By Colleen M. Story
It is my distinct pleasure to share with you a recent interview I had with Colleen M. Story, a published author, public speaker, workshop facilitator, wellness leader, and author platform specialist. She’s a treasure of information, experience, and inspiration for both new and established writers. Colleen took the time to answer all my questions with honesty, acuity, and charm. I invite you into the full story of the accomplished Colleen M. Story.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Do you have a story?
Unlike a lot of writers, I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. I was always a voracious reader, and I preferred essay tests to multiple-choice because I knew I could ace them, but the idea of being a writer didn’t occur to me until after I got my bachelor’s degree.
I’m not sure why I felt compelled to start writing at that point. I think it had something to do with time. I had worked really hard through high school and college, graduating summa cum laude. Once I was out of school, I had a moment to step back and say, “Is this really what I want to do?” referring to my major, which was music education. I discovered I would prefer to teach music privately rather than in public schools, which left a gap in my life. When I listened to my gut, I realized I wanted to fill that gap with writing.
How do you see your writing? As a passion for social justice, occupational subject, business ethic, lifestyle, self-reflective, spiritual practice, fictional, historical, or story-teller?
It’s taken me many years to figure out why I write. An obvious reason is that I love to explore the world of the imagination. I’ve enjoyed doing that since I was a child riding my horse over miles of open lands behind my parents’ ranch.
But I think the deeper reason is that writing allows me to explore those questions in life that don’t have easy answers: Why must we die and what happens after we do? Why do we lose the people we love and how do we make it through those experiences? How do certain traumas shape us and do we have any choice in the shapes we take?
When I look back at the books I’ve completed, I can see that I’m asking these questions and exploring the answers through my characters. Intuitively, writing helps me understand and better cope with the human experience.
What is your particular genre and what attracted you to this category? I tripped over myself and literally fell into mine, if you did too, that¹s
In fiction, I don’t know if I have found my genre yet! I have a niche, but it’s been difficult to categorize it. My publishers have called it fantasy, literary with a fantasy twist, literary with a paranormal twist, cross-genre, and various combinations in between. So there you go.
In general, I like to push the boundaries of reality so I can explore the big questions I spoke about earlier. The rhythm of the language and the word choice also speak to me as a musician, so my prose ends up having a literary quality.
In nonfiction, my genre is much easier to determine: I write self-help books for writers.
What is the mission or focus of your work?
(I talked about the focus of my fiction work above)
My goal with my nonfiction books is to help other writers honor and nurture their creative selves. Writing is a valuable endeavor, even if one never sells a book or receives any recognition. I have a new book I’m working on that is all about the intrinsic value of writing, because at the end of the day, that is where the real rewards are—in what writing does for us as human beings. It’s quite magical when you dig into it, and I’m excited to share all the ways it benefits our lives.
Do you make it a practice to connect with other authors? How? Why? I¹m nosey.
I enjoy connecting with other writers on social media. I also interview writers regularly on my websites—over 300 to date—and I’ve found that practice to be extremely educational and rewarding. It helps to know we all have so many things in common!
As a writer, you can feel rather isolated and alone and you may wonder at times about your desire to pursue the craft. But once you connect with other writers, you realize we all share this love of writing, and there is a fulfilling camaraderie in that.
How has the current political culture, illuminated, embodied, directed,
focused, or more importantly connected your work to others interested in empowering civil conversations?
I stay out of the political arena when it comes to my writing businesses. I want to help my clients and my readers—the last thing I want to do is alienate anyone, and the moment I step my toe into a political discussion in today’s polarized world, I’m likely to do that. I have opinions, but I keep them to myself. I don’t believe it’s my job to try to persuade others to think as I do.
I remember an interview the great Johnny Carson gave on the topic, where he said (I’m paraphrasing) that he didn’t believe it was the job of an entertainer to get into political discussions or to try to sway people with their celebrity. He very astutely, in my opinion, said his job was to entertain, and he felt he should stick to that.
I feel my job is to provide the best writing I can for readers and to help other writers live their best creative lives. I want to stay focused on that. I even have a sticky note up on my writing hutch that reads, “What’s my job?” That helps me remember that my primary goal is to serve those for whom I write.
How important is research in your writing?
I have found research to be a critical and fun part of my writing, both in fiction and nonfiction.
In nonfiction, I use research to support the points I’m making. I review scientific studies every day for the different types of writing I do, and what I learn helps me bring illuminating information and effective solutions to the reader.
In fiction, I use research to further my understanding of my characters, the settings they’re in, and the time in which they live. I have always found that research fascinating, educational, and inspiring, and believe it brings depth to my stories. I don’t go overboard with it, though. I wouldn’t enjoy writing historical fiction, for instance, as I would find the necessity for extensive research to be confining. I enjoy a certain level of freedom in my storytelling, so I’ll use research as needed, but then prefer to spend most of my time in the imagination.
Any writing rituals and/or favorite place to write?
One of my favorite writing rituals is to spend the first 5 to 10 minutes reading aloud from the works of master authors. I attended a week-long writing workshop several years ago in which there were author readings every night. These were stellar authors, the likes of Ann Patchett, Andre Debus III, Dennis Lehane, and Daniel Woodrell. After hearing their amazing words in my ears, my writing took a giant leap forward. I have tried to hold onto that type of osmotic learning by reading from the works of master authors every day before doing my own writing.
How do you continue to strengthen or stretch your skills as a writer?
