Just Write: An Interview with Songwriter Jacqie Brooks


Putting ideas into words is a writer’s greatest thrill. He or she will never pass up the opportunity to weave together strings of words to craft an elaborate storyline, regardless of the form. Songwriting, just like writing prose or poetry, takes the process a few steps further, adding a musical element to the mix.

This week we sat down with Jacqie Brooks, fashion/beauty enthusiast, editor and fellow lover of words, to talk about a genre of storytelling we haven’t covered here before: songwriting.

Ideas come from everywhere. Where do you go when you’re in need of inspiration?

In every facet of life, I tend to just find inspiration in everything. The latest song I’m working on sprouted from hearing a George Strait song on the radio on my drive back to my house from my family’s house. And George Strait songs remind me of being a teenager, and so the song is about being 14, before relationships were stressful.

But I also will see people doing things and create a story in my head off of it. I also get a lot of inspiration from other artists. Growing up, I was obsessed with Kate Voegele and Sara Bareilles. Their songs are so personal and clever.

When did you start writing songs? How did it come about?

I think I actually started writing songs around the sixth grade—they weren’t very good. But there was always something I got out of listening to music. It wasn’t necessarily that I just liked listening to music, but the fact someone wrote this song that portrays a story and a feeling was really cool to me. The composition of the words was so pleasing to me, and still is. So I started writing things down.

What’s the first thing you do when you get an idea, or a set of lyrics in your head?

Writing for me happens one of two ways, usually. I either think of words that I like or I think of a tune that I like. So if it’s words, I immediately write it down—on a napkin, in my phone, on the back of a receipt … And then if I have time, I usually will try to come up with other lines that could potentially go in the song.

If I have a melody or tune in my head, I try to form some kind of wording that makes sense, and I will write it down and actually hum or sing it into the voice recorder in my phone. I am a horrid singer, so absolutely no one hears those. But they are there. And I will revisit them when I’m ready to finish or work on the song.

When you’re writing songs, what do you usually write about?

Okay, everyone gets on Taylor Swift about it, but I probably write most about relationships. Honestly, it’s so easy. It comes so naturally. You’re in constant relationships—not necessarily romantic relationships. And it’s easy to build another story off of one reality. I’ve been trying really hard to write those fantastic “finding yourself” songs, but it’s a lot harder to do that and make it relatable.

How has writing helped you along as you’ve gotten older?

For me, my songbook is my journal. It’s my life. Even if I didn’t finish something, I flip through the pages and see where I was in life at a given point. I do journal, in more of a prose format. And that’s great. But to me, reading through my songs is when I see myself at my most creative or hurt times in life. I get to go back to that and either realize why I was so hurt by something and how I learned to overcome it and where I am now or I get to see myself being so happy and enjoying myself so much to write it down.

Do you ever revise any of them, or just leave them be?

Sometimes I revisit and work on them, particularly if [they are] unfinished. Rarely do I go through and change something that’s finished. I usually have worked on those long enough to be satisfied with them.

How do you think telling stories through song lyrics differs from telling them through an article or a book?

There are a lot of people who don’t like to read, but who doesn’t like music? The stories [in] songs take a situation everyone can relate to and turn it into something short and catchy and memorable.

I also think it’s a lot more challenging to write songs than some of the other forms of writing. You’re more limited. You don’t want a 20-minute song. Also, you want it to make sense. Rhyming is harder than you think!

What do you love most about writing?

I’ve just liked to write for as long as I can remember. I’ve always known it’s something I’m good at. And I love the satisfaction I get after finishing something and being happy with the end product.

Has anyone ever given you a piece of writing advice you’ll never forget?

I recently sat in on a songwriting session with Victoria Banks and Emily Shackelton in Nashville—they’ve written songs for Sara Evans and other country stars—“Gotta Have You” and “Can’t Stop Loving You” for example. They were talking about what they do when they get stuck, and they both said, “Just write.” Eventually something is going to come to mind, and something is going to work.

Whatever your method for bringing your ideas to life, we believe you can do it! Take a few moments today to look back at some of your old work to inspire you to create something new tomorrow. And of course, if you have any more songwriting tips or revelations to share with our readers, or songwriting questions for Jacqie, leave a comment!

Image courtesy of Jacqie Brooks.

