When you lift up other authors, you lift up the value of the profession and encourage people to read. How wonderful is that?
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Dukett. On her way to becoming an author, Sharon Dukett has been a cocktail waitress, computer programmer, project manager, and deputy director in state government. In her debut memoir, No Rules, Sharon writes about her journey of awakening to feminism and her own strength. She writes a blog and is working on a novel.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Ihave been a writer for my entire life. I wrote a play at five years old about two bees, Do Bee and Don’t Bee, my favorite characters from the Romper Room television show. I spent many years working on my memoir and writing articles and short stories, but it is only recently that this became a career for me, now that I have retired from managing technology projects and my children are grown up.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
The first time I attended a writer’s conference, on opening night I sat at a table with seven others. We went around in a circle, introduced ourselves and said where we were from. One of the women lived in a town in New York that I recognized because a member of my old commune came from there. I had been writing about her immediately before the conference. I asked the woman at the table if she knew her. She was stunned and told me she was her best friend. That was the first of a number of coincidences where people I was writing about reappeared in my life.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
I needed to complete my memoir, find my ending, and keep it to a standard word count. With memoir, finding the ending can be complicated, because your life is still in progress. At one point I had a 170,000 word manuscript with no ending. I had to learn how to overcome my attachment to my story and focus on the parts that were important to my reader and my theme. I pulled out scenes and characters I loved, but they had to go if they didn’t contribute to the story line.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started my memoir, I was worried I wouldn’t remember enough to write an entire book. But with memory, the deeper you submerse yourself, the more that comes back to you. Playing music from that era triggered many memories. As it turned out, I ended up writing double the number of words I needed for a book. What I learned is there is always plenty of material. I could have saved myself years of work if I had outlined what was necessary for the story at the beginning.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am working on a novel that takes place in the not distant future, when climate science has been labeled propaganda and outlawed in the United States. It’s a thriller with an older female protagonist who is a successful business woman. I want to focus attention on our climate crisis as well as provide a strong older woman as a role model. We have a long way to go in our society to overcome ageism, particularly for women.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
There are many interesting stories, but without giving away the details, there is one about a highly superstitious friend who hitchhikes with me to Chicago to see the Rolling Stones. My friends make fun of her superstitions until she is finally coerced into ignoring them. Then they come true.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
I want readers to experience a young woman’s awakening to feminism and her own strength as she learns how to free herself from the rules that confined her.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
1 — Read. If you will only do one of these 5, do this one. There were times in my life when I felt I was too busy to read, between working, raising a family, learning new technology skills, and writing. Those were the times I struggled to write but it took me a while to realize the problem. Reading in the genre in which you write, as well as other genres, helps your creative juices flow and teaches you what works and what doesn’t. A great book will launch you into a different world and teach you how to build the world you need for your story.
2 — Know what you want your readers to take away from your story. I started by writing everything I could think of that was interesting. It was fun, but it didn’t get me any closer to completing my book. It wasn’t until I was clear about what I wanted the reader to take away from the book that I was able to analyze every chapter and scene to ensure it contributed to that result.
3 — Never stop learning. Go to workshops, conferences, take online classes. Look for inspiring, knowledgeable instructors who are supportive. One of the first classes I ever attended at a conference featured a New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning author. I saw this as an opportunity to learn from one of the best. However, it became evident he knew nothing about teaching and even admitted such. What a waste of time and money. I’ve since had other instructors who are hardly known and I’ve written some of my best scenes as a result of their classes.
4 — Think outside the box. This phrase sounds cliché, but it’s true. The publishing industry and technology are constantly evolving so don’t assume there is only one way to success. Explore your options, and determine what will work for you and your readers, whether it’s traditional, hybrid, or self publishing. You need to be in print, e-books and electronic platforms to expand your reader base. Each has positives and negatives, but in all cases, you need a high quality product and you need to reach your targeted audience.
5 — Support other authors. They are not your competition, they are your peers. When you lift up other authors, you lift up the value of the profession and encourage people to read. How wonderful is that? There will always be those who are more accomplished and less so, but they all appreciate your support. Many will reach out their hand to pull you up. Do the same when you have the opportunity and discover how great it makes you feel.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
For me, perseverance contributed the most to becoming a great writer. I started my memoir forty years ago. Over that time I picked it up and put it down, and rewrote several drafts. I was learning how to write during those years so I was continuously rewriting. But I never gave up.
It was difficult to locate and attend writing events then. I usually had to travel and take vacation time as they occurred face to face. It wasn’t easy finding information about events and classes for writers. The internet changed everything about access to information. Now great instructors are available without ever meeting them, but you have to be more careful about vetting the instructors and checking reviews to avoid being scammed. My last class was over the internet and the instructors were outstanding.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Her book takes us on a journey of redemption as we watch her heal from the pain of losing her mother, and grow her own strength. I love the humor and heart she puts into her writing.
Liar’s Club by Mary Karr. This was one of the first books that started the memoir explosion several years back. Her voice is captivating and made her story come alive. I always recommend this book to those starting out writing memoir.
Educated by Tara Westover. In this book, the author takes us into an America that most of us do not know, providing a powerful and unique point of view. I found experiencing life from her perspective to be an education.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like our country to commit to a serious plan to halt climate change. I have three adult children and four grandchildren. Like nearly all parents before me, I want a better world for my children and grandchildren but fear we are putting them at a terrible risk of having to survive in conditions we can’t even imagine. This must change.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Website / Blog https://sharondukett.com/
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!