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In last week’s podcast we talked about the importance of having a clear and compelling vision for your writing. But it can be difficult to craft that vision when you’re just starting out and maybe you haven’t written anything yet, or when you don’t feel like you can really call yourself a writer because it isn’t your day job. And when that’s the case, the journey to becoming comfortable thinking of yourself as a writer can take some serious effort – not only plenty of writing, but also efforts to organize your life in order to make the necessary room for your writing identity and vision to emerge and take shape.
Today I’m talking with Keely Thrall, romance writer and sister of the podcast. Keely shares with us how she got the writing bug and her evolution from self-identifying as what she calls a “writer who doesn’t write” to a writer who writes every morning and now teaches and mentor other writers.
Trevor Thrall 0:00
All right. Kelly, thanks for joining me on the podcast. Great to see you today. Good to be here. Thanks for inviting me. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Family First, right. It’s good to have family as the first guest on the podcast. And yeah, I’m really excited because you and I have been talking about writing for many, many years now. I mean, I don’t even know how many years that would be. But this is the first time we’re going to talk about writing together in front of other people, which I think is kind of exciting. That’s, you know, after a lifetime of writing on both our parts to finally be doing this feels appropriate in some way. So thanks for joining me. So just for our audience here, Kiel. Why don’t you tell us what you’re writing? What are you working on right now?
Keely Thrall 0:50
Right. So I’m working on sort of globally, a series of romances connected through the heroes, the three brothers and a dad. And I’m working on the middle brother story right now, their contemporary romance with what in the romance world we call a high heat level. So Lots of fun,
Trevor Thrall 1:18
lots of fun, fantastic, fantastic. And, you know, one of the things that I’m not sure we’ve ever discussed, but I would really like to know, now is when exactly did you get the writing bug? Because I can’t remember when that must have been.
Keely Thrall 1:33
You know, it’s, it’s actually hard for me to remember as well, I, I know that in high school, when I first started reading romance, I have some memories of jotting down like, Oh, I’m going to have heroine and she’s going to go to a ball. And like writing down what the like the ball gown looked like. But like not having any idea like, where to go from there. And then I remember also like, Well, my hero is going to be named Leo and my heroine is going to be named kitty. Isn’t that cute? They’re like, again, didn’t know where to go. Right. Then college mostly read, you know, sort of worked on my writing, because that’s what you do in college, but not any sort of fiction writing. And then, in graduate school, I went to graduate school for film and video production, and took a screenwriting class and I just blew at it. I was so bad. Like, really bad. And I think that’s where I first got a taste of perfectionism. We’ll come back to that. But but I kind of knew, then I think that’s when I really first started describing myself as a writer who didn’t write. Hmm,
Trevor Thrall 2:55
yeah. And so, you know, yeah, that’s a good pivot. Because, you know, from from being a being a person who writes for school, or who has thought about it some but hasn’t jumped in yet. I mean, to go from there, where you were back saying college, to where you are today, when I and I think anyone who meets you and talks to you for more than about five minutes, knows what a big part of your life writing now is. And so I think it would be really interesting for folks, if you could just kind of walk us through that, that journey, that evolution that you made from a kid in college, who was thinking about it, but hadn’t done it yet to where you are now you’ve written all sorts of stuff, right?
