Making Art Even When You're Lost with Andrea Hannah

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Mindy:             Today's guest is Andrea Hannah, an award winning author, essayist and workshop leader. She teaches on living a healthy, creative life at her Wild Heart retreats and writes about making art on Twitter and Instagram. Andrea joined me today to talk about using the same process, whether she's writing fiction or nonfiction, and the constant hustle of being a successful freelancer.

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Mindy:             You have written both essays and novels. You are a staff writer for Bustle and your YA novel, Of Scars and Stardust released from Flux in 2014. So you obviously have some experience across the board with different types of writing. If you could talk a little bit about your own creative process and how you manage those different arts of writing with the essay versus fiction.

Andrea:            It's super interesting because when you think about it, all of those forms and structures are completely different, right? But when I start any piece, whether it's a long form piece or even a short story or a poem or even if it's something for myself personally, I always start the same way. I think of my creativity as a message of what I want to say and who I am. We work in ideas and we are putting new, innovative thoughts out into the world that hopefully catch fire. So I always start with what do I want to say with this piece? I have tons of interests and I could go in a million different directions at any time. What is it that's important for me to say and am I the person that should be saying it?

Andrea:            So once I have that down, then I kind of work in big ideas, big abstract ideas I might think of mood or tone or theme. And that's where I started getting some visual ideas. I have like a private Pinterest board where I start putting things together for that. I build a world around it, characters and plot. And that's true for both nonfiction and fiction. So even when I write essays about my past, you're still applying a narrative structure to a life - basically to chaos. The only difference with Bustle is that I'm projecting Bustle's message. So they have a specific prompt and they have a message and what they want to say. And I'm just making sure that I echo that.

Mindy:             As someone who is interested myself in freelance writing and that process of getting picked up to write smaller pieces as opposed to really burying yourself in something that's going to take possibly years to write and hope that it can turn into an income. Can you talk a little bit about managing those smaller pieces and turning those smaller pieces like an essay into a freelance income? How does one get their foot in the door at a place like Bustle?

Andrea:            It is so rewarding to just work on a piece for like a week and turn it in and see it get published and be done with it like it's off your plate and it's so satisfying because you know how it is with a novel. It's just years and years until you can really see the finished product. Security's a big issue. I have two small kids and if I wanted to make a freelance career, I knew I would have to have something that had some stability where I knew more work was coming just for my own mental health. Bustle is actually one of the best companies to freelance for because they often post job listings online and they will look for what they call staff writers, but they're actually freelancers. Like I have to pay taxes out of my... On my own. So they have staff writers that they are on staff and you get a weekly schedule and a weekly list of articles and you apply for the job like you would any other job.

Andrea:            Like I think I sent in my resume in a pitch, a sample pitch, and then they called me and we had interviews and back and forth kind of thing. So, and I get a trial day there, but it's been wonderful. I've been there for a year and a half. It's a great company to work for and I know that there's always work coming, so it's got the stability of a regular job. But then there's also the flexibility, which is great. A couple of my other freelance clients, I go straight for. They're people that I pitched directly where I liked their work online, like they might be small business owners or studios or different places that I've been to before that I really like and I had sent them an email just conversational, friendly, like, Hey, I've been to your yoga studio or I really admire your work or I've read this book and I follow your business on platforms.

Andrea:            If you ever need a content or a copywriter, I do both. Here's a sample of my work, please contact me. And that's worked out for me a few times as well. So I have a couple of stable ghostwriting clients that I meet with on the phone every week and I write blogs and different social media posts for them as well. So, and then I also place like the periodic essay in different places as well, like Thrive Global or MindBodyGreen or any of those. That's not where the majority of my income comes from, if that makes sense.

Mindy:             Every freelancer that I've talked to talks about the hustle involved because you are chasing down every job.

Andrea:            Oh, for sure. Absolutely. So for me, having those stable behind the scenes incomes are really important for me because it's enough money where I feel secure enough and anything after that is bonus. So if I can't hustle for a specific week because I have a sick kid or I'm sick, it gives me a little bit more leeway.

Mindy:             You also have extensive experience, not only with your own creative process, but nursing the creative process of others as well as their creative soul. You offer both workshops and retreats to assist creatives. So if you could tell my listeners about how you came to create these programs and what they have to offer to participants.