Each new book I write is more challenging than the last. This is one of the things I love about writing: It’s never boring. There’s always more to learn and more obstacles to overcome.
I also stay open to new opportunities that come my way. Right now, for example, I’m working on a novel that was not my idea. A musician friend of mine mentioned that he wanted to write a musical and asked me to write the book for it first. He wanted to base the story on a well-known fairytale, but then gave me the freedom to do my own thing with it. That’s the novel I’ve been working on this year, and it’s been some of the most unique and exciting writing I’ve done to date.
Is writing your primary work? If not, what is your occupation and how does it influence your writing?
Writing is my primary work, as I have been a full-time freelance writer for over 20 years. I write for my clients during the day, and then I work on my novels, nonfiction books, websites, and other writing projects during my “off” time.
Being a freelancer allows me to set my own schedule, so in that way, it complements my personal writing well. Writing for my job and on the side, however, results in a lot of hours at the computer. This is one of the reasons why I started my website WritingandWellness.com, as I realized the health problems that could result from this lifestyle if I didn’t make significant changes. Other writers are often in the same boat, so I encourage us all to take better care of ourselves.
How active are you on social media? Do you find this essential, burdensome, or just part of being a writer? Honesty counts!
I enjoy networking on social media, and I’ve found it to be beneficial to my writing business in many ways. I’ve made strong connections that have helped elevate my author platform, and I have also found many writing friends I’ve been able to interview and learn from.
I am very careful, though, about the time I spend on social media. I know from research that it can be damaging to your psyche. One study found, for instance, that the more time spent on social media, the higher the risk of depression. So I have set times of the day when I check my feeds and respond to my connections, and otherwise, I leave it alone. I also have one night per week when I set up my posts so that the rest of the week can be devoted to actual writing.
Is social media your primary source for networking with others?
In addition to using social media, I also enjoy meeting writers and readers at writing conferences and workshops. I am a speaker and workshop leader and find it rewarding to interact with writers and other speakers in person. I admire the effort all the organizations have put in to take their workshops online this year, but I’m looking forward to the time when we can once again enjoy in-person events.
What authors do you like to read? What books or blogs have a strong
influence on you and/or your writing?
Walter Farley was one of my favorite authors growing up, and Margaret Atwood became another favorite early on in adulthood. Today I enjoy authors like Andre Dubus III, Dennis Lehane, Russell Russo, Norman Mailer, Donna Tartt, Diane Setterfield, Kate Quinn, Fredrik Backman, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Kazuo Ishiguro, Stewart O’Nan, Debra Dean, Gregory Maguire, David Mitchell, Colm Toibin, Elizabeth Strout…and many others. I belong to two book clubs—one local and one online—as I love to discover new authors. Currently, I’m reading JoJo Moyes’ The Giver of Stars, and I have Stephanie Wrobel’s Darling Rose Gold waiting in the wings.
I also enjoy reading and listening to nonfiction books. I believe every writer should read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art—I return to that book again and again for inspiration. Currently, I’m reading Sgt Reckless: America’s War Horse by Robin Hutton (such an amazing and adorable true story) and I just finished listening to Shatner Rules by William Shatner, which was a hoot, even if you’re not a Star Trek fan.
What does literary success look like to you?
Determining what literary success means to me is an ongoing process. When I first started I wanted all the things most writers want: a best-selling novel, a royalty check big enough to live on so I could devote all my time to writing, and a loyal following of readers.
We all know how difficult these goals are to reach in today’s market, particularly if you are a slow writer (as I am, especially in fiction). I have reached two out of the three so far—I do have a loyal following of readers and one of my nonfiction books recently became an Amazon bestseller. But for these types of goals, marketing matters as much (or more) as the writing does, and marketing takes time. My priorities are to earn a living, take care of my health, and write, with marketing added in on the side, so though I continue to work toward these goals, I’m content to allow the work to unfold slowly.
As the years have passed, I’ve focused more on the joy of the work itself—on truly being present when writing and enjoying the entirety of the process. I also love connecting with readers. Every time a reader comments on a book, blog post, or e-newsletter, I get a hit of happiness, and that keeps me going.
Any last thoughts for our readers?
I want to encourage anyone who feels the desire to write: Honor that desire and find a way to make it happen. Even if you never publish a book, never make a dime from your work, or never get a five-star review, the process of writing will enrich your life. That’s just the way it works. Studies have found it to be true!
I’m a firm believer that people who feel the desire to write intensely enough that they follow through and write are meant to do so for some reason. In other words, you need writing in your life, and you probably won’t know why until sometime in the future. Your job today is to listen to your intuition and do what it tells you. Get your pen and paper or your laptop and write. Just trust me on this.
Would you like to get more writing done and boost your writing career? Get Colleen’s FREE worksheet, “7 Easy Ways to Become a More Productive Writer” here!
Colleen M. Story inspires writers to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment in their work. Her latest release, Writer Get Noticed!, was a gold-medal winner in the 2019 Reader’s Favorite Book Awards and Book By Book Publicity’s best writing/publishing book of 2019. She also wrote Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, which recently became an Amazon bestseller. Colleen frequently serves as a workshop leader and motivational speaker, where she helps attendees remove mental and emotional blocks and tap into their unique creative powers. Find more at her motivational site, Writing and Wellness, her business site, Writer CEO, and on her author website, or connect with her on Twitter.
I’m Living in the Gap, reading Writer Get Noticed, love to hear your thoughts.