Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Part II: Interview with Randy Robertson

Randy Robertson is the author of Finding Mary: One Family's Journey on the Road to Autism Recovery. He was kind enough to stop by the blog to share more about the book, as well as his words of advice and encouragement for other writers! Read Part I of the interview here.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

My writing process goes back to my journalism training in that I write in a really structured manner. For Finding Mary I wrote a high-level outline first, basically writing what would become the chapter heads. This enabled me to see how the book would flow. I typed this directly into a Microsoft Word file on my computer. I then went through the outline and for each chapter head, I added anywhere from 2 to 6 sub-heads with more detailed information about what to include in that chapter. Finally, I left the chapter head and sub-heads for each chapter and started writing the contents of the book right into the outline. It grew from a 2-page chapter head list into a 200-page book over the course of a year!

I really don’t write much on paper or in notebooks. I’m so used to using the computer at work that I’m very comfortable writing outlines and jotting notes in Word files. One trick that helped me tremendously was to write myself a note each time I was done for the day. As I said, I only wrote on Tuesday nights, so when the juices were flowing and the words were streaming easily I often wrote well into the middle of the night. When I just couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, I would write a few sentences to myself describing what the next few paragraphs would be about and what topics were next on my mind to discuss. Then I would shut down the computer and go to bed. The following Tuesday, instead of having to scroll through a dozen or more pages to get back up to speed on where I was at in the book, I could just read the last paragraph or two and the note to myself and pick right back up with my train of thought. It took me a few weeks to get into that habit but I found once I did it, I was able to get back into writing mode much more quickly and avoid writer’s block and keep the narrative going.

What's next for you?

Since competing Finding Mary, I also wrote a fiction book called The Sports Locker about some kids that time travel back to see famous sports events. The book hasn’t been published yet as I’ve been focusing on promoting Finding Mary for the past year. The idea for The Sports Locker came from watching my oldest son Charlie attend sports camps and seeing the camaraderie amongst the boys at the camp. I’ve also written quite a few poems and short stories. The writing subjects are almost always about my immediate family and the myriad of activities we experience together day after day. I do keep a notebook by my bed to write down ideas that come to me in the middle of the night. I heard many authors say they do this, so I started doing it too, and every so often I’ll flip through the notebook and see if one of my ideas sparks an interest to hunker down and develop the story.

Do you have any advice for other writers, especially young writers?

My biggest advice to young writers is to keep moving forward little steps at a time. You can’t expect to realistically sit down and in a few days write the next Harry Potter. It’s not like that. Writing takes time, but it’s a fun and rewarding time! It’s like when I ran my first marathon in 2000. At first I could barely run 3 miles, but I kept to a strict running schedule and gradually improved my speed and added distance to my runs. Six months later I crossed the finish line successfully. Writing should likewise be accomplished in a progression. Writing short stories and poems is a wonderful way to develop skills and techniques. You can write a short story and work on a particular technique, such as describing a character’s physical description, explaining the sounds and textures in a particular setting, or learning to incorporate appropriate metaphors. Once you have some of those basic skills mastered you should think about writing a book. Start with an outline, then sub-heads…

What are some of your favorite books?

For almost my whole life I’ve heard people talk about what a great book the Bible is, but I never really considered reading the whole thing. I mean, it’s thicker than a phone book! Also, I thought it was a cliché, that someone who said the Bible is the best book is just saying that to sound good. Then three years ago I decided to read the Bible from cover to cover. I made it a New Year’s resolution and just started on it. I determined that my goal each day would be to read enough to turn the page once. That’s it…just to turn the page once daily. I stuck with it and it took me almost two full years, but I read the entire Bible! And it turns out that the book is actually amazing! There are stories of heroism, power, great battles, geography, history of course, tremendous character development, well-known quotations and many inspirational tales. You don’t need to be Catholic or any specific religious affiliation to thoroughly enjoy the Bible. My other favorites include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Pelican Brief (talk about a page-turner!), and The Da Vinci Code. I also loved The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, a book that truly encourages big ideas and the concept that anyone can accomplish anything if they are determined and focused.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be a guest on the blog! Do you have any final words you'd like to add?

I am really amazed and pleased with how well Finding Mary was received. I continue to get positive feedback from people. Recently a special education teacher in Illinois read the book and liked it so much she bought copies for the parents of each of her students! And a few weeks ago I was playing golf in a tournament and one of the people in our foursome commented how much he liked the book. I had never even met the guy before, but he knew about me and Mary and my book and had read it. Knowing that I’ve helped people understand what autism is like on a daily basis, and helped share some success secrets with people going through the challenges of autism in their own homes, has been incredibly rewarding and amazing to me.


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