Dallas at Write On! Summer Camp 2009 (Back row, on the left)
Today, it is my pleasure to introduce Dallas Woodburn, 22, who is the author of two collections of short stories and a forthcoming novel. Dallas is not only a gifted and prolific writer, she is also passionate about encouraging others – particularly young people – to read and write. She has written more than 80 articles for national publications including Family Circle, Writer’s Digest, CO-ED, Justine, and The Los Angeles Times, and she writes a regular column for Listen magazine. Dallas is the founder of the nonprofit organization “Write On! For Literacy” that has donated nearly 11,000 new books to disadvantaged children. Her latest endeavor is starting a publishing company, Write On! Books, that publishes the work of young writers. In addition, she hosts frequent writing contests, teaches writing camps for kids, and is coordinator of the Young Writers Program at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Dallas graduated last year from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Creative Writing and Entrepreneurship. Contact her at her website http://www.writeonbooks.org/ or blog http://dallaswoodburn.blogspot.com/.
I was fascinated to find out more about Dallas and what advice she would give to fellow young writers, just embarking on a writing career.
Dallas, how long have you been writing? Has it always been a passion for you?
It’s funny, but looking back it’s difficult for me to remember a time before I loved to write! I learned to read when I was four years old, and I gobbled up books. Like many kids, I made up stories; I was compelled to write my stories down. I think this was largely due to the fact that my dad is a writer. Every night, my parents would read me bedtime stories, and every morning I would come downstairs and see my dad writing. As a result, I was very aware that someone had written the books I so loved to read. And I decided that I wanted to be someone who writes books for other people to enjoy.
What started you writing for publication?
I published my first book, There’s a Huge Pimple on My Nose, when I was in fifth grade. Pimple is proof that with a lot of hard work, a lot of perseverance – and, yes, a lot of support, too – a small idea can snowball into something bigger than you ever dreamed. My snowball began as a snowflake when I applied for and received a $50 grant from my elementary school to write, publish and sell a collection of my short stories and poems -- but I think here's what set my proposal apart: I would use the profits to repay my grant, so the school could offer an extra one the following year. My first printing, done at a Kinkos copy shop, was modest: twenty-five staple-bound forty-page books. Actually, they were more like thick pamphlets, but no matter – to me, they were books, my books, the most beautiful books I had ever laid eyes upon. J.K. Rowling wasn’t more proud of her first Harry Potter hardcover edition.
My fellow students and teachers, bless them, acted as if Pimple was at the top of the New York Times Best-Seller List. The first twenty-five copies promptly sold in a couple of days. Can you imagine what a turbo-boost this was to a fifth-grader’s self-esteem? I was pursuing my dream, but I wasn’t pursuing it alone – my family and friends and teachers were right there with me. So I went back to Kinkos, ordered twenty-five more books – and soon sold all those as well. After three more trips to Kinkos, where the workers now knew me by name, I searched out a publishing business and ordered a few hundred glossy-covered, glue-bound, professional-looking books. My little forty-page dream evolved from a snowball into a blizzard, with newspaper and radio interviews; appearances at literacy events all around California; even a “Dallas Woodburn Day” at the Santa Barbara Book Fair. I still have to pinch myself, but Pimple has sold more than 2,200 copies and I repaid two school grants.
Do you have a set time when you write, or just whenever you get the urge?
I try to write every single day – I am most productive and happy when I have an established routine. Even if I don’t feel like writing, I tell myself to write for just fifteen or twenty minutes, and usually by the end of that time I am in the groove and write for longer. My goal is to write 1,000 words every day. I am a night owl, so it is not unusual to find me at my computer writing after midnight, when the world is quiet and I am alone with my thoughts.
Do you like to write in complete silence or does it have to be noisy?
I like a little bit of background noise, whether it is music on my computer or the quiet hum of conversations around my at a coffee shop.
Keyboard or pen?
I used to be strictly a keyboard girl, but lately I’ve been writing freehand in big spiral notebooks in coffeeshops. I’ve found writing with pen and paper makes me feel less inhibited and more creative. In the evening, I go home and transcribe everything from my notebook to the computer, and do my first round of editing as I type things in. The process is working well for me right now.
What do you think is the hardest part about being an author?
Rejection is something that ever author has to deal with. As a writer, I joke that I could wallpaper all four of my bedroom walls with all the rejection letters I have received from editors! The important thing is not to take it personally. For whatever reason, you or your writing just wasn’t a right fit for that publication at this specific time. That doesn’t mean that they won’t love the next piece you send to them! When I get a rejection letter, I first read the comments to see if there is any advice I can glean or ways I can improve for next time. Then, I submit my story or essay or article somewhere else. It took me more than a year to find my literary agent. A year of rejection, rejection, rejection – until finally, I found my perfect match. My agent understands my writing and has faith in my career. I just had to have the patience and perseverance to find her!
Have you ever had writer's block, and if so how do you get rid of it?
One of the best things for me to do when I am facing writer’s block is to step back from the story and get away from the computer a bit. I love to go volunteer at schools and teach writing activities to kids. This is one of my favorite activities – it gives me great joy and fulfillment. Whenever I am feeling discouraged or creatively drained, going to schools and speaking to students inevitably recharges my batteries and gets me excited about writing again. So much energy and enthusiasm! It’s contagious! I also frequently post tips for busting through writer’s block on my blog http://dallaswoodburn.blogspot.com/.
How do you invent your characters?
Usually my characters start with a kernel of a personal experience or emotion that I am going through, and then pretty quickly this spins away from me and becomes a character separate from myself. Even if the eventual story is going to be written in third person, I usually like to write at least a couple pages in first person from the character’s perspective to get a sense of his or her voice. I don’t censor myself during this process – I just let the words flow freely and see what voice develops for the character.
Some people say that you need to live life before you write a book, do you think that it’s experience that writes a book or imagination?
I think it’s a combination of both. I definitely think you are never too young to be a writer. As a child, I wrote stories based on things I was dealing with and thinking about at the time – everything from pimples to race issues to magical stuffed animals coming to life. I think the book is incredibly relatable to kids because I was a kid myself when I was writing it – that said, many adults enjoy it, too. In my fiction writing, I tend to combine experience and imagination by taking a setting I know well or an experience that happened to me, and fictionalizing it. I imagine how a situation could have unfolded differently, and write about it.
The first article I had published was for Justine magazine, a publication for teens, and it was a true-life account about how I was “sweet sixteen” and had never been kissed. The editors loved my honest voice and the piece resonated with a lot of readers. I have always tried to see my young age as an advantage in my writing, rather than a disadvantage, because it allows me to write about things like teen issues with a great deal of authenticity. As a teen writing for a teen publication, I wrote an article that I would want to read! I would encourage other writers to put themselves in this mindset – what insights and lessons does your particular background and experiences give you? How can you use these traits as an advantage in your writing life?
What do you recommend to aspiring authors?
Write every day, read as much as you can, and enjoy the process! As John Wooden says, “The journey is better than the inn.” In addition, publishing my books has taught me not to be afraid to take risks, and to take the initiative when you have an idea and make it happen yourself rather than letting fear and doubt make you wait. Because, why wait? Take small steps towards your dreams, and small steps can snowball into amazingly big opportunities!
Thank you, Dallas, for a most interesting interview!
You're welcome, Helena.
Tour with VBT-Writers on the Move through February. New and famous authors, plus useful information. http://tinyurl. com/yhkt7v8