Author Rachael Herron: Tips to Get in the Chair and Tricks to Stay There

by Jill Hedgecock (

Rachael Herron is the internationally bestselling author of more than two dozen books. The diversity of her writing talent is impressive. Her books span multiple genres including thriller (under R.H. Herron), mainstream fiction, feminist romance, memoir, and nonfiction about writing. She received her MFA in writing from Mills College, Oakland, and she teaches writing extension workshops at both UC Berkeley and Stanford. She is a proud member of the NaNoWriMo Writer’s Board. Rachael generously agreed to be interviewed to share her breadth of knowledge.

You have recorded over 130 Podcasts on How do You Write? What’s the most inspiring thing that you have learned?

I started the podcast so that I could hear many different writers’ processes so that hopefully I’d glean the magic bullet, the one that would make writing easy for me. I know, of course, that it doesn’t exist. Even after writing more than twenty-six books, I still haven’t found this impossible thing, but knowing that will never stop me from searching! The most inspiring thing I’ve heard is something that many of my guests, over and over, say in different ways but always coming down the same thing: They failed and they got up again. Every single time they were knocked down by a rejection, or a publisher who didn’t buy the next book, or a string of terrible reviews, they sat on the ground for a minute, dazed, and then they stood back up again. 

That’s always the most important thing for me to remember, and my guests always remind me of it: Failure is part of writing. If you write, you will fail. But as the Japanese saying goes, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” You only ever have to get up one extra time. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Find a community, as soon as possible! Writing is so solitary (and we like that! So many of us, including myself, are introverts). But writing with other people and talking to others about the craft and business of writing is one of the most important ways to move forward with your writing journey. I wrote my first published book (the fourth book I’d attempted to write) and sold a three-book deal to HarperCollins before I’d ever had a community. Then I joined the Romance Writers of America, and my life completely changed. Now, eleven years after I joined, my best friends have come from my writing groups. Even though I don’t write romance anymore, I’d never quit going to RWA. (I’m actually on the board—that’s how much I believe in it.) It doesn’t matter which group you join (Mystery Writers of America, or a local writing MeetUp, etc.), just make sure you cultivate close friendships with other writers. Not for critique (be careful with getting critique from people who might not know very much more than you do yet) but for encouragement, which every writer sorely craves and will always need. 

You serve on the Board of NaNoWriMo.  Can you describe the program? What advice can you give to first time participants?

NaNoWriMo is an online challenge to write a full novel (50,000 words) in the month of November. That’s all! To win, you write 50,000 or more words. They don’t need to be good words! In fact, they won’t be! In order to write that fast, you have to write a lot of dreck. This is the magic trick. You must silence your inner editor and just put down silly or terrible or laughable words, and lots of them. 

I spent the seven years after getting my MFA in Creative Writing trying to write a great literary work. Then I heard about NaNoWriMo, and I tried it. I wrote a terrible book. But for the first time, I had completed something! And revising something that was already done was the easy part! That book became How to Knit a Love Song, my first published book. 

NaNoWriMo has changed so many lives, including mine. I owe my career to viscerally learning that I had to get my inner editor to stop criticizing the words I was putting on the page. I can’t recommend it more highly. 

What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?  

Great question! My biggest challenge has been when my books don’t sell as much as my publishers gambled on them (which is called not earning out the advance). When you fail to sell what they gamble you will, it’s very hard to sell another book. Through sheer will and stubbornness, I’ve kept writing, and my agent has always sold another project for me. Someday I know I’ll have the breakout success I’m hoping for (hopefully with the next book, my first thriller!). I believe that all authors must have a firmly rooted tree of hope in their hearts—they must keep watering it, and keep the sun shining on it. Hope always pulls us through and gets us to write one more line, one more paragraph, one more book. 

What authors have most influenced your writing?    

L.M. Montgomery—Anne of Green Gables was my first literary mentor. I wear a ring on my left hand that my mother gave me—my great aunt Lucy’s ring (like Lucy Maud!). When I was about nineteen, I had “Because of Anne” inscribed inside it. Because of Anne, I would be a writer, I hoped. And I was. 

But recently, I’ve been loving lots of thrillers: Tana French, Liane Moriarty, Sophie Littlefield (a friend and incredible writer), and Belinda Bauer. The darker the book, the better for me lately. 

If you were to describe yourself as a character in a murder mystery (e.g., sleuth, police investigator, etc.) who would that be?

The 911 dispatcher! I was one for seventeen years, and I still believe it was a wonderful job, a great combination of detective and first responder. I sleuthed the computer systems to put cases together and find the people we were looking for, and I gave the CPR instructions when the baby wasn’t breathing. It will always be the job that challenged me most (after writing), and while I’m glad I’m a full-time writer now, I still sometimes miss being able to say I saved lives on a regular basis. 

What is your greatest writing weakness?

Without a doubt, first drafts are my biggest weakness. Like most writers, I loved them when I was a new writer because revision scared me so much. But again, like many writers, when I got good at revision, that became my favorite part. Revision is where the magic is. I don’t mean line edits—I mean the giant restructuring that’s essential to every first draft. Moving those parts around, adding the bits that are necessary and killing all the darlings—oh, it’s just so delicious. 

I love revision so much that I still write as fast as possible, just to get to that awesome part. I can fix any book (and I’ve fixed some REALLY terrible books that I’ve written). I just have to white knuckle my way through the first draft to get there. The day I start a major revision is always one of my favorite days.  

What is your writing routine?

Love this question! It’s the basis for my podcast! My ideal day is this: I get up early, usually around 6 a.m. I like to exercise and meditate and eat breakfast, and then I get to the Mills College library about 7:30 a.m. (I did my MFA there, and I live close by. With my alumna card, I can work for free in the library, and I do my best work while sitting in a quiet library carrel.) I write, using Cal Newport’s deep work idea (no distractions) for about three hours, then I go swimming in the Mills pool. 

Then it’s home for lunch and to walk the dogs, and (often) a nap! In the afternoon, I do all my non-writing/revising tasks: coaching other writers, teaching, answering emails, and marketing. 

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What is the biggest writing mistake that you have ever made?

Oh, ouch. I’m a hybrid writer, which means that I have books published traditionally through New York publishers (mainstream, memoir, and thriller), and I’ve also self-published things like romance novels. Once, I loaded the new romance up to the online vendors. I waited until the last minute to upload the final version with all the copyedits. But I didn’t know that Amazon locks you out of changes 72 hours before the book goes live. I had hundreds of pre-orders, so at midnight on release day, hundreds of readers received a book full of typos. 

I was mortified. (And I also lived through it and sent each of them the update.) Ack. I learned that the hard way! 

Tell us about your new book and where can they find it?

Thanks for asking! It’s called Stolen Things, and it’s out this year on August 20th from Penguin Random House. It’s a thriller about a 911 dispatcher who answers the phone to hear her sixteen-year-old daughter on the other end of the line. Jojo doesn’t know where she is, she has been roofied and possibly raped, her best friend is missing, and there’s a dead man in the closet next to her. No spoilers – that’s how it starts! I’m really excited about it, as it’s my first thriller and my very first hardcover! It’s available at all bookstores and online retailers. 

Follow Racheal’s podcast, How Do You Write, or visit her at Read her essays on writing and creativity on Patréon at

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