Kate M. Colby is the author of "The Desertera series.": A steampunk dystopian novels with themes of socio-economic disparity, self-empowerment, romance, and revenge. She has plans for several other novels: ranging from a classic road trip through apocalyptic America to an occult dark fantasy set in present-day Salem.
I met her at Instagram to personally thank her for writing a very awesome collection of creative writing prompts.
I then found the courage to ask her for a blog interview which she agreed instantly.
How do you start working on your novel?
Kate: When I have the first spark of a story idea, I write it down in my journal, as I’m always afraid I’ll forget it. Then, when I’m ready to pursue the story, I’ll dive deep into research mode. This could be anything from Googling a key location or plot devices, gathering mood inspiration on Pinterest, or reading books in a similar genre.
Once I feel like I have a strong sense of the tone, themes, and characters, I write a rough outline of the entire book. This is really a glorified bulleted list of plot points, and it will inevitably change throughout the novel. While I try to stick to the structure of the outline, I always allow my characters to alter scenes or follow curiosities that arise within the story.
As for the actual writing, I like to break it down by the numbers. For example, if my goal is to write a full-length first draft (roughly 90,000 words for my existing books) in 90 days, then I need to write 1,000 words per day. Making the goal clear and breaking it down into smaller pieces helps it feel more manageable. The rest is simply sitting down at my computer and getting the words on the screen – which, as I’m sure you know, is sometimes easier said than done!
You have written a series of creative writing prompts. Where and how did you get so much ideas?
Kate: Inspiration comes to me in the most random and unexpected ways. I’ve had exciting story ideas at both special moments (like standing on a hilltop overlooking Florence, Italy) and in the most mundane tasks daily life (like cleaning my cat’s litter box). Though, most of my ideas seem to come while I’m absorbing other forms of art (be they TV, books, or paintings) or observing other people. I wrote most of the creative writing prompts booklets on a commuter train, so many of those were inspired by imagining the lives of my fellow commuters.
How do you improve the dialogues and plot pacing in your stories?
Kate: Stiff or unrealistic dialogue can ruin a story faster than almost anything. Most of the time, the problem is either that the dialogue doesn’t reflect how real people speak or that you haven’t figured out your character’s voice. To help with the former, try reading the dialogue out loud (or acting it out with a friend) and paying close attention to dialogue in movies, books, and real life. For the latter, try writing an “interview” between yourself and your character. It will help you assess their perspective and voice.
Plot pacing often proves tricky for beginning writers (and I’ve had plenty of problems with it myself). My best advice is to make sure every scene advances your overarching plot and contains a moment of tension – whether that’s a swordfight, a heated conversation, a self-revelation, etc. You can also use proven plot structure templates, such as Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, to help you outline and pace your story.
The Desertera Series are available on Amazon
Do you suffer from writer's block? If yes, then how do you handle it?
Kate: While I’m not a fan of the concept of writer’s block (which is another story), I do have times when I feel uncreative, unmotivated, etc. If I come to a “block” during the physical act of writing, I repeat in my head “The first draft is allowed to be terrible!” and push through until I meet my word count goal … even if I know I’ll have to rewrite it all tomorrow. Then, I reward myself with a nature walk, new library book, or anything that’s away from my computer screen. When I’m feeling intimidated or unmotivated about starting a project, I meditate on the reasons why writing matters to me and set easy milestones (like writing 10 words today) to help myself get started.
Is it advisable for aspiring writers to study creative writing? Will it make them a better writer?
Kate: I have a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing (plus Literature and Sociology), and I have considered pursuing a master’s degree in the same field. Studying creative writing in university improved my writing skills, as well as improved my discipline and ability to handle critique. That being said, creative writing programs can also be discouraging and unhelpful with the wrong professor or competitive classmates. While studying creative writing will most likely make you a better writer, it is 100% unnecessary to be successful, and you can teach yourself many of the same skills by practicing, reading craft books, taking free library workshops, etc.
What do you feel is the most exciting part being an indie writer?
Kate: The possibilities. As an independent author, I can create, write, and publish anything I want. I have full control over the creative process, and I can transform my business however necessary as I grow. I’m fully responsible for my own successes and failures (which does scare me a little), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Name the book you wish you had written. Why?
Kate: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. When you look past the subject matter (it’s about a grown man who falls in love with and abducts a child), the writing itself is stunning. The juxtaposition between the disturbing plot and the gorgeous language adds a whole new dimension to the story. It’s the novel that made me want to be a better writer, because I wanted to give that gift of language to future readers in my own way.
How do you manage your life as a copywriter and a fiction writer?
Kate: As most authors will tell you, balancing your full-time job with writing is all about scheduling and sheer will. I have a block of time between the end of my work day and dinner, and I know I must write fiction then or it won’t get done. Copywriting does present a unique challenge, as it can leave me feeling creatively drained and achy after sitting at a desk for so long. When that happens, I like to exercise or do chores around the house to rest my mind and help reenergise my body.
If your book series, "Desertera" was adapted into a movie, who do you think should be acting?
Kate: This is such a tough question! I’m always hesitant to “cast” my novels, partly because I don’t want to ruin my readers’ vision of the characters and partly because I can never think of the perfect actors. But I’ll give it a try …
My protagonist, Aya Cogsmith, would have to be a young woman with a balance of innocence and fire, perhaps Victoria Justice (of Nickelodeon fame) or Karla Souza (How to Get Away with Murder). Her best friend, Dellwyn Rutt, should be witty and confident, like Amber Riley (Mercedes from Glee). I think Aaron Taylor Johnson (Marvel’s new Quicksilver) has the range and looks to play Willem, the love interest. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan on The Walking Dead) and Aiden Gillen (Petyr Baelish from Game of Thrones) would be great for ruthless, seductive King Archon and cunning Lord Varick, respectively.
Your best writing advice to writers out there in the making?
Kate: You know those authors who are magical “overnight successes?” Most of them worked their butts off for years in complete obscurity before their big breaks. Work hard, work smart, and you can get there too. Whether you have a dozen unfinished drafts saved on your hard drive, a messy first manuscript, or a book that’s selling poorly, keep learning and improving. With dedication, skill, and yes, a little luck, you’ll reach your goals.
Writing Prompts by Kate M. Colby are available on Amazon