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Let’s be honest. Most of us, at one point or another, have dreamed about quitting our day jobs to follow our dreams. But few of us ever really do. Well, today’s Dream Chaser, Kristan Hoffman, is one of the rare exceptions. A couple weeks ago, Kristan put her money where her mouth is when she resigned from her job and plunged into the great unknown…otherwise known as the literary world. And today, Kristan is sharing her exciting (and slightly scary) journey with us…

Beyond the Gray: Tell us about yourself. What is your dream? How are you working towards it?

Kristan Hoffman: I’m Kristan, a 25-year-old fiction writer. That’s all I’ve wanted to be since I was 9. Well, not the 25 part. I never really pictured myself past 21. I also never pictured myself living in Cincinnati, OH, but, well, that’s where I find myself.

BTG: Tell us about a time you found yourself in “the gray”.

KH: Since I’ve spent most of my life working towards my dream, I think my experiences with “the gray” are relatively minimal. That said, I’ve definitely fallen into it a couple times. Being in the gray wasn’t scary, exactly… But to see where I wanted to be and know I was going in the wrong direction? It was frustrating! What was scary was deciding to make the change, to go in a new direction, to try and leave the gray.

For example, in college I originally planned to double major in creative writing and computer science. I loved them both, and I was doing well, but in my sophomore year I was already spending 5-6 hours a night coding. That didn’t leave much time for writing. (Or sleeping.) Three days before the Course Add/Drop date, I realized I had to make a choice. After a teary conversation with my (wonderfully supportive) parents, I dropped my compsci classes and just barely cobbled together enough credits to still be a full-time student.

The rest of my college experience was amazing, because I could focus on the things I really loved (writing, dancing, being a Resident Assistant) and I saw myself grow tremendously.

BTG: You recently resigned from your job to pursue writing full-time. Tell us about that decision. What fears did you face? How did you prepare for it financially? How did everyone react? And how did you ultimately find the courage to take the leap?

KH: The long answer can be found here: http://kristanhoffman.com/2011/01/07/all-in/.

The short answer is that I had fallen into the gray once again. After college, all my friends were either going to grad/law/med school, or working, so I thought I had to too. I got lucky and landed at a design firm — a fun, creative environment with a wonderful staff. But just like with my compsci classes, I would get home at the end of the day too mentally drained to write.

After the first year, I voluntarily “downgraded” from client relations manager to receptionist. And for two and a half years, that was perfect. I had some income, I had a supportive work environment, and I had time/energy to write, even during the workday! (I really do recommend a situation like that for developing writers.) But I think I’ve reached a point now where, given more time, I could really “make things happen.” And I wanted to give myself that time.

Fortunately my parents, boyfriend, and friends all understand and agree. I’ll be honest: it’s terrifying to eat through my savings, to imagine failure and how embarrassing that would be. But I have faith in myself, so even if things don’t go exactly as planned (and really, what ever does?) I know I’ll be okay.

BTG: In your essayDreamsyou admit that sometimes you would rather be “sleeping, or going out with friends, or eating a pint of ice cream on the sofa while watching Grey’s Anatomy.” How do you stay disciplined as a writer?

KH: Disciplined? HAHAHAHAHA.

Oh sorry, you were serious.

There are times when I want to write so badly it hurts. Times where the story is itching me, and I desperately need to scratch. But usually I’m driving, or in a meeting, or falling asleep, or in some other terribly inconvenient situation.

If I could, I would bottle up that itchy feeling and drink some whenever I sat down to write. But I can’t, so instead I do my best to make steady progress each week. My 2011 “resolution” is to bring new pages to my crit group every Monday. Basically I believe in a combination of “butt in chair” and “you can’t fix a blank page.”

BTG: What is your favorite topic to write about? Genre?

KH: I don’t really have a favorite topic, per se, but my favorite stories feature believable characters in compelling situations. Like JOY LUCK CLUB by Amy Tan, HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, or MERCY by Jodi Picoult. And if you couldn’t tell from those examples, I love me some Strong Female Characters — I think it’s important (and fun!) to show girls and women doing brave/adventurous things just like boys and men.

