Finding Your Spark: Writing, Reading, And Investing In Yourself

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I decided to start the "Finding Your Spark" series to shine a light on different types of people who are following various paths – their OWN paths, whatever those may be. The whole idea is that there's no single way to live life and a person doesn't have to be "famous" to inspire others. These individuals have found what inspires them, motivates them, makes them happy. And they've run with it. Read all posts in this series here.

Nearly a year ago, I came across Rachel Del on Instagram and immediately loved her account. She posts great looking photos of books, coffee, and little snippets of her life as a writer. Through these posts alone, the love she has for her family and her persistence with her work was obvious even to me. Rachel and I have become Instagram friends of sorts, liking each other's pictures and messaging about books. I asked if she'd be interested in being interviewed for my "Finding Your Spark" series and was thrilled when she said yes.

Originally from Ontario, Canada, Rachel moved to Las Vegas in early 2011, at the age of 26 and was married that April. Her and her husband welcomed a baby boy in March 2013. In September 2015, she self-published her first novella, "Finding Lily." Since then, she's released a second novella and one full-length novel.

Along with her novel-writing, Rachel works in publishing as a managing editor, a dream job she still can't believe she has. There, she acquires and develops manuscripts, converses with authors, and even dabbles in book cover design. (She does it all!)

You can find Rachel on Twitter and Instagram, and over on her bookstagram account for all you booklovers.

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What was the reason for your move from Ontario to Las Vegas?

I kind of feel like I've always been a romantic, so being able to say that I packed up my life in Canada and moved to the U.S. for love... well, it's kind of a dream come true.

When I look back, I certainly didn't think I'd meet and fall in love with someone from Nevada. I'd never even been to Las Vegas before. In my mind it was this place of gambling, sex and bright lights. I was so naive, because when I visited and then moved to the city, it was so obvious that it is more than that.

This is how I describe Las Vegas now: it's like two different cities in one. If you want to experience that crazy side of things – the drinking, the gambling, etc. – you can go down to The Strip and go crazy. But then there's the other city; the city just like any other place, where you work and your kids go to school. You live just like anyone else. There really is no other place like Las Vegas.

When do you remember first having an interest in writing?

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not great at following through with projects. I'm great at starting and often terrible at finishing. I've loved a lot of things in my life: painting, graphic design, photography, web design, interior design, and so many others. But writing – writing is the one thing that has always been a part of me. Everything else has ebbed and flowed.

Are there any authors or writers in particular who have inspired you? Who?

I think that, as time goes on, my inspiration comes from different sources. At this point in time, I'm inspired by writers like Taylor Jenkins Reid, Jessica Hawkins and Kandi Steiner. It's really interesting to read their works; they all have their own distinct voice.

Kandi Steiner is the queen of angst; she can really tug at your heart strings. Jessica Hawkins writes the sexiest words I may have ever read. If I need to write a sex scene, I like to channel her. Taylor Jenkins Reid possesses an incredible ability to make me feel like I'm friends with her characters; like I'm physically in the same room, witnessing her characters' lives. She is probably my favorite author right now.

At the same time, I'm inspired by people like Hannah Brencher, who is so fantastically human, authentic and unafraid to be herself. Even if you're not a religious person like me, I dare you to read her blog and not be inspired.

Aside from other writers, what are your sources of inspiration?

I read. I watch TV. I listen. Oftentimes it could be something as simple as a single line one actor says to another in my favorite TV show, or a line of poetry, or something I overhear at the table next to me in my favorite coffee shop. (True story: I'm an avid eavesdropper. You can decide what that says about me!) I work from home so sometimes feel a little caged in. It's important to get outside and live and listen and watch.

When did you first consider yourself a "writer"?

This is such a tough question. There are people who will say you're not a writer until you have something traditionally published. Others will say you're a writer simply because you write. I'm part of the latter camp. 
I think if you need to write – if you don't feel like yourself when you're not – you're a writer.

If I follow this rule, I suppose I've always felt like a writer. However, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it wasn't until I began to truly take writing seriously that I really felt like a "writer." So, if that's the case, I would say that I first considered myself a "writer" when I released my first self-published novella, "Finding Lily." (Funny enough, I'm now re-writing it.)

What made you want to re-write the book?

I'm going to be brutally honest here: I rushed "Finding Lily." I was excited. Perhaps too excited. I wrote it in something like two months, edited it myself, had one person look it over, edited it again and then published it. I was really happy with it. I immediately began writing the second book in the series, "Fixing Tanner." After that I began writing a third in the series, but found that I was getting a little tired and needed to work on something new. I set that book aside and began writing "How To Be Someone Else."

"Finding Lily" was published in September 2015 and "How To Be Someone Else" in October 2016. It may not seem like much between the two, but I knew I had grown as a writer.

I started a few novels, but didn't get very far on them because I kept being pulled back to "Finding Lily." Finally, I decided that I needed to give it the attention it deserves. I started re-writing it and I honestly can't believe how differently it's coming out. The characters are a lot more developed, the drama much more intense, and it's now being written from dual perspectives, which is always fun. I can really tell how much I've grown as a writer. I'm definitely looking forward to its re-release.

