This week’s guest is the clever and articulate Noel Ashland. I talked to her about finding a creative environment, the joy of the short format, and her unexpected strategy to avoid writing the story you don’t want to tell, plus a lot more.

The Teacher's Desk

Mike Bitzenhofer via Creative Commons

Paul: Have you always thought of yourself as a writer or was it something you picked up along the way? What attracted you to writing in the first place?

Noel: I remember when I was little, I loved to make up stories. I told stories to my family and friends long before I could write. I think I’ve always thought of myself as a writer or at least a storyteller. Fifth grade was when I really started writing, and I was attracted to it because I could unleash my overactive imagination and entertain people at the same time.

Paul: Was there a particular teacher in fifth grade (or other point in school) that encouraged you or was that just the point at which it kind of solidified for you, where you realized you could express your imagination and get a positive response for it?

Noel: My 5th grade teacher made a difference. Her name was Mrs. Dorsey, and we all had a writing notebook. She always encouraged me to read my stories out loud to the class (I was pretty shy then), and my classmates would always tell me how much they enjoyed them (I wrote a lot of humor at the time). I’m sure the stories were terrible, but that’s when I remember really spending a lot of my free time writing. I wrote stories, plays, and poems. I even made comic strips (I am not an artist, but the art was funny and went with the story). If I wrote before then, I don’t really remember it. I think it was that she gave us a lot of freedom to write about what we wanted and gave us some fun prompts to try out. She would even take the time to read things I wrote outside of class and make comments.
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I’m starting a new series of posts here called Aspiring Voices. These are interviews with other aspiring writers discussing writing craft, inspiration, breaking into the business, the learning process, books, and probably a lot of other stuff, not all of it necessarily on topic.

My first guest is Anma Natsu, whose YA novel Aisuru will be released next year and is currently the host of The Lackadaisical Writer podcast. Anma and I sat down to discuss dog training, charging creative batteries, what grown-up writers need to do to create effective YA, and why she tears up every time she reads a particular graphic novel.

Cherry Blossoms

Bart via Creative Commons

Paul: When did you decide to pursue writing seriously? Was there a catalyst to it or have you always been sort of picking at it?

Anma: Well, I started writing back in middle school, but back then it wasn’t truly serious for my fiction writing; it was more of an outlet for dealing with being an extreme introvert in a school of bullies. When I was in high school, I did a presentation in English class on caring for and training dogs, complete with a hands-on demonstration with my own puppy (the one time in school I was popular [laughs]). Part of that was a 30-40 page manual that my teacher raved over and encouraged me to expand and publish. So for awhile, I did have an idea of doing that and writing non-fiction books. But eventually I realized there were already tons of dog training books and wrote it off as a silly dream.

Many years later, I was still dabbling with fiction writing but I wouldn’t say it was a truly serious pursuit until I tried participating in National Novel Writing Month for the first time, which was in 2006. I failed miserably at the goal to get to 50,000 words, but I wrote more in that month on a single work than I ever had before and it helped me realize I could do more than just write a few story starts. Two years later, I actually finished writing my first novel, though it was just below 50,000 words.

I would say that was the real catalyst for me to truly decide to fully embrace my writer side.  Seeking publication wouldn’t become a firmer goal though until maybe 3-4 years ago, after meeting my sweetie, because he actually encouraged me with my writing. While I had friends who would “cheer” me on, no one really encouraged me or even read my stuff, but he did, gave me his honest feedback and his unmitigated support when I shyly mentioned considering eventual publication.

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