I joined the Internet in 1994, only two years after it was opened to the public. One of the people I met online at that time was a (then) romance writer, Diana Stout. We have remained in contact ever since.
Diana recently released a book: Finding Your Fire & Keeping It Hot: Discovering Your Why, Your Passion, Your Purpose in Life. In fact, she released the book on almost the same day I released my book, The Productive Indie Fiction Writer.
I had a chat with Diana, which is below.
Can you tell PIFW readers a little about your writing business?
To make a long story a bit shorter, my only education beyond high school was obtaining an Executive Secretarial certification through a business university, where I was two classes away from being a Junior Accountant but didn’t want to be in school for another semester. After graduation, I went to work as a secretary and would later put my accounting skills to work for my two husbands’ businesses, and then when single again, one of my many jobs was working in the finance department of a Fortune 500 company. A number of my jobs included managing others. None of these jobs thrilled me, especially as a supervisor of any kind. I was exceptionally good at them, but I dreaded the work.
Everything would change when at 55, having returned to school six years earlier to obtain the three degrees I needed to teach university level writing classes: AA, BA, and MFA. All the degrees were in English and Creative Writing, with the MFA’s focus in Drama. During those six years, I racked up even more awards and publications. After graduation, I become an English Professor of writing classes, along with management duties on three different campuses. I loved the teaching, the management side not so much.
Throughout most of working day-jobs life, I have worked 2-3 jobs at a time.
I began writing at 19, seriously at 26. I became a self-taught writer, learned by doing and submitting to contests and publications (all pre-internet). I became published in multiple media and formats (newspaper, magazine, scripts, books) and multiple genres of fiction, nonfiction, and screenwriting. I began winning & placing in awards, and started judging various contests.
Once I had traditionally published my first romance at 42, various organizations and conferences began asking me to speak: local, regional, and national. Also, I was asked to teach writing classes in online writing colonies when the internet was young and inseat at a local community college through their adult enrichment program.
I was working with half a dozen Hollywood producers who wanted to see everything and anything I was working on. They loved my voice and my writing, but now, it was a matter of finding a property that suited their production companies.
But, with my second divorce, my creative writing came to a standstill.
Divorced, I was returning to a work field that thrived on a college education I didn’t have. Despite my writing achievements, I could only get office or accounting jobs which didn’t pay well or provide good benefits. Not to mention feeling cloaked with dread every day working those jobs. Oh, I was good at them, even great at them, but they weren’t of my passion, which was writing and teaching writing.
So, I returned to school, got the necessary degrees, and became an English Professor, overseeing three campuses and about 20 adjunct instructors. I loved the teaching part, the managing part not so much.
But, I had finally found a way to combine my love of writing with my desire to help other writers into a fulltime job where I continued living like a grad student and saving so I could retire later without major issues.
When my employer offered to pay my tuition for a Ph.D., I took the opportunity—once again going to school fulltime and working fulltime. I became an expert in pedagogy (the learning and teaching) of English writing classes, with my dissertation on plagiarism, earning my Ph.D. in English, with Education Emphasis.
Then two years after that final graduation, with the downturn of the economy and the university consolidating their many campuses, I was let go. I retired and created my business, Sharpened Pencils Productions and became an indie publisher, bringing everything I had learned and experienced into this business.
Since March 2015, I’ve published 20 books in an assortment of genres (romance and fantasy) and different formats of fiction, nonfiction, and screenplay. I serve as editor in various capacities, including editing an anthology for a writer’s group. On January 16, 2024, five of us in another group are publishing a historical anthology, Unlock My Heart, where my historical Gothic novelette, Harbor House: Say You Will, is featured.
I’m working on that story’s sequel, a contemporary psychological thriller, Harbor House: Last Blood. Additionally, I’m finishing a plotting workbook for writers; a grammar/punctuation handbook for writers, teachers, and students; and rewriting one script; and plotting out several others.