Andrea:            You know how you look back at your life and there are clues to what you should have been doing all along, especially when you were younger and you don't really see it at the time. But hindsight's twenty twenty. That's kind of what this has been like for me. So I was recently at lunch with a group of writer friends and we were chatting about writing stuff and all of them said, oh yeah, I used to come home from middle school and just open up my mom's clunky laptop. And all I did was write until it was time for dinner. And they all chimed in. They're like, yeah. And I wrote my journals and I wrote in this and I was kind of like, aw, I didn't do that at all. I never had that desire to do that. What's interesting is I was always kind of like a creative kid who liked to make crafts and, and do art, and I went to art classes and I did dance and ballet and I wrote funny stories for a period, but mostly I was a creative kid who wanted to be a helper.

Andrea:            Anybody who needed help. I was always like, oh, I'll help you. And I was always kind of like, everybody's unofficial counselor. And I loved it. So I went into teaching actually. Really, I was a special education teacher for a long time and that quenched that thirst to help people, but it didn't necessarily allow me a lot of leeway to, to explore creativity and others'. And then early in my career, my mom died and she was super sick for a while before that. And my mom was a really, really creative, wild woman person born a little bit too soon. Um, she was just born at the wrong time and didn't have a lot of chances to express as her creativity.

Andrea:            She was a single mom working a lot, that kind of thing. And so her passing away really lit something in me to help creative people create with less friction in their lives. And uh, it merged the creative part of myself and the helper part of myself. There's this lack of allowing in creative people, so many artists and writers and musicians I talk to say things like, I can't write that because that's not marketable or I can't write in the morning because then I might miss this. I can't miss a single basketball game or else I'll be a bad parent. Or, if I take time for my own writing, the house will go to garbage, kind of thing. There's so much resistance to just letting yourself be who you're going to be and allowing yourself to be creative in the ways that you were made to be creative and allowing your projects to be what they're going to be.

Andrea:            And so over the years between my teaching - I also teach a creative writing class at a community college - doing mini workshops, has really led me to distill that theory down to "let's teach people how to know themselves, how to allow creativity to come through them." That's basically what my retreats are about. That's what any of my newsletters are about. It's, it's about time to sit back, find out who you are and what works best for you, and I've designed some specific tools, like a mapmaking process. And we do use some esoteric tools sometimes, like we dip into Tarot and astrology and all that stuff as tools for self-reflection so that you can find your own path and what works best for you and and make some cool stuff.

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Mindy:             One of the things that I really heard you talking about underneath all of that is guilt. Essentially it's a lose lose because we feel guilt if we aren't being creative because we do know that we are not fulfilling something that we are called to and also we are failing that project. Whatever that project would be. Whether you have one novel in your, if you have 10 it's like if you are not fulfilling that story, your story that no one else is going to tell, then you do feel like you're failing on that end. But then as you're saying, there is just a myriad of real life requirements that we have everyday. Kids, job, work, house, all of the things, social pressures, even all of the things that we are required to do to be a healthy functioning human being or at least socially responsible. And I think especially women, especially when it comes to the house and keeping the house clean and keeping food on the table and raising the kids. And it's not meant to be a sexist statement because plenty of men fulfill those jobs too. But I think women suffer more socially and personally if they're not doing those things and doing them very well.

Andrea:            I totally agree with you. I can't tell you how many people, women in my life have been or women identifying people in my life have been like, ah, I can't. I when the kids get older, I will make that website, write that novel, paint that painting. Women more than men, need somebody to stand there and pat them on the back for a second and be like, look, it's all right. You can get going on this. And I like being that encourager and I, even if that means I'm not in person encouraging them at a retreat. Maybe it's through Instagram posts or a newsletter or whatever. I just want women to know that what you make has value beyond and who you are has value beyond what you can do for somebody else.

Mindy:             I think it's really interesting too, you're talking about being a creative yourself yet, but many of your urges are directed towards helping others with their work. And I find that really fascinating to be honest because, and I say this as a creative myself, most of us are pretty self involved.

Andrea:            That's so funny. I, yeah, I didn't think of it like that.

Mindy:             I have never felt like, you know, I am going to help someone else make their work as good as possible because that is a drive that I have. You know what I mean? It's not. My passion is for my own work I guess is what I'm trying to say.

