A Thousand Little Words- An Interview With Danielle Van Alst

Q: Where do you write? Do you have anything with you when you write?

 

A: I typically write on my laptop in bed. I get most of my creative ideas at night so, it’s the most comfortable for me. I also write for really long hours at a time so my neck and back thank me for this habit. I occasionally write at my desk as well but for some bizarre reason ideas don’t flow as easily there. Maybe, it’s because my brain associates my bed with dreaming or maybe that’s just my excuse for enjoying working snuggled under the covers.

 

As for anything that I have with me when I write- I keep a pen and notebook by my side at all times to jot down quick ideas, play with rhyme schemes, or to work with phrasing. I also keep a little green aventurine stone by my bed that a very dear friend gave me. I think it brings me good luck and helps keep the creative juices flowing. This particular stone also just happens to be very special to me.

 

Q: Tell me a little bit about your writing process. When do you find the time to write? Do you outline?

 

A: I always try to find time to write especially in the evenings and late into the night. I am easily distracted and I can be a bit of a scatterbrain therefore, it’s easy for me to come up with a dozen other tasks I think I should be doing, but I just have to focus and sit down with my laptop and get to work. I also try to keep my writing environment as distraction free as possible because once I am immersed in my imaginary world I get very grumpy when I am disturbed or interrupted.

 

As far as outlining- the short answer is yes (but not in the traditional sense). I place on paper how I want my story to flow, the scenes I want to include, and the overall game plan. That being said, things are always changing and shifting in my mind so my outline starts to look like a mess. I am not a super organized person and it is not uncommon for me to end up sitting surrounded by piles of paper that are pieces of what used to be an “outline”.

 

Q:  What’s your writing schedule?

 

A: While I love writing, it isn’t just a hobby. It’s my job, and I treat it as a business. What a lot of people don’t realize is how much “business” is involved with writing. Writers are constantly working on so many other things besides writing, and I know if I’m not careful, I can let the business stuff take up all of my time. I try to carve out blocks of time for working on stories and blocks of time to work on the business tasks such as marketing and book promotion.

 

Q: If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

A: Wow, what a great question! I think I would choose to have been the author of The Crucible. I am obsessed with the Salem Witch Trials and I would have loved to be the one to have originally told their story especially, in relation to modern day witch hunts. I feel like the themes that are woven through that book are timeless and capture the complex dynamics of how society functions at its worst. It explores fear, betrayal, greed, power, and the struggles of being different in a society that wants people to conform. I love how the book takes place in 1692, but whose message still applies to the 21st century. Additionally, the book was a play and a film which I think is pretty darn cool!

 

Q: What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?

A: Honestly, as long as I’m writing I don’t care what I’m writing on! I love the feel and sound of an old-fashioned typewriter and the elegance of a fountain pen with ink. They both make me feel like I have been transported back in time and I can imagine some of my favorite authors pounding away at their typewriter keys or sitting by candle light at their desks dipping their quills into a jar of ink. It evokes a certain vibe and feel that infuses me with inspiration. On the other hand, I like the ease and convenience of using a computer. When I make a mistake (which is often) all I have to do is press the delete key! Plus, I can add or rearrange scenes fairly seamlessly. Finally, I still write in notebooks and journals so, I guess that means I haven’t totally abandoned longhand. Heck, I’ll even write on a napkin if that’s what happens to be available!

Q: When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

A: I have been writing since the day I could make scribbles on paper with a crayon. When I was really little I wanted to be a newspaper woman and write all the stories that were going on around me because I was so fascinated with other people’s lives. I was always watching and observing the world around me and making up stories about what I saw. I started a little newspaper in elementary school complete with a comics section and was certain that was what I wanted to do. I loved retreating into my imagination and making up stories that I could escape into. I guess I was just enamored with the world of pretend and make believe because it was so much more fun than reality! From there I started exploring different types of writing and got into poetry, short story writing, essays, flash fiction, and novels. I wanted to do it all!

Q: What inspires you to write?

A: What inspires me is life, nature, the telling of a story or the need to express an emotion. If you look around and listen there is inspiration everywhere. Sometimes, it’s something as simple as a word, a phrase, a quote, or an image that will set off the spark of creativity in my mind. I think as long as I am passionate about writing, I will always be inspired to write.