You quoted Dr. Wayne Dyer in your book. Are you a big fan? How has he influenced your life and your writing career?
In my 20s, I was not a happy person. I was the most negative, pessimistic, whiny, complaining person you never wanted to meet. In fact, I lost a best friend because she couldn’t deal with my problems any more, and I watched as when I approached a crowd of women, how they would disperse before I arrived.
I was in a stuck place and couldn’t see my out. That’s when I really turned to writing and was reading every self-help book I could get my hands on by Norman Vincent Peal, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Tony Robbins, and Dr. Phil.
I learned how to forgive myself and others, learning I wasn’t forgiving actions, but letting go of the emotions tied to the events or people.
I learned about self-talk and how I was the creator of my life, that to live my best life I had to stop living everyone else’s script for my life. My path was in writing.
I remember when telling others that I was going to be a writer, how they laughed and criticized, saying, “You have no education. What do you know?” I did it anyway.
And then, when I said, I was going to write a book, there was more laughter. I ignored the negativity and stayed true to my path. These experts told me that if I believed, I could achieve. And, so I did.
Some shook their heads when I enrolled in school so late in life. A best friend told me I was wasting my time getting a Ph.D. These people saw the negatives: the time involved, the cost, sacrifices I would have to make. What they didn’t see were the possible achievements, a future where I would be surrounded and immersed in my passion.
They wanted me, expected me to live their lives. For the first two decades of my writing career, I did live their script. Life was okay but unfulfilling, and I wasn’t happy and became tired of not being me. I knew that my passion fed me and provided joy that no relationship could provide.
I wasn’t like them, and that’s what they couldn’t see. So, I listened to these life coaches ignored the naysayers, and stayed focus on my goals. Along the way, I’ve had more than one person tell me, “You showed us how to get it done.”
Here on PIFW, we focus a lot on time, and finding more of it, plus using it wisely. You mention the Principal of Time in Finding your Fire. How do you use that principal to help with your writing?
The Principal of Time is different from the Law of Time as the latter’s focus is about time occurring within the universe and in nature. The Principal of Time is artificial, one that humans created through calendars and clocks. Within the Principal of Time is where we create our goals, then implement them via our calendars and clocks.
For example, a few of my 2024 goals are:
- To teach my two Master Classes:
- Grammar and Punctuation Made Easy in January.
- Using (& Avoiding) Procrastination in June.
- To finish writing and publishing my secretly titled plotting workbook.
- To plot, write, and publish my psychological thriller, Harbor House: Last Blood
- To finish and publishing my grammar and punctuation handbook for writers, teachers, and students.
- To rewrite my coming-of-age comedy screenplay, Miss Mississippi and enter it in screenwriting contests, then publish it if not optioned. (It had been once before.)
- To start plotting… well, you get the idea.
I like creating goals. Others plan vacations and create an itinerary; I plan goals and create projects that I publish or would like to have produced.
From my lifetime Master List of goals, I create year-long goals, from which become quarterly or monthly goals, which become weekly or daily goals. It’s about taking a huge goal and chopping it up into doable-size pieces that are achieved in a small time frame. In addition is my ability to write that first draft fast!
From the beginning of my writing career, I was willing to sacrifice other activities so that I could write instead. Now, that I’m writing fulltime again and meet with other writers for three hours every day, I schedule everything else in those three hours as much as I can. Writing is a high priority for me. It’s how I’m able to achieve as much as I do.
Writing isn’t as high a priority for others, nor was it for me when other priorities such as family, work, or school had to come first. But, that’s where I was writing in spare minutes rather than in spare hours. I had way more spare minutes than I did spare hours but when added up were hours!
How does finding one’s fire help indie fiction writers?
Recognizing that writing was my passion, I discovered it was my superpower, as well.
Finding my fire enabled me to deal with life’s speedbumps and catastrophes more easily.
- Anytime I found myself angry, I would write about how I felt. I was able to use those recorded feelings for characters later.
