Hello, beautiful writers! Welcome to another installment of the Creative Round Table, a gathering of wisdom, advice, and inspirational stories from some amazing creative souls. Today, we're talking to Kristen Kieffer from She's Novel about developing your creative focus, what it takes to write a spectacular novel, and why her dream book club involves a dollop of snark!
Kristen: Victoria, thank you again for having me! It’s such a pleasure to drop by your blog. I can’t wait to get started!
Victoria: Thank you for coming, Kristen! It's a delight to have you here for a scrumptious cup of tea and a chat about writing.
You’re one of my favourite examples of why you don’t need to complete a university degree to be fulfilled and successful. How do you find your skills and habits as a self-directed learner play into your writing life?
I spent so many hours learning about writing rules, tropes, structures, techniques, etc., as well as information on platform building and industry standards. Before long, I realized just how valuable a single, ultra-informative resource would be. I’ve been endeavoring to create such a resource ever since via my website, shesnovel.com.
Victoria: You’re a great lover of both reading and writing in the fantasy genre. Do you find fantasy moreso allows you to escape from the world, or to see the magic in everyday life?
Kristen: JRR Tolkien once said, “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory.”
Writing and reading fantasy has always been an escape for me. Funny enough, I often prefer grimmer fantasies like A Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, but I don’t think escapism and idealism necessarily go hand in hand. I like characters with demons, real-life problems, and uphill battles.
There’s just something about a good cynical hero or anti-hero fighting back against a world that’s just all too big for them that creates the perfect mix of intrigue and entertainment. Oh, and bonus points if there’s a dragon. *wink*
Victoria: I'm alllll about the dragons! ;)
What is it about writing that brings you back to the page, day after day, month after month, year after year?
Kristen: The stories. I don’t consider myself so much a writer as I am a storyteller–a serial daydreamer, if you will. I’m that crazy person who talks to her characters and always seems to be staring off into space. I daydream constantly, and if I don’t provide an outlet for these stories via writing, my characters get rather mad at me.
Of course, we can’t have that, and so I write.
Victoria: What advice would you give to a writer who feels lost and unsure of their worth as a writer, who’s tempted to throw in the towel because they think they’re not good enough?
Kristen: You aren’t good enough. Harsh words, right? But hear me out.
Writing is much more of a skill than it is a talent, and skills take years to refine and master. Just like you can’t learn to play the piano or run a marathon in just a few months, you can’t learn to write a spectacular novel in that time frame either.
So yes. It may be true that you aren’t good enough skill-wise to write a publishable novel today, but let me ask you this: What’s stopping you from becoming good enough? What’s keeping you from working your tail feather off each and every day to improve your skills?
If we’re being honest, the answer is probably fear. And the only way to overcome fear is to face it, to diligently and passionately write no matter the doubts and struggles that crop up along the way. That determination is what makes you good enough and will transform you into the writer you want to be.
Victoria: Other than writing, what forms of creativity are present in your everyday life? What does creativity mean to you?
Kristen: I’m a firm believer that everyone is a creative and that creativity manifests itself in many different ways. Some creatives are imaginative, others resourceful. Others still are innovative or artistic. It’s finding the facet of creativity that resonates best with you that allows you to live a creative lifestyle.
When I was younger, I channeled some of my creativity into knitting, drawing, and other fun crafts, but my interest for them waned as I got older. For the most part, I now live out my creativity through writing, though I do also get a lot of enjoyment out of designing layouts, graphics, and printed materials for She’s Novel.
I’m also a low-key fan of interior design and fashion, but I’m afraid I don’t give them the time they deserve. Whoops!
Victoria: Do these different creative passions play well in the sandbox, or do they start to compete for time and attention?
Kristen: It’s funny that you ask this since I only really channel my creativity into a few key tasks, all of which relate to my career or where I’d like to take my career. I think one of the biggest reasons why I stopped crafting was because of how much time it took out of my schedule.
Running a small business is extremely time- and energy-consuming, so I have to be very protective of my schedule. If it doesn’t relate directly to She’s Novel or my works-in-progress, I normally don’t participate. I know this sounds a bit like I’m stifling my creativity, but it really doesn’t feel that way.
In fact, I feel more creatively focused and passionate now than I ever have, and I think that’s because I’m seeing how the results of my efforts are manifesting themselves in better and better finished products. It’s absolutely thrilling to feel like you’re working towards mastering a creative skill.
Victoria: On days where you're feeling drained of energy and inspiration, how do you deal with it? Do you march yourself to the blank page regardless? Do you settle in with a book and a cup of tea?
Kristen: A little bit of everything, actually! I do maintain a daily #WriteChain, so on days when I’m not feeling very inspired, I still make sure to write enough to reach my daily minimum (which is 200 words written or 10 minutes of work, if you’re interested).
Oftentimes, though, my drain is a result of being too sedentary. All of my work revolves around a screen, so often just taking a simple thirty- to sixty-minute walk or run is all the refreshment I need to get back in the creative groove.
But I’m certainly not invincible. I do have days where creative output is just not gonna happen, and when those days come, I do turn to books (and tea!) or movies (and more tea!). Anything with a great story is the perfect way for me to relax and recharge my creative batteries.
Victoria: In your recipe for living a creative life, what would be the top three ingredients?
Kristen: Ooh, how fun! Are chocolate, coffee, and tea acceptable answers? Haha!
But in all seriousness, exercise is definitely very important to my creative lifestyle. I highly recommend going for a walk or run–or even doing some yoga–if you’re looking to boost your creative energy.
I also find that listening to my creative peaks and working during those times is essential. I never bother writing during the afternoon because that’s when my energy is at its lowest. Instead I work during the evenings and at night, when my creativity is running high, or on occasion during the morning hours.
The third ingredient? I’d have to say daydreaming! Whenever I have a few empty moments–be it as I’m making breakfast or showering or falling off to sleep, etc.–I always let my mind wander. I try not to tell it where to go. Instead, I simply listen to where my thoughts take me.
Sometimes this results in the perfect answer to a plot hole I’ve been struggling with while other times I’m left with half-baked vision of what my dream home would look like if I were a bajillionaire. Not always so helpful, but I try to go with the flow. More often than not, I end up with something pretty awesome!
Victoria: Bonus Question: If you could host a book club with four of your favourite characters, who would they be and which book would you read first? What sort of discussion would ensue?
Kristen: Oh, this is such a great question–but tough, too! Okay, nerd alert. I think I would invite Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit, Tyrion Lannister from A Game of Thrones, Mark Watney from The Martian, and Po from Graceling. We would call ourselves the Snark Club, and we would read Twilight first.
Why? Well, I can only imagine how ridiculously glorious that conversation would be and–man, oh man–do I want in on that. Can I add Loki to the mix, too? It’d be sheer perfection!