When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That’s a hard one. I always wrote, but being a “writer” was such a lofty title, I was hesitant to use it in reference to myself. When I worked in Hollywood, there were so many people claiming to be writers, you sort of had to back it up. You would be asked, “Who represents you? Have you been produced? Optioned?” There was always a way to diminish your status as a writer. I would admit to writing, but avoid the declaration of, “I’m a writer.” Even after I published my first book back in 2006, I still wouldn’t say it because I wasn’t earning a full living off my writing. Writers write, right? They don’t have day-jobs. Right? Finally, a friend said, “Get over yourself and just admit it: You’re a writer.” So, I did. I think I’m more comfortable considering myself a full-fledged writer, but that’s only happened in the past year.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer and how does that affect your writing?
I would say I’m a full-time writer with a part-time job. I still need to work to support myself and clock-in about 30-35 hours per week. But the story is always going in my head; that never stops. Most of my free time is spent writing, but not every minute of it. I think it was Aaron Sorkin who said that a good part of writing looks a whole lot like lying on the sofa watching television. There’s a bit of truth to that. Relaxing is key to being creative, at least for me. I’ve learned to balance a personal life within the writing time, which can be hard when you are really in the story. But I’ve learned to pull myself out of it so I can go out with friends, spend time with my beau, do yoga or take long walks without feeling guilty. Carving out time to get it onto the page is the challenge. I don’t force it—not until the deadline looms, anyway. I think there’s something to be said for letting it come when it wants to, but prodding it out when you need to.
What are some day jobs you have held?
Who would have thought that a film school grad who writes fiction would work as a bookkeeper? Certainly not me. But, when I was working as a freelance writer, I was using the same creative muscles and had little left for myself when I was done with work. For me, it was better to distance myself from writing as work so I have all that creativity for myself. My muse is greedy.
Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured to accommodate your writing?
When I’m really in the zone, I’m waking up early, staying up late, and staying in on weekends and holidays to get it done. I have shorter workdays on Mondays and Fridays for that reason. I also switched to writing on Scrivener so I can take that 10 minutes my friend is late to the restaurant to write a paragraph or two on my phone. When I’m not in the zone, I usually write in the evenings after dinner for a couple of hours. Maybe for a little bit before work. Notice how the gym hasn’t been mentioned? I used to be a gym rat. Now, I’m an author.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I think I’m braver now. When a subject I find interesting comes up that is also quite daunting, it doesn’t occur to me that I can’t do it. Instead, I start thinking of ways I can. There’s a story idea I have that I’ve debated whether it should be a book or a documentary or both. I could do the book. But it would be a great documentary, too. And now I’m exploring that.
What have you written so far?
I’ve written twelve screenplays and four books, two of which are novels (Temporary and Chain-Smoking Vegetarians and Other Annoyances in L.A.). The other two are self-helpy: A Sassy Little Guide to Getting Over Him – 10 Steps to Heal Your Heart After an Unhappy Ending, and the Young Adult edition of that.
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
I have tried to work from an outline, and a lot of books and teachers will force that on you, but I can’t stand it. Don’t let anyone tell you how to write. Find your own way. I usually have a notebook for each project and jot notes in that, be it plot points, description or dialogue, but nothing formal. It’s important to know where you want to go and the points to hit along the way but, when you let the story evolve, it can surprise you where it will lead you if you let it.
How do you feel about indie/alternative vs. conventional publishing?
My first book (Sassy) came to me on a fluke while I was in the middle of writing my first novel (CSV). A friend suffered a sneak-attack breakup and I watched her do everything I did that didn’t help, and friends did that didn’t help, and I went home and started writing that night. That was at the end of June and I wanted it on the shelves by that Valentine’s Day. There was no way to do that with traditional publishing. Even if I found an agent who got me a book deal the next week, it would be a year before it would have been released. Back then, self-publishing was still “vanity press”, and I didn’t want to go that route, so I started my imprint, SAME ink, found the POD printers the majors used and independently published. The book was out sixteen weeks after I started writing. That is the freedom you get being independent. The flipside is, you have to front the money and do the work to get it press and onto store shelves. Today, you can actually publish a book for free—but I wouldn’t recommend that; get your own ISBNs. Unless I got an amazing book deal—and by amazing, I mean they would do so much press and advertising—I don’t think I would go traditional publishing. I like the freedom I have as an independent. But I think it’s a shame that agents and publishers still see indie publishing as “vanity press” and don’t want to consider looking at something that has been self-published. They need to get over that. They are missing out on some really strong writing.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Become an assassin and kill your darlings! Seriously, a good writer has to be a great editor. If you are going to be independent, you need to be able to edit your work and be unafraid to cut what needs to be cut. You cannot be precious with your words. Respect your readers’ time with what you put on the page.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
My second novel, Temporary, explores the effects of failure on one’s life and self-esteem, and its impact on relationships. Helen Clark is one unlucky lucky woman. She won the lottery and lost everything. When you suffer a huge setback in life, it ripples through your relationships and you find out who your true friends are. But when that hardship goes on longer than expected, it really tests everyone. My first novel, Chain-Smoking Vegetarians and Other Annoyances in L.A., focused on what it was for friends to go after their dreams and succeed together, so exploring the flipside was interesting and I was surprised at the reaction from readers of both books. It seems failure is a lot more relatable than we might think. Many of us hide it, but so many of us have gone through it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It makes you stronger.
Interested in learning more about Sandra Ann Miller?