I’d like to say that I’ve come to be on friendly terms with my fellow WordPress bloggers. It’s always so comforting and humbling to know that there are other like-minded people out there who are moving along the same path as you. I feel like part of a supportive and passionate community here.
With that in mind, I’ve thought about ways that I could delve deeper into this community. I’ve wanted to further connect with the folks in this community, and to work with other bloggers. And what better way to do that than to interview a writer?
Lani was on board to do this from the beginning. I’ve always admired her: she is a fantastic writer, makes great content, has a really interesting life in Thailand – and grew up in Hawaii!, and has written and self-published a book. And she was gracious enough to answer several questions I had about being in your twenties and starting a possible career (whether professional or amateur) in writing.
Camille: Let’s start off by debunking any ideas or advice you’ve seen about being a writer.
Lani: Hmmm. I guess it would have to be that there is a specific way to do something. In a creative industry, rules feel more like guidelines or suggestions.
C: What about debunking anything about being in your twenties? What has it been like to be in your twenties?
L: Wow. I think my 20s was vastly different than 20-somethings today. So, what may be true for me will not necessarily be true for you, and any advice you hear about this decade of your life will most likely fall on oblivious ears. After all, I think it’s the job of youth culture to pave new roads and see things in exciting ways.
For what it is worth, I tried so many new things during this time, took a lot of risks, but I also had a lot of debt, so I felt like all I was doing was working. At one point I had 3 jobs. My 20s was about growing up and I had a lot of it to do.
C: Do you wish you did anything differently?
L: Of course, but I know the outcome of my choices now. If I went back and changed them the results most likely would have changed, too.
But my advice, if I can read between the words here, is not to take things too seriously. Have fun. Life moves incredibly fast and before you know it, you’re in your 30s and then 40s…it’s sobering and humbling and really, you’re just lovely. Don’t be hard on yourself.
C: What was a day in the life of Lani in her twenties like versus a day in your life right now, especially when it comes to your writing?
L: In my 20s I wasn’t consciously aware that I wanted to be a writer, although when I graduated high school I wrote a list of GOALS that included, “Write the great American novel.” Then I promptly forgot about it. I took a playwriting class in college, but it terrified me because I tried to hide my non-fiction life through fiction and my professor gently asked, “Is this real?”
A day in the life of Lani in her 20s is incredibly different than my life now. I was working more and not focused on the craft per se. I remember in college telling my friends, “I have a lot of ideas for movies,” and scratching my head over it. Looking back, I realize how much my mind was constantly churning out picture stories and letting me know that I had a good mind to write.
These days, I write every day and with more direction. I live overseas which allows me make a comfortable living working part-time as an English teacher – and best of all I have more time to write. This was a deliberate move that I made over 5 years ago, but I didn’t start working on my first book until I was in my early 30s. My 20s ended disastrously so for the next decade I clawed my way around trying to understand what I needed to do and soon enough re-discovered writing with intensity.
C: How did you get your start in writing?
L: I started writing when I was 13. We had recently moved from Hawaii to the middle of the Mojave Desert and for the first time in my young life I couldn’t go outside and truly play and I didn’t have any friends. I was one of a few Asians in town, too. This was when I started to become obsessed with reading and started a diary.
Eventually, I had the thought that I think a lot of us have and that was, “Hey, I can write this. I can write better.” So, 13 year old Lani found a typewriter (it magically appeared in the kitchen one day) and started a couple of stories. I was trying to emulate a Sweet Valley High or Nancy Drew series, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was writing for fun, but I got stuck. It was then that I decided fiction was too hard. Hahaha.
C: What is your relationship with writing?
L: Writing is my best friend. It’s been my constant companion. We have a good relationship. Writing always waits for me and is incredibly patient. I feel fortunate that I have a creative outlet that helps me to feel centered and free.
C: Has your writing saved you in any way?
L: I can’t imagine my life without writing. Every morning I get up, make coffee and write in my journal. In its highest state, writing keeps me focused and in its lowest it’s an overindulgence of emotions. It’s saved me many times, too many times, just like the right book at the right time.
C: How did you decide on getting your book published?
L: Getting my book published was a long journey. Years ago, I queried agents, but never got anywhere. I had done a lot of research and worked hard on trying to understand what I needed to do. The book underwent so many different transformations, too. Ultimately, I was discouraged and let the manuscript rest for long periods of time. I wasn’t sure what to do anymore.
Then I decided to start a blog under the book title and post it chapter by chapter. I wanted to know if I would get any feedback and was it really that uninteresting? Basically it was my way of putting it out there. Surprisingly, I received private emails from folks confessing their own similar story or experience. I’ve put almost zilch PR work into it, but it gets found because I wrote about a topic that doesn’t get much air time.
I also read some sample chapters at writer’s groups. I received thoughtful feedback there and had started another blog where I still write regularly and this got me in touch with a wider audience who gave me encouraging feedback on my writing in general.
So, this is all related. I kept writing even though I hadn’t published my book. Finally, I got brave enough to ask for the help I needed. First, I sent out a “hey will you read my book” email to my friends. Three of them got back to me with copious notes and questions and I took all of their comments into consideration, which as you can imagine was a lot of work. Next, I had my Oxford-comma-obsessed friend do a brutal final comb through of all of my grammar mistakes.
I also decided to do an audio book. This allowed me to read it again and catch mistakes or make changes. It was also a major pain, but I love audiobooks and I’d do it all over again. I learned a lot and now I know what I need to do the next time around.
By this time, I was pretty much set on self-publishing. I had done more research and felt this was going to be the better way to go. Memoir, from a nobody like me, isn’t something agents are clamoring for and that’s okay. Indie publishing is a viable option, no waiting for someone else’s permission to follow your heart – and after ALL that work, I did it and now I’m working on my second one.
C: Do you have any advice for new bloggers, especially ones who aren’t sure about where to go with their writing?
L: Blogging is such a great way to experiment. I’ve joined WP blogging challenges, poetry classes and MOOC writing classes and posted assignments on my blog.
Blogging can also be a good way to discipline yourself into writing and sharing on a regular basis. And just as important, blogging allows you to build a community, find like-minded friends and put yourself out there, so go for it.
Be as structured or free as you want, it’s yours, but do it. Why not? You might find out something you like better or gain a clearer sense of how you want to write. Good luck, stop by the blog and introduce yourself and thank you, Camille!
Thank you, Lani!
I am very grateful that I got to know Lani better, and was able to wrangle some great advice at the same time. If you’re reading this and have yet to follow her work, check out Life, the Universe, and Lani!