20 Questions: All About My Writing Life

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Where do you get your ideas?

Honestly, I don't know.  Ideas come to me often and I find inspiration everywhere.  Something usually pops into my head, a scene or an action, and I start asking myself questions about what a person would do or why they would do it.  This can lead to a character idea or a plot line and then eventually a story.  But there is never just one way to create a story.  This makes it fun and challenging.

What is your writing process like?

When I'm working on a project, in the beginning I like to take my time and think about the idea and the characters.  I have to see if I am really interested in this character and their story.  But I can't do too much pondering about a character without giving them a name first.  I could never write about a nameless character, I hit a brick wall if I don't know what the character's name is first.  Even if I change the name later, I have to give them a name. 

Then I think about the character, who they are now as a person, who they were growing up and where they want to be in the future---and with whom. I start formulating a plot outline and researching anything that is not familiar to me.  I try to be as organized about this as possible.  I keep everything in one place for easy reference.  Currently I'm using Scrivener to do that and it's amazing!

What advice do you have for writers?

Get to writing and stick to it!  Sometimes it's hard to focus because there is so much going on in the world, and in life, and on television and in social media...But the book (or project) is not going to write itself.  And forget about any naysayers or critics.  Ignore what someone says will sell or publish.  Focus on writing the story itself and making it the best you can because you never know what will happen and no one can predict the future.  I learned all of this the long, hard way.

Does writing energize you or exhaust you?

Writing energizes me.  Once I start writing and get the ball rolling, I don't want to stop.  It can be late at night or early in the morning and I can be tired or I have to get somewhere, but if the writing is flowing, I find that I don't want to stop.  So, I find that it definitely energizes me.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Procrastination, perfectionism and insecurity.  I think all three contribute to writer's block.  It's easy to procrastinate and fall into the traps of trying to be the perfect writer and to not be confident about your talent as a writer.  I think it's normal to feel all of these things, too, but I find that we can't dwell on them if we want to finish a project and put ourselves out there.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Clutter.  I can't function in a cluttered space and I find it hard to write if my desk isn't clear.  It usually makes me procrastinate because I will literally clean instead of writing.  So I work hard to keep my desk clear and ready for writing at all times.

Do you try to be more original or deliver to readers what they want?

I try to do both.  I want to be as original as possible but I also want to entertain my readers.  I want the reader to enjoy my work and take an escape from reality.  This why I read and I wnat to do the same for my readers, that is my main priority.

Do you want each book to stand on its own or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I want to do both.  My debut novel is the first book in a series but I am also working on other projects, one of which is another book series with a mystery-thriller focus.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

"Writing should be your main focus, everything else is secondary.  There is no other occupation for you---just write!  And get to writing, stop procrastinating and trying to be the 'perfect writer,' you are good enough!"

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Learning how to both market and publish your own book is a challenge in itself.  It was something that I had always wanted to do, even before indie-publishing became popular.  Still, it was a little intimidating at first.  I had to really push myself to get past the fear of the unknown but now that I have embraced the challenge, I think it will be a little easier the next go-round.  

I can't say for sure how it will effect my writing process, but I think that it will make me embrace my writing time more just because it is the only time where I can fully be creative.  

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I began sharing my work with my classmates in junior high school.  I was in the seventh grade and was writing short stories and little novellas for fun.  I had not even realized that it was a gift or something that people did for a living.  I thought of it as a hobby and something I had been doing since I was a child for fun.

One of my classmates read one of my stories and the word began to spread about my writing.  I wasn't the most popular girl in our small magnet school or anything, but all of a sudden, I had a little following, a group of girls my age who enjoyed my stories and pushed me to keep writing and to share more with them.  It was great for my self-esteem and for the first time, I began to realize that the authors of the books I read for fun, made their living this way.  I decided then that I wanted to be a writer.

What kind of research do you do and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

It depends on the type of book I am writing and the characters I'm writing about.  I find that I spend a good amount of time doing research and thinking about what I have found in comparison to my creative ideas

Do you consider or view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

Yes, it's definitely spiritual.  I remember watching an interview with Denzel Washington on Oprah and he said something to this effect about acting.  I believe that this applies to any creative art form because we are tapping into the great Creative Spirit (God).  And by embracing this spiritual aspect of my writing, I think it made me a better writer.  It definitely helped ease the tension and anxiety that I felt at first.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Yes, in every book there are tongue-in-cheek little messages and a kind of "Where's Waldo?" game except it's "Where's Joli?" 

In my first novel, I make an appearance but you have to look for me.

How do you select the names of your characters?

I love names and for me they are very important.  I can't write about my character without one.  So, I usually keep a collection of name books and a list of names I have collected over the years that I can refer to when I'm working on a story or developing a character.  I look for the name that fits the vibe of the character or their background story and fits that character the most.

What is your favorite childhood book?

I started reading early (at age 3) and I can remember that I loved "The Little Engine That Could" and the Ramona series by Beverly Cleaver.  As I got older I loved the Little House on the Prairie and the Babysitters Club series.  I also loved reading books by Walter Dean Myers and Alice Childress.  We kept a library of books at home and I had my own collection from a young age.  I became a bookworm much like my mother and read voraciously.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Good question.  Sometimes it is the beginning, creating the fictional world of the story.  Other times, it is creating the foundation of the story in the opening chapters, which is also known as the setup.  It can be challenging to transfer what you know about the character and their story to the reader without overwhelming them.   

Does your family support your career as a writer?

Most of my family is probably not aware of my work as a writer, but for those who are, they are very supportive.  My parents are my biggest support and cheerleaders, especially my mother.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

I spent good money on a great desk two years ago and saved up to buy the Mac Pro of my dreams.  Money well spent.

Do you believe in writer's block?

Yes, but I think that it's a sign that I need to take a break from writing or that I'm not writing consistently enough.  I try not to take too long between writing sessions to keep the juices flowing and I find that this eases writer's block.  If I'm in the middle of a block, I try not to feel anxious and do something else. 

I find that a good idea or a solution to a creative issue will pop into my head when I am not straining to find it.  I write it down and then use it later in the next writing session.

So there you have it, twenty questions with me about my writing life.  I hope that helps someone out there get to know me as a writer and inspires another writer.

Keep reading and creating...

Naj