Monday, July 4, 2011

Interview with Paul Joseph! TWSB: Day Four

I'm privileged that, for Day Four of the Teen Writers Summer Blogfest, I have been able to interview a writer/blogger that I look up to and admire. I've been following Paul Joseph's blog for some time now, and I have enjoy talking to him and reading his posts, and he has also been rather encouraging at times. So, considering that he is an inspiring figure, I asked him to tell me a little more about him and his writing.

This is what he came up with:

When did you realise or decide that you wanted to be a writer?

I’m not sure I ever decided this; more so, the decision seemed to find me.  I’ve always loved writing.  I like telling stories.  I like making things up in my head that are more exciting than what’s going on around me.  When I was a teacher, my kids thought they had the easiest time getting me off track.  What they didn’t know was I wanted to get off track.  I wanted to tell stories that would have them laughing (or crying) more than I wanted to talk about the reasons the Roman Empire fell (don’t worry; I still covered my curriculum - every single requirement).  Before introducing a writing assignment, I wrote my own entertaining sample.  When I looked over the podium and saw thirty pairs of eyes glued to me as I read aloud, I knew I did something right. 

I remember my eleventh grade English teacher reading my medieval legend to the class because I “nailed it.”  The more people told me to write, the more I believed I could.  And the more Young Adult Literature I read, the more motivated I was to tackle my own project.  Fast forward a few years.  I lost my job (and then lost my second and eventually third job) and had a lot of time on my hands. I was bummed; I needed something to fill my creative void.   It seemed like the perfect opportunity to give writing a shot.

At what age did you attempt to write your first novel (or "novel"), and what was it about?

I had a fantastic sixth grade teacher who assigned a short story project.  At the young age of eleven, it was the most excited I had ever been for an assignment.  By the due date, I completed a fifty page handwritten novella; it was a contemporary story inspired by a middle grade novel my teacher read to our class.  The characters evolved from my classmates, and the plot unfolded from my perceptions of what middle school should be like.  Each day, we were required to show the teacher what we’d written.  I vividly remember her scanning my chicken scratch for the first time.  She reached a line that said something like: I sat at the kitchen table.  I cut through the stack of buttermilk pancakes on my plate.  My teacher looked to me and said, “It’s like I’m reading something right out of the library.”  I never forgot that.  I still have my story.

When I sat down to attempt my first serious novel, I was twenty-five (I’d turn twenty-six two weeks later).  I was channel surfing and stumbled upon an interview with a certain reality star I won’t name.  She was discussing her NYT bestseller, and I thought, well hell.  I shut off the TV, locked myself in my room, and typed eight single-spaced pages of absolutely nothing.  But, I had taken the plunge.  I had the time and desire to write; I just needed someone to push me.  Airheads writing books gave me that push.

What misconceptions did you have about writing before you started?

Honestly, I’m not sure I had any conceptions.  I knew I had no idea what I was doing.  I still have no idea what I’m doing; I’m just better at pretending.  I do remember thinking I could bang out a draft in six months.  If you replace the six with twenty-one, I’d have been right on track.  I thought if ideas were pouring out, they had to be good.  It turns out most of the ideas pouring out of me were scrapped.  I’m a piece by piece kind of guy; it takes me a few days to get the foundation for each scene the way I want it.  A chapter can take as long as two weeks to be drafted. 
Have you ever taken creative writing classes?

Not one.  I’ve never been a fan of letting others influence my creative process.   I’m not saying writing classes are bad or that I wouldn’t benefit from them. I’m far from an expert – I’m first to admit I have a lot to learn.  But with my personality and demeanor, I’d have a hard time getting through the experience. I’m a loner; I’d much rather teach myself. 

I should clarify that the self-taught method takes a lot of time and commitment.  I write and read practically every day.  This includes weekends and often, holidays.  I visit blogs, many managed by seasoned writers and agents, and consider every piece of advice offered.  I visit websites and read books on the craft (Stephen King’s On Writing has been the most helpful to date).  I take notes.  I interact with writers and form relationships with trustworthy people who steer me in the right direction.  And when the time comes, I have a number of beta readers from different walks of life ready to offer input.  But for me, the most important thing is to feel my way through before opening the door to others.  Nobody can be as close to a story as the person writing it.

How do you overcome "writer's block"?

There is usually a lot of screaming –screaming, kicking, and crying.  There may or may not be cursing involved.  I get blocked a lot.  I tend to take a lot of walks and naps in hopes of clearing my head.  I go to the gym and do intense cardio to release my frustration.  I also like sitting in the sauna and sweating out my negative energy.

Writer’s block is different for everyone.  In my case, it’s rarely because I don’t know what happens next.  I find myself blocked when the words don’t match my vision; time away usually helps me fix that.  When I find myself blocked from the progression of the story, I seek out inspiration.  Music, television shows (especially shows dealing with similar storylines or characters) and reading help jog my creativity.

What do you love the most about writing?

