Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace. My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them share some of their writing wisdom here.
Today, I am thrilled to welcome Alana, newest member of our own CBW-LA’s board, and author of that incredibly helpful blog writercize.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?
Hello there, loyal Nutschell enthusiasts! It is an honor to be here with all of you today. I would first like to thank Nutschell for offering me the guest slot, and to all of you for allowing me to share a bit of my writer’s soul with all of you.
I have the unique pleasure of knowing Nutschell in person through the Children’s Book Writers of L.A. - the non-profit writer’s group that she founded a couple of years ago. And, truth be told, she is the reason that I started this blogging thing! During a writing workshop about query letters (recap can be found on this very website), she began talking about the writer’s platform, and how important a public image can be in this day and age when self-promotion and marketing is valued nearly as much as the story itself. Not one to blog about my personal life, reviews, political opinions or the like, I hemmed and hawed a bit in my head. I wanted the blog to be purposeful, but not alienate any particular audience. I wanted to be driven to write it.
A couple days later, in the shower, where all great ideas are born (that, or in the car!), writercize was born. Writing exercises. I would create a writing exercise meant to be completed in 5-20 minutes, type up a little background or intro to the exercise, and – here’s the catch – try it out along with my readers. I would post whatever writing was borne of the exercise, whether I loved it or hated it. The exercises are meant to be used by writers, dreamers, students, teachers – anyone who wants to jostle the creative juices and get them flowing again. There is a combination of fiction, journalism, non-fiction, poetry, word play – a little bit of everything!
For over a year, the blog went strong, and then my twins turned five and had the summer off school, and I took a little break from the blog. In the meantime, ideas are still brewing in my mind for future posts and there are nearly 200 exercises posted and somewhat categorized sitting on the site, waiting to be discovered by just the right readers and writers!
So, enough of that background. Thanks for sticking with me! On to the nitty gritty of Nutschell’s interview….
WHO AM I and WHAT DO I DO?
I am lucky enough to dedicate my days to “staying home” with my children. I put that in quotes because, as any mother knows, staying home rarely means staying home, with errands and school and classes and playdates. But, yes, I stay home with five year old identical twin girls. They are in half-day kindergarten these days, so I have a few hours that should be spent on the couch with a soap opera or great American novel, eating bon-bons, but I’m not. I try to stuff a whole bunch of life into those few undisturbed hours. I am a freelance journalist, and I write a few stories a week for our local weekly newspaper, as well as the odd company bio or website lingo here and there. I am looking to extend my freelance writing to broader markets over the next year. Beyond journalism, I volunteer with a couple of great non-profits and keep myself pleasantly engaged in the community, to the best of my time and ability!
I like many types of writing – as far as kids’ stories go (hence CBW-LA), I am playing around with picture books at the moment. When I have more time, I can see it morphing greatly into YA literary fiction. I also love, love, love to write about true events and people. One of the best things about journalism is being able to meet ordinary people with vision and drive doing truly extraordinary things, and I get to view the world through their eyes over the course of an interview. That is a really special gift they give me, and I am constantly inspired by their passion and commitment.
My writing strength is clarity and organization – my weakness is creating the story … and keeping a tight word count. Probably why I am so drawn to journalism with a weekly or a magazine!
I am not sure that I have any hidden talents, but I do really like to mosaic and I am a pretty good cook. No dish is ever the same in my house, because I don’t adhere to any recipes and cook everything according to the day’s creativity, but I really enjoy making a mouth-watering meal. I try to garden, but lose interest a little too quickly to reap any great reward. Photography makes me ridiculously happy. I speak Italian. I bounce around to different museums as often as I can. I used to teach piano, but have hardly touched one in about 15 years. I want to learn to surf. Really, really badly. I could be anything in the world, I would be a student forever. I LOVE to travel, and to hike. I’ve camped on several feet of snow in Whistler, ridden on top of a bus in Ecuador, taken a sailboat ride down the Nile.
I digress – back to the interview.
1. Where do you do most of your writing?
I do most of my writing at my computer on the desk, which sits in the SE corner of my living room. That is where I blog and write articles. Emails are primarily composed on iPad, unless they are long or I need to cross-check my computer for additional information.
Creative writing has to happen as far away from technology as possible, so I take a notebook and pen upstairs to the chair by my bed, or into the backyard. I like absolute quiet while I write.
