When Ed Cyzewski suggests I interview someone, I listen. So when he suggested Ally for an interview, I immediately contacted her. To be honest, I didn’t even look for more info – I just took Ed’s suggestion and went with it. She was kind, gracious, and willing to share, and she gave great answers to my questions. So you can imagine my surprise when she sent her bio – just yesterday – and I saw she was editor-in-chief of Prodigal Magazine, a publication I truly adore. I am beyond thrilled to share Ally’s wisdom with you today.
I’m working on a book called Packing Light: A Guide to Living Life with Less Baggage. It’s a book that was inspired by a road trip I took with a friend of mine a couple of years ago where we visited all 50 States in six months. We were at a wedding when she asked me this question: “What would you do with your life if you didn’t have to worry about anything — about money, about your job, about your school loans, about what people would say about you?” I told her that I would quit my job, travel across the country, and write a book about it. And before I knew it she had convinced me to move out of my apartment, sell everything I owned, and travel with her to each of the 50 States while she played shows and I kept a blog about our journey. While we were traveling, I learned all kinds of lessons about what it looks like to live life with less “baggage,” so the book is the story of our trip and what we learned.
The book is due to release in September of next year with Moody Publishers.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
I still remember my fourth grade teacher handing me a composition notebook and telling me, “you’re a writer, don’t ever stop.” It was the last day of fourth grade, and by three weeks into summer I had filled every page, and from there, I was hooked. I asked my mom to buy me another journal and I think I filled three of them that summer.
As far as reading goes, I loved to read but I always had weird taste in books. My dad was a psychologist (still is), and since I wanted to be just like him I would raid his bookshelves — even though much of what was there wasn’t really age appropriate. I remember reading books about marital conflict and bi-polar disorder as early as sixth and seventh grade. And I fell in love with non-fiction, with knowing stuff.
I liked fiction, too. I read Chronicles of Narnia, Babysitters Club, and the entire “Left Behind” series when it came out (I’m rolling my eyes at myself now, but these were really popular in my circle when they came out.) Also my mom read to me since before I could even understand what she was reading. The Frog and Toad Series. Ramona. Goodnight Moon. If You Give A Moose A Muffin. I could go on and on.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
There’s nothing really glamorous about it. I get up early and write for two hours, only because this is the time of day when I know no one will bother me. My husband is the opposite of a morning person, so he’s usually sleeping, and if I get up around 5:30 or 6:00 I can get two hours in before there are any worthy distractions.
Here’s my strategy: I set my timer for one hour, and just write. I don’t look at the internet, don’t check my phone, don’t use the bathroom, don’t let my butt leave the seat. Even if I just sit there and stare at the screen for 60 minutes, I try not to walk away from my computer. I just keep my hands on the keys and wait for something to come. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it floods out. Other times it’s a slow, steady unfolding. Sometimes I write, and then delete everything because it sucks. But either way, I stay for the full hour.
Then, I take a 5-10 minute break, and I do the whole thing all over again.
4. Who are you reading now?
Three books, actually.
1. Learned Optimism by Martin P. Seligman. A blog follower recommended this to me ages ago, and I’m just getting around to reading it.
2. Blink by Malcom Gladwell. My husband and I like to read together, on long drives or while we’re lounging around. This is the one we’re reading right now.
3. Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. I just got my hands on this one. It’s been on my to-read list for awhile. I might try to finish Learned Optimism before I start this one.
Can you see the psychology influence? I really didn’t even do that on purpose.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
I hate this question, only because it feels impossible to answer. Here’s the best I can do.
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. This book changed the way I thought about God and helped me engage my faith for the first time in my adult life.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I’m in awe of Steinbeck’s character development, and the way he so accurately portrays people as a mix of good and bad.
Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. His prose is so lovely, and takes something as simple as landscape description and uses it to communicate deeper meaning.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
I think good writing is what builds your platform. There’s a little bit more that goes into it, obviously, because you have to leverage the tools available to you (Twitter & Facebook right now, but the landscape is constantly changing… Pinterest, Digg, etc, etc, etc.) to get your message out, but there really is no point building a platform unless you have a message. In fact, I started blogging because I loved writing, but in the beginning, I wasn’t that concerned about building my platform. I would just write blog posts, and a few friends and my family would read them and occasionally leave a comment, but for the most part they were just conversations with myself, and with God.
But my message really started to develop out of that, and as my message developed so did my “platform” (in fact, these two things continue to develop). Learning how to use Twitter and Facebook, and how to build a list of subscribers, etc… all of that stuff is really just icing on the cake. It helps, but only if you’ve already done the hard work of creating solid content.
7.What is a typical day like for you?
Honestly, every day is different, which I love and hate at the same time. For writing, you need consistency, but you also need spontaneity, so it’s always this weird balancing act. Overall, my life is relative chaos. My husband and I both work for ourselves, we travel all the time, we move nearly as often as we travel, and my husband might be the most spontaneous and unattached person I’ve ever met — so I never really know what’s coming.
A month ago, I lived in Florida. Now I’m in North Carolina. By January, we’ll be living in Minneapolis. That’s just a taste of our crazy life.
But what I try to do is keep just a few things familiar. Each night, after dinner, I take a walk. Each morning, first thing, I drink coffee and write for an hour or two. Keeping those pillars of similarity in the midst of chaos seems to fuel the creativity, without stifling it in the midst of boring routine.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
One of the things I love about writing is that you can do it anywhere. I’m a runner, too, and I feel the same way about running. You can be in literally any location on the planet and all you need is your computer — or your running shoes — and you have this lovely escape to another place entirely.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
The hardest critique to receive was when I was told I wasn’t meant to be a writer. This wasn’t just an attack on my strategy or technique, but on my identity. My whole life I had been told I was a writer. I was always encouraged to write, and keep writing, and write more. So to have someone tell me I wasn’t that good at it? It was like a challenge to who I knew I was.
Moments like that are defining moments, because you have to decide who you’re going to believe when it comes to your identity. And if you can come out on top of that kind of critique, you’ve reached a whole new level of personal maturity and freedom.
I don’t write for praise anymore. That shift has made it much easier to receive constructive criticism for what it’s worth, and to dismiss the critics that are just haters and don’t know what they’re talking about. It also makes it easier to tell the difference between the two.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Just write. Sorry, I wish I had something more profound to say than that, but that’s all I’ve got. Just keep writing. Write when you’re thrilled, when you’re devastated, and when you think you’ve lost everything. Write when you think you’re brilliant, and when you’re convinced you’ve lost your touch. Write when you’re sure you suck. Write when no one believes in you. Write when you don’t believe in yourself.
Write about every victory, write about every defeat. Write your grief and your fear. Just write, write, write.
Just keep writing.