Q&A with Writing Coach Justine Duhr of WriteByNight
WriteByNight is a Manhattan-based writers’ service that helps writers and aspiring writers improve their skills and increase their chances of getting published (traditionally or on their own). We reached out to one of their co-founders to get her perspective on the latest trends in the industry and the things to consider when trying to launch a career as an author.
GG: What major changes have you noticed in the publishing industry since you first launched WriteByNight? How have they affected the way you teach/work with clients?
Ms. Duhr: We’ve been lucky to experience in WriteByNight’s lifetime the single biggest event in publishing since the printing press. That is, of course, self-publishing, which has, for better or worse, redefined the industry. It’s democratized not only the publishing process, but the writing process as well, giving millions of people a voice that they might not have found otherwise.
From the hundreds of those millions that WBN has worked with, we discovered that heading into a project with the knowledge that it definitely will be published—as opposed to the distant possibility that it someday maybe could possibly find its way into readers’ hands—can make a big difference in a writer’s ability to do the work, to show up hour after hour, day after grueling day. In some cases, it means the difference between writing a book and not writing one.
That’s the upside: much more opportunity for writers to get their work read. In a word, hope. The downside is in the quantity-over-quality mentality. The rise of literary superstars like Amanda Hocking [the self-published author of several YA paranormal romance series] has folks hungry to make a living—nay, a fortune—with their writing, and they all want to do it fast. The creative process doesn’t like fast. It doesn’t understand it. It knows only slow, measured, thoughtful.
We work hard to help our clients understand and remember that quality writing shouldn’t be sacrificed for money, acclaim, or any other tempting outcome. The writing has to come first. The rest will follow.
GG: What are the pros and cons of traditional vs. self-publishing? What should authors consider when deciding which avenue is right for them?
Ms. Duhr: I always tell our clients, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to publishing—or writing, for that matter. You should do what makes sense for you, what fits your particular project and style. The trick, of course, is figuring out what the heck that is.
The main considerations when deciding how to publish are time, money, and control. Do you have the time to wait for a book contract? Traditional publication is notoriously slow, and far from guaranteed. How much money are you willing to spend? Self-publication costs more than traditional (which typically costs nothing), but it is very possible to publish inexpensively. Are you comfortable relinquishing control over your book’s content and packaging, or is it important to you that the final product conform precisely to your vision?
And speaking of your vision, what is your vision, not just for your book but for your career? Before you make a decision one way or the other, take the time to ask yourself what kind of author you want to be.
GG: What are some of your biggest writing pet peeves?
Ms. Duhr: Hmm, that’s a tough question. Honestly? I find writing annoying in general. It’s so time-consuming! So demanding! It’s just so damn hard! But all of that is what I love about it, too. So, for whatever that’s worth.
GG: What is your #1 piece of advice for someone who is looking to write their first book but doesn’t know how to get started?
Ms. Duhr: Stop thinking. Stop planning. Stop trying to know. You will never know. Just start. Just write.
GG: How has the type of writing your clients come to you with changed over time? Do you see an increase or decrease in certain genres/styles?
Ms. Duhr: From day one, we’ve seen a lot of memoir and fiction, both short stories and novels. Poetry has always been relatively scarce.
It’s no accident that what we see at WBN coincides with what we observe in the publishing industry at large. Novels always sell the best. Memoir has seen a heyday over the past couple of decades. Industry folks like to joke that only poets read poetry … and to some extent, that’s true. Reading habits and writing habits are intricately bound because reading and writing are, inextricably so. One simply doesn’t exist without the other.
GG: What is your favorite type of client to work with and why?
Ms. Duhr: Beginners, hands down. I love working with beginners because they’re motivated and curious and driven relentlessly by the need to tell a story (usually the one that spurred them to take up writing in the first place). More seasoned writers, in my experience, tend to lose that fire, as it dims naturally over time. Fresh stories, ideas, and inspirations can reignite the flame, though, and when that happens, old writers are like new ones. We’re beginners, all of us.
GG: What books/authors would you recommend to an aspiring writer and why?
Ms. Duhr: I’m a great fan of Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. She breaks down the huge subject of craft into small, digestible pieces, about which she has insightful, practical, just plain helpful things to say. Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir is a great primer for those just starting to explore the memoir genre.
Really, I think writers should be reading whatever revs the creative engine. Whatever makes you want to stop reading and start writing: read that.
GG: When it comes to the craft of writing, people always talk about finding your “voice.” Do you have any tips for new writers on establishing a voice?
Ms. Duhr: That question – How do I find my voice? – has always sounded to me like a riddle. And wouldn’t it be great if it were? After all, riddles have answers.
Write. Read. Listen. Then write some more. There is no other way.