TWR Interviews: On Writing
Together with our Mentorship Project, we'll be releasing a series of interviews with experienced writers and members of our community. They will all have a different focus, according to the parts of the Project they are paired with.
This being the first article, it will contain some general advice on writing. It will be updated as more deviants contribute to it, so keep an eye out!
The deviants who so kindly shared their views with us for this article are:
What's your ideal writing environment, if any?
I enjoy writing on my laptop, leaning back (all right, slouching) into my living room couch. My cat keeps me company, warming my lap. While he gets in my way, I enjoy his company, so I'll add him to my "ideal writing environment" setup.
Wherever I happen to be. Seriously. Sometimes I write in bed in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. Sometimes I write at a coffee shop surrounded by middle schoolers who just got out of class. Sometimes I write while watching Law & Order. Sometimes I write with my writing group somewhere quiet. I don’t think there’s an ideal environment. Only an ideal mindset: focused.
Absolute quiet, like at 4AM in the morning. No distractions, no interference, just me and my writing. Which is super hard because no one in my house likes to be quiet. Which is okay, I can write while there are things going on, but I prefer the quiet.
Quiet. I prefer not to have all kinds of crazy going on when I'm writing. Which is actually pretty hard to accomplish in my house. So I tend to do writing either late at night when everyone's asleep or on weekends when it's just me and the dogs and I'm able to hide in my bathroom with all the doors locked and ear muffs on so I can't hear the dogs whining on the other side of the door.
In my room, with my music on (typically, only instrumentals). I appreciate the peace and quiet that my room allows me. It’s my safe haven and it’s where I write the most often. Trying to write anywhere else typically messes up my vibe before I can even get started because the noise is often too distracting. With that being said though, if I fall into a funk or too much of a routine I will switch it up and write somewhere else.
I write most effectively in the dark, at night, with headphones on listening to ambient music. Lots of electronica and soundtracks, music that drowns out all distractions without providing any of its own. Other than that, I don't require a special place or magic socks, or anything ritualistic like that. I do require coffee however, lots and lots of coffee.
...where I am inspired to write... and that is one of these:
Walking through an art gallery with a notebook. I can and do come out the other end with poetic sketches that I sometimes publish exactly as captured 'in the moment'.
Sitting in a coffee shop, or at a place called 'Heavens Pizza' with their amazing pizza, a bowl of greek salad and a half carafe of red wine (it's cheap there!). I sit by the window, and they have a candle burning. I often like to peruse a poetry book, and sketch out some of my own writing.
Sitting in a park with a notebook.
At home, sitting in front of DA. Other artistic works nearly always inspires me. I also love to type fast with 'raw' inspiration straight into DA and press 'submit'. Sometimes this is followed by a very quick update before anyone sees that typo, or I throw the deviation into storage if I don't think it works. I especially like this at night in the dark with only computer screen glow, red wine and candles. I think I crave a past century gothic writing scene!
In the middle of the night, or in the shower, or at work, or driving or... any place where some perfect words rush into my head and nothing will give me peace until I have made whatever mad dash is necessary in order to find a piece of paper and write it down.
What is the most difficult thing you had to learn about writing?
I used to abuse adverbs... a lot. The devious little things still manage to sneak into my drafts on a regular basis.
That sometimes it’s not about you, it’s about the market. And I don’t want to see anyone using this as an excuse not to revise and rewrite and work hard. But the thing is, sometimes publishing isn’t ready for a certain style, and sometimes a certain genre isn’t selling well, and sometimes you have to shelve a project and work on something new because, even though you know it’s a great project, you can’t sell it right now. And that’s okay. Be patient. Work hard. Always be working on the next thing.
That I will write well and I will also write terribly. I had to learn that not everything I write is going to be amazing, but at the same time not everything will be horrible. I will love things that I write, but I will also hate them. That doesn't mean they are worth less or more because everything you write is a learning experience.
Description. For years, I included horribly too much description and as soon as I realized it, I cut out almost all description. Which is equally as bad. There has to be a happy medium with description and I'm still working on getting it right.
Oh my. The most difficult thing I had to learn about writing was to let go from a technical aspect. For a long while, after I first started writing, I refused to stray away from rhyme schemes and things of that nature (Not necessarily fixed forms, but just rhyming). I was afraid that my free verse would sound too much like prose—not that that’s a problem, but not what I was aiming for. I eventually got better at letting go. It’s freed up my creativity leaps and bounds compared to when I first got started, and my voice and writing also carry so much more confidence than what it used to.
Conceptualizing within a fixed word count. I write predominantly flash fiction, pieces of roughly 600 words. I struggled early on trying to carry too large an idea in too small a space, and conversely, trying to take too small an idea and make it last longer than it realistically could. I've gotten much better at conceptualizing pieces that are ideally scoped to the word count I'm writing in, be that 6 words, 100 words, 600 words or longer. It's something I'm still working on, but it was a very difficult stage to get through.
