Write Now With Sarah Lyu

Today’s Write Now interview features Sarah Lyu, painter and author of THE BEST LIES and I WILL FIND YOU AGAIN.

Write Now With Sarah Lyu
Sarah Lyu; Photo credit Anna Shih

Who Are You?

Hi, I’m Sarah Lyu, author of The Best Lies and the upcoming I Will Find You Again, both young adult thrillers about love and loss, trauma and madness. I like the color cerulean blue, all dogs and some cats, painting dramatic skies, the scent of the ocean, and writing books that make people cry. I live in the southeastern United States with my family.

What Do You Write?

I write stories about young people in crisis. I once read that fiction is learning through imagination and that’s such an accurate way of describing the work. Writing is a safe way for me to explore the landscape of my own history and traumas, what haunts me and keeps me up at night. In both of my books, I lent specific and acute traumas from my past to characters like slipping a jacket over their shoulders and it was a cathartic way to process and let go of the pain I’d been carrying.

Where Do You Write?

I have a long desk where I keep my monitor and keyboard on one side for writing and an easel for painting on the other. I used to center the monitor and keyboard but have found that splitting the desk this way actually takes some of the pressure off of the writing. I use Scrivener because it handles large chunks of text with ease and because it helps me keep the plot organized. I used to collect fancy notebooks with thick, creamy paper and hoard pens that had the best glide, but I never used them because I didn’t want to fill such beautiful things with chicken scratch. Now I used legal pads or loose sheets and just toss them. I see prep work as scaffolding—once a building is finished, it stands on its own.

When Do You Write?

If left to my own devices, I’d probably write late into the night and sleep until noon, but that kind of life doesn’t really work if you have everyday obligations. I try to break up the work as much as possible, maybe a couple hours in the morning, a couple more in the afternoon. Deadlines can be helpful, but sometimes, I’ve found that I just need more time at the beginning to fully imagine the story, characters, and world. I used to feel a lot of frustration and impatience, but I’m starting to understand that this is just how I work and wishing it’d go faster does not actually make it go faster, so it’s best to try to enjoy the process wherever it takes me.

Why Do You Write?

Books were a form of salvation during my unhappy childhood (like many writers, I’m sure). They were places I could escape to, filled with characters who felt like my closest friends. Stories are the only kind of magic I believe in—the only form of telepathic communication that exists in our world. They’re the kind of conversation I never tire of having, a relationship between writer and reader built on common ground. I’m grateful to anyone who has spent time with a story I’ve written, and I’m genuinely touched when readers reach out to tell me a book made an impact on their lives. It keeps me going.

How Do You Overcome Writer’s Block?

There are two kinds of writer’s block that I experience—one driven by fear, and one caused by exhaustion. Sometimes, your creative inkwell is depleted and you need to nourish that part of yourself by taking a break. But the first kind, the one driven by fear, is a lot harder to battle for me personally. Sometimes I lose faith in the story I’m working on, or in my ability to do it justice, and that loss of confidence can invite writer’s block. What’s worked for me is to acknowledge the fear and follow Liz Gilbert’s advice from Big Magic to make space for it in the passenger seat but then let it know that it’s not allowed to take the wheel. Sometimes I can build the fear up in my mind into a powerful monster and this silly image of patting a metaphorical passenger seat for a personified fear can help break its hold on me. Also, taking care of my mental health (I have an anxiety disorder) always helps. Eating well, exercising, prioritizing sleep—all of it works, I’m sad to report!

Bonus: What Do You Enjoy Doing When Not Writing?

I love to paint when I have free time. I love the way the creative process of making art mirrors the process of making a book. There are a lot of similarities but my favorite is that in both oil painting and book writing, there’s a long ugly stage in the middle where nothing looks like it’ll turn out, and it’s so far from what you envisioned at the start that you just want to give up. There are no guarantees—and I have definitely created bad paintings and bad books in my life—but if you keep the faith, sometimes you’ll end up with something more beautiful than you could’ve ever imagined.

My thanks to Sarah Lyu for today’s interview.