Olivia Swindler ~
When I sat down to write Cynthia Starts a Band, the words flowed like magic. I just sat down for an hour or so each evening and wrote. The writing was the easy part. It was only after the last sentence was punctuated that I realized that if I ever wanted this to be a real book, people were going to have to read it. The thought of sending the manuscript to someone, even a friend who knows and loves me, felt like an impossible task.
Throughout the book, Eleanor works to find her band, the group of people who love and see her for who she is, while helping her be a better version of herself. Finding a supportive community is a major theme of the book, yet I was afraid to show my band of friends what I had written.
I thought about the people in my life who I knew loved me enough to tell me the truth, whether that truth be to change a minor plot point or scrap the entire book. I was filled with fear as I sent off my manuscript to my first reader, my roommate. I told her to be gentle and tried to explain how much of my soul I had poured into the pages.
When she came back to me a few days later, I realized I, like Eleanor, had a band. The critiques were helpful. She was able to see the story in a way that I could not. These first readers made the story better.
The most helpful member of my pseudo band came in the form of my editor. The biggest piece of advice I got as I edited Cynthia Starts a Band was finding an editor that I trusted. Unlike my first readers, my editor came at the story with the same love and passion that I had written it with. She cared and wanted to get to know the characters on the same level that I had. We spent hours talking about their favorite foods, their enneagram types, and what colors represented them. By the time it came for my editor to rework pieces of the book, I had trusted her with my whole heart. She had taken the time to get to know the characters, and I knew that she would do them justice in her edits.
As I think back on creating this book, editing contained some of my favorite moments. Not because it was easy – it was the most difficult part of the process – but because it reminded me of the band of people I have surrounding me. Since finishing Cynthia Starts a Band, I have formed a little group of writing friends who are committed to reading each other’s work. When I first started telling people I had written the first draft of a book, other friends told me they had written something. So, we decided to create a writers’ group. Even if we write different genres, working alongside these authors has made me a better writer. Finding this little band of women has given me the courage to write boldly, knowing that there is safety and trust within my group.
Before each member of the group sends something, there are ground rules. Do you want the others to read your work and tell you that it is good and that we are proud of you for finishing it, or do you want someone to look at it with a critical lens? This has built trust within the group. No one is saying something is good just to ensure feelings aren’t hurt. We trust and love each other.
There has to be a level of honesty in a band when a chord or lyric isn’t right. The same has to be true with the people we trust to be our first readers. Sure, sending my first draft to my family was a great confidence boost, but their platitudes didn’t improve the story. They did serve a purpose – they encouraged me to keep going, to keep writing – but once it got down to the nitty-gritty of the novel, I needed honesty.
Find the people whom you trust and love and who have the time to read your work. And then, listen to their advice. One of the most essential “bandmates” is an editor. When we started to work together, my editor told me that to do her job well, she needed to know that I had confidence in her ability to make the story better. And I trusted her because she had taken the time to get to know me and the story I was trying to tell, but most importantly because she knew the characters. So, when I got her changes back, I agreed with all of her suggestions. Her suggestions made Cynthia Starts a Band what it is, and I know this was only possible because of the trust we had developed.
I encourage you to find your band.
— Olivia Swindler
Olivia Swindler was raised in Spokane, Washington, but currently resides in Grenoble, France, and is the Communication Coordinator for Young Life in Europe. She spends most of her spare time wandering through the mountains and eating her weight in bread. Olivia believes that through fiction we can learn and grow from one another because there is something magical about picking up a book and allowing it to transport you someplace new. Cynthia Starts a Band is her debut novel, which she hopes will create and foster hard, real-life conversations, inspiring readers to have the courage to discover who they are when the world isn’t looking.