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 most eager to welcome Nancy Ellen Dodd, author of THE WRITER’S COMPASS.
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?
Author Nancy Ellen Dodd
My day job is academic editor of a peer-reviewed online journal at the Graziadio Business School at Pepperdine University. As one professor told her students, I’m the one who edits the faculty. I also teach advanced screenwriting at Pepperdine in the Spring.
I’ve been trained in most forms of writing–novels, screenplays, plays, short stories, etc.–except poetry, but I dabble with writing poems anyway. My favorite form and genre is whatever I’m writing in at the time I’m asked. I’m currently finishing the final edits on a YA/Crossover novel that I started as a short story 22 years ago.
Other than writing, I love reading or listening to audiobooks, watching movies or good TV, camping near the ocean or up in Yosemite near a stream. I also enjoy various forms of sewing, knitting, crocheting. A few years ago I had breast cancer and knitted something like 5 sweaters while I was recovering. Something I especially enjoy, but rarely do, is making wedding veils.
1. Where do you do most of your writing?
I used to write in my bed, after all in bed is where dreams happen. I have a very large bed and I could spread materials out. I don’t write in bed as often now because I have a better space.
2. Where did you get your desk? How did you go about arranging your work area?
My desk is a large dining room table that was my mother’s. For years it was taken apart and sitting in the garage. I dreamed of one day having a place to set it up and use it as my writing space. When we moved, I discovered I had enough room to set it up in my bedroom. I took it from storage and set it up by myself, which was quite a feat. It has 3 additional leaves I don’t have room to add. The table is under a large window that looks out to our community condo courtyard and then beyond to the homes and trees on the hills of our neighborhood.
3. What are some important things on your desk? Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?
I’m embarrassed to stay stacks and stacks of clutter and papers and receipts, which need to be filed or trashed are hidden behind a very large monitor, plus a printer and miscellaneous other items.
I have several bookcases in my room. I also love nutcrackers and I have a Clara nutcracker under a picture that says “Dream” and I have a 5-foot nutcracker in my room that she is dreaming about.
5-Foot Tall Nutcracker
I have a whole collection of nutcrackers I put out at Christmas with some inexpensive trains my granddaughter and I love to run. I also have a collection of fairy tale books and other books I find inspiring, lots of music on CDs and cassettes and of course a huge selection of my devotional books. Also important to me are my “story boxes,” which are colorful boxes I keep all the materials relating to a specific story inside.
4. What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?
Most of my favorite objects are on the bookshelves behind me or scattered through the room.
In my workspace I have a blue enamel tin cup, like one you might use while camping, that a former writer’s group member bought me that he identified with in a story I wrote as a TV pilot. I also have other items from various productions or that friends have given me related to my writing.
5. What’s your writing beverage? What do you love to drink while you’re writing?
My favorite drink is freshly brewed hot tea, especially lapsang souchong, but a good cup of Earl Gray or Lady Earl Gray or…
1. Who is your favorite author? Who inspired you to write?
There are so many authors I like in many different genres. I really enjoy Lee Child, J.R.R. Tolkien, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Dashiell Hammett, Clive Cussler, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austen, Nancy Taylor Rosenberg, and many others.
I don’t know who inspired me to write. I’ve always told stories to myself and at one point I started writing them down.
2. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing related rituals or quirks?
For a long time I have had a devotional with a prayer time and Bible or inspirational reading time before I write. Then I try to write for a couple of hours before I get up and go to work. I learned some time ago that it was easy to allow other things to interrupt my creative time and if they did, then my writing time for the day would be gone.
I recently realized I had a new ritual, which has to do with digitizing my audiobooks from cassettes so I can listen to them again. I set up the audio editor and push the play buttons and then save the file and turn the cassette over and repeat. I didn’t realize this was a ritual until one day when I started to write I automatically turned around to setup the tape player first. It was like I had to do that to start.
3. Do you write every day? How many hours a day do you spend writing? What are some of your worst writing distractions?
I try to write everyday. When I’m at the end of the project I might write several hours a day. My daughter and 7-year-old granddaughter live with me and when I am at a part where I need several uninterrupted hours, they will take a trip somewhere so I can have privacy.
My biggest distractions currently are checking email, or rankings, looking at the newest deal on audible.com, and of course my kids calling me or my granddaughter coming in to ask me a question.
Another distraction is that I develop and teach online courses and I give a number of workshops to writer’s groups and at conferences, so sometimes my writing time is the only time I have to prepare or give notes to my students.
4. Why do you write?
I try at least once a year to give up writing, but I always go back to it. Although I’ve written off and on for decades, in May 1998 I started praying that God would help me to take the steps to lead me to fulfill my purpose in life. Two weeks later I was given a ticket to go to a writer’s conference in Mendocino that I otherwise would not have been able to afford. At that conference I went to two workshops given by a screenwriter who taught at USC. I told him I wanted to learn from him. He told me I would need to be at USC in the master’s of Professional Writing Program and to let him know if I wanted to go. At the time, I didn’t even have my bachelor’s degree. Through a series of events, a few months later I found myself finishing my bachelor’s at Cal-State, Bakersfield, during the same semester I was starting my master’s degree at USC in Los Angeles. While at USC I also earned an MFA in playwriting. Since then I’ve come to believe that in part, God’s plan for me is to teach and to write, both of which I love doing.
5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us? How about a favorite writing quote?
I tell my students that the most important thing to know about writing is to never let anyone talk you into cutting what your gut tells you to keep–until you know why you wrote it. Sometimes it is the most important part of your story and without it you don’t want to keep writing that story. You have to dig deeper and become naked on the page until you figure out why you wrote that bit or scene and how to show it. Sometimes it leads to some of the best writing in your story.
For example, the YA I’m finishing I thought I’d completed 6 months ago. When I gave it to other writers to read, I got very different opinions. One of them suggested major cuts. After I got up from my pity party, I went back to the method I teach in my book, The Writer’s Compass: From Story Map to Finished Draft in 7 Stages, to create a new story map to look at my story again. What I learned was that I started the story in the wrong place and from the wrong POV. I cut 220 pages and then cherry-picked the parts I wanted to keep. I totally reorganized the content and retold it in multiple POVs. One of the people who wanted me to cut so much just told me how much better it was and that she was glad I’d cut certain things, it made her like the main character so much more. She was very surprised to learn I hadn’t cut those sections at all, I told the same story in a different order and multiple POVs, which had totally changed her perception of the story.
Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your writing life, Nancy!
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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