[BOOKTOUR] Alyssa Sheinmel on writing

I’m so excited to host this guest blog from author Alyssa Sheinmel! After you’ve read her advice on writing, make sure you check out her new novel, FACELESS, and my review!


Writers are often asked what writing advice they would give to aspiring authors, to younger versions of themselves, or to just about anyone who has a story to tell. 

I always give the same answer, and I have to admit, it’s pretty simple. (Plus, it’s something most people who write love to do anyway.) It’s just one word and only a single syllable. It’s also one of my favorite words in the whole world.

Read.

Okay, I know that’s not the most insightful suggestion. It’s not particularly original.   I mean, you’ve probably heard that piece of advice a dozen times before, right?

I could at least be more specific. Like by suggesting a particular author or genre or style or author. Here goes – not just one but three more specific reading suggestions:

1. When I was in college, one of my favorite teachers told me to read writers who wrote the type of writing that I hoped to do myself someday. And I learned a lot from that type of reading, and continue to do it every chance I get.

2. Or, when I’m feeling a bit blocked, there are a few authors whose writing never fails to inspire me – writers whose work I look up to, whose stories are usually very different from the stories I’m trying to tell, but who tell the stories so well that just reading them feels like a lesson. (Just a small sample of these writers: Joan Didion, Mary Gordon, Alice Hoffman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway.)

3. I also get very motivated to write by researching the project I’m working on. In the case of Faceless, that meant reading a lot of articles about face transplants and immunosuppressive drug regimens. I’m a research-happy writer, and reading information about the story I’m telling always gets me that much more excited to tell it.

But … at the end of the day, I keep coming back to that one syllable. Read. Because I really do believe that every single thing I’ve ever read has taught me something about how to tell a story – books that I’ve loved and books that weren’t necessarily my cup of tea. Novels and non-fiction. Essays and articles. Even – and I really mean this – textbooks. (There’s one psychology textbook I read over a decade ago that I still think about all the time.) Everything has something to teach you – or at least, I feel like it has something to teach me. Ideas can come from the most unexpected of places. A textbook taught me to insert humour into a dry topic. Magazine articles have prompted (sometimes completely unrelated) story ideas. Novel after novel has shown me beautiful and unexpected sentences. Essays have improved my vocabulary. For me, the essential thing isn’t always what I’m reading; sometimes it’s just enough that I’m reading. It’s still (and I suspect always will be) the piece of advice I most often give to myself about writing: just sit down and pick up a book.

-Alyssa Sheinmel

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[UCLPUB2015] Week 2

UCLPUB2015 AUTUMN

Welcome to my new blog series – UCLPUB2015! Every Sunday I’ll be posting a roundup of my week as a student on the UCL MA Publishing course, talking about my experiences and passing along any handy tips I pick up along the way. I’m so excited to share my journey with you and hope that maybe these posts will help other aspiring publishers too!

Week 2: 12th Oct – 16th Oct

This week brought our first taste of the regular 2-day timetable. While we were in uni for less time, the workload has still been pretty intense. It’s taken some adjustment to keep on top of the reading and the random assignments to stalk people in Waterstones (apologies if you felt personally victimised by UCLPub whilst book shopping this week!), but I think I’m just about getting there.

On Tuesday morning we were given a crash course in using Nielsen BookScan to search for total volume and value sales of a particular book, as well as track trends and compare results across tonnes of variables. I really enjoyed getting to grips with some practical publishing skills and I love a good database to have a nosy about in. After mastering the basics we were set a few tasks in class (I admit I fell apart a bit here) but I can access my account at home to practice.

In the afternoon we had another session with the brilliantly enthusiastic Anna Faherty. She taught us how to break down the creative process and inspired us to push past our ‘grounded’ thought patterns to come up with the truly unique ideas that solve problems. I had an absolute blast in this class and definitely think that I underestimated my own creativity in the past!

Our Publishing Project class will eventually be a timetabled space for us to get together and manage the entire publication process from commissioning a book to printing and distributing it. I am SO excited to get going and can’t believe how well our group fits together already. We took a heap of personality tests in Induction Week and our tutors have carefully curated our teams based on the complimentary working styles we naturally bring to the table. Apparently I’m a combination of the Innovator, Team Player and Completer – if you’re a sucker for a personality test too then check it out!

Unfortunately on Thursday one of our lecturers was out of action with the flu, so we only had class in the morning. The Author Management session was run by Mal Peachey and Rachel Calder, covering a host of topics from the first copyright laws, to what authors want from their publishers (and what they hate about us too). It’s really interesting to hear the author’s view of the publishing process and even more interesting to see what they would pay extra for if self-publishing. Even though I’m leaning more towards marketing and publicity at the moment, it’s so important to get a diverse view of the industry to aid communication.

Next week I’ll be starting my internship with HarperCollins, helping the Rights division deal with the aftermath of Frankfurt Book Fair. It’s going to be absolutely crazy but I can’t wait to dive right in!

Charlotte x