Something that I've learned, and sometimes have to relearn, is that not everyone is going to love everything you write, even if you think whatever you've just written is a masterpiece. And sometimes you'll think you just created a steaming pile of shit, and people will love it anyway. In either scenario, it's easy to feel frustrated and down on yourself; the challenge is to keep going, to use these reactions as fuel to make yourself a better artist. And the other thing you have to remember, of course, is that it's not about you: Your art and your audience's reaction is not a referendum on you as a person, even if it feels like it. People are reacting to a thing you made, not you.
English language syntax. Applying theory to poetry strips the creative impulse for me. I haven’t learnt much and I still need to learn a lot.
What is it that you still need to learn about?
I need to practice my perseverance and discipline. I have so many ideas but I need to finish them. I start, but finishing is another thing. I need to conquer that challenge if I ever hope to accomplish any of my writing dreams.
Everything. There’s nothing that I’m done learning!
Simply put, everything. I think we're never done learning, even with the things we know about because we have habits and sometimes we're forgetful beings. At least I am. Though plotting is probably my weakest point and writing long-term. I have a tendency to push longer projects away or get overwhelmed with the length of a project. Those are both curable with the proper structure and the right push to actually get it written.
Sticking with a story and finishing it. I often tend to latch onto an idea, take the time to plot out the details, write half of it and then... stop. I don't know why and I always have an excuse for it but it's still unacceptable.
Possibly relearning things about fixed forms (on the technical side of writing) as well as just writing more prose. Learn how to “bend” and “move” characters in ways that I envision in my head; I also need to continue to learn how and when I can most effectively incorporate different poetic methods to keep readers guessing. That’s something I always have to continue learning about.
Effective narrative and expositional monologue. Both are deadly in short fiction, but necessary in longer works, and I lack practice in that regard.
The thing I still have to learn is technical: I'm still learning how to push my writing perspectives outside of my characters' heads so they can feel like real people who live in a fully visceral world, where they see and smell and touch things in a way that is unique to them. I either fall back into the rut of writing staying inside the character's head or including too much extraneous detail, but I'm working on it!
Have you ever had a mentor and what did you get out of the experience?
I've never really had a mentor. The closest I've had are my various school teachers, but none of those spent any extended one on one time with me. I can see where a mentor would be helpful and wish I'd had that experience.
Yes. My mentor Jessica Lee Anderson was also one of my first critique partners. She taught me a lot about the publishing industry and has always been right at my side for every single bump in the road. She’s given me a lot of insight on writing YA, on developing believable characters, and making sure I keep the tension high in every single moment. She’s amazing. You should read her books. I highly recommend BORDER CROSSING and CALI.
Not a mentor per se, but my English teacher in 10th grade really, really pushed me as a writer and encouraged me to keep writing. She was always praising me when necessary and showed me how to fix the mistakes I'd made. She was truly interested in seeing me improve and that did wonders for my writing.
A true mentor? No. Individuals that read my work and offered me good honest critique? Definitely. I've valued that information over almost everything else I've ever learned simply because it pertained solely to me and not a class of students or broad spectrum of self help readers.
I never have actually. Not in theWrittenRevolution context or any other context, for that matter. The only “mentors” I had were my parents and grandmother but I’m not sure that really counts. Haha. But because my grandmother and dad, my writing has also flourished.
I haven't had a mentor for writing, although I've had people take a consistent and focused interest in my writing over a period of time, providing constant feedback and encouragement, which is a component (I believe) of mentoring. I found that feedback mechanism extremely valuable, and it pushed me to advance more quickly than I think I would have otherwise. It's easier to motivate yourself to improve when you feel like you'll be letting someone else down if you don't, and having someone constantly course correcting you as you go is very beneficial.
When I was in college, I majored in creative writing (short fiction), so my mentor at the time was my thesis advisor. It was amazing, first of all, to be able to work one-on-one with someone who was truly, unselfishly interested in helping me learn and grow as a writer. That aspect of the relationship was just as important as anything I learned from him — and man, I learned a lot, probably because he's a very different writer from me. The only way to describe his work is expansive — huge themes, enormous canvas (he's a born novelist), lots of emotion and heart — and my work is what he called a "silent screech." Although he supported my own style and the themes I wanted to work with, he also encouraged me to look beyond what I was familiar with, to broaden my scope in every way. That balance — the push and pull between what I was doing and what I could do, based on his own experience — made him a great mentor.
I wish it were so, but no.
How much is giving/receiving critique important, to you, to improve your writing?
