Creative Careerists: Interview with Author Sarah A. Hoyt

Creative Careerists is an ongoing series on Creative Juicer that features short interviews with successful creatives to learn about their creative process and how they reached their success, whether in art or career.

Do you know an inspiring creative? Nominate someone for an interview by emailing emily [dot] wenstrom [at] gmail [dot] com.

Meet the Creative:
Sarah Hoyt is a novelist with (she thinks) 18 novels out. There might be more, she hasn’t counted recently. She could tell you what genres she writes in, but that is liable to change on very short notice.  So far she hasn’t written pure romance, hard sci fi or man’s adventure. However, her unofficial motto is “no genre is safe from me.” To find out more about what she’s done to various innocent tropes and subgenres, check out sarahahoyt.com (includes free samples from her books and some free short stories).

What does an average day look like for you in your creative career?
Depends on where I am on a project and what type of project. If I'm mid normal-project, I do household/administration stuff till about 10 a.m. (Pesky real life intrudes in work.) Then I retreat to my office. (Either in home or out. I keep experimenting with outside offices.) I look at the notes from the day before and start work. I work 'til about 2, when I will go for a walk, then come back and work 'til 5. In the evening I write blogs and/or answer correspondence. Somewhere in there--usually while doing household stuff like cooking--I read both research and field reading.

Of course this varies. If I'm at the beginning of a project there's a lot more reading and dithering and sudden realizations that I need to drive across town to buy a yogurt--what I call "rotating the cat," a bunch of useless or near useless tasks I convince myself are vital. What they really do is give my body something to do that's not writing while the subconscious works on the new thing at levels it won't let me access yet.

Then there are the projects that grab me by the air, fling me to my desk (often in the middle of the night) and won't let go 'til they're written. No, this is not actual poltergeist activity, though it often feels like it. (And poltergeists might be easier to live with.) When these works are novels, that means I type like a woman possessed for a couple of weeks (it usually relents some after the first draft is nailed down.) Meanwhile my husband and kids make sure I don't starve. Sleep becomes optional.

Oh, yeah, family time ... since all of my family writes fiction (though younger boy is not published yet. Since so far he mostly writes short mysteries, indie might be the best route for him), meals are mini-workshops, talking out our problems with a story. And any time we spend together can end up in brainstorming of ideas. It's fun. Also, dangerous when you're already writing as fast as you can.

How did you get to where you are now in your career? What key moments, decisions or circumstances brought you here?
When I was six I decided to be a writer. By 22 I was aware this was no way to make a living (well, everyone told me so). From about 22 to 29 I wrote in my spare time, while trying to pursue outside work. At 29 we reached a point when, for various reasons, it wasn't practical for me to work outside the home, and the business I'd been running from home was destroyed by a move across the country. My husband pointed out if I was going to give it a try, the next five years might be the best chance I got. I started selling short stories two years later, sold a novel six years later, and I've been writing ever since. Along the way there was one pivotal moment. I've always written more by instinct than by learning, and I'd been getting very nice personal rejections from the moment I started submitting my work, but no sale. While broke, at a used book sale at the local library, looking for a book to finish filling the box (one box $5) I grabbed Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer. It's a very basic book, but it showed me a lot of the basics I'd skipped over. I was doing the more complex stuff, but had no idea how to nail down the basics. After I read it and absorbed it, I started selling regularly.

What excites you most about your work?
It's always different. Every book, the process is slightly different. Any other job I've held becomes routine. I hate routine. Writing is always a new and unique challenge. Also, you're not only communicating with people you don't even know--you're communicating with people who haven't yet been born. You can entertain them, amuse them, move them and, on a good day, make them think. Also, I grew up thinking of writers as magical creatures. And now I'm one. I couldn't be more excited (or honored) if I'd been invited up to Olympus to become one of the gods.

What is its greatest challenge for you?
Despite the "average day" above, which is rather an ideal average day, my greatest challenge is coping with real life. It's very hard to convince people--even my family, though they TRY to be good about it--that just because you're home it doesn't mean you're available. And it's very hard to tell the friend who needs your help "just this once" or the kid who wants to be driven to the mall to meet his friends "no" because you're in the middle of a chapter.

This is why I go back and forth between an external office and one in the home. I want to control the intrusions, but, on the other hand, if I'm not working at home, I sometimes don't know things that need to be done and which accumulate and then cost me weeks--when they could have been deal with in a few hours.

Ideally I'd have an office out in the yard and come in for meals and stuff. Unfortunately we don't have a yard. I must make money and get a house with a yard. And an office.

How do you get your best ideas?
Hard to say. I've had ideas while taking long walks. While driving to the grocery store. I had a complete trilogy unfold itself in my mind in the time it took me to walk from art class to my car. I once had a great idea for a novel because I opened another book--a regency romance of all things--and read the first two paragraphs. All of a sudden I had this idea for a space opera in my mind, with full voice, character history, etc. And the weird thing is that it has NOTHING to do with that regency romance. It's like the idea was in my mind, working its way towards the conscious, and something in the cadence of those two first paragraphs freed it. I've had ideas in dreams, and I've had dreams of reading my fully written book, which then allowed me to wake up and write it.

The only thing I can say is that I have altogether too many ideas--however I heard that tinfoil hats are really ineffective at warding them off.

What do you do when you get stuck?
Draw, paint, reorganize a room in the house, go for a walk. If nothing else helps, a weekend away does. My mind can't tolerate my taking vacations and WILL drag me back to work the minute I say I'm on vacation.

Honestly, I've learned that those "stuck" periods are times when my "deep mind" is working at a level I'm not even aware of. If I force things, I'll kill the idea or the story.

How do you make sure you make time for creativity in your life?
Forcefully. Seriously, this is my worst problem. Life squeezes you in on all sides and there's ALWAYS something to do. You have to make time for creative work. And you'll often feel really guilty about it. Don't. Even if you're not yet making any money from it, at some level it is something you must do to be who you are. Call it mental health time.

What advice do you have for other aspiring creatives who want to follow in your footsteps?
Make time. Learn. If you're going into writing, consider indie as well as traditional. If you don't feel comfortable with "self publishing"--though the stigma is disappearing--do it under another name and under cover, but trust me, keeping that lifeline to allow you to do things that your agent or editor say there is no market for will keep you sane in the long run. It might keep you writing when the traditional career feels like a bleak series of obligations.

Make time to write, but make time to do other stuff too. You creativity is a well and sometimes it needs to be replenished ... and not just by doing different creative things. Take a class in something you're interested in but which is not directly related to your work. Take a walk. Go to the zoo. Do some furniture refinishing. Take the day off and lay down on the balcony looking up at the sky.

Give your mind time to find its own pathways, which you might not be aware of and to discover ways to grow and replenish itself.

Emily Wenstrom
Creative Juicer
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