Yes, I Write with Strangers: An Interview with Olivia Zimmer


By day, Olivia Zimmer, 23, is an English teacher living in Incheon, South Korea, far from her cozy hometown in northern Illinois, USA. By night, she’s an aspiring writer, like so many of us. But her chosen path to developing and refining her skills is one you may not have heard of before.

Just one year after she fell in love with writing, Zimmer joined her first roleplay (RP) writing community—a place where writers from all over the world come together to write back-and-forth, in character, to create collaborative works of fiction just for fun.

After 10 years of RP, Zimmer has met and interacted with dozens of fellow writers who share her passion and love for words. We sat down with her to hear more about how RP, for some, might be the key to turning small fragments of ideas into functional, beautiful strings of words.

How did you first become involved in RP?

I’m not really sure how it happened, really. My best friend Mary and I were having fun on MySpace one day and all of a sudden we were a part of this community of people that had the same idea we had.

Who was your first-ever character? What was that first RP experience like?

My first-ever character was Hermione Granger, but I made her original. Her name was Hershey and she was obsessed with chocolate. [That] first RP experience was a lot different than it is now. Back then, people didn’t write really long responses (what we call multi-para or novella). Everything back then was in the perspective of your character, but you basically chatted. It was what we now call one-lining. Where you went on some kind of adventure. But you only wrote a sentence or two, and your actions.

Who is your favorite most recent character to write as?

I don’t think I could pick a favorite! I currently write as several characters from the T.V. show “Once Upon A Time.” I love them all in different ways because it allows me to write in so many different perspectives of the same situation. As a hero, as a villain, and as a child.

Describe what it’s like to interact with other writers in RP online communities.

It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Most of the time, interactions are kept solely on the storyline, so you stay in character and you only write your story. Other times, you can interact in other places (like the status stream or on AIM). While interacting on the stream, it allows you to stay in character but also talk to people faster than through your writing. On AIM, you can choose to write in character or out of character (OOC). That’s where we form our friendships outside of RP.

How is RP different from writing stories by yourself?

You can’t plan ahead. Most people like to discuss a starting point for the story, but after that, you can’t anticipate anything. You don’t know what the other person will write and you have to adapt from there.

In your opinion, what are the advantages of RP in terms of developing writing skills and interacting with other writers?

I think being able to kind of think on your toes is one big advantage. You can take your time in writing, but whatever you write has to both make sense to the story you’re trying to create with another person while also incorporating your own style and voice.

Personally, it really helps my creativity. Some storylines push me past my comfort zone ad I write things I wouldn’t normally write about. I also think interacting with other writers gives you a chance to let out your creativity in a variety of ways instead of limiting yourself to just one world or one story.

What are the disadvantages?

The biggest disadvantage of writing with other people is the drama. It’s hard to believe that a majority of the people on the site are adults and they cause drama with others. We always welcome the drama in storylines, but outside of that, it tends to get personal and people are still cyber-bullied.

Another disadvantage is when people lose their muse or abandon their page. You lose a story that way. One that you really can’t recreate with anyone else, even if they play the same character.

How has RP helped you become a better writer?

I think it’s really helped my overall creativity. I’m able to move outside of my comfort zone in writing and work on things I wouldn’t normally think about.

Is it harder to write on your own, being so used to collaborating with and building off of others and their ideas?

I don’t think so. Granted, I haven’t written a novel-length story on my own in a while, but sometimes I have ideas involving characters that no one else wants to write about. So I write short stories just to get the idea out.

What’s the most important thing RP has taught you about storytelling?

I guess not to hold back. The more detail, the better the experience. Really get inside your character’s head and figure out the holes that the original creator left open or fill them in with your original character. Make the story yours.

What advice would you give to a writer who might be hesitant to share their work online or roleplay with other writers from around the world?

Don’t by shy! If you want to be a serious writer one day, you need to be willing to share your work. I know it’s difficult. But there’s no better way to share something with someone who has similar interests and similar writing styles than by sharing it on RP.

What should someone’s first step be if they are looking to join an RP community and create a character?

Really the first step is to find the right website. [There are] a lot of them out there. Some are more like forums, where they only accept one of each character and they build their community that way. There are other websites that allow more creativity. You can create your own characters or create ones that already exist and interact with multiple others.

Roleplayer.com and Tumblr are both good places to start if you’re looking for a larger community. Otherwise, looking for a forum-based group for a specific T.V. show, movie or book would be good for a smaller community.

