Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Resources for Writers

On Publishing

Worry Stones cover web

This will not be my first book. It is my fourth. Yet it is my first novel. Attempting to find a publisher for each of my books has been emotionally fraught. The process has frequently devastated me. Each of my manuscripts received numerous rejections. But this novel received the most, for I submitted it, off and on, for some fifteen years. This novel is as much me as my skin.

I started writing this novel – it’s called Worry Stones – seventeen years ago. It was the third novel I’d attempted since I began trying to write a novel in my twenties. For decades now I have been dreaming of achieving something I believed I was not in fact capable of doing.

I’m from England where working towards a goal can be very confusing. You’re told that anything worth having needs to be worked hard for, at the same time as being put down for having ideas above your station. You’re encouraged to do well yet you’re also told not to show off. Pretentiousness is a high crime. This is why my dream was a secret. Who was I to think I could be a novelist? In Britain, the class system and centuries of great literature are stifling constraints.

Here in Canada, where I moved twelve years ago, bringing all my inhibitions and rejection letters with me, I am trying to distil what I have learnt. Here are seven understandings I have reached.

One. It was not belief in myself that kept me going or even hope. It was an inability to stop trying. The yearning never went away. I didn’t seem able to give up. Therefore, persistence and passion, however they are conjured, must be important.

Two. There are many books about how to write a novel. There are many theories about structure and plot. While these books were invaluable, they were not formulas for success. Trying in my haphazard way to apply them immobilized me. Over the years, I put the books away. I concentrated instead on how the characters created the story by being who they were.

Three. My main character, Jenny, is an introvert. A great deal goes on inside her head. In a significant portion of the story, she’s a child trying to keep her family together. Yet in many versions of the novel she was too passive. Her thoughts and her manipulations to keep her family together needed to be more evident. They needed to be transmuted into action.

Four. Scenes are crucial in a novel, of course. But adhering to the ‘show don’t tell’ rule doesn’t mean summary must be abandoned. Summary moves the story along and it’s an opportunity for poetry too. All novels must surely have a least a little poetry in them.

Five. I submitted my novel to publishers far too early. Writing several drafts is an essential part of the process, not an indication of failure. How many drafts are required is different for every writer and every manuscript. A novel is like a painting. There are technical stages to be adhered to. Start with a sketch. Paint in the broad colours before the details. Let it dry. Always, let it dry.

Six. Writing is solitary but there is a community to learn from. As I slowly came out of the closet as a writer, I went to workshops, joined writing groups, worked with mentors, noted any feedback a publisher provided in their rejection letter. Whenever I received feedback, I learnt to consider it as an indication that something wasn’t working. I used such comments as buoys on a vast sea, marking where I must pay attention.

Seven. I must finish with joy. When the weight of failure became too much, I put aside all my novel manuscripts and wrote poetry instead. It restored the airy joy of writing to me. There must always be joy. Not the joy of seeing your work published in a literary journal or making someone laugh or cry at a reading or even receiving your published book in the mail. I mean the joy of writing itself. The magic that occurs when you tap your fingers on the keyboard or move the pen along the page. The joy of being the witness and recorder of the miracle of the human mind.

Joanna Lilley photo by Michael Edwards

Joanna Lilley is from the UK and emigrated to Canada in 2006, settling in Whitehorse, Yukon, where she still looks forward to winter every year.

Her fourth book and debut novel, Worry Stones, is out with Ronsdale Press in 2018. She's also the author of the short story collection, The Birthday Books (Radiant Press), and the poetry collections, If There Were Roads (Turnstone Press), and The Fleece Era (Brick Books) which was nominated for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry.

Joanna has a MLitt (Master's) Degree in Creative Writing from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde and is the grateful recipient of four Advanced Artist Awards from the Government of the Yukon.

Resource Categories

Blogs on Craft

On the Building Blocks of Fiction

Tips on how to craft vivid scene that allows the reader to experience events right along with the characters.

On Finding Your Big Idea

Insights into the writing process and what a writer's day really looks like, as well as perspectives on research and writing from real life.

On Getting to Know Your Characters

Advice on the many ways you can make your characters come alive on the page for both you and your reader.

On Deciding on Point of View

What is the best perspective from which to tell your story? Writers discuss how they made choices on point of view and voice.

On Choosing Your Situation and Setting

Writers talk about how they use situation and setting to build story and convey emotion.

On Developing Conflict and Structure

From how to work in different genres to finding the real story, writers offer good advice on building conflict and structure.

On Revising

Tips on how to gain distance from your work and to how to re-imagine your next draft.

On Publishing

Writers offer practical advice on the business of writing and promotion, and on the importance of finding a writing community.

On Making a Living as a Writer

Writers offer words of wisdom on living on less.

On The Writer's Life

Writers talk about their life as a writer.

About Gail

Gail's novels have been national and international bestsellers and two have been short-listed for the Giller Prize, among other awards. She works with writers from around the world on her online teaching forums.