Come join me to see how voracious journal keeping can lead a person to become a published author. Michele Ashman Bell is a woman who writes fiction that touches hearts and moves people to wait anxiously for each new book. She may not mention her years of journal keeping below (that information is found at her website), but know that she worked hard to learn the craft of writing. As a result, all that effort paid off and she now is the author of 21 published books!
C.S.: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
MICHELE: I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. By fourth grade I was an avid reader and sometimes got in trouble because I read so much. I would always think of things I would change about the story, different endings, different situations, things like that.
C.S.: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
MICHELE: Long. Hard. Frustrating. From when I started writing until my first book was published it was TEN YEARS!!!!! I kept every stinking one of my rejection slips and letters because I knew, deep in my heart, that if I ever got published I would be glad I kept them. They are in a folder and I am very proud of them.
C.S.: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
MICHELE: Trying to get published is extremely discouraging – at least the rejection part of it is. Nothing hurt worse than to send off a manuscript, just to get it back in the mail, sometimes with nothing but a form rejection letter. Sometimes I would bounce back quickly and move on, but sometimes it took longer, especially when I felt so sure that “this time” my book would be accepted. The best way I found to deal with it was focusing ahead on what I was working on and trying to not take the rejection personal. I learned to believe in myself even when no one else did. I also ate a lot of chocolate!
C.S.: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
MICHELE: I would say to really, really know the market and make sure you send your manuscript to the right publisher. I would say to never, ever, ever give up if you really believe in your story and yourself. Persistence and hard work pays off. I am living proof of that. I would also say to make sure you write with your heart and not your head. Passion is the key that links a writer to a reader through the written word.
C.S.: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?
MICHELE: I am an outline addict. I brainstorm first and get all my thoughts down, then I organize and pretty much follow the outline. BUT I always revise and change it because the story and characters take on a life of their own and surprise me all the time. I love it when that happens. An outline for me is a like road map. If I don’t know where I’m going, I probably will end up somewhere I don’t want to be. I’m open to take side trips along the journey but I like to have an idea of the route I’m going to take.
C.S.: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
MICHELE: I don’t have too much trouble with writer’s block, but if I ever do, it’s because I don’t know where the story is going. This is when I’ll go back to my outline and revisit the story and really find out what the character’s motivation is and if they are moving forward. Most of the time it’s because they’ve lost steam somewhere in the middle. Middles are the hardest.
C.S.: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
MICHELE: I need quiet. I get distracted easily. I can’t listen to music. I even have a hard time writing when there’s stuff going on in the house because I can’t focus. It makes finding writing time very difficult.
C.S.: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
MICHELE: Research is usually the best way to get inspiration. Sometimes I’ll have an idea and I’ll need to stop writing and research it. This layering of information really gives the story texture and detail and totally inspires what happens with plot, characters, and motivation.
C.S.: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
MICHELE: That is hard. First is probably my husband because he’s supported my throughout my journey as an author. He supported me even when it was embarrassing that I still didn’t have anything published. I do have some dear friends who are authors who are extremely supportive and encouraging.
C.S.: Do you use a critique group during the writing process? Why or why not?
MICHELE: I was a member of three different critique groups before I got published. I felt they were very helpful and I learned a great deal about them. I do think you need to be careful because ultimately I had to learn to follow my gut and not listen to the criticism because it was making me doubt myself and my stories. I do think it builds character and strength to read something you’ve written in front of people and actually invite them to tear it to pieces.
C.S.: Any final words you would like to share?
MICHELE: I think for readers I would like to thank them for supporting LDS fiction. They are vital to our success and I’ve never forgotten that. I also want to tell those writers who are trying to get published to never give up on their dream. I know it can happen for them if they will just keep trying. Thank you, Cindy for allowing me to share a little about my writing.
C.S.: You are welcome. It’s my treat! So where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
C.S.: I’d like to thank Michele for taking the time to chat. Her books are beloved by many. Here is a review of one of her most recent novels, A Modest Proposal. To visit her website and learn more about her, click here. And to read sample chapters from her books, visit here.