Q. How did you become a writer?
A. I was born a writer. It just took me a long time to recognize it and accept it. I wrote advertising copy for many years before I realized that creative writing is my life’s work.
Q. Do you think that one chooses to be a writer, or does the writing choose you?
A. Both. You might be born a writer, but if you do not choose to write, you’re wasting your time and your gift. There are people who say they’ve stumbled into writing by accident, but I don’t believe it. Writing is too intense an activity to stumble into.
Q. Did your background as a copywriter in advertising help you?
A. Yes, very much so. Writing advertising copy is work for hire. Copywriters do not have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike. They are always on deadline, and if they blow it, they don’t stay in business long. I learned early on that writing is a discipline, like any other type of work. I’m sure that a dentist doesn’t always feel like drilling in a patient’s mouth, just like a lawyer is not always in the mood to deal with a grueling, complex case, but they both do it, because they are pros. Being a pro means you get the work done, and make your deadline, whether you feel inspired or not.
Q. Do you follow a set routine when you write?
A. Having just referred to the discipline of writing, I wish I could tell you that I am more disciplined and rigorous. I get very grumpy when I haven’t written for a while, and begin to complain that I am caring for everyone else at the expense of my work. But in truth, I have no one to blame but myself. I am forever struggling to find the right balance between writing and living. I envy writers who write every day. I tend to carry a story within me for a long time. While a story is percolating, I do lots of other things (including procrastinate!): I read many other authors, I design and make necklaces, I garden and create flower arrangements. I take walks and yak on the phone. On a more serious note, I manage the elder care of several family members. I listen to my adult children and give them unwanted advice! Of course, I work on marketing, and promoting my book. And, even as recently as a month ago I was still doing the occasional freelance advertising project for extra income. This is a very fragmented existence, but writing is still at the very center of my life, and I realize that as things open up for me financially (my goal is to never have to do anything else but write books for a living) — I still have to deal with what I call the inside/outside problem. By that I mean I have to deal with the isolation of being a writer. This, however, is another topic altogether, so forgive me for digressing.
Here’s my typical writing routine:
I am always, always!!! happiest when I am writing, and I wish I could tell you that I do it every single day, but it’s just not the case. However, once I am into what I refer to as the belly of a story, I am as rigorous as an athlete in training. I get up early around 5:00 AM and I’m at my desk by 6:30. I work until around 11:00, when I take a short break and have a snack. I get back to work and often skip lunch, until late afternoon (usually around 3:00PM), when I suddenly realize that I’m hungry and have not been out all day. After a light lunch and an occasional short walk, I print out what I’ve written, and make notes on the ms. By then, it is early evening and my husband is home from work. We have dinner and spend some time together. I almost never watch TV during the week, so if I’m feeling industrious, after dinner I start to input my editorial notes into the computer. Sometimes I work until my eyes literally begin to close at the computer. This does not make for a happy spouse, so generally, I try to save inputting my edits after several days of writing, when I’ve accumulated enough pages. I am always refining my workflow, and my goal is to write every day, no matter what else is happening in my life. I often feel that I need an assistant to take care of all the other aspects of my life, but that is a luxury I cannot afford. Luckily, my husband often shops and makes dinner. He is extremely supportive because he knows that writing, at least for me, is like running a marathon.
Q. What do you do to get way from writing?
A. I never get away from writing, and I don’t ever try to! Even when I am deeply engaged in other activities, there is a part of me that takes notes. I have enough story ideas to last me the rest of my life, and new ones find me almost every day. Of course, I have to choose which ones to pursue.
Q. How do you decide which story to pursue, to write your next book about?
A. I write the story that I am most passionate about, the one that refuses to go away. The one I’ve been dreaming about and have been living with for a long time. I get obsessed with everything about it; the characters, the plot, even the research fascinates me. The story takes on a life and breath of its own, it leads me, and I am just recording it until I am done writing it. Sometimes I have more than one story in my head, but the one that feels most urgent, gets written first.
Q. Where do you get your ideas?
A. I don’t really know. I find the entire creative process somewhat mysterious, and I don’t like to mess with it. I believe that when you are a writer, the stories find you, since writers are by nature curious and receptive people. Stories are everywhere, because LIFE is interesting! Sometimes, it is just a snippet of an overheard conversation. Other times, it is a visual. An image I have seen imprints itself on my mind and starts to grow. Or, a person engages my imagination enough to transform into a character in a story. There are times when the story is plot driven, and the characters emerge later. There seems to be no hard rule about how a story evolves, but I am deeply grateful when it does. The essential thing is to be aware when a story is staring you in the face. You must recognize it, and show up at your desk to write it!
Q. Is there a difference between being a storyteller and being a writer?
A. Absolutely. All writers are storytellers, but not all storytellers are writers! A storyteller is like a standup comedian. He or she has to deliver the story orally and entertain the audience. A writer, however, has to accomplish the same task with words on paper. It is much harder, because when you write you do not have the use of body language, gestures, or the sound and tone of your voice. I tend to be longwinded when I speak, but I am extremely precise when I write. Writing is a much more focused activity than oral story telling. You cannot afford to meander, because you will lose your reader. So you better write that story in an interesting, engaging way that gets the reader to turn the page.
Q. We often talk about the woman’s voice in literature, and you wrote “Under a Red Sky” in a young girl’s voice. Do you feel most comfortable writing first person, and if yes, are you more drawn to female characters, rather than male?
This whole business about “voice” is very disconcerting, because too often it pigeonholes writers into a certain style, or genre. I believe that a writer should write in whatever “voice” serves the story best. My original draft for “Under a Red Sky” was written from the adult point of view, looking back. About a third of the way through, I realized that it would be far more powerful if this were written first person, present tense (for immediacy and impact) in the young girl’s voice. I went back and rewrote the entire third of the book and completed it that way.
The novel I’m currently working on, is written in the voice of a teenage boy, so to answer your question, I believe that writers transcend gender. I also want to make the distinction between the voice of the character, and the writer’s voice. Much has been made about a writer’s voice, and it is indeed true that all great writers have a discernible voice that is exclusively theirs. However, it is my belief that we do not need to find that voice; it is already there. A writer must simply allow his or her voice to come through.
Q. If you had one word of advice for an aspiring writer, what would that be?
A. That’s a tough one! I have many words of advice for other writers in my blog, Raising the Roof on Writing, which is posted on my website (www.hayaleahmolnar.com). Writing is such a solitary activity that we owe each other to share information that might be of help. But if I had only one thing to say, here it is:
No matter what age you are, no matter what anyone else says about your writing, good or bad, do not lose faith or confidence in yourself — just keep writing! Keep writing until God retires you. Good luck to you, bless you, and bless the hard but marvelous road you have chosen to take.