MF 374 : Writing series: Sheila Young ("MAC" book series)
Updated: Jun 16
Today, Sheila Young joins me to talk about her debut novel, "MAC," and her process of letting the story tell itself. More at www.bemovingforward.com.
One of the most memorable parts of our conversation is what happened before I hit record. We connected on Zoom and while we could see one another, the audio wasn't working. While pantomime and note cards may have sufficed for the video, it would have made the audio podcast a bit hard to follow. Fortunately, we had IT support. One of Sheila's tech savvy daughters was on hand to troubleshoot and determined it was a connection issue. We quickly switched to Skype and thankfully, you can hear Sheila's interesting journey as a writer. This is a great reminder that no one works in a bubble and the support of one's family and loved ones can be an important ingredient for any author starting out.
Sheila is based in Southern Ontario, Canada, in a town called Dundas, just west of Toronto. She is also a wife, a mom with three kids in university, and the owner of a large dog. Sheila's journey as an author started during the early days of the pandemic. As she puts it, she needed something to do to "get myself out of my head" and decided it was time to write a book. Prior to this, Sheila wrote articles for local newspapers. She also wrote pieces to entertain her friends. Throughout, she knew she had a book in her, just waiting for the right time and place for her to write it.
A little escape from the heaviness of the world
Sheila's book, Mac, is an action-adventure novel, which readers have described as a mix of “The A-Team,“ “James Bond,“ and “Charlie's Angels.“ Mac is the lead protagonist, a strong female leader of a group of vigilantes who break the rules in service of a greater good. While writing Mac provided a much-needed escape, Sheila also incorporated timely issues, including bigotry and racism.
Letting the characters tell the story
As Sheila shares in our conversation, writing the first draft came quickly. Interestingly, the story wasn't mapped out by Sheila but rather by her characters. Sheila started writing Mac, knowing that she wanted a strong female character with great leadership characteristics. As such, she let her characters lead the story rather than plan it out beforehand. Sheila explains that dialogue is one of her core writing strengths and through this she could allow them to tell her the story. Writers who write this way are often referred to as "pansters," letting the story flow organically without relying on a heavy planning or outlining process.
A comedic, chaotic process
Naturally, I was curious as to what Sheila's writing process looked like. What was her environment and moreover, how did she find the time to write with such a busy life? Sheila's writer’s desk is the dining room table, which is anything but removed from her busy family. Many of us think of writing a book as a separate, in-bubble process. We often picture people locking themselves away in hotel rooms or in far off cabins; hunched over keyboards, pecking away at pages and pages of manuscript while losing track of the hours. For Sheila, writing Mac was a constant stream of interruption and negotiating hours, if not minutes to write. Towards the end, Sheila's writing took on a sci-fi aspect, stretching space and time, as the last 1000 words, and a promised hour to write them, ended up taking four. All in all, Sheila invested seven months to complete her first draft, including three months of writing plus four of juggling life's many interruptions.
Sheila's biggest challenge
For many writers, "blocks" are internal whether caused by self-doubt, burn out, or fatigue. For Sheila, her blocks were external. Writing amidst the chaotic times of the past year and a half was the challenge. January 6th, 2021 was what caused Sheila to stop writing, just as she was mid-way through her first draft. Sheila shares that was caught in the middle: current events were pulling her away from writing while writing had provided a great escape and coping mechanism. To sort though these conflicting feelings, Sheila would take breaks, then return to her writing. Much like managing a busy home life, staying abreast of real world events and escaping from them required a constant balancing act. Sheila is also candid about how difficult this was. There were times when she could pick up right from where she left off and others when it was hard to re-engage.
The first draft is done, now the real work begins!
Sheila's story illustrates an important point. Writing a first draft is a giant step forward. It's also a great accomplishment. However, it's not the end but rather the beginning of the work a writer has to invest to get to the finish line. I asked Sheila how and why she decided to go the self-publish route. She explains that she got sage advice from two sisters, one who is the CEO of a public library system in Canada and the other, a voracious reader. Both agreed that Sheila's book had to get out there and that there would be a reader market for it. This also influenced her decision to self-publish. Sheila reminds us "you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow." Thus, her goal was to get it out as quickly as possible. As she did her research, Sheila was surprised to learn just how difficult it is to get a literary agent much less get your book traditionally published. Thus, she opted for the route that would get her book out the fastest and with the least red tape. However, this didn't mean it was easy. Going the self-publish route meant investing the time and energy into understanding and learning how to do it properly. Sheila spent hours researching the self-publish route, connecting with people on Twitter to learn the ins and outs of the process.
Sheila also shares that self-publishing is a constant learning process. As she is currently writing the second book in the "MAC" series, she explains that marketing is an ongoing commitment, long after you hit publish. This also requires an investment of time, energy, plus a mindset that many of us aren’t comfortable with. To effectively market a book, authors have to market themselves and that simply doesn't come naturally for most of us.
You have to start writing. "Once you start going, it develops, it happens." Sheila also warns new writers to be wary of perfectionism or "imposter syndrome." Too often, writers are so afraid to finish and put their book out there, especially when going the self-publish route, that they end up spending years polishing that first draft only to never see it hit the virtual or physical shelves. To this, Sheila reminds us that there are different levels, different reader tastes and that some people will not like your book no matter what you do. Despite that, get your book out there because there are many people who will want to read it and will love what you share.
With respect to self-publishing, the #writingcommunity on Twitter is great for support and information on the technical aspects. Sheila says that "it's not difficult but it is work." Finally, she advises that the more you write, the easier it will get. As mentioned, Sheila is currently working on the second book in the Mac series, due out later this year.
Connect with Sheila:
Check out the Moving Forward mini-series collection
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