GLVWG’s Mitzi Flye spoke with author, blogger, and co-writer, Shawn Smucker. Shawn will be at the Write Stuff conference to share his wisdom on ghost writing and writing memoirs.
You decided to “live your dream” of earning a living writing after your construction business failed and you found yourself deeply in debt. If someone came to you with the same dream, what would you say to them?
If someone came to me with the same dream, I would ask them how often they’ve been writing and how they are currently making money as a writer. I had already written two books by the time I left my other business and had multiple leads for additional work – taking a leap like this certainly isn’t something I’d recommend unless you already have a plan and existing streams of freelance income. Of course, you’ll never have it all figured out, so making this kind of a decision always requires a balance between practicality and uncertainty. If your dream is to make a living as a writer, write every day, use your existing contacts to generate writing income, and get creative about how you can capitalize on your particular writing strengths.
Your books seem to span various genres – from your own memoir in Building a Life Out of Words to a coming of age novel with The Day the Angels Fell. Has going from nonfiction to fiction hurt or helped your writing career?
I guess it depends on what measurement you’re using. I’d probably make more money if I focused all of my efforts on the co-writing/ghost-writing part of my life, but my true passion is writing fiction, and as I’ve explored that and spent more time on it, doors have started to open. That said, I think my writing itself is stronger because of the various genres I’ve written in, including nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. When you’re starting a writing career, I think it’s important to keep two things in mind: what you need to write to make money, and what you love to write (they rarely are the same thing, at least not at first). As you start making money doing things you need to write, it’s easy for that side to sort of devour the time you could spend writing what you love to write. Don’t let that happen.
Was Think No Evil: Inside Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting difficult to write? If so, how did you overcome those problems?
The most difficult part of writing Think No Evil was the fact that I had a daughter the same age as the youngest girl who was killed in the shooting. But I think digging into the emotion and pain in a story is crucial to telling the story well, and in this case I think it gave me a greater understanding of the various elements of what had happened in Nickel Mines. Some people may have found it difficult to listen to the stories of the first responders to the scene, but I’ve always enjoyed listening
I’ve always dreamed of traveling across the country in an old bus, but I’m a crazy old lady. Why, in the name of sanity, did you do that with your family? How did you write during this trip?
My wife and I had always dreamed of embarking on a cross-country trip, and after I made the transition from business person to freelancer, we both started questioning the accepted wisdom of things. We saw too many people in our lives putting off their dreams for reasons that didn’t entirely make sense to us. As things started falling into place we thought, if we can make this happen, let’s do it. I wrote on the trip much the same way I write in real life – by getting away for a few hours at a time, or staying up after everyone else is asleep. Those four months were such a beautiful, intimate time for our family. We lived in 320 square feet. We became rather entangled, in both good and difficult ways.
Shawn will be at the GLVWG Write Stuff conference on Saturday, April 9, to speak about:
“Ghost Writing” – Saturday morning, 8:50 – 9:40
“Writing Memoirs” – Saturday afternoon, 1:40 – 2:30
Shawn Smucker is an author, blogger, co-writer, and speaker who is passionate about storytelling and the importance of living an adventurous life. His book, Building a Life Out of Words, is consistently listed in Amazon’s top-rated memoirs/biographies, and How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp details the 10,000-mile cross-country journey his family of six embarked on in a big blue bus previously owned by Willie Nelson. He received his English degree from Messiah College and currently lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with his wife and five children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, his Blog Site, and at shawnsmucker.com.