It’s one of those internet things, ya know. Allison Vestervelt and I know a lot of the same people, so it was inevitable that we get to know each other, too. And I’m glad we did. Her new book, Packing Light is lovely. It reminds me that I’m not the only one to chuck the status quo in favor of the extraordinary. So it’s with great pleasure that I bring you Ally Vestervelt today.
1. Tell me about your latest project.
I just released a book called Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage. which is the story of how I quit my job, moved out of my apartment and sold all of my stuff to chase my dream of becoming a writer. The book is a non-fiction account of my journey to discovering what I really wanted out of life but mostly focuses on how all of us have baggage of one kind of another, and how we’ll live lighter and freer if we learn to let it go.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
A huge role. My family didn’t have a television growing up, so I read books instead. I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. When I was too young to read myself, I made my mom read my Berenstein Bears and Frog and Toad. When I started to be able to read myself, I would read The Babysitter’s Club and Chronicles of Narnia and The Christy Miller Series. In high school, I fell in love with classic literature in my English classes, and started reading anything by Steinbeck or Thomas Hardy. In college I lost myself in poetry, Billy Collins and Li Young-Lee. Now I love contemporary non-fiction like Malcom Gladwell, Donald Miller and Shauna Niequist.
I could go on and on about books and authors… but I’ll stop there.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
Right now, my practice is to just write, all the time. The idea of “launching” a book is brand new to me. This is my first trade book, and the first week after its release is even busier than I imagined, after hearing other authors recount their experience. So although I prefer to wake up early, before everyone else is awake, and sit in a quiet place with my cup of coffee and put my headphones in to write… this season is requiring me to write sometimes late at night, sometimes all day long, and sometimes when I really don’t feel like it.
But, as with anything that is difficult, it is also very rewarding. I’m learning that I don’t have to wait for my “muse” to strike in order to write. I feel like I’m honing my craft, and I’m very thankful.
4. Who are you reading now?
My dad just handed me a book called The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Sterns, who is the President of World Vision. The book explores the question of what God expects from us as Christians, and although I haven’t started the book yet, from what I can tell by thumbing through, he is suggesting God wants more than Sunday church attendance and a checklist of moral excellence. I also know the author has a huge heart for fighting poverty, and I’ve heard from several people that the book is challenging in the best way.
I have a feeling I’m going to love reading, and that it might give “Packing Light” an even deeper meaning for me.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
It’s always so hard to narrow it down… but at least I get to pick three. 🙂
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller changed my life. It was the first time I had ever given myself permission to want what I really wanted with my life, and I feel like I woke up in a really important way after reading it. My book, Packing Light, would never have existed if it weren’t for that book.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I love Steinbeck’s character development, and I’ve learned so much as a writer from reading him. His characters are this really delicate mix of good and evil, which I think is what makes them so relatable and believable. I think the world would be a better place if we could all see ourselves, and each other, this way — a really delicate mix of good and evil.
The Art Of Drowning by Billy Collins. This is actually a collection of poetry, but for some reason it popped into my mind right now, and it’s one I go back to over and over and over again in my life. In fact, when I moved out of my apartment and sold everything, including my books, this is one of about five I held back. My copies is ragged and tattered and written-in, but I love it.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
This is a great question. I’ve found balance the same way you find balance with anything — by going too far in both directions. If you focus too much on creating quality content, you’ll have a website full of quality content that nobody knows about. If you focus too much on building your platform, everyone will know about your platform, but nobody will be impacted by (or interested in) the content there. I’ve gone too far in both directions, and I’ve had to learn to give myself grace and take the whole thing as a learning experience.
The cool thing about online publishing is it’s still so new, most people are just learning. The other cool thing is there are so many free resources out there to help you know how to experiment and adjust until you find what works for you.
7.What is a typical day like for you?
Every day is different. My husband and I own our own business, and a huge part of our business is writing and traveling for conferences and events, so we spend a lot of time on the road and most of our days together. My friends joke they never know what state I’m in. My family jokes they never know where to send my mail. But I love the adventurousness of my life. I truly wouldn’t have it any other way. I know it probably won’t be like this forever (not exactly like this, anyway), but I’m so thankful for the freedom I have in this season to work hard for something that really matters to me.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
I love to write anywhere I can find some privacy and quiet. All the better if its outside somewhere. By the ocean. On a mountain. In a park. Extra points if I have some coffee in my hand. But one of the things I love about writing is that I can do it anywhere. I love the versatility of it, and the changing scenery, and how portable my passion is. Almost anywhere I have a laptop and headphones, I have my ideal writing space.
My high school (10th grade) English teacher told me I should try a genre different than poetry after I shared some of my poems with her. It’s funny how that criticism sticks with you… to this day, I love writing poetry, but it’s still really hard for me to share with anyone.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Just keep writing. Don’t quit. Write when you don’t feel like it, and when you’re tired and when you’re devastated and when you’re thrilled. Write your way through pain and grief and confusion. Write until you have your questions answered. Just keep writing. Don’t give up. Don’t let the critics deter you. Use the critique to get better. Hone your craft. The greatest reward you will ever receive for writing won’t be external — money, fame, notoriety — it will be internal — character, healing, maturity. Those things can’t be lost or destroyed or taken from you. They are yours forever.
If you’d like to win a copy of Packing Light, just comment below. I’ll choose a winner at random on Tuesday, September 10th. Thanks.