Get ready for the second installment of our "Day In The Life" series! These writers have been so generous to share a bit about themselves and their writing process. And I've been blown away at how differently we all work. It makes the craft of writing that much more interesting.
Meet Forest Wells
Let's start with some basic get-to-know-you questions.
What pays the bills?
I'm a Movie Theater employee.
What was your major in college?
AA Liberal arts
What other roles to you play in life?
Assistant Girl Scout Leader
What's the latest book you read?
Wolf Warriors 2, an anthology by Thurston Howl. I do have a piece of my own in it, and in every edition since.
I hear you're working on several writing projects at once. Tell me about each of them:
[My YA novel] is a coming of age story that is told by the wolf that lived it. I could have told the story with anyone, I just found wolves made it easy to take my main character the places I needed to take him. Plus I have a strong passion for wolves (and all wild canines really), so that just made it that much easier.
This one is infused with all the feelings of isolation I felt over the years, so I suspect there's more of me in it than even I realize. It's powerful, and moving, and funny, and sad, and many others things. Best of all, it's told from the wolf perspective to a degree that I don't think has been done before. It took a lot of research, out-of-the-skin thinking, and careful wording to pull off. I feel it's ready for publication. I just can't seem to get an editor to pick it up. I'm exploring self-publishing, but I'm not sure yet.
[My sci-fi novel] is the most complex, convoluted project in my writing queue. As such, I've been using it as more of a whetstone to keep my skills sharp. When the other projects won't talk at all, or I need to write SOMETHING, I go here. The main theme is how the characters handle the harshness of war, the changes that come with it, and it has alien foxes as main characters.
But it's going to be some time before it's ready. It's probably the greatest mixture of sci-fi worlds. Just about any sci-fi I've ever read, seen, or played is in there. Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, Mass Effect, Honor Harrington, about a dozen others, and a tiny pinch of Pokemon are boiled down into this one, very detailed world. It's slow going, but every time I look at it, I know it'll be something someday.
[My fantasy project] is rather new, and still figuring itself out. For now, I'm actually writing a series of shorts that will lead up to where the parent novel starts. Not sure what I'll do with them once they're all done, but I suspect they have a future. In the mean time, it's mostly research, plotting, and asking questions of the story. I'm slowing getting to know my main character, and by extension, the role he has in the story. I'm also noting where some of the side-characters are coming from, and I can already see some surprises coming as I work on it.
Yes, it's about werewolves, but from an angle I don't think has been done before. Don't worry, no sparkling vampires, promise. :)
Thank you for no sparkling vampires ;) To work on so many projects at once, you must have developed a writing routine that works for you. What's that like?
Because of a learning disability called Dyscraphia, I often have to work up to writing instead of just sitting down whenever I choose. Now this can be as easy as listening to a song from my "juicer" play-list, or I may need to roam the internet at the same time, all the way up to watching an episode, or playing a game. The key is to get my mind centered and in a line. The idea of "write something every day, even if it's bad" doesn't work for me. It's wasted time and energy that only makes it harder to write well when I'm ready to.
I don't keep myself to any goals, because then it becomes a stress if I fall behind. It's better when I can write as much as I can write. My space is pretty much just my room and my computer, with the usual assortment of random things on my desk and walls. I do have a commissioned art piece of one of my more complex characters on the wall to help keep me motivated. That said, sometimes when I'm writing, a point will slow me down, or even stop me, and I get up and walk. I'll pace for a minute or two, often out into the living room, then eventually end up back in my chair with a solution in mind.
I have two projects going, which helps because they are very different, and it helps to pull myself out of a world so I can better work with it. Or it could just be one project isn't talking to me, so I go to the one that is. I'm rather meticulous in my details, which can be annoying because I'm a pure cover-to-cover writer, which means I can't skip a scene because something that happens there can, and often does, influence what comes later. So if I need a bit of research to move forward, I'm stuck until I find it. This is where having two projects also helps.
When it's time to actually write, I use a process that I call "method writing". I put myself as much in the character's head as possible. I see what they see, feel what they feel, and think what they think. The last one can be tricky, because remember those alien foxes? Yeah, they don't think like we do. But I feel like I'm able to convey an extra bit of realism to it because I'm not just telling a story, I'm telling you the story as it happened. When I write, they're real to me. I'm just transcribing what I saw. So when I write, I slip into the moment, and live it. Somewhere deep inside, I can feel that it is still me creating things, but for the most part, I feel like I'm just along for the ride.
