Looking for a good writer’s conference to attend? How about tips for breaking through writer’s block? Today, multi-published author and editor Jennifer Uhlarik sits down to tell us what it’s really like being a writer.
Welcome! Let’s start with what you write and how you picked your genre.
I write historical fiction, with my favorite time period being the Old West. I kind of fell into this genre accidentally. I come from a long line of history nerds, and as a child, I read a lot of “horse” books—The Black Stallion series, etc. But when I got to the point that I’d read every young adult book I could find with a horse on the cover, I started searching for something new. I went into my oldest brother’s room and raided his bookshelf, found the only book that had a horse on the cover (a Louis L’Amour western), and began to read it. I quickly discovered that the horse was okay, but the guy on the horse was amazing, and the time period in our country’s history was rife with struggles and adventure. That’s where my love for the genre was born.
If you’ve written multiple books, which was harder: the first book or the following books? Why?
Oh gosh. I’ve found that every book comes with its own challenges. No one is any easier than another. Some take inordinate amounts of research to get the history down. Others, the characters are tight-lipped and won’t tell me what they’re thinking. So each one is difficult in its own way.
What’s your favorite writers conference? What do you like about it?
My new favorite is Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. I love the faculty—they always have a great group of authors, agents, editors, and other industry professionals teaching classes at this conference, and everyone is so encouraging, no matter what stage of writing you’re in. And hey, you can’t beat the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain setting!
What’s your writing day like?
A typical day for me is to wake up, read my Bible, then go to the gym with my (retired) hubby. Once we’re home, we’ll have lunch together, and I’ll get to work. I’ll work through the afternoon until dinnertime. We’ll prepare and eat our meal, maybe watch a bit of TV together, and depending on how much more I need to get done that day, I’ll usually sit back down and write a while more. If I’m on a close deadline, then all bets are off, and I’m shackled to my computer until the story is done.
How do you combat writer’s block?
Usually, my writer’s block comes in the form of not knowing how to bridge the gap between where I am in the story and the next major plot point, so sometimes all it takes is to re-read the synopsis I wrote for the story. Other times, I go back and re-read part or all of the story to catch the flow and spirit again. Or I talk to my husband and writing friends who are familiar with the story to see what advice they might give on how to proceed from the point I’m at. And—most of all—I pray for God’s inspiration and try to be quiet and listen for His answers.
How do you prepare to write your books: pantser, plotter, both, something completely different?
I’m what I call a “plantser”—a hybrid between a plotter and a pantser. I’ve written a full synopsis (usually 1-3 pages long) on every story that I’ve published before I began the story. This gives me a nice broad-stroke framework. But it also gives me lots of freedom to explore the twists and turns and be a bit more free-spirited in how I move between the major plot points.
What advice do you have for new authors?
First, it’s a proven fact that people who set realistic/attainable goals are far more likely to achieve them. Those who write them down and post their goals where they can see them are even more likely to make them reality. So set writing goals, write them down, and put them where they are staring you in the face every day—above your desk, on your bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator, or all of the above. Second, never give up in pursuing those dreams. No matter how many times you get told “no,” keep moving forward until you hear a “yes.”
What does your revision process look like?
By the time I write “the end,” my stories are usually pretty sound as far as the story itself. I’ve got two readers—a dear writer friend and my husband—who help me keep the story on the right track. But I am always over my word count, so a lot of my revision process is finding ways to cut words without having to cut content. That means examining every sentence to see if I can cull even one or two words to bring the word count down. Across a full manuscript, those one or two words per sentence adds up to thousands of words and has always gotten me to my goal.
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West.
Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list several times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers, Women Writing the West, and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.
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