Today we have Mitty Walters with us, author of Breaking Gravity. He was kind enough to let me pick his brain and is this week’s Dirty Dozen Interview!
Q. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
A. I can’t remember a time when I did *not* want to be a writer.
I grew up poor and we had no television. So as a child, I became a voracious reader. There was a huge used book store near my home called the Book Nook and once a month I would bring in an old cardboard box filled with books. I’d turn them in for store credit, fill my box up again, and then use my allowance to cover the difference.
I loved reading. And writing was the natural evolution.
Q. Did you share this dream with anyone, if so what was their reaction?
A. I loved reading. And writing was the natural evolution. But story-telling came first.
Growing up, I had a really tight group of friends. Pretty much every weekend (I was like 9 or 10), four or five of us would spend the night together at somebody’s house. After the lights went out, I’d end up making up wild adventures that starred everybody in the room. Usually, we’d end up fighting ninjas or stumbling across bank robbers hiding out in the woods or some other silliness. Of course, we’d vanquish the bad guys and everybody in the room––Timmy, Steve, Greg, Sam, Phil, whoever––would have a moment in the sun doing something awesome. Good times. :)
Sadly, when my story-telling evolved into writing, there was less enthusiasm from my buds. I remember reading them one of the first stories I wrote in like the second or third grade… talk about some tough reviews! To this day, some thirty years later, they still tease me about my “witerature” on the rare occasion it comes up.
I kept writing, just never shared it with friends again.
Q. Who has been your biggest supporter?
A. My wife, without question! The irony is that she has never really read any of my writing, haha.
Q. See, I must be one of the few who wants the person I’m in a relationship with to be reading every word. I’ve heard from a lot of other writers who will bounce ideas off their spouses/S.O. but they don’t actively read any of their finished work. In contrast to that though, who has been your biggest critic?
A. My mother, unfortunately. I say “unfortunately” because… well, it’s hard to think of anything more crushing for a kid. As far as I’m aware, she never read anything I wrote. Rather, her objection was to me writing in general. She was… is very religious. She has always viewed writing as an exercise in vanity, a “worldly” endeavor, something outside of God’s true Plan for my life.
Q. Have you lost friends/families because of your writing?
A. Naaa. That’s why God invented pseudonyms!
Q. What is the thing you struggle with most about writing?
A. Two things that are kind of interrelated: need for approval and finishing a work in progress.
Until recently, I have been a closet writer. If you read my answers to questions #2 and #4, you can get a sense of why.
The problem with being in the closet is that you have nowhere to turn to find out if the writing sucks. And I have this deep need to know what others think. After all, the ultimate goal is to create a story that others enjoy reading. Not having an answer to that basic question (“Is this story any good?”) is extremely tough to deal with in a vacuum. For me, anyway.
That leads to my second problem: inability to finish what I start.
When I first start writing, I’m fired up and the words flow. For instance, I wrote the first half of Breaking Gravity in about a week. Then self-doubt kicked in and I spent three years rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. Because I kept finding flaws (real or imagined), I was stuck with a vicious case of writer’s block… unable to finish.
Breaking Gravity––which is the only novel I have ever actually finished––came very close to ending up on a dusty stack with dozens of other unfinished novels.
Q. I think everyone in some capacity has an issue with finishing a project, heaven knows I do. If it wasn’t for people hounding me for the next installments, I don’t think I would have finished my books. Have there been moments where you have wanted to give up on this dream? If yes, what has made you stick with it?
A. Absolutely. I’ve gone years without writing, mostly because of childhood experiences. Clearly, writing was not a “cool” thing. Nor was it a part of “God’s Plan” for my life.
So I pinned up my writing. As a teenager, I maintained a notebook full of angry poems. I wrote a bunch of angst filled stories that I never showed anyone. Then my life got moving and I rarely wrote for years.
But I had a huge wakeup call a couple years ago that got me to thinking about the things that really matter to me. Suddenly I found myself writing again.
They say, “Don’t write if you have a choice.”
Well, I don’t have a choice anymore. I’m a writer. It’s an obsession.
Q. What is one thing that you wish you knew from the beginning of your writing career?
A. Three simple words: finish, finish, finish.
Self-doubt. Need for approval. <– Just crap.
If you have not finished your story, then what you have is not worthy of review. Quit hemming-and-hawing, just get off your ass and finish. Don’t waste your time bugging friends/family to read.