I love when books are written from multiple POVs. What do you like about that, and what's more difficult? How do you go about writing from a POV that's different than your own, e.g., opposite sex or much older/younger?

I actually really enjoy reading books written from multiple POVs, especially those who do an amazing job writing as the opposite sex. I think writers like Staci Hart and Paula Hawkins do a great job at this. It's fun and challenging to try and put yourself into the mind of a guy. A lot of the time I'll ask my husband how he would respond to a certain comment, or how he would react to a situation.

I find writing about people younger than me to be fun too. I think that's why I had so much fun writing about Penny in "How To Be Someone Else." I remember being her age and struggling with who I was and who I wanted to be.

What has/have been the most difficult scene(s) to write?

For me, it's the scenes involving intense conversation. I know that the characters start out at A and need to get to B and the only way they're going to get there is by talking it out. There's a lot of pressure to perfectly convey what needs to be said. These scenes always take me a few revisions to get right.

What is your strategy or routine when it comes to writing? When do you find yourself to be the productive or motivated?

There was a time that I set my alarm for 5 a.m. every weekday morning and wrote until my kid woke up around 6:20. It worked very well for me. But then I realized how tired I was by the end of my work day. So then I tried writing after dinner, which worked for a while, but I began feeling guilty because it meant more time away from my son.

Now, since I work full-time in publishing, I tend to fit writing in whenever I can. Sometimes that means a half hour here, two hours there. What works for one season may not work for all seasons. Learn to be gentle with yourself. Some people can only work in absolute silence. Others thrive writing in a coffee shop for example. I tend to be a mixture of the two, depending on the day and my mood. Find what works for you.

What remedies do you have for writer's block?

Oh, writer's block. I'm well acquainted with it. You'll read a lot of advice about what to do if you can't write, but the truth is that you just have to push through it. Whatever you're stuck on, set it aside for a moment and work on something else.

If I'm stuck working on my novel, I'll go off and journal. Or I'll write a short story. Sometimes simply the act of stepping away from whatever you're blocked on is enough to help. If that fails: keep going. Writing is not easy. If it was then everyone would be a writer. What truly makes you a writer is pushing through it all.

How difficult do you find it to balance a full-time job with your book-writing?

I wish I could say I have it all figured it out, but I don't. Some months I have a great system in place where I set aside specific days and times to write – and I'm very successful – but others months I can't seem to make it work. I'm naturally very hard on myself but lately I've learned to accept that writing, for me, is about seasons. Some are meant for writing; others are meant for living and gatherings material. I wish I could be one of those writers who writes all year long, but I'm just not. And I'm learning to be okay with that.

When you write your books, do you find that you more often pull from your real life or create something new? Do you do any research in preparation for writing a book?

Every new book that I begin writing usually stems from something I'm going through, or that someone around me is going through. "Finding Lily" was born because I was upset for my best friend who was going through a divorce. 

"How To Be Someone Else" was about Penny, a goody-two-shoes whose parents suddenly get divorced and she decides – screw it – she's going to start living life by her own rules. I was going through a tough time with my kid when I began writing that book. I write it as a way to kind of live an alternate life.

I always find that one of the most interesting parts of an author publishing a book is learning about how the heck they made it happen. What was the process you went through?

I consider myself to be very lucky in that when it came to self-publish my first book, it was something I'd already been doing for my day job. I already knew how to format ebooks and paperbacks, and I knew my way around Amazon Kindle Publishing. The things I didn't know, like how to choose the best categories and keywords for my book, my boss helped me out with. I could have done it without him, but it would have taken me a lot longer. 

I think a big mistake that a lot of self-published writers make (and I, too, am guilty of this, which is why I'm re-writing "Finding Lily") is to not put some money into the process. Think of it as an investment in your future. Hire an editor. A real editor. Have a professional design your cover. The one thing I think you can definitely get away with doing on your own is the formatting.

The bottom line is: Do your research, and invest in yourself and your book.

What advice do you have for fellow writers?

I feel like these days it's hard to come up with anything that hasn't been said before, so I'm going to repeat some of the (hopefully) obvious advice that I've heard over the years.

1. Write all the time. Write even when you don't have anything to say. Sit down every day at the same time and write. Show up and do the work; no one is going to do it for you. 

2. Read constantly. If you're not reading I guarantee your writing isn't as good as it can be.

3. Find your writer tribe. While it's true that writing is a solitary pursuit, building a group of fellow writers who will cheer you on, read your work, give you advice, tell you the truth (!!), is so important. I wouldn't be the writer I am today without my small tribe.

4. Learn to say no. Sometimes you have to say no to the dinner with friends, or seeing a movie with your husband. Your writing time is precious (especially if you're like me; working full-time with a  kid at home). You have to treat it as such.

5. Your first draft of everything is pretty much crap. I think this is pretty self-explanatory. Don't expect perfection the first time around. Editing is your best friend.

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