Keely Thrall 3:42
So after graduate school, I was, I guess, maybe actually in graduate school, like right at the tail end, I was interning at an editing video editing house. And this guy came in to get his his little PSA, not PSA. But like his advertising self advertising video, news called the question, man, I mean, basically looked like the Riddler. He had a suit with question marks on it. And he basically was flogging a book that was like how to get free money, like 5 million ways to get free money. Well, one of I’m not sure how this connects with free money. But one of the things that was listed in in that book was the romance Writers of America. I had never heard of them before. And, and they but they had a phone number. So I called them up and I said, What is this organization? And I had actually, I guess this was before grad school was over. I’d had like an inkling that maybe as a reader of romance, I might do a video like a documentary about romance writers that I went to my first meeting and I was like, Oh, this is cool. You mean anybody can join, all join, you know? And so then I just started going to meetings. And occasionally would, like, get the inspiration to write a scene, or something like that. And I’d share it with like my one friend in the organization. And she says, oh, Kelly, you have such a great voice, right more and be like, but what? So that that continued for a few years, where I was doing a lot of intensive study, right, it’s really easy for me to learn things, especially when I’m motivated by interest. And it’s comfortable, right, like five, there’s no outcome that is necessary, I can stay in learn mode forever. But then I was invited into a critique group. So I have to like, show my work. So I got about three chapters into a paranormal romance, a fantasy romance, where I killed off a character who was really charming, and fun. And it kind of brought the tone of the book like we’re, I had no idea where to go, right. So I quit writing, I started to kept going to classes. And I kept going to, to my critique group, but I had no idea what to write. Well, that critique group kind of faded away, and I entered into a new critique group. And they’re like, well, send us your stuff. And they’re like, Well, does this guy have to die? Like, no. But what was the other ones but he doesn’t have to stay dead. He could be just mostly dead, right. And so that’s what I ended up doing. He started he was mostly been stabbed, bar fight, as you know, bar fights and fantasy kind of go hand in hand. But, um, what was cool about this, the second critique group is that romance Writers of America for a long time had a an international contest for unpublished writers called the golden heart. And we compacted to write our manuscripts and send them into this contest, the contest had a date that you had to send it in by and headquartered deadline, and a word count that you had to reach. So it was 50,000 words, something I had never considered being capable of writing. How many pages is that? I still like you can do the math, but it’s a lot more than a 20 page term paper, you know. So with this sort of shared goal, and the excitement of a deadline all is well, I finally, yay, huge accomplishment for like my first manuscript, right? Big, big deal. And then I didn’t know what to do to revise it. And so I didn’t write for a while, still went to critique groups. At that point, am I still answering the right question here? I really shouldn’t write it. Okay. So at that point, at that point, I guess I’d been in rW a for about 10 years, I’ve done a lot of volunteer work. So I had a pretty good network of people. I had my critique group.
But what, what came after the golden heart was my critique group started meeting on the weekends for writing dates. So we sort of merged work and pleasure, right work and our community. Sounds like a good day. No, it was fantastic. But they were sporadic. You know, we might get two or three sessions in a month. But that’s not was it? Was that the primary time that you would write? Or would you write other days as well, mostly just on the weekends, mostly just on the weekend, so So basically, so we start from being a writer who doesn’t write to being a writer who writes when inspired to being a writer who could figure out how to write under a deadline to being a writer who writes sporadically, right writes, when, when there’s an appointment. At the same time, I started actually meeting up with a friend who was a stay at home mom, once a week, for a Tuesday, dinner and in writing. That ended up morphing into something that we call now Tuesday night rights. And for a good 10 years. Every Tuesday, I just invite anybody who want to come we would break bread together, and then we’d write for a couple of hours. And when we do, we’d end the group and sort of check in Hey, how was your spring up. At some point in there, I realized that writing dates are really good for me. And I became more intentional about them. And so and then also about five years, and so about maybe four or five years ago, I got involved with the better faster Academy. So there’s a Strengths Finder, gallop Strength Finders coach named Becca Syme, and she is a writer herself, and she coaches 1000s of writers. And she, Strength Finders is one of those personality tests that you can kind of figure out like how you float through the world, the world all that sort of thing. Working with her, she asked me this very important question. So one of the things I really like to do is to mentor other people and support other people and cheer them on their way. It’s just endemic to who I am. If I if I, if I don’t have that outlet, then I am I get depressed, right? Sure. Um, but so she, she asked me a question that basically was like, in five years, are you going to be happy that you mentored all these other people to get their books out? And be, you know, basically happy that you haven’t gotten your book out? Or? Or like, is that a is that a? Is that a happy future for you? Is that the vision you’re looking for? Oh, you know, I still want to help people, I still want to mentor and all that sort of thing. But then I then I got a more intentional, I think I’ve always been serious about my writing, but more intentional and figuring out how my habits systems needed to change in order to just get more content out. Pardon me, so I am I need sir. Sorry. Go ahead.