Critiques are so very important. We should always listen to our readers' thoughts and advice, although we reserve the right whether or not to change our work. Others may have unique perspectives and insight that we may not have considered. They are potentially mentors, offering free advice. It would be a horrible loss to ignore that resource.
I find that critiquing others has been integral to learning to critique myself. And while I’ll never be without critique partners, it’s now easier to look at my own writing as if it’s someone else’s to see what’s wrong and, as they say, kill my darlings.
Receiving and giving critique is exceptionally important to do, as you can learn just as much from giving as receiving. Whether you are taking a critical eye to someone's work or your own, you are still gunning for the same end goal—improvement.
Devastatingly important. Receiving critique is obvious for improving writing but giving critique is just as important. Often we're able to spot flaws in others' writing better than we're able to spot it in our own; so by pointing those out we're able to learn things and hopefully apply the faults we see in others' lit to our own work. In addition to the faults, we're also able to see what is done well and work that into our own techniques.
Not very important, in truth. I rarely give critiques (I have to be directly asked to do so) and I don’t ever ask for any critiques. It’s not something I place value on because as a writer, we’re constantly growing and evolving in an art form that doesn’t have set “standards” about what quality is and isn’t. It’s all subjective so I rely on the natural changes and shifts in my style as opposed to any formal critiquing of my work.
Incredibly important. Critically important. It's hard to objectively view your own work, however in reading other people's work critically, you can learn a tremendous amount about your own writing and issues. I'm a better writer and editor without a doubt for the time I've spent reviewing and offering insights on other people's writing. I'm also very much indebted to those who have taken the time to read and critique my work, either reassuring me that what I'm doing isn't complete trash, or offering detailed feedback on what worked and didn't work for them, and how I might improve. I don't always make the changes people suggest, and often they are stylistic suggestions, and my style is my style, but I always take them seriously as that critical feedback helps me write more accessible and engaging work in the future.
I like receiving general feedback, and I like receiving creative suggestion. I’d still like to distance these things from ‘critique’ though. I’d feel horrible having someone spend their time analyzing my writing if I am not prepared to instigate major changes! (Usually I am not prepared to instigate major changes, it's just not the way I write. If I dislike something I wrote too much, I don't bother with it and just move on to the next thing).
If along the lines of feedback and creative suggestion I can really see where something could benefit from further work, I’ll take it on board. (Creative suggestion may sound vague. An example of creative suggestion is when someone once suggested I should take five poems about five photos and combine them into one piece. I turned it into an overview through a camera obscura and it became loads of fun, and added a lovely bent to that set of writing).
If I am really struggling with something I will ask for help.
How much is reading important, to you, to improve your writing?
I consider reading to be the most helpful tool for a writer. We learn (consciously or unconsciously) from our reading materials. This is most useful when we view our reading as an opportunity to learn: learn the authors' mistakes and successes.
It’s the most important thing. You need to be reading twice as much as you’re writing, if not more. This is where you learn new things. In your genre, outside of your genre. The more tools you have in your tool box, the more options you have as a writer.
SUPER, SUPER IMPORTANT. You need to read as much as you need to write because you're never done learning. You are always evolving, changing, and reading helps you learn new things, maybe even pushes you to try writing something you normally wouldn't.
It's essential, but I don't hold it as high as actually working on writing. It's important for the same reasons why giving critique to others is important. We can read literature and at the end decide what we liked and didn't like. What worked and didn't work. This is especially useful if we're reading in the same genre that we're writing.
Extremely important; about as important as consistently writing in itself. You can always pick up on little intricacies in someone’s writing, pick up on unique oddities that separate one writer from the pack of others with a similar niche, and even try new forms and styles because you read something similar elsewhere. Reading is extremely important and at the very least, I try to skim everyone’s works as often as I can. Reading has greatly improved my style, personally, so I believe it can be tremendous for anyone also seeking to continue growth in their writing.
Reading is equally as important to writing in my mind. I read all sorts of periodicals to keep me up on current technology and trends, and to keep feeding the idea machine. I also read a large amount of fiction, as the more time I spend marinating in the language of good writers, the most of that rubs off and invariably leads to better writing.
Extremely important, and I don't do nearly enough of it. If you want to write, you should read everything you can get your hands on: product copy, newspapers, screenplays novels, short stories, poetry, longform nonfiction, you name it. There's always something to be learned from a different form that you can use in your own writing. And make sure that you're not just reading — you have to think about what you're reading. If you like it, what's working? If you don't, what isn't? Even bad writing has something to teach you. Take what you like and leave the rest.
Reading expands the mind. Considered thought is a practise in itself. The mind is trained in certain ways when one reads. The considered thought comes in that moment when you stop to absorb what you have taken in. Writing for me is like breathing back out what I have breathed (taken in).
Who's your go-to writer for quality writing (it can be off DeviantArt, too of course) and why?
