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Writing Motivation Interviews, Number 1


I’ve recently been asking writers I know who have broken through and made pro writing sales a set of twelve questions about their motivation, experiences, and challenges. Writing is a useful thing to look at when talking about self-motivation because in many ways it is a solitary kind of work that requires a lot of inner drive, and sometimes keeping that drive on track isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Here’s one of those interviews.

Writing (the person pictured is not the interviewee, by the way)

1. When did you start writing? How long have you been at it?
I was one of those over-achievers who was telling stories even before I learned my ABCs – there are cassette tapes to prove it.  My computer archives stretch back 20 years, to when I was 8 and my parents bought their first personal computer; one of my pre-computer stories (written on my parents’ typewriter) survives but I’m not sure how old I was when I wrote it.

2. What kinds of things do you write?
Any and every sub-genre of fantasy, with some science fiction and historical non-fiction thrown in the mix.

3. What writing accomplishments so far mean the most to you?
Being published for the first time, hands down, means the most!  Discovering my name was an entry in library catalogs like worldcat was pretty awesome, too.

4. How much writing would you say you have done so far in your life? Can you estimate hours, pages, or number of words?
I used to organize my stories by page count, up until Dec. 2008 (and the hard-drive death of the laptop I was using then); a quick guestimate from my recovered files archive yields approximately 3690 pages.  I joke that was my million words of crap [Luc’s note: Orson Scott Card has suggested that as a rough estimate, we all have about a million words of crap to write before we hit our stride as writers] as that’s also about the time I started getting serious about being published (and started getting positive feedback from pro markets.)  Only the best of my works in progress and story fragments got brought forward onto the new computer, so I’ve got approximately 680,000 words now, of which probably half is new material since Jan. 2009.

So at 250 words/page, I guess that puts me at ~1.2 million words.  (Note: this is only my fiction.  I’ve written at least another 700 or so pages of non-fiction during college and graduate school, but that’s another type of writing entirely.)

5. What kinds of messages did you get from important people in your life when you were young about what you were capable of and what was possible in your life? Did you feel supported, rejected, ignored, encouraged, misunderstood, pushed?
My parents always supported me 100%, and I have vivid memories of moments in which my teachers were equally encouraging and helped me to improve my writing.

6. What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to experience so far as a writer–a really difficult project, a really painful rejection, a setback or delay … ? (Feel free to mention more than one)
I went to a summer program on creative writing when I was seventeen and discovered that my writing instructors didn’t like science fiction and fantasy, which was pretty much all I’ve ever written or wanted to write.   As part of the program we were supposed to submit our stories, so I subbed around some literary fiction (that I thought was crap and my instructors loved), got back a bunch of form rejections, and then was quite relieved to wash my hands of the whole experience.

7. When that thing happened, what did you do? How did you respond?
It sounds hokey, but I realized I had to be true to myself in my writing – I had to write the kinds of stories I liked, not the kinds of stories other people wanted me to write.

The experience also pretty much killed my initial attempts at getting external validation for my fiction, and I just wrote for myself for the next 4-5 years.  I didn’t start seeking professional publication again until I graduated from college.  Since my writing improved immeasurably over the course of those years, this was probably a good thing for editors everywhere.

8. Why do you write? Why not let someone else do it? What keeps you going?
The voices in my head won’t let me stop… yeah, only slightly joking.  I have an incredibly active imagination and sometimes the only way to get an idea or a character out of my head is to write them down.

9. What kinds of things help you write more? Music, a deadline, reading something good someone else wrote, your own success … ?
I sometimes get inspired by music and reading stuff by other people, but the thing that gets me to write the most is when I’m procrastinating doing something I really don’t want to do.  I also have a competitive streak which means, if I’m in the right mood, sitting down to a group writing session can make me incredibly productive.  But when all’s said and done, there’s nothing like a deadline to make me actually sit down and finish/polish what I’ve started writing.  I absolutely hate missing externally-imposed deadlines, so it’s my best motivator.

10. What kinds of things get in the way of your writing or make you write less, other than life obligations like job and family? Do you do anything about these obstacles?
I write less when I’m going through free-reading binges (e.g. in the past week I’ve written less than usual, but I’ve also read 15 novels).  Unless I have a deadline, I usually just read myself out and then go back to work.

I also tend to want to write less when I know exactly where a story’s going – I’m a complete pantster – for which my main remedy is butt-in-chair.  If that doesn’t work, then I start playing around with alternative viewpoints, spin-off stories, or even extra world-building, to rebuild my enthusiasm for the project.

11. Has anyone–a parent, teacher, mentor, role model, spouse, nemesis, editor, etc.–been especially important in your success so far as a writer? If so, what have they done for you?
I’m going to have to give credit to my dad, who wouldn’t stop nagging me about this “Orson Scott Card Literary Boot Camp” thing one of his coworkers went to and insisted I send in a writing sample.

12. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far about being a writer–not about the things you write, but about the task of writing them or the role of being someone who writes?
Finish what you start.  When I first started writing, I never finished anything.  The first couple of stories that I made myself finish were crap.  Then they got slightly less crappy.  Then the ending started to be half-decent.  Then I actually sold one of them (though I was asked to re-write the ending)!

Photo by Chapendra


1 Comment

  1. Walter  •  Jun 8, 2010 @9:02 pm

    It is my dream to become a writer but somehow I have heard many discouragements about it. I’m glad to have read this article because it has provided me with some motivation. I will remember the last piece of advice I have read here: finish what you start. 🙂

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