Welcome to the Writers Write interview series. Each Saturday, I share an interview with a writer who has recently published or will soon publish a book. Each writer will answer the same ten questions with the hope that their answers will show you the variety of approaches, practices, and perspectives in the writing world.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Sam Mahlstadt. I always feel odd when I say that I’m “introducing” someone I’ve never, actually, been introduced to in person, but in this world where friendships are forged strong over binary code, I’m thrilled to know Sam. I hope you’ll enjoy his interview and check out his books, too. (Hint – there’s a free one.)
1. Tell me about your latest project.
After self-publishing my first book, Creative Theology, I released a free ebook that walks authors through the self-publishing process. Self-publishing can be extremely difficult, but no one seems to be discussing the challenges. I wanted to produce something for writers to serve as a practical guide that hits key principles from the beginning to end of the self-publishing process. I hope this project proves to be helpful for those working hard to spread an important idea through self-publishing.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
My grandmother loves to tell the story of me begging her to teach me to read as a young child. I wasn’t yet in preschool, but being the youngest of several siblings and cousins, I was adamant about learning to read like the rest of my family. She wanted me to learn in school but gave in to my incessant requests. I loved to get lost in good stories, which led to me writing stories of my own.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
My writing routine varies wildly from one project to the next. While writing Creative Theology, I wrote early in the morning and late at night, but the majority of the writing was done during lunch breaks at work. Once the majority of the content was written, I switched back and forth between digital and analog editing. Most of the editing was done with pen and paper, which kept me more focused than editing within the Word document on a screen. I wrote my ebook in bursts in Evernote and exported the content to complete the editing. All of the ebook was done digitally, and most was done in short sittings, as I was traveling while competing it.
4. Who are you reading now?
I’m not normally reading more than 2 books at a time, but right now I’m reading:
Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
For the Life of the World – Alexander Shmamen
Everything Belongs – Fr Richard Rohr
Sabbath – Abraham Heschel
Seven Storey Mountain – Thomas Merton
Platform – Michael Hyatt
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
The Book Thief, which is one of the most beautiful portrayals of struggle and loyalty I’ve ever read.
The Ragamuffin Gospel, which has shaped my life more than any other book. There is a line in the forward that says the book is for the disciple whose cheese is falling off his cracker. It was a hauntingly accurate assessment of my life, written by a man who had never met me.
The Road, which I love for the language and the story, both of which are simple, profound, and beautiful.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
This is a great question, and one that I’ve wrestled with a great deal over the last year or so. I think it all has to start with the writing. I believe that in today’s environment, people are constantly looking for ways to build their platform in the event that they actually have something to say (write). I have a problem with this. I’d much rather see people focus on creating great content and then building a platform around their work. The constant platform building with nothing to actually say results in a lot of noise and doesn’t help anyone. I hope my work outlives me, not because I’ve created a huge platform, but because the work itself is worth sharing and keeping around.
7.What is a typical day like for you?
I get up before my wife and daughters and get ready for work. I leave for work pretty early and make my short commute without any noise in the car. I try to use the commute to get centered and start my day at peace. I spend my lunch hour either writing or reading. In the evenings, we eat dinner as a family, and I spend time playing with my daughter before putting her to bed. I usually end my night reading again.
8. Describe your dream writing space.
I’d love to have a small wooden shack with a simple desk, a couch, and a wood burning fireplace. Minimal and practical.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
In my self-publishing ebook, I talk about the necessity of having people around you (including an editor) who will tell you the truth. This was my biggest mistake when I published Creative Theology, in that I didn’t solicit much criticism. So, unfortunately, I haven’t had a hard critique that would elicit a response. I would strongly advise any writer to build an avenue for constructive criticism into their writing process.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Tell the story that won’t leave you alone. From that place, great things can happen. Also, be prepared for the emotional roller coaster that is writing. And since you can’t ever be prepared for it, surround yourself with people who love you, believe in you, and have permission to tell you the truth.
Sam writes the blog creativetheology.com and recently released his first book, Creative Theology. He also took down his 10 biggest mistakes and put them in a free ebook, you can download at creativetheology.com/self-publishing.