Building a Writing Life by Hillary DePiano

Our guest here at The Whine Seller today is a long-time friend of the blog, author and playwright Hillary DePiano, who stopped by to talk about her new book, Building a Writing Life: start a writing habit, make time to write, discover your process and commit to your writing dreams. We talk a lot on this blog about blogging, writing marketing copy and publishing books as an additional source of income but the weird thing about writing is, while there’s a lot of resources out there once you get started, there’s not a lot of information on how to actually get started with writing in the first place and this is a guide that really aims to change that, wouldn’t you say?

Hillary DePiano: I mean, that’s the plan! *laughs* Building a Writing Life came out of a recurring question that would come up on my blog where people would find one of my posts about writing productivity and writing more and basically be like, OK, but how do you start writing, like, at all? Because it’s not easy to just wake up one day and decide you’re going to rearrange your entire life to fit writing into it, especially if you’re brand new to it. So this guide was sort of my answer to those people who wanted to write and had no idea how to start by giving them actual concrete things they could do step by step to start integrating writing into their lives.

TW: And it comes down to building a writing habit.

HD: That’s a huge part of it.

TW: I know, for me, and I have a really sort of haphazard writing habit in that I am all over the place, writing dozens of posts in a single day and then not writing anything for a week, just an absolute mess of a binge writer…

HD: Yup. I’m the exact same way.

TW: …but even though I don’t write every day, I do write consistently and that consistency really keeps me going where it feels weird if I go too long without writing. My internal clock gets kind of itchy for it.

HD: Definitely. Once you build up that writing habit, it’s like brushing your teeth. It feels weird when you don’t get to do it. But it’s hard to find time to write and harder still to make time to write, though we go through a lot of suggestions for both in the book.

TW: I feel like having a clone of myself would help. Does the book cover human cloning?

HD: It does not. But one of the things that’s important to note is, when you’re first starting out with a writing habit, it’s hard! It’s absolutely an uphill slog because you’re chafing against the change in your routine and still trying to figure the whole thing out and I think a lot of writers aren’t prepared for that part.

TW: Because sometimes writing is not fun.

HD: It’s work! And that takes a lot of newbie writers by surprise, I think. But one of the great things about building up a writing habit is that, because you’re doing it, day in and day out, it really kind of divests you of any notions you may have had of it being this magical process. It makes you realize, oh, this isn’t all frolicking in the field of my imagination with my muse, it’s sitting my butt down in the chair and getting the words down even when I don’t feel like it.

TW: I like that. I’m making it a pull quote. Because you never feel like it.

One of the great things about building up a writing habit is that, because you're doing it, day in and day out, it really kind of divests you of any notions you may have had of it being this magical process. It makes you realize, oh, this isn't all frolicking in the field of my imagination with my muse, it's sitting my butt down in the chair and getting the words down even when I don't feel like it. -Hillary DePiano
Told you I’d make it a pull quote.

HD: *laughs* Almost never. But that’s the rub of the whole thing. Because it’s only when you keep writing through those moments when you don’t feel like it or aren’t inspired that you make some real headway on your writing goals.

TW: Writing goals not writing dreams. Because that’s an important distinction you make in the book.

HD: I am, as you are, a real productivity / goals junkie and I have this whole elaborate system of Kanban boards within Kanban boards and spreadsheets to track and incentivize my writing progress that people have told me looks like I’m running the stock market from. But it all comes down to one thing: focusing my efforts so I’m moving forward on concrete, specific goals. It all keeps me on track with what I’m trying to do, keeps me motivated to make forward progress, keeps me from just floundering around and writing something new and random every day instead of working on the thing that I need to finish. And you need to develop something like that if you really want to be a writer. Because humans? We really suck at setting goals.

TW: Do we ever! Just look at what happens every New Year’s Eve. Most of those resolutions don’t even last a week.

