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Member Spotlight: Judith Lindbergh

author Judith Lindbergh and an image of her book Akmaral

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? I write historical fiction about ancient times and unfamiliar places. Yet writing is how I understand myself and the world. My characters’ issues and emotions reflect my own. Sometimes I am not even aware of what I am projecting into my work, but the subconscious upwelling of creative energy helps me to process questions I don’t even know that I have. Through novels, whether we read or write them, we absorb experiences that become part of our inner being. We don’t have to share the characters’ specific circumstances in real life to understand their pains, hopes, dreams, or struggles. And the written word is far more intimate than passively viewing a story, whether on Netflix, YouTube, or social media. In the silence of our minds, we struggle along with the characters. We feel their interiority and the conflicts that propel them. It is through the struggle of writing and the experience of absorbing the written word that we become the other and the other becomes us. Especially right now, we desperately need this kind of intimate sharing of experience to engender compassion and sympathy in the world.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? I generally avoid using the term “writer’s block.” I prefer to call it “writer’s challenge.” We all get stuck or dry, whether for a day, month, or year. (Please no!) But how we perceive that stuck-ness can be the difference between breaking through and giving up. I remember when I was a young, learning pirouettes in my first ballet class. I simply couldn’t find my center. Every time I bent my knees, placed my arms, and lifted my toe to my knee, trying to spin, I’d fall to the right, to the left. One day I got really angry, stomped my foot, and grumbled, “I can’t!” My dance teacher chided me, “If you say ‘can’t,’ you never will.” So I wiped my tears and tried again, and eventually, I got it. When I struggle with my writing, I try to take a break, take a walk, shift my focus to other things. When I go back to the pages, I just read them and take notes, searching for a thread of thought I’ve forgotten or lost. I sometimes “deconstruct” what I’ve written by outlining the scenes and even the paragraphs, beat by beat. I cannot count the number of times I’ve discovered that I don’t need the troubling section at all. But you have to get above the work and away from the sentences and words. Getting a bird’s eye view is the only way to see the work clearly enough to let it go.

What is your favorite time to write? I’ve always been a night owl, maybe because I come from a theatrical background. When I was younger, my best time to write was after dark. I remember putting my kids to bed and starting my work at around 8:30 PM. I’d write until midnight, though sometimes I’d find myself asleep on the keyboard, the screen covered with long lines of mmmmmmmmmmm’s. Eventually, I found myself too exhausted, so I shifted to afternoon and early evening. But I still love to writing at night when I can. I turn off all the lights in my office and let myself float in the dark, focusing on the glow of the computer screen where the words of my characters and their world come alive.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? My first writing teacher was Madeleine L’Engle, the author of many novels and essays, but best known for A Wrinkle In Time. I came to her class to work on a novel-in-progress, but I really had no idea what I was doing. Her very first exercise included these instructions: Think all week. Write for half an hour. I was floored. How could one write a novel in only a half-hour a week? But I trusted and respected her and soon discovered that, after thinking all week, a flood of words would come out of my keyboard fully formed. Although I still contend that writing a full-length project takes more than a half-hour a week, the lesson showed me how much writing happens in your downtime. Writing isn’t simply putting words on the page. You have to ruminate, ponder, and listen for the voices that will wake you up in the middle of the night or stop you while you’re walking down the produce aisle. This is an especially valuable lesson for any writer who has a day-job and a family and everything else. (Don’t we all?) Sometimes that backburner thinking doesn’t feel like you’re working, but if you are always creatively ruminating on your work, your words will be ready for you when your fingers hit the keys.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? In the digital age, when so much of what is created is influenced by “groupthink” and, increasingly, artificial means, a writer’s practice of crafting communication is uniquely personal and individual. It is the work of one mind, one conversation with the self that can then extend outward in ripples, small or large. No one can stop us from doing our work. And while we may—appropriately—resent the struggle to be published and paid, we do not have to be hired to write, unlike a performer who cannot truly practice their art in an empty room. We simply have to open the file or page. We own our thoughts, and they cannot be altered or influenced by outside, corporate or commercial forces without our choosing. This is the power of individual creativity and thought, and no social pressure or artificial intelligence can take that away.

Judith Lindbergh’s Akmaral is out now with Regal House Publishing.