Here’s my interview with the amazing writer & speaker Jessica Smith (who also writes under the pen name Paula Jean Ferri)! In this interview, Jessica talks about why writing matters to her, writing to make a difference & inspire, & gives a lot of awesome advice about writing!
1. Tell us a little bit about what you do.
I am a writer and speaker encouraging differences and healthy mindsets in regards to our personal relationships to ourselves.
2. How long have you been writing? Was there a specific moment that you decided to become a writer?
Well, I’ve been a journal writer since I was about 8, and an avid bookworm long before that. I dabbled a little in writing when I was younger, but that disappeared for a long time as I attempted to find a “stable job.” In college, I opted out of an internship to write a senior paper instead. This paper was unique and my college professors strongly encouraged me to publish it. As I continued to work on it and expand the ideas, it became my first book, Awkwardly Strong and from the moment I hit publish, I was addicted and HAD to do it again. So now that I am pursuing life as a full time writer, I feel like my life has come full circle.
3. What is your favorite part about being a writer? What do you enjoy most about writing non-fiction?
I love hearing other’s stories. I love it when they share with me the impact and difference my writing has on them. Especially considering writing non-fiction is almost like writing in my journal. I have all these ideas and resources and experiences floating in my head and I’m simply sharing what is in my head, which makes writing a lot easier than fiction, where you constantly have to fact check, see if this will work or not, and all the changes when it doesn’t work out. Non-fiction is so much more straightforward.
4. How do you approach writing a new book? How do you decide what to write about? Do you write an outline & make plans, or do you just start writing?
I’ve started books both ways and my best results come from a mixture of the two. I start with an outline that is pretty much like a table of contents, but when I sit down, it just flows like a conversation might. So I usually have to move a few things around because as I write the direction might change a bit from where I originally intended it.
5. What is the best investment you’ve made in yourself/your writing career?
The best investment I’ve made is in myself. In 2017, I quit working full time to focus on writing for about six months. That six months made a HUGE difference in my understanding and ability. That was also when (and why) I started investing in mentors that have really jump started my career. Richie Norton, Benjamin Hardy and Richard Paul Evans have done so much for my writing in such a condensed amount of time and given me tools that are irreplaceable. They were worth so much more than I paid for their courses and time.
6. Who are some of your favorite authors or books & why? What is your favorite underrated book or author?
This is a hard question for someone who reads as much as I do!I love the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling), the Michael Vey series (Richard Paul Evans), Books of Bayern (Shannon Hale), Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis), Gallagher Girls (Ally Carter), Faerie Tale Collection (Jenni James) and those are just the fiction series. I love alternate tellings of fairy tales in particular, just because the stories are classic for a reason, and I love to see the unique views that people put on them. Under appreciated authors include Jessie Holmes, Shannon Hale and Morgan Rice. Again, mostly fiction, because non-fiction is often just underappreciated in general. Which makes sense, stories are always easier to read than information.
7. What advice would you give your younger writer self? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I would tell myself to just do it. For years I said, “Someday I’ll publish a book.” It’s now one of my biggest pet peeves. Someday is code for, “I want to do it without the commitment.” Whether that be the work, the time, etc, it’s a cop-out for “I want to, but not really.” Someday doesn’t exist. I wasted so much time waiting for someday to arrive. I got tired of waiting. The best advice I ever received actually has nothing to do with writing directly. It was, “Advice is just that- advice. You are the one who has to find out if it is good advice or bad advice.”
8. What things outside of other books & authors influence & inspire your work? (Films, music, people, your past, your hopes, the world around you, etc?)
People. Patterns and stories are everywhere, and as I talk things out with friends and family, their wisdom and insights shed light on my experiences.The more I learn, the less I realize I know. The more diverse the experiences I have, the more I am able to connect two very different ideas and see patterns life creates around us. People are wonderful.
9. What is the best way to market your books?
I’m still learning what works best for me. There are so many different options and people always say they found what works, but it is usually what works best for them. There are so many different experiences and ways to reach the end result. When I figure it out, I’ll get back to you and let you know. 😉
10. What’s a common bad writing habit you’ve noticed with your own work or other writers & how do you fix it? What is one of your favorite GOOD writing habits, tricks, or devices that you love when you see other authors use it?
My bad writing habit would probably be not paying attention to the grammar, syntax, and all the things you would think writers would pay attention to… I figure that’s what editors are for. They do a great job at it and are also worth every penny I spend on them to fix my bad habits. I am studying to learn and improve though. Can’t fix what you don’t know.
I am however, good at just hitting publish and I love reading what others have published. I get SO excited when author friends tell me great story ideas and then finally tell me they are publishing! It is a scary thing, especially if you want things to be perfect. However, something that has been proven to be good advice for me is that prolific is better than perfect. Just get it done and learn as you go. It’s great to see your progress and you see more growth than waiting for something to be perfect and realize no one is really looking anyways. Hitting publish makes others stop and look at what you are doing, because they can see the time and effort you are putting into your work.
