How long have you been writing and what got you started?
I have been sketching out stories in notebooks as far back as I can remember. I started seriously writing in my teens and early twenties, sending out poems with occasional success. I think part of me always wanted to be a writer because I have always enjoyed reading good stories, but some of my English teachers have also been huge contributors to my writing. If not for a few people along the way, reading my rough drafts and encouraging me to enter contests and submit, I probably would not have started publishing. I have also had members of my family encourage my writing.
What is the best piece of advice you have for new writers?
I have corresponded with many writers, both widely known and emerging, and asked them for advice. It is usually about the same: Read constantly and write constantly. I would add to that, check out websites like Poets & Writers and Every Writer’s Resource, and follow guidelines carefully. Editors love to smack down submissions if they do not adhere strictly to the hallowed guidelines.
What is the worst piece of advice you have heard for new writers?
My cardinal sin of writing is that I have a strong tendency to throw away old drafts and story ideas if no one takes them after a few tries. This constant recycling is probably not something a writer should do, as it forces total reconstruction of pieces, frustration, and the loss of some ideas in the process. It can be discouraging to start all over again, particularly when that restart happens as a matter of the writer’s own choosing.
What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
I enjoy some speculative fiction if it is clever and has a sense of satire. For this reason, I like Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. Bradbury in particular has a descriptive and poetic style. When it comes to verse, I enjoy Billy Collins.
What tips do you have for finding time to write?
If you spend time with people who understand your process, that helps. Writing is an activity of seclusion, which means that a writer’s family and friends sometimes have to be willing to offer space. These people in your life can also be great editors and sounding boards (or not, depending on the person). Reflecting on the way that I use my own time, I know that I spend hours in front of television and computer screens. These are largely passive activities that require little thought or engagement. Breaking up some of these less than challenging activities and spending time writing instead has helped me.
Do you prefer to outline a story in advance or write on the fly? Why?
If the story is a larger one, I prefer to have a brief outline. A shorter story or poem can unfold itself. The reason for my preference is that I can get lost in a larger story and revert to old conventions, or put the writing down for a while and forget where I was. An outline, in this way, is like a trail of breadcrumbs. A shorter story can be reread and reworked from various angles in a shorter amount of time.
How do you deal with rejections?
Sometimes badly. I have received a few rejections that have been somewhat scathing, which I do not understand. Responding to other people’s writing should not be perceived as the opportunity to kick someone. Most of the rejections I have received are bland, form letter rejections. “Your work just does not meet our needs at this time,” which sounds like, “It’s not you, it’s me.” I often wonder if these editors have even read the work. I am not sure that I have ever received anything constructive out of a rejection letter, other than the directive to follow the guidelines. Lately, my response is somewhat of a stubborn one; when one editor says no, I try to find as many possible alternative places for the writing. The only answer is to keep trudging on anyway unless one is simply going to stop trying. I simply do not wish to stop trying.
What are your writing goals for the next twelve months?
I would like to continue writing some poetry and speculative fiction, but I also want to publish further in the area of educational research. When I am not writing, I teach, and so I would like to practice more with writing in the field.
For the next five years?
Right now, I am finishing my Education Specialist degree. In the next five years, I would like to be working on a doctorate. To that end, I am sure I will be working on a dissertation. In addition to the dissertation, I would like to look for opportunities to publish larger works of poetry and short fiction.
Is there anything you’d like to plug? Feel free to share a link.
My first chapbook, The Truth About Snails, is due from Red Dashboard this October. I am also working on my blog, jddehart.blogspot.com.