Andrea:            So you know what's so funny about that? I think that goes back to me as a kid being like, well what do you mean? Nobody? Like everybody else is sitting around painting and writing. Like I want to go help that kid on the street or something. And I'm not trying to say that to be like, look at me. I'm so awesome. It's just truly has been a drive within me my whole life. And I think what's interesting about that is I actually just quit teaching in a traditional school very recently and I had been teaching part time for a while. Up until then, and to be honest with you, I could have financially quit teaching a while ago, but I didn't for the reason that I didn't want to ever stay at home all day and write. That has never appealed to me. That kind of gives me hives. Thinking about it, I wanted to teach like I want to help people. I want to be interacting with people regularly. So I just started doing my retreats last year and I've booked a bunch of workshops and I'm regularly teaching at the community college by my house. I feel like I could leave that school setting. I wasn't going to be at home writing all day, which is so funny because people are so different.

Mindy:             Coming up. How Andrea's upcoming release A Map for Wild Hearts is designed to help creatives find their way through the obstacles blocking their artistic goals.

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Mindy:             So let's talk a little bit about how you do help people find their way to their art. Your newest release A Map for Wild Hearts: How to Make Art Even When You Are Lost, is designed to help the reader with a myriad of problems that they may come across in their creative process, but also their larger lives. So if you could tell us a little bit about that, what your goals are for that book and some of the things that you're hoping to address with that title.

Andrea:            A Map for Wild Hearts is one of the books in my heart. And I would say it's kind of a culmination of all of my life's philosophies wrapped up into this workbook. And it's part guidebook, it's part essay, and it's part research-backed philosophy on how to create with less friction. So the First Section of the book is titled How You Got Here. And it's very forest metaphor heavy, but it's all about how you may have gotten lost. Various ways that creatives tend to get lost. Everything from toxic relationships or showing your work before you're ready, or a comparison or lack of stability and structure in your own life or not dreaming big enough. And it talks through each section that way. And then the second section is How to Make A Map. Basically, how to get yourself out of the woods. You start with the idea and I walk readers through their creative process.

Andrea:            There are seven chapters where it starts with internal and it ends up being external. So the first three chapters are ideas and identifying your own voice and identifying your direction you want to head into. And each chapter comes with specific activities. Everything from prompts to mad libs style, fill in the blank to little quizzes. So they go through and do that. And once you've got your internal stuff together, you can kind of start to seek out relationships that are good for you or how to know when it's time to show your art to somebody. That's a lot about emotions. Like jealousy and anger and sadness. And then it also talks about joy.

Mindy:             I particularly like what you're saying about toxic relationships and also comparison. It doesn't matter where you are in your journey, someone is ahead of you. I know so many people and I was one of these that I thought, you know, if I could just get published then I will be happy. And uh, that's simply not true. You appreciate being published, but then you're like, well, I've got one book out now I want two. Now I want a movie deal. Why don't I have a Netflix show? You're never fulfilled. And then you're looking at other people going, well they have that. Why don't I?

Andrea:            So I'll tell you a little story. I'll be completely honest about this book as well. This is indie published and it's the first time I've done this and I've actually hadn't had any interest in indie publishing even though I think it's wonderful. I just, it hasn't been my avenue of choice until now. And I have an agent, we had this on submission for a long time as a proposal. And then I wrote the entire thing and had it professionally edited, which I don't suggest anybody does that, but I was so certain that this book had to be out in the world that I was going to indie publish it if it didn't sell. So it was an investment for me. We put it out and it got really close to being picked up several times. But in the end it was the marketing department at acquisitions that was like, I don't know, it's kind of this strange hybrid, like I wouldn't know how to market it.

Andrea:            Is it adult? Is it this? Is it a workbook? Is it a prose book kind of thing? And so it got turned down at acquisitions and for me that was heartbreaking. But I sat with myself a little bit there and I said, okay, what's the message, right? Do I think this is important enough to go out? Like I tell all these creatives, be brave, make without fear, put things out there, take chances. So I had to do that as well. And I am indie publishing this. It comes out on August 13 and to be honest with you, I'm, I'm happier with the publishing journey than I've been in a long time. It doesn't have a traditional book deal, but people are excited about it. People who read early copies have said that it's helped them so much that they can't wait to share it with other people. And that's really all I wanted for the book. So in the end, my goal is aligned with with what it is and I think that that matters more than looking at what other people have going on for them.

Mindy:             That's the truth. And I know just from having gone to acquisitions and been turned down quite a few times, that marketing, they're the ones that make the decision in the end and as a creative it is frustrating because I have zero control over what the market is doing. You have to look at it as a positive in that if it's the case that it made it to acquisitions, then that is an indicator that you're doing something right. It's not a judgment on your work usually. It literally is the market and the list at that moment and in that time that is making the decision about whether or not you're getting published.

