Next up in our Interview with a Writer series, Charlotte Writers Group chats up Ann Stawski. She is regular attendee of our Saturday critique group and the hostess of our upcoming September get together.
Question: What role has Charlotte Writers Group played in your writing journey?
Answer: It’s been a combination of osmosis and interaction. I moved to North Carolina in August 2014 and sought out fellow writers. When I found the Charlotte Writers Group, I was drawn into the sense of community, support, and discussion, along with the constructive criticism. The diverse and intense writing critique sessions help me develop my writing.
Question: What propelled you into the world of writing? What/who was your inspiration?
Answer: I talked a lot as a child. I mean, like nonstop and apparently with a Jersey accent for a while. My pediatrician called me a magpie. It seemed inevitable I would choose to pursue storytelling in some form. When I was five or six, I read through Charlotte’s Web in less an hour. I was blown away by the story, how I cared about the characters and their situation, and then the fact I wanted more. I became a voracious reader and English became my favorite subject in school. My parents gave me my first typewriter before I was ten. It’s been a love affair with words ever since.
Question: Describe your writing process. (How do you begin? What comes first—character or plot? Do you outline? Is your process the same for every project?)
Answer: Ideas seem to come to me in the mornings. I guess my brain likes to wake up thinking of new people, places, and situations. Through the years, I have evolved into a plotter and planner. I envision my main character, setting, background, and the overarching problem. Then I mull it over for a couple of weeks, taking notes and writing out ideas. When I arrive at the point where I know enough of the story, I create an outline and time frame, and then fill in the components. I write with the structure in mind, but I do let my characters take me wherever they want to go.
Question: Describe your routine as a writer. (Is it daily or weekly? How do you structure your day/week? How many hours of writing versus research? How much time is spent on “business”—queries, seeking an agent or publisher, marketing/sales?)
Answer: I recently returned to full-time work and it’s seriously impeding on my writing time. (In plainer words: full-time work blows.) So now, I resort to diligent time management and schedule two to three writing blocks each week. I do have a blog that I write in at least two times a month, and try to keep up with my social media presence.I try to write every day but I do take days off because sometimes my brain (and body) need a break. Generally, I write in the afternoon to early evening and occasionally late at night. I’m definitely not a morning person so after I wake up, I use that time to read articles about writing and the industry, articles that might provide inspiration for future stories (because apparently I can’t have too many), searching for publishing opportunities, that type of thing. If I need to do research for something then I figure out where to input that time. Sometimes research takes the place of actual writing since it’s difficult for me to juggle multiple kinds of projects at the same time. My brain works best concentrating on one thing. At this point in my career, I don’t spend any time on querying or seeking an agent but that is a goal of mine with the next year or two as I, hopefully, have a novel worth pursuing.
Question: What resources are essential to your writing process (software, writing tools, research sources)?
Answer: When it comes to my writing, I’m not fancy. A decent keyboard (although most of the letters are rubbed away), Microsoft Word, and classical music are all I need. If it’s morning, coffee is a must.
Question: Talk about your perspective on representation (pros and cons of having an agent) and any attempts you have made at securing representation.
Answer: I was fortunate to secure an agent in 2014 and now we are working together to get me published. It took me a while to realize she works for me and I would let big time chunks go by without follow up, so it’s important to set and adhere to expectations and deliverables.
Question: Share your experiences interacting with publishers (query letters, the editing process, cover design, marketing/sales). If you have self-published, describe the pros and cons to this process.
Answer: I certainly have submitted my fair share of query letters. I look back on my early manuscripts and have no doubt why I wasn’t offered a contract (with practice comes better writing). Writing a strong marketing summary (175 words max) in the query letter is key, along with picking the right agent and paying attention and adhering to his/her submission guidelines. I met my agent at a writing conference through a pitch session, and I think the personal interaction (from our eight minutes together) was a big part of being offered representation.
In a pre-STEM world, where a girl was encouraged to pursue whichever degree she chose (not that STEM is bad or anything), Ann received her B.A. in English. She liked that so much she went on for her M.A. in English – Creative Writing at UW-Milwaukee, where her love for fiction writing was inspired and encouraged. However, as her career took off—ultimately landing her as a VP of Marketing in a Fortune 500 company—her writing withered away. In a beautiful change of life, Ann escaped the corporate world and refocused on her fiction writing and freelance writing. Her freelance work appeared in Alverno Magazine, Wastewater Plant Operator and Treatment Plant Operator magazines, as well as on Cultivate Communications’ blogs. She has two YA books with her agent, The Purcell Agency, and hopes to see a publisher’s contract soon.
Ann can be found via www.annstawski.com, or on Twitter as @annstawski.