“I’ve gladly learned that collaborating with others doesn’t make you any less of a writer. In fact, I think it makes you a stronger writer and a wiser person in general.”
Jamie Stewart is a bobsled racing, fortune cookie writer from a small suburban town. She is made up of 50% flaxseed and 50% imagination. Her hobbies include Skip-its, playing the piccolo, and Tibetan throat singing. She is brought to you today by the letter S.
I’m excited to welcome Jamie Stewart onto the blog! She is an amazing writer, editor, and friend. She is prolific and careful in her attention to detail and plot. She is always writing and learning, and inspires me with her dedication to her craft. You can visit her amazing blog, follow her on twitter, and see some of her other publications.
Below are her answers to my interview questions.
Who are some of your literary influences, and what have you learned from them about writing?
You do realize this is like asking me to pick a favorite child, right? I read everything. And I mean everything. Charles Dickens. Stephenie Meyer. The back of the shampoo bottle. I could never pick one or two literary influences and I’d even argue my one strongest literary influence is the collection of voices and plots I’ve read over time. I’m the person I am today because of the unique collection of books I’ve read. No one else has read the same things you’ve read during the exact same time or in the exact same order that you’ve read them. Each of us is like that. We are all uniquely shaped by the stories we hear or the things we read because we all process information differently. So whether I like it or not I’m the writer I am because I devoured The Magic Tree House series when I was 19 years old. I’m the reader I am because I’ve read Moby Dick three times. I’m the person I am because I still remember the lessons I’ve learned from books.
Reading this way makes you open-minded, both in your writing and in your personal life, and I love that. When you read so many different viewpoints you automatically begin to exercise them in your own mind. That mindset influences you to view a situation from a variety of perspectives, simply because you know those perspectives exist. In writing I think that enriches your ability to tell a story.
Aside from fiction, where else do you draw your inspiration from?
Everything. Life. People. There’s a part of me and what I’ve experienced so far in everything I write.
Do you have a writing routine? Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I usually go into a project with a concept and a general sequence of some kind in my head. That sequence doesn’t have to be plot points. Maybe it’s an emotional arc or an abstract rhythm. Or maybe it is a pattern of action and dialogue. That happens too. I’ve even built an entire story around a single character once. Whatever the case, it’s something deep (creepy or heartwarming or playful) and it tends to pull me forward. I feel like I have to tell that story. Once I get going anything can happen, but in anything of mine worth sharing I’ve always had that guiding push at the beginning.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write. It’s boring advice but it’s the best you’ll find. Sit down, stand up, lie out; I don’t care. Use blue ink, mechanical pencils, laptop keys; it doesn’t matter. Write and keep writing. Take breaks if you’re getting burnt out but remember that the sonnets in your head or the novels you talk about with friends are never going to write themselves. If they do, stop reading this interview right now and go market whatever magic potion you’ve concocted. That’s incredible.
What was the biggest lesson you learned about writing while you were working on your most recent story?
I submitted a piece recently that went through a few rounds of revision with an editor. We made the changes together and the piece is still my original story, but it’s definitely different as a result. And I love that. Something I think a lot of people don’t realize is how much collaboration goes into a piece of writing. Any piece of writing. That includes magazine articles, tweets, textbooks, memoirs, and on and on and on. Even if you pen the perfect novel and you’re satisfied with it, somewhere down the line someone in publishing is going to make a suggestion that enhances the story. I’ve gladly learned that collaborating with others doesn’t make you any less of a writer. In fact, I think it makes you a stronger writer and a wiser person in general.
What is the most difficult part of writing for you? How do you deal with it?
I feel so much joy when I write. I’m excited for the characters. I’m excited for the people who will read the story. I’m excited to see how I grow as a writer each time I sit down. I don’t see writing as a chore or a thing I have to get done. I’ve always seen it as an excuse to play. Because of this, I find it so hard to isolate an aspect of writing that is difficult. I feel lucky that I get the opportunity to write. It’s not in me to say, “Oh, this is so challenging. I need a break. I need coffee. I can’t write because x, y, and z.” I’m such a grin-and-bear-it, find-the-positive kind of person that the difficulties blend right into the good stuff and it all becomes kind of gray.
That being said, the left-brained aspect of me pays very stringent attention to the connotation of my work. When I’m in that creative space I let my imagination run wild, no matter where it goes. But when I’m shaping those fluid what-ifs into an actual story to share with people, I start to consider the social context I’m writing in and how others will be affected by my story. I believe writers have a responsibility to put things out into the world that don’t push the wrong boundaries or, if they do, push those boundaries for a very calculated and thoroughly considered reason. I wouldn’t say any of this is difficult. It just takes a willingness to step outside yourself and challenge what you’re doing or view it complexly.
