Lessons From the Book Project- Five Graduates Share Their Secrets

[Editor's note: The Book Project is a two-year program offered through Lighthouse that gives writers the classes, mentorship, and support they need to finish a book-length work. The Book Project is currently accepting applications. Click here for more information. Applications are due June 20!]

By (in order:) Erika Krouse, Carla Espinoza, Katie Kolupke, Ann Gronowski, Maria Gabriela Guevara, and Dee Andrews.

I asked my graduating Book Project cohort to list what they learned from writing their books during the program's two years. Their answers blew me away. Wisdom and inspiration below!
—Erika Krouse


Carla Espinoza

1. Working is something I do alone, but it doesn’t mandate that I be lonely.

2. Writing a book is physically and emotionally painful—for me and the people who care about me.

3. It’s okay to ask for help with mental health or craft. Both are vital for survival.

4. After a hard day’s worth of writing, I had to make sure I always came back to myself, the author, so I didn’t get lost as the narrator or the protagonist.

5. I have to know my characters deeply enough to know what hurts them and what heals them.

6. Loving my characters sometimes made it easy to conspire to hide their weaknesses, but then I rendered them boring.

7. Writing about a place requires that I include how it looks and how it makes me feel.

Katie Kolupke

1. A book comes alive by simply putting in the work each and every day.

2. The book will tell you what it wants to do.

3. Sometimes the book will want to kill you.

4. Sometimes the book will make you feel that all is right with the world.

5. Sometimes the book will heal you.

Ann Gronowski

I learned:

1. To compress narration and direct creativity with the goal of more focused themes and increased impact for the reader.

2. To receive and interpret feedback in a productive and objective way.

3. A deeper understanding of the techniques of characterization, setting, and pacing, among other craft tools.

4. What you need to become a writer is grit, rather than talent. 

5. To overcome the desire to be inspired to write, and just write. Instead of waiting for the fickle inspiration fairy, say “It’s time to work.” 

6. Who my people are. I found a writing community that’s supportive and passionate about writing—people I can grow with.

Maria Gabriela Guevara

1. Stay persistent. Writing and learning to write well is about persistence more than anything else.

2. There are about a million tips, tricks, and ways to write. No one way is the right (write) way. Find what works for you, discard the rest. Trust yourself.

3. Treat submitting/querying like a numbers game and don’t take any rejection personally (see #1)

4. Structure matters. I think one of the best analogies I heard for this was that structure is the body that clothes (story) lie on. If structure isn’t there, the story has no shape.

5. Endings make meanings.

Dee Andrews

1. Find a routine that works for you. It might look really different from everyone else’s. Put in the time. Writing is work. GRIT leads to success.

2. “Math” with my mentor. It’s not what you think. The lesson that really motivated me was about breaking my outstanding word count down into achievable chunks. When the idea of another 45,000 words overwhelmed, she helped me break it into weekly goals of 3,000 words, and all of a sudden the idea of having my manuscript done in 4 months really motivated me.

3. Workshops are helpful for revising but aren’t particularly generative. Sometimes you need to take a break from them and just write.

4. Find your people. I am so grateful for Lighthouse and the Book Project and Erika and my peeps. We have such a supportive and fun group of writers who encourage each other while drinking, complaining, and laughing together. Our Year 1 Book Buddy meetings really helped us get to know each other and bond. 

5. Remember your original goal, the interesting idea and passion that sparked your story. Writing a novel is a long process and takes so many turns along the way. Going back to my original idea time and again kept me focused on telling the story I wanted to tell.

6. Shana’s pitch lessons and query writing exercises really work to help whittle your story down to a blurb. I feel prepared to pitch my story.

7. Learning Scrivener is a necessary evil, and you’ll come to love it and depend on it.

8. My mentor’s initial questionnaire, the reading lists she made us put together, and her monthly lessons and homework were invaluable. And then she ends our two years with more “book math,” which completely makes sense and will guide my revisions.

9. I want a third year.