The StoryDam community is filled with writers of varying levels of experience, but few can claim to have been writing “forever.” That didn’t stop Amber West, author of The Ruth Valley Missing from claiming as much in this week’s StoryDam Author interview. Although she quickly backtracked claiming that might be a “slight exaggeration,” she goes on to say, “I have been writing stories since a very young age. As a matter of fact, one of the stories I wrote in fifth grade was published in a children’s anthology.” She added that, “somewhere in my parents house, there’s a slam book from that same year with a page that asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ My answer? Writer.” As far as I’m concerned, that’s possibly as close to “Forever” as any of us are going to get!
Amber’s Road to the Public and Publication
However, even with all of that early experience, Amber held back on actually “going public” with her writing until about two years ago, when she was egged on by some attention she got from a blog she wrote for her friends. She says, “I know, the internet isn’t exactly private, but I didn’t publicize my blogging before. I wrote posts just to keep my long distance friends up to date and occasionally to entertain them. Those posts got me a few writing gigs, so I decided to put myself out there a bit more. Shortly after putting my blog out into the world, I got involved in various online writer’s groups. It was there that I met other writers who encouraged me to take my writing more seriously and pursue publication.”
Amber’s Support System
Amber found support outside of her friends and family. She says, “There are two writers I met through social media who have been my cheering section through the entirety of my first book, and are still a great encouragement as I continue to write. (They also happen to be talented ladies: Tiffany White and Jen Kirchner.) If it wasn’t for the two of them reading my work in the early stages and talking me down on the days that I felt like I was crazy for thinking anyone would want to read my work, I’d probably be back to writing my work emails in haiku form as creative outlet and letting manuscripts gather dust.” In addition to these two wonderful ladies, Amber credits her regular blog readers who remind her that “there are people out there who want to read my work.” And, yet, even with all of this public support, Amber stuck so closely to her “private writing” routine that she says that her dad didn’t know she took writing seriously until her mom was reading her first published novel!
Amber’s Writing Habit
It’s easy to see how Amber could keep this secret when you find out that she has to find a way to juggle it between being mom of a 3.5 year old and a full time job. With all of that on her plate, she doesn’t force herself into any kind of formal writing habit to get her words on the page, she says, “my writing habit is to write whenever I can make the time. I don’t have a certain time of day set aside, a certain spot, a certain medium; I just write whenever I can. I also find that creatively, I don’t function well with a ‘butt-in-chair’, write every day mentality. I may attempt to write every day, but if the ideas aren’t flowing, I don’t believe in just writing the words only to delete them all later. I’d rather do something to refresh my brain and jump back in again later.”
Amber and The Writing Community
Amber also argues against the thinking that there is any “golden rule” to writing the writing process. She does, however have thoughts about the writing community, “Treat others as you would want to be treated. If you want support, encouragement, and respect, you’ve got to make the first move.” However, what Amber is talking about is genuine, sincere support, she says, “I don’t mean that in the reciprocal, ‘you review my book, I’ll review yours’. If you genuinely enjoy another author’s work, tell others about it. If you don’t, don’t be so quick to bash it. Think about all the hard work you put into what you do before you make light of someone else’s work. And don’t expect anything back.”
This thinking is directly related to her own experiences in the writing world. When I asked Amber what she has learned from writing, she skipped right over the writing process and dove right into the lessons learned post-publishing. In her own words, here is her lesson and cautionary tale for the rest of us:
My first novel was released in November of last year. The initial reviews were extremely positive. I was surprised that the response was so great, but definitely happy to see people responding so well.
And then came my first bad review. And it was a rough one. The reviewer attacked me personally by suggesting that my reviews were all “friends and family” reviews and even fake. To add insult to injury, the reviewer was another writer, who I’d met in social media writing circles and had received my book for free!
I have always been that person who wants to please everyone. I had prepared myself for the fact that someone might not like my book but I had not prepared for a personal attack.
It made me want to curl up in a little hole and go back to writing just for me.
Fortunately, a well-timed post from Wil Wheaton, and some personal encouragement from the man himself, made me realize what mattered. I had fun creating the story. Others had fun reading it. And I learned a lot from the process that I can pour into my next project.
I also read an article about that math of reviews that put it into perspective. If you have a good number of readers, mathematically, you will have “haters”. It’s just a fact. Not everyone likes the same thing. (I can attest to this, as I can’t understand how Two and a Half Men is still on the air, and yet, it’s been one of the most popular shows on TV for a long time.)
Basically, if you are going to be any sort of success, bad reviews WILL happen. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good number of my books out there, so a bad review is just part of the math of being a writer.
I say I am still learning because as much as I can sit here and tell you that those reviews don’t define your work, I haven’t quite mastered the art of not caring.
I’m getting there.
Amber’s Current Work
But Amber’s writing extends far beyond her books. As she started out on this quest, you can still find Amber blogging at A Day Without Sushi where she has an exciting fiction project as well. Here’s Amber explaining her unique blogging project, “I do some serial fiction on my blog. It’s a little different in that each installment is written at the last minute, based on suggestions left by the readers. It’s a LOT of fun, and I just started a new story after finishing the last one, which lasted for nearly a year!” So, go check it out and join in on the creation process.
About The Ruth Valley Missing in Amber’s Words