Author interview and DOUBLE book giveaway: Bob Yehling


Another treat for my readers, cause I love you all so! Today’s guest, Bob Yehling, will share his path of writing, teaching and publishing, as well as give away two books! One commenter will be randomly selected to win The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life and another will win a copy of The Hummingbird Review.

So, sit back, grab a cuppa joe and a notepad to take down some juicy tidbits and enjoy the interview!

Bob Yehling

Bob Yehling is the author of eight books, including The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life and Writes of Life: Using Personal Experiences in Everything You Write, which won the 2007 Independent Publishers Book Award. He teaches fiction, poetry and non-fiction writing workshops at colleges, universities and writers conferences throughout the country. He is also a book and magazine editor, author’s consultant, three-time Boston Marathon participant, a ghostwriter of five titles, and the author of Full Flight, Shades of Green, Coyotes in Broad Daylight and The River-Fed Stone. His novel, The Voice, will be published in 2011. Bob grew up in Carlsbad, CA, and was a writer for the Blade-Tribune (now North County Times) for six years in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

The creative brainchild of bestselling author Luis Alberto Urrea and publisher Charlie Redner, the Hummingbird Review http://www.thehummingbirdreview.com) is America’s newest literary journal. It brings together some of the nation’s finest poetry, essays, short fiction and commentary. It features contributors known and unknown; the emphasis is on clarity of voice. The Hummingbird Review launches online shortly before each print issue. The Spring-Summer issue will be released in late May 2010.

Interview by Mary Jo Campbell:

1) Tell us about your writing background: when did you realize you wanted to be a writer? Any formal training/classes?

I’ve been writing stories since I was five years old. I attended elementary school during the 1960s, which was an incredibly imaginative and creative time – astronauts flying to the Moon, the psychedelic rock scene in San Francisco, schoolteachers who could teach us possibility and vision as well as subjects. I even had a social studies teacher who was a Disney animator for 20 years, and who would spend the last 15 minutes of each class drawing with us! It was the perfect environment for a kid like me, who wanted to create. I wrote stories of up to 100 pages all through grade school.

My formal training took place in the real world – and through reading voraciously, in all genres, from the time I was very young. In 1976, when I was 16, I was hired as a sportswriter by the Blade-Tribune (now North County Times) in Oceanside, CA. My editors, Bill Missett and Steve Scholfield, were true old-schoolers: get in and out of the story, get quotes, get two independent sources to verify every fact. Accuracy and unique angles meant everything to them. And making deadlines. I use that training every day. Also, they let me write for all sections of the paper, which enabled me to become a versatile writer.

After seven years at the paper, I moved into the magazine business, where I spent the next 15 years as a writer and editor of some great periodical and commemorative titles. One was NASA’s official 25th anniversary salute to Apollo 11, One Giant Leap for Mankind, which allowed me to work with all of living moonwalkers, who told me their stories of walking on another heavenly body. One, my late friend Pete Conrad, the Apollo 12 commander, the subject of the epochal Chapter 1 of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff and class clown among that elite club (only 12 people walked on the moon), played catch with me – with a moon rock! I went right back to the being the little kid who wrote stories about flying in space. That was a great experience … but that’s what writing can afford us.

For the last 12 years, I’ve been a book author, editor, and writing workshop teacher. I get as much of a thrill in seeing someone connect to their deeper voice and rhythm as a writer and storyteller as I do in seeing my own books get into print. I think it is vital, especially now when education is in crisis, for professional writers to get into the classrooms (whether with children or adults) and uncork the magical genie that is the story-driven writer. Groups like Dave Eggers’ 8-2-6 Valencia, George Lucas’ Edutopia and Capitol City Young Writers are really good at this.

2) What a fun learning environment you had, Bob. Now, can you please describe your writing style and process: do you begin with a prompt? A character? A setting? Do you pre-write or outline before writing the first draft? Do you revise as you go, or get the whole rough draft completed, then go back for revisions?