Just write. Until you finish. The end.
Q. Do you have things/people you turn to for inspiration or can you sit down and just write?
A. Other people’s creativity inspires me. Not the creativity of strangers, but the creativity of friends. I have friends that are musicians and sometimes when I listen to something they’ve done, I’ll find myself all fired up.
Instrumental to my finishing Breaking Gravity was going to watch a buddy of mine do a spoken word show. It was a one-man play. Dude just stood up there by himself for an hour and told a beautiful story. I got home around midnight and couldn’t sleep because I was so inspired by his creativity. I ended up writing all night.
Q. What achievement in writing are you most proud of?
A. One time I took Runner Up in a writing contest. I feel silly even mentioning it, but I was secretly very proud of it.
My background, when it comes to education, was pretty rough. I am a high school dropout, caught the boot my senior year. But in my defense, I was homeless at the time and had managed to stay in school for over a year, despite the obstacles. I was in several AP classes and was passing everything when they kicked me out.
Not to worry, eventually I turned my life around. I picked up my GED, went back to school, and now have an AS in Business Admin, BS in Finance, BS in Business Management.
Anyway, right after I got back in school, I took a creative writing elective. The prof announced to the class that a big writers’ group in Atlanta was sponsoring a contest that was open to the public and also being promoted on college campuses. Twice he went out of his way to bug me personally about it. The night before entries were due, I decided to write one.
And it took second place for the Short Story category. Big deal, right? I know. But it beat out some 500 other entries to get the spot. And they had me come to big award ceremony and do a reading in front of a bunch of people. They said all the first and second place winners were going to be published in some collection, but I never saw it.
Q. What has been your biggest lesson in writing?
A. Never marry your words.
I think a lot of writers (me especially) tend to fall in love with their own voice. But if your words do nothing to move your story forward, then––at best––it’s just white noise. At worst, it’s distracting and boring.
Writing up an explicitly vivid description of a setting may help you to see the room that your character is now standing in, but is that of interest to the reader? Was three paragraphs describing woodworking really necessary? And when you finish the exquisitely detailed description of this room, you may feel like your words have spun poetic gold. And it may indeed be beautiful, but you have to be open to reality. If the reader falls asleep, what was the point?
Be it paragraphs or whole chapters, if it ain’t moving the story forward then it has to go.
It’s tough hearing that from beta readers. It’s even more brutal when an objective editor starts hacking away. There are still blood stains on my monitor and keyboard from the day I got my Breaking Gravity manuscript back from David Gatewood (my editor). Seriously, I’m pretty sure I swelled up and burst into chunks of meat. It was the worst experience of my life. It took me two days before I could look at the file again.
But then it became one of the best experiences of my life. When I set emotion aside, I discovered he was right about 99.8% of everything he said. It was weird, like watching someone else have sex with your wife while giving you friendly pointers about what she likes. You feel violated and deeply offended, but your wife is moaning and Speaking in Tongues, so you know deep down that he’s right.
Yeah, it hurts to see your baby violated. But be open to the possibility that not every single word that drips from your pen is divine.
Never marry your words.
Q. I’ve never heard it referred to like that but that brings it into perfect view of what it feels like to be edited and critiqued. Good analogy. Moving on to the final question… If you could only pick one, would you rather be well known (NY Times Bestseller etc) for one piece of writing, only to be broke after a quick fifteen minutes of fame, or would you rather be semi-unknown, only making just enough sales to live modestly, as long as you were able to keep writing?
A. Sign me up for the fifteen minutes, please.
Shallow, right? I don’t care. Sorry, that’s just how it is.
If I could write one great story––one work that moves people, that causes huge masses of people to show up late and sleepy at work because they were unable to put my book down and ended up spending all night reading––then I could die a happy man.
Over the years there have been many, many books that did that for me (maybe two a year). Once I picked it up, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down. The joy of reading a story well told like that is spectacular.
I just want to write *one* of those, that’s all. Just one.
I don’t care about fame––hell, I write under a pen name. And I couldn’t care less about money. Give me one great story and I will happily live out the rest of my life in anonymity, flipping burgers at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere.
Big thanks to Mitty for stopping by today. If you would like to learn more about him or his book Breaking Gravity you can reach out to him through his Goodreads page.