Hannah J. Shaw was (and remains) my saving grace. As the author, writer, inspiration and creativity behind the impressive Lizard is Writing, Hannah provides advice to writers of all levels. From conceiving more enthralling or intricate plot lines to simply bettering a piece of writing or overall writing style, Hannah guides writers all over the world. Back to why Hannah is my favorite human being of all time. (She’s incredibly humble, so either blushing or giggling while reading these words). When I mentioned to Hannah that I was considering building a blog of my own, she immediately jumped into my belief bubble and rapidly expanded it with me. She provided advice on the most trivial of questions (e.g., which WordPress plan to start out with), and religiously encourages my very-beginner-level posts. Saving. Grace. I’m going to stop pumping her up here, because I know she will never allow a “behind-the-scenes” chat again, but I did think it was appropriate to launch Miss Independent’s first Inspirational People piece with Lizard (a.k.a Hannah, shh….) because you wouldn’t be reading this without her immense support, and, well, because her writing rocks.
Miss Independent: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Lizard: Oh, too long ago. I’ve been wanting to write since I was a kid. I’ve heard that happens with a lot of writers. I still have old journals I used to write in from the time I was six or seven years old. I don’t think I really started pursuing writing seriously until college. During my freshman year at Holy Cross, I was randomly assigned a creative writing class to take for the full year. I was a Classics major at the time so writing wasn’t really on my mind. Around November, my Creative Writing professor pulled me aside and said, “I think this is something you could have a future in.” I was never the best at translating Virgil, so I took “Fiction Writing 101” fall of my sophomore year and never looked back.
Miss Independent: What is your favorite piece of writing?
Lizard: It’s funny, I’ve talked to a few other writers about this and I think it’s pretty common, but usually by the time a piece of mine is published, it’s lost all excitement for me. Publishing can take awhile, and often, even if I’ve loved something by the time it’s in the public eye it’s not my favorite anymore. I’ve already moved on. My favorite pieces are always the ones still yet to come. At the moment, I’m really excited about a series of stories I’m writing that are retellings of popular urban legends. I’m writing one on a Chicago legend, “Resurrection Mary” that delves into the certain and uncertain history surrounding the legend.
Miss Independent: What is the best book you’ve read?
Lizard: That is such a tough question! I think my favorite book changes every few months. I’m a big fan of Faulkner, so I love Absalom, Absalom!, As I Lay Dying, and The Sound and the Fury. I also love Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House, Hangsaman, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is another one I also read again and again, and also The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I also think there’s a lot of really interesting things happening in the horror genre right now. Some of the books I’m really excited about are Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, and My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.
Miss Independent: What inspired you to start your own blog?
Lizard: I started my blog for the exact reasons I now advise against – someone told me a good writer should have a blog and I listened. If you’re a writer who thinks you need to have a blog, the honest truth is that you don’t. My early posts were random and not particularly heartfelt, but as I kept blogging I found that it was really cathartic to talk openly about the writing process and suddenly other writers began reaching out asking me to write an article on a craft question they were struggling with. I later rebranded, clarified that I was a blogger who discussing writing as a craft and the blog became Lizard is Writing.
Miss Independent: How did you decide to take the leap and get a masters? What line of study did you pursue?
Lizard: Yeah, so I recently got my MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College where I was in their speculative fiction track. I made the decision to go after some pretty strong urging from my writing mentors at Holy Cross and I’m really glad that I did. The MFA, while it’s not necessarily something you need to become a great writer, it more than anything gives you time and guidance to develop as a writer and just “be a writer.” It’s not exactly a well-known fact, but most writers have to have a day job. Harper Lee was an airline ticketing agent, Kafka worked as an insurance clerk, Kerouac washed dishes and picked up odd jobs, Agatha Christie was a pharmacist assistant. It’s one of those things a lot of writers don’t talk about, but doing the MFA in a lot of ways means taking time off from all that other stuff and just focusing on writing for awhile.
Miss Independent: What is your favorite piece of feminist literature?
Lizard: So, I have two favorites that I’m always recommending. First, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Carter retells a number of classic fairy tales in a way that still feels shockingly new and up to date (though it was published in the 70’s). I also love Women Who Run With the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés which is a nonfiction book that explores myths and folktales to explore femininity and power.
Miss Independent: What advice would you give to younger women pursuing a career in writing (or even writing as a hobby)?
Lizard: My blog, Lizard is Writing, is full of advice. I think the major points that I come back to time and time again are: 1) Just keep writing. Finish the drafts you start. And 2) Read across genres. Read essays, read nonfiction, read poetry. Read the classics, and science fiction. Read romances and history books. Read everything. You might not like everything, but you never know until you try it. So, after that as for actual career advice, I’ve talked to so many young people who tell me, “When I grow up, I want to be a writer.” I love to hear it, but in a lot of cases, when I do, there’s always a kind of unrealistic expectation around what the “life of the writer” looks like financially. There are writers who make a living from their writing, but for a lot of them, it didn’t happen overnight. Also, a lot of the writers I know who make a living off their writing don’t live off their novels. They tend to be freelance writers, which is great if that’s something you love, but I know it’s not for me. There are successful novelists who can make a living off their novels, but it’s not something I see very often, and usually it takes having written a few novels to get to the point where that’s a possibility. I know writers who go into teaching and that will always be a popular track, but a lot of writers I know work jobs that are not related to writing and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Miss Independent: How do you relax?
Lizard: Oddly enough, I work out. I used to think people who did that had to be Patrick Bateman-level psychopaths to really say that, but I suddenly became one of them. When I’m stressed, I like to go for a run. I also practice yoga, vinyasa yoga – and drink way, way too much tea. But don’t worry, I also do the normal stuff like take bubble baths, drink red wine, and light a lot of scented candles – I’m a Pisces, so of course I do.
Miss Independent: What is the best place you’ve travelled to?
Lizard: Oh, good question! My favorite destination yet has been Prague. It’s a beautiful city that’s known for, among other things, absinthe and vampires. I had the chance to go once a few years ago and fell in love with the place. It’s apparently now also a hot spot for expat writers not completely unlike Paris in the 20’s.
Hannah J. Shaw is a short story writer based out of Queens where she lives with her husband, Jake. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and she is the blogger behind Lizard is Writing.