The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Barbara Bietz

The writer muses on finding opportunities when you’re stuck, the work it takes to move beyond inspiration and letting go at the right time.

Barbara Bietz is an award-winning children’s author, magazine writer, book reviewer and chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. Her YA novel, Like a Maccabee (Yaldah Publishing), was a Midwest Book Award Merit Winner. She writes a monthly column for FamiliesOnlineMagazine.com, and her reviews appear in Jewish Book World Magazine and the Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter.


Meredith: The Talmud says that “Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’” Do you have a personal interpretation for what this means to you as a writer?
Barbara: Even a blade of grass is so significant that an Angel sees its divine potential and encourages it to grow. Every thing, every being that exists has a divine purpose. I may feel my voice doesn’t matter – that others are more eloquent, more worthy of being heard. But in a divine sense, everything counts and is unique unto itself – even a blade of grass. The challenge is to be like the blade of grass, listen to the hushed tone of the Angel, bend with its breath, dance to its rhythm and grow, grow.



Meredith:
Taking the stance that creativity is a natural state, how do you view getting stuck?
Barbara: Creativity is a natural state, but so is getting stuck. Like the ebb and flow of the tide, there is a time for high-energy work, and a time for quiet stillness. Getting stuck is a time to listen more carefully to the inner voice. It is time to think, to ask questions of yourself and your characters. Getting stuck is an opportunity to stand back and ask, “What do I need?” It can also be an opportunity to regroup and nurture other aspects of your creativity – often resulting in a flood of new ideas. The hard part is giving in to being stuck, and letting the process take you to a new place.

 

Meredith: Do your stories create the characters or do the characters create the story?
Barbara: Initially I have a story idea and create characters that will tell the story for me. Once I start writing, the characters begin to take shape and they decide which way the story will go.

Meredith: Does inspiration feel like something particular or specific to you? For example, do ideas come to you in words or images, sounds or something else?
Barbara: Ideas tend to come to me in images, which I turn into words. I often have a visceral sense of what I want to create – I can see it in my mind and feel it in my heart, but finding the perfect words to translate the image is the most trying part of the writing process. I know what I feel, but will I be able to project the emotion so a reader can feel it?

[Here it felt right to ask whether there was a telling moment, or how she knew something was worth following–so I did.] Barbara said: “Aha” moments do occur for me but usually after some knee deep soul searching or researching a related topic that brings me to a small flicker of information that lights a spark. A gut feeling may drive the soul searching or the research but it usually takes hard work to move beyond initial inspiration.Meredith: How do you not hold on so tight to a piece of writing that isn’t working (that you wish would work) and let go so you can discover what will work?
Barbara: Letting go is a painful process. My problem is letting go at the right time. It’s easy to hold on too long, but it is also easy to let go too soon. Finding the middle spot is my challenge. Sometimes I have a fear of commitment to my writing. I become very invested in the process, and then I start to doubt the plot, the characters, or the outcome. Writing a story is like being in a relationship. There are highs and lows, tough spots that can be worked through, and some that can’t be fixed. Even stories that are set aside are an important part of a writer’s growth. Sometimes it takes a story that doesn’t work to help a writer dig even deeper to find one that does.
Barbara lives in southern California (with her family and beloved dogs) where she is at work on another book. Visit her blog devoted exclusively to children’s literature by clicking here. Selected interviews from her blog are also featured in Jewish Book World Magazine.