Author Amanda Holmes Duffy Interviews Kelly Ann Jacobson on Her Blog, The Irrelevance of Hope

This past weekend, I spent a lovely morning at the beautiful home of a fellow Northern VA author, Amanda Holmes Duffy. By far the best interview I will ever have, we sat in her lovely garden, drank homemade coffees, and discussed books, gender, editing, and much more for two hours!

You can find the full interview here.

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I met Amanda when we both read from our novels at One More Page books in Falls Church, and loved listening to her read from her book, I Know Where I Am When I’m Falling.

Getting to know her was an absolute pleasure, and I look forward to reading with her at lots of future author events.

Prompt Inspiration

A lot of my fellow writers ask me what I do when I get the dreaded disease that affects almost all writers at some point in their lives: writer’s block. Lucky for me I’ve only had writer’s block about two times in my life, but I was so ill-practiced at handling those times that I pretty much had the writing equivalent of an emotional breakdown. I cried to my boyfriend that I’d never be able to write ever again, and stared at my computer screen in despair for two weeks before inspiration struck. I started looking for alternate career paths and applying to part time jobs on craigslist. I drank…a lot.

Not my best moments.

But there’s a good reason I almost never get writer’s block, and it’s the same reason I’m bad at handling it when it comes: I am always trying, whether consciously or unconsciously, to take preventative steps against running out of inspiration. So when I do get true writer’s block, it’s more of an emotional need to recharge than it is out of a lack of ideas, a response to my I-love-writing-I’m-just-going-to-do-it-every-second-and-not-take-any-breaks lifestyle.

I am a very fast writer. If you don’t believe me, here’s an anecdote: during my 2.5 years at Hopkins (while working full time) I rewrote my novel Cairo in White several times, wrote my YA fantasy novel Dreamweaver Road (and its sequel, coming later this year), wrote a novella called Three on the Bank (coming out this summer from Storylandia!), wrote a second novel and a second novelette currently under revision, wrote about two books worth of short stories, and wrote a chapbook of poems.

In order to keep my brain constantly full of ideas, I do a combination of the following:

Prompts

I love prompts. I think that a lot of writers sink into a very repetitive set of ideas, themes, motifs, and settings, but using a prompt and forcing yourself to write about something completely new can put you outside of your comfort zone (in a good way!). One of my favorite sites is Prompt & Circumstance, run by two of my favorite people in the world, Shenan Prestwich and Brandi Dawn Henderson. I’ve written a short story about a chicken and a dragon, a poem about blueberry pie, and most recently, a four part story about a strange photograph found in a grandmother’s closet. I find that my prompt pieces tend to be funnier and more lighthearted than my more serious fiction writing, because I allow myself the space to really enjoy whatever comes out of the process.

Exploration

I live about twenty minutes from the heart of Washington, DC, so one of my favorite things to do is venture into the city and see something new that I’ve never seen before. Almost every time I go somewhere, I get inspired to write a new poem or story or even novel. Meridian Park. The Air and Space Museum. Dupont Circle.

Conversation

Just because everyone thinks writers are homebodies who never talk to anyone but their cats DOES NOT MEAN WE SHOULD FOLLOW THAT STEREOTYPE. Go outside! Eavesdrop. Have a conversation with your barista. Not only will you improve your dialogue, but you might hear an interesting story.

Idea Journal

I don’t think I need to say a lot about this, because every writer has been told to (or forced to) keep an idea journal. I’m not sure how many of us actually do it, but it helps! Stick newspaper clippings in it. Jot down notes from the above experiences. Sketch a picture. Later, when you’re blocked, you can fall back on your journal to help you out of a rut. Plus, it’s fun to play kindergartener and paste a collage every once in a while.

Other Art Forms

In addition to exploring outdoor and intellectual DC, I’ve been to most of this city’s wonderful art museums. Reading is so important for writers, but other art forms can be just as influential. Watch movies. Listen to music (especially music you would not normally listen to!). Take a ceramics class. Then use those artists’ work to inspire your own.

Random Knowledge

My first novel took place in Egypt, and along the way I took Arabic and visited Cairo. Though taking a class in beading or cooking homemade pasta or gardening may seem useless now, later on, you’ll find one of your characters is a gardener or cooks a romantic pasta dish for his or her significant other before being jilted at the altar.

Movement

See the above warning against being antisocial, and apply that here too. Writers do not need to sit in front of their computers all day, and in fact, doing so can just perpetuate writer’s block! Move around. Go on a walk. Peek into people’s backyards. Take a yoga class (this will help with your writer’s block stress immensely).

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Like a car running on empty, you can’t expect your brain to spit out wonderful ideas every day if you don’t give it anything to use. Put inspiration in, and it will come out later as an idea for a piece just when you need it most.

Now, if none of these methods work, you’re probably not suffering from a lack of ideas. Instead, you’re suffering from your own overzealousness, your own pressure to constantly create. Like me, you’ll have to learn how to slow down and give yourself the room to breathe, to think and consider and read and relax, before you go back to that killer YA novel idea you’re convinced will be the next Twilight. Trust me, both your mind and body will thank you for it.

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For all you writers reading this post: please comment with your own ideas!

“Is It Summer Yet?” Blog Hop

Though I’ve always loved to read, as a middle schooler I became obsessed with a young adult fantasy novel that I read over and over again until I practically had the whole thing memorized: Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede. Though I moved on to the other books, I still reread my favorite parts of  Dealing with Dragons whenever I wanted to dip into the magical world of princesses, knights, and dragons (which was more often than was probably healthy).

This summer, for the first time in my entire life, I will be focusing on my writing full time. I will dedicate each morning to producing new material and every afternoon to promoting it, including finding venues to do readings, writing blog posts and interviews, and traveling to book fairs and writing conferences. But most importantly, I will focus on a big part of the writing process that I’ve neglected during my years of working full time and pursuing my master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University: reading. At the pool, at the library, on the train, I’ll be venturing into the worlds of my fellow writers like Lucy through the wardrobe, not only being entertained by their unique characters and plot lines but learning from them at the same time. Like the summers between elementary school years, when I’d hole up in my bedroom and read five books a day, I want to be as absorbed by these stories as I was by The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, The BFG by Roald Dahl, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (my idea of romance was ruined early), and so many more.

Below is a list of YA novels I plan on reading this summer. Leave me a comment including your email address (in the format jane.doe at gmail dot com so no one spams you) and your favorite YA novel recommendation, and you’ll automatically enter my contest to win one of three print copies of the first novel in my trilogy, Dreamweaver Road (Book One in The Zaniyah Trilogy). Look for the sequel, Two Dragons (Book Two in The Zaniyah Trilogy), later this year.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Happy reading!

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To find the other sites participating in the summer blog hop, click here or visit http://juliesbookreview.blogspot.com/.