 

I always mentally percolate the idea first. Then I journal it out. I use my journal as a chemistry lab, to figure out which combinations of settings and characters will work. Then I listen for whichever character wants to come through first, and write from that point of view. Once I’ve “warmed up” in that way, I storyboard my books – both fiction and non-fiction. I’m a visual writer, so it works to borrow that approach from the film world. With fiction, I just write the first draft, sinking deeply into the story and letting the characters tell it. With non-fiction, I outline fairly extensively, making sure the major points are down and in order, while leaving room for inspiration or ideas that will visit – especially anecdotes, the little true mini-stories that, I believe, are vital to the quality and success of any good non-fiction book.

As for my process, I do not look back once I start each day. I write for four or five hours, then touch up what I wrote. The next day, I repeat this process. I find it incredibly self-defeating to continually self-edit in the middle of a writing session. It’s like giving the inner censor license to kill – which it will. It will kill your creative process. But for me, it’s important to look over what I wrote after the day is complete. When a draft is done, I rewrite it once from scratch, then move into revision and polishing edits.

3) I think many of us can agree about the creative process being killed if we edit while writing. I’m guilty of that! Share with us the stages of your writing project: “The Write Time: 366 Writing Exercises to Fulfill Your Daily Writing Life.” Take us through the idea and planning, drafting and revising and, finally, the publishing and promoting stages.

 

I’m a fast writer, and very impatient, so it surprised both my friends and me that I would take 10 years to compile a book. The Write Time never started as a book idea. It started as writing exercises I cooked up for the workshops that I teach around the country. One day in 2007, I sat down and realized that there were more than 250 of these exercises, all created for workshops – and, more importantly, all field-tested by the workshop participants. They liked the story-telling aspect to the exercises and the content very much, so I thought, “Why not add 116 exercises and make a one-a-day book about it?” Those last 116 exercises were by far the hardest to write.

However, they finished off a writing exercise book that simply did not exist in the marketplace – one that moves through all genres, works for writers of all abilities, presents exercises as mini-stories, and promotes both technical excellence and creative versatility. That is how we will make it as writers in this day and age; the era of the one-subject or one-genre specialist is coming to an end.

As for all the goodies on each page, I’ve always loved inspirational quotes – so I used quotes from readings, workshops, presentations and discussions, as well as some classic comments from deceased authors and thinkers in the public domain. Everyone loves sun signs, so they’re included – in the Celtic and Native American traditions as well. And everyone loves birthdays, so my assistant, Melissa Jenkins, and I gathered the most extensive author birthday list that I know of among published books.

My publisher, Paul Burt of Pen & Publish, brought out The Write Time in conjunction with a young authors’ conference of the same name – The Write Time Teens ‘N Twenties Conference. What an honor to have a book of mine associated with a conference, especially one for young authors! Now, I’m teaching workshops and appearing at writers conferences, promoting the book, guest-teaching in classrooms, and getting this new batch of exercises to as many writers as possible. Promotion is happening both online and in print.

4) The book is wonderful! I’m a  fan of inspirational quotes, as well as the sun signs of other writers and you add these to offer a book brimming with inspiration and creativity! Speaking of finding inspiration, I’m intrigued by how other writers organize their space. Can you describe your work area for us?

Sure. It’s pretty simple: I have my computer, outline or notes, and music ready to go. Files are nearby, but I rarely access them when writing drafts; the material should be in my head and heart when I write for keeps. I’ll get to the files later, during fact-checking and revision stage. I’m surrounded by my library, a couple of my Boston Marathon medals, and meaningful photos and memorabilia. Plus a lot of plants and light.

5) What tips can you offer teachers trying to share the love of creative writing with their students?

Tip numbers 1 through 10: Let them read about and write about what interests them, even if it seems dark or objectionable to you.

Tip numbers 11 through 20: Guide them into all different literatures, genres, voices and styles of authors and poets – and encourage them to embrace what speaks to them.