Unknown Speaker 12:21
Unknown Speaker 12:23
so based on that,
Keely Thrall 12:27
on her advice, or her question, you know, her illuminating question, what is it to you want Geely? Not what other people want? What do you want? I started going into work and writing for an hour before work every day. Yeah. And then when COVID hit, I took a few months off, like a lot of people. And then had a afternoon sort of cohort class or whatever that asked another defining question. If not, now, when? And then the follow up, of course, if not you who? And I was like, Well, okay, I’m done taking rest from
Unknown Speaker 13:07
writing. I, I,
Keely Thrall 13:10
I always feel guilty when I’m not writing. So it’s always when I’m in a writing habit. Right. And so I set up a zoom
you know, a dozen people that we meet in the mornings, we meet on the weekends, and we’ve done a lot of writing time during the last, you know, year and a half.
Trevor Thrall 13:29
Fantastic. That’s really awesome. Yeah, so so as you look back over, over that evolution that you’ve kind of been through, what were the things that were sort of most important do you think in in helping you move forward in helping you embrace the feeling that you know, you are a writer or or that that built the identity that where you started just feeling like, I’m right, because I, I talked to a lot of people who, I think imposter syndrome, or they don’t give themselves permission to, to, to write because they feel like, I haven’t passed whatever test that the universe is supposed to give me that proves I’m a writer. And so they tiptoe around or they don’t do it. They don’t feel comfortable. They don’t show people things. But you’ve kind of been through these, what were the are the most important things for you, do you think? Um,
Keely Thrall 14:21
so one of the first important things was showing my work to other people, right? getting feedback, getting honest feedback, getting routine feedback. I didn’t agree with everything. any of my creditors didn’t matter. It was a perspective that I was able to, you know, do something with entering contests, same sort of idea that those are people that they don’t know you’re supposed to be funny. So if they liked it, maybe you had something Right, absolutely. So feedback, little honest feedback. Then another was a You know, this does, I think, dovetail with imposter syndrome. But a big theme in my life has been waiting for permission. And so that’s kind of like waiting for inspiration or waiting for somebody else to invite me to a writing date. I, I now reach out for what I want. Yeah. So no longer feel guilty that I’m not internally motivated to write that I need an external structure. And I make that internal structure happen. Absolutely.
Trevor Thrall 15:33
Create the structure and then obey. Right. That’s a that is a very common theme, I think in a lot of the literature about, you know, motivating yourself. I think a lot of people, maybe all of us need some version of that to be our most sort of happily productive selves.
Keely Thrall 15:52
Well, it’s. Yeah, work with the flow, not against flow, right. Yeah. And like, Don’t punish yourself for being the way you are. Right? yourself to be better at how you are. Exactly. That’s a real strengthsfinder sort of, Oh, absolutely.
Trevor Thrall 16:11
I used to beat myself up for what I call puttering all the time, because I would hit a point where my what my deep work was done for the day, for whatever reason, I would of course, always feel guilty if I stopped, you know, doing research or writing. But it turned out that I was missing the fact that my puttering, always, always centered around some other interests. And when I figured out that it was my pottering that led me to all my new, innovative creative projects, I stopped feeling so guilty, and I realized I need to just obey who I am. And lean into that, because that actually turns out to be a great source of inspiration, motivation, fun, and so on. Yeah, that’s good advice.
Keely Thrall 16:54
Yeah. I mean, I, you introduced me to the term if you can’t do offense to defense, yeah. Right. Like if you are not even if you’re blocked, but if you’re sort of done with a segment and it’s not time to move forward, there are other things that you can do that will keep you in, you know, either in your lane or jumping into a new lane, but still own in the direction you want to go in that sort of thing.
Trevor Thrall 17:19
So Right. Right. And, and our wha that’s been such a big part of your sort of time in the Washington DC area, which is coming up on a long time now but but I’m having a community seems like it’s been a really big bolster and support for you, but both your writing groups of which, you know, you’ve been a part in started so many, but also our wha, that’s been a really interesting part of your life.
