Q1: What made you decide to become a writer?
Elizabeth Tammi: One of my earliest memories is being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I remember answering, “Author.” I wish I remembered more about what led to that conviction, but I think it honestly boiled down to the fact that I’ve been infatuated with books for as long as I’ve been alive. My parents read to me a lot, and I loved books so much that it just felt natural that I’d want to write them, too.
Q2: Where and when did you get the idea to write OUTRUN THE WIND?
Elizabeth Tammi: I’ve always loved mythology. It has this amazing capacity to be both a consistent “time capsule” of older times, while also having a tremendously fluid quality that’s the perfect foundation for new possibilities and reinterpretations. After all, at the core of all mythology is contradiction.
As a teenager, reading books like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles showed me how relevant and interesting these really old stories still are to modern audiences, and how we can use our current perspectives to imagine what might have happened in the “background” of old stories.
Elizabeth at the Parthenon in Greece
The summer before I started college, I read more about the “full” story of the Greek heroine Atalanta, a name I’d only heard in passing growing up. When I learned more about her story, I was absolutely captivated…but also incredibly confused. I instantly connected with her character, but had so much frustration about how her story ended and certain decisions she made. I couldn’t stop thinking about her, and found myself imagining what else could have happened in between the lines of her story. Who else was there? How did she really think and feel and act, outside of the lens of male authors? The story snowballed slowly from that core frustration.
Q3: How did you manage to write a novel and keep up with school at the same time? I’m currently trying to do that now and it’s hard!
Elizabeth Tammi: It’s definitely challenging! But at the same time, I found that it actually helped my time management skills. It’s really bizarre that for some reason, I got a big amount of writing done while classes were in session, and way less during winter and summer breaks. I think I’ve always been better at making time to write when I have less of it, which is a weird personal quirk. Outrun the Wind was the second novel I’ve ever written, though it was the first to be published. When I was in high school, I’d written a book and queried it, but it got rejected literally everywhere I sent it (and for good reason!). That experience taught me a lot about how to approach a long-form story, and what to expect on the other side in terms of preparing it for the querying process.
Tip: Try the “Three Sentence Rule”
I was pretty ruthless when it came to drafting, and I honestly don’t know how sustainable that is for me or for other writers. But for that project specifically, and for that time in my life, it worked for me to block out about an hour or two every night to work on drafting. Obviously, that didn’t happen every single night, but I did have a bare minimum policy that I used (and still use) while drafting called the “three sentence rule”. Basically, no matter how terrible of a day I had or how busy or tired I was, I’d write at least three sentences per day. Starting is always the hardest part for me, so I often find that once I start writing I’m fine to continue. But if I am truly too busy or brain-dead, then at least I’ve moved the story forward a tiny bit and stayed in the story’s headspace and can call it a day. Drafting happened during my first semester of college, and I’d had the previous summer to plot out the book. It helped having that outline, though some writers prefer to “pants” their way through a story, which can work too! I also have zero qualms about writing just a genuinely terrible first draft. You can’t fix what isn’t there.
Having that blocked out time at the end of the day (usually pretty late at night) meant that I had a concrete deadline to finish my homework and other responsibilities, which kept me fairly disciplined academically. I promise I didn’t make myself a recluse! That’s important too. It’s obviously good to keep consistent progress on your draft, but in school (and life in general!) you shouldn’t push off socializing or new experiences for writing. The writing will always be there.
Tip: “Just finish it.”
Anyway, it’s clear that my advice is somewhat flimsy– that’s because it changes with every project, and every writer is different. I think overall it’s helped me to make an effort to write a little bit every single day while I’m in the drafting process, and to have a pretty extensive outline as well. Also, if you’re working on your first ever novel, the best thing you can do to learn is just to finish it. I had so many false starts on novels that I had to throw out because I’d get excited by a premise but fail to think it through, and then lose the motivation as everything piled up and became too complicated or boring after a few chapters.
If you think you’ve found a premise you want to pursue, I’d encourage you to consider if it’s something that really sets your soul on fire. You’re going to be spending months and years with these characters in this world– there are always hard days when writing, but make sure it’s something you still care enough about to want to go through all the difficult parts of the writing and publishing industry with.
Q4: What are your thoughts on deadlines? Love them, hate them, avoid them?
Elizabeth Tammi: Since I was a journalism major in college, deadlines were pretty much my baseline. I wasn’t super scared of them, and it’s always helpful to have a concrete timeline. When I wrote my first book (the one that will never see the light of day), I gave myself a self-imposed deadline of finishing before I turned 18. And I literally scribbled out the last paragraphs on the eve of that birthday, but I made the deadline. However, I’ll admit I’ve had difficulty with self-imposed deadlines ever since I got my first book deal. Maybe that’s because, after that first deal, deadlines are a part of the business. Suddenly, writing becomes a business.
I feel tremendously fortunate that I’ve gotten to see two books to publication, and it’s genuinely been a dream come true. But the most surprising part of becoming an author was realizing that a tiny part of me actually misses the writing I’d done before I had a book deal or literary agent or anything like that. With my first book in high school, and while drafting Outrun the Wind, I had literally no idea if anyone else would read those stories. I wanted desperately for them to be published, and almost made myself miserable with that ambition. But it was also freeing, in a way– no one knew what I was writing. If I failed or changed my mind, no one would ever know. It was just for me, and it was my own world.
What you might not know:
Some new writers don’t realize that even after getting a book deal with a completed manuscript, there are almost always more edits and revisions you make with your editor at your publishing house. There were some fairly substantial revisions that Outrun the Wind went through between signing the contract and its release date. That was my first experience with a true deadline, but it wasn’t that stressful because the story wasn’t changing very much. I had a firm foundation to go off of.
My second published book, The Weight of a Soul, was a whole other can of worms. You might hear authors complain about the “second book syndrome”. I definitely experienced that. I sold The Weight of a Soul on proposal, which is something authors can sometimes do if they’re hoping to work with the same editor or publishing house on a future project. Basically, I wrote out a full synopsis and the first few chapters of that book, sent it in, and it was accepted. I was given a book deal for something that wasn’t even close to being a real book yet. It was exciting, but also scary– I actually had to write the full book, and no matter what, it was going to be a real book. I’d never before written a novel knowing it would be a “real” book before, and that was equal parts reassuring and terrifying. I knew the work wouldn’t be in vain, but I was also anxious about pulling it off. That was a stressful deadline. I’m proud of how it turned out and don’t have any regrets, but that deadline was a lot to deal with, especially since it was during my junior year of college…my most academically demanding year ever.
It all turned out fine, but I’m relieved that I made the choice to step back and work on my current project just by myself for now as I navigate next steps. There are no stakes, so it’s just me and the characters for now. Something I’d taken for granted before entering the publishing industry!
Q5: Lastly, do you have any advice for anyone considering a career in journalism?