Kate: We’re four months into 2016 and so I thought it’s a great time to take stock of how we’re doing with our New Year’s resolutions. Here to talk about the topic of Self-Improvement is Tiffany Reisz, the award winning international best selling author and all around nice gal.
What bit of advice would you give aspiring writers—or anyone for that matter—who tried and failed to stick to their New Year’s resolution? And, how do you manage in your busy life to stick to your personal goals?
Tiffany: While it’s fun to make New Year’s Resolutions, it’s also fairly pointless. Every day is a new day and a new chance to start over, to try something new. That January 1st date puts a lot of pressure on people. Don’t worry about it if you didn’t stick to your resolution. If it was “Write more” then you can write today. Just go write something now. You can bang out 250 words (that’s one page of a novel) in just a few minutes.
Kate: That’s a great point! Every day’s a chance to start fresh and we, writers, just need to put pen to paper (ha ha) or fingers to the keyboard every day, no matter how little.
Next question: Self-guided improvement is by its nature a very personal thing. Each of us has different areas where we feel we fall short. But you seem to have it all—tremendous success in your writing career, happy hubby, and the courage to seek sexual fulfillment. (For anyone who wonders about Tiffany’s courage, check out her Huffington Post article on going alone to a Dominatrix). So, I can’t think of one area where you might think you’re lacking…but if there is, would you care to share?
Tiffany: The one area where I give myself a lot of grief is how much time I waste online. If I channeled that net-surfing time into something more productive than seeing what “Florida Man” is up to today on Fark, I’d get a lot more reading and housework done. I wish I lived in a house without internet access but that’s nearly impossible when you work from home like my husband and I do.
Kate: What about psychological barriers that stop you from progressing—how do you overcome those?
Tiffany: I have no psychological barriers. I’m just lazy. Lots of writers are lazy because we get most of our best ideas during our downtimes when we’re half-asleep on the couch or tooling around the house or standing in the shower for a lot longer than necessary because we’re procrastinating doing the dishes. So laziness works for a writer but it’s still laziness and you still give yourself grief for it.
Kate: About why you left the seminary, you once wrote in the Huffington Post: “I had a devout heart and a liberal brain…” I love that…a lot! But for someone who has struggled with this myself, I wonder how did you find peace within yourself to know that you were making the right choice?
Tiffany: They say hindsight is 20/20 and it really is. I can look back on my life right now and say “Yes, I made the right choices because I like where I am, I’m happy, and if I hadn’t quit seminary, I wouldn’t be in this happy place in my life now.” But it could have easily gone south. My first big novel The Siren happened to release the same year as Fifty Shades, which meant my publisher threw a ton of marketing money at the Original Sinners series that they usually would not have thrown at a debut author with a book as weird and genre-bending as The Siren. So the book sold very well, was even briefly the top-selling book in the entire United Kingdom thanks to a confluence of events that were entirely outside my control. I got my first royalty check the next year and it was more then enough to pay off my massive student loan debt I’d accrued while in college and seminary.
It’s entirely possible my decision to quit school could have blown up in my face. I’m not special. It’s happened to lots of smart driven people. In another universe, I dropped out of school with massive student loan debt, I wrote books, but they didn’t sell very well, and in that alternate universe I have a low-paying day job, massive debt, and I have to come home from a nine-hour work day to write four hours every night. That’s the story for a lot of writers. They didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do anything especially right. I got very lucky. Now if I hadn’t written The Siren and hadn’t put years of work into making a good read with series potential, then I wouldn’t have been in a place to benefit from all that luck and good timing. I wouldn’t say I’m at peace with my life choices. I’ll say I feel very lucky that things worked out. But it could all go south tomorrow. I’m only 37. I have decades ahead to screw things up.
As for my decision to leave seminary in regard to my faith, that’s no big deal. Very few Catholics or Christians go to seminary. They just go to church. I still go to church so it wasn’t as if leaving seminary meant leaving my faith behind. I just use it in a different context now.
Kate: Thank you for that! I think we all have areas in our life that go south through no fault of our own but we still end up blaming ourselves. Your perspective that luck plays a role is humble and at the same time energizing for any author still trying to get their foot in that first publishing door—keep trying and work hard but at the end of the day, still pat yourself on the back for giving your best effort, regardless of the outcome. That certainly seems more productive than beating yourself up over setbacks or, worse, giving up.
Still, there are times when we face culturally difficult choices. How did you find the courage to be as open and positive about it as you have been? Especially, when, like me, it requires turning ones back on uber-conservative friends who would rather pray for than support your choices.
Tiffany: I wouldn’t worry about your friends too much. Let them pray for you. It won’t hurt. Let them pray for you and you do what you want. Maybe you’ll lose some friends. It’s okay. We all lose friends. I had a big group of about 40 friends in college. Now I’m in touch with only two of them. You find new friends or you get closer to the friends you have. I didn’t need anyone to support my choice to be a writer. I did it alone. You write alone. No one holds your hand when you write. When your book is finished, you either find a fellow writer to help you revise it or you pay for a freelance editor to help you. My friends don’t help me write. They’re happy my career has worked out but my writing is not a part of our friendship. They don’t care what I do for a living any more than I care what they do as long as they’re happy.
Kate: The opposite of courage, I suppose, is fear—has this ever been an issue for you? What techniques have you used to overcome it?
