“Books fill us with infinite possibilities and hope.” Julia Phillips
What’s more exciting than hearing a gifted storyteller share her the roller-coaster ride from writer to author, from idea to publication? And when she’s a young rising star making her fiction debut – someone who brings passion, focus, and determination to her craft – it’s also inspiring and energizing. That’s why there was electricity in the air when Julia Phillips, the debut author of Disappearing Earth, a best-selling novel that’s garnered glowing reviews, spoke at a recent Write Group workshop. A few highlights of the steps she took to advance steadily from unknown writer to rising star:
Creating community: Early in her career, when Julia was struggling to shape a life as a writer, she made it a “mission” to catapult herself out of isolation and create a “network of support” for herself. She joined Facebook groups, began going to readings and events, attending conferences, and applying for grants. Ultimately, she found out about and won a traveling Fulbright Fellowship and it was another writer who put her in touch with the agent who sold her story. Reaching out and connecting with fellow travelers “was huge for developing my understanding of my field,” she noted.
Persevering productively: Once she committed to the writing life, Julia pursued her goal steadily and strategically. She began working on a first novel and wrote and rewrote it over a 10-year time span. When it was rejected by 60 agents, she kept going, and resubmitted it to 40 agents, but it never gained traction. “The biggest lesson from this failed novel,” which she now calls her “test run” – “I didn’t have a firm concept in mind of what it was about. I tried to feel my way around it and write my way into it.” Stuck, she put her first novel aside and began working on another idea, which evolved into Disappearing Earth. This time around, she was far more strategic – and worked to create a sturdy conceptual framework for her novel, which grew into a “series of interconnected stories about loss.” She keep going, determined to develop a plot-driven story built around character and to give her tale propulsion and momentum.
Relishing revision: With both her “test run” novel and Disappearing Earth, Julia went through long periods of relentless revising, often re-inputting her entire manuscript and constantly trying to sharpen her story and strengthen her characters. Once Disappearing Earth was accepted by Knopf, guided by a gifted in-house editor, she went through another eleven revisions to achieve her best-selling tale. All this guided rewriting “immensely improved” the final published version.
Staying strong: One of the gifts of publication for Julia has been the chance to meet readers who’ve enjoyed her book and to continue connecting with other writers. She values all the help her own network gave her and sees enormous benefit for aspiring authors in joining together and forging communities like the Write Group.
Bravo, Julia! And now, energized and emboldened, let’s all write on!
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