I adore Stephen King. He has a way with details and immersive characters. While I may not love every one of his works, each one has always impressed me.
I have about one million of these. But if the writers that I will try to read every time they have a new book out are Francesca Lia Block, Meg Rosoff, Douglas Coupland and Louise Glück. I also try and make sure that I just go and browse lit magazines and chapbooks at my local indie book store. Take a chance on new stuff!
raspil and for off DA I go everywhere. raspil has this amazing way of always striving to improve herself further and it shows in everything she does. Off DA I say I go everywhere because I don't just go to one writer, I go to multiple, because there are so many great writers out there and I haven't read them all yet.
On DA I go to thorns, TheTerrorOfTheDeep, linaket, IrrevocableFate, squeezelouise, reechy and Sammur-amat. Off DA, I tend not to read too much modern literature. I have a thing for period dramas so I stick with Austen, the Bronte Sisters, Gaskell but recently I've gotten in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. I think, again, it's because it's set back in time. Oh, and Shannon Hale, but not the Ever After High books. No no. I leave those to the teenage girls and stick with the Austenland books she's written."
That’s a tough one. If you put a gun to my head, I’d pick Lissomer. Her writings are the ones I understand and feel and “see.” She and I have discussed it at length and it probably makes so much more sense in the context of one of those conversations but she is absolutely phenomenal. Whenever I need extreme quality in every aspect of writing, she is the person I go to. She’s one of the best on deviantART in my humble opinion.
Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Robert Morgan, and Ian Rankin. I value a varied diet of prose, and those four authors are incredibly engaging, both in their ideas and story telling abilities, and their effective use of language.
I've given this cliche answer probably a bunch of times, but my writing idol is F. Scott Fitzgerald, especially The Great Gatsby. That book is so precisely written, so precisely structured, that there's absolutely no fat on it. Everything does something. And yet, it's one of the most beautifully written, most poetic bits of prose I've ever read in my life. That's the kind of clean, aesthetic writing I aspire to.
Matsuo Basho; Kobayashi Issa; Rainer Maria Rilke; Ryokan; Richard Brautigan; Jack Kerouac. This listing is in no particular order. Oh, and for non poetry C.S. Lewis.
And finally, what piece of advice have you been given that has helped you the most?
Read. Read some more. Keep reading. I cannot express how much this advice has helped me. Reading allows us to view other authors as they practice their (and our) craft. It allows us to see how what writing practices work and which ones don't.
All writing is rewriting. I don’t think I realized HOW true this was until I’d been rejected about a million times. And then I revised and rewrote and revised and rewrote and started to see acceptances. The second most important advice is to be present – go to conferences, introduce yourself, mingle. Put yourself out there. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time can lead to good things – if you have the goods to back up your swagger, so to speak.
I'm going to repeat this a lot so I will keep it short "don't think you're ever done learning.
You're never done learning. No matter how good you think you are, you can always improve. Which is exactly why more experienced writers need to be helping less experienced writers. As long as we're always giving back, we can all improve at the same time. Because isn't it odd how sometimes we can give better advice than we write? We can learn by helping others.
It’s actually a piece of advice I allude to quite often (maybe too much), but it still means the world to me. My dad once told me that “our senses never fail us, only our judgment.” I rely on my intuition a great deal because of that and it’s not yet steered me wrong and I’m grateful for that.
Kathy Kachelries, who founded 365tomorrows with a group of friends, told me this early on about writing concisely and editing mercilessly; "Cut out everything you know you don't need, and half of what you think you do." It's that advice that makes it possible for me to create very contextually dense pieces within a very small footprint, something I wouldn't have been able to do before I became hyper aware of cutting out filler, before I was willing to destroy every single word I wrote without remorse.
The best piece of advice I've ever been given is in the form of a question: "But what does it do?" When my advisor asked me that, about anything (the setting, plot points, characterization, word choice, even how long or short I decided to make my paragraphs), what he meant was: How does this serve the story? How does it support the message or theme you're working with? And if I didn't have an answer, it had to go. When people tell you to kill your darlings, that's what they mean, I think -- get rid of the things that aren't actually doing anything for the story.
Well, it wasn’t said to me, but a common phrase is ‘just type’. We should never be scared of the blank page. If you jump the thoughts about “I can’t…” “I don’t know” and put your fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper) something can and will come out.
This concludes our first article of the tWR Interviews. I hope you enjoyed reading this, and that it gave you some good insight on writing. (: it wasn't meant to instruct on anything specific, but simply to give you an idea of what other writers found hardest to overcome, what they did overcome, what helps them and what doesn't. As you have read, everyone is a bit different! So maybe after all, there isn't a fixed RIGHT way to do things, there's the one that works for you and the one that works for me.
It's all about finding it.
All of the deviants interviewed here are definitely worth watching. You won't regret it.