Questions for Writers

Last week Kristen at Little Lodestar unintentionally set off a firestorm with her post, Nine Things I Wonder About Other Writers. She asked readers to answer these questions in the comments section on her blog, but many found the answers to warrant a post of their own. Nina Badzin, Lindsey Mead, Andrea Jarrell, and Justine Uhlenbrock are a few that I know of and whose answers I loved reading. I’m endlessly fascinated by the writer’s process, and any peek into the way others approach it is often eye opening for me.

Below are my answers to Kristen’s questions, and I would love to hear yours, whether in the comments here or on Kristen’s original post or on a post of your own.

1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet?

I don’t usually share my works in progress with my husband. Certainly not blog posts. If I’m working on fiction or nonfiction, I’ll sometimes ask for his opinion or perspective, but this is usually to help with a sticky plot point or help me understand something like a scientific theory or historical event with more clarity. (Most of my freelance writing is for educational publishers.)

2. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback for it?

Like Lindsey, my feelings about this are complicated. I’m thrilled when someone in my personal life reads my stuff, but I certainly don’t expect them to do it regularly. Having said that, my mother, a children’s author, reads almost everything I write. She reads all my blog posts, and she’s often my beta reader for other writing projects. I know of a handful of friends and family who read pretty consistently. They might not always comment, but knowing they’re taking the time to read anything I’ve written means so much to me.

3. What do you do with pieces that continually get rejected — post to your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let go?

I haven’t started submitting pieces to other sites yet but it’s something I’m thinking about doing in the New Year, so I can’t answer for personal essays or blog posts. I do have a few fiction pieces that have been rejected. Some I gave up on and some I’m still fiddling with because I still believe in them and something about them keeps pulling me back. I think that’s the thing for me. If it still lights a fire in me, I know I’m not ready to let it go.

4. Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

For me, this would pertain to the educational writing I do, and I would have to say that it just depends. If the editor is open to revisions, or seems excited by the idea but it just isn’t working as is, I almost always try to “get it right”. If it’s flat-out rejected, sometimes I let it go if it’s an idea specifically for that editor/project, but sometimes I find through the process that I fall in love with a character’s voice or the idea in general, and I’m almost happy that it’s been rejected because I can keep these pieces for my own and try to develop them into a picture book, chapter book, or middle grade novel.

5. What is your main source of reading-based inspiration (especially you essayists)? Blogs? Magazines? Journals? Anthologies? Book of essays by one writer?

Everything. I read almost anything I can get my hands on. Sometimes the reading takes over and before I know it, I’ve spent two hours reading blog posts and articles and dipping into books on my shelves when I should have been writing and/or working. For blog writing, I think I get the bulk of my ideas from other blogs. Something I read will spark a thought or a memory and I’ll go from there.

6. What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

Again, I have to say almost everything. Along with the inspiration I find through other writers, it’s about remaining open and present in my daily life. Aidan Donnelly Rowley posted a photo to Instagram the other day that I think captures this sentiment perfectly. She was looking up at a lit Christmas tree in a corner window from her vantage point on the sidewalk and remarked that for just a moment she paused and wondered about the life that resides inside. That’s it in a nutshell — wondering, asking “what if”, allowing your mind and imagination to wander.

7. Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so underappreciated?

This is a great question, and I’m afraid I might fail at answering it. There are so many bloggers out there whose words inspire me more than a lot of bestselling authors, but I’m going to say my mother. My mother is a brilliant writer and poet.

8. Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

I don’t know about “must have”, but I love Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist” and Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”. I haven’t yet read “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” by Mason Currey, but I’ve heard it’s a good one. I also enjoyed a little known book called “Writing Begins with the Breath” by Laraine Herring. And I think Stephen King’s “On Writing” has been mentioned, but that is also a great read.

the writing life

15 thoughts on “Questions for Writers

  1. Kristen says:

    I am so happy you answered these, Lara! I’m a big fan of Austin Kleon on IG so I definitely will check out his book (and the others). In fact, I might do a quickie, aggregate post of all the books that folks have recommended in their similar posts/comments. I think that is so great that your mom is a “second set of eyes” for you as a beta reader, particularly given her own background! I also have a lot of “what if” moments like you describe…for me it’s lately been things I see rather than read that triggers the mind wandering, but I definitely also have periods where I’m more inspired by others’ words. I guess that is probably true for many folks. So glad that 2014 included becoming familiar with you and your blog! Looking forward to more of it in 2015 (and seeing what you submit).

  2. Lindsey Mead (@lemead) says:

    Love these questions and your answers too! Like you, and Aidan, I have those moments where I find myself wondering about others, something I see, something tiny. I don’t know some of the books you mention and will check them out asap! xox

  3. Dina L. Relles says:

    “wondering, asking “what if”, allowing your mind and imagination to wander…” — that’s it exactly. I love these answers. And how your mother inspires you. (We follow each other on Twitter :)).

  4. scribblesinpeacock says:

    It goes without saying you touched, and have always touched, my heart. We are all fragile, we are all strong, depending on those moments in the dark, depending on those moments in the light, but as a mother who misses, every day, those little, sweetest years, I am lucky enough to say I am happy right where we are, with having you as my all grown up daughter best friend writer everything everything girl. And thank you for this. Do you want extra Christmas presents now?

  5. rudrip says:

    I loved reading through your answers and your book recommendations. I am a huge fan of Pressfield’s work and recently listed it on my top 10 reads for 2014. It is so great that you share a writing bond with your mom.

  6. Justine says:

    “If it still lights a fire in me, I know I’m not ready to let it go.” That and the “what if” comment are great insights into your world. Thanks for letting us in. As another writer with a mom as reader/advisor/cheerleader, I got a bit verklempt at your mom’s comment on this post. Extra presents, indeed!

  7. Dana says:

    I love how Kristen’s questions leads me to writers I might not have discovered otherwise! I really enjoyed your responses and thought, how fantastic to have a mother who is an author and beta reader 🙂

    I agree that the “what if” question often leads to story and post ideas. I am a total window glancer and wondered! When I lived in brooklyn I loved how all the windows were like mini screens and as I’d pass I’d often imagine what else might be going on inside.

    So glad to have found your blog!

  8. Sarah Brentyn says:

    I hope you do start submitting pieces—your writing is lovely and honest. I look forward to reading your posts. (Love how your mom is threaded through this post.) 🙂 I have Austin Kleon in my list, too. I must read his “Steal Like an Artist”.

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