Who are you?
My name is Lauren Sapala. I am a writer and a writing coach, and I’m based in San Francisco.
What do you write?
I write in two wildly different genres. I write nonfiction self-help books geared toward creative highly sensitive introverts that focus on writing, marketing for writers, and personal growth, and then I also write autobiographical transgressive fiction books that focus on alcoholism, addiction, trauma and loss, and the dark side of society.
I started writing when I was very young, but then I stopped writing for seven years after one of my college professors told me I was not talented as a writer and suggested I find something else to do. I started writing again when I joined a program in in 2006 San Francisco that helped writers who were having trouble writing. I wrote my first autobiographical novel, Between the Shadow and Lo, in that program and I’ve been writing seriously ever since.
I don’t consciously avoid any words and themes, although I do think every writer avoids something. Or, rather, every writer is already obsessed with certain themes and so we tend to return to those themes over and over again, which necessarily forces us to avoid other topics. For instance, I never write on mother-daughter themes. My mom died when I was 11, and although I was very close with her, my relationship with her is not something I have struggled to understand as an adult. My relationship with my father, now, is an entirely different matter. For most of my life I have worked on psychologically unpacking the experience I had with my father, so father themes show up quite often in my fiction. This is not something I have done on purpose, it just worked out that I had a lot of baggage with my dad and not so much with my mom. I think it’s similar for all writers. We all have baggage around certain issues, and those are the things we tend to explore in our writing.
Do I love what I do? I’m kind of at a loss to even adequately describe HOW MUCH I love what I do. I adore what I do. I feel like the luckiest person on the planet because I get to do what I do. For me, there is no other passion like writing.
Where do you write?
My writing environment is wherever I can clear enough space for my laptop and a pad of paper. I do like to write my fiction on yellow legal pads and I tend to type my nonfiction on my laptop, but other than that, I have no special rules I follow.
When do you write?
It really depends. If I’m working on a nonfiction book I just make myself do it. I aim to write 1,500 to 2,000 words two or three mornings each week. And then I push myself through the editing the same way, aiming to edit 1,500 to 2,000 words two or three mornings every week. I don’t set a time limit, but I try to stick to one to two hours of work because after that amount of time I get tired and I can feel that my brain is done.
With the fiction, I throw all deadlines, time limits, word count goals, etc. out the window. I do set aside morning hours to write, but most of that time is taken up by listening to music, talking walks or drives to think about the characters, lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling. And then when I begin to see a scene in my mind, I write. It might be 3,000 words, it might be 200 words. Whatever it is, I accept it for what it is. I’ve taken four years to write a rough first draft of a novel and done another one in seven months. For me, writing fiction is a completely unpredictable process.
Why do you write?
I write and teach and speak about topics that relate to highly sensitive creative introverts because I’m a highly sensitive creative introvert myself and I’ve struggled with that my entire life. It directly impacted my writing (and writer’s block) in so many ways that took years for me to uncover and I want to help others who are struggling with those same issues.
I write my fiction purely for me. Because these people show up in my head and demand to be heard and it feels incredibly important that I record their stories.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
I haven’t wrestled with serious writer’s block in years, and in my experience, my writer’s block at that time was due to the fact that I hadn’t written anything in so long. In my work with writers I see the same thing happen to them too. If you’ve gone for a very long time without writing, it’s kind of like all that creative material just builds and builds inside of you (even if you can’t feel it and you think you have no “good ideas”) and it clogs the pipe. It blocks the creative channel. Once you start moving some of that energy out, even if it’s just by writing small poems that you don’t think are very good, the creative channel widens and more can come through. The more you write, the more ideas you will begin generating and the more your creative energy will flow.
Of course, I do still experience procrastination. When I’m trying to power through writing my nonfiction books on a schedule, well, of course I don’t want to sit down and do it. I just make myself. There is no magic ritual or routine I use to help me. I just force myself. The forcing myself to do things is a skill I’ve learned over many years, it’s like a muscle you exercise that gets stronger and stronger.
However, if a writer is suffering from serious writer’s block, it’s usually not a procrastination issue. Something else is almost always going on. They may be creatively shut down, or working with limiting beliefs that were imprinted on them from their parents about their self-worth or the role of the artist in society. That kind of stuff gets deep and tangled and I think the only thing that can really help in that sort of situation is working with a coach or a therapist, or joining a safe-space type of writing program to get things going again.
Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
At this time in my life I have a full-time job as a coach and a teacher, as well as writing my own books, and a four-year-old son, so when I’m not doing any of those things I enjoy sleeping.