About Natalie Wright:
Natalie is the author of H.A.L.F., a young adult science fiction series, and The Akasha Chronicles, a young adult fantasy trilogy. She lives in the high desert of Tucson, Arizona with her husband, tween daughter, and two young cats.
Natalie spends her time writing, reading, gaming, geeking out over nerd culture and cool science, hanging out on social media, and meeting readers and fans at festivals and comic cons throughout the western United States. She likes to walk in the desert, snorkel in warm waters, travel, and share excellent food and conversation with awesome people. Natalie supports the rights of both humans and non-humans to live a life free of suffering caused by people. She was raised an Ohio farm girl, lives in the desert Southwest, and dreams of living in a big city high rise.
What inspires you to write?
My writing inspiration comes from various places. Often, the broad brushstrokes for a story (the big picture) comes at me all at once. For example, I was driving a few years ago, listening to music and the song “Cowboys and Aliens” by Gramm Rabbit came on. The funky techno-rap song gave me the idea for my current release H.A.L.F.: The Deep Beneath. My first book, Emily’s House, was inspired by a combination of a vision I had while in hypnosis combined with my fascination of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
I also get ideas from news stories or events happening around me. Really anything that makes me wonder, “What if?” or “If this continues then …” is fodder for a story.
When it comes to the interactions between the characters – their emotion, their dialogue – I pull inspiration from my own relationships as well as my observation of people in my life.
As far as what inspires me to put my butt in the chair every day and write words, somedays truthfully I’m not “inspired” at all. If a writer waits for “inspiration” to hit, she may be sitting looking at a blank screen for days on end. Professional writers need to write every day, even if the muse is away. So then it becomes the process itself that is inspirational. It’s like exercise (at least for me). The first five minutes of my walk I’m wishing I was back in the house. But after about 15 minutes, I’m enjoying the scenery and the smell of flowers and air and then I’m wishing I could stay out longer.
Writing is much the same. The first 5-15 minutes can feel awful. I’m stumbling over the words. I can’t think of what to write. But I press on and then it happens. Inspiration occurs merely from the act of doing it. And after a few hours I wish I had more time to write.
Tell us about your writing process.
My writing process is long, convoluted and messy (and probably why it takes me about a year to produce one book while some others produce 4-6 books a year).
Generally, I have a big picture idea. The beginning, middle and end of the story in my head. At this stage, I outline a bit. But my outline for a novel may be only 1-3 pages.
At that point, I simultaneously work on two things. First, I do the “Snowflake” (Randy Ingermanson’s method). I’ve done it by hand but since I liked the process so much, I bought his software and am now using that. The Snowflake helps me get a grip on the characters, their interactions with each other, and plot. I find it very helpful and more informative than an outline.
But while I’m working the snowflake, I also spend time doing things like creating family trees for important characters. For example, in the current novel I’m working on (“The Makers,” Book 2 of the H.A.L.F. series), a new (and important) character that will be introduced is William Croft II, the leader of the Makers. I spent quite a it of time creating his family tree and backstory. I need to understand where this man comes from and how he got the place where he is. I did the same for Commander Lilly Sturgis (antagonist in “The Deep Beneath”, Book 1 of the H.A.L.F. series). The time spent creating a history for important characters is important to my writing process because it gives me a well of information to draw on during the creative/writing phase of the project.
I also spend time writing descriptions/histories/drawing maps, etc. for the worlds in my novels. In The Makers, Erika and crew end up on an alien planet. So I’m spending lots (and lots!) of time thinking through what the world looks like and how it works. What’s the weather? Atmosphere? Moons? Sun(s)? Political system? Races?
Another important aspect of the planning phase is to visit as many of the places mentioned in the story as I can. Obviously I cannot go to another planet! But I spent time in Ajo, Erika’s hometown, for example. I tour facilities mentioned (if I can) and drive the same roads (if possible). I think this allows me to add sensory details to the story that makes it feel more real to the reader. In Emily’s House, Emily ends up in Ireland and I won a trip to Ireland after I’d finished the first draft. My ability to go there was amazing and it allowed me to add authentic sensory detail because I was actually there (and readers -especially those from Ireland – have commented on the details and how they enjoyed that aspect).
I think that when writing SciFi and/or Fantasy that’s set in our world, adding authentic details can really help the reader feel grounded in the story. It helps them suspend their disbelief when the fantasy elements arrive. I think it makes the whole story feel more plausible.
Another thing that I do is write scenes that never make it into the book but are background for important events that happened before the story begins. So for The Makers, for example, I’m writing scenes between William Croft and his daughter, Lizzy, that took place before the story.
All this thinking, planning and writing can amount to a couple of notebooks and perhaps 30-50,000 words of written material that never makes it into the final 75-100,000 word novel. But for me, all of it is essential to be grounded in the world and know the characters before I begin to write the story.
As far as the writing goes, I like to write the first draft straight through. What that looks like is writing for 2-5 hours a day, every day, until it’s finished. This generally takes me about 6 weeks.
