Meet the Creative
Aimee L. Salter writes Young Adult fiction and is represented by Brittany Howard of the Corvisiero Literary Agency. In 2010 Aimee founded Seeking the Write Life, a popular blog for writers looking for practical tips to improve their manuscripts. She’s also a contributer to YAtopia, an international group of writers and bloggers focused on fiction for teens.
What does an average day look like for you in your creative career?
My average day includes a lot of thinking about my stories and characters while I do other, mundane things. Like housework. The more technically savvy I become in my writing, the harder I find it to write when there are other people around. So while my actual writing time might be fairly short (sometimes non-existent), when I do sit down to write, I feel like I know where I’m going because generally I’ve thought about it a lot.
How did you get to where you are now in your career? What key moments, decisions or circumstances brought you here?
When I first started writing with the goal of traditional publication (2009) I was following the blog of agent Chip MacGregor. I loved Chip’s no-holds-barred approach to advice. The most key advice I got in those first few months was his insistence that a writer who wanted to be successful commercially absolutely must allow their work to be read and critiqued by objective (i.e. not friends or family who love you/could be jealous) and skilled readers (i.e. writers or experienced critiquers). That every book needs revision and rewriting. Every. Single. One.
Based on that advice, I took my heart in my hands and applied to an online semi-professional critique group. It turned out to include several published and agented authors. The group ran four “clinics” a year in which any member could submit their full manuscript and have it read by two other authors for a detailed critique.
There was an annual fee and a lot of work involved (each author had to “repay” critiques in kind), but it was an invaluable training ground. I learned how to think critically when it came to writing and story structure, and I was constantly learning through the feedback from more experienced authors.
I truly believe that without that foundation I would never have learned to write “tight,” and wouldn’t have gained a New York-based agency.
What excites you most about your work?
Those “Ah HA!” moments when a vague idea coalesces and you know you’ve got more than just an idea, you’ve got yourself a BOOK.
On a more general level, the process of discovering a story is an endless passion for me. I literally can’t get enough of my characters and nutting out how their stories will come together.
What is its greatest challenge for you?
Right now my biggest challenge is committing to a project. Because I have an agent who’s hopeful of selling my story and getting me a contract, I keep second-guessing which of my other projects might tempt a publisher to offer a multi-book contract. So I keep jumping around.
I’m hoping I’ll feel more confident to settle if/when my agent gets feedback from editors on my book. Even if they don’t want to buy it, I’ll get insight into what they’re looking for. Then I can figure out which of my other books is most likely to catch their eye.
How do you get your best ideas?
They always start with a question, and they always come when I’m not looking for them.
The book that got me an agent is about a girl with the ability to talk to her future self. It started when I was reading the www.dearteenme.com website wherein authors write letters to their teen selves.
I remember wondering what my sixteen-year-old self would think of my thirty-six-year-old self. How would she react to the different way I see life now than I did then? And how would my adult failings influence her?
Then, bang. I could see it. I started writing all in a flurry. It took eighteen months to get it to submission stage though…
What do you do when you get stuck?
I’m pretty good at self-analysis. I can usually identify why I’m stuck.
If it’s a writing problem, I’ll talk it through with my writing besties. They are two very talented writers (better than me!). They never fail to give me either new inspiration, or food for thought on changes that might help.
If it’s a “life” interruption getting in the way of my creative juices, I used to try to push on. But in recent months I’m seeing value in just taking a writing hiatus and giving my attention to the people or events that need it. Then I get those things handled with a dedicated mind (and usually more quickly because I’m not distracted), and when they’re done I can return to writing guilt-free.
How do you make sure you make time for creativity in your life?
To be honest, my personality means that I naturally err towards giving myself too much creative time, rather than taking care of other things that are also important. So I have to work for balance in the other direction.
What advice do you have for other aspiring creatives who want to follow in your footsteps?
I don’t know about following in my footsteps! But anyone who wants to share my approach will keep two things at the forefront of their mind everyday:
If you want to make a living (or even a partial living) from creative endeavors, you must recognize that you’re starting a business. That means finding the cross section between your passions and commercial viability. And it means conducting yourself as if you’re wearing a suit at all times.
The other is the original advice I took, and now expound to anyone who will listen: You absolutely must let people who have experience and don’t care about your feelings see your stuff. You must open yourself up and consider their criticism, even if you don’t act on all of it.
That means having the humility to accept that you don’t know everything, and the strength to stand your ground when it’s important.
And before you ask, in my experience the wisdom to know the difference will only come through extensive experience of receiving criticism.