How do I become a creative writer
In this series, I will introduce you to a creative profession in each episode, in conversation with someone who also practices this profession. In this interview I am talking to the author Theresa Hannig about the challenges of being a writer.
Theresa Hannig (* 1984) was born in Munich born where she currently lives with her husband and two children. Her debut is a science fiction novel entitled "The optimizers"and was with the Stefan Lübbe Prize and the Seraph 2018 excellent.
Theresa Hannig on Twitter | Theresa Hannig's blog
Manuel Schmitt: Tell us how you got into the profession of a writer!
Theresa Hannig: Actually, I've always wanted to write. I've always done that too - as soon as I could write, I would write down stories and make up something. Just for me and for the drawer, and it was relatively clear to me that it would always be a hobby. But then I won the Stefan Lübbe Prize in 2016 with a manuscript. For me that was the signal that the universe probably wants me to write. So I said to myself: if not now, then when - I'll be a real writer!
At the moment you sent in the manuscript, an internal process must have already taken place from "I'll do this for the drawer" to "I want other people to read this now" ...
As an artist, you're always so divided. On the one hand you think "Wow, am I good, what can I do, how great is that ..."
Yes I know that...
On the other hand, you think, "Wow, that's stupid what I'm doing." And in this conflict I wrote a lot, but at some point dared to take the next step. I then sent my manuscript to a bunch of publishers. Most of them didn't get anything and two or three got refusals. That was of course bitter because you put a lot of time into such a project. Shortly before resigning, I wanted to contact my editor again, whom I knew from my teenage years. Surprisingly, she then said: "Yes, ok, let's do it! I'll do the editing for you and if that is something, I'll help you with the placement." We then worked on the manuscript for another two years. Then I sent it in and it won the award straight away.
What kind of training did you have? Was that something that was already going in the direction of writing?
No not at all. I did political science with philosophy and economics as minor subjects, and programmed websites and even games on the side. I was recruited by a SAP consultant company right after my studies, on the day the certificate was awarded. There was practically nothing at all in the direction of writing. So I first worked there, changed jobs again, did a lot of other things and then slowly started to write again while I was working.
Almost like me too ...
Exactly. But then I got pregnant, stopped working and had my first child. If you then, as someone who actually works a lot with your head, only breastfeed and change diapers, then at some point you become a bread roll, you degenerate mentally. I couldn't stand that and started actively writing again - always at night when everyone else was asleep. I knew it was just for me, nobody cares, I don't have to justify myself to anyone, I just have to like it - and that is what the book "The Optimizers" became.
That's not that unusual, I think, is it? That women start writing when they are pregnant, because that is when you might find the time?
Yes exactly. On the one hand, you don't have any time because a day can go by when you just managed to clear out the dishwasher. On the other hand, you sit around all the time and think: "What am I doing with my head, with my brain?" Write, come up with something - that works quite well. Then I sleep an hour less and write an hour more instead.
Can you make a living from your writing? Bad.
How do you pay your rent? My husband works too. We can do it together.
What is the great thing about your job? I can create anything I want.
What is the difficult thing about your job? I am responsible for everything myself.
In your opinion, which authors do you really need to know? Douglas Adams, Tolkien and Khaled Hosseini.
What would you have liked to have known before you started writing? Everything about the literature business, I'm still very inexperienced.
What are you currently working on? Correcting the sequel to "The Optimizers". And on my third book.
Where do you get the inspiration for your work from?
Everywhere, all the time, from everything. I think of things all the time. I also constantly write myself emails, with ideas or characters or funny things that others tell me that you can somehow muddle up ... I have stories all the time, you have to choose which idea you can implement and which you can't ...
So is the email you write yourself a replacement for the notebook?
Yes exactly! When I write notes on my mobile phone, I don't have them on my computer or on my tablet. I write everything to myself by email.
Now you still have your children, who are an integral part of your daily routine - but what does a typical day as a writer look like for you?
I like to know it, too! There is still no real everyday life there. The plan would be for me to write while the children are in school, that is four or five hours a day - but that usually doesn't work. One is sick, the other has to be taken to school, it's always something. There is no such thing as a typical nine-to-five working day. Ideally, I am at the computer in the mornings, writing my texts, correcting them, doing correspondence or organizing readings. In the evening, when the children are in bed, between eight and twelve I can work again. But everyday life always comes in between. There are colleagues who write two novels a year and I can only flap my ears - I think that's only possible when you're single or the children are out of the house ...
How do you deal with a creative block or the fear of the blank sheet?
I usually don't even get into the situation. If I'm not in the mood, I'll do something else. I am a master of the work avoidance strategy! In a pinch, I vacuum the apartment ten times instead of writing a chapter - which is stupid! I actually know how to avoid that. For example, I would sit down and write my blog, and just typing - that mechanical function that my hands do - gets you back in. Then I can continue writing. It's actually just a matter of discipline. Even if you don't feel like it, you just write it ten times on the sheet. Then the sentence gets boring and you write something else, then you come in.
You recently posted on Twitter that you read three negative reviews on Amazon in one day. How do you deal with it, other than angrily announcing it on social media?
But that was also stupid! (laughs) Three slips in a row, all "shit, shit, shit" - what's going on now?!? People should like to write their opinion and if there is something negative about it, that's good for me - nobody should always be praised. But when so concentrated the criticism pelts down on me, then I am quite thin-skinned I have to say. Unfortunately, I can't stand hate and criticism at all, that's terrible ...
Like most artists, probably. Someone who puts their heart and soul into their project and who is said to be very good at handling criticism, is lying in my opinion. That is not how it works!
Thanks for saying that! The separation of person and work is always difficult. That might be different if I were a tax advisor. When I was still programming, that wasn't a problem at all. But when someone criticizes my texts, I find it difficult - although I find constructive criticism extremely good. I got quite a bit of feedback on "Die Optimierer" and sometimes contacted and talked to people. There were definitely things that I hadn't thought of, that I would have done differently, had I heard them during the editing phase.
Keyword editing: How important is the editing phase for a book?
Extreme important! With "Die Optimierer" it took two years! I worked on this text with my editor for a year and kept arguing with her. I tried to convince her that I was right after all and that she was wrong in her criticism. I even made an appointment to quit! And then, as is so typical, the night before our meeting I couldn't sleep and thought about how to teach her that without her being mad at me. And suddenly it does zack! and I suddenly understand what she was trying to say to me all along. Totally stupid! I suddenly understood all of this. And the next day I talk to her and say: "You know what, we don't even have to meet, I know what you mean, let me go home again! I'll change that ..." And then I - no joke - rewritten the whole book.
Partly of course only a little changed, but many chapters also completely new. Simply because the whole style, the characters, EVERYTHING didn't fit. Half of this rewritten text was then corrected once (the other half not at all) and then immediately won the prize.
In other words, an editing position is actually a position of trust.
An important question for those who want to become a writer: What sacrifices did you or did you have to make in order to be able to work as a writer?
The biggest sacrifice is likely to be financial. To make a living from writing, I think you have to live somewhere in the country where the costs are extremely low. In the coal cellar. Then it works! Maybe! So it is really very little what you earn in the beginning and you usually cannot make a living from it. This is only possible if you have a partner who deserves, or if you don't have high standards. And you really have to want it, because it is a lot of work that is often repetitive. You have to read your texts a hundred times, but I still enjoy it and like to hone it. Either you love this job and can take it, or you notice immediately: This is not for me! And it's very lonely, writing this at home. You don't actually get to socialize with people anymore. But I think everything else is great ...
Let's go to your first novel, "The Optimizers". You have already said that the award made Bastei-Lübbe-Verlag interesting for you. Why did you choose a science fiction novel?
I don't have that at all! I actually only wrote one story that I had in mind. Since distopias fall into the science fiction drawer, I'm in there now. I'm not someone who reads or watches these typical robot / space opera spaceship stories, even if there are definitely colleagues I like to read. Unfortunately, if you are in the corner of science fiction, you will be looked down upon by many. You "only" write science fiction.
I know that from fantasy too.
Exactly. Fantasy, science fiction, horror. Fantastic. In Germany you have to write literature in order to have done something decent in your life - as a writer. And that's a shame.
I also have to say that I am totally on the laces. In Germany, these genres - both in film and literature - are often neglected. This is not the case in other countries.
Exactly. What are the big stories that we all love and that whole generations are guided by? Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones - everything is fantastic. Also older texts like Alice in Wonderland.
E.T.A. Hoffmann, Edgar Allen Poe ...
Exactly - it's actually all fantastic! But for some reason that is easily forgotten these days. So I'm in this science fiction drawer and I also like to show solidarity with my colleagues who have the same problem as me. But of course I have a problem: my third book will probably be something completely different and I have to ask myself what my future as an author looks like if my third book is no longer science fiction!
What is unusual for an SF novel - I also wrote you that once by email - is the local reference to Munich and Bavaria. Was there a special thought about this local flavor?
The whole thing is set in the future and it's a little "spaced out" and "cool" and I wondered where the whole thing should play. The first idea was of course: somewhere in the USA. But then immediately came the backlash: No, why actually? I know little about the country, I have only been there once, I don't even know my way around! Much better if I let it play at home, because I know every corner. I use real place names, real city districts - clearly at home, just Munich! For those who don't know, it might be as far away as New York or Tokyo. And for those who know Munich it's funny because they know exactly where something is going on.
How long did it take from the first written word to be published?
That would really be eight years now - but I wasn't really a writer on this project, it was more of a hobby. For comparison: The second book will take about two years from the actual idea to print. But the actual paperwork was four months, plus about three months of correction.
What are you doing doctoral work and how much time does that take up?
I started the blog in June last year - three months before the book came out. I gave interviews and made a book premiere, a reading production in the theater with two actor friends. You can see it on Youtube! I try to give readings, for example in schools - in Bavaria there is utopia / distopia in the tenth grade, so my book fits in quite well. I then discuss surveillance, big data and social media with the students afterwards, how this affects our society and in a certain way threatens our freedom. A little modified, I also do these readings in libraries and adult education centers. I'm also on Twitter (but not Facebook). I'm at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year. On Friday, October 12th at 5 pm I will take part in the Science Fiction Lounge "Think Ursula" - in memory of the great SF author Ursula Le Guin, who unfortunately passed away this year.
Which creative professions are you interested in? Do you have any further questions for Theresa? Write them here in the comments!
Are you interested in other creative professions? Here you can find a list of all interviews that I have conducted so far!
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