I saw this series of questions going around Twitter, but rather than answer them individually in under 140 characters, behold! A blog post.
1. What kind of writer are you?
I am the sort of writer who writes everything (nonfiction, fiction, essays, articles, literary stories and every other genre marketers have come up with to date), has more story ideas than time, and who genuinely loves everything about the writing process except the fact that it doesn’t pay the bills.
I am the sort of writer who can’t afford to be a writer full-time, not yet, and I miss writing when I’m not, but I feel incredibly guilty when I write for myself instead of the forty other things on my To-Do list at that moment.
I am the sort of writer who’s comfortable being known as a short story writer, or a novelist, or a journalist, or any other flavor of writer, as long as at the end of my life, I’ve completed enough good, solid, work that it can be accumulated into a collection worth reading.
I’m the sort of writer who’s in no particular rush to be famous, but I love hearing when my writing made you feel or see something new, or remember something forgotten, or reconsider yourself. I want to know that at least one other person has gotten out of my words what I put into it. That, and eventually being able to write my way into a decent paycheck and a saving account, are all I want from my writing life.
2. What was it that made you become a writer?
As far as I know, I’ve always been one. When I was very small, before preschool, I was writing stories and drawing pictures, like most little kids do. The first story I clearly remember: I was 4 years old. It was about the life of a unicorn named Fred, who was of course a girl; I wrote it in pencil, on pages and pages of that cheap wide-ruled paper you’re supposed to practice your handwriting on. I illustrated it, too.
I remember being told that my writing was very good, but my art wasn’t, and deciding that okay, I wouldn’t be an artist, but I could keep writing. Up until that point, I’d struggled to make people care about or hear what I had to say, but this story, written down on paper instead of words coming out of my mouth, my mom liked. For a minute, we had connected. I felt understood.
I wanted that feeling forever.
3. Are you super critical of your own work?
It depends on the piece. When I know it’s good writing, it tends to be easier to write; I’m not self-editing every other word, and I enjoy the process of getting the story out onto the page. I write quickly, revise only a little, and am happy with the finished product.
Other times, it takes me years to finish a story, because I know it’s not quite right before I’ve even written it. I’m going to turn it around in my head, let my lizard brain grapple with it, for as long as it takes to figure out what’s wrong. Sometimes, I don’t ever figure it out, and I’m not comfortable sharing those “broken” stories with the world.
4. What do you do to combat writers block?
For me, “writers block” means “I don’t want to write the thing I’m trying to force myself to write”, so I stop trying to write it. I either recognize that there’s something else I want to write more, and jump onto that, or I can see that the piece I’m struggling with isn’t working because I don’t know enough. I have a great setting but I don’t have the plot, or I haven’t done enough research, so I go back to the drawing board and hammer out the missing pieces.
After I’ve written the other thing, or fixed the problem with the thing I’m balking about, it tends to be a lot easier for me to write what I’d intended to do first.
5. What would you consider to be your best work?
A story I’m working on now that isn’t finished yet, which will hopefully always be true. (I want to keep improving in my craft, and my ability to express what I’m trying to say, for the rest of my life.)
Of my published work, I think the best so far is “About the Mirror and its Pieces”, which hardly anyone has read. It’s a speculative fiction semi-autobiographical retelling of the Snow Queen story, available here for free.
I think it’s the best because it said exactly what I wanted it to, and a couple of years later, I don’t want to make any major revisions. (A few words I’d change if I let myself, but nothing vital to getting the point across.) I can go back and reread it, and still feel I did a good job. I wrote something that mattered.
To me, at least.
6. What is your writing process, what gets your ideas flowing?
Everything. Being alive. Reading other writers. Movies. Conversations with friends, or conversations I overheard on the bus, at a restaurant. I’ve never had a shortage of ideas in my whole life. I just don’t always know what to do with them.
7. How often do you completely scrap something you’re doing?
All of the time. I come back to it, though! Usually. If I figure out where I was trying to go with it.
I’m a lot more productive when I have a group of rotating stories/projects that I’m working on, so I can write every chance I get, with a head full of ideas, instead of forcing myself to stare at the same blank page over and over again, willing words into existence when I don’t really know the rest of the story. I may not finish a story every week, but I’ll often finish several at once, and then have a bunch to revise and submit at the same time.
8. How many unfinished works/projects do you have?
24. (I have a spreadsheet. I also have severe ADHD, and even with medication, keeping track in a concrete way + being willing to write on different stories at the same time is the only way I’ve finished as many projects as I have so far.)
9. Do you write your life into your work?
Doesn’t everyone? I tend not to write many truly autobiographical pieces of fiction. Instead, I want to write real people — or the real people who would exist if the science fiction world I invented for that story was a real place. That means my characters need to think and feel and talk in a way that feels genuine for what they’re experiencing, and often I draw on my own life to flesh them out.
That doesn’t mean you can read my work and know how I feel about… well, anything, probably. I might write a part of a conversation I had with my child, for example, and those will have been words actually uttered between me and him, except when it becomes fiction, it ends up as part of a conversation between a robot and a genetically-engineered dinosaur.
Or a fight I had with a partner once, years ago, might end up written into a zombie’s head as the ache and longing it feels wanting to feed but unable to catch its prey. It’s real life when it’s happening to me or someone around me. When it ends up in my work, it only feels real. It’s fiction.
10. What words of encouragement do you have for fellow writers?
The difference between someone who is a writer, and someone who wants to be a writer because they want the “fame” or “fans” or any other part of the writing life, is this: Do you have a story to tell?
If you don’t, if you’re reading books on How to Sell a Million Books before you’ve figured out what you want to write about, or studying other writers so you can imitate the style of the ones who have the same kind of success you crave, or in any other way putting the emphasis on what you’ll get out of writing once it’s sold and published and famous… then it’s a job. It’s a tool that you’re using to achieve a goal, and you’ll either write very commercial, insipid, forgettable books by the bucketload, or you’ll never get off the ground, because you can’t let yourself start until you think you’ve mastered everything “important” first.
Let all of that go.
Listen, and understand: the writers who touched you, said something meaningful, created a world you wanted to live in or characters you feel like you’ve known your whole life — those writers were probably writing for themselves as much as they were writing for you.
Figure out what your stories are. Write them in whatever way gets them out of your head and onto the page. Write words that you want to read. At the end of reading the finished product, do you sit back and think, This is the story that’s been missing from my life? If you do, congratulations! Someone else probably wants to read it, too.
Write the best thing you can, first. Write what’s truest to you. The funniest, smartest, sexiest, most realistic (whatever you’re going for) thing you’re capable of putting out, the thing that connects you to your readers in a way you’ll feel proud of, shares the bits that fascinate you, captures your memories, and tells your readers something new — or very old, in a new way — this story is the one that is going to bring you more meaningful success than you can imagine.
Once it’s written, then you can revise it. Make it better, clearer, more like what you intended to say. Never dismiss the power of a good editor!
But, write for you, first.
If this doesn’t answer everything you wanted to know about my writing, feel free to leave more questions in the comments.