This week’s Spotlight Saturday I am lucky to have on my blog an interview with Writer, of memoirs, and musician Alana Saltz.
You can find her on her website:
as we discuss such things as creativity and mental illness, whether it’s worth getting an MFA, and how to handle rejection.
And now I hope you learn as much about writing as I did from Alana.
KK: First, where are you located and what is your background with writing?
AS: I’m located in Los Angeles, CA. I’ve had an interest in words since my parents started reading me bedtime stories. I loved trips to the library and bookstore as a child. At my elementary school, there were some opportunities for students to explore creative writing, like our parent-run Paw Print Press. I got to write and illustrate a couple of stories, and then they were produced into little picture books with covers made out of cardboard.
I eventually majored in English as an undergraduate, took lots of writing classes, and was an active participant in my school’s literary magazine and writing workshop. After graduating, I decided to take the next step and pursue my MFA. I’ll be graduating from Antioch University, Los Angeles this December.
KK: What skills do you think are required to be an artist, either to be a writer, musician, or both?
AS: Passion and determination are the biggest ones. I also think it helps a lot to be naturally empathetic and sensitive if you want to create art that resonates with others. You have to be willing to look inside and look at others in a deep, meaningful way to be able to capture the world and reflect it back through words, art, or music.
KK: Do you believe in the connection between artistic talent and mental illness? What do you think that connection is and how does it manifest itself for you?
AS: I don’t really believe there’s a connection between talent and mental illness. If anything, mental illness can make you more internal and sensitive, which might in turn bring new levels of perception and power to your creative work. But you can be a thoughtful, insightful person without any diagnosable mental illnesses. While mental illness has given me something to write about, it hasn’t helped me actually write. It usually prefers to get in the way through discouraged, depressed outlooks and anxious, stressed thoughts that I have to fight in order to get back to work.
KK: Do you think writing talent can be taught or learned or do you think either someone has it or they don’t?
AS: This is an interesting question; I got into a debate with my boyfriend about it just the other day. I think everyone is born with certain inherent strengths and talents. Words and language have always come naturally to me, so I embraced that side of myself, and luckily felt a passion for developing it. I think it’s possible to be good at something you don’t want to do and be bad at something you wish you could do. Writing can certainly be taught, even if a person doesn’t have a natural strength with it. But it sure helps to have that. It’s much less of an uphill battle.
I also think that empathy and insight play a role here as well. Not everyone is naturally good at looking inside themselves or seeing the world around them with clarity and understanding. You need that to create work that resonates, and I’m not sure that can be taught.
KK: What advice do you have for a writer just starting out?
AS: Every professional writer will give the same advice: Read. Read a lot, and read widely. But everyone who will ultimately make it as a writer doesn’t need that advice because they already do. You have to love reading and stories to become and be a writer.
Besides reading, I would recommend finding a local writing workshop/critique group, maybe taking some classes, and writing whatever interests you without worrying too much about what it is or where it will ultimately take you.
KK: What does the term memoir mean to you?
AS: Memoir is a work of autobiography that has a theme, focus, or covers a select period of a person’s life. It’s creative nonfiction, meaning that it’s based in fact and experience, but some creative liberties can and will be taken in bringing it to life.
KK: What is the difference between a writer and an author? Do you think the words are interchangeable?
AS: I define “author” as someone who has published a book. A “writer” is someone who writes. I don’t think the words are interchangeable, although an “author” is certainly a “writer.”
KK: What is your writing or creative process? Do you have a routine or do you let the inspiration strike when it will?
AS: A lot of people would probably judge my creative process. There’s a lot of emphasis on the “butt in chair” routine: sit down every day, or a least several days a week, for a specified amount of time or amount of words, and make yourself write. Eventually, something will come out. They say this is how professionals work. It’s not how I work.
I always have ideas floating around, incubating. I often write down notes and brainstorm. I typically set out to write in the mornings, but not every morning. Sometimes the writing is just thinking or note-taking. If I’m in the middle of a project, I work on that. I’ll go several days, even a week, without writing a word, then spend 10 days straight writing thousands of words a day. I let my interests, project, and ideas guide me. Deadlines will dictate it as well.
I don’t wait for inspiration, exactly. I have to keep my mind open and searching so I have something to say whenever I do sit down. But I tend to sit down when I feel compelled to, although I do have a nagging sense of obligation that makes me force myself now and then.
KK: What is your experience with writing programs? Do you believe it is important to be trained or can there be other ways of gaining the same wisdom and experience?
AS: I have mixed feelings about writing programs. If you just want to write for fun, take some classes here and there, maybe join a local writing workshop. If you want to teach, get an MFA or PhD. That’s necessary. If you want to write professionally, it depends. Classes and workshops are a must, but I don’t think a degree is necessary. I wanted the option to teach, and I love writing classes and workshops and being part of a community, so that’s why I pursued an MFA.
KK: What do you think is harder to write: fiction or non-fiction/memoir? Why?
AS: For me, it’s probably memoir. In fiction, you have to create a whole world from scratch, but you can dictate and structure what happens in it. In memoir, you already have the materials, the enormous, misshapen pile of clay that is your life and memories. From that, and only that, you must sculpt a beautiful statue. You have to take a million little moments and turn them into a structured, cohesive, engaging narrative that makes sense and will connect with others. And if you don’t have an amazing memory, it’s even harder. I’m glad I kept journals as a teenager, or I’m not sure I could have written mine. But both genres are tough.
KK: How do you handle rejection and what tips can you offer for dealing with it for other writers?
AS: I don’t handle it as well as I’d like, but it depends on the rejection. Individually, they aren’t so bad. One after another can be discouraging and make me question everything. I’m one of those people who can’t not write, no matter how much I get rejected, no matter how low I sink in confidence. It’s part of me. If it’s part of you too, just remember that it takes rejection to get to acceptance, and becoming a successful writer will take time and perseverance. Try not to let it get you too down in the meantime. Editors, agents, and teachers are all subjective in their tastes and feedback. Take their advice seriously, but know each one does not represent the entire world of opinion.
KK: What is your feeling about traditional publishing vs self-publishing? What do you see for the future of both?
AS: This is a tricky question. I’ll start by saying that I’m an advocate of whatever path works for you and your project. I think self/indie-publishing has an interesting and promising future ahead of it. I like the idea of writers taking our work into our own hands, maintaining creative control, and publishing on our own terms.
That said, traditional publishing still has its place. It’s very hard to get teaching or lecturing positions as a self-published author, if that’s your goal. Publishing houses also have more resources and money for promotion than you’ll most likely have on your own, unless you’ve developed a huge following already. People say publishers make you do all your own promotion, but that isn’t true. From what I can see, you’ll spend way more time promoting as a self-publisher than a traditionally published author. If you self publish, it’s all up to you. No one is helping. And that can be really, really tough.
KK: What do you have planned for the future for your own writing?
AS: Right now, I’m querying a memoir about my struggle to overcome anxiety disorder and depression as a young adult. I also have some essays in the works to submit to blogs and magazines. I’m planning to do NaNoWriMo in November to get a new novel going. I have a couple novel drafts in my virtual drawer that I occasionally look at and revisit. So, I have a lot of different projects in the works. I’m not sure which one will take off first.
Thank you Alana, for your candid answers to my questions. I wish you lots of luck with NaNoWriMo next month.
For more on Alana, visit her on: