Welcome to my weekly blog series – Author Interviews.
Each week I ask authors to take a seat in my red interview chair and tell me about how they wrote their first novel, what challenges they encountered, the writing best practices that work for them and the most important question of all – what do they wear whilst writing?
This week I am squealing with author excitement, as Aila Stephens has agreed to sit in my chair! I am reading Aila’s new book at the moment and bedtime reading sessions have changed. I have not had the chance to speak to my loved one across the pillows, as I have been so engrossed with Aila’s book. Luckily he has found comfort in a spy thriller.
So, let me welcome the amazing Aila Stephens to my red chair!
Hey Aila! Sit down, make yourself comfortable and help yourself to my homemade virtual snacks. I thought I should look after my virtual interview guests more so I have put on a little virtual spread.
So, tell my readers about yourself and the book / books you have written
Hi, everyone! I’m so psyched about this interview I almost don’t know where to start. Lucy is just the best!
I live in the amazingly beautiful Greenville, South Carolina with my husband of nearly eleven years and our two four-legged, canine children. When I’m not writing, I’m a chef, and when I’m not cheffing or writing, I’m probably meandering a trail somewhere in the mountains.
Sex, Love, and Technicalities—my debut novel—is coming out on July 26th!
When did you write your first book?
Since SL&T is the first one I’ve written that is going to see the light of day, I’ll reference it. I started it in August 2015.
How long did it take to write your first book?
The first draft took me eleven days to complete. I was fortunate to have the time away from work. Since then it has changed and evolved so much I’m not exactly sure how many revised editions there have actually been!
What was your motivation to write your first book?
There were a few things, actually. It was just shy of my 30th birthday, and I was caught off guard by how upset I was at the notion of leaving my twenties, and I felt I hadn’t accomplished several of the things younger versions of myself had always wanted to accomplish. The book started as an outlet for me to explore these feelings.
What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?
Doubt. From myself and others. Even if people wouldn’t say it, I just felt their judgements. People all around me suddenly became writing and publishing experts and had a million reasons why this wasn’t for me.
Luckily, some of that went away after I had a completed first draft. More went away after I went through a few rounds of revising and editing. More still went away when I tackled other things like the website. I had to give them a reason to believe, and in doing so, I started to believe more in myself.
Did you go through any bad writing patches during writing your book – what kept you going?
Oh, plenty! The one that stands out the most, though, was when I put my main character through her toughest spot in the book. It was painful to write, but the scenario playing out in my mind was far worse than what I could stomach to put on the page and it was just watered down and not as effective as I needed it to be. I rewrote this one scene umpteen times, and each time it just hurt my soul.
I knew that in order for the book to work the way I wanted it to she had to go through this and come out on the other side. If I shied away from it, people would instantly know and write me off as a gutless writer. So… I made it worse. Then worse again. And I cried.
Are you a plotter or do you just write / see what happens?
A bit of both. I know writers who must know every ounce of their story before they ever begin actually writing. I like to start with fairly detailed key elements and fill in the rest as I go along. I’m fairly fluid, though, and if the natural inclinations of the characters take a plot point in another direction, I don’t force them down a path that wouldn’t feel natural for them.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Meeting other fabulous writers! Writers are really interesting people with varying passions and eccentricities; their energy is infectious! Most everyone I’ve met in the community has been amazing, and more supportive than my wildest dreams.
What is the worst thing about being a writer?
As a writer who went into this knowing I wanted to self-publish, the worst part is having to explain—and sometimes re-explain—to people why I want to self-publish. While the stigma around self-publishing is diminishing some, it hasn’t much.
Have you ever considered quitting writing, and if so how have you worked through this?
Yes, and unfortunately I gave in and quit for several years. I had a lot going on, and whenever I sat down to write I felt selfish. Then one day, I sat down in front of the computer and I decided that it was okay for me to be selfish. I was tired of denying the passion inside me.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
When I set aside an entire day to devote to writing, I usually set my space up the night before with pen and paper, a couple of bottles of water, and any inspirational pieces that I feel drawn to.
