Meet Janci Patterson. A YA author, wife, mother, manager of her husband’s dream job and player of geek games.You can find out more about her and her books here.
If you received a million dollars, no strings attached, what would change in regards to your writing?
Nothing. Literally. Money isn’t much of an obstacle for me when it comes to writing, not because I’m rich (ha!) but because I already give writing as big of a place as I can in my life. Money wouldn’t relieve me of my day job–I’m the business manager of my husband’s dream job, which is integrally important to our happiness, so that’s not going away. Plus I’m a mom, and no one can do that job for me. My husband and I both work from home, so we really don’t need a babysitter. I write while my daughter watches movies, and we still stay under the AAP recommendations for screen time.
Really what I’d love to have is more hours in the day, and money isn’t buying anyone that. But I guess next time I feel overwhelmed and wishful, I should remind myself that I already basically have it made.
Tell me about your creative space, what are some parts of it that are absolutely necessary and what makes it you?
I don’t have the luxury of having a creative space. Not because I don’t have physical space for it, but because I don’t have time for it. Sometimes when I “sit down” to write, what I’m really doing is standing with my laptop perched on top of my dresser to write a few lines before I’m dragged off to ice skate with Elsa or climb Rapunzel’s hair to the top of her tower. (We’re all princess, all the time here.) So, I have a laptop, which makes me flexible, and I have my brain. Really, my brain is my creative space. Wish I could show you a picture of that.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Finishing. No, really. The very best part is when the book is done and published and I don’t ever have to fix it again, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. It’s so gratifying to see something really good come out of the long, messy, difficult writing process, especially when I spend most of that process doubting the books will ever turn out. I don’t have a lot of fun writing, but nothing compares to the satisfaction of having done it.
When you hit a wall, what do you do to get out of it?
I assume we’re not talking about a literal wall, because then I’m just embarrassed.
When I hit a point in my writing where I don’t know where to go next, I pull out my box of structural tools. I check to make sure that my character has a goal, that there are obstacles obstructing her, that I know what she’s feeling in the scene, that I know what the next big disaster she’s going to face is, and that the scene I’m writing is of appropriate tension level and content for the plot beat I’m working on. By the time I’ve gone through all that, I’ve found the problem. Then I wander in the wilderness of trying to fix it until I find the best solution. But, like my characters, I know the next hurdle is just a writing-session away. Hammering out a good novel is an endless exercise in problem solving.
What does your average day look like?
Woken up by the toddler at seven. Negotiations with the kid about every little thing that it is possible to negotiate. Errands, housework, outings to the library or a local museum, walks to the park. A movie for the kid; writing for me. Usually some sort of community or church work to get done. Check up on the family business, make sure it’s running smoothly. Maybe a play date for the kid–or for me if I’m lucky! Later, maybe more writing, maybe more housework, maybe video games. Basically I juggle about two dozen small pieces of things all day, every day. It’s crazy-making, but also awesome.
Think back to when you first started writing and look at now. What has changed, what has stayed the same with how you work on books?
Nothing is the same. My process changes with every book, and it’s evolved quite a bit over the last fifteen years. I used to write for fun; now it’s work. I didn’t plan much of my first book; now I outline. I didn’t know how to revise; now revision is seventy-five percent of my process. I used to worry about publication; now my motto is to mind my own business, and that business is to get my own work done. I used to be completely unsure of whether I could ever be good enough; now I know that even when my books are a complete mess, I’m going to be able to beat them into submission in time. Lots of time. Lots and LOTS of time.
There’s a change. When I started, I had no idea how long it was going to take to develop strong novel writing skills, and even less of an idea of how long it would always take to get any given book into shape.
What are a few things that inspire you?
I am a do-er. I find joy in getting crap done, and I do a lot of it. So I’m big on word goals and promises to myself. I take my commitments to myself quite a bit more seriously than my commitments to other people. I don’t wait around to feel inspired; I just dive in and get to work. Maybe what I find then is inspiration, but if it feels just like effort.
Depending on what project you’re working on, how does your creative process change?
Every project teaches me new things, and my process changes to incorporate all that I’m learning. You’d think that would make each book easier, but it’s actually the opposite–the more I learn, the more I have to worry about getting right in each new book. What’s that you say? I should actually be juggling with a plate on my head AND an egg on each shoulder? On roller skates? Great. No problem. I’ll get right on that.
For me, novel writing gets harder with every book, but I also get stronger, better, more able to climb the mountain. It’s really scary when I’m starting a new project, especially when I hit about 10k and the new-project glow dies and I’m facing down all the many millions of problems this project is shaping up to have on paper that it didn’t have in my head. So I focus on writing in layers. I accomplish a few things in one draft, a few more in the next, and I just keep revising until the book comes together. And they do come together, but it takes many hours, over the space of years. Sometimes many years.
Seriously. Time. Couldn’t I have a million hours instead of a million dollars? Why aren’t they making any more of those?
Looking to the future, do you see anything changing with how you write or is there anything you want to change with your writing.
Everything is going to change. I won’t be a mom of a toddler forever. My writing will have to wrap around different challenges next week, next month, next year, next decade. I have no idea what that’s going to look like, and I don’t need to know. What I do know is that my life has changed a lot over the last fifteen years–school, marriage, a child, a business, and more–and I’m still writing. Whatever’s coming, I’ll weather that, too. My main goal for the future is to be flexible. The bendable wood can change shape without breaking.