2. Where did you get your desk? How did you go about arranging your work area?
My desk is from good old Target. Nothing special about it! It comes with a white chair that I used to use, but when I began to spend more time sitting in front of the monitor I switched to the black swivel chair from some office store. Much more comfortable, though not nearly as aesthetically pleasing together! If only there was a method to the madness of my piles, life would be good.
Perhaps one day I will have an assistant who can read my mind and intuitively file things as I would. I have two weaknesses when it comes to organizing spaces, actually three:
1 – I can see the potential of beauty in my mind’s eye, and that trumps reality. I become blind to what is actually before me.
2 – I despise routine, so anything that needs to be attended to frequently falls to the wayside. (Like newspaper clippings – they get done about once every 3-4 months while the papers pile up.)
3 – I don’t want to jump into organizing unless I know I can complete it, in the way I ultimately will love it. There’s no half-ass in my world. I either make it happen really well, or I procrastinate until I can. Bad, bad habit that I have been trying to break for a few decades. Perhaps this will be the year ….
3. What are some important things on your desk? Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?
Nothing on my desk is terribly important, although it does have cards and a few trinkets from friends and family who make me very happy. I have a dim light from IKEA with cherry blossoms etched in – two textures of off-white – and that makes me smile.
4. What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?
My favorite thing about the desk would have to be its placement – right next to the window, with very tall Birds of Paradise outside. I also get to see the hummingbirds and wild peacock who come visit while I work, which is nice.
5. What’s your writing beverage? What do you love to drink while you’re writing?
My beverage of choice used to be a green tea, or a black tea with milk. These days, it’s a latte made with the delicious Nespresso machine. No matter what, it has to be warm. I don’t drink it hot – tongue burns to easily – but I don’t like cold drinks over ice either. So, once it has steeped and cooled off for about 15 minutes, it is ready for me to savor.
1. Who is your favorite author? Who inspired you to write?
My favorite author would possibly be Roald Dahl. Shel Silverstein is great. Madeline L’Engle. A.A. Milne. Those are all kids’ authors, and probably come to mind because I spent so many years loving them, and they were relatively prolific. I love that Dahl jumps across genres. As far as “regular” writers, I’d have to go with Maya Angelou, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Kate Chopin. There are books that I really enjoy, but perhaps since writing for adults takes more time, the authors haven’t published as much. Or maybe it is because I have less time to read now than I once did. I admire Ken Follett for his story-telling ability. Shockingly, I have never read a single Stephen King novel.
2. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing related rituals or quirks?
Rituals before writing …. hmm …. get my drink. Spend anywhere from five minutes to an hour “procrastinating” – letting material sink into my head. Sometimes that means Project Runway, sometimes going for a walk, sometimes poking around Facebook. Something mindless while my subconscious processes. Then release the energy and let it out. Write first, edit later. I never edit as I go.
3. Do you write everyday? How many hours a day do you spend writing? What are some of your worst writing distractions?
I write most days. At least four days a week, often more. I try to take the weekend off to spend family time and re-energize, but it is rare that not a word creeps into my weekend. I spend about 10 hours writing Monday and Tuesday, and more than that researching, and then it tapers off to an hour a day for the rest of the week, until my mind is spent. I definitely front-load my energy. My biggest distractions are my own brain, my children and sleepiness.
4. Why do you write?
I write because I love it. I write because it allows me to be introspective and creative and crazy and quiet. I write to try on different people and professions, to play around with scenarios and emotions. I write to communicate. I write to explain. I occasionally write to entertain. I write because words are important. I write because it is a skill that I want the world to appreciate, to remember the value of literature and the written word. I write because I can reflect with my thoughts and research as I go. I may get tongue-tied over an idea in person, as my mind races faster than my lips. I write because ideas come to me at random, inconvenient times and places, and I need to record them to share them. I write to leave something of myself for my children to see as they grow older. I write because words make me smile. I write because it is fun to write.
5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us? How about a favorite writing quote?
I have no favorite writing quote. The only wisdom I can offer is to live life offline as much as you can, so that when you plug into your computer, you have the energy and experience to make things happen on paper. Don’t be afraid to “overhear” nearby conversations and pick up on dialogue. Research, research, research so that your story sounds plausible. Commit to yourself, and incorporate writing into your life. No one write a novel
And visit writercize. Often! I would love to have you over to try out some of the exercises over there!
Thanks, Alana, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life.
Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.
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