Busy Women on Writing Books
This is the 17th instalment in a new interview series on writing, profiling women writers who’ve written and published books while also working, parenting, volunteering, caring for family, attending school, and ALL OF THE THINGS.
This week, I'm pleased to introduce you to my friend, Scottish Indie author Emma Dhesi.
Emma is a book coach and the author of The Day She Came Home, a contemporary women's novel, as well as the novels Belonging and More Than Enough — all of which are available on Kindle. Now an accomplished Indie author, Emma knew she wanted to be a writer when she was just 8 years old. Emma lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her family and is the host of the podcast Turning Readers Into Writers.
I know how amazing you are, but please let everyone else know a bit about yourself and the books you’ve written thus far. Own it and brag a bit for us!
I’ve now written six manuscripts and published three – which amazes me because I didn’t think I’d ever write one.
Writing my first novel changed my life and is the principal driver of my business. I work one-on-one with people trying to write their first novel. I want aspiring novelists to feel the sense of achievement I did all those years ago.
I’m also super proud of the travelling I’ve done over the years. My husband and I took a year-long trip visiting most of SouthEast Asia and much of South and Central America. We have visited amazing places and seen amazing wildlife – gibbons, orangutangs and proboscis monkeys being particular highlights!
That said, there’s still so much to see and I can’t wait for the world to open up again.
What’s your current writing routine? Has it always been like this? What about it might be different for you now than in the past?
As the seasons of life change, so does my writing routine. My 3 kids were all pre-schoolers when I wrote my first novel and so I had to grab time as and when I could.
Later, when they went to school, I would drop them off before heading to a local cafe where I’d sit and write for a couple of hours. It’s where I still do my first drafting.
As we know, writing can be very solitary and the cafe atmosphere counters that. I’m kept company by the other diners, but because I don’t know them, they don’t disturb me.
Recently I’ve joined a writing sprint group, and that has shown me I can write outside my ‘creative’ time – which I love!
Tell us the story of when you first got published. What was special about that experience for you?
When I first started querying my novel, I had some really interesting conversations with agents and publishers. I quickly realized that the chances of my book being picked up were very slim.
To get pulled out of the slush pile was a matter of the agent’s taste, what is in the publishing zeitgeist, who else they have on their books and a large dose of luck!
In another life, I was an actor, and traditional publishing reminded me too much of the casting process. That’s when I decided I would go indie and control my own destiny.
It’s been a steep learning curve and has fed into the coaching work I do. It’s given me a good understanding of the publishing world more broadly than just the genre I write in.
But I’ll never forget the nerves I felt when I hit ‘publish’ on the Amazon dashboard. My hands were shaking, and I was perspiring – heavily! I’m three books in and the buzz is still there.
When did you start “getting serious” about writing and what did that look like for you?
I started getting serious about my writing around the age of forty. Until that point, I hadn't ever finished a first draft. I had lots of half finished manuscripts sitting on diskettes (remember those?!).
Every so often I was hit with the writing itch and I’d sit down to write a new story. By the time I got to forty and the itch came around again, I told myself this is ridiculous! Either I sit down and write my novel, or walk away and move on to something else.
That way I’d discover if I loved the process and it was everything I hoped it would be, or it would be awful, painful and I’d never do it again. At least I’d know.
After many years, I reached the end of that first draft and I cannot tell you how amazing it felt to know I’d achieved something I thought impossible. I proved to myself that I am a ‘finisher’. That feeling stays with me each time I finish a new book.
What have you had going on in your life over the years that wasn’t writing and may have made finding time to write challenging? What strategies did you use to overcome those obstacles and get the writing done?
Having three young children was definitely a challenge. Two of my children were particularly difficult toddlers and preschoolers, which added to the fatigue and frustration.
Added to that, I went through a severe bout of postnatal depression, so finding time amongst all the tears and snot was an achievement in itself! I can chuckle to myself about it now, but at the time it was incredibly painful.
