This weekend I have an interview with the lovely Mila Sankale, I met Mila through Bookstagram where she posts gorgeous pictures! You can follow her at @onartandfiction. Her first Novella Runespeaker, which is inspired by her Kenyan heritage, is out now!
I hope you enjoy reading all about her writing process and self-publishing journey, don’t forget to check out Mila’s Instagram and support her first novella!
1. Introduce yourself! Who are you? What do you write / what genre? What are you currently working on? Do you have any published works?
Hi there. Mila speaking. I am a writer/artist living in California. I am currently working on a full length sequel to the novella Runespeaker that just came out. Both works are fantasy, a genre I really enjoy reading and writing.
2. When did you first start writing and what motivated you to start?
I don’t remember exactly when I started writing but I was pretty young. Somewhere between 9 and 12 years old. I’ve always loved stories and always felt that I wanted to make my own stories and be a writer one day.
3. What inspires you to write? Can you tell us about the inspiration for any specific pieces of writing you have completed / are working on?
I am inspired to write by everything around me. Ha! Sounds wild but it’s true. It could be something as a simple as meeting someone with an uncommon name, to a conversation I hear on public transport. If something stays with me for a while, I’ll then do the research and find out more and stories just tend to form. My most recent work, Runespeaker, was partially inspired by my Kenyan heritage and stories that my mom would tell me when I was young. I was also inspired by the realization that a lot of fantasy writing seems to draw from western-world mythology [which is great, nothing wrong with that]. But I felt like I had a different view on things and gave writing it a shot.
4. How important is the planning stage for you? Do you like to plan everything before you start or do you simply start writing with a vague idea in mind?
I find that planning is a give and take for me. If I plan too much I tend to get lost in planning and forget to get around to the story. At the same time, I need to have some sort of idea of what I want to write before I sit down, or I’ll end up really far from my goal. For example, my most recent work I had an idea but couldn’t formulate a plan, and ended up writing eight drafts completely from scratch before I got anywhere near the story I’d imagined in my head. I wish I could follow a detailed outline but haven’t managed to do that yet.
5. What is your writing process like?
My writing process depends on what stage I am in writing. The beginning is the hardest, and I tend to be the strictest with myself then in terms of making sure I try to write for at least an hour every day. There’s a point in the story when suddenly everything starts flowing, at that point it’s not hard to keep writing I find that I can spent upwards of four hours writing.
After the first draft is done, I hand it to someone I trust just to get a feeling of the shape of the story and any holes it may have. Then I get back and rewrite the entire thing – it’s much easier for me to rewrite than to edit. The following draft, or two, tend to be closer and more streamlined to what I had in mind. Then at this point I edit, edit, edit.
6. What are your writing essentials / what do you use when you write?
My computer and some good music are completely essential. When I hit a block I pick up a pen and paper and draft by hand. Sometimes that helps me get through a block. I like to write in a café, or somewhere with a bit of noise and activity that’s not directed at me. I tend to get distracted if it’s too quiet, especially at the beginning when I’m still trying to figure out the story.
7. What is your favourite thing to write? E.g. Dialogue, action scenes, saucy scenes…
I’m the worst at dialogue. 😦 Action scenes are so much easier to write because they tend to be exciting and fast paced. I like exposition too, but I feel that I can easily get carried away there and always have to reign myself in.
8. What do you think is the most difficult part of writing?
The most difficult part for me when it comes to writing is getting the image I had in my head, the original idea, written down in story format. I tend to get story ideas in moods or mental images which is surprisingly hard to write down. Still working on that. And also, getting started. It’s much more fun to think about a story idea than to actually start writing it. So I make sure I’m showing up to write in the early stages of writing to keep the momentum going. Momentum is very important when writing.
For the beginning writer, I’d say just start writing then keep writing.
For someone struggling with their writing, I would say find out what is making you struggle. One problem at a time. Is it mood? Is it structure? Is it tone? Then work to fix that.
And also, the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. Once you realize that writing becomes less painful.
9. It is always interesting to know what other writers listen to when writing. Do you listen to music whilst you write? If so, let us know some of the songs which have inspired you the most!
Ahhh, I love music while writing. I am totally dependent on it to set the mood. And, I’ve found that music is a great way to out of writers block. I listened to a lot of Game of Thrones soundtrack, Rihanna and FKA Twigs while writing Runespeaker. Currently writing and listening to:
- Hozier – Better Love
- Rihanna – Needed Me
- Halsey – Haunting & Castle
- Kings of Leon
- The Weeknd
10. Do you ever struggle with writer’s block? What do you do to overcome it?
Yes, I do on occasion. It’s usually when I am burned out with life / work / school and still trying to find time to write. I do various things depending on how bad it is. I was blocked for about two months earlier this year. That was a tough situation.
