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 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
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.)