10th Anniversary Feature: Ellen Booraem

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of, I asked some
first-time authors the following question:

As a debut author, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from author Ellen Booraem:

My time as a published debut author has just started as I write this. But I set out on this road five years ago, and the experience has been rife with revelations.

Being a member of the Class of 2k8 has been a crash course in publishing.

As readers of Cynsations no doubt recall, this is an on-line marketing collaborative for debut authors of middle grade and young adult novels published in 2008. There are 27 of us, with diverse backgrounds and experiences that we share daily on a Yahoo email loop and a blog.

My savvier 2k8 classmates have opened my eyes to the variety, richness, and power of the Internet. I never thought I’d have a blog or a Web site, or would be so enthusiastic about both. I had no idea that resources like Cynsations even existed!

Overall, though, the most far-reaching lesson came early, years before the Class of 2k8 was a glimmer in cyberspace.

Although I’ve written for a living for thirty years—mostly as a reporter and editor for rural weeklies–I got serious about novel-writing fairly late in my career.

I’d tried twice before to quit my job and write fiction, thinking I could freelance to pay the bills. Each time I got scared or bored or both, and allowed the freelancing to take over.

This third time, starting in November 2003, I was determined that I would keep my butt on that chair until I wrote a decent novel. About a month in, though, the inevitable morning came when I sat down, looked at the screen, and went blank. The panic rose like flood waters.

Uh-oh, I thought. Here we go.

This time, though, I pushed down the panic, opened a new document, and just started typing whatever came out of my brain about my main character, regardless of whether it made sense. A half-hour later, I was back at work on the manuscript, head clear and jitters banished.

Later, I modified the technique by writing “journals” in the voices of various characters–very illuminating for the story, and a healthy break from the daily slog.

I’ve written another novel, which I’m now revising for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and I’m still managing to trick my brain into working.

For years as a reporter, I warned sources to expect a phone call with last-minute questions when I was writing whatever story involved them.

“My brain engages only when my fingers start typing,” I’d tell them.

This turns out to be just as true for fiction-writing–if I get the fingers moving on a keyboard, even if they’re typing gibberish, eventually the brain sputters and coughs, smoke puffs out of the stack, and I start to chug along, the little novelist that could.