Andrea:            Totally. And I say that in A Map For Wild Hearts too. There's a thin line between knowing when critique is valid and when you have to trust your own gut on something. And for me that was the line. If I had had editors saying, you know this part needs work, this doesn't make sense. If I had found some common threads, some common ground between all of what my agent was saying and critique partners and editors, then I would have really taken that to heart. There was no common thread and it was a marketing department decision for me that just meant well then I'll market it. Like, I'll do it.

Mindy:             Right. Absolutely. You know your audience and you know how and who to market it to. So strike out on your own for sure. And I like to what you're saying about how you had to take your own medicine, essentially you had to go and do the thing that you have been telling people to do for a long time and make that leap.

Andrea:            For sure. And I'm not going to lie, it was, it is and was super scary, but I am so glad that I've done it. So my advice to anybody trying to make anything is you go and you do it and try not to think about what other people are doing and just listen to your own true voice on it. And it might end up with an agent or it might end up with a publisher or you might be indie publishing it or you might lose passion for it and put it in a drawer. And you have to be okay with all of those results. You know how publishing is. You just don't know what's going to happen.

Mindy:             Oh, you don't. And it's entirely out of your control, which is freeing once you managed to embrace that.

Mindy:             Lastly, writing through chronic pain, illness, depression, and where to find Andrea online.

Mindy:             One of my most popular episodes on this podcast is with Hillary Jastram who is the CEO of SickBiz and she deals with chronic pain herself while being a creative. And so her episode about mental illness and depression and dealing with chronic pain while being a creative is my most downloaded episode. So in A Map for Wild Hearts is chronic pain, depression or mental illness something that you address as a block, as something that is getting in the way of the creative process for your readers?

Hannah R. Goodman On Indie Publishing Without An Agent

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

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Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Hannah R. Goodman, author of Till it Stops Beating released July 8, from Black Rose Writing.

Are you a Planner or Pantser?

I have trouble answering this. I’ve been a writer for decades and have written everything from feature articles in magazines to young adult novels and every type of writing in between. So, depending on the type of writing, I would say I go both ways….Planner for more structured pieces, like articles and Panster for more creative pieces, like personal essays, short stories, and novels.

The method for Pants-ing I’ve been using for the last 6 or so years is NaNoWriMo. I use it as a way to bang out a first draft of a novel that’s been rattling around my brain. I work manically for 30 days, and then I leave it, sometimes, for a year. Then, I become a Planner when I revise, and for that, I use things like Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis to help me hone the structure and organization.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

This is another not so simple answer...It can only take a month to write an entire novel, but that version of that novel is usually crap. Revision has taken, at the most, a decade for one novel, and for another, 3 months. My book that is about to come out in the summer was actually two novels I wrote quickly but 8 years apart. When I decided to put them into one novel, it only took me a few months. Revising that novel took about a year, but then it went on submission via my agent at the time for a few years and was revised during that period.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

I like to have a few pots boiling. Recently, after two decades of writing non-stop, I’ve taken a slow, steady, and more focused approach. I think it’s just a product of age and time, though!

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

No. I was so young when I wrote my first complete short story that I didn’t have the wear and tear of rejection and criticism to create any fears. When I was in school getting my MFA, I found that I had a lot of fears when I sat down to write but it was a good fear, a kind of fear that I knew would disappear if I wrote my way through it. It was one of my most prolific times.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 

Another complicated answer...so I have had two agents over the course of my writing life and they sought me out due to some publicity I had from self-publishing projects. I stayed with them each for 4 and 5 years respectively... unfortunately, they were unable to sell my books. Only when I didn’t have an agent did I finally get a contract.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

Remember that you are vetting them as much as they are vetting you. don’t be desperate. In this day and age, you can do this without an agent.

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How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

Again, this is a complicated response...my first published book was in 2004 and it was self-published. At my first book signing, I sold 100 copies of my book! When I saw people coming into the bookstore and looking to not only buy my book but have me autograph it...SURREAL!

How much input do you have on cover art?

Quite a bit! I selected the image and my BFF, who is a photographer, helped me edit it. We submitted it to my publisher and...there it is!

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

Indie publishing is my jam! Not that I know first-hand about working with one of the big five, but from what I have heard from friends, you get little say in a lot of the edits and in the cover art. Writing, for me, is purely about creativity and art—not making money, so I prefer to be very involved and collaborate with my publisher.

How much of your own marketing do you? 

I do, all of it! I'm on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

Start now and today! The earlier the better because there is a learning curve involved in building your platform, so get started now and don’t be afraid to try different things and at the same time, don’t spread yourself too thin, across too many social media platforms.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Social media is the key to connecting to readers, and it helps you go beyond just the people in your neighborhood.

