done that, then you’re ready to write your query letter. Spend time on this, do it right. Then send it out to three or four agents. Wait a while. Get some rejections. Revise your query letter. Send it out to three or four more. Lather, rinse, repeat. My agent is the best agent in the whole wide world, I know this for a fact, but it took me thirty-two query letters to find her. (Never pay an agent up front. That’s a scam. See HERE. Agents make money when they make YOU money (generally 15%, 20% foreign).)
After you got your agent, how long was it until you sold?
Well, THAT was awesome. I had the fairy tale there: My agent and I got together in August 2008. I revised during September based on excellent suggestions she’d made. In October she took it out, and within a week there were two major publishing houses that both wanted it.
What’s changed in your life since you were published?
I’m WAY more busy than I’ve ever been. I still work full-time as a 911 fire/medical dispatcher for a busy metropolitan communications center, and I work 48 hour shifts in the firehouse. I write all the time I’m not there. ALL THE TIME. But I’m happy. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s truly the dream come true.
What is your writing day like?
In an ideal world, I wake up early. I start by writing for 45 minutes. After I’ve done that, I can screw around online, checking email and Twitter for 15 minutes. Then I’m back to working, 45 on, 15 off, until early afternoon. Then I break to walk dogs and/or nap. Then in the late afternoon, I edit the work I’ve done in the morning, and end the night with eating dinner on the back porch with Lala and watching TV or a movie until I fall asleep. That’s ideal, anyway. It doesn’t usually go that smoothly.
What do you need to write? Music? A certain beverage?
I like either quiet or loud white noise. I have a couple of tracks on my iPod that I listen to while I’m writing — they’re thunderstorms as heard from the ocean and the tropical forest. If I’m in the cafe, they dull all conversation around me so that I can still hear the timbre of voices, but I can’t distinguish words, and if I’m at home, it just puts me in the mood. I turn off the white noise when I’m on my “breaks,” checking email. To go back into the zone, I cue it up again. As to beverage: water, always. Coffee! Coffee is food of the gods. I never, ever write while I’m drinking alcohol. I fear two things: that I would like it too much, or that my writing would be so good (but different) that I’d have to replicate the situation, and I don’t want to do that. I also like a cat or dog or two about, which, in my house, is a feat easily achieved.
What’s your revision process like?
Interminable! But enjoyable. Honestly, I love revising. I love it way more than first drafts. First drafts are agonizing. Every step of the way, you’re wondering if you’re going to get through it, if you have enough of an idea to sustain a whole book, or if you have too much to write about. On second (and third and fourth and fifth and sixth) drafts, you get to play in the mud you made. You get to push it around and make things with it, try pieces over here, throw whole chunks out. Sometimes, at the end, the book you end up with is barely recognizable as the book you started with. But it’s so much better than you ever thought it could be.
How do you handle writer’s block?
Honestly? I don’t believe in it. You may be stuck on a project, but there’s something else you can work on. There’s always something else. If you can’t work on the novel, then do a blog post. If you can’t do that, then Twitter’s 140 character limit might feel more manageable. But writing…you can always write. Make yourself. Even if it’s the worst writing you’ve ever done, worse than anyone has ever done, tomorrow it won’t look quite as bad as you think it will.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Try NaNoWriMo, at least once. Join Romance Writers of America (RWA), even if you don’t write romance. It’s the best writing organization in the world, I’m convinced of it. I’ve learned more from being in RWA in the past two years than I did in grad school. Make friends with other writers — they’ll be your salvation. And write a little bit, every day. Every single day. It all adds up, so much faster than you think.
Will you read my manuscript? Please? It’s good. I promise.
I know it is. I bet it’s wonderful. I would love to say yes, I really would. But here’s the problem: I’m too busy writing full time, at 40 hours a week, and working full time, at minimum 56 hours a week (those are not typos). I’m always so far behind in reading the books I have to read for giving blurbs (these come through my agent and editor) as well as reading manuscripts of my crit partners, and if I did say yes to you for some reason, I would be exceedingly worried about letting you down because when balls get dropped, reading manuscripts (even just a chapter or two) is the usually first thing to hit the ground. It wouldn’t be fair to you. And seriously, I get paid to write. Not to edit.
That said, I really do believe in you. Find your group, right where you are. Find people who are writing the same kind of thing, and preferably, find those who are in the same stage of writing as you are, so you can help each other break the way. You can do it. It’s hard, and it’s a slog, but I know you can do it.
* Berkeley and Stanford teaching: both true! But Mills doesn’t know I’m their Stealth Writer in Residence. I just really like writing in the tea shop or the faculty dining room, enjoying my alumna status and confusing people as to whether I’m a student or a professor.