Because I do not outline heavily AND I allow myself to wander from the main storyline while writing (if the story and characters lead me that way), the first draft is generally a mess. While I may spend only 6 weeks writing the first draft, it will likely take me at least 6 months to revise.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I do “listen” to my characters while I write. Often, if I feel “stuck”, I’ll ask the character questions such as “What are you seeing? What are you feeling? What do you taste/smell?” Getting into the head of the character with sensory questions is a great way to dislodge myself from my stuck place and move forward.
I also allow my characters to “tell” me their story. Sometimes it leads down a rabbit hole, which is fine because I always learn something I didn’t know even if it will not make it into the final cut. Often, though, by allowing my characters to “speak”, the story flows in a more interesting direction that I had intended.
It is my view that what we’re talking about here is the the subconscious mind versus the conscious (ego) mind. The writer’s conscious (ego) mind is the mind that outlines and plans; the part of me that is making maps and using the Snowflake program. That’s all fine and dandy and necessary to get started. But if I allow myself to get in the flow, it’s like a meditation. The conscious mind is pushed aside while the subconscious begins to speak. It’s what Stephen King calls “the boys in the basement.” If the writer allows the “boys” to come up from the basement, it can feel like the characters are “speaking”. But it’s all inside the writer. It’s part of the writer. And it’s a beautiful thing and the place that true creativity and imagination comes from. The more I get in that zone – that place of allowing – the better the story is for it in the end.
What advice would you give other writers?
1. Write. Read. Write.
As the saying goes, “Good words in, good words out.”
The more you read and write, the better you will get at it.
2. Do not revise, just write. Write from beginning to end without going back and revising and editing. If you are writing a novel, this may take a long time. It’s okay. Don’t obsess about it. Just write until you’ve reached the end.
One of the most common reasons that people who want to write do not finish their first novel is because they read back over it and feel that it sucks (it probably does) and they feel frustrated and psyche themselves out. Everyone’s first draft of their first novel sucks. That’s okay. That’s what revision is for. And you can’t revise a blank page. So just write through to the end so that you know what your story is about. Now go back and rewrite it. The second draft will likely still reek a bit, but it won’t stink as bad as the first draft. Now repeat until you feel that you cannot make it any better. Then begin your next story.
3. Do not share your work or talk about your story(ies) with others at first. The writer ego is fragile. You must protect it and allow yourself to create in an environment that is free to explore and learn craft. Even people who support you greatly may – without meaning to – crush your writing spirit with an inopportune word. When you are first starting out, write for the sheer pleasure of writing. Write to feel the rush of creativity spring from within you. Write to express your emotions, your fears, your love. Write and enjoy the fact that you can.
4. If you are new to writing, accept that the first things you write will suck. That’s okay. That’s normal.
Writing is not easy. In fact, it’s damned hard. When you first start out, you are likely going to be focused on telling the basic story. Beginning, middle, end. And that’s what you should focus on. Learning how to plot. Learning how to get the story out of yourself.
And when you’ve got the hang of that, you’ll move on to focusing more on characters and setting.
Then you’ll deal with beats and nuance and other more subtle and finer detail.
I’m all for writing courses and how-to books, but don’t allow it to overwhelm you. The amazing, lovely and incredibly frustrating thing about writing is that you never truly “master” it. The more you write, the more you learn how complex it is. I’ve been to “beginning” writing courses where the instructor talked about “beats” and hooking the reader at the end of each paragraph and I was still back at showing not telling. That’s like walking into Math 101 and the instructor teaching differential calculus.
When I first started out, I spent periods of time not writing at all because I was intimidated by the “craft” of it. It was overwhelming and I thought “I’ll never be able to do this.” But I’d get back to it because I enjoyed the process. And then I turned my head around and realized that when I first began practicing law, my first cases were simple. I didn’t start out with a capital murder case or handling a divorce for a multi-million dollar estate.
So remember that as a writer, if you’re just starting out, your first works are not going to be masterpieces. But if you keep writing and learning, you’ll improve exponentially with each novel (or short story) and each will be more complex and nuanced than the last.
Your mantra must be, “Just do it.”
How did you decide how to publish your books?
When I had my first novel, Emily’s House, to the point of submitting to agents/editors – this was in the beginning of 2011 – self-publishing (independent publishing) was taking off. Amanda Hocking and John Locke were making waves and selling a gazillion books.
At the same time, I was going to writer’s conferences and hearing from editors/agents. And it seemed to me that every panel was saying the same thing. “We’re not going to promote your books because we don’t have the budget for that. And you probably better pay a freelance editor too because we don’t have the editorial staff we once had.” So to me, it sounded like I needed to do all of the work and I would get (maybe, on a good day) 90% of the list price.
I had owned and operated my own law practice for close to twenty years, so I was used to being a business owner/entrepreneur. For me, the idea that I would independently publish made sense. I have never submitted my manuscripts to agents or editors. I went straight to the people.
