Don M. Winn Student Interview Part 1

Austin Community College student Christi Esquivel recently interviewed me for a class assignment. She was gracious enough to allow me to share her paper, although it’s been edited some for content and length. By the way, she got a 100 on the interview.

DSC00146Christi: What are some common obstacles to becoming an author?

Don: To write a book and have it be commercially successful the biggest obstacle is the publishing industry itself. The entire market has changed significantly in the past few years. In the past, if you produced a book, your agent and publisher would help you get the attention of the media, but now, thanks largely to independent book publishing, 4000 plus books are put on the market every day. A book is not news anymore. You have to work very hard to get any attention at all, let alone make the kind of splash big publishing houses can make. If you want the media to pay attention to you, you have to show them what you’re doing is interesting. That’s a huge hurdle to overcome.

Another obstacle is the people who say, “Oh, everyone wants to do that. You’re not going to be able to make anything from doing that.” It’s true that many writers generally have some other job they do to support their writing, especially early on. It’s very rare to start making money right away. It can take many years. The important thing is to enjoy what you’re doing, write for fun, for the pure enjoyment of the process, keep working on your writing, keep putting things out there. At the same time, you’ll probably be doing something else to make some money, but eventually, if you stick with it, something good can come from it.

Christi: What is a typical work week?

Don: Well, in addition to my 40-hour work week, I’m always up by 4 A.M. I spend every usable minute before I leave for work doing author work. It may be social media, working on a blog, making marketing decisions, etc. Usually by the end of the day I’m responding to emails, maybe coming up with ideas, writing things down. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas. Basically, it encompasses all aspects of your life, because it’s not something you can turn off, like, okay—I go to work, punch a timecard, and then I’m done. The writing process is an art, it’s creative, and so you’re always looking for opportunities and ideas for stories. They could come at any time, and you have to jump on them when that happens, when you have that inspiration. Sometimes inspiration doesn’t come quickly and you have to do things to help. I’ve found it helps to get away and go out for a walk, because a lot of good ideas come to me when I’m doing something physical, like yard work or exercise. So for me, a typical week is very full. It is tremendously challenging to carve out blocks of time to write.

Christi: How could I advance?

Don: When I first learned to write as a kid, I didn’t like it. Being dyslexic, I was terrible at it and I avoided it whenever possible. But in the workplace, you have to be able to communicate in writing. Since I like to read things that are short and concise, I began writing that way for work. People told me I was a really good communicator. Eventually I realized writing was just like speaking. I had to figure out how to get my thoughts from my mind, but instead of expressing them by mouth, I needed to use a pen or keyboard. The development of word processors was the number one tool that made a difference for me, because if I had to actually write my books by hand, I couldn’t do it—nothing ever comes out right. I can barely make a signature in cursive writing, and have to print if a keyboard isn’t available. This is called dysgraphia and is not uncommon among dyslexics.

Don in a scene from Chipper and the Unicycle

When I can type on a word processor, just letting my thoughts flow and then saving my typed thoughts so I can go back later and rearrange words, it makes writing so much easier. Having that tool available to me and having to write every day just for normal communication on the job helped to strengthen my writing and communication skills. Eventually I started writing poetry. Poetry is short. I could finish something, write a nice little poem. When I started doing that I found it really cathartic. I could stretch my thoughts, write fun stuff, go outside my comfort zone. I wrote hundreds of little poems, and then, through that process, ideas for children’s books surfaced. I wrote them in rhyme, so they were poetic in nature. By 2009 I realized I really needed to do something with my stories. So I published The Tortoise and the Hairpiece. Several picture books later, I started doing school visits and the students asked me, “When are you going to do books for older readers?” That’s when the Sir Kaye series was born. Advancing as a writer is a series of progressions. You start small and then things grow organically. I started doing my blog. In the beginning, once in a blue moon I came up with a topic as I was learning the process and figuring out the type of content I wanted to offer. Now I post material nearly every week. My goal is to be a resource related to children, education, child development, learning challenges including dyslexia, and so forth. One recommendation for blogging is to start with things you enjoy and have a blog where you post stuff about something you really like and share your thoughts about it.

Tune in next week for part two of Christi’s interview.