Young people are inherently inquisitive, curious playful and creative; in my opinion, we strip that out of them with the rigid and linear educational process, then by the time they’re in high school, a few astute teachers re-discover these falling stars and try mightily to bring them back. However, if we let them read freely, and write freely, and teachers introduce them to all genres and all forms of the genre – for example, all forms of contemporary poetry, like the works of the great Joy Harjo, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Taylor Mali, haiku master Don Eulert or the exquisite San Diego-based young poet Maggi DeRosa, and not just dead Romantic Era poets– then they will not only do better with the required course work, but will emerge with a lifelong love of learning. And writing. It’s the greatest gift we can offer kids. I know. Many of my schoolteachers did that for me – and they still hear my thanks when I talk with them on Facebook.

Sometimes, I find it best to tell kids about the experiences that writing affords, rather than the nuts and bolts of writing paragraphs and pages. One time many years ago, a middle-school student asked me, “Why do you do something as stupid as writing?” The teacher told me not to bother answering the question, but I thanked the student for asking it. Writers must be non-judgmental and open-minded. Then I gave him the answer: because of writing, I have met two Presidents, known a dozen Olympians, traveled all over the world, spent two seasons on the American Idol set, gone on adventures I never would’ve tried otherwise (like exploring the Amazon with a shaman), met many of the student’s sports heroes (and watching Shaun White finish second in a World Cup of Snowboarding event when he was 13), befriended some of the brightest and most beautiful people alive, and learned how to see and experience the greatest pleasures of the simplest things. In my answer, I never used the word “writing”. It worked; I later heard he got a B+ in his writing class.

But this is hard to pull off today, especially in the public school system. I have a friend who is an outstanding creative writing teacher in a Midwestern high school. She’s also a novelist who loves everything about the written word. She told me that she cannot introduce anything other than a tightly prescribed reading list to her kids – a list that is made up primarily of old classics, the same books I read in school 35 years ago. She also cannot assign papers other than those prescribed by a tightly written curriculum adopted by the district and school board. This is part of what is wrong with public education – they don’t educate. They don’t inspire new learning. They kill the desire to learn something new. It’s way too political and controlled by money. As I mentioned earlier, the greatest gift any adult can give a kid, besides love and respect, is the lifelong love of learning.

However, this Midwestern teacher is crafty and determined; her desire to impart her love of learning, and her knowledge, is a light that will not be turned off. She has figured out how to inspire her kids, and now, they have an after-school creative writing club. And, I predict, they will be Facebooking her (or whatever is the medium) in 35 years.

6) I work with teachers in traditional classrooms and they struggle with these issues, as well. These are valuable tips you offer. Tell us what is next in your writing and promotion projects!

 

I’m getting ready to co-write a book with fellow author, Verna Dreisbach, entitled The Hybrid Writer. It’s about combining more than one genre in everything from novels to magazine articles. It gets back to what I shared earlier – the more versatile we are these days, the better. When done well, it shows storytelling at its best. I just edited a novel, The Secret of Moonshine, in which author Denise Lyon Followill combined romance, suspense/thriller and fantasy. It’s brilliant. She’ll be off to the races with publishers pretty soon.

I’m also developing a series of online and video products around The Write Time and my other writing book, Writes of Life. Finally, I’m out there in the trenches, teaching workshops, talking to kids, coaching and editing writers of all genres, presenting at conferences and libraries  … whatever it takes to bring out the deepest wisest voices in each and every person with whom I come in contact, encourage them to open up their computers, journals or a pad of paper, and write their stories.

As I see it, writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, dancing and playing music are heavenly gifts that we, as humans, are uniquely privileged to possess. By expressing ourselves, we enliven and illuminate the world – one day at a time. We express the lifelong love of learning, which to me is the driving force behind a purposeful life.

Learn more about Bob and his projects:

Home Site: www.wordjourneys.com

Writing Blog: bobyehling.wordpress.com

Exercise Blog: 366writing.wordpress.com

Book Orders: www.penandpublish.com or www.amazon.com

Don’t forget to leave Bob a comment or question – you may walk away with one of his books! (Deadline to enter: Tuesday, March 23, midnight. US shipping addresses only.)

14 Comments

Filed under Advice, books, contests, Give Aways

14 responses to “Author interview and DOUBLE book giveaway: Bob Yehling

  1. Bob- I’m interested in your thoughts on teaching creative writing in the classroom. What I’ve observed in the public schools is that all too often, teachers are so focused on grades and standardized testing, that the student’s creativity gets lost in the shuffle. Do you believe it is possible for students to develop their own writing voice in such an environment?