BTG: Tell us about your biggest writing success to date. How did it feel?

KH: I suppose my biggest writing success to date would be winning the St. Martin’s Press “New Adult” contest at the end of 2008, which led to the opportunity to be published in 2009. It didn’t pan out, but the SMP team was highly complimentary of my work, and I learned a lot from my experience with them. Emotionally it was a rollercoaster — exhilaration, fear, exhaustion, impatience, hope, disappointment — but that’s pretty much a normal day for any writer.

(If anyone’s interested, my web series TWENTY-SOMEWHERE is what I entered into the contest, and what SMP was considering for publication. Now it’s available as an eBook at Amazon, Smashwords, and the iTunes bookstore. For more information, please visit http://kristanhoffman.com/writing/.)

BTG: On your blog, you mention that you also dabble in design and photography. Do you find that these other creative outlets impact your writing or make you a better writer? If so, how?

KH: Hmm, I don’t know if they make me a better writer, so much as they are other extensions of my creative side. I dance and play piano too (although neither very well, haha). I just like art in all its forms, and it has always seemed natural to me to try and create my own.

BTG: If you could give one piece of advice to someone else who is struggling to move beyond the gray and follow a dream, what would it be?

KH: Do it! Trust me, it’s both that simple and that complicated.

(But really, it’s your life, and you only get one, so you may as well try and make your own happiness.)

To cheer on Kristan as she turns her writing dreams into reality, head over to www.kristanhoffman.com.

Are you chasing a dream? If so, I’d love to hear from you!
E-mail me at: Erika (dot) Liodice (at sign) hotmail (dot) com

Since we’re on the topic of revisions this week, I thought I’d direct you to this insightful post from debut novelist (and former high school English teacher), Kristina McBride, whose journey to publication included three manuscripts, 200 hundred queries and several painful revisions (sound familiar?):

http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/6+Keys+To+Revising+Your+Fiction.aspx

From the unpredictable world of Wall Street to the even less predictable world of fiction writing, I am pleased to bring you today’s interview with dream chaser, Suzanne Anderson.

Q: Tell us about yourself. What’s your dream and how are you working towards it?
SA: I started my working life on Wall Street. I began working as a secretary for a Japanese Investment Bank and over the course of eight years worked my way up to Assistant Vice President in Corporate Finance. I left that job in 1994 because I wanted to find a job that I felt passionate about. My two biggest heroes are my brother, John, who pursued his passion to start his own business as a building contractor, and my mother, Adeline, who has spent her life in early childhood education and loved every day of it.

Since then I’ve had careers teaching overseas and working in commercial real estate, however, my greatest passion, which is to become a published novelist, has eluded me and been the greatest source of happiness (when I’m writing) and failure (when my novels have been rejected time and again).

I’ve written three and a half novels off and on over the past fifteen years. Originally my dream was to make a full-time career of writing novels. Unfortunately, each of my previous novels was rejected by very wonderful and talented agents. I was also rejected by a couple MFA programs that I applied to in hopes of improving my writing!

I continue to dream of becoming a published author, however, I’m also looking for full-time work, enjoying writing for writing, and putting less pressure on getting published. Which may be a positive thing or a cop out, I’m not sure.

Q: Describe a gray time in your life. How did it stand between you and your dreams? How did you overcome it?
SA: Right now! In December 2009, I fulfilled one long-time dream by moving to the mountains of Colorado. The lease on the house, however, expires at the end of May. I originally expected that I’d find a job in the first month here and then buy a house. Since I haven’t found a job, I can’t buy a house, and therefore I have to decide what to do at the end of May. Should I stay here, or try another mountain community? I don’t know the answer to that yet.

While I continue to send out resumes and look for a corporate job, I’ve started a freelance writing business. And after a year of silence, I’ve started working on my novel in progress. I’m currently 55,000 words into what will be a 100,000 word murder mystery.

