My introduction will be brief, because Sacha Black, blogger and aspiring author of several works (yes, she works on several projects; and has them all in the pipeline!) does such a great job of sharing her writing and editing process, while also dispensing some practical advice, that I’ll just cut the intro and let you enjoy. You can visit her website right away by clicking on any of the links she provides, or on the pictures embedded in this post! (LivinginCyn’s questions are in bold light grey type, and Ms. Black’s responses are in regular type.)
An e-Interview with Sacha Black | Writer, Thinker, Lover of the Strange and Unusual
Name/ Age When I started blogging I wanted to be anonymous, so I created an alter ego, Sacha Black. But I fell in love with the name and I’ve been using it as my pen name ever since. In some ways it feels more like my real name than my birth name.
I’m erm…. 28 and starting to freak out about the number 3….!
Occupation/Aspiration (related website?) By day, I’m a project manager in local government. By night I’m a writer, blogger and investigator of the strange and unusual. [Editor’s note: her website is, http://sachablack.co.uk/)
I write: non-fiction, flash fiction, short stories and novels. My aspiration is to be able to write full time and earn enough to pay all the bills and have a holiday every year…Actually, who am I kidding, I would love to be as successful as Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins or Veronica Roth!
I would also like to design and teach writing courses, be a writing mentor and have a couple of regular columns but that all feels like a long way off.
Where do you currently reside? What’s your hometown/origin?
I live in England, just north of London in the countryside. I have always lived in the countryside, although I grew up a little further north than here. My heritage however, is much more interesting. With a mix of Ethiopian, Cherokee, and White British, but that’s not all…. my father is American and Jewish and there is also a lot of Austrian/Hungarian blood in our family! You could probably pick any country in the world and there would be a connection, our family is bonkers!
You’re currently working on your second fictional work while you allow your first/debut work to rest. Can you share a little bit about your writing process? Rituals you live/write by?
Ohh. That’s so hard. I still feel like I am learning. I wrote a post a while ago outlining my method, which you can find here. But I will summarise and see if I can think of anything else.
The most important thing for me in my first draft is to vomit on the page. It’s about speed and just getting the story out of my head and on to the page. Your first draft is never going to be anything other than crap anyway, so you might as well just get it done. I do a lot of sprint writing. I’m not one of these people that can write slowly and edit as I go.
That being said, I learnt a big lesson from my first book, and that was to make the major edits during that first draft. The tweaking of sentences can wait, but if you decide half way through you no longer want a character (which I did), you have to go back and write them out. I didn’t and now it’s a horrible daunting task returning to my manuscript knowing how much of a mess it’s in.
- First draft, I focus on timeline and just get the story on the page.
- Second draft, I develop and solidify characters along with the enhancing emotion and the setting starts to come to life.
- Third draft is about refining, checking consistencies and silly mistakes as well as ‘beautifying’ the language.
Rituals that I live by? Sprinting for a start. In a sprint session I can write 1500 words an hour. It’s the most effective tool I’ve ever discovered and the more you do it, the better the quality of your writing during a sprint.
I also use an editing map. It’s literally a list of chapters. Anything I think of during a draft that needs editing or changing later gets written into the map. It’s so useful because if you don’t write those things down at the time, you forget. Plus, you also have a head start when you sit down to do your first edit.
Chapter summaries is also a biggie. I have a habit of not sticking to my outline. Which means if I don’t write a summary of the chapter as I complete it, I forget everything I’ve written. When you have a book full of chapters you can’t remember you are in a world of trouble; another lesson from my first book!
Why do you write stories?
Doesn’t feel like a choice to me. If I don’t write, I have a menagerie of characters shouting at me in my head, demanding stories to be written. I have all these ideas and worlds and stories in my head that need to come out. I really feel like this is what I was born to do.
It’s escapism, too, I guess. I adore fantasy and have always loved reading, it feels natural to create those kinds of stories too. I love world building and the richness that fills my head when I do. But more than anything, I have to write because it makes me happy.
Your recent blog post about portraying “authentic gay characters” (great blog post, by the way!) does more than provide tips — it seems to call for more courage among writers to include more diversity in their storytelling. Is advocacy one of your motivators for writing?
Thank you, and interesting question. If you mean, do I write to advocate rights for LGBT people, then: No. But, not for any other reason than, as yet, I haven’t had an LGBT character come to me and demand their story be told.
That being said, there is a middle-grade LGBT story bubbling away in my subconscious as we speak. I am hoping that I will be able to at least do my bit for advocacy with that. I guess I also don’t want to be labelled as a lesbian writer that only writes LGBT fiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that I love fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, post apocalyptic, thrillers and chick flicks, there’s too many things I want to write to get pigeonholed.
Interestingly enough, I actually advocate more for fellow writers than I do specifically LGBT rights. I am a huge supporter of other writers. Oh, and a bit of a feminist, too!
How long did your first book take to write? Do you find the process similarly simple/difficult?
Ha. Exactly 292 days! I know this because I started writing it in a NaNoWriMo. It also took much longer than I would have liked. I am much faster at writing now. I think partially because I know how hard it is, but also because the more I write, the more desperate I am to write full time. So I am trying to speed up so I can publish sooner rather than later.
My major barrier to speed is having too many projects on the go. I am writing a Non-Fiction book, as well as editing my first novel, writing a second unrelated fiction book, and seriously considering this middle-grade book as well as the second in the series of my first book…
I think I will find editing harder than first drafts, so I have no idea how that will compare time wise. The most difficult part of all for me though, is finding time to write in the first place.
