Allison Winn Scotch’s Best Advice for Writers: Read, Rewrite and Revel in Feedback

I started reading Allison Winn Scotch’s blog when her first book — The Department of Lost and Found — was released the first time!  Hers was one of the first books I read where I felt I “knew” the author — the first time it gave me a glimpse into what it was like to be in a community of writers, even if that community was online.  I’ve watched Allison with admiration because while her career has catapulted, it seems to me, her feet have remained on the ground.  Good books and good sense.  To me, that’s a good combo to try to emulate.  

Please welcome Allison Winn Scotch to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Interview with Women’s Fiction Author Allison Winn Scotch

ASN: You’re a NY Times best-selling author, journalist, blogger and mom — and probably a million other things.  You are very down-to-earth and seem to strike a balance with it all. How do you do it? We really want to know!

AWS: Well, first of all, thank you! I think that any working mom knows that balance is actually a carefully coordinated game plan, and my life is no different. I am very well-organized and have a hefty to-do list that I stick to religiously. I find that if I compartmentalize and use that list – say, take care of my administrative items first thing, then move on to updating blog entries (I write a few weeks of entries at a time), and then focus on fiction – that my day moves along pretty seamlessly and relatively unharried. I also feel – and this is something that has just come over time – that my career isn’t everything. I place a lot of value in it, yes, definitely, and it provides me tremendous satisfaction – but it also gives me plenty of headaches. That’s one thing that you realize down the road of publication: that it doesn’t necessarily get easier. There are always complications, even if they’re different complications than you first envisioned, and I tend to take these stumbling blocks or annoyances with very large grains of salt. Instead (and I realize this sounds hokey, but it’s true), I truly try to focus on my kids, on how much I enjoy them and spending time with them, and how fortunate I am for my family life. It’s often when I step away from work (which sounds almost counterintuitive) that I feel like I’m finding my best mental balance. A few focused hours with the kids can make a lot of the day-to-day crap go a lot easier.

ASN: We’ve talked a lot on the blog about plotting vs. pantsing.  Where do you fall?  What’s your writing process like? (It obviously works really well for you!)

AWS: I am a total pantser, or, I should say, I’ve always been a total pantser. I’m about to start a new book, and for the first time, I think I’m going to put pen to paper and at the very least, plot out the very, very loose character arcs for the first 100 pages. Prior to this book, I’ve literally never plotted a second in my life. I always thought (and still do feel) that for my form of writing, which is often first-person and requires me to really hone in and listen to what my characters are saying and feeling, that plotting out what would happen to them on page 300 would be inorganic. That it wouldn’t give them space to make surprising choices, which is something that we all do in our lives. So at the end of each day, I tend to jot down the next few scenes that I want to write, and then I pick up with those scenes the next day. It’s not like I’m writing without a rudder, but I am allowing the characters to float downstream.

So why am I switching things up? Well – and it is very early days for this next concept – for one, I’m hoping to manage many more main characters than I have in the past. Probably six, maybe five. And I’m also charting these characters over the course of a decade. I think that in dealing with something this expansive, I’ll be better served to have a very loose guideline in front of me, ie, Character XYZ gets fired in 2005, loses his mom in 2006, etc. As I said, I’ll likely only map these things out for the first 100 pages because I then do want to allow for the spontaneity that occurs when you’re pantsing.

ASN: The Song Remains The Same comes out in 2012.  Since many of this blog’s readers are not-yet-published women’s fiction authors, can you tell us where you are in the process with that book — or what you’re working on now? How long before a book is published is it finally out of your hands for the last time?

AWS: I’ve actually been done with that book, barring copy-edits and first-pass pages (when you make your final edits) for almost eight months! It’s so strange (and wonderful!) to know that it’s finally going to make its debut in the world. Normally, there isn’t such a lag time, but I switched publishers, and to their credit, Putnam, my new publisher, wanted to ensure that they had crossed all their ts in launching this book. They wanted a long lead time to really set it up correctly, and as a writer, while I’d love to have had the book out asap, it’s hard to complain when you know they’re taking their time because they want to kick it off in the best and biggest way possible. I’m getting my galleys any day now, and while in the past, I’ve occasionally been nervous about putting a new book out, I’m sincerely just really excited and proud of this one. I can’t wait!

ASN: The big question here is — what’s your definition of women’s fiction?

