Podcast

Show and Tell: 5 Questions for Stacey Swann

“Perfectionism can kill a first draft. I repeat often the advice from many writers before me: first drafts are meant to be bad! Liberate yourself from the idea of quality. I have to tell myself this every day I work on a first draft. That perfectionism is hard to shake!” -Stacey Swann

Stacey Swann‘s debut novel Olympus, Texas (Doubleday) was a Good Morning America Book Club selection, an Indie Next Pick, and was longlisted for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Swann holds an M.F.A. from Texas State University and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Her writing has appeared in LitHub, Electric Literature, Texas Highways, Epoch, and other journals. She splits her time between Austin and Lampasas, Texas.

On Saturday, September 23rd, Stacey Swann is teaching a class for the WLT called “Show and Tell: The Power of Exposition and Interiority.” In this class, you’ll learn about heightening the impact of your scenes and allowing deeper access to voice.

Here’s what Stacey had to share with us:

Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?

Stacey Swann Headshot

Stacey Swann: I loved reading novels as a kid (shout out to the Encyclopedia Brown books and the Black Stallion series!) and I think I always wished I could be a writer. However, for some reason I didn’t think I was creative enough. That urge to write never went away, though. In my late twenties, after years of being underemployed, I decided to go to grad school for a new professional direction. My practical brain was trying to decide between library science or social work, but I also couldn’t shake the idea of getting my MFA in creative writing. Luckily, my less practical side won out! The MFA also introduced me to teaching, which quickly became another passion.

Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?

SS: The thing that has helped me most with every single one of those challenges is being in a supportive community of writers. It’s such a joy to have friends that I know will listen to my problems and have faced those same problems themselves. There are so many ways to access that community, too. My most recent problem has been maintaining the momentum to finish the first draft of my second novel. To help motivate me, I’ve been posting my word counts in Instagram stories, and it’s been so heartening to get encouragement there from both friends and readers.

 Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

SS: Ha! I had long heard the writing advice that every novel is wildly different. Writers who finish their first book think they have cracked the code, but then the next book is a whole new animal and they feel like a beginner again. But I have to say (and knocking on wood here) that, so far, I have kept the feeling of experience as I’ve been writing the second book. This is not to say it has been easy! But I do feel like so many decisions are much easier to make this second time around.

Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

SS: Many writers are perfectionists by nature; it’s a valuable trait to have in the revision process. But that perfectionism can kill a first draft. I repeat often the advice from many writers before me: first drafts are meant to be bad! Liberate yourself from the idea of quality. I have to tell myself this every day I work on a first draft. That perfectionism is hard to shake!

Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

SS: I want to remind people that the best way for books to compete with film and TV isn’t to copy them by always “showing” via scene and dialogue but to lean into the things that film and TV don’t do well: exposition and interiority. (Just think about how clunky a movie voiceover typically is.) But in fiction often my favorite parts are getting those deep dives into interiority or getting an unexpected swerve into exposition that changes my understanding of the fictional world. It’s not that we want to avoid writing scenes, but we have this amazing superpower we can weave into those scenes. We shouldn’t be afraid to use it.

Thanks, Stacey!

Click here to learn more about Stacey Swann’s upcoming class.

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