You don’t have to chat to Diana Anderson-Tyler for long for her absolute passion for writing to become apparent. Diana has written since she was little and produced an impressive variety of work, from motivational fitness books, to faith-based and memoirs. We chatted to Diana about inspiration through vulnerability, parting ways with her first literary agent and perseverance.
Please give us a brief overview of yourself and your work.
It’s common advice these days that writers should pick a genre or niche and stick to it for the sake of brand identity. I have nothing against that advice, it’s just not been easy for me to follow (not that I’ve really tried).
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been “genre hopping.” I have bins full of early stories, poems and plays, some about damsels and dragons, some about an ordinary Texas girl’s first love (semiautobiographical, of course), and still others written in homage to whatever my favorite book or TV series was at the time. To put it simply, I write what I want to write, regardless of whether it’s well suited to a particular market or serves to build my “brand” or not. To me, writing is and always will be something I view and treat primarily as a passion, and secondarily as a career.
It is that philosophy that’s led me to write straight from my heart, for better or worse. I began my publishing career with a series of nonfiction faith-based fiction books for women, as well as an inspirational memoir chronicling my battle with an eating disorder, the sudden death of my father, falling in love, and finding my purpose. At the end of 2013, I decided it was time to get back to my storytelling roots (I majored in screenwriting at the University of Texas) and try my hand at penning a full-length novel. It was by far the most challenging writing endeavor I’d ever taken on, and also the most rewarding. Three years later, writing fiction is now a full-time career – though it is no less challenging than when I started!
Whether it’s writing motivational fitness books, Greek mythology-inspired novels, or women’s fiction hearkening back to my own heartbreaks, fears, and triumphs, my aim is to write words that ring true and resonate, on one level or another, with my readers. I believe we were all put on this earth to shine our unique, inimitable light with the world, and writing honestly and deeply about topics that move and have changed me is one of the ways I’m able to do that.
What made you want to be a writer?
I honestly can’t remember a time when writing wasn’t my foremost passion. I wish I knew what made me want to be a writer, but I’m convinced it was a proclivity I was born with. My grandpa was an actor, drama teacher, and playwright, so maybe it’s in the genes. I wish there was a romantic story I could share, something about how I listened to a TED Talk that changed my life by encouraging me to pursue my dreams, or how I ran into Stephen King near his home in Maine and showed him a short story that he thought was fantastic and I’ve written ever since. But my story’s pretty boring, unfortunately. I’ve always loved writing more than anything else and, despite countless doubts, fears, and frustrations, I’ve kept at it.
What inspires you to write?
Inspiration, to me, is most often birthed from life experience – the peaks, the valleys, the smooth seas and the storms. When I allow myself to draw from the well of my own life, I find inspiration flows infinitely more freely. When I try to leave my personal life out of my work by suppressing memories and refusing to reflect, my writing suffers because I’m not allowing myself to be vulnerable.
As Brené Brown says in her popular TED Talk on the power of vulnerability, to be vulnerable is not weakness. Rather, it’s “our most accurate measure of courage.” If I don’t feel somewhat nervous or vulnerable when I’m writing, I’m not being courageous. I’m not giving my all. Even now as I’m working on a fantasy trilogy, I’m finding inspiration from my own life, because no matter our genre, we’re all striving to create characters that live and breathe. I know of no better way to craft realistic make-believe people than by using my own life’s experiences and observations as stencils to be outlined, then shaded and detailed with the necessary fictitious bits.
Is there any particular incident that has happened along your writing journey that you’d like to share?
In the fall of 2014, I thought my dream of being traditional published was coming true. I got an agent, which to me is comparable to catching a unicorn (if you’ve ever pursued traditional publishing, then you may also equate agents to elusive mythical beasts). I’d only just begun querying agents to represent my debut novel, a YA fantasy called Moonbow, and was elated to see an email of interest from a well-established New York agent after a few weeks.
This was it, the beginning of my traditional publishing career! This agent said he was certain my book would be a “key title.” But, as I would soon find out, it wasn’t meant to be.
Weeks went by, and while we received plenty of nibbles on the book, there were no bites. My agent was optimistic though and continued submitting it to publishers while I checked my email like a madwoman umpteen times a day hoping I’d see that life-changing YES from a Big 5 publisher. After eight months, my agent and I began to realize that my book wasn’t going to be a “key title” after all. I told him I thought I should go ahead and self-publish, and he agreed. So, that’s what I did.
Flash forward two years. I’d written two more novels, one of which was a fantasy in the same vein as Moonbow, but in my opinion, a heck of a lot better. I couldn’t wait to send it to my agent! But to my surprise, he wasn’t the least bit interested. Why? Because my self-published novel wasn’t a top seller. Somehow, my lack of marketing expertise negated my skill and promise as a writer.
Suffice it to say, we parted ways, and I’m back to querying agents.
This is a far cry from a warm and fuzzy publishing success story, which is why I wanted to share it. The whole situation was devastating, discouraging, demoralizing, depressing, but it was also a blessing in disguise. I wept, I complained, I pitched a fit, but then the pity party came to a close and I got back on my feet and did what I do best: kept writing.
Who knows? Maybe the doors to traditional publishing will be closed off to me forever. But either way, I will write not because I seek validation from an agent or publisher, but because it’s what gives me immense and incomparable joy. And if I’ve learned anything from my journey of elevated expectations and dashed dreams, it’s been simply this: writing is my passion, and I will pursue it as long as there are synapses flickering in my brain. And as long as there’s coffee.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
I love this piece of advice I from Joanna Penn: Find a balance between creativity and consumption. Don’t feel like you have to choose writing mode over read/research/learn mode or vice versa. I strongly believe that writers should be in the practice of writing as close to daily as possible, so letting other activities – even advantageous ones – get in the way of creating is detrimental.
I’ve found that balancing creating time with consuming time keeps me productive and allows me to learn and digest new info and material at a manageable rate.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with aspiring writers?
Never give up. Even when life gets in the way and every writing door seems to be slamming, never stop writing. Even if it’s just 100 words a day. Even if you have no aspirations to be published or to let anyone see your work. If you love writing, you must write, because, as Franz Kafka so perfectly put it, “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”
Write to express yourself. Write to explore. Write to play. Write to find light in the darkness. Write to find hope in despair. Write to find peace amid chaos.
You can find out more about Diana Anderson-Tyler and her latest work via her website or social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.