Shawn Smucker is one of those people you know is kind down to the nail of his littlest toe. He’s also one of those people who lets his humanity show, his mistakes, his shortcomings, his love. For that reason, he is one of my favorite people on earth. He and his wife Maile have become dear friends in the past few years, even though we’ve known each other – having attended the same college – for, well, let’s just say a long time.
Today, I’m honored to share Shawn’s thoughts on writing, his new book (which is truly inspiring), and life as a writer. Enjoy. Then, go buy his book and subscribe to his blog. It’s some of the best stuff out there. Really.
1. Tell me about your latest project.
How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp tells the true story of a 10,000-mile, cross-country adventure my wife, four children and I recently took in a big, blue bus named Willie. The fact that Willie was really old, overheated occasionally, sometimes wouldn’t start, and lost his brakes as we were coming down the Teton Pass sort of added to what would already have been a huge adventure.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
Books were my life. When I was a kid, some of my closest friends were other little boys who were quite happy to sit with me on the huge front porch on a rainy day, each of us reading separate books. I read secretly by flashlight. I took books to church and put them inside my Bible so I could read them during the service. Writing didn’t happen until later.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
I write every day, except for some Saturdays and most Sundays. My most mindful writing takes place in the morning, pre-11, and in the evening after 9pm when the house is quiet.
4. Who are you reading now?
I’m reading The Hobbit with my children in preparation for the upcoming movie. I’m also re-reading Moby Dick because I wanted to read something long and a little more challenging and it was free on my e-reader. I love Steinbeck and John Irving and Marilynne Robinson.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
Without a doubt my three favorite books of all-time are Steinbeck’s East of Eden, David James Duncan’s The Brothers K, and John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany. They are epic books because they explore the messiness of faith and spirituality and belief. The characters are unforgettable. The evil in the books is palpable, and the good is just so beautiful and heart-breaking.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
Terribly. I’m far too platform driven right now. We will soon be moving to a house where I will have a real, live study, and for some reason I feel that having a place dedicated to writing will help me balance this.
7.What is a typical day like for you?
Wake up around 7am and do a little blog reading until our four children start waking up. Get them breakfast. Shower. Go to a cafe and work on writing related stuff from 8:30 – noonish. Eat lunch, sometimes at home. Try to work until around 4pm. I’ve recently told the kids (after realizing the computer was taking over my life), that I would turn off my computer and phone from 4 – 9 and try to be present for them. Write after 9, or read. Force myself to go to sleep by 11 even though I don’t want to and would rather just stay up and keep writing or reading.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
Office with a view and room for a good-sized desk and most of my books.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
Towards the end of one of the projects I wrote early in my career, the publisher said they wanted to bring in another writer to tighten things up. This devastated me. I nearly stopped writing. Then, I got pissed off and decided to use it for motivation to write every day and just get better. I have to turn that stuff into bulletin board material, or it just weighs too heavy on me.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Give yourself a minimum word count and then commit to writing that each and every day. Make it a totally accessible amount. 100 words? 500 words? 1000 words? It’s so important.
Shawn Smucker is the author of How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp and Building a Life Out of Words. He lives in Lancaster County, PA with his wife Maile and their four children. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook, and he blogs (almost) daily at shawnsmucker.com