Melissa Jagears is a stay-at-home mother on a tiny Kansas farm with a fixer-upper house. Her passion is to help Christian believers mature in their faith and judge rightly. Learn more at www.melissajagears.com.
Hello, Melissa! Welcome to Novel Rocket. Since this is your first time to visit, why don't we start by letting readers know what encouraged you to start writing?
The need to actively use my brain. Staying home with my first baby, keeping house, and reading required little intellectual exercise. I decided to write before my brain atrophied, and boy, I didn’t realize how much mental exercise I was getting myself into!
LOL! I understand. So then, what is the most difficult part of writing for you, or was when you first started on your novel journey?
The rough draft. I hate the worry that nothing I’m going to write will be worthwhile. I procrastinate so badly with this part. I have no idea why though since after I get going, I get in a really nice groove and I generally like everything I write. I think it’s plain fear. Being in the #1k1h Facebook group helps during rough draft times though, because I KNOW I can easily write over 1000 words an hour. So if I post that I’m writing and I come back with nothing because I decided to look at some stupid buzzfeed article on which celebrities looks like their dog (or something else that stupid) I look like a failure—and I hate being a failure. So do I choose to be a failure with word count or failure with a story???? Word count is easier to win at—tricking myself into productivity.
Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
My Meyers-Briggs personality is the rarest female personality, so I often find out exactly what I /think that others think “no one would do” when my critiquers flag something my characters do that they think is strange…..it’s almost always something I pulled from my own character! But yes, I do it sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident.
At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?
At first, when I was in a critique group, I took every suggestion because I realized I didn’t know enough. I know people say “you’ll lose your voice” doing that, but really, what voice did I have to lose with stinky craft skills? It’s not like a voice can truly disappear, though it’s muted in the beginning process. It’s like learning to sing. You follow the notes on the page first and learn to do that, then realize there are other directions for things such as dynamics and so you add those, then you get familiar enough with music you can sight read without the help of an instrument or a conductor. Once you have the ability to sing music as expected without much prompting and know the underlying music principles and are familiar with a range of compositions, one day you’ll realize, “I should be able to cobble something together myself that’s new and different, but skillful.” But just because you sing by rote and under instruction for years doesn’t mean your voice is like everyone else’s, and once you have down the basics of music, then you can create your own style.
My first book I abandoned halfway through the critique process because after months of critting, I learned so much I realized I needed to write it all over again with all those new skills I learned. But I also decided to abandon that genre, so I wrote another book and did better, but I still took almost every suggestion because I had a lot to learn. The third book was when I felt like I came into my own enough to start ignoring things if it didn’t fit my vision. I did go back three novels later and rewrite that second book once I figured I had the skills to save it. That’s what sold.
Tell us a little about your latest release.
Bethany House, 2014
My newest comes out in September. This whole series is about mail-order bride mishaps. Not necessarily between the hero and heroine, but there were so many “fun” problems I read about in historical accounts, I wanted to highlight how very rarely mail-order marriages worked. So this one is about a mail-order bride who comes willing, but finds that things beyond her control keep her from marrying as soon as she steps off the train….and Eliza doesn’t like being out of control!
How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?
I learn what I do and do not like! Before as a reader, I might have just thought “I didn’t like that one so much” but now I can dissect it. So if it’s really good, I dissect it for “why did that impress me so much” and once I discover why, I jot it down or if it’s something I really don’t like, I figure out why it bothered me. Then in future plotting work, I take a look at those notes and make sure I don’t do what I don’t like because it’s “easy” or if it fits the story, I work to add in those things that were impressive.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Find an honest and “harsh” critiquer who’ll follow you into publishing land who won’t let you get too big for your britches. I’ve read works by favorite authors that I wonder how they got away with stuff that wasn’t great—if favorite authors can turn out something that’s not very good, there is never a point I’ll be assured of never doing it either. I sometimes wonder if publishers allow things like that to go through because of schedule, “they’ll buy it anyway,” and not wanting to ruffle feathers. I’d rather my critique partner tell me ahead of time I’m working on a dud.
Elizabeth Ludwig is the award-winning author of the EDGE OF FREEDOM
series from Bethany House Publishers. She is an accomplished speaker
and teacher, often attending conferences and seminars where she lectures
on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and
conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband
and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn
more, visit ElizabethLudwig.com.