Tiffany: I take comfort in history, actually. When I write something that I think will be controversial, I remind myself of all my writer foremothers and forefathers who have written controversial books or scenes. I remember I’m part of a tradition and it’s comforting to know I’m not really alone even when it’s just me and my computer in my house and there’s no one there to tell me I’m doing the right thing. I told a few friends recently about the end of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath , which was hugely controversial in 1939 when it was released. Well, that same ending scene shocked my friends in 2015. I loved that 76 years later, John Steinbeck still has the power to shock readers. I admire writing with that kind of power.
When The New Yorker published Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery,” the magazine received bags and bags of angry mail from readers. And yet, which Shirley Jackson story did we all read in high school? “The Lottery,” of course. And it’s still shocking today. So when I get scared to write something I want to write, then I comfort myself with knowing I’m not the first writer who has been in this position. Maybe someday I’ll even write something with the shock power of “The Lottery” or the tenderness of The Grapes of Wrath . Gotta try anyway. That’s what this job is about.
Kate: Let’s change it up and get kinky—since a goddess has needs beyond career, hearth and home. You openly pursue BDSM so I’m guessing you don’t lack courage here either, but sex is one of the areas where we are most naked, literally and figuratively. Have you had a self-improvement goal in this area that was difficult for you?
Tiffany: Pfft…I’m an old married writer. I don’t actively pursue anything but my nap in the afternoon.
Kate: Ha, ha. Me too. Sometimes I even fall asleep sitting at my keyboard. But we all play certain roles in the bedroom, and changing them requires your partner’s buy in. Do you ever find it difficult to ask your beloved for what you need?
Tiffany: I’m really lucky in that my husband and I have a very happy relationship, and we’re comfortable talking to each other openly about sex and money and all the usual hard-stuff-to-talk-about. But I know a lot of couples that are sexually incompatible and it’s taken them years—literally years—to get on the same page.
Kate: Your erotic scenes are extremely powerful—they stick in one’s mind. As the author of those scenes, do they fulfill a need in you or build it?
Tiffany: Thank you! The erotic scenes in my books are there to serve the book, to meet a need of the book. Two characters need to come together, literally or figuratively, and in some scenes, they talk or fight and in other scenes they have sex. Some books need lots of sex scenes. Some books don’t need any. I wrote a novel recently that had only one sex scene in 330 pages, and it was the only one the book needed. So the sex scenes do meet a need, but it’s my need to write the book that needs writing. Most of the time while writing a sex scenes, I’ve got the thesaurus open and Men’s Health magazine trying to find a new or better way to describe the male body so it’s not like it’s foreplay for me. It’s very technical. But fun. I have to admit it’s fun!
Kate: One last question: Thinking practically, what three simple tips can you offer for meeting self-improvement goals?
Tiffany: Fun discussion! And…
— Give yourself permission to screw up because you will, and if you take one screw up as a sign you can’t do it, then you can’t do it. But you don’t quit writing just because you made a typo. You fix your typo and keep writing. So you shouldn’t quit your goal to walk more often just because you were too tired or too busy to take your evening walk one day. Just go for a walk the next day.
— Specific goals are better than vague. Saying you’ll try to write 1,000 words a day for five days in a row is a better goal than saying, “I’m going to write more.” More than what?
— Think about what could go wrong with a self-improvement goal. Face facts. Life is in the real world and make a real world goal. If you have a spouse and three kids to tend to, maybe giving yourself a goal of writing 5,000 words a day isn’t reasonable. Admit that to yourself. Admit that Junior #1 is probably going to come home with a bug from school and get the entire household sick, and you’re not going to have the time or energy to write for a couple weeks. Know that in advance. Accept that in advance. Then when it comes, you’ll say to yourself, “I knew this would happen and that’s okay, because this too shall pass and then I’ll get back to work.” If you prepare yourself in advance for small stumbling blocks, you won’t be blindsided. You’ll be ready and you’ll be able to pick yourself up and keep going.
Kate: Thank you, Tiffany, for taking time to share insights from your writing process and advice on self-improvement goals. My take-away is that we need to be reasonable in our goals and that each new day offers us a chance to take a step, no matter how small, toward achieving our dreams.
Wishing everyone a productive and pat-yourself-on-the-back day!
Tiffany Reisz is the author of the highly acclaimed series The Original Sinners. Her first novel, The Siren, won the RT Book Reviews Editor’s Choice Award for Best Erotic Romance of 2012. Slightly shameless, Tiffany dropped out of a conservative Southern seminary in order to pursue a career as a writer. This move, while possibly putting her eternal salvation in peril, has worked out better than she anticipated. She lives in Oregon with her husband, author Andrew Shaffer. Find her on Facebook.com/littleredridingcrop, Wattpad, and Twitter @tiffanyreisz.
Kate Allure is a multi-published erotic romance author. “The sensuality and sexuality are palpable… 4 Stars!” say RT Book Reviews. “Readers will cheer on these strong women as they take the initiative, seeking (and finding) both sexual satisfaction and emotional,” says Publishers Weekly. At KateAllure.com, she blogs beyond the usual books and bio to create an interactive meeting place for all things romance with guest sex-perts, rom-tips, and monthly giveaways.
Photo Credits: Arié Vi Anira Series (artist unknown, wikimedia)