What is your favorite part of writing?
What I love most about writing is getting to a certain part in a story that elicits a personal reaction and imagining how that very same moment will impact others when they read it. I could entertain myself all day by just sitting at my computer and watching my characters do silly or sad or brave things. But that’s just me. When I imagine how other people will react to the story, that’s when it all starts to get real. At that point the story is no longer something in my head. It has become something I can actually share with people. When you consider who you’re writing for it definitely raises the stakes. Making something with the intention of sharing it with other people, that’s my favorite thing about writing.
What was the most difficult part of writing your most recent story? What was the easiest?
Writing my most recent story was actually a very smooth process. There is a lot of stress surrounding it for me because it’s my favorite of all the novels I’ve written so far and I’m working very hard to get it right, but compared to the excitement I feel about this book the stress is microscopic. The easiest part was writing the actual story. It was as natural as breathing. (But, who knows, maybe revision will kick my butt!)
Is there anything else you would like the readers to know about you or your writing?
Right now I’m working on some larger projects that I hope to share with everyone someday. In the more immediate future I’m launching a yearlong cross-country road trip reading series on my blog in January of 2017. I’d love to hear what people think of it. The books I have planned for the series are really terrific and I’ve even designed a free printable calendar just for the series if anyone wants to follow along. I’m excited to see what people think of that, too! I hope they like it!
Below is a short freewrite from Jamie. You can also read it on her blog and let her know what you think!
When the buzzer sounded, one half of the room got up and moved to the next chair.
“People please!” Rachel called out over the scraping sound of metal chair legs against linoleum floor tiles. “I know this is a practice run, but we need to give our customers good advice. Run it again.” She raised the stopwatch in her right hand and jabbed her thumb down on the button labeled START.
Savannah groaned as Griffin slid easily into the curved plastic chair across from her.
“Oh now, come on,” he said. “Don’t act so happy to see me.” A slight teasing smile played on his lips. Then he got serious. “Umm…So…I, uh.” The words dangled on his tongue. He bent the pads of his fingers back and forth, nervously testing out the span of his uppermost knuckles. His eyes were big and full of worry. He was nailing it.
“Hi, my name is Savannah. What’s yours?” She forced her voice to sound peppy and kind, even though this was the thirteenth simulation the group had run today. Every time Savannah had to remind herself to be welcoming. Non-threatening. Now her voice just sounded fake.
Griffin ignored her weak tone. It was his job to act like the student and her job to practice the role of the tutor. They’d been at orientation for six hours already and everyone in the room was feeling it. Griffin’s pretend concern was weaker than her attempt at a greeting.
“My teacher said I should come here,” he said cautiously. “I need help with interjections. I just don’t understand them.”
Savannah swallowed a yawn. She folded her hands on the table in front of her. “Okay, sure,” she said before launching into her explanation. “Well, here’s the run-down first. You see, interjections show excitement. Or emotion. They’re generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point. Or by a comma when the feeling’s not as strong.” She made herself awkwardly pause in the wrong places as she spoke. The lyrics sounded jagged and incorrect to her ear.
Griffin looked up, all traces of his façade gone.
“You’re fucking with me, right?” His coy smile was back. “You little cheat.”
Savannah didn’t know if it was from the monotony of all the practice consultations she’d endured over the last hour and a half, or from the oppressive layer of balmy heat that congested the air inside the all-purpose room. She cracked up laughing.
“It felt so wrong to stop where I did. Part of me wanted to go on and start singing.”
Griffin wiped the tears from his eyes. Then they both quickly bowed their heads and pretended to be very concerned with the imaginary assignment on the table between them as Rachel passed by on her rounds, observing the consultants’ tutoring methods. When she was gone, they both looked up.
“You can’t really give out tutoring advice from Schoolhouse Rock,” Griffin said, calling Savannah out once and for all.
Savannah leaned back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest. “You’re the one who came in here to work on interjections,” she countered.
“What else you got?”
“Well,” she replied. “We can work on what constitutes a noun or I can talk you through the difference between a subject and a predicate. Take your pick.” She held her palms facing upward and moved them out over the table, advertising his options.
Griffin shook his head. His eyes were warm now. He was no longer pretending to be a student. “No,” he said. “We’ve been stuck in this room for an entire day and, so far, you’re the first person who’s made me laugh. I don’t want to talk about parts of speech anymore. I want to talk about you.”
Savannah smiled. A faint blush colored her cheeks. She opened her mouth to speak, but just then Rachel’s stopwatch went off, sending another buzz through the room.
“Darn, that’s the end,” Savannah said, locking eyes with Griffin as he stood to go.
She managed to survive the rest of the day at orientation picturing how he’d bent his head back and laughed all the way to the next open table.