Recently, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Andrea Gough, Librarian at the Seattle Central Library, for the Seattle Writes podcast. I love answering questions so this was super fun!
We talked about:
- Why I teach about fear and writing
- Why I fear writing and why other people fear writing
- My daily writing routine
- How I avoid getting distracted while writing
- How I keep myself accountable to writing nearly every day
- How I choose what to write
- How to not get intimidated by all the great writing out there
- What I read when I’m writing a novel
- Books on writing that I recommend
The episode is 26 minutes.
Hope you enjoy it!
ps. Here’s the article about working with Prince by Liz Meriwether, Creator of New Girl (from 17:10 on).
Peg Cheng is the author of The Contenders, a middle-grade novel that asks, can enemies become friends? She is currently writing another novel that is a re-imagining of the Snow White fairy tale set in 1980s Seattle. Peg is also the creator of Fear & Writing, a workshop for procrastinating writers from all walks of life.
Any guesses why screenwriting stopped working for you? Was there something you needed to learn that the only kid lit could teach you?
It seems you’re quicker at doing your own Houdini—picking the locks that chain you to the wrong form. The last time, you quit writing for a couple of years, and now, you sussed out the need to change in just a couple of weeks at camp. Do you think you’re faster now at figuring out your writer’s blocks in general?
Anyway, good luck in the new/old form!
Peg Cheng says
I like the way you put it, Edgy. “Doing your own Houdini–picking the locks that chain you to the wrong form.” Brilliant.
I think I’m only faster at figuring out my blocks and issues because I’ve had time in the last 2+ years to go inward and to face my own fears while working in isolation. It’s been a hard couple of years, but enlightening in many ways. It also helped me to talk to my therapist and my craniosacral practitioner–they both helped me to tap into my inner voice, my wisest self.
Thing is, I’ve always missed doing screenwriting. Even when I wrote things for my Children’s Literature class, and then when I was writing The Contenders and later, Sahar & the Seven Dudes, I still kept seeing my chapters as movie scenes. I still wanted to write them as scenes of action and dialogue in a script, rather than describing what the character was thinking, feeling, and doing in literary prose. But, writing these novels helped me understand story structure more, and I’m glad I did them.
It’s interesting that you learned more about story structure writing the novels, because as we both know, there seem to be as many books, theories, and workshops about screenplay story structure, as there are screenplays. Yet you found what you needed poking around in a different, older form. How did that work?
I also wonder what effect having to write out the characters’ thoughts and feelings had on your writing. Did it take you any deeper into the characters than just seeing them in movie scenes did?
Peg Cheng says
Good questions, Edgy! I think that writing any kind of story will help you learn story structure whether you’re writing a novel, short story, screenplay, play, etc. The key is writing it all the way to the end and finishing. I can’t see what mistakes I’ve made in structure until I get through the whole thing. I’ve heard a lot of other writers say this too. So, writing my novels, and then rewriting them a bunch of times, really helped me to understand story structure more. I still have more to learn, but I’m getting better.
Having to write out my characters’ thoughts and feelings didn’t appeal to me that much. I know that’s probably odd for a novelist to admit since that’s one of the advantages of writing in novel form. It’s hard to tell if it took me deeper into my characters. I don’t know. I know their feelings and thoughts in every scene I’m writing, no matter what form I’m using, but it’s been challenging to get better at showing their feelings and thoughts, rather than telling them.
Learning structure by taking a novel, specifically, to completion through multiple drafts makes sense: when you finish a novel, you have a complete product. With a screenplay, you sort of have that, but it’s not really complete until someone makes it into a movie.
As to writing out character’s thoughts and feelings, I was thinking that your characters in Boyfriend/Girlfriend were fully developed, and you wrote that purely in screenplay format. I guess it’s a timeless issue with writing, in any form: getting that immersive audio/visual/emotional inspiration into words. Sort of a right brain/left brain translation challenge. I get that with poetry–it’s not easy, but it’s so rewarding once you crack it.
The other thing I wondered about is your comment, “I’ve had time in the last 2+ years to go inward and to face my own fears while working in isolation.” You’ve recommended the INFJ Writer book; I wonder if this “going within” was necessary to get you, as an INFJ, where you are now. Or, to put it another way, maybe the external journey of writing workshops, conferences, pursuing agents, etc. would not have gotten you the ability to deal with your block and issues.
Peg Cheng says
Exactly. That’s one of the hardest things about writing scripts–it’s not “finished” until someone makes it into a movie. That’s one of the main reasons I switched to learning how to write novels after completing our screenwriting course in 2004. Can you believe it’s been almost 15 years since we started that course at UW and met for the first time?!
Thanks for your kinds words about Boyfriend/Girlfriend. I’m glad both characters came across as fully developed. It is the ultimate right brain/left brain challenge, isn’t it?
I’m ENFJ, not INFJ. I think I would have been better off being in a course or working with a mentor part of the time. It was incredibly hard on me to work in isolation day after day. If I could go back and do those first two years over, I would have signed up for an in-person course and some online courses throughout the two years just to keep myself interacting with others. I think even taking a few short courses per year might have helped me not feel so alone and depressed. I didn’t have to do it all alone. I’m realizing that now. BUT, I did learn a helluva lot about myself.
Okay, it’s a bit embarrassing to forget some basic info about you–you’re an E, not an I–but it kind of proves the point in reverse: you found it incredibly hard to work in isolation, against your type. Anyway, I’m sure you’re stronger for having walked the hot coals of your soul alone, and you have more to bring to the table as a teacher. (Even if it’s just, “I went through hell so you don’t have to.”) As an I-type, the idea “going within” triggers my desert island reflex, but your workshops show that having a guide and companions also works.
Fifteen years? That was rather fast. Thanks for sticking with your odd friend!
Peg Cheng says
Us odd friends gotta stick together, Edgy. 😉
No worries about forgetting I’m an E. I don’t know what your MBTI type is. Though, if I had to venture a guess, I’d say ISFP or INFP.