- Through family deaths, I would write, keeping me from depression. I was working on my dissertation when my sister had a sudden heart attack and died at 59. From the other side, she encouraged me to continue the work. I wrote about those paranormal/psychic experiences in my Into the Core blog.
- Finding my fire gave my life purpose. I finally knew the reason for my existence, which was to entertain, to inform, to teach.
- Finding my fire allowed me to find joy with my projects and with each day’s work, whether it was for five minutes or five hours.
- Finding my fire provides me fulfillment that comes from within. My happiness isn’t dependent on anyone or anything else.
Every night, I go to bed thinking about my current project(s) and wake up eager to start work
How do you deal with Resistance and procrastination? What are your favourite productivity hacks to help you write when you should?
Writer’s block is nothing but a myth. It’s procrastination given different name and both lead to resistance. You know what needs to be done, but… you’re not sure how to do it.
By accident, I learned how to deal with it and that process now works for me every time.
Procrastination is nothing more than being or feeling stuck. At any time, with any job. I’ve learned there’s a scientific reason for procrastination, one that I reveal and discuss in my Using (& Avoiding) Procrastination class.
Deadlines taught me how I couldn’t wait for the muse to strike. I’ve learned to put my butt in the chair and start writing whether I feel like it or not. It doesn’t take long for me to be in the zone, to feel the muse.
Norman Vincent Peale said in one of his recordings that pole vaulters don’t think about vaulting their entire body; instead, they just throw their heart over the bar knowing their whole body will follow.
Writing follows that same process. Get the fingers moving and the mind, the creativity, will follow.
Other favorite productivity hacks are to:
- Not eat junk food, especially sugar. They remove and replace energy with brain fog and an extreme need for a nap.
- Sleep when tired. Even a 20-minute nap can do wonders!
- Use an ergonomic chair and to sit properly: feet on the floor, arms level (flat) with the desktop/keyboard, and never rest the wrists on the keyboard as that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. The arms and hands need to move around freely.
- Get up out at least five minutes every hour.
- Carry work or a how-to book always, taking advantage of small periods of time.
- Write in busy landscapes: airports, cafes, restaurants, playgrounds, etc. Learn to tune out the noise. Or, create your own playlist using headphones.
- Outline, outline, outline. Do character deep dives to learn their secrets and wounds before writing one word of the first draft. It’s a secret of writing fast.
If you could reach back in time and communicate with yourself when you were much younger, what would you say?
Since, I learned rather early to not follow someone else’s script but to follow my own path instead, the other things I would tell my younger self would be:
- Let go sooner. Nothing’s going to get resolved by hanging on.
- Don’t vent too much. Journal instead.
- Be patient. The Universe will provide answers in its time, not yours.
- Toxic or bad behavior isn’t worth your time. If they won’t change, it’s time to leave.
- If it’s not your problem, it’s not yours to fix.
- To not be reactive. To not take much of anything personally.
- That failing is really not failure. It’s a sign that what you’re doing isn’t working or that it’s not the path to take, so make a change.
- When making changes, best to make a small one first. Check the results within a short period of time before making another change. Changing lots of things at once doesn’t allow let you determine what’s working and what isn’t.
- Stop living in the past. As one of those great gurus said, we have a small rear-view mirror and a large windshield for a reason. We’re suppose to spend the bulk of our time looking ahead down the road to our destination rather than looking back, lamenting over what we’ve left behind.
Looking at this list, I find it interesting that every one of these things I’d tell my younger self don’t speak of writing, and yet, they have everything to do with writing. Wouldn’t you agree?
Where can we find you online?
Website, Sharpened Pencils Productions: https://sharpenedpencilsproductions.com
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/drdianastout
Into the Core intuitive blog: htts://dianastout.com
Behind the Scenes blog: https://dianastout.net
Featured Guests with Diana Stout blog: https://dianastout.org