Have you always dreamed about writing a novel? Or did you write one but don’t know what to do next? How does one become a published author? Swedish writing coach Ann Ljungberg recently held a writers’ workshop in New York City, and Nordstjernan met with her.
“You have to decide what kind of mode of narration you want,” Ann says during the very first day. “If you pick the fly-on-the-wall voice, the one who sees and hears everything, then you have a very allowing, all-knowing voice, and you can write in a joking kind of way. What is your narrator’s voice going to sound like? Are you going to use a dialect or slang? Is it going to be pretty? There are no answers, you can choose what you want but you have to be consistent.”
The workshop is held in an apartment on the Lower East Side. It is here, along an oblong wooden table, that seven writers, or writers-to-be, gather with their notebooks. Pens poised, ears pricked up. Three of them already live in New York, but three have flown in from Sweden exclusively for this workshop. Some have no training at all in writing, others have scripts they need to finish.
“On Sunday you’ll all have come a long way with the projects you have,” Ann promises.
Everyone is quiet. It seems unbelievable.
Ann Ljungberg is a petite woman with blond hair and a patient way of speaking. She is not afraid of being quiet. She lets her information sort of linger in the air.
“I always like to meet people who love to write,” she says to me a few days later, after the workshop. “And I have always loved writing and reading myself.”
For many years, Ann was in the IT field, working as an educator, project leader and consultant. She took writing workshops on the side all along. Then she and her husband quit their jobs in Sweden and began sailing. That was in 2002.
“I spent the next year on our boat sorting out ideas I had, now that I was no longer working with IT,” Ann explains. “A publisher’s reader, an American woman, crossed my path and she became a mentor. That’s how I began coaching writers.”
Ann has worked with about 400 manuscripts, 90 of which have become published books. She has arranged workshops in different places around the world, such as Sevilla, Istanbul, Venice and London.
“You don’t believe in born authors?”
“I am sure they exist, but I also believe you can learn to write. It is possible to learn to become an author. Many people need tools, they need to know certain things. It often doesn’t work to write feelings, for instance, but make me—the reader—feel something through your text.”
The workshop is intense. From 10 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon, the participants gather for writing exercises, visit agents and writers, and think about how to define the book they want to write. They meet for lunch and sometimes dinner. They read their texts to each other and bounce ideas around. They learn to flesh out their characters and that there are tricks that propel a story forward. But they also learn how to write a query letter, how to find the best publishing house and how to market themselves.
“You want to write a book that’s going to be read,” Ann says. “Many Nobel Prize winners today aren’t read, because they are too difficult.”
At the end of the workshop, on the very last day, notebooks and pens are pushed aside. Ann opens a couple bottles of wine. Everybody gets a toast. They have become very close during these four, intense days.
“Good luck! Let’s stay in touch!”
Ann says: “Don’t forget to invite all of us here to your book launch party.”
What’s the most important thing to think about if you want to write a novel?
“That you have a good story. There are a limited number of stories in the world, but the way you tell it … well, nobody else will tell it just like you. Your voice is unique. Henning Mankell said, ‘What separates us from animals is that we are storytellers.’ And I think that’s true.”
Ann Ljungberg’s next writers’ workshop will take place in Sevilla in May. She also has workshops online, if you can’t travel. For more information about her writers’ workshops and Ann herself:
Secrets of a best-seller
Somebody analyzed best-selling books with five stars on amazon.com and came up with 20 points they all had.
1. The reader learns something new.
2. There’s enough facts and information for the reader to follow the story.
4. Focus and a clear main thread.
6. A feeling of belonging is created for the reader.
7. Captivating style.
8. Humor—even in the most tragic of books.
10. Simplicity, clarity and an intrigue you can follow.
12. A quick tempo (although not all the time).
13. A metaphorical language.
14. Creativity and innovation.
16. A cheerful atmosphere.
17. Something that makes the reader happy.
18. Elements that are provocative and make the reader think or act.
19. Memorable prose.