Creating.  Plain and simple; I write because I’m in love with creating – people, relationships, and circumstances.  As far as I’m concerned, my protagonists are real people who are out there living a life they relay to me to transcribe.  The two of us share a brain; we just have an agreement to never meet in person. 
What do you hate the most about writing?

Doubt.  Anyone who hopes to see their work printed knows there is no way of predicting whether or not that will happen.  In some ways, it motivates me to do the best job I can.  On the other hand, if it doesn’t happen, there is no way to get the time, energy, and sacrifices back.  That’s scary.  When you dive into a project requiring this much time and dedication, the opportunity cost gets pretty expensive.  Writing has saved me in so many ways; however, it also became my excuse.  I’ve prolonged setting myself up with a stable career (not that I have many options at this point) and I let it distract me from all the things a person in my position should be doing.  Most days, I say whatever.  Other days, I wonder if I should have ridden the teaching train to one more stop – worked as a sub or cafeteria worker in hopes of something opening up.  The only thing I can say is I never passed up a real job so I could sit at my laptop and pretend to be a novelist.  In fact, for two years, I looked like crazy (and spent a ridiculous amount of money applying for positions).  The way I see it, there is a lot of doubt and uncertainty in everything I do.  Gone are the days of job security in America.  So, that’s my justification; I just wish it made me more confident in the path I’ve chosen.
What would your advice be to a beginning aspiring writer?

Ha!  Well, I’d probably start by telling them to ask someone more qualified to give them advice.  Then, if they still insisted I answer their question, I would tell them to never let anyone talk them down.  I would also say to take care of your mind, body, and spirit.  A writer’s psychological health is crucial; it’s too easy to be trapped in a vacuum of depression, anxiety, and fear.  That doesn’t help us move forward.  Surround yourself with positive energy.  Make friends in the writing community.  Find people who believe in you and learn from the experiences of one another.  A little encouragement goes a long way.

I couldn't help but smile at many of Paul's responses, or think about how I knew a similar feeling, or that THIS IS THE TRUTH. I did enjoy reading through these, and I hope you did too. They really do show insight into the thoughts of the creator behind the words. So, I'd like to thank Paul for taking the time to answer my questions and providing a little insight into his writing journey - and I encourage you to check out his blog too.

That's it for today. See you back here tomorrow!


  1. That was such an awesome interview. I really loved what you had a say about your headmaster, he sounds like a very interesting guy.

  2. Thanks so much for having me here today, Nick! I appreciate the invitation (this was my first time being interviewed). I enjoyed thinking about your questions and sharing some thoughts. Thanks again, buddy. You are one awesome kid! :)

  3. Paul is another shining example of why writer rhymes with fighter. He'll likely be writing until the day he leaves this world, which had better not be for several more decades!

  4. Excellent interview, and Paul is a genuine writer--someone who no matter what doesn't give up. Paul, your advice to new writers is spot-on!

  5. Go into it without expectations or preconceived notions and you'll be pleasantly surprised! And don't worry, I still have no idea what I'm doing even as a published author.
    Great interview, guys!

  6. What a great interview! Paul, you could have been talking about me! LOL It always amazes me how similar people are who write.

    Keep that self doubt at bay, my friend. I know you have what it takes to make it. You will, just never even think about giving up! :)

  7. This was an awesome interview dude, and Paul is a truly spectacular guy.

    All the best to you both. ^_^

    P.S. I just love your excerpts Nick, you have raw talent. Keep it up!

  8. Paul, I like a lot your answer to "Have you ever taken creative writing classes?" . Well done!
    Good Luck

    Happiness Notes

  9. Always been a big fan of yours Paul. Good to hear your thoughts on writing. Especially enjoyed your comments about what you hate most as I so feel you on that one. Keep writing, don't stop, ever.

  10. Great interview Paul. It was nice knowing you better.

  11. Cool! I'll be saying, "I knew Paul Joseph back when..." :)

  12. Fantastic interview! This was really inspirational, and I'm definitely going to check out his blog. :)

  13. I've been lucky enough to be a friend of Paul's throughout this process. As a lover of books and of the writing I've read of Pauls, I was really routing him on. I think the ups and downs only made his dedication to finishing quality work that much stronger. I feel his advice doesn't just apply to writing: following through with any insecure job based on a personal craft for enjoyment is hard and attracts a lot of negativity. However, the payoff is worth it! "go confidently in the directions of your dreams." Paul always reminds me of this and I hope he continues to remember his own advice through the rough patches!

  14. I loved this interview! There was so much to relate too, and I appreciate Paul's candor about his process. Thanks to both Paul and Nick!

  15. Thanks so much, all of you, for stopping in and reading my interview. I'm honored by your kind words and encouraging comments. You guys seriously rock! Thanks again!!

    And thanks again to Nick for hosting me! It was a blast!!!

  16. Cool interview!! I really enjoy reading Paul's blog. And, I think you hit it spot on in your answer to the advice question. I could frame the entire response and put up on my wall and maybe put in bold: "never let anyone talk you down."

  17. Great interview. Interesting as always, Mr. Joseph.


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