It is a pleasure and honor to have Author Janet Stafford as my guest today. I met Janet through social media and she has won the B.R.A.G. Medallion for her book, Saint Maggie. Today I have asked her to talk about her writing and I have asked her some questions….
Why Do You Write?
I write because I have to. It’s that simple. It’s been a part of me ever since I can remember.
I loved stories when I was a child. My parents read to me and when I could read I got books from the library and through the book club at school. Childhood was also when I started telling stories to my friends. When I was eight or nine I realized that I could put my stories down on paper. So I wrote and illustrated my own book (in pencil!) about the Wizard of Oz. At the same time I began to imagine that someday my books would be published. As a teen I wrote stories that featured my favorite pop stars. I also shared a continuing story in the oral tradition with a good friend, and I learned to make up storylines and create character on the fly.
Over the years I attempted to get published and find an agent or producer interested in a couple of film scripts, but to no avail. During that time I focused on my other calling as a religious educator and I worked in various United Methodist churches. But even in the church I was still writing sermons, skits, one-act monologues, and tons of copy to publicize classes, groups, and activities.
In 2009, I finally owned up to being a story teller and – true to form – didn’t do anything about it until 2011, when I pulled out a manuscript written nine years earlier. The manuscript became SAINT MAGGIE, my first published novel. Just getting it out was a huge affirmation, but that was confirmed a small group of fans who wanted to know “what happens next.” And a series was born.
Writing is a gift for me. I enjoy it. It is a form of meditation, deep thinking, immense enjoyment, therapy, play, and even prayer. I write because it is part of who I am.
How Has Writing Impacted Your Life?
I think writing has made me more empathetic. It requires me to imagine how people feel and why they act the way they do. It also makes me a more curious person. I wonder “what if” and “why is that” and “how could that change” on a regular basis. I store away the quirks, characteristics, attitudes, and flaws of people that I know or meet in passing. Being a writer definitely has contributed to the way that I see and encounter the world.
My love of stories ties in with my love of history because history is made up of stories rather than just dates and facts. It inspires me and I find myself asking questions. What was it like to be an ordinary person in a specific time and place? How did that person live? How did she or he face difficulties and triumphs? Why did leaders make the decisions they did? History is fascinating to me. Doing research is hard work but I would love to spent hours burrowed in various archives if only I had the money and time. Feeling a connection to someone who lived hundreds of years ago or seeing an event through the eyes of the participants is an amazing rush.
One thing writing hasn’t done is make me rich! But, hey, I’ll settle for it eventually giving me enough to live on.
What Advice Would You Give to Beginner Writers?
1) Read. It teaches you how (and how not) to tell a story, develop a character, and use language.
2) Write. Like anything else, if you want to become proficient you must practice, practice, practice. Write a little every day if you can. It doesn’t matter what you write, just write.
3) Be brave. Let others read what you’ve written. Start with someone with whom you have a sturdy relationship and who will not lie to you, but someone who will not completely trash you either. All writers make mistakes, screw up plots and character, and write amazingly bad sentences, not to mention entire stories. There is nothing that you can’t fix or rewrite or throw away. But sometimes you can’t see it on your own. Helpful criticism will make you a better writer.
4) Finally, as a grizzled old screenwriter once told me, “Don’t be precious with your writing.” Don’t be afraid to change something, even if you absolutely love it. If it doesn’t work, get rid of it. If you can’t let it go then save it in a file for another day. You might find a place for it in something you write later.
Janet R. Stafford was born in Albany, NY, but spent most of her childhood and all of her teen years in Parsippany, NJ – so she is a Jersey Girl! She went to Seton Hall University (South Orange, NJ) where she received a B.A. degree in Asian Studies. Janet also has an M.Div. degree and a Ph.D. in North American Religion and Culture, both from Drew University (Madison, NJ). She has served six United Methodist churches over the past 20+ years, working predominantly in the area of spiritual formation and ministries with children and youth. Additionally, she worked as an adjunct professor for a total of 8 years teaching classes in interdisciplinary studies and history. Janet makes her home in NJ with an energetic Miniature Australian Shepherd named Tippy and enjoys spending her free time with her significant other, Dan, his daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons; and with her awesome sister Diane and her partner Sarah.