Author and Highlights Foundation faculty member Sarah Aronson joined Cat Galeano on Instagram Live to talk about Sarah’s mini-course Write the Novel Only YOU Can. Watch the conversation below. (Please note: closed captions are available in the video below. You can see them by hovering over the bottom of the video and choosing the “CC” icon.)
About Community: Sarah believes that “everything is about community.” She has just won the Prairie Writer’s Award for an Illinois writer and says “I could never have done anything without the community, and the community cheering me on just reminded me: it was just like, YES! That’s who we are, that’s how we roll.”
About Persistence: “It takes a long time to write a good book. It also takes feeling vulnurable, it takes time, it takes digging, it takes deleting, and then reimagining.”
Some Inspiration: “Write the novel…I mean it. I want you to tap into your inner genius, I want you to not be afraid of who you are, I want you to think about the things that matter to you and that will sustain you and inspire you and help you play productively—without having to search too far.”
About Bossing Your Characters: “And that’s where theme and the inner genius are in lockstep, is that when you are tapped into the themes that are important to you—for me, heroism, justice creativty, play—those ideas manifest themselves as characters and those charcters come to life in a way that allows me to sort of say what I want to say. Cause I’m still the boss–sorry, characters!”
About the Mini-Course: “For this, with the mini we’ll really get you motivated and rarin’ to go for a whole year of exploration, discovery, joy. I believe in eating dessert first and I think that talking about the novel that only you can write is, in a sense, what dessert is. For me, it’s saying “I’m going to have a good time here. I’m going to find my voice, through my joy, through the things that matter to me.”
Cat: That was super-smooth! I’m so hapy!
Sarah: Yeah, that worked.
Cat: Good morning, good afternoon! How are you?
Sarah: I’m doing great! Yesterday was pretty much the most amazing day ever.
Cat: I guess we’ve got to start on that. What happened yesterday?
Sarah: Um, yesterday it was announced that I was award the Prairie Writer Award, in Illinois. Yay!
Cat: A round of applause for our beloved Sarah! Congratulations!
Sarah: You know it’s always a little bit strange and exciting to be honored, but it really—yesterday it sent it all home that everything is about community. I could never have done anything without the community, and the community cheering me on just reminded me: it was just like, YES! That’s who we are, that’s how we roll.
Cat: I’m so excited to talk about community today, so we’re gonna jump in. I’m going to do my little intro and then we’re going to have a mini conversation. A big hello to our Highlights Foundation family! We’re so happy to have you here with us. For those who may not know me, I’m Cat Galeano, my pronouns are she/her, I’m social media manager for the Highlights Foundation, joining you from Westchester NY, on the traditional lands of the Siwanoy people. I’m also a writer and a reader who is so so excited to have this lunchtime chat with our friend and faculty Sarah Aronson. We’ll talk a little bit about her upcoming mini-course Write the Novel Only YOU Can: A Two-Night Mini and about community, which as Sarah just said, is a big thing for her and for me and for all of us at Highlights.
So, Sarah, enlighten us a little bit by sharing what you mean with “Write the Novel Only YOU Can”? Why are you so passionate about that statement.
Sarah: Because I LOVE writers, really! Unless today is the very first day you are picking up a pencil or turning on your computer. If today is the day you are taking a dare, like I did, to write—then welcome. This might be a little bit scary. Here we go!
It takes a long time to write a good book. It also takes feeling vulnurable, it takes time, it takes digging, it takes deleting, and then reimagining. So through all of that, if it’s not coming from you, from something that’s really really important to you, from something that matters to you, from something that you don’t get sick of talking about. That like, you start talking about it, and your kids say “write a book,” “write a book already, Mom.”
That you are going to lose steam. That we are the beginning of the journey, each of us. What we love, what we fear, just like what we think about with our characters, our misbeliefs, our insecurities, our joys–that is the nutshell. That is the beginnningk, the root, the foundation of whatever your novel is going to become.
Sometimes it’s different. Sometimes you’re going to stumble on something and it’s going to awaken something in you that makes you want to write about that idea that comes from you—that’s what all of this is about.
So when I say “Write the novel only you can write,” I mean it.
Write the novel…I mean it. I want you to tap into your inner genius, I want you to not be afraid of who you are, I want you to think about the things that matter to you and that will sustain you and inspire you and help you play productively—without having to search too far.
Cat: I love that! As someone who has been to a couple of Sarah’s courses, I can tell you that she is the best cheerleader, best friend, best support system. I truly invite all of you to step in and try this class, because it is such a warm hug to spend time with Sarah, even if it is online. You truly feel that energry and that cheering-for-you.
Sarah: For this particular mini I really want to—especially the first night—I want to tap into who we are and why we’re there: why we want to be writer, what we have to say and really get into that muck of who WE are, so that we can share that with readers. Cause think about who readers are. Readers are who WE were once upon a time.
And we are sending out connections and love and motivation and ideas to them so that then they can bring new ideas to our world.
Cat: For sure! I’m going to jump into our second question, which is: can you talk about an example of a theme in one of your books and how you manifested it?
Sarah: Well, I think the easiest example for me to talk about is my 2011 book Beyond Lucky. I’m going to talk about a novel today because the course is about novel writing. When I first started writing Beyond Lucky, I wanted to write about soccer because my son was playing soccer. His code name was Ferdinand, because he was more interested in pulling up the clover.