Liz Coley On Cover Input As An Independent Author

I love talking to authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest for the CRAP is Liz Coley, whose best-selling psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 has been published in 12 languages on 5 continents. Liz’s other publications include time travel romance Out of Xibalba, the Tor Maddox “pink thrillers” series, and her most recent sci-fi release The Captain’s Kid. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and print anthologies. She has ventured into playwriting and developing a YouTube serial, Undercover Reading, for young teens. You can also follow Liz on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Wattpad, and visit her website at LizColey.com

Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

When I imagined the cover of The Captain’s Kid, it was important to me that the art depict the sci-fi genre very clearly and also show off the multiracial and mixed gender cast of buddies in this teen adventure. I wanted the focus to be on characters as much as our future in space. I figured the central image should be the main character and first person narrator Brandon Webb, of course, but I hoped the supporting characters could be as visible on the cover as they are in the story. The striking elements of Masuna’s eyes above and the villainous figure in silhouette were brought into play by my amazing cover artist—more about him below.

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your artist?

Since this book was going to be independently published, timing was completely up to me. I looked for and signed a contract with my cover artist Joe Slucher four months before my target publication date (October 27, my oldest son’s birthday). Joe came recommended by another local artist I have known for several years, and I can’t be more grateful for the introduction. He was a joy to work with.

Did you have any input on your cover?

The greatest delight of independent publishing is the control and input the author has over the whole process. Joe and I had a very collaborative approach to concept. I said stuff and he read my mind and turned it into art. We first met at Joseph Beth Bookstore after he had read the entire novel—which tells you all you need to know about his work ethic! I don’t think that’s typical. He came prepared with general ideas based on the setting, characters, specific scenes, and technology. We looked together at character-centric covers in the “tween” section of the store so he could get a feel for my taste and my vision as well as what appeals to boys in this age group. Then this happened:

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Joe prepared fifteen thumbnail sketches to narrow down the content and composition. My impossible job was to choose two for him to develop into more detailed black and white line drawings. After my focus-group-via-email weighed in, I picked the “walk on the moon” (#8) showing Audrey and Brandon, and the movie poster style ensemble collage (#15) showing Karthik, Audrey, and Brandon. At my request, we added the character of Con Liu, who was equally important to the subplots. And so we had:

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The next phase was choosing only one of these line drawings to take to the next level—fonts, faces, and eventually, full color palate. That was so hard! I loved them both, so I asked to buy #8 as an interior black and white illustration as a little Easter Egg for the readers. Font selection and color phases looked like:

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

I adored the final cover so much, it was very hard to keep it under my hat. I’d shared the development steps with my family and with one other YA sci-fi author along the way so they were all in on it. YA Books Central hosted the cover reveal and a giveaway on September 2, seven weeks pre-release. At that point, I also set up the cover on Goodreads and Amazon, with the Kindle edition available for pre-order.

What surprised you most about the process?

I’ve never worked with a professional artist on an iterative process where the final product is approached by small logical steps. Every file I received from Joe was like a birthday present, and his enthusiasm for the project was truly gratifying. The attention to so many little details made me really happy, as did the guinea pig on the cover. And Masuna’s eyes. And the evil weedbot! And…

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Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

Sorry - this won’t help anxiety at all, but it’s true that covers are really important. My theory holds that people READ books because of recommendations, but people BUY books because of their covers.

From my authorial perspective, this indy-pub cover experience was entirely different from my traditional publishing cover experience. I’m sure the publisher’s production team goes through all of these steps, but generally behind a curtain, hidden from the author. When HarperCollins published Pretty Girl-13, my editor handed me a damp printout of my cover, fully and final-form rendered, and said, “Don’t you love it?” I did, in fact, think it was really cool, but that was the extent of my input. With The Captain’s Kid, the opportunity to be so deeply involved in cover design, except for the part involving actual skill, saved me any anxiety. At all phases, I knew my cover was in expert hands.

So, for a debut author setting out on a traditional pub experience, I recommend that you grab all your bravery and have a discussion with your editor ahead of time about how your cover will be developed and at what point you might put an oar in that water. For a debut author setting out on a self-pub experience, I advise you to think hard about how much time, effort, and money you want to invest in your cover. There’s a huge and visible difference between clip-art and original art, and a really nice, eye-catching original cover makes great postcards and other swag. You can also hope it makes your book hop off the table at signings and school visits.