The May 31st deadline is probably my greatest source of pressure and fear right now, as is dipping into my savings in lieu of an income. There are moments when I panic and think, what will I do? Time is slipping away, I’ve failed again! And then there are moments when I remind myself that somehow these things always seem to work out at just the right moment. My job is to keep working and be aware of unexpected doors opening.

Q: What fears have you faced as you chase your dreams?
SA: My greatest fear is that, having failed in the past, I will never be successful, especially since I have been working at the same career goals off and on for several years. The toughest obstacle for me to overcome is not seeing progress from my efforts. Failure is part of the game, but success, even small ones, help us to keep our momentum moving forward.

During these times, especially when we are focused on a lofty goal, it’s easy to discount our small achievements. For instance, while I’ve never been paid for my writing, recently I’ve had a couple articles “published” on More.com. It’s easy for me to discount this achievement by saying that they’ll take anyone’s work; after all, it’s free! Instead, I should remind myself that even this small step is a step forward.

Discounting our efforts is destructive because it saps the energy we could use from these little victories to let us know we are on the right path. And while that’s easy for me to write, it’s also something I have to remind myself of on a daily basis.

Q: What inspires you to keep pushing forward when the going gets tough?
SA: The alternative – giving up – is worse than pushing forward. I am a strong believer that each of us is created with a purpose to fulfill in this life. I believe it is my duty to find a way to fulfill my purpose, using the talents that I have been given, and overcoming the obstacles or shortcomings I have also received. That’s the bottom line, easy answer. The more difficult answer is that pushing forward is something I struggle with every day. Some days, the productive ones, are easy. It’s a lot more difficult when I’ve given my best and my work is rejected or a resume sent out doesn’t get a reply. On those days I remind myself that success is often a game of numbers, wins go to those who keep trying over and over and over again.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone else who is struggling to move beyond the gray and follow a dream, what would it be?
SA: How about more than one?

  • Get up every day and take action toward fulfilling your dream. No matter how small or great, do one thing every day that moves you a step closer toward your goal. And then keep track of your progress. Whether it is an Excel spreadsheet that tracks the growing word count on that novel you’re writing, the miles you walked, the sit-ups you did, the cold calls you made, or a journal or blog where you record your progress on cooking your way through Julia Child’s French classic (yep, that’s how that movie got made!), just do it. As time goes by, you’ll be amazed at the progress you’ve made. It will also provide a reality check when you get discouraged by your lack of progress and then realize, by checking your log that it might be due to the fact that you haven’t actually sent out a resume/written/jogged in over a week!
  • Share your goals and dreams with others. I have received amazing encouragement and support from my family as well as my online friends, they’ve also become a source of very useful information and even new paths to pursue.
  • When the critic in your head lists all the reasons you will fail, tell it to shut up! Or better yet, give it examples of how you’ve succeeded in the past, and what you are doing right now to succeed in the future. (Which is a great reason to keep track of the progress you make in all those little steps you are taking each day, they make great progress reports to debunk the inner critic.) I also keep a growing pile of inspirational and positive thinking books on my nightstand and read a few pages every night before bed because I’ve found that late night tends to be the time when my inner critic comes out to play.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Yes, I know, Oprah thought of this first, but it really works. When I am feeling most discouraged, I’ve found that making a list of just five things in my life that I’m grateful for is not only humbling but a powerful reminder that things are actually better than I think.
  • Find a way to give back. We receive so much help and encouragement from others when we’re struggling that it’s easy to forget that we need to offer the same to others. You’ll also be amazed at how much better you’ll feel…and don’t be surprised if it opens new doors. Goodness has an amazing way of multiplying.

To read more about Suzanne Anderson, check out her blog at www.suzanneanderson.net.

Are you someone who’s chasing a dream? If so, I’d love to hear from you! E-mail me at: erika (dot) liodice (at sign) hotmail (dot) com.

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