10 Questions with James Sabata
James Sabata received an MA in English and Creative Writing from the University of South Dakota. He has written several short stories and screenplays and is currently working on his first full-length novel. A father of three, James currently resides in Phoenix, AZ.
How long have you been writing and what got you started?
I’ve been writing since the day I told my first lie. That’s all writing is. Particularly when you become good at lying and actually think it out and make sure it all adds up. You’re editing life. I cranked out my first story at the age of eight, with no idea that it was fan-fiction, because I didn’t know that existed at the time. I wrote my first “novel” at ten, filling every page in a notebook. My mother is the only person other than me who ever read it. I’d say that was my first in person rejection letter as well. I’m not like a lot of other writers. I never made the conscious choice to write. It’s just always been there. If anything, for a few years, I made the choice NOT to write. The stories were still there so I started putting them down on paper and giving them to people. Might as well share the demons in my head with others. Publishing was a choice, but writing never has been, at least for me.
What is the best piece of advice you have for new writers?
Give up on instant gratification. This is not an industry that cares what you want or when you want it. This is a lifestyle that requires a lot of patience. Nothing is on your schedule once you give it to someone else. They’ll read your work when they want to. They’ll respond when they want to. They’ll publish when they want to. Most writers I know say they’ve more or less forgotten about a piece by the time they see it in print. Accept that. If you want a job where you can see instant results, this is not the career for you.
The rest of my advice is this simple, and applies to every aspect of your life, not just writing – If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse. Don’t tell people why you couldn’t write or why a story didn’t sell. If it’s important to you, work at it and make it happen. No one cares about your excuses and you’re only wasting time when you could have been writing.
Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, you’d like to recommend?
I have a book that changed how I outline: Linda George’s “Fill-In-The-Blanks Plotting.” I don’t use it exactly, by any means, but it explained some key concepts about pacing that changed everything I do. Since reading it and implementing some of what I do, I’ve become much better at pacing. If you’re an outline person, this book is amazing and life changing. If you’re not, you’ll be wasting your time reading it. Outside of that, I’ve learned so much more from other writers than from any books. Meet writers. Seek them out. You always learn more surrounding yourself with those who know what they’re doing than you do on your own.
What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
My favorite fiction to take in is the same as my favorite fiction to create – screenplays/movies. People discount this, because it’s not a book, but the simple fact is that the creative process that goes into writing movies is more intensive, not less. You don’t get 700 pages to ramble on. You get 90 and have to make the full story happen. I enjoy it the most because it’s easily digestible. A couple hours and it’s over. I like it because it’s insanely easy to go back to 200 times or even on repeat. You notice things you didn’t notice before. You use more of your senses at once. It’s amazing. As far as genre, I’ll always be partial to love stories and horror… particularly in the same story. Horror doesn’t have to be grotesque. It can be the simple fear of losing the thing you love the most. In fact, it usually is.
What tips do you have for finding time to write?
You either do it or you don’t. There is no finding it. You have the same amount of time, whether you’re watching a season of Arrested Development all in a row or writing or sleeping or working two full time jobs. No one “finds” time. I’m a big believer that you will do better if you have a set time of when you’re going to work on writing. I think if you want it to be your job, you should treat it like a job. If it’s not a priority to you, why are you doing it? If it is a priority – TRULY is a priority, that is – you won’t have to find time, because you’ll be yearning to get to it. I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. I couldn’t pick out a Kardashian in a line up. I have published several stories and written many more, though.
Do you prefer to outline a story in advance or write on the fly? Why?
I always outline. My outline for AFTER LIFE was longer than the story. You don’t have to outline every step along the way. You simply treat it like a cross country trip. If I know the major cities I’m stopping in, I know if I’m on the right track. It doesn’t matter if I interstate straight there or turn off onto the scenic route or stop on some back country road along the way. What matters is pacing. In my opinion, people who never outline, you can tell. They have no pacing. They’ll just ramble for pages without accomplishing anything. They lose the focus of their theme, because they’ve never bothered to write down what their theme will be. If you don’t know your next destination, or when you need to get there, how do you know where you are? Your reader doesn’t want to be in the car with someone who has no idea where they’re off to. They trusted you to get them through this. Outline, even vague outlining, helps you keep that promise to your reader.
How do you deal with rejections?
I spend the first five minutes annoyed. Then I get over it and move on. If they included notes, I’ll read the story from that point of view and see if I agree or not. If I do, I make changes. If I don’t, I have to defend to myself WHY I don’t agree. That can also involve a re-write, because in defending it, I realize I need to show my reader more clearly why I did what I did to start with. Most rejections don’t bother me. I don’t store them up or even reread them after the first day. They’re not personal. They just didn’t fit what that person wanted on that day. This is not a business for people who can’t accept that.
What are your writing goals for the next twelve months?
My goal is always just to write. It can be stuff I never finish, things I never submit, etc. It might be the next great American Novel, etc. It’s about sitting down and getting it done. I don’t give myself any “you have to do this many by this day” because that’s not how I write. I had a day last year where I wrote 11,400 words of my novel. I didn’t write again for almost a week. When it’s there, it’s there. When it’s not, I try to work on something else. Some days, that’s just not possible. I find, for myself, having set goals actually works against me, as I get hung up on them instead of just letting it happen. That won’t work for everyone, but no two writers do anything the same way. I never submit until I’m happy with something and I never know when that will be.
For the next five years?
It’s hard to say. If it’s like it’s always been, I still won’t have set goals. It’s never stopped me from completing projects so far, and I’d like to keep that tradition alive. My plan includes having more of a web presence than I currently do, as well as doing a couple panels at conventions here and there. Nothing set in stone, as I find that I work better with fluidity. As long as what you’re doing works for you, don’t change it. Writers need to be almost as superstitious as baseball players.
Is there anything you’d like to plug? Feel free to share a link.
You can visit my website at www.jamessabata.com or follow me on twitter at @JamesSabata