11. Have you published books with a traditional publisher or self-published? What are some of the pros & cons of each?
I am currently self-published, but open to traditional publishing. I like being self-published because I love being involved in the entire process from A to Z. I like writing, I like marketing, I like learning and it is good accountability for me. I can’t blame anyone if things go wrong. It means I have something new to learn and step up doing. It is a lot of time and work, which makes growth a little bit slower.
Traditional publishing you automatically have a team of experts to help, but rarely are they as passionate and involved as you are in your own work. And they take a cut of the profits. It also carries more weight of authority, but that can come from other sources as well.
12. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Does any aspect of it relate to what you do now? What was your favorite book as a kid?
I was never the kid with clear ambitions. Reading was about the only constant in my life, and I was always finding new things to be interested in, which was the perk of reading since I couldn’t always experience things first hand in the little town I grew up in. Which ironically, has been a huge benefit to writing. One of my favorite parts is the fact that I can study something new with each new project, or make a series and go in depth with one particular subject.
When I was younger I loved historical fiction, so I read Little House on the Prairie series multiple times, as well as the Great Brain series. I also read Chronicles of Narnia several times, that was really the only break from history that I read. I also loved the Dear America series.
13. What has been your biggest challenge or setback, & how did you handle it? How did it help your writing?
In life in general or as an author? Hahaha! The hardest things I’ve experienced have made being an author seem like cake walk, and I talk about them in my second book, Tragically Strong. As an author, I guess just the frustration of not growing as quickly as I would like to. It’s a slow process trying to grow a business, especially while working a full time job and trying to balance sleep, a social life, and day to day living.
14. What’s something about you or your creative work that most people don’t know but you wish they did?
That this is an expensive process. Between the hours I spend on a project, paying editors, designers, formatters and promotions (thought I do fairly well in keeping costs down). Even with two published works, I haven’t even come close to breaking even on my first one, much less the costs of the second, the maintenance cost for domains, emails and software that helps me keep things up and running. Maybe that is the most frustrating part, I invest SO much into what I do, and have hundreds of people say, “That’s so great! Where can I get it, I want a copy” which translates into maybe 3 sales. And the ones that buy it, don’t often read it or finish it. I put my heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into every project and feel like it’s not making a difference, I’m just talking to myself in an empty room. While it is frustrating, it’s also a good reminder to me that I do this, not for the success, but because I love it, because it is therapeutic for me and maybe, if I’m lucky and do well enough with this, maybe it can help someone else, too. That would make it all worth it.
15. Why do you do what you do? What drives you to be successful/keeps you interested in what you do?
Well, I feel like I answered that a bit in the last question! I do it because I like it. It’s fun and has helped me to learn and grow in ways I never could have imagined. Best of all, it gives me a chance to serve and expand my reach to more people than I could influence just living life from day to day. It’s given me purpose and direction. It makes me excited to wake up in the mornings and something to work for rather than drifting listlessly through life bored out of my mind.
16. What’s your favorite quote, & how does it relate to or inspire you & your approach to your writing?
“Don’t get discouraged, get creative.” – Richie Norton. When I was little, I never saw myself as much of a creative type. Sure, I had dabbled a bit in writing, but that was probably the only “creative” stint I really had. I never understood the concept of imaginary friends, I was more of a student than someone who liked to play games, etc. I wanted to be creative, and didn’t think it was possible, until I realized the different ways to creatively connect the world around us, so it’s like the best of both worlds. I get to be creative with reality. Problem solving is creativity, so while I feel like my books are telling it like it is, I’m creating something that never existed before and I get to create answers to problems, which does make it hard to get discouraged.
17. If you could be the author of any book ever written, what book would it be & why?
I really wish I could have written The Alchemist. This is what I aspire to write, a beautifully written story with layers of profound truth. I just think it’s so beautiful. I read it at least once a year and always manage to find something new.
18. What are some of your biggest goals for the year ahead?
My biggest goals for the coming year are to create an online course and publish my third book. To have both of those up and running within the next year while working a full time job will be a bit of a stretch for me, especially with smaller goals and projects I am also working on.
19. What are some of your longer-term goals?
Long term I am looking at not only writing, but to be a speaker and mentor for those who struggle with being different. I will continue to write books as well, that will be a constant. I enjoy it too much. I want to change the culture that we live in for those who are different in any way, but especially for those with neurodiversities. People like me with Tourette Syndrome, or those with autism, asperger’s and so on. It can be frustrating and difficult to have a brain that is wired differently, but it can also be so wonderful. I want people to see that.
20. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
People are great. You are a person. YOU are great.
Read more on Jessica here ::