Whether you start out small or dive into the Tumblr scene RP has the potential to change the way you interact with characters and develop captivating storylines. With a lot of practice, you can use the skills you learn in interacting with online forums in your own individual writing projects.

If you think RP might be able to help you build your confidence and keep you outside your comfort zone, give it a try! Joining in the RP scene doesn’t mean you have to stop writing on your own. Like Zimmer, you can do both. Like any online community, it has its advantages and disadvantages. But it’s worth it, if it gives you a new excuse to write more often.

Have more RP-related questions for Olivia? Leave them in the comments and we’ll pass them along!

Image courtesy of Olivia Zimmer.

How to Do Everything (and Write): An Interview with Autumn Slaughter


Finding time to write, and writing well, seems impossible for some. For others, it just becomes one of many challenges that make life worth the busyness. For today’s featured writer, it’s a talent turned hobby turned success story. School, work and writing go hand-in-hand, and busyness is just a minor side effect that comes with putting good ideas into well-crafted words. 

Autumn Slaughter is mere months away from an advanced degree in counseling psychology, and hopes to pursue a PhD in counseling or clinical psychology. While earning her B.A., she wrote for her university’s student newspaper, and has articles published in Country Line Magazine and the Solphur Springs Telegram.

She has also self-published three books through CreateSpace, and is currently working on a novelette, “Run,” which follows a female runner through the Oklahoma City Marathon.

When she’s not writing, you can find Slaughter doing just about everything else—including snapping photos, studying and running copious amounts of mileage. We sat down with her to hear more about how she balances it all—and how you can, too.

How to you balance your day-to-day activities with your writing?

Very carefully. I work full-time and have internship responsibilities connected to my masters program. I carefully manage my free time. Once a month I participate in a poetry open-mic where I receive great feedback and support, which helps keep me motivated to produce more work for the next event.

Much of my writing is done at the free time I have at work. Since I work in the service industry, there are slow days that allow me to write and work on homework assignments.

How has studying human behavior influenced the subjects you address in your writing?

You can only write about what you know, so if you want to have a lot of depth in your writing, you have to know a lot. Psychology, especially counseling psychology, is a great way to know a lot. I’m constantly talking to people who are very different [from] me and provide insight into worlds I would have never explored without their help.

What is your ideal writing environment?

There’s no necessary outer environment, but there is a necessary inner environment. I cannot write if I’m apathetic. I have to be feeling something, and it needs to be an emotion I can clearly identify, if not necessarily explain.

How can high levels of stress affect someone’s writing process?

I work very well under stress, but I always prefer not to, and since I write as a hobby—a way of relaxing—I will not write if the activity is producing more stress. I already have enough of that from my course work.

What’s the most effective way to manage stress and still make time for writing?

You just have to take care of yourself. Do things you enjoy, eat [right], exercise, all the old, tried and trued clichés.

How do you find time and energy to “do” when doing gets tough?

It helps that I am a very driven person, and enjoy doing things. I [would] rather be editing photo from a shoot or planning a poetry collection than sitting on the couch watching television—and that is what really keeps me going. I just like doing.

What advice would you give someone who wants to write, but just can’t find the time to sit down and do it?

If you really want to do it, at some point you’ll sit down and do it. Writing isn’t like playing video games or reading leisure books. It’s a discipline. It’s a type of work, and that’s not for everyone.

 If you feel too busy to write, making writing part of your busyness, even if it sometimes feels like work, can reap just enough reward to make it all worth it. We need a little stress to keep us going, but if you’re determined to get it done, you will always, eventually, find a way.

You can find Slaughter’s poetry on Amazon here. Also check out her senior thesis-turned-memoir, her flash fiction and this poem that won first place in a 2013 contest.

Image courtesy of Autumn Slaughter.

How Editing Enhances Our Writing: An Interview with Marisa Russell


As writers, we spend a lot of time stuck in our own projects. That’s why many of us will scramble at the chance to look at any piece of writing other than our own, whether it be a book for pleasure or helping someone out by critiquing their work.

Here at Novelty Revisions, we believe writing and revising go hand-in-hand. Part of the art of stringing words together is knowing how to reshape and improve what’s already been written, no matter how long it takes. As today’s NR guest will show you (though words, of course), learning how to edit is an essential part of learning how to best put your ideas into words.

Marisa Russell is a journalism student at Hofstra University. A life-long writer, she has seen firsthand how taking a leap and becoming an editor can change the way we write, and transform the way we view the writing process from beginning to end. 