- I generally start with picking different music. I change what I’m writing on. Sometimes it’s easier to write on paper if I’ve been blocked on the computer for a while.
- Change locations that I’m writing in. I prefer writing in café’s but sometimes I change it up and write at home in absolute silence [that’s when it’s a really bad block]
- Do something else. I am also an artist so sometimes I switch it up and work on some paintings for a few days. I don’t let it go on for too long because I’ve found long breaks tend to make my block worse.
- And finally it’s just showing up and writing. During my two month block I wrote a few thousand words every week that were total crap. I could feel how horrible and far afield my writing was from my original idea, but I kept writing. Eventually something sparked out of the mess then I was out of the block.
11. How do you go about researching for a new book? Do you have any tips for others who are researching for a book?
I love research! I start with a general idea and Wikipedia. There’s some crazy and amazing stuff on Wikipedia, often far crazier than I can imagine. I let that inspire more ideas for a while. After that, I get more serious and search more concrete sources on the internet. When I find something really interesting I go to the library and check out a few books on the topic.
My tip is not to get too attached to anything at the beginning. Also, set a limit on research time. I try my best not to research during writing time because it’s far too easy to look up from the computer three hours later and not have anything written down.
OH, and documentaries. YouTube has some amazing documentaries about almost any topic you can think off. Especially about history.
12. Where do you find your inspiration for character names and place names? Do you ever name characters after people you know?
Place names are a combination of imagination and something that already exists. I draw a lot of my first story ideas from things that have actually happened historically. That gives me a mood or tone for what the place looks and sounds like. I like names that invoke a feeling or idea just by saying it.
For character names I keep a file on my phone of names I come across. I don’t name characters after people I know, but if I met someone with an interesting name during some function, and never saw/spoke to them again I’ll definitely use their name or a variation of it.
13. What are your future plans when it comes to writing or even publishing?
I hope to write as much as I can right now. I have so many ideas I want to get through at the moment. I am self-published but also hope to get traditionally published at some point. In an ideal world I would be a hybrid author, with some works that are self-pubbed and some that are traditionally published.
14. As we all love books I wondered, what are your five favourite books?
This is a hard question. I don’t know if I have favorite books as much as favorite authors. But I can say that right now I’m everything Bardugo.
Books I’ve recently fallen in love with include:
- Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
- The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
- Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman
Books I can’t stop thinking about:
- Patrick Rothfuss’s Kvothe Series, I seriously started that series like ten years ago and still patiently waiting for the third book
- Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, I’m biting my nails waiting for Crooked Kingdoms
- And, can I add the Bone Season? Ha! I think it’s impossible to pick 5
15. Can you tell us a little more about your experience with self-publishing? And do you have any advice for others planning to self publish?
I like the freedom that self-publishing gives. I would say that’s my favorite part about it. I started self-publishing after sending out queries to several publishing houses, and waiting for up to a year to hear back to get rejections or sometimes never hearing anything at all. At first that kept me in a limbo, then I realized that I could keep writing and producing work even as I waited.
That being said, it’s very hard to indie publish. All the work falls on your shoulders. From making sure you hit your deadlines [very important], to finding people to help you through the process, editors, beta readers etc. And as a student with a limited budget, it’s definitely a challenge to get people who are willing to help you for as little as possible. I’ve been lucky that I know people who can edit for no charge. But that comes with also working with their schedules, and making sure you get back constructive edits and not just copy edits or a pass through. I’ve found that I have to be very specific in what I ask in terms of edits, from story structure, plot holes, story flow etc.
For anyone wanting to publish, you have to be willing to learn and to fail. I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts about the do’s and don’ts of writing, and self-publishing. I research online what works, what doesn’t work then I try it. I think it’s very important to realize that not every piece of advice will work for you. I also spend time looking at books and reading them, educating myself to make sure I’m doing the best I can. And just as importantly, is forming connections with people who can be honest about your work. Because as objective as we try to be, there are things as a story’s creator you just can’t see and need others to tell you.
16. Finally, where can we find you on social media?
You can find me on:
Thank you for reading this week’s writer interview, I hope you found it as motivational as I did! I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Runespeaker, I dont think I have ever read a book inspired by Kenya!