26er Miranda Dickinson is the author of four Sunday Times bestselling novels. She is published in six languages and to date has sold over half a million books worldwide. She talks to Elen Lewis about carving out time to write and using social media to involve readers in her books.
What’s your day job?
I write reports on food trends for a research company part-time. For the rest of my time I’m an author.
What are your private passions?
I love people-watching, making music and indulging in words. I’m a font-geek and a massive fan of Sir Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. And I’m addicted to bookshops.
What do people get wrong about you?
People assume that my romantic comedy novels are just for women and are full of shoes, sex, shopping and gay best friends. They see the covers of my novels and think what I write is throwaway fluff. But none of the above is true of my novels: I’ve tackled fear, death, loss, hope, aspiration and self-belief, amongst others. I also have a large following of male readers (oddly, a lot of sci-fi and fantasy fans).
Describe what you do in 26 words.
I am a magpie seeking sparkly scraps of life to weave into stories, building richly layered word-worlds for readers to wander through and make their own.
What do you like best about belonging to 26?
I love being part of a creative, collaborative group and I’m fascinated to see writers from all disciplines and walks of life united by our love of words.
What advice would you offer to 26ers on wanting to make a living as a writer?
First and foremost, don’t go into novel writing thinking it will instantly make you a living. Very few authors command royalties of JK Rowling-esque proportions. You should write because you love it. Being grounded in your love of writing is key to maintaining sanity in the publishing world. Write what you want to write, not what you think ‘the market’ wants. If you try to write what is selling now, the market will have moved on by the time you publish your book. Also, it’s better to be the ‘first you’ rather than ‘the next someone else’. Write as if you’ve made it already – self-belief in your work is vital. Lastly, keep writing. It might take a long time to be published and the financial rewards might not be what you think they are, but if you love doing it and put your energies into developing and honing your craft, success will follow.
And how about advice on writing a novel?
Don’t edit your first draft as you’re writing it. First drafts are all about getting the words out in a delicious jumble of inspiration. I think of my first drafts like Frankenstein’s first stab at a monster: the ears and fingers and legs might be in the wrong place, but as long as all the bits you need are there, you can refine it afterwards! Editing requires a different part of your brain (the logical bit), so editing while you’re trying to create the story will knock the life out of it. Once the first draft is done, go back and look at the story as a whole and make changes based on what you think needs to happen. Often, you only really know your characters once you’ve written the novel, so going back to the beginning reveals things that have changed about them from your initial idea.
You’re very active on twitter. How do you use social media to publicise your novels?
I love twitter, particularly how – by and large – it doesn’t take itself too seriously. That completely suits my personality and makes it fun for me to use. When it comes to publicising my novels, I’m careful how much I plug. I’m @wurdsmyth on twitter, which was my twitter account before I was published and as such I see it as my personal account, not a business one. I try to have fun and fill my timeline with positive, amusing, inspirational tweets that hopefully entertain people. My reasoning is that if people are entertained by what I observe, there’s a good chance they’ll check out and enjoy my novels. Interaction is also important: I always try to reply when someone tweets me and in my latest novel, Take A Look At Me Now, I’ve included suggestions from my twitter and Facebook followers in the story, which was really fun to do.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just finished all the edits and checks on Take A Look At Me Now, which is published by Avon (HarperCollins) on 24th October. So I’m at the lovely stage of dreaming about my next book for the next month or so and then I’ll start writing the first draft for a November deadline. I’m also working on a couple of other projects and I’m writing an online course for writers.
Do you write novels full-time? And if not, how do you carve out time in your life?
At the moment I work two weeks each month in my research job and for the rest of the time I write. This year particularly has been difficult to find time to have a life outside of writing because I had to write the new novel in a very short time, but I’m aiming to strike a better balance for the rest of this year. Generally I will work evenings and weekends when I’m doing the day job, and then as much as I can during my ‘writing’ weeks. I tend to write better at night, which suits the slightly mad schedule I currently have. I’m hoping to write full-time next year.
Tell us a secret.
The novel I’m writing at the moment is a completely different genre to my published novels. If all goes well, it could be a significant shift in my career…
Miranda’s fifth novel, Take A Look At Me Now, will be published by Avon (HarperCollins) on 24th October and is available for preorder now.