Q: Do you have a favorite book?

A: That’s a tough question! It’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. There are so many books that I just absolutely adore, and I am definitely one of those people who can read the same book over and over again. If I had to pick an all-time favorite, it would be The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I love the flapper era and the decadent setting this book takes place in. Additionally, I have always been drawn to its theme of being a cautionary tale of the decadent downside of the American dream. The story deals with the limits and realities of America’s ideals of social and class mobility. I think it showcases how you can “have it all” but not be truly satisfied or happy. There is a heavy price to pay for chasing excess and I find that concept incredibly thought provoking.

 

Q: Do you blog?

A: Yes, I do! I really enjoying blogging because it gives me the opportunity to connect with my readers, share tips and advice, and basically just have fun! It’s also a place where I am able to feature samples of my work along with highlighting the work of other authors. I feel so incredibly blessed and lucky to be doing something I love, that it inspires me to want to encourage, promote, and support other people who are chasing their dreams. As writers we have to stick together and help one another. I try to make my blog a place where writers can come together and feel inspired. If you’d like to check it out head over to www.daniellevanalstblog.com

Q: What is that dream goal you want to achieve before you die?

A: Honestly, I think I’m already living it! I’m a published author…how cool is that! My hope is for this lifelong dream of mine to keep growing and blossoming. I want to continue putting out books in different genres, write articles, and maybe one day, even write a screenplay. I’d also love to open my own publishing company to help authors navigate the complex world of publishing and accomplish their goals. If I can help a writer turn their dream into a reality, I will be very happy.

Q: How long do you take to write a book?

A: Oh goodness, that all depends on what it is I’m writing. My poetry books can take anywhere between four and five months for me to write whereas my novels can take years. I have my first novel set to be released in the summer and that took me forever to complete. I also have other stories at various stages of completion so, we’ll see when I get around to finishing those! Additionally, I write children’s books and those can take between six and eight months to complete. Ultimately, I believe it doesn’t matter how long it takes to finish a book, what matters is that the book is good!

Q: Do you have a library at home?

A: Are you serious? Of course, I have a library! Well, it’s not a fancy room just dedicated to books, although that is my wish eventually. I have tons of bookcases overflowing with books, books stacked on top of things, books in the corner, books under the coffee table, books everywhere! I suppose you could classify me as a book addict and novel hoarder, but in my opinion a room without a book is like a body without a soul.

Q: Do you have a mentor?

A: Sort of. I have always been inspired to write and when I was a kid, I would pick up books in all different types of genres and not only read them, but really analyze them. I would pick them apart studying sentence structure, word use, how the characters were developed, how dialogue was written, and the flow of the story. I would spend hours with my little notebook taking notes on things I noticed, patterns I pulled out, or words that I wanted to look up. So, I guess my mentor would be a combination of all the incredible authors who came before me and left behind an amazing body of work for me to explore and learn from.

 

 

Q: What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

A: For me, the easiest aspect of writing is the brainstorming and outlining process. I love the moment when I get a new idea and there is so much potential for the direction it can go. It’s the early stages of the creative process when I can mold and manipulate the story, fitting the puzzle pieces together into something cohesive. Everything is fresh and new, which is exciting because it feels like I am embarking on a new adventure. Writing is a journey, and personally, I enjoy the process far more than the destination or final product. Once a book is released, I’m already thinking “okay, what’s next!”

Q: Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

A: First of all, let me start by saying I don’t like the word “aspiring.” If you sit down at your notebook or computer every day and write, then you’re a writer. As cliché as this is, I would say to never give up on your dream. Writing is not an easy field to be in, but if you have a passion for it then I don’t think you should let anything stand in your way. Keep trying to learn your craft in any way possible, read a ton of different genres, take classes, analyze the work of other writers, ask questions, find a mentor, read books on writing, experiment, join writing groups in- person or online, join professional writing organizations, and most importantly follow your gut. Finally, I would say never be deterred by naysayers. There will be people who want to find fault with whatever you do, but you know what…that’s their problem! Just keep writing. I think you’ll be surprised where the journey takes you.

Q:  Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?

