Ellie Burke is someone who I really admire. I discovered her on Instagram, as I do with many of my guests, and I was immediately awed by her passion and determination. She is so friendly and kind, agreeing to do this interview even while in depths of preparing for Pitch Wars. Ellie discusses her drafting process (which I found to be incredibly enlightening), her preparation for pitching, and what serves as her own inspiration.
I hope you enjoy this interview!
To kick things off, would you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hello, hello! I’m a mother, wife, writer, and content marketing consultant. My husband and I are also the new owners of a Christmas tree farm in the making (turns out it takes several years to grow trees, ha!).
I would describe my religious affiliations as Han Solo, Christmas, and Scotland.
What currently serves as your biggest inspiration?
As far as what inspires me to keep plodding along on my book—I’m a big believer in the power of visualization. I have this image in my head of what my little family’s future looks like and having that image handy makes it easy for me to push to achieve my goals.
When I consider the largest sources of inspiration for my story, I think my book was really born out of three main feelings. I’d bucket them like this:
The awe felt standing before a great expanse—an empty field, the night sky, the sea
That sense of disappointment you feel as you fight to hold on to the wispy tendrils of a pleasant dream in the first moments of waking
The heartache and anger of losing someone you love
How would you describe your style of writing?
I don’t think I’ve ever been asked this so directly, so bear with me. The first thing that comes to mind when I consider my style is emotional weight. I enjoy exploring complicated emotional themes like grief and pairing them with the fast-paced world of YA plots.
One of the writers that inspires my style is Rick Yancy. I felt like his series, The 5th Wave, really pushed the envelope of what YA sci-fi could sound like and even though I’m writing in a different point of view, he’s definitely an author that influenced my writing goals when I think about style and tone.
What draws you to the genre of science fantasy?
I grew up reading Michael Crichton. I was obsessed with stories that felt like they could happen at any moment. For me, the use of science to explain the extraordinary makes a story come alive and feel like it’s exploring a possible reality that any of us could live. Now, I didn’t go to med-school like Michael Crichton, and I’m not a physicist, BUT I have a lot of determination and willingness to dive into pretty dense topics. For those reasons, my story can be described as soft sci-fi, but it also has one “unbelievable” thread that someone might point at and label, “magic.” Kind of like how Star Wars has “the force.” Hence, science fantasy.
Can you pitch us your WIP?
After losing her family in a crash, a wide-eyed waitress realizes she’s traveling in her sleep to another planet inhabited by displaced Scottish humans. When she discovers someone is trying to kill her, she must flee her home in the Wilds of the U.S. and track down the secret Scottish order working to expose the galaxy’s secrets.
What is your drafting process? Has it changed and evolved from draft to draft?
Oh boy, has it changed.
First draft: Seven years of writing when inspiration struck. I was convinced I was a pantser. Finally, I got so fed up at my inability to finish, I created a rough outline and then I paid someone to keep me on track via the Write Practice’s 100 Day Book program. I participated in two rounds and finished my first draft in the course of three years. (Wrote first half, had a baby, wrote second half).
Second draft: I read Save the Cat! and decided I had misunderstood my own writing process for years. I jumped the pantsing side of the fence for planning and never looked back! To write my second draft, I used Save the Cat! to reimagine my plot and then I completed a 100% re-write. Ten months later, I had a new book. As I re-wrote, I sent chapters to alpha readers every week. It took me awhile to realize deadlines are my love language and that involving readers in my work helped me feel accountable.
Third draft: To write my third draft, I took a break to read a few craft books and flesh out the back story of a few areas that needed work. I then did a full read through on paper and made a laundry list of things I wanted to work on. I then combined that with my alpha feedback and worked through the book chronologically again so that I could send chapters to beta readers as I went. I don’t think this is the norm—but it’s what helps me keep the iron hot and the words flowing.
Fourth draft: I’m now in the process of applying beta and CP feedback to create a fourth draft and I’m on track to complete that in about four weeks’ time. As a work-from-home mom without childcare in this pandemic world we’re living in, I complete one chapter a day and two a day on the weekends. I’ve found this schedule really manageable—but it would be impossible without the support of my amazing husband (hi, if you’re reading this, I LOVE YOU!)
What have been some of the challenges of the most recent draft? What have been some rewarding aspects?
Time! I used to have large chunks of time to myself and now my writing time looks more like 6-8AM and 8-10PM. But limitations have a way of creating magic—I’ve been able to create a routine and system that works for me and my family and I’ve honestly never felt more productive in my life.
The most rewarding aspect has been having my CP and two complete strangers read my work! This continues to feel absolutely wild to me, and it’s been such a delight to reach this milestone and work with absolutely phenomenal and thoughtful readers.
In regards to critique partners and beta readers, what are your thoughts? Do you have any suggestions for writers currently exploring this route?
My project would not be where it is without my CP, alpha, and beta readers. I can’t say enough for how valuable they have been for my process. From helping me feel accountable, to asking questions that led to new discoveries, to flat out helping me strengthen my prose, the biggest strides I’ve made as a writer are thanks to the incredible humans who honored me with their time and energy.
I had no idea how to find a CP and readers and then…it all just happened. (Thanks, #bookstagram). My biggest advice if you’re looking for a critique partner is to put yourself out there. Take time to find someone you click with and who understands your vision. To find beta readers I felt I could trust, I asked an alpha reader (a close friend) to recommend friends who might be interested. She put me in touch with two readers SHE trusted. That made me feel safe and like my work was in good hands.
You’re gearing up for Pitch Wars, which is super exciting! In case any readers are unfamiliar, could you explain what Pitch Wars is?
Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors and other industry professionals chose a writer to mentor. Within the program, mentors read mentees entire manuscript and help mentees revise and edit their books in preparation for an agent showcase. In the agent showcase, agents can review pitches and request further materials.
What pushed or drew you to Pitch Wars this year?
The minute I learned about Pitch Wars, I knew I wanted to participate. I loved the idea of establishing a meaningful relationship with someone already in the industry and there are a few components within my story that I am craving support on. Unfortunately, when I first came across the program, I was fresh out of my first draft and I knew I didn’t want to participate until I had done everything in my power to make my book the best it could be on my own accord. A year later, I’m finally ready!
Do you have any advice for fellow writers?
There is no substitute for hard work. Writing a book is a job. Trying to get it published is another. Books don’t appear on the shelves because they were someone’s dream. They’re there because an entire TEAM of people did a MASSIVE amount of work. The I-have-no-life, there are way too many dishes in the sink, when’s the last time I washed my hair, kind of work. And I think one of the key things to remember is that it’s normal for it to FEEL like work. I wished I’d learned that sooner—that it’s normal for it to feel hard and that the only way to reach THE END is by giving yourself permission to prioritize the task at hand.
Follow Ellie on Instagram: @ellieburkebooks