AWS: For me, women’s fiction is really any sort of compelling, well-written saga or story that is in some way representative of what women of this generation – or of generations past – have endured or can relate to. I suppose, in fact, that it doesn’t HAVE to even be well-written (ha), but since I have so many fantastic, intelligent, insightful women friend writers, I’ll say that there’s no reason to pick up a book that ISN’T well-written. 🙂 I don’t like to get into the whole debate of chick lit vs. women’s fiction vs. commercial fiction vs. whatever, because I firmly believe that a lot of these definitions are a result of some sort of marketing plan that publishing houses hatched. I just know that I’ve read so many incredible books that are written by women – is The Help women’s fiction? What about Water for Elephants? – that for me, the definition almost doesn’t matter. Smart, poignant, resonant books are what I’m interested in, and if we want to call that women’s fiction (and if I can be included in that category), then I’m all for it.

ASN: What is your best advice specifically for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

AWS: Read. A lot. And not just the books that you suspect you’ll like. Branch out and read authors who might surprise you. Lately, I’ve been going in the opposite direction: reading thrillers or something like The Art of Racing in the Rain (told from a dog’s perspective! And so good!), and I feel like I’m gaining new skills and insights by reading compelling works that are totally different than my own. Also, be very, very open to constructive criticism. I often say that the learning curve in this business is mightily steep, and that frankly, there’s no ceiling on how much there is to know. I’ve written four published novels, and even on my last one, I was pushed to make challenging revisions that I initially bristled at. Let me tell you: they were SO worth it, and they made the book so much stronger. There’s no shame in rewriting – in fact, it’s a very necessary step to improving. And even if you think you’ve nailed it, you probably haven’t. (Again, speaking from experience.) Keep reading, keep writing, keep asking for feedback. You’ll get better each and every time.

Allison Winn Scotch is the bestselling author of THE ONE THAT I WANT, TIME OF MY LIFE, and THE DEPARTMENT OF LOST AND FOUND. Her fourth novel, THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME, will be released in early 2012. She lives in New York with her family and their dog.

10 thoughts on “Allison Winn Scotch’s Best Advice for Writers: Read, Rewrite and Revel in Feedback

  1. Fabulous interview offering so much to learn from — I really love the recommendations to read a wide range of things and to be “very open to constructive criticism.” It’s so helpful to hear down to earth advice from such an accomplished yet incredibly grounded writer. Thanks for another good one, Amy!!

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  2. Great insights, and it’s both inspiring and an important note-to-self that even a bestselling author is making such a conscious effort to maintain her balance in life, her humility, and most of all, an open mind.

    Bottom line, Allison has a great outlook, and I’m thankful she shared it with us!

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  3. I enjoyed your interview, Amy. Alison, such great answers and I always appreciate hearing about your commitment to your priorities. Thanks for good reminders, and best wishes for continued success with your upcoming novel!

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  4. How interesting we are on the same “journey” to try to write something that isn’t quite all “panstery” – I keep mulling that over in my head as I finish up this latest “panstery” work . . . what would it be like to try to “plot it out more” – lawd! I’d be curious how it turns out for you, if you feel comfortable doing it or if it feels so alien and wonky 😀

    Wonderful interview as usual, Amy! Thank you, Alison.

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  5. Fantastic interview. Thank you Amy! Just stumbled upon your blog via Twitter and I see I have a lot of catching up to do! Allison certainly does sound like she’s found the right balance. I am always so happy to hear there are successful pantsers out there (the highly successful Claire Cook is also a pantser) because that’s how I tend to write and it always makes me feel like I’m doing it wrong. It makes me so glad to know I’m in such good company!

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  6. Wonderful interview. Thanks, Amy, for having Allison on your blog. I’m a frequent reader of Allison’s blog and find her perspective refreshing. I agree with Allison that “Smart, poignant, resonant books are what I’m interested in” as well. And I would venture to say that THE HELP and WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (two of my favorite novels) are women’s fiction because, as Allison says, they are “compelling, well-written sagas.” Label-schmable!

    Wonderful advice, too, that there is no shame in rewriting.

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  7. This is my first visit here, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you for a very interesting blog! I have tiptoed into writing a bit. I have a story that is the story of my heart that I very much would love to write, but I’m unsure of the how to’s. Where would be the best place for me to get solid advice? This book is almost sacred to me and I want to do my best at it

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    • Hi Karen,

      Welcome! I’m not sure Allison is stopping back to this post — but my advice would be simple. Just write your story. If you want to read craft blogs or taking writing classes that’s great. If you want to learn about publishing that’s fabulous. But the most important thing to do when you have a story to tell, is to write it!!!

      All best,
      Amy

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  8. Pingback: The Debutante Ball » Blog Archive » News Flash: September 18, 2011

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