CSFF: Day 2 – Kathryn Mackel Interview PART II

So, you’re hungry for more?

Today’s the “good stuff” if you’re a writer like me. I’m always eager to learn how other people treat their craft, especially when they’re–how should I put it–more seasoned.

And since I dissed her Sox yesterday, I suppose I should give a well earned bow:

The Celtics were awesome last week!

Buckle up! Let’s dig in…

CH

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Interview with Kathryn Mackel – Part 2

CH: A number of those that read my blog are authors or aspiring authors and I’m sure they’d love a behind the scenes look into your writing lifestyle and habits. Can you give a snapshot of what a typical “writing session” looks like for you? What are common writing goals in terms of word count or content? What other things consume your day? Is this a full-time occupation for you or part-time?

KM: Oh, I’m probably a poor role model in terms of writing habits. I’ve been a full-time writer for 12 years. Right now I’m actually looking for a “real” job because publishing has really tightened up. If the economy didn’t look so shaky, I’d wait a few more months but I’m trying to be obedient, go by what I know right now. So, if God sees fit to nudge me back into the working world, I will once more be a part-time writer.

When I first started writing, I worked full-time, was mom and wife, coach, student, and wrote about two hours a day. The irony is…I don’t think I put in too much more time than that a day now. Maybe I haven’t been a good steward, though in those 12 years I’ve had 13 books published and 8 scripts sold or work-for-hire jobs in film. This is why it’s hard for writers to consider what other writers do and try to model. I’m terribly distractable so I often go out into the woods with my computer to work.

Here’s what I try to do. Two hours in the morning, two hours later in the day. Full morning on Saturday. That will get me a completed novel in about six months. (I mean, a draft that can be professionally submitted.) I cannot write beginning to end in one draft. I keep revising (and I think that’s about 50% of us). So my draft will be about thirty drafts for the first third of the book, three drafts for the middle, and one or two for the end of the book when I really understand everything about the world, the characters, God’s call on this story.

Other things that consume my day? I’m a hiker with access to a lot of beautiful conservation land. Until my dog died this spring at 17.5 years, she and I walked miles every day, climbed mountains, and just enjoyed creation. There’s nothing like the woods for singing hymns at the top of my lungs or just enjoying scripture. I’m a huge spots fan so this time of year my husband and I are watching the Red Sox almost every night. (I am fluent in Sox, Celtics, Patriots, and all teams in those sports.) I spend as much time as possible with my 4-year-old grandson.

I sing in choir, help direct youth choir, teach adult Sunday school, write drama.

CH: A big question I get asked a lot is, “Are you an outliner? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?” Any particular methods you use when laying out a story or organizing characters and keeping track of descriptions, events and other pertinent details?

KM: I’m a big-picture outliner. I get the concept, the major turning points, and then outline two or three chapters at a time. I have a good memory so generally I don’t have to worry too much about story details, though I did make a mistake in Vanished with a character name. It became the basis of a contest I ran.

One way I corral a story is to print out my book-in-progress and lay it out on a table, separated by chapters. I then write in bold letters on the first page of each chapter 1.) which character’s POV the chapter is told from and 2.) the main event(s) of that chapter. I could do this in a single electronic file but there’s something about laying out the work and stepping back for a long view. I often do this at church because I need two or three tables to lay out the chapters. This practice allows me to change organization, remove chapters or sections that are somewhat redundant, shift sections around, check pacing and tension.

CH: If giving some words of wisdom to other aspiring authors out there, what pieces of advice would you have for them?

KM: Writing is hard. A great concept can only go so far without the craft to support it. Rewriting is key but it’s a difficult skill to acquire without a support system. Conferences don’t have enough time to teach how to rewrite, though I’m working on creating workshops that help writers move in that direction. I taught a college course last summer and it took a good 18 hours before my students got it. I learned to rewrite from my writers group—superb writers and critiquers all! James Scott Bell’s book Revision and Self-Editing is a good place to start.

[Catch Part 3 tomorrow!]

  • Good stuff! I couldn’t agree more with the rewriting comments. That is such a key and isn’t really being taught, at least in the conferences I’ve been to. Oh, sure, it’s mentioned. But taught? Not that I’ve seen.

    Becky

  • It always amazes me how differently each writer works. Kathryn has published an amazing amount of work over the past 12 years – almost a book a year. Today I read on another writer’s blog that there were authors who were complaining because publishers were demanding a book a year for fear they’d loose readers and loyalty. Out of sight, out of mind.

    So it does seem as if the publishing industry has tightened up. More so in Christian publishing I think. The field, as I see it, is pretty narrow and quite dominated by a few week known names. Sad because there is some amazing talent out there.

    And just a note as a reader – out of site is not out of mind for me. If it’s 2 years between books I still buy them. In fact, I usually buy the first one again because I’ve already given it away and want to refresh my memory before hitting the next one!

  • Tina: Thanks for the comments on my site. I really appreciate you stopping by and and all your kind words toward both Kathryn and myself.

    I thought your comments about the narrow Christian market were especially interesting. I always have discussions with people about this. Imagine how many born again, dedicated, Christians there are in the US. Conservatively, let’s say 10 million. Now, out of those, how many are gifted writers with something really wonderful to say–something worth reading? Conservatively, let’s say .1%. That’s 10,000 authors. Yet how many Christian authors can you name off the top of your head right now? 25? Better still, how many Christian authors can you name in a book store?

    Instead of searching out new authors and making room for them, publishers continue to publish and republish the same group of authors over and over. Accept in rare instances, I’ve read everything the author had to say in their first three books. Yet we keep putting out similar material because that author is “known.”

    In my mind, this creates an incredibly shallow and anemic diet.Not only that, but it robs the Body of Christ from what God wants to say through Her.

    Granted, we have more books and teaching than any nation in the world.

    But just imagine what voices have not been heard simply because we’re too business minded with something that is really a ministry.

    Stepping off my soap box now…

    CH

  • Rebecca: Yeah, I hear ya’ on the re-writing stuff! The difference between my 1st book and my 2nd is night and day! All because of re-writing and putting the manuscript into the hands of book murderers. 😉

    CH