On this episode of A Day in the Life we meet Spring 2017 graduate Janelle Fila, a contemporary fiction writer (with a passion for magical realism) based in Janesville, Ohio. Beyond her fiction writing, She has also recently started an online literary magazine, YAmmering, for YA, children’s fiction,poetry, creative nonfiction and illustrations. Janelle has some great advice on how to juggle a busy life and make writing a priority.
Now, let’s hear from Janelle:
What are your favorite books?
Obviously John Green. E. B. White. The Chronicles of Narnia. And currently everything by Spalding faculty member Lamar Giles, because of his ability to reel in my teenage, reluctant reader son.
Do you hold a full-time job other than writing?
What do you do?
I substitute teach, mostly at the junior high level. I love the flexibility and it’s fun because every day is different
What part of writing do you like the most?
The finished part. I like the satisfaction of completing a really great scene, knowing that the last hour or afternoon or three days was worth it because now I have a strong section to build from.
Do you work with an outline or just wing it?
I prefer working with an outline, but I’ve discovered that most of my best pieces are stories where I took the characters off the leash. A fellow student, Josie Gingrich, just recommended the craft book Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel. I’m currently using it in the editing process and I think it’s fantastic.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
That crippling fear that you have no more words to write and you’ll never finish this story or another one ever again, and even if you did, why would it matter because no one wants to read it anyway? Nope, never.
Do you listen to music while writing- if so, what kind?
I’ve never been able to focus if I’m listening to music with lyrics. Sometimes I’ll listen to nature music, but the chirping bird sounds really confuse my dog.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Read! Cooking is a great creative outlet, although I spend a tad too much time on Pinterest. Post on social media when I remember. My dad and I walk every day and my family spends as much time as possible at a private lake. In the evening, we bond over games, playing some kind of card or board game pretty much every night.
Can you tell us about an upcoming project?
I just launched the online literary journal, YAmmering, for YA and children’s fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, illustrations and authors. I’m excited to offer payment for contributions through the generous patronage of fellow writers and readers.
Where can we find your work?
Please check us out! Submissions and feedback are always appreciated!
What does your daily schedule look like?
One of the perks of substitute teaching (which I am so grateful for) is taking the summer off to write. So my schedule is very fluid. Sometimes I would prefer a more static schedule, but when you have a spouse and kids and doctor’s appointments, I think you have to be flexible. I prefer writing in the morning and try to write as often as I can when the house is empty and quiet. (My office doesn’t have an actual door, so my husband tends to come in every time there’s exciting “news” to share).
I try to be at the computer by 9 am. I usually limit my Internet time when I write, so I spend the first 15 minutes checking my e-mail, Facebook, or a quick scan of the news. Then I jump in. I usually have an idea of what I want to accomplish for the day. When I’m on a self- imposed deadline, it might be a daily word count goal. But usually it’s more there’s a specific scene I want to finish.
I try not to stop writing until I have a complete, solid scene. This might take an hour or two, and I typically sit at the computer until it is done. Then I take a mini break. I’ll cook or do the laundry or the dishes or some other small activity to unwind and recharge. Then I’ll try to finish a second (or a third) scene. Maybe the end of a chapter, if that’s my daily goal.
This usually takes me to about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and I’m usually not ready to stop when my husband comes home from work, my dad wants to go on our daily walk, or my son is finally bored of YouTube and wants to play a game. I always try to wrap up my writing before I walk away from the computer and come to some good “stopping point” so I know exactly where to start tomorrow. If I haven’t accomplished my daily goals, I’ll tell myself that I’ll come back and write in the evening, after dinner and walking and games, but I rarely have the mental energy for that. Evening writing just isn’t as strong for me. I find the process frustrating and my writing cliché.
What advice would you give someone looking for a more productive routine?
My first semester at Spalding, I repeatedly complained to my mentor, Lesléa Newman, that I didn’t have enough time to write, and she put me in my place by saying: “Every writer’s lifelong struggle is finding/making the time to write, so I am not surprised that you are finding this difficult… You have to MAKE time to write.” I am so blessed to currently have large chunks of time to write, but that hasn’t always been the case. When I sub, I write before the students reach the classroom. An hour lunch break meant gobbling food for 15 minutes and writing for 45. I have even set my alarm for 4:30 in the morning so I could write for an hour before I poured all my mental energy into a 12-hour day. My point is, you have to want it and you have to protect it. You have to make sacrifices, like less TV and saying “no” to unimportant, time-wasting invitations. Give yourself 15 minutes a day. I guarantee you’ll want more, and you’ll start finding ways to get it. My son’s two hour soccer practices, which seemed like such a drain on the family schedule, are now the perfect opportunity to write. I’ve read and written a ton of material while I’ve waited for my son at band practice and soccer games. Kids are a great excuse to turn wasted time into writing time!
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Mackenzie Jervis is a Summer 2016 Graduate. She lives in Texas with her husband, two cats, puppy, and son. She’s traveled to 65 countries solo, now taking the baby along. She blogs about family travel at A Wandering Scribbler while writing novels and binge-watching British TV.