My first love was music, so I spent a lot of years focused on that, to the point of obtaining a degree in music education. The writing bug bit me later, kind of out of the blue. I was in the store one day and felt this powerful urge to buy a Word processor (shows you how long ago that was!). Once I got it home, I just started writing.
Three years later I managed to publish my first short story, and shortly after that, landed my first job as a copywriter for a corporation. As fate would have it, I was handpicked by management to lead the health communications department because of my ability to “translate” the medical science into layman’s terms.
I learned a lot from that job, and I was very grateful for it, but after three years and a couple promotions, I wanted more time to delve into my fiction writing, so I started building a freelance business on the side. Soon after, I left full-time employment and I’ve earned my living as a freelance writer every since.
Though I worked just as hard in my home office as I ever did at a corporate office, I could set my own hours, so that gave me a little more flexibility. I was able to fit in about an hour a day on my fiction writing, so I did that for years. I wrote about five novels before I finally landed that traditional publishing contract that I wanted. Now I have two published novels and I’m working on a third.
After 20 years as a professional writer, I can say I’ve done just about every type of writing there is, from articles to books to website copy to manuals to white papers and interviews and more. It’s a tough job in many ways—mostly because it requires a lot of time at the computer—but what I love about it is that it keeps me interested and challenged.
When did the idea to write Overwhelmed come about? Why did you feel led to write it?
I started my motivational blog, Writing and Wellness, in 2014. Over the course of about 2.5 years, I featured over 100 writers on the site. One thing I heard from just about all of them was that they were drowning.
Writers have so much to do these days. In addition to the giant task of writing books, they must do their own marketing, too, which can be so extensive it’s almost like taking on a second job. Most work full-time as well, as the reality is that writing usually doesn’t pay all the bills. This is the perfect recipe for an exhausted, depressed, and burned out writer with little time to actually write.
I started to include posts on my site that addressed this issue, but I soon found that there was a lot more involved than could be adequately covered in a blog here and there.
In the fall of 2016 while I was on vacation, I got the powerful message from my muse that it was time to put a book together that would help not only writers, but anyone trying to calm down their crazy schedules, find more time for their creative passions, and attain a better overall balance in their lives.
I would say it was about equal in both parts. Since I’ve been a professional writer for two decades, I have a lot of experience when it comes to trying to balance writing with life. I’ve experienced personally all the struggles, from the health issues to the self-doubt to the burnout to the creative exhaustion, so I know about all the things that can kill our dreams if we’re not careful.
At the same time, my specialty as a freelance writer is health and wellness, so researching studies and reports is second nature to me. It’s something that I do for most of my freelance writing. Plus, I personally find it very enlightening to read research supporting the idea, for example, that cell phones can be addictive, or that sleep deprivation can actually shorten your life. Realizing what our daily habits can actually do to us often helps us put into place more definite boundaries that keep us happier and healthier.
My goal is to present the data in a way that helps creative artists to realize that hey, this isn’t just me. There are a lot of people struggling with these same issues, and there’s no reason to feel badly or like you’re failing somehow. Knowledge sheds light on the issues we’re facing in our modern-day lives, and once we truly understand what’s going on, we can create tools that help us create positive changes in our lives.
What would you say was the biggest difference for you personally between writing fiction and nonfiction? Is it a hard to shift gears from one to the other?
Writing fiction and non-fiction have been quite different experiences for me. Non-fiction comes easily, as if feels sort of like I’m talking through my fingers. It’s also a lot like teaching or coaching, which has come naturally to me since I was a child.
Fiction is much more challenging for many reasons. One, because I tend to gravitate toward a richer type of prose that takes more concentration and focus, and two because I don’t write from an outline—I’m a “pantser,” as they say. I have to get into a dream-like mode to sort of “live” through my characters, and that takes a trance-like mindset.
Because non-fiction is my job, I have trained myself to produce it under pretty much any circumstances. Fiction takes me much longer, mainly because I pursue stories that exist on the boundaries of what I know. When I’m writing fiction, it’s like traveling through a dark cave with only a flashlight, and often it can be tough to find my way. But fiction is also deeply rewarding to me because of the difficult journey and what it reveals, and because there’s a sixth sense about it—a sort of spiritual connection. Non-fiction is rewarding on a different level, in that I feel like I’m being of service and helping to improve readers’ lives in some small way.
I think what I enjoy most about writing comes down to one word: discovery. In both fiction and non-fiction, I love discovering new things. What those things are differs between the two types of writing, but they both hold the promise that I’m going to learn something.
Writing feels like a chore only when I have to go over old territory. Writing yet another article on something I’ve already covered ten times before is something I usually have to force myself to do. In those cases, I try to find some new angle that I can explore.
I definitely write by a schedule because I have little choice. To pay the bills, I have to turn in my projects on time! I have more flexibility with my fiction, but I’ve also found that if I don’t schedule a regular time for it, it doesn’t get done. Creative artists love to be spontaneous, but the reality is that routines are the engines that produce the pages.
Do new ideas for storylines come easier the more you write, or does keeping the creative well working take time and thought?
This is a great question, because I think that for most writers, there is a happy middle ground where you’re writing and the ideas are hopping and your muse just keeps dishing it out. Reaching that middle ground can be tough, though.
On the one side, if you’re writing only once a week, you’re probably going to struggle because you’re not getting your brain into creative mode. On the other side, if you’re producing 25 articles a week (like I often do) and you’re dead by the weekend, trying to write a chapter in your novel is going to be difficult.
Balance is the key, and I think that includes getting enough sleep and daily exercise, too. We’ve learned that the brain thrives on these things just like the rest of the body does. So that’s part of what I try to help writers and other creative artists do in Overwhelmed Writer Rescue: find that balance that helps you achieve your highest potential.
What do you like to do to shift out of work mode and unwind? Do you like to read? Do you have any favourite authors/books?
I love to read, and I’m usually working on 5-10 books at a time. I have about five by my bed and I read a little from each before sleep, and another five that I usually read from before a fiction writing session. Some of my favorite authors include Dennis Lehane, Andre Dubus III, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, Neil Gaiman, and David Mitchell, but I also love discovering new authors.
|Out of print August 31, 2016.|
What's next for you? Do you have new books in the works?
My next novel is entitled The Beached Ones. I’m hoping to complete it in time to have it ready as my next release, but it’s been a tough one to complete as it’s taken me some time to find the core of the story. I also think I’ll probably embark on another non-fiction book soon, but I’ve promised myself that my novel will come first. We’ll see if that works!
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