Tell me a about yourself. What got you started in writing?
Since at least junior high school I had some ability to string words together. I worked on school newspapers and earned a degree in journalism. For nearly four decades I have worked as an advertising copywriter. But I never studied or practiced creative writing until, in my mid-fifties, curiosity led me to wonder if I could write a poem, then a short story, then a novel, then a nonfiction book. I have had the good fortune to be published in all those areas, in anthologies and books of my own. I have also written magazine articles. Having grown up in the West in a cowboy family, I have an ingrown interest in those subjects and that is what I write about.
How do you schedule your writing time? When do you write?
In my day job I learned to write to specific (and often ridiculous) deadlines. As a result, I can write anytime, anywhere. I don’t even understand the idea of writer’s block. If there’s something to write, I make the time to get it done despite the usual distractions of life. Early mornings, late nights, long days, short snatches—it doesn’t really matter.
How and where do you write? Do you prefer a lap top or some other method of getting your words down?
While I am not technically inclined and dislike computers—even to the point of being something of a Luddite—I early on saw the advantages writing on a computer provided. When the first “portable” computer came on the market, the Osborne, I bought one (it’s still in the basement) and have written on computers ever since. I’ve had a variety of desktop and laptop computers over the years, but do not like to change hardware and software and resist doing so as long as possible.
I have a home office of sorts, but also write at the kitchen table if there’s something on TV I want to sort of pay attention to. Distractions like that—TV, radio, music—actually help me focus. For some reason I don’t like peace and quiet when I write. I have written in airports, on buses, in cars, and just about anywhere and everywhere else I’ve found myself.
What's your favorite part about writing? Your least favorite part about writing?
To borrow a phrase from Bill Moyers (he was speaking of poetry, but it applies to any writing), I like “fooling with words.” Beyond the basics of their meanings, I enjoy paying attention to the sounds and the rhythms they create when strung together. A well-turned phrase, a well-crafted sentence, a well-structured paragraph are always enjoyable to write and read. Samuel Taylor Coleridge said prose is “words in their best order” and poetry is “the best words in their best order.” I think all writing can and should be poetic to some extent.
There’s nothing I dislike about writing itself, but many of the related aspects of being a writer can be frustrating. Sometimes it seems to take forever to see something in print. Whether it’s a magazine article, a collection of poems or stories, a novel or nonfiction book, waiting on publishers to finally apply ink to paper gives one a glimpse of eternity.
How did you come up with your book idea? How long did it take you to write your book?
Over the past decade I’ve had two collections of poetry and a chapbook, four history-related books, and five novels (with another just accepted by the publisher) published. Most of my ideas come from some aspect of history—the people, places, and events related to the American West.
It’s hard to say how long the books take. I know one of the nonfiction books went from zero to ink in nine months, because that’s what the publisher needed. Some of the novels probably took less time. Collections of poetry and short stories take years.
In a way, it has taken a lifetime to write the books.
What types of marketing do you do to promote your writing?
There’s a web site I try to keep current (www.writerRodMiller.com) and I post short items on www.writerRodMiller.blogspot.com every week or two, and inform by e-mail a few hundred folks when there’s something new there.
I try to teach at conferences and workshops whenever possible, and speak to community groups. When I hear about a book-related event I try to participate.
I write for several magazines, and the byline and short bio that accompanies articles gets my name out, and the names of my books. And I try to get reviews of my books published and I write cover blurbs for other authors. I have been fortunate to win several recognized writing awards and I try to publicize those when I can. Finally, I am a member of a few writers’ organization that work, in various ways, to promote reading and literature.
What are you currently working on? Do you have a new book out?
As mentioned earlier, a publisher just picked up a new novel, my third book featuring the character Rawhide Robinson. Like the other two, it’s adult/young adult crossover fiction that features an Old West cowboy with a penchant for spinning outrageous tall tales around the campfire, along with living a lot of real-life cowboy adventures.
A second edition of my first poetry collection is in the works. The original publisher closed up shop to spend more time writing, and another publisher wants to keep the book in print, so we’re getting all that arranged.
A historical novel is in the early, early stages and I am always working on a magazine article or two.
Do you have a project on the back burner? Tell me about it.
There’s a history book—chronicling Old West lawmen who were also, at times, outlaws—I have been wanting to write and have done a lot of research for. A publisher of another my books has even expressed interest in it. But it will take considerably more research and I am not yet convinced there will be enough there to make a book. I haven’t given up on the idea yet and will keep nibbling away at it.
What would you tell a beginning writer who wants to publish but doesn't believe he/she has enough talent?
If you don’t believe you can write, how can you expect other people to believe it? Earn some confidence in your ability. Much of writing is simply a skill that anyone can learn with effort. But it takes talent to employ that skill in exceptional ways. Work on the mechanics of writing with practice, learn the artistry of writing by reading and studying the best writers. And all the while, write and write and write, but write with a purpose.
Enjoy what you have written, but don’t fall in love with it—be more critical of your work than anyone else could be and don’t quit rewriting until it’s as good as you can possibly make it. Then try again. And again.
While critique groups can be helpful, I would be leery of taking too much advice from others—they can only tell you how they would do it, and you have to ask, what do they know? Always remember that it’s not theirs, it’s yours, and follow your heart or head or gut or whatever guides you.
I’ve never understood why so many people say they want to be writers, pretend to be writers, learn all kinds of writer jargon, talk a lot about writing, and exhibit all kinds of “writerly” behavior, but never actually write anything or attempt to get anything published. Why is that?
Thank you, Rod!
Learn more about Rod: