In this week’s Behind The Pen I interviewed Laura Moss, author of Adventure Cats: A Guide to Living Nine Lives to the Fullest, an Amazon best seller.
What do you love about writing?
I love getting to tell stories. In journalism, it’s often telling other people’s stories and finding how they fit into a larger narrative, and I think that kind of storytelling is interesting to me because people are just endlessly fascinating in terms of their motivations and experiences. I also write a lot of fiction, which is fun for those same reasons. It involves delving into people’s lives to see what makes them tick and it enables you to explore what’s often the same themes and ideas, but in an entirely different way.
How did you get into the writing world?
It feels like such a writer cliché to say you’ve always been writing, but that’s definitely the case with me — I was dictating stories to my mother before I could hold a pencil. Writing was the one thing I always knew I was pretty good at, so when I applied to college, I thought journalism sounded like a good fit. I’d enjoyed working as an editor on my school paper and it seemed possible that I’d someday be able to get a job writing for a newspaper or magazine. (As much as I loved reading, the idea of publishing a book seemed impossible!)
After college, I went on to get a master’s in journalism. I interned at a variety of places and did everything from writing for a small-town newspaper to stringing for The Associated Press, and when I graduated, I ended up working for travel magazine and then an environmental news site. Now I freelance for a variety of publications, I run my own site, AdventureCats.org, and I write books. I’ve dabbled in a lot of things, and I’ve found that I’m happy as long as I’m writing.
What top 2 challenges do you find in writing?
For me, maintaining a work-life balance is a struggle. I left my full-time job about a year and a half ago, and I envisioned that this would allow me infinite time to work on a variety of writing projects that I’m passionate about, but that has definitely not been the case. When you work from home and set your own schedule, your work life bleeds into the rest of your life, and I finally learned that I have to set some boundaries.
That brings me to another challenge, which is balancing the pay-the-bills writing assignments with the ones that don’t have an immediate financial compensation. It’s so easy to prioritize the work you’re hired for. It has a deadline and a nice little check waiting on the other side. But often, the work that pays the bills isn’t the same work that you’re truly passionate about, and you have to find time for that creative work that inspires you. I have to constantly remind myself that my passion projects are worthy of my time too. When I started Adventure Cats, a lot of people thought it was rather silly, but I made time for it, and that passion project enabled me to quit my full-time job and later led to the Adventure Cats book.
Where do you find inspiration for your article/blog ideas?
Often the articles I pitch to various outlets are inspired by something incredible I’ve seen (a surfing cat!) or a question I have (Why do we this/think this/etc.). When I was working for Mother Nature Network, we had weekly editorial meetings where I had to pitch ideas, and if I was coming up short, I’d simply take a look at the news or at discussions happening on Twitter or Tumblr and look for a larger trend and start asking questions about it.
What is… 1. The most challenging piece you’ve written & why and 2. Your favorite piece you’ve written & why
One of the most challenging pieces I wrote was a 2,000-word story on the Atlanta tennis community for a local magazine. It doesn’t sound like it should be difficult, but I was simply out of my element. I didn’t know the first thing about tennis or what questions to ask or even which direction the story should take so there was a lot of truly terrible writing involved. By the end of all those interviews and article revisions, I’d learned a valuable lesson about how I don’t need to necessarily say “yes” to every assignment that comes my way.
I think my favorite piece is one titled “Why must we hate the things teen girls love?” that I wrote for Mother Nature Network. As a woman and as a writer of Young Adult, it’s a subject that’s very important to me. As I worked on the story, I got to interview a lot of people who are much smarter than I am, so I learned great deal from them. It sparked a lot of interest on social media, which really excited me, and when Sarah Dessen tweeted it, I’ll admit that I totally fangirled.
Do you have any tips to writers on conducting interviews and/or drafting interview questions?
It’s all right to sit with the silence sometimes in an interview. Awkward silences are one of my greatest fears, so this was hard for me to learn. When an interview subject finishes a thought, my anxiety has me wanting to rush in and ask the next question, but I’ve learned that when you let that silence sit there for a moment, often your interviewee will fill that silence instead. It can take your conversation in a different direction and inform you of things you might not have thought to ask.
If you could give an upcoming writer, one piece of advice what would it be?
Write what you love. You may have to ghostwrite marketing copy or pen 2,000 words on tennis to pay the bills, but make time to also write the things you love. If you’re interested in something or have a story you’re dying to tell, then clearly there is an audience for it so pursue it! Some of my craziest ideas (hiking cats, Harry Potter insults, etc.) were ones that few people saw a market for, and they’ve made all the difference.
Where can people go to see more of your work (i.e. blog link or online portfolio)?