2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
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Guest Post: The Anti-Advice for Aspiring Writers by Ellen Notbohm

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to an author whose new novel – The River by Starlight – will be reviewed by Sharon on this very blog in the coming weeks. The novel, based on true events, weaves a century-old story, timeless in its telling of love, heartbreak, healing, and redemption embodied in one woman’s tenacious quest for control over her own destiny in the face of devastating misfortune and social injustice. While you’re waiting on the review, I wanted to share some of the author’s thoughts on writing – they’re entertaining and helpful, a rare combination indeed. Enjoy – and keep an eye out for the review!

By Ellen Notbohm
(Photo credit: Andie Petkus Photography)

I’m sometimes asked if I have any advice for aspiring writers, and I usually get a startled look when I snappily reply, “Nope!” I let it hang for a few moments, and then explain: in my mind, there need be no such thing as an aspiring writer, because the difference between “aspiring” and “writer” is so tiny, anyone with the will can bridge it. Many have but don’t realize it. It’s all in the tip of a pencil or the tap of a key. If you write, you’re a writer, and you have left “aspiring” behind. If you can’t buy that idea, consider that runners who never race are still called runners. They move forward, one foot on and one foot off the ground, again and again, hence they are runners. If you record, on paper or screen, one word after another, you’re a writer.

You can find a lot of advice about how you should write—how many minutes or words a day, what tools you “need” (which too often reads “buy”), whether you should aim for an audience or market, or simply write from the heart. Whether you should “write what you know” or write about what scares you or what feels safe, or healing. How closely you should follow conventions. You may read books or posts about writing, perhaps take a class or workshop, join a writers’ group. All these things can be instructive and inspiring and worth your time, but it will
still come down to putting the pencil (pedal) to the paper (metal).

To move from “aspiring” to “writer” may take less than you might think. I wrote my historical novel The River by Starlight, more than 200,000 words in numerous drafts, with pencils in spiral notebooks. I’m writing this post in pencil in a composition book. I have no MFA or writing degree, no software other than Microsoft Word. During the years of writing my novel, although I was already a successful nonfiction author, I did struggle with whether I was a “novelist,” or whether I would be a novelist if the book were never published. That was perhaps the toughest writing tussle I ever had with myself—having to take my own advice. Eventually I did. The
answer was yes, I was a novelist because I had written a novel. And when I reached that peace of mind, everything else leading to publication began to fall into place.

So, dear reader-writer—write on. I didn’t answer the question of how to become a published writer, but today you pour the foundation. From that will rise The House That You Built, one word upon another, because you are a writer.​


About the Author
An internationally renowned author, Ellen Notbohm’s work has informed, inspired, and delighted millions in more than twenty languages. Writing from her experiences raising children with autism and ADHD, her perennially popular Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew has been an autism bestseller since 2005. In addition to her four award-winning books on autism, Ellen’s articles, columns and posts on such diverse subjects as history, genealogy, baseball, writing, and community affairs have appeared in major publications and captured audiences on every continent. Her article collection for Ancestry magazine (2005 – 2010) related stories both poignant and uplifting gathered during extensive research for The River by Starlight. She lives in Oregon and is online at http://www.ellennotbohm.com/.

About the Book
The novel is based on a true story and is about Annie Rushton, a woman who flees Iowa in disgrace after her post-partum black moods and violence shatter her family. Annie never wants to marry again, but when she meets Adam Fielding while homesteading in Montana, the electricity between them—and his pragmatism, smarts, and spirit—persuade her to try again. But Annie’s recurring and frightening complications after miscarriage and childbirth continue. In the face of social injustice, ignorance, and their own grief, they are forced to accept a heartbreaking turn of events.

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