Tell us about your writing experience.

I’ve been writing since I was able to pick up a pencil and form letters. I was always into writing stories, and when an opportunity to attend a journalism camp in NYC came along in high school, that’s when my writing took off. I was interviewing people on the streets of New York, and from that moment on I never stopped.

I interned at ABC 2 News in high school, where I got a ton of writing and interviewing experience for the web and T.V., but my broadcast writing career ended there. Since I’ve been in college, I’ve written for Her Campus Hofstra, The Chronicle [Hofstra’s newspaper], College Lifestyles™ [online magazine], WomansDay.com and most recently, LinkedIn. My experiences have occurred over a variety of mediums, but the biggest thing is that I have years of experience under my belt.

Describe your editing experience.

My editing experience started a bit later than my writing. I started editing college application and scholarship essays for my boyfriend’s mom’s business in the fall of my freshman year. It was amazing to be able to help others achieve their goals by teaching writing skills.

From there, I became an editor at College Lifestyles™ in the summer of 2014, and I’ve been an editor ever since. The moment I started editing, I couldn’t stop. I spent the last year as [assistant] copy chief at my school newspaper and oddly enough, it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. I’m very type A and a nitpicky person, so editing is perfect for my stress level, weirdly enough.

What about your writing experience prepared you your editing roles?

I knew many different styles of writing, and I knew all of the AP style rules before I was even required to enforce them. Watching my growth as a writer also helped me teach others how to grow as well. It’s like being an employee before you get to be the boss… you always appreciate those on your team when you’ve been in their shoes before. I don’t think you should be allowed to be an editor without a tremendous amount of writing experience.

What has editing taught you about your own writing?

I’ve become a lot more careful with my writing because I’m an editor. It’s also taught me that I can write a grammatically correct sentence, but someone else may not like it simply because of their style. Everyone writes differently, and that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. Being an editor causes you to analyze things for structure, readability and credibility, versus just “if it sounds/looks good.” So, I’d say I’ve become a lot more critical of how I’m saying something, rather than what I’m saying.

What has editing taught you about critiquing others’ work?

Every person you critique is totally different. It’s not just slight differences, but you sometimes have to change your entire mindset to properly edit someone else’s work. It’s also taught me that everyone takes criticism differently, and you have to adapt to that when you are trying to help someone improve their work. I can tell one writer to fix a sentence because it’s unclear and they understand what I’m saying, where if I told another that, they would find it insulting and not know what to do. I’ve learned that critique is all about balance, and learning the writer.

In what ways do you think all writers, despite their disciplines, can benefit from gaining editing experience?

No matter what field you work for, you will always be writing and editing. Even if it’s just an email or a company document, you will write every day for the rest of your life. Learning how to edit others’ work, and having that experience (in any capacity) will teach you how to work with others, how to critique your own work through a different lens and how to be successful. Even if it’s just editing your coworker’s research article or your child’s homework, editing is a tough skill to learn, and one that makes you a better person in the end to have.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned as an editor?

Hmm, that’s a tough one honestly. I’ve learned that a nice cup of coffee and a comfortable bed make for the perfect way to edit articles, just kidding! I’ve really learned that patience, kindness and hard work go a long way. Despite if I’m feeling down or think I’m doing a bad job, those that I’ve helped or edited for always believe in and support me, and it’s because of those three things.

What’s the hardest thing about editing someone else’s work?

For me personally, it’s not changing people’s work for them. I’m like I said before, very type A and I like to have control over the situation, so in the beginning I thought changing things for someone would be the best way to go. But, over time, I learned that giving someone an example and guiding them in the right direction will save me [a lot] of time in the future. Helping someone learn versus doing it for them will help them remember the right way to do things in the future.

What’s the most rewarding?

Seeing the end product. Whether that’s an article, a college essay, an acceptance to a college or an award, seeing what my writers have gone on to achieve is absolutely amazing.

If you’re just starting out as a writer, and you’re looking for writing experience, try proofreading, copyediting or volunteering, interning or even working in an editorial setting. Having an outside perspective on the writing process can help you learn to more effectively identify weaknesses and flaws in your own writing.

The earlier you start, the more opportunities you’ll have to gain hands-on experience before entering the real world. No matter your stage of life, writing will always be a part of you. Use your skills to help not only yourself, but also someone else, discover a new kind of love for words.

Image courtesy of Marisa Russell.