HD: Because we aim for dreams, vague fantasies of what we want, when we should aim for goals, specific targets we can actually take steps towards every single day. It’s the difference between sitting down at your To Do List and seeing one item there, “Write Book” and getting frustrated when even after weeks and weeks of writing you still can’t cross that off your list and committing to write at least 500 words a day until you have a 100,000 word first draft. In the book, I teach the reader how to make better goals, break bigger goals down into smaller daily tasks, set more realistic deadlines, manage big writing projects in the context of your larger writing career goals and even ways to motivate yourself so that you see it through. It’s all about thinking differently about your writing and taking specific, concrete steps towards your goal.

TW: It’s a mental shift.

HD: Exactly. Writing is incredibly mental, obviously, but there is also a significant mental shift you need to make to really build a writing life. You need to make a commitment to your writing, you need to place importance on writing and prioritize it in your life accordingly, and you need to change how you think about the act itself of getting the words down. The entire first section of the book is actually about making this mental shift because it’s a lot more essential than I think people realize.

TW: Writing is a process.

HD: It is and it’s a very individualized process. And, really, figuring out your writing process is a lifelong journey. But the whole final section of the book is designed to help you start to figure out what works for you because the more you understand about how you write, the better and easier you can make it on yourself to get the words down.

TW: I’m just looking at the book here on Amazon and… is the book only on Amazon?

HD: No, it’s available pretty much everywhere. eBook and Paperback.

TW: Multi-channel, gotta love it. So, I’m looking at the book on Amazon and it says Building a Writing Life is book #1 in the How to Start Writing series. So what else can we expect to see from the rest of that series?

HD: This series was very much born, literally, from questions I’ve gotten over the years from first-time writers in my role as a volunteer with NaNoWriMo. So the books are that are coming out in this series are, sort of shamelessly, based on the various talks I always end up giving to new writers in that role. The next one up is Make Ready to Write! and it’s all about developing a battle plan and getting prepared so you can tackle your first big writing project, be that a book, screenplay, novel or whatever else you’re writing. After that, I have a book on ways to beat writer’s block and to keep your writing moving forward when you’re stuck and the fourth book in the series is designed to be that kind of upbeat cheerleader writers so desperately need to champion their work but we don’t always have in our lives. I’ve also got a book on playwrighting coming out next year. And, of course, a bunch of plays and other stuff your readers don’t care about.

TW: What’s that supposed to me? Don’t tell them what they care about! Maybe my readers love your plays!

HD: They don’t care about my plays, T. W. If they did, they would be over on my blog and not on yours.

TW: Rude. Accurate. But rude.

HD: Congratulations on the name change, by the way, though I am completely incapable of calling you T. W. without thinking of “When there’s trouble you call D. W.” from the Darkwing Duck theme song.

TW: Because you’re old. Which is fine because so am I. And, actually, now that you mention the whole name change thing… what is really happening here? Are you just… interviewing yourself right now?

HD: I mean… yes? Sort of? I don’t really know how to answer that. Are we the same person?

TW: Your guess is as good as mine.

HD: Sometimes a girl’s got a book to promote and you gotta do what you gotta do, you know?

TW: Oh, I know it, honey. You gotta always be hustling. So, the book. It’s called Building a Writing Life and it’s about building up a writing habit, making a mental commitment to writing, discovering your writing process and actually making some real progress on those writing dreams. Easy to read, simple steps you can take today to start writing more and adding writing to your life. What’s not to love? People, buy it, read it, write a review, tell a friend. It’s good and I’m not just saying that because Hillary is a close personal friend of the blog.

HD: Just, like, so close and personal.

TW: Too close. It’s awkward, is what it is, so let’s not dwell on it.

HD: Oh! And it makes a good holiday gift.

TW: Really? Because they say that about everything from tampons to toilet brushes this time of year…

HD: They do. But it really does! Because we all know that friend or relative who keeps talking about how they want to write a book one day but they never actually seem to do anything to get started on it and this is the perfect guide to ease them into it. Trust me, they’ll thank you for it!

WS: Well, there you go. So check out Building a Writing Life and, while you’re at it, also check out Hillary’s plays just to spite her. And thank you, Hillary, for stopping by the blog.

HD: Anytime!