    • Hi Cara — Thanks so much for checking out the Writer’s Inspired blog. My impression is that most public school teachers are completely frustrated by having to teach the test and maintain collective grades so their school can continue to receive state funds. The teachers who circumvent this are so committed to a kid’s learning that they will find out what interests these kids, suggest some reading material, and also suggest some interactive writing sites online. I believe that the way for students to develop writing voices is, first and foremost, to be shown a love for writing by the teacher. Then, as they write, their natural curiosity will kick in and they will ask questions. It’s very difficult to have the same environment I had while in public schools (in the ’60s-’70s, the truly golden years for learning), but astute teachers can always give assignments that develop young voices. It just has to be done against the backdrop of teaching the test.

  2. Jan Udlock

    Can you speak to the “older” writer who hasn’t been a writer all of her life and now wants to write?

    Mary Jo, Excellent interview and post! Oh wow!

    • Hi Jan —

      Sure. This is easy; I’ll bet 60% of the people who come to my writing workshops are interested in getting into writing, for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s to journal their feelings, to get through a rough spell, to leave their life story for kids/grandkids … I even had a 95-year-old woman in a workshop who wanted to write her memoirs. You should’ve heard the conversation she had that night with an 11-year-old poetry whiz; others were taking notes! It was pure storytelling material.

      The best first advice I can give you is to find something that interests you, and write about. Then write about something different the next day. Don’t worry about how long or short your piece is; just write. Fall in love with the written word. Work with phrases you’ve heard; make up travel stories to go along with your favorite recipes. Begin a journal and record your activities and your feelings. Also try to read in different genres than you’re used to reading. Write down any ideas for stories or anecdotes, then when you have a chance, write them out. Make it pure, joyful playtime for yourself, but also a time where you want complete quiet so you can concentrate. But like I said, the key is to enjoy the process as you become more and more fluid with writing, so don’t kick yourself if you don’t write as much as you wanted to write today. Because undoubtedly, you’ll write more than you expected tomorrow.

      Good luck – and let me know how you’re doing!

      Bob

  3. Liz

    Thanks for a great interview. What a wonderful opportunity to start at the Blad-Tribune and gain some key skills for your career as a writer. I appreciate your insight about editing. Recently I’ve found that when I sit back down to write, I re-read what I’ve written and get caught up in changing/editing. But, it also helps me get back into “the space” I was in with the characters or the story. Any tips or devices you use to help jump start your creativity when you sit back down to write?

    • Hi Liz —

      Thanks so much; glad you enjoyed the interview and the origination point. For those of us who transitioned from news reporters to book authors, no other form of preparation can truly match working on deadline every day for years and years, having to write different stories about different subjects, gather facts and quotes – and do it in a very short amount of space. We learned research, interviewing, story gathering, story writing, tight sentence structure and editing in one fell swoop. It’s the ultimate training ground for an author; I was really fortunate to have editors that believed in a 16-yr-old with a ton of ability and zero self-confidence (at the time).

      Here’s what I do when I’m writing a book, and for me, it works every time: I finish HOT. This is a tip from the great novelist/artist/provocateur Henry Miller, who wrote 80+ books and countless shorter pieces. Each day, Miller would write original material for 3 to 5 hours – never more, unless he was on an impossible deadline. He would always finish in the middle of a paragraph that he could not wait to finish writing. It boiled in him, activated all of his creative juices, begged to be released onto paper – and he stopped for the day.

      Guess what happened the next day? He jumped right into where he left off, not only picking up the story intact, but enjoying the incredible gratification and feeling of resuming after an afternoon and evening of anticipating the feeling. I swear by this practice; it’s the closest thing I know of to a 100% cure for writer’s block. Furthermore, it virtually guarantees creativity from the start.

      Try that out and see what happens. Let me know!