Keely Thrall 17:45
Yeah. I never, you know, at the beginning of it wasn’t in I mean, it was intentional to go to the first meeting, right, of course, but I had no idea what what would come from it. Right. So I didn’t know there was the community out there. I didn’t know I needed a community. Like there’s so many things I would have told my younger self. But yeah, I if I, I have always Alright, so it’s hard to talk about our w eight now. Because for the last couple of years, rW as has been reverberating with the same things that are going on in our in our country as a whole. Right, we’ve had reckonings with systemic racial injustice, and and that’s been hard, right. So as a white woman, I got a lot out of art of UAE. So I can speak to that I did. It was a great mentoring system. For me. I just need to acknowledge that wasn’t always a great mentoring system for everybody else. But, you know, I think I have a metaphor for my life that that I got in college, one of the one of the dorms that I was in had dining room table that was round, all the other ones were square, this one was round, kind of over in a nook corner with a window. And it got to be sort of midway through the first semester, people would just kind of join us, right, join the table or whatever. And the question was always, hey, is there room? And the answer was always there’s always room in the round table. And my conception of rW a is that there was always room didn’t matter what you wrote, it didn’t matter where you were on your journey of writing. It didn’t matter what your goals were around the writing. It mattered that you wanted to show up and to be a part of This community, absolutely. And that the community was also centered on like, love is love, right? My section of the community Love is love. So that was huge. So that’s our VA is a national organization. I think it had good bones. It had good DNA. And then my organization, Washington romance writers have some of the best foundational DNA for how to be a group. Right? It is. It is supportive. It has been welcoming. Again, speaking from a white person’s point of view, it hasn’t always been that. Yeah. Do you think we’ve gotten better, more intentional. And as a group, we’re stronger now for having gone through the troubles that we have.
Trevor Thrall 20:54
So if you are going to give some advice to your younger self, or to others out there, maybe young Ling’s maybe people who are trying to figure out where writing is going to fit into their life. And I know, this is especially hard for people who have day jobs that don’t maybe allow them a lot of flexibility. But what are some what are some of these keys if you had to sort of wrap it up for people? What are the two or three things that would really help?
Keely Thrall 21:21
So community I think is important. We let me start over. figuring out why you write I am not all that huge on the Purpose Driven Life, but figuring out like, what kind of writing you want to do, how you want to go about doing it, like do some exploration around that early, so that you can figure out whether or not you need to feel guilty that you don’t write every day or, you know. And then and then sort of combined with that is how do you act in the world? Are you someone who needs external structure? Or are you someone who needs to write in? You know? Yeah, how you act in the world is an important one. It’s hard not to be more specific than that, but
Trevor Thrall 22:19
know thyself, right? That’s, I mean, that’s, you know, what do you what do you need? What do you want? Where are you trying to get in your life with your writing? I mean, those are some basic questions that are probably good starting places. Yeah.
Keely Thrall 22:29
And then I guess the, maybe the last one there that it’s, again, sort of a more over arching thing is twofold, I guess, be willing to experiment. test things out, you know, right alone, right with people, right online, right? for foreign audience, right for yourself, all that sort of thing. different lengths, different formats, different everything, right? Because just because you think you’re a fiction writer, maybe you’re not maybe you’re actually on writer, maybe you’re, you know, whatever. And then the other one is in the exploration. Be kind to yourself, because not everything is gonna work. Right? So it’s not about perfectionism. It’s about kind of figuring out who and how. Yeah,
Trevor Thrall 23:22
I think yeah, that that resilience is something that I think all writers have to build you know, over time, because you can’t do everything right the first time second time. 30th time and you know, you’ll get pushback and negative feedback for anything you publish or write ever so you can’t be about being perfect. That’s for darn sure. I don’t I’ve never written anything. Somebody couldn’t find something to criticize a lot roundly. You might be the first person to criticize it right? also probably true. I saw the inside so
Keely Thrall 23:59
there’s a great Ira Glass. I don’t know if it’s a video or just audio where he talks about how new artists there they’re they have tastes right they’ve gotten into the arts because they have some level of taste. And yet what their first efforts are, suck so they think they suck or whatever. And what they have really is just a growth art they need to be on so stay with your growth art. Don’t give up. Right. But mostly, I think I’d tell people like, Get a move on. You don’t have all all your life. I mean, you do have only life but like, you don’t know how long that’s gonna be. Not to be gross. But yeah. But then like balancing that right. Balancing that is you’re not behind start now. Right? You’re not behind.
Trevor Thrall 24:56
Yeah, now’s a good place to start. Now essentially, the only place You can start. Absolutely. Well, on that note, Gail, Thanks again so much for joining us today. Everybody out there, start now, and until we see you again, happy writing thanks so much