4 Alberta authors share tips for starting your 1st book

The days are getting longer and the season of fresh starts is looming. For many, that’s a time to tackle those New Year’s resolutions that fell by the wayside once the thrill of a new challenge faded.

The days are getting longer and the season of fresh starts is looming. For many, that’s a time to tackle those New Year’s resolutions that fell by the wayside once the thrill of a new challenge faded.

For those resolved to start writing their first book, there’s still one nagging question  where to start? Writing is no easy task but luckily, we’ve compiled a list of tried-and-true tips from some of Alberta’s outstanding authors on how to get started on your first book.

Will Ferguson's latest novel, 419, won the 2012 Giller Prize. (Amazon)

Will Ferguson 

My advice may sound a tad esoteric, but here goes: For 2014, ignore the novel in your mind's eye. It's easy to fall in love with the ‘platonic ideal,’ the novel you imagine you are going to write. It's always so much better than what you actually do write, except for one important detail — it doesn't exist. The only writing of value is the writing that you lay down on the page, with all its flaws, all its shortcomings. So stop daydreaming about the "perfect novel" you imagine you will write and focus instead on the keyboard, or pad and pen, in front of you.

Theanna Bischoff's second novel, Swallow, is the story of one woman's struggle to to make sense of her sister's suicide. (Amazon)

Theanna Bischoff

When writing your first book, don't underestimate yourself. Publishing a book was on my proverbial bucket list since elementary school. But I always assumed I'd publish later in life, once I'd established myself in a career, had a few kids, etc. In my early 20s, I wrote for fun and took classes at the U of C but was also caught up in applying to graduate school in psychology. A writing professor urged me to finish the novel I was playing around with in her class and to submit it to a local publishing house (NeWest in Edmonton). Just knowing she thought I had the potential to publish gave me the extra push to take my novel more seriously and send it in. I was totally shocked when Cleavage was accepted. So, my advice would be to take your own writing seriously, to finish what you start, and to send it out into the world. You never know where it will go.

Walls: Travels Along the Barricades won the 2013 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. (Goose Lane Editions)

Marcello Di Cintio 


I think a first-time writer needs to keep his or her mind on the prize, and the prize is absolutely not publication. Too many beginning writers expend their energy on the business side of things — on publishers, agents and markets — instead of focusing on writing well. This is the most important thing. Lavish your attention on your craft. Learn to write taut sentences. Develop characters and scenes and narratives. As you write your first book, live in the world that you create on the page and disregard the world of book contracts and sales. There will be time for all of that nonsense in the future. For now, just write well.

Georgia Graham
Where Wild Horses Run

Georgia Graham's 2011 children's book, Where Wild Horses Run, was shortlisted for the 2013 Alberta Literary Award. (Amazon)

I get an awful lot of emails from authors who have just completed writing their first picture book and they think the next step is to find an illustrator (like me) to do the artwork (a picture book takes me 1,000 hours to illustrate) and they figure they'll find a publisher some where in the process. This is a recipe for disaster. When I was fresh out of art college, 32 years ago, I was approached by many authors to illustrate their manuscripts. Some of the authors were novice and some were established. I spent hundreds, maybe thousands of hours doing sample illustrations on the authors request. Not once did any of these author/ illustrator collaborations result in the publication of a book.

The way the publishing business works is that if a publisher accepts a manuscript for publication, it should be all by itself without illustrations. Then the publisher would select an illustrator. In fact, if illustrations are with the manuscript, they are certain not to to accept the manuscript for publication because it's too far along for them to guide it.