      Thanks,
      Bob

      • Liz

        What a fabulous idea about ending “hot”. I will definitely try it. I know this technique will take some serious willpower (I like to wrap things up) but I can already see it will help a) get me back to my writing sooner and b) reduce the amount of time wondering what to write next.
        I so appreciate your insights.
        Best of luck to you, Bob!

  4. Fantasitc article, Bob! After attending one of your recent workshops in San Diego, I’ve introduced a “Free Write” to my classroom of 5th graders. With a simple prompt they are producing amazing results. Thank you for revitalizing more than my writing. My humble appreciation goes out to you.

    • Thanks Claudia! I find that teachers who become inspired in their writing are the people I always wanted to be around – because the assignments and creativity are going to be very, very strong! So happy to hear you’re passing the spirit as well as the knowledge to the 5th graders.

      Take care — and congrats again on winning The Hummingbird Review’s writing contest at SCWC.

      Bob

  5. Stephanie

    Hi Bob and Mary Jo!
    Great interview! I really appreciate your insights, Bob. I’ve always been a writer, too, so in my experience as a classroom teacher I would find ways (to the best of my ability) to make writing meaningful and enjoyable for the students. But I often found that many of the other teachers and others school staff were very hesitant about writing, much like others are about math, and therefore would either fall back on the district-purchased materials or else virtually eliminate creative writing all together.

    What do you recommend for teachers who struggle with the confidence in themselves to write, let alone teach creative writing to students?

    Thanks again for your insights! I’m going to get my hands on The Write Time – one way or another! 🙂

    • Hi Stephanie:

      Thanks for your comments. Glad you liked the interview.

      I think when teachers are hesitant to teach creative writing, in part because of lack of confidence in their own work, they serve students best by letting them write. If ideas are an issue, I would suggest getting a book of writing exercises (Writes of Life certainly works for this), or having them take the best part of a story they are reading in class, and branch off to create a new story from it. Having the kids start daily journals is also huge; just five minutes per class session. Sometimes, when we put a tight time frame on it, the words will spill out. But using a combination of exercise prompts, existing reading materials and journals will result in a lot of creative writing – and the teacher’s own confidence level as a creative writer shouldn’t make much of a difference.

      Hope that helps. BTW, you can order The Write Time by going to http://www.penandpublish.com, or email me and I will send you an autographed copy.

      Thanks again – keep up the good writing!

      Bob Yehling

  6. Hi Bob –

    Your book sounds wonderful and I really look forward to reading it and using the writing exercises. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on how to nurture writing interests in your children.

    My daughter weaves interesting tales when she’s called on to create a short story in class, and she has a great imaginative style. Yet she doesn’t think of herself as a good writer. I’m afraid to say too much to her about it, because in the past she’s lost all interest in things she thinks her parents want her to do. Any ideas for ways I can nurture her writing without pushing her?

    I really enjoyed the interview; lots of great information.

  7. Hi Cindy —

    Thanks so much for checking out the interview, and for your question.

    I think the best way to nurture writing interest in children is to give them a pad and pencil, or a journal, or a ThinkPad, and let them cut loose with their imaginations. Just let them weave stories and write to their heart’s content.

    We come into this world so open-minded and open-hearted, with boundless imaginations; consequently, we’re natural born storytellers. The thing that stifles kids fastest is to tell them that they have to write in a tight, structured manner, in a certain way that meets the grade. While this is necessary for basic communication, it stifles a young writing enthusiast’s imagination. I would say to let your daughter continue weaving her stories and putting them to paper, then, as time goes on, start showing her ways to better structure her storytelling for the printed page. Feed her imagination and her desire to tell the story; that is a spark that will not be extinguished if it’s burning strongly entering her middle school years. And get her to read all sorts of YA books, not just the genre she might favor right now.

    Hope that helps. Last fall, a friend’s 9-year-old daughter was bored, so I gave her a blank journal, told her to sit on a pine log bench next to my garden, and to write the day. She hadn’t written anything longer than a page before, but she sat there for four straight hours and wrote 15 pages. All she needed was the “get out of jail free” card – the freedom and liberty to write to her heart’s content.

    Take care & let me know how it goes!

    Bob Yehling

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s