That said, I still have a leash on things. I'll get part way through a scene, and then somewhere along the way, I'll realize that it isn't right. It's not in character, it's not accurate to the moment, it's bad for the book, somehow, I know it needs changing. There is nothing more dangerous to part of my book than the phrase, "it bothers me." This is how I know that something may not be right. In my YA wolf novel there were two entire chapters that bothered me, and did for a long time. I finally realized that the perspective was wrong. So I (mostly) scrapped them, and replaced them with two chapters that made the book better.
I never throw anything away though. I have old drafts, different takes on scenes, even those deleted chapters have been retained. I never know when something there will be useful later. As for my style, I'm a pantster. I rarely have a plan of my own. The story, once I breath life into it, takes over and forms it's own plan. I remember one time, I had a story pretty well planned out. Not so much the events, but how it started, who everyone was, how they met, all the stuff I needed to start, it was all there in a pretty coherent plan. It was utterly destroyed on the first sentence. Totally not kidding, I starting hitting keys, and the whole thing was gutted.
Have you sent out any query letters for your manuscripts? If so, what have your responses been?
Several, and every time, they ask for pages.
That's amazing! Sending query letters can be time consuming. How do you find time to pursue a passion that doesn't pay? (yet!):
I live at home, and my job is only part-time, so I have more free-time than most. That said, it's pretty much a case of pouncing on the calmer moments when they come. When things quiet down late a night, or after a good episode of my favorite show, or even after I come home from work, I try my best to settle my mind, and with any luck, get some work done.
As writers, we understand rejection is part of the process, but it still hurts to get a pass from an agent. How do you personally handle rejection from the lit world?
These days, not well. Every single beta reader has adored the novel as is. At the risk of sounding conceited, I'm convinced the story is fine for the readers, so I can't understand why editors don't agree.
What advice to you have for other writers like you who are balancing a full plate while pursuing their dreams?
Try everything, but find your own way. Nothing irks me more than when someone says their way to write is the best and/or the only way to write well. There is no ONE way to write well, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. I've heard plenty of other writers say that trying to write every day no matter what actually makes them worse.
Try other methods. And I don't mean a token attempt, I mean a real, full on effort to see if that method works. I've tried several ways to write, and so far, I find my current strategy works best for me. Now I do still try those other methods from time to time, just in case, but so long as mine works, and works well, I see no reason to change it. You do need to practice the BIC method: "Butt In Chair." Sometimes you do need to fight your way into the "writing" mood". Otherwise, you'll grow stagnant. I know, I still have to remind myself to keep at it, especially when I'm down. Keep your butt in that chair, and keep trying.
Don't compare yourself to anyone. Jane Lindskold is a good friend and mentor, and I would kill to write as good as she does. But I'm not her, nor will I ever be. Our styles are nothing alike. Does that mean I should give up? No. It means my style is different. She's done things I'll probably never be able to pull off. I just can't, it's not my thing. You need to stick to your thing, and do it well. Read to see how others do it, but when it's time for you to write, write it your way. Someday, they may even look at you and say, "I wish I could do *something* like he/she does."
Be patient. I started writing on 9/12, 2001. It's 2018, and I've only had a publishable draft for, oh, six months? A year? Maybe slightly longer? It took time to get where I am. Now you may (and probably will) go through the journey faster than I did, but it IS a journey. One that, at times, is going to be positively dreadful. I'm not gonna lie, it is going to feel like hell, like a waste, like you're never going to get there, and I know form experience how hollow every word of this sounds. Believe me, I've been there. If you keep trying, and plugging along, and busting your butt for no real gain, one day, you're going to look at a draft, at a masterpiece of writing, and you will be high as a kite. No drugs required.
That's when you REALLY get to have fun.
Anything else you want me to know about you as a writer?
As I look back, I was always writing stories, and creating worlds. I often wish I had some of my old school journals, because there might be some interesting tid-bits in them. But I didn't become an author until 9/11. I was a high school Freshman at the time, and one bad day from suicide (long story there). Then one day, I woke up to the attacks. I didn't think much of it at first, I'm not sure I fully understood what was happening. Later that day, a classmate read a poem of hers, and that was when it started. A spark was lit, and I wrote my first real poem. My life as a writer began that day. I sometimes wonder if it's enough, since it seems like my life was saved at the cost of far too many.
Finally, I write because these worlds are real to me: real people (beings, creatures, whatever), real places. I've spent time getting to know them, exploring the areas, and I think they're really cool, so I want others to meet them and see them as I have. Much like a cool friend, or an awesome place you've seen, I want to share them with as many people as possible. They've enriched my life, and I think they'll do the same for others too.
Thank you so much for taking the time away from your projects to answer a few questions!
**If you're a writer on the path to publication, I'd love to hear from you! Contact me to be a part of the Writer's Desk blog series**