Best summed up as the “Mary Poppins” of author mentorship, Shayla Raquel can do just about anything when it comes to storytelling. I had the pleasure of virtually meeting Shayla when I began my self-publishing journey. I blankly stared into the Google search bar as I typed “how to self-publish a children’s picture book”. After a few clicks, and copious amounts of caffeine, I instantly connected with Shayla’s inspiring website. I was so smitten that I decided to partner with her to edit my debut children’s book, Tate's Big Birthday.
She is the author of The Rotting and The Suicide Tree, as well as an expert editor and marketing guru. Her award-winning blog teaches new and established authors how to write, publish, and market their books. I’m delighted to feature Shayla Raquel in this week’s Q&A blog!
Q: How did your love of reading and writing begin?
I don’t know that there was a true beginning. I have always been crazy about books. When I was eight, my mom got me a journal to write in, so I started there with poems and nonsensical things. I was always devouring books, though. My mom said that when I was very young, I was “playing” with my sister’s high school textbooks. She had told me that I was too young to read them. Yet, to her surprise, that’s exactly what I was doing: reading them. By age sixteen, I knew I wanted to be a writer.
Q: Some people have the preconceived notion that a writer resides in a cozy coffee shop producing overnight best-sellers. What is the reality of this industry?
As I fill this out, I’m sitting in a booth at Hefner Grill in Oklahoma City, my planner and pens nearby. But the reality is: I’m answering emails, handling clients, and forwarding new client requests to my assistant. Earlier today? I spent all day in my house working and working and working. I’d love for every day to be filled with hipster coffee shops and cushy restaurants for me to write the day away. But that isn’t the reality of a writer. You know what writers really do? They waste time by cleaning their house, fussing with the dogs or kids, and peeping at their laptop, thinking, I better get to that book today. Then, suddenly, it’s near midnight, and something strikes the writer: inspiration. She rushes to her laptop and labors through the night in her recliner, hair frizzy, eyes strained, pantsless.
That is the reality of a writer: We write when we can, where we can, how we can.
Q: What was the best and worst advice you’ve ever been given as you began your writing career?
Here’s the thing about bad advice: If someone gave me bad advice for becoming a writer, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what it was. I have no recollection of bad advice because I just completely ignored it. The most annoying thing I can recall, however, were people asking me, “So then . . . what’s your real job?” As if writing weren’t a real job. It always irked me because I thought, without the creatives—the writers, the artists, the designers, the photographers, the musicians—life would be ever so boring.
The best advice? Nobody ever just sat me down and told me incredible advice as I started my career. But I’ll tell you this: I read Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, it absolutely changed everything in my life. I had never even read any of his novels, but his memoir resonated with me unlike any other.
Q: When it comes to writing a novel, what is your process? Does the story come together as you write, or do you have an outlined structure?
I always have an inkling of an idea that starts gnawing at me, a tiny monster, if you will, begging for my attention. I listen to the Idea Monster, and soon, I feed him. More and more, I think about this idea and it grows and grows and grows until the Idea Monster is so huge that I must do something with him. Then the scribbling begins. Not an outline; just me, my notebook, and my pen—the three of us trying to make something of this Idea Monster. Soon, as the words flow, my Idea Monster morphs into a story. And from there, the outline begins.
Q: Any tips on how you overcome writer’s block?
Several. But first, call it what it is: writer’s procrastination. Typically, we aren’t blocked. We’re just procrastinating. It’s kind of our thing. Here are my go-tos for when I don’t feel like writing:
Go for a walk. Think through the plot hole or why you don’t want to write. Every single time I’ve done this, I’ve figured out the problem.
Do something mundane, like washing the dishes. I learned this from the excellent show Fringe. Walter Bishop, the genius scientist, would go do something mundane when he couldn’t solve a problem. During his mundane task, the solution would click and he’d know what to do.
Be proactive—if you know you’re the procrastinating type, then prepare for it. Come up with a schedule that will help you when you shrug and say, “Meh. I don’t feel like writing.”
Read Pep Talks by NaNoWriMo Executive Director Grant Faulkner. I promise it’ll pull you out of your slump.
Talk it out with a writing buddy. When I’m stuck, if I talk out the issue, I almost always figure out the problem.
Q: As an editor, what are some common tips and tricks that writers miss?
For the love of all things pure and holy, learn what an em dash is and how to format it in your book. After you’ve done that, spend quality time looking at literally any book to learn how to format dialogue.
Here’s what I recommend:
Incorrect: “You never loved me.” Ali said.
Correct: “You never loved me,” Ali said.
Incorrect: “When will you ever love me?”, she asked.
Correct: “When will you ever love me?” she asked.
Incorrect: She asked “Do you love me?”
Correct: She asked, “Do you love me?”
Q: You have inspired and guided so many first-time authors throughout the years, myself included. What would you say to someone who has a passion for writing, but doesn’t know where to start?
Join a local writing group. That’s the best thing you could do. If it’s not local, then join an online group or start a local one in your town. I even write a blog post on the topic to help people: https://shaylaraquel.com/blog/writersgrouphowto
Then, get a writing buddy! Find yourself an accountability partner who can help you stay motivated and encouraged.
Next, subscribe to writer-centric newsletters that can keep you informed and encouraged. I love the following:
Finally, just freakin’ write. I know, I know. “What a novel thought, Shayla!” But glue your butt to your seat and just write. It is that simple and that hard.
Q: What’s currently on your reading list?
I’m currently reading Pizza Bomber: The Untold Story of America’s Most Shocking Bank Robbery. I’m a dedicated true crime fan, so I’ve already watched the documentary, but I had to read the book. The others I so highly recommend from this year:
Recursion by Blake Crouch
The Chain by Adrian McKinty
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Evil Has a Name by Paul Holes
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Q: Any favourite children’s books from your childhood?
Oh, my word! Cory’s Counting Game! I still have it. It was a finger puppet book, so your little finger got to be Cory. I always had a blast with that book. And the one that always cracked me up was a book called “Stand Back,” said the elephant. “I’m Going to Sneeze!” If you haven’t read it to your child out loud, then you haven’t lived.
Q: What’s coming up next for you?
Next up: The 10 Commandments of Author Branding. It releases in October. Then I’ll release a book of poetry before the year is up (I hope). In 2020, it’s time for another novel! Hold onto your hats—it’s gonna get cray.
Q: Last question, and I’ll make it a fun one! You mention on your bio that your lifelong dream is to own a two-story private library full of rare and first-edition books. Give me your best library name :)
Curiouser and Curiouser Library.