For me it was a good choice. I am first and foremost an artist. I want total creative control. I enjoy the fact that I have the title and cover that I want. The story is my story told my way. And the timing is my own. As I said above, my writing process is somewhat slow. But even at that, I’m getting out a book a year (instead of readers having to wait 2-3 years between books).
There are, however, downsides and if you’re new to writing/publishing, I don’t want anyone to think that self-publishing is the “easy” way out. It’s not. At the end of the day, no matter how a book is published, it needs to be well-written, well-edited and be quality inside and out or it will not gain traction with readers. So you need to be willing to invest in your writing – and yourself – if you self-publish. I have a team of people that I’ve put together (after much trial and error) of editors, cover designers, formatters, etc. Each book costs somewhere between $1500-$3000 to produce (depending on how long it is, costs of the cover, how many editing passes, etc.). That’s a significant investment. And consider that if you’re making approximately $2 a book (if it’s list price is $2.99 for digital on Amazon), you need to sell 750 books (if your production cost was $1,500, which is on the low side) just to break even. And it’s not easy to sell 750 books! Over 95% of first-time self-published authors will sell LESS than 100 copies of their first book. Total. Ever.
So self-publishing isn’t for everyone and it is my opinion that if you do not have the time and funds to invest in it, then you should stick with seeking out a publication contract, at least at first.
I do not rule out seeking a publication contract for myself in the future. I have a project that is a one novel idea that’s a bit more literary than what I’ve been writing. If I ever get around to making that idea a reality, I will likely seek a publishing contract because I think that it would be a good fit for big publishing. But we’ll see.
The good news for writers right now is that we have more publishing options available to us than at any time in history. Each writer should do adequate research for each project to determine what is the best method of publication for that project. I think that going forward – say 10 years from now – most professional writers will be “hybrid” writers, with some projects going through publishing houses and other projects being independently produced. And there may be methods on the horizon that we have only just begun to dream up.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I am optimistic, realistic and cautious.
Optimistic that writers have more and better opportunities today to get their work out to the masses than ever before in the history of humankind.
Realistic about the fact that while opportunity exists for me, it exists for everyone else as well. That means that right now there are more books being published than ever before.
And apps, games, music, movies, etc. vying for the attention of our would-be readers. In 2011 when my first book came out, people were buying my book and reading it on their Kindle (not Kindle Fire, just a Kindle). With a Kindle Fire (or iPad or smartphone) in their hands, would-be readers may choose instead to play Candy Crush or check out what their friends are up to on Facebook or Twitter (or spend hours looking at cat videos and Sharknado on YouTube).
Writers are not in competition with other writers. Writers are in competition with MEDIA. And since a lot of that media is free and easy, it is a serious issue for writers who are trying to eke out a living selling books (often) in that 99 cents to $2.99 price point (and making about 33 cents to $2.00 per book, or less).
So writers need to be flexible, adaptable, and embrace new technology and social media in order to reach the intended audience and to keep them engaged. I go back to optimism in that writers are, by their nature, creative people and I think that opportunity exists to exploit media technologies to stay competitive with other media.
I’m cautious about the fact that we seem to have an increasingly large “culture of free” arising when it comes to consuming art and media. What has happened in the music industry is instructive. First we got songs for 99 cents and now we get them for free on Pandora. Why pay for music now if you can have what you enjoy for free? Yes, some people (like me) still pay for the songs we really love. But others do not buy music at all anymore.
I see this happening with stories and books. Writers utilize free days on Amazon to get their work out there to people. And I have heard people say “I’ll wait until it goes free,” instead of buying the book. And then we have sites such as Wattpad where all the stories are free all the time. My first book, Emily’s House, is posted in its entirety on Wattpad and is close to 2 million reads. That’s a lot of reading of my story! And it’s amazing that that many people have learned about my work. But I have not received a penny for any of that reading. It’s okay because it brings me exposure and I have excerpts of books 2 & 3 in that series for people to read. But how many of my Wattpad readers go on to buy the second two books, even if they loved book 1? I estimate less than 1%. I’ll also note that many of my readers and fans on Wattpad are teens, many of them outside the U.S. A lot of them read on Wattpad because they do not have access to money/an Amazon account/a library but they may have a computer or smartphone. So in some ways, Wattpad is like a library giving people (kids) access to reading material. In truth, many of these people are not potential book buyers anyway so it’s not like “lost” revenue.
So I say cautious because we (writers & publishers) need to keep any eye on things like Amazon’s lending library, Wattpad and other such things. We need to look at how to think outside the box and leverage the “culture of free” in a way that we can still make a living doing what we love while fulfilling the desire to read by people throughout the world.
And I’ll repeat optimistic because I am truly optimistic that there has never been a better time to be a writer.
What do you use?: Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?: Teen (YA) SciFi and Fantasy
What formats are your books in?: Both eBook and Print