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Spotlight on Tanya Seale!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

We really can’t tell you how happy we are that we are finally offering a workshop in scriptwriting and we’re thrilled it’s being taught by the charming and talented Tanya Seale. She’s a gifted playwright and fiction writer and we’re lucky to have her join us as an instructor. Recently, we picked her brain about her writing and writing habits and her best advice for new writers. Here’s what she had to say:

When did you start writing? In what genre(s) do you write? 

Like many writers, I spent a lot of time as a child journaling and writing stories, poems, and “shows” for the kids in my neighborhood to perform. I was a thespian all through high school and then began college right after as a theatre major with dreams of becoming an actor. Life got in the way of that dream, however, and most of my creative pursuits were put to bed.

But then, in early 2000, I had a great idea for a new product (that is still not on the market, and it is still a great idea). I did quite a lot of research and discovered I needed (quite a lot of) money to secure a patent to begin the production and distribution processes. I naively thought—because writing had always been enjoyable and easy for me, and because I’d been the kid to excel at essays when others preferred multiple choice, and because I arrogantly thought I could do better than many of the books on my kids’ bookshelves—that I could churn out a few kids’ books, make some quick money, and then use that money to work on my product idea. In retrospect, my naiveté is pretty laughable, but even if it didn’t quite work out the way I’d initially envisioned, I did need that sequence of ideas to play out exactly as they did so that I could begin nurturing my creative self again.

I dove right in and started writing for children’s magazines and found some early success, while studying and writing picture books. My books were good enough to generate the interest of literary agents, and many encouraging comments from editors and publishers, but I also kept getting feedback that said, “Your natural voice is older and much more irreverent . . .. Have you tried writing for young adults?” I struggled with this, because I knew nothing about novel writing. I’d just wanted to churn out a few quick picture books and make my fortune! At a Highlights Foundation workshop early in my career, my mentor, who writes middle grade and young adult literature came right out and said, “Why aren’t you writing for young adults?” I hemmed and hawed and told her I didn’t even know any teenagers and who was I to write for teens or adults or young adults anyway, and I guessed maybe she was right but how terribly frightening that idea was, and did she think I could write a whole novel? Really? Did she really believe that? I admitted I was mostly just looking for someone to give me the permission to stretch. She listened to me go on and on until she finally leaned in, reached for my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “I give you permission.” It was a pivotal moment, and after that, I was all in. I gave myself permission to stretch, and I started writing short stories, young adult novels, plays, screenplays, or whatever the muse told me to study and write. And so, through the years, I’ve dabbled in many forms, but these days, I mostly write contemporary realism for adults and young adults – both comedy and drama – in the forms of fiction and plays (because, remember, I’m a former theatre kid, and we always come home, don’t we?).

What surprises you about writing? What’s the hardest part?

What still surprises me and cracks me up about writing is the love/hate relationship we all have with our own work. Someone funnier than I am called it the Newbery/Dingleberry syndrome. One day we’re in love with our characters, in love with our plot, convinced we’re writing a brilliant piece of award-winning work, and the very next day we read the same piece with horror and embarrassment, unable to believe we’ve written something with such an offensive stench!

The hardest part about writing for me, next to actually sitting down and getting to work—no matter what form, what genre, what length—is getting through the middle of a piece. I’m guilty of telling myself it’s because I’m a terrible plotter, terrible outliner, terrible writer, but it’s really almost always about finding the right structure early in the piece, and then hanging the stakes and conflict around that structure.

What work are you most proud of and why? 

I am most proud of any work that still moves me after letting it rest for a month or more.

What are you working on now? 

I am working on a few new pieces – a short story and a couple of short plays, but my big project is a new full-length play. It’s too early in the process to say much more about it, because when I do, the project almost always loses its energy. I can only say it’s a family dramedy set in a rented RV. I’m also working on submitting my existing work more often, on a more disciplined schedule. Fun fact: you can’t place work that is just sitting in a file folder on your hard drive!

If you could give only one piece of advice to new writers, what would it be? 

I’ve been given a lot of great advice through the years – “Write every day, don’t give up, don’t settle for mediocrity in your work or from the industry in return for your work….” But the best advice I’ve ever been given was from an undergrad fiction instructor who said if you really feel called to be a writer, find a day job you don’t mind doing and where you’ll make just enough money to put groceries on the table. But not one that requires you to be on call, not one that requires you to think about the work when you’re not there, and not one that saps you of your intellectual and creative energy. “Go to that job, do it well, and then go home and do the thing you love most and were born to do,” he said. At the time, I thought it sounded a bit lazy to look for a job one simply does well, but I went on to do exactly that, and it is the smartest life advice I’ve ever heard and heeded.