The wonderful thing about the writing community is that there are so many people to look to for inspiration. I mean, you’ve read my writing. I’m in constant need of inspiration, and do you know the kind of writer who inspires me the most? Self-starters, people with a wide-range of talents, people with true vision. People like Maxine Sylvester!
Maxine started her writing career with her self-published, wildly sucessful work, Ronaldo: The Reindeer Flying Academy. She didn’t just write her book, she didn’t just publish and market it herself, she even freaking illustrated it herself! Since that first work, Maxine has added two more books to her Ronaldo series- Ronaldo: Rudi’s Birthday Extravaganza, and Ronaldo: The Phantom Carrot Snatcher. She’s also taken time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for all us aspiring writers.
Maxine is a wonderful writer with so much knowledge to share. I hope you enjoy her insights as much as I did!
Interested in connecting with Maxine find her here:
Email: [email protected]
How many hours a day do you devote to writing?
Sylvester: About 7/8 hours a day. Sometimes I am filled with inspiration, so I will keep going. Other day’s when things are not going my way; I will leave it and go back to it the following day. By then a few more ideas will have popped into my head.
What time of day do you usually write?
Sylvester: It depends on what else I’m doing. The great thing about writing/illustrating is it’s flexible. This morning I went to the cinema, then on to do some Christmas shopping. I came home at 5pm and then started to write. Other times, I work all day and do nothing in the evening.
Do you write out full biographies of your characters?
Sylvester: No. I find when I’m writing that things just play out. I’m working on my fourth Ronaldo adventure so the characters are pretty well developed. I know how they will react. I suppose it’s just a gut feeling rather than a plan.
If you could travel back in time, to the beginning of your career, what’s the one tip you’d give yourself?
Sylvester: I made a lot of mistakes before publishing my first book, but I learnt heaps. I wouldn’t want to change that as I think it’s important to learn from mistakes.
I tend to be self-critical and learnt how to overcome it by using an affirmation (courtesy of a Louise Hay book). My affirmation is, “I do the best I can, and that is all I can ask of myself.” It really helps, so I would definitely pass that on to my younger self.
What genre of fiction do you enjoy?
Sylvester: Anything from Lee Childs to J.K Rowling; Michael Bond and David Walliams to Jeffery Archer. I loved the Harry Potter books. I use to feel like I was picking up an old friend. I remember crying when I read The Deathly Hallows. I love any fiction that makes me feel something, whether it’s intrigue, laughter or even sadness.
Do you think that creative writers need to pursue a formal education, or can you learn the craft on your own?
Sylvester: I used a professional editor on all three of my books. My strengths are illustration and imagination. I have great stories in my head but I’m not a fool, I know I need someone with a formal education to help me bring my books to a professional level. A good editor is worth their weight in carrots! Good editors also have their finger on the pulse of the publishing world. They know what publishers are looking for and their grievances etc.
Why do you write?
Sylvester: I love it! It’s just me and my imagination and the possibilities are endless. And it’s double the fun being an illustrator as I get to bring my own stories to life. I can see the characters in my head when I’m writing. If I’ve been writing for a month or so, I’m always itching to get my pencils out. I find it rewarding. Sometimes when I flick through my books, I can’t believe what I have achieved. There was so much work that went into each book … and a lot of heart.
What kind of research do you do when writing a book or story?
Sylvester: I originally checked out a few details about reindeer. There is a wolf in the second book, The Phantom Carrot Snatcher, so I researched wolves, the different species, what they ate, etc. For the third book Rudi’s Birthday Extravaganza, I asked a group of people about bullying. One woman has a son that was bullied, another is a pre-school teacher. I received a lot of information, but the one thing they all said, was to tell someone. Don’t keep it to yourself. So I mentioned that in the book. I hope it helps.
Who are some of your favorite writers, and how did they influence your work?
Sylvester: Oooh! Where to start? My first reading books were Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, and Paddington by Michael Bond. As I grew up I read anything by Enid Blyton, The Famous Five, and Secret Seven books. I also loved The Railway Children by E. Nesbitt.
I read self-help books sometimes and have learnt a lot from Louise Hay and Dr. Wayne Dyer. If ever I feel anxious or wracked with self-doubt, I read Dr. Wayne Dyer. His gentle words always encourage me. I think he’s a must for anyone in this industry!
I also love autobiographies about people I admire. I am a total Disney geek and have just finished a book on Walt Disney. What a visionary! Walt Disney has always been my biggest inspiration. I think my stories come from a lifetime of watching Disney movies and my illustrations are inspired by animation.
When you sit down to edit a manuscript what do you look for? What’s the first thing you cut?
Sylvester: The first thing I cut is the word that and other unnecessary words like very. When I am editing, I try to look at every sentence and see if I can make it better, more interesting. A few years ago my editor recommended I read a Show Don’t Tell book. It really helped. You start thinking, am I showing or telling? At the end of each book, I read Show Don’t Tell, before doing the final edit.
On average, how long does it take you to finish a book or story?
Sylvester: Each book has taken approximately a month to write, and needed three edits with a professional editor afterward. The books went back and forth for a few months and in the meantime, I started on the illustrations from chapters that I knew wouldn’t be changed.
Writer’s block- How do you deal with it, or do you even believe in it?
Sylvester: I think people get writer’s block when their body isn’t functioning one hundred percent, maybe through stress or anxiety? I have acupuncture whenever I’m not feeling my best, it releases any blocks so the body can heal naturally. I also find a few days’ away works, to swim and relax. I find I am so much more focused and invigorated when I come back and ready to write
What do you think holds most writers back?
Sylvester: Fear of failure and a lack of self-belief. There’s a lot of scaremongering on the internet: ‘you’ll never get published’ or ‘you haven’t a hope in hell’ etc. People are frightened off before they even start! This is where Dr. Wayne Dyer comes in for me. He fills me with optimism and encouragement.
Remember, Andy Weir was a self-published author whose book was made into a Hollywood blockbuster, The Martian. Anything is possible, but you need to put yourself out there!
How do ideas come to you? Through research, or do they just pop into your head?
Sylvester: They pop into my head. I also think of funny incidents that have happened to me or my friends over the years and weave them into the story. There’s a hilarious scene with a needle in Rudi’s Birthday Extravaganza. It’s a true story!
Do you believe in inspiration?
Sylvester: Absolutely! We all need a few kind words or a pick-me-up every now and again. It gives us a lift! Walt Disney and Richard Branson never went to University and looked what they achieved. Chef Jamie Oliver is dyslexic and one of the top-selling authors in the world. Dolly Parton grew up very poor but believed in herself and in God. I find their stories so inspiring. We are all geniuses, and it’s up to us to realise our true potential.
What’s the hardest part of the job?
Sylvester: Sitting on my backside for hours on end! Pilates has been a lifesaver as it strengthens the muscles that support the spine. Every writer should try it.