I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Kristen Taber to Layered Pages to talk to me about her writing. Born in Bangor, Maine, Kristen spent her childhood at the feet of an Irish storytelling grandfather, learning to blend fact with fiction and imagination with reality. She lived within the realm of the tales that captivated her, breathing life into characters and crafting stories even before she could read.
Those stories have since turned into over a hundred poems, several short tales, and five manuscripts in both the Young Adult and Adult genres. Currently, Ms. Taber is completing the five-part Ærenden series from her home office in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
Kristen, why do you write?
My husband says I need to write to preserve my sanity. He means it as a joke, of course, but in some ways he might be right. For me, writing is as necessary as eating. My mind is constantly spinning, constructing tales, seeing characters living alongside real people. I make up back stories for strangers and daydream whenever I’m not too busy (and sometimes when I should be). Writing collects these spinning thoughts and brings them to life. It allows them to leave my head so I have room for something else. Sometimes that something else is actually real life duties, but often it’s more characters. I guess you could say my motto is “Create. Write. Repeat.”
What is your writing process?
I don’t have an extensive process, but I do have criteria that make it possible to write. I need a place where I have no demands. If at home, I wear headphones so I won’t hear the family playing upstairs. If I go outside the house, I like to find a coffee shop with enough background noise that I can get absorbed by it and not be distracted by something I can focus on (a lone conversation, a TV, etc). Once I have the right location, I need a few hours. I’ve never been the type of person who could write in 15 minute bursts. It takes me about 30 minutes to get into my characters’ minds, then I stay with them for hours. If I’m interrupted, I lose my train of thought easily, so having that block of time is so important to making sure a book stays on track.
As to how I write, I’m a plotter-pantser. I have a whiteboard in my office where I keep track of the plot over the course of my series, detail characters and points I need to close out in each book, and jot down ideas as they come up while writing. I have a general idea about where the story is going, how it will end, and where I want it to go, but I learned long ago that my idea of what needs to happen and the characters’ sometimes vary. Most of the time the characters win when I fight back, so I go along with the plot twists they deliver and hold on tight. Sometimes these tangents get edited out in the second draft, but other times I wind up enjoying the new direction better. As an example, one of my main characters, Cal, was supposed to be a minor character. When his turn came to leave the book, he persisted in annoying me until I let him stay.
How has writing impacted your life?
I can’t imagine life without writing. It touches every aspect of who I am. It allows me the chance to create, to invent, to feel like I’m constructing something new and valuable. Without writing, I wouldn’t have my self-publishing journey, and without that, I wouldn’t have many of the people in my life I consider friends. My editor, several authors, a few bloggers, even readers who I talk to on a regular basis all came into my life because of my writing. I’m grateful that my passion has led to so many blessings outside of my books.
When do your best ideas come to you for a story?
Nearly all of my novels have started as random scenes that visited in the moments between wakefulness and sleeping, when my mind wanders most and my creativity runs wild. After a scene plays out, I’m usually snapped awake and have the compulsion to write about it. Needless to say, I have many nights of little to no sleep, but its well worth it when I can read the start of a new book by the time the sun rises.
How do you respond to positive and negative reviews?
Positive reviews always make me so happy! They give me the confidence to write the next scene. Negative reviews are great for learning. I read each one carefully, dissect what the reviewer has said and try to figure out if there’s a way I can make improvements in my writing. I hope everyone likes my books, of course, but I understand how subjective art can be. Opinions will vary, so I try to weigh all of my reviews individually and as part of a whole (especially when they contradict each other). Ultimately, no matter what they say, it’s great to know people are reading my books.
What advice would you give a beginner writer?
First and foremost, enjoy your stories. Don’t try to chase the trends, because those are always changing and if you write something because it’s what you think others want to read, but you don’t want to read it yourself, that will come across. Instead of becoming a living world, what you create will seem false. Second, while you don’t always have to follow the rules (grammar, structure, etc.), it’s important to know the rules so you know what you can break to make your story flow. And third, just write. No matter what you do and how busy your life might be, find time to write. As with anything else, exercising daily will keep your writing muscles limber and well-toned.
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