Writing and journaling were my outlets and gave me something other than the children to focus on.
My strategy was to write what I could when I could. Time was limited, so if I had 10 minutes to write, I would write for 10 minutes. If I had 40 minutes, I would write for 40 minutes. And of course there were days when I wrote nothing at all.
I knew that if I kept plodding away at it, the book would get finished. I just needed to write regularly, so I didn’t forget the story and feel like I was starting again. It paid off.
Did you ever think about giving up on writing? Why didn’t you? How did you move past that point and recommit?
Many times! There’s no doubt about it. Writing a novel is a difficult, intellectual endeavour. I’ve often questioned why I put myself through this. It’s because I love it. My brain needs it. Writing gives me energy.
The work I do helps me ‘stay close to the fire’. When I’m giving a student a pep-talk, I’m also giving myself a pep-talk and that keeps me on the straight and narrow.
So does having a supportive writing community. I have good friends who are writers and we regularly meet up and chat through the very real challenges of being an ‘authorpreneur’. I also have a coach who guides me and keeps me accountable, so I get better with every manuscript.
How are you feeling about your writing practice right now?
I’ve actually just come out of a slump! I’m writing in a new genre and have had a lot to learn. But I know from experience that I can do this. I just have to take it, as Anne Lamott says, one bird at a time. If I do that, I’ll get to The End.
What’s been your favourite part of finishing and publishing your books?
There's nothing quite like getting a good review. They really help me feel that the hard work is worth it!
I write dark stories that aren’t for everyone, but when a reader connects with my protagonist, they see themselves reflected in my stories and can take strength from them.
Of course, I've had bad reviews (which make me feel like a legit author!), but the emails I get from readers commending my writing and the story’s authenticity, boost my commitment to keep going.
Do you ever get “stuck” or find yourself avoiding writing? If/when that happens, how do you get yourself unstuck?
I write a quick first draft and love the flow that comes when I hit a groove. But revision can be a lot more painful! When that happens, I tell myself all I have to do is work on 50 words. If I do that I feel assured I’ve made progress.
It’s a nice way of tricking my brain because who can stop after only 50 words? Before I know it, I’ve worked on a whole chapter and broken the dam!
What’s your favourite book about writing or writing craft?
My two favourite writing books are Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Anne offers a wonderfully frank perspective on the emotional side of being a writer and does it with great humour, which I appreciate. She doesn’t take herself too seriously.
Elizabeth Gilbert offers a very pragmatic approach to being a working writer who is in it for the long haul. She emphasises that there is no fast lane to being a good writer. It takes time and persistence.
My biggest takeaway from her book, however, was the reminder to enjoy writing. As new writers, we get too hung up on writing the perfect novel that we forget to enjoy the ride. Elizabeth reminded me to have fun!
Who do you consider your mentor(s)?
My two mentors are J. Thorn, for his pragmatic approach to being a career author, and my editor/coach who gives me fantastic craft/story advice and keeps me going when I want to give up!
What are you working on now? How are you feeling about it right at this moment?
I am currently working on my first suspense novel and the change of genre is both exciting and frustrating.
I've also started thinking about my next women's fiction story, which is familiar and comforting.
What advice would you have for writers who do really want to finish a book but just haven’t been able to get there yet?
Work one to one with somebody. If you know you want, more than anything, to write a novel but are struggling to either sit down and write or feel confident about your work, I one hundred percent recommend investing in a book coach.
If you’ve worked with a coach in any other area of your life, you know how beneficial they are. If you’ve not worked with one before, I guarantee you will see an enormous shift in your productivity and confidence and, most important of all, you’ll enjoy writing again!
Imagine having someone by your side throughout the entire process who keeps you on track, talks through any issues you're having and gives you suggestions on how to improve. Each month, you have your own personal tutorial with an expert. I work with coaches in many areas of my life and wouldn't have it any other way.
If you've been thinking of writing a book, Emma hosts a podcast called Turning Readers Into Writers that is a must listen!