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Today, I sat down with Len Lawson, a fellow member of the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop, and asked him a series of questions about his writing process.  Enjoy the interview!
1. When did you start writing?
I’ve had an affinity for writing since elementary school. Teachers would always compliment me for my handwriting. I entered an Arbor Day poetry contest in middle school and won 3rd place. In high school, I earned an honorable mention for an essay contest about the American flag. Obviously, those weren’t my best efforts, but the rhythm of both poetry and prose came naturally to me. It’s probably because I read a lot as a child.
2. Are you a pantser or a planner?I try to be a hybrid actually, but my preference is toward being a planner. As educators, we live and die by schedules and deadlines. In fact, I teach composition on the college level, so I prepare my students for writing by teaching them prewriting techniques such as brainstorming and outlining. However as a creative writer, those techniques can be a blessing and a curse. Too much planning can deter the liberty of creativity, yet a good outline keeps us honest from a pacing standpoint. If I map out guidelines or timelines for chapters and for whole works, I do so mostly in my mind. Conversely, I allow my imagination to reveal how those plans come to life on the pages. Then, when the draft is actually completed, revision must take place anyway. If I get stuck somewhere in the process, then I find myself revising what I’ve already written.

3. Can you give us an idea of your writing process?
 For smaller works like stories and poetry, I try to build around one idea or one thought that inspires me. For example, if I saw a butterfly hopelessly grounded by its wings on a sidewalk, my mind would begin investigating the matter by asking questions like “How?” “Why?” or “What if…?” Then, I would allow my imagination to open doors to other creative thoughts surrounding those questions. It’s a bit like Alice chasing the white rabbit through Wonderland; I don’t know what I will found unless I have the courage to chase the idea to its end.
For novels, I use the same approach, but the process is expanded. Sometimes, though, the process remains scattered. Discipline is the key for me to complete a novel. The ideas are present and ready to be written, but I have to be vigilant enough to record them which takes time.
4. Which authors have influenced your work?
 I admire the classic novelists of the 20th century. Since high school, I gravitated toward Zora Neal Hurston and Toni Morrison. Their imagination and poignancy cannot be matched. They transcend all genres and cultures. I wrote my master’s thesis on Morrison’s book Playing in the Dark by applying her theories on race to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (two of my favorite novels). In poetry, Langston Hughes draws me as a student of the craft. The best thing about these writers is that they transformed the culture around them. It is a powerful thing to influence one’s generation, especially with writing.
5. What are you plans/future projects/new releases that we should be aware of?
My upcoming poetry/short story book The Very Least of Me will be available in early 2013. It features poems and stories I’ve amassed for the past 5-6 years. It truly showcases my growth as a writer. Following its publication, my novel City of David will appear later in the year. It is an allegory about a young man who joins a college campus ministry in his freshman year but struggles with the temptations of college life. Both projects are receiving some pretty good reviews so far.
6. Any tips for new writers?
 The first thing to do is to join a writers group. Somewhere in their town is a gang of writers who meet in someone’s living room, in a coffee shop, an alley, or somewhere to discuss writing from any genre. I joined SCWW this year, and it has made all the difference in my writing and my career. I received the confidence in my own work that I was lacking. Furthermore, the networking and relationships I’ve built with other writers have been priceless.
7. Any tips for old writers?
For “mature” or “seasoned” writers, I suggest expanding their base using the Internet. Social media and online sales are a must for our industry today. Readers today are tech-savvy and want their reading to be also. Moreover, as I discussed with a group of writers recently, the traditional publishing process using agents and publishers is becoming obsolete; it is only for a fraction of the industry. We must be more involved in the process with a hands-on approach. Instead of allowing marketers and publishers to do the work for us, we must embrace the process fully as those entities are seemingly looking to do less and less for writers.
Connect with Len:
Twitter: @LenvilleLaws

Blog: lenlawson.blogspot.com

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