When I wake, I put on a pot of coffee (an inspirational piece in and of itself!) and make myself comfortable. I know a lot of writers like to listen to music to help guide them in the mood they’re trying to achieve. I can’t listen to music with lyrics while I write, so usually I put on some classical music if I listen to music at all.
Do you suffer from procrastination and if so how do you handle it?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. Sometimes my mind wanders, but there is usually a reason for it. So I will give myself a few minutes to check email and social media, but rarely more than just a few minutes at a time.
Which is more important – plot or characters and why?
I’m so torn by this question! I’ll play along and not say they’re equally important. For me, characters have to win out here. If someone has an excellent plot idea, but I cannot find a single reason to care about the characters, I find myself not caring about the plot either. I want someone to root for and someone to root against. If a character dies, I want to have a genuine emotion about it. If I don’t, I’ll likely put the book down.
What have been your 3 biggest learnings during your writing career?
- Being a writer means a lot more than just writing—especially if one wants to self-publish. There are a lot of important business hats one must wear, and they aren’t nearly as fun as story crafting.
- It’s all in the rewriting.
- And, patience. Not having it can be costly. One of my biggest mistakes was jumping the gun and designing and purchasing marketing materials with a publication date on them that I quickly realized was unattainable. Not only that, but I also changed the name of the book!
How do you manage social media as a writer?
I decided early on that trying to be active on every social media outlet wasn’t for me. Writing is time-consuming, and while I know social media is essential to a budding writing career, I didn’t want to forsake my actual writing to build on social media. So I decided to commit to one platform, Twitter, and try to use it to the best of my ability and later on I would add more. The moral of the story is whichever platform(s) you choose, being interactive is essential.
Do you have any tips or advice for budding aspiring authors?
Look to see if your area has any local writing groups. I found and joined a writing group that meets once a month, and while I don’t make it to every meeting, going and soaking up the energy from other writers and having that kind of support from people who know your struggles is priceless. (Okay, so my group does charge dues, so technically there is a price, but you know what I mean.) These people will celebrate with you and encourage you.
Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome?
We all do, though some shy away from that term. If writing prompts don’t work for me, my go-to, hasn’t-failed-me-yet cure is this: I turn on my television. Not just to watch idly, though. I use it as a tool. I’ll pick apart a scene and write the narrative for what’s on my screen. It helps!
Do you ever think of the next book whilst writing?
Yes. I have a running list of ideas; some I’ve begun outlining because I couldn’t resist. I have already written a few chapters of others. I don’t want to forget anything, so when an idea pops into my head, I give myself the time to flesh a little out.
What do you wear to write?
I am a creature of comfort! Yoga pants, gym clothes, pajamas. Whatever is comfortable to sit in for hours at a time. And since my husband likes to keep our home just a few degrees above freezing, I usually have a shawl or blanket draped over my shoulders.
If readers want to get in touch how do they contact you?
They can find me on:
- Twitter @AilaStephens
- My website: www.AilaStephensBooks.com
- Email: AilaStephensBooks@gmail.com
- Blog: ailastephens.wordpress.com
Wow Aila – fab interview! I am so thrilled you agreed to come sit in my chair.
Here are some things I took from this interview:
- YOU WROTE A FIRST DRAFT IN ELEVEN DAYS? Blimey I thought I was a crazy writer by whipping up my first draft in twelve weeks! That is really impressive. I will stop boasting about my achievement now.
- I liked how you didn’t shy away from putting your character through some really tough stuff. It works!
- I must try listening to classical music whilst I write. I currently write to some dance anthems but that frequently ends up with me getting up to dance / make some shapes.
- I am so glad you raised the subject of patience. It is so important for a writer to be patient and not rush the creative process.
- I like the yoga pants / gym writer outfit!
Aila – fabulous interview darling! Hope you liked the virtual buffet spread and I hope it lived up to your high culinary expectations.
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