A: I love this question! I believe the answer to this is a resounding yes! Is it true for everyone? Of course not, but writing can be a lonely venture. Writers often spend hours upon hours alone researching, reading, and creating drafts. Although it hasn’t been proven in any kind of scientific study, I would argue that writers, like myself, are generally introverts. We enjoy connecting with others through our written words, which can be less draining and stressful than having a face-to-face interaction. As author John Green said, “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.” Additionally, I think writers are naturally drawn to the quiet solitude the profession requires because we like to spend time reflecting and spend time expressing all the ideas we have built in our minds. So, if you enjoy your alone time, are an observant listener, and have something to say, writing might just be your calling.

Q: Do you read any of your own work?

A: I spend an incredibly large amount of time on each project going through various steps in the writing process, from initial concept all the way through multiple drafts until I reach the final product. By the time I’m done, I can honestly say I’m sick of my own book! I have so many ideas and so many stories I want to work on that when I’m done with one project all I want to do is move on to the next. I rarely take the time to go back over something I already published, especially when there are so many other projects on the horizon. The same is true for poetry and articles. I write something and I move on. I suppose one day I’ll go back over my work, but at the moment, I just don’t have the time to dwell on old material.

 

Q: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

A: I have a ton of projects in the works! I have a children’s book coming out in June, a historical fiction/romance novel set to be released in the summer, and a coffee table style poetry book coming out in the fall…and that’s just this year! I also have another novel surrounding the North Berwick witch trials that is very near completion. It’s a story that has taken me years to write due to the extensive amount of research that needed to be done. I’m hoping to see that released sometime next year. Stay tuned!

Q: How do you see writing? As a hobby or a passion?

A: I see writing as a passion and a necessity. I think to be in this field you have to be passionate about it otherwise, you’re going to get easily discouraged. For me, writing is a labor of love. Each time I sit down to write, I harness the passion that is at the source of my work. This helps me to stay true to the enthusiasm that got me into this in the first place, especially at times when working on my manuscript gets hard. I think A.E. Croft sums it up best with this quote “Writing is my passion, not my job. I need to write as much as I need to breathe, if not more.”

Q: Is it true that anyone can be a writer?

A: Goodness, you are asking me some tough questions! I believe writing is a mix of talent and skill. That being said, I think there are a couple of must haves to be a SUCCESSFUL writer. First and foremost, you need passion. Writing is a labor of love. Writers of novel-length work spend months, sometimes years, with their work-in-progress. If you’re not passionate about your writing, you’ll never succeed. There are a lot of obstacles. There is a lot of rejection. But cheer up! Passion is the easy part! If you weren’t passionate already you probably wouldn’t be concerned about what it takes to be a writer in the first place. But let’s be clear: passion comes from within. No one can give you passion. There are no magic formulas.

Second, you absolutely need to have an inquisitive mind. You have to ask a lot of questions. And you have to be the type of person who isn’t satisfied with the first answer you come up with. Additionally, you’ll want to ask a million questions about the writing process itself. A writer never ever stops learning and they never stop being curious.

Third, you’ll need a whole lot of tenacity. Learning the craft of writing is a time-consuming task. The way you improve your writing is to write…and read…and write some more. Every time you read something new you’ll begin reading it with the eye of a writer. You’ll come across something surprising or exciting, or scary and suspenseful, and you’ll wonder how the writer pulled it off. You’ll find yourself learning through mimicking. You’re going to face obstacle after obstacle after obstacle. If you’re not tenacious you’re not going to last.

Finally, you’re going to need a skin of stone. Writing is about putting yourself out there. You’re creating something, offering it to the world, and inviting commentary. That’s scary. You know what happens when you ask for honest opinions? You get them. And guess what…many people are going to think you should stop wasting your time. They’re going to compare you to their favorite writers. Each of your friends, who up to this point have never held a pen in their hands, will suddenly fancy themselves a literary critic. They’ll know exactly what you’re doing wrong…and they’ll tell you.

 

Remember, writing is a learned craft. A master carpenter didn’t pick up a set of tools and build a house the first time out of the gate. That carpenter had a lot of learning to do. They probably served as an apprentice for many years before being trusted to tackle the tougher jobs. Writing is no different.

 

Q: People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true?

A: Um, if you think being constantly sleep deprived, stressed, under deadlines, hustling to market your book, punched in the gut with rejections, and riddled with self-doubt is glamorous then….sure!

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