Are you a plotter, pantser, or a “plantser”?
Another cracking question. If you had asked me before I started writing my first book, I’d have sworn blind I bled plotter. But, thinking about writing a novel and actually writing a novel are two completely different things. Writing my first novel showed me I didn’t have a clue who I was as a writer. I am a pantser. That being said, I like to know the premise of the book, and a rough ending, I’m also partial to an outline, but nine times out of ten I’ll write an outline and then ignore it as soon as I open a fresh Scrivener document.
I’m an aspiring author who’s juggling her writing with a day job and other commitments. Do you have any tips or suggestions for writers leading this somewhat busy lifestyle?
Oh god, believe me I feel your pain. I work full time and I have a 2-year-old son. My wife also works two nights a week, and I run my blog, try to exercise and at some point attempt a social life.
If you want the honest truth, my advice would be:
Burn the candle at both ends and in the middle. Drink more coffee than allowed and definitely sleep less than you should. That’s the story of my life. I tend to run myself ragged in the pursuit of being a writer. But you know what? No one is going to do it for me and nothing worth doing in life is easy. So I sacrifice my sleep, I write on my phone walking to meetings, I carry notes everywhere, and I spend every waking second I can thinking about my work and my stories. I write To-Do lists constantly to help me remember things, including the snippets of dialogue that randomly pop into my head. But more than anything, I refuse to give up. There is some kind of carnal instinct driving me on to squeeze more and more time out of my day for writing.
I am selfish with my free time. I think until you are able to write full time you have to be. Unfortunately, that means the occasional sacrifice of quality time with my wife for quality time with my laptop. But I am lucky and she loves me and knows that I have to try and follow my dream. That kind of support is invaluable.
Make sure you take breaks from writing and when you do spend time with your loved ones, leave your phone, computer and all electronic devices in the other room, it makes the time you spend with your family worth 100% more and it really is ‘quality’.
Finally, the biggest distraction I know is social media. It’s a time drainer, I know it’s useful for promoting and marketing your work, but you actually need to produce work in order to have something to promote. I often disconnect my Wi-Fi so I can’t ‘just check’ Facebook and then find I’ve wasted an hour of precious writing time. I also schedule social media in advance, like blog posts and tweets. Hootsuite is an awesome tool for that.
If you could step into a time machine and pay a visit to Sacha Black, 14 y.o., what would you tell her? Why?
I’d tell her not to lose sight of her dream and to do something she was passionate about at university, not what she thought would be helpful for a career. I’d tell her the bullies really were just jealous and as hard as ignoring them is, it’s the best thing you can do. But more than anything, I’d tell her to prepare herself. Being unique means that lots of people will try and crush her, but she’s stronger than them, and being weird is what makes her a success, because for every person that hates who she is, there’s a hundred more that love her for that very reason.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Cook, clean and be a slave at work! Okay, I am messing… sort of.
I am mummy to a toddler, so lots of playing with cars and Lego. I try to go to the gym. I am a qualified Gel nail technician so I am always doing mine, or my friends’ nails. I am a film buff and obviously, I love reading. I also do a lot of research of conspiracy theories too.
Recent project/accomplishment you would like to highlight. Are you working on anything (or learning something) that’s fascinating to you?
Well, I finished the first draft of my first novel in August. That was a heck of an achievement, one of my proudest actually. It proved to me I could actually do this! It was a hard slog emotionally, physically and time wise, but getting that first draft done was the hardest part mentally.
I’m now 30,000 words through an unrelated book, I’m proud of that because it started out as a piece of flash fiction in response to one of my own weekly Writespiration challenges, this one to be precise. I had such a lovely response from people encouraging me to carry the story on, so I did, and now it’s turning into a full length novel. That blows my mind… how did that happen? How can it happen? It was just a piece of flash!
Also, in August I organised and hosted the first Annual Bloggers Bash. An event bringing bloggers and writers alike out from behind their computer screens and giving them an opportunity to meet in the flesh. We (the bash committee) are hosting the second one on June 11th 2016, everyone is welcome.
Finally, I am working on a Non-Fiction work, which I am really REALLY excited about because I never thought I would be able to write Non-Fiction.
Coffee or Tea?
Coffee, no question. I don’t see the point of tea! I drink coffee for the caffeine, I need hard-core energy! Also, I adore my Nespresso machine and all the wonderful flavours of coffee you can get!
Is there a question you wished I would pose to you? (or to anyone else? Who?)
Other than finishing a novel and having a child, what’s your greatest achievement? My answer… I trekked up to Mt Everest Base Camp.
So there you have it, folks: A bunch of things you wanted to know about Sacha Black–and then some! You can continue to follow her on her website (links all over this interview), Twitter (@Sacha_Black), and on her Facebook Page. I’m sure on any (if not all) of these places, you’ll be the first to learn of her book releases. I think we’re going to see a lot of action from her sooner — rather than later!
Want to be a part of LivinginCyn’s e-Interview series for aspiring authors?
Also, if you’re an aspiring author — that is, you are actively working on your debut book, which you plan on publishing — or you recently published your debut work, you qualify for this e-interview series. Submit your comment below or send an email to cynthia [at] livingincyn [dot] com if you wish to participate in an e-interview. This series is slated for the 3rd Wednesday of each month.