A Novelist's Advice For Staying Creative, Motivated, And Focused On Your Own Path
'I’m not in competition with other authors, I am only in competition with myself.'
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Today we’re sitting down with author Rae Lashea to talk about her recently published novel Hot Tea & Mercy and how she stays inspired to write fiction.
First, can you give us a quick summary of your creative career? Where did you start and where did you go from there?
I have books that I created with construction paper, staples, and markers from second and third grade, so I’ve always been a writer. I decided to write my first book for publication in 2008 and based it on my personal experiences in New York City and Los Angeles when I found out about the mysterious and sexy world of “swingers”. I wrote every day for three months until it was finished and really got a rush from seeing my words in print, having release parties, being interviewed, going to book fairs, and signing autographs. Three years later, while I was teaching students with special needs, my heart began to break on a daily basis because I realized that these wonderful and talented children had low self-esteem and a self-loathing that I had never seen before. I decided to write a poem story called You Are a Star, which empowers, inspires, and educates black and brown children about the beauty and power they have inside them. Two years after that, in 2013, I was fortunate enough to hear Marianne Williamson on stage at Michael Bernard Beckwith’s Agape International Spiritual Center and she was speaking about miracles. I got an idea on the spot to create a reflective self-development journal by creating 52 acronyms using the letters M.I.R.A.C.L.E.S. and never using the same word twice. That was challenging but fun and Fifty-Two Weeks of MIRACLES was born. Since then, I have traveled to 30 different countries in search of fascinating people and experiences that I could use to shape my future works and Hot Tea and Mercy is a magnificent assembly of vignettes of some of the women that I met along the way.
A lot of writers will finish a first draft of a novel but might not know what to do next to get it published. What did this process look like for you? How long did it take?
I began writing Hot Tea and Mercy in 2019, very shortly after my ex-husband and I separated. I did not finish it until 2021 after using the downtime of the pandemic and the “stay-at-home” orders to my advantage. At the same time, I joined a dynamic group called Women of Color Filmmakers (WOCF), which introduced me to Women of Color Unite (WOCU), both nonprofit organizations that assist women in marginalized groups to enter and succeed in the film industry by fighting for social justice and equality. Through WOCU’s #startwith8 program, I was paired with a mentor, Kelsey Darragh, who had shared interests and who had attained some of the goals that I aspired to. She read the Hot Tea and Mercy manuscript, and as a published author through Thought Catalog believed that the book boutique would be interested in looking at it for publication, which thankfully they were. This process, which took about two years from start to finish, is very different than what I experienced as a self-published author for my first three books, and from what most people will experience in their journey as a writer.
Tell us about Hot Tea and Mercy. Where did the idea for this novel come from?
The story is a brilliant unfolding of the lives of four powerful female characters and the people who surround them, each battling their pasts as they clear the paths to their futures and strive to be the best version of themselves with what they know and have. While the story is fiction, I have pulled from various people that I have met and known in various parts of the world at different times in my life to build the foundation of the characters, of course changing names, places, professions, and problems. I wanted to show that people of different colors, nationalities, and social classes all have commonalities that intersect and intertwine to make us a lot more similar than we are different. I think I have succeeded in doing that with Hot Tea and Mercy.
What does your creative process look like? Do you follow a rigid routine? Are you more flexible in how you spend your time? Explain.
I am flexible. I have written every day straight until completion and I have also done the stop-and-go method for over a year before finishing a manuscript. I think as authors we can sometimes be hard on ourselves, but a lot of it depends on life at any given moment. There are times when I’m in the writing zone and times when I just can’t think straight. I like to be in a comfortable space that is conducive to writing, which for me is usually near the beach. My most focused and productive time is when I have a compelling story swirling in my mind and wanting to burst forth—that way I’m not trying to pull something out of thin air, but rather organize what’s already there. Once I begin, the story takes a shape of its own and goes in directions that I never even imagined. It’s important for me to take advantage of those times when I have the mental and physical capacity to write a lot because once it’s lost, it can be two to three months before it becomes available again.
How do you stay motivated in such a competitive field? How do you not succumb to comparison?
I’m not in competition with other authors, I am only in competition with myself. I stay motivated by figuring out ways to make my next book better than my last and I write books with the intention of seeing them as films on the big screen in the future. I also write from a unique perspective, retelling the stories of dynamic people that I meet along my journey, which makes my books quite compelling. People tend to see aspects of themselves within the characters because they are relatable to the human experience. There are about 150 million published book titles in the world but there are 7.8 billion people. I’m not worried about the field being competitive because I know the world will never run out of people to read its books.
What do you wish you knew about fiction writing when you first started your career?
I wish I knew about querying for a literary agent. Lots of things have changed in the way people publish books since I began my writing career, but I wish I had an agent to broker deals with publishing houses.
There’s a saying that people should write what they know. Do you agree with this or do you find inspiration elsewhere?
I think that people should write about what they love and are interested in. For many, including me, that is what we know, but I don’t think it is necessary to limit oneself to only that. There are so many tools now to research people, places, and things, that with a little time and effort, what we don’t know can become what we do know. People should write about what they are passionate about. Passion is my inspiration. It is what fuels me to complete a good manuscript that others find joy in reading.
What is the best piece of advice you have received for fiction writing? Why?
The best piece of advice I received for writing fiction was from Tom Nelson, a special education colleague and fellow writer. He said, sit down to write just one word a day and you will finish whatever you’re working on, guaranteed. He was right! Sometimes the pressure authors put on themselves to write for two hours or twenty pages a day is just too much and then nothing gets done. One word is doable but usually turns into a sentence, a paragraph, or a page. The freedom to write just one word often opens our minds and schedules to write much more.
Join us on Wednesday, December 14th at 7 p.m. EST on Thought Catalog's Instagram for an IG Live interview with Rae Lashea.
For more from from Rae Lashea, check out her work on Instagram and Shop Catalog.
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