I was feeling isolated, and that gave me—as we all know–the opportunity to look around at my environment and see what was going on. What was the energy? Why were these people gathering to do this–with a bunch of 3-year-olds? Right? And I started to tap into this idea about supestition and then that led me to what athlethes do to get ready for games and then that led me to this idea of heroism. And that’s when I realizes that as a teacher (which I was a religious school teacher at the time) and as a thinker I was obsessed with thinking about who do we put on the pedestal and who do we just take for granted? And those ideas of regular people being heroes and heroes just sometimes being regular people (which is sort of disappointing, looking at you Tom Brady) that idea then helped me to think about why would ari do this? It helped me see forward into the novel, about what Ari wanted to do, and what he HAD to do, and his misbeliefs and how he had to overcome them.
It helped me think about the secondary characters it helped me think about what was important to me: not really soccer, which I love. Really, but what was important was the journey of those characters, and that main character especially, beginning to feel like maybe HE could be a hero and maybe he could let go of some of those superstitions.
Cat: Isn’t that so cool? You were just at your son’s game and then all of a sudden, something sparked something and it sort of rabbit-holed into this whole other place. I feel like that’s the coolest thing about being a writer.
Sarah: And that’s where theme and the inner genius are in lockstep, is that when you are tapped into the themes that are important to you—for me, heroism, justice creativty, play—those ideas manifest themselves as characters and those charcters come to life in a way that allows me to sort of say what I want to say. Cause I’m still the boss–sorry, characters!
Cat: I love that so much! I feel like that’s one of my favorite things aobut being a writer, being able to write those things down and like you said, be the boss. And manipulate, and create, and play. How cool.
Sarah: And when you’re in that sandbox and you are owning the things that matter to you. So right now I’m thinking a lot about confidence in my new novel and what I realized as I was walking around and I saw this amulet that had the word certainty in aother language on it and I thought: You know, I used to think that confidence came from certainty, but it doesn’t. Certainty is blind. Certaintly is a tunnel vision. What it comes from is trust. And then I was like “Holy Camoly, that’s what my novel is about!
Cat: Write that down before you forget, because I feel like we can all relate to that.
Sarah: In the mini we’re going to try and get to your “Holly Camoly” moment.
Cat: How wonderful! My next question—my last question—is: when you are working with writers, what brings you joy about supporting them and getting their stories out there?
Sarah: Well, seeing somebody else have those epiphanies is just delightful. I’m addicted to it. I love having conversations that, where the writer ends up being like,
“Yes! That’s what I’m writing about!” or “Oh! That’s why that character is there!” Or, here’s this beautiful line you’ve written, and we call them (thank you, Jennifer Jacobson) we call these lines “glimmers.” And a lot of times these glimmers were the easiest lines to write. It’s like they just came out of your soul.
And when I circle the glimmer and I say “can we talk about this line?” And then I love watching the writers’ eyes like you know, widen—and then sometimes there are tears. And sometimes there are hugs–always there are hugs—virtual or in person. And then at that moment we see each other. And so much of what writing is is being able to see each other—standing in someone else’s shoes—and when we can do that with our characters through our own ideas, and our own emotions—we’re talking about big emotions here. And it can be scary, but when we do that together and we get excited about that, like I’m…”send me your manuscript.” I want to do that all the time.
For this, with the mini we’ll really get you motivated and rarin’ to go for a whole year of exploration, discovery, joy. I believe in eating dessert first and I think that talking about the novel that only you can write is, in a sense, what dessert is. For me, it’s saying “I’m going to have a good time here. I’m going to find my voice, through my joy, through the things that matter to me.
Will there be hard days? Yeah, there are going to be hard days. Are there days where I don’t know what to write? Yeah, plenty of those. Oh well, like, but the core is there because we’re doing this together. And that for me, in working with others, really just is so rewarding. And I am so grateful for all the writers who have trusted me to have these conversations and to show me their inner voices, their inner children, their inner genius, their views of the world.
What a wonderful…what a lucky person I am!
Cat: I am so touched, I am so moved–do we have to end this conversation soon? I could just talk to you forever!
Sarah: We need to talk more often!
Cat: For real! I second that. But I also want to stress, at the beginning of our conversation, you talked about community, and I feel like so many of us as writers we forget that-–sure, writing is solitary and sure, it’s you and your computer or your pen and paper—but community is really what makes all of this matter. The community of your writers, the community of your other writer friends and the community in WRITING with other writers. So I feel like this mini is a perfect beginning of the year, step into…
Sarah: It’s a jump start into community. And we really..if you don’t have a community right now, if you are a person who wants to write, and you don’t have anyone you can trust, would you just shoot me an email? Let’s find some people, because this communty, these conversations, these times where we gather togher, where we experience that trust…again, trust is the whole thing, it’s exploration. You trust yourself and you trust others and when you do that, we all win. We all find our stories. We do that because, basically, books are a discusson, books are a conversation.
They’re enlightening, they’re rewarding, they’re terrifying, they’re hilarious. They’re true. They’re made up. They make us think. They make us feel and so we should be doing that now in our commmunities to help each other find our own truths.
When we can find our own truths together, we all win. So—you know-let’s do that.
Cat: Definitely! Before I do our outro, is there anything else you want to mention to our friends—those who are here with us live, and those who will be watching later. Anything else you want to mention before we wrap up?
Sarah: I just want to say how much I love and appreciate the Highlights Foundation for creating these opportunities for me and for others. All of us need a place, a safe place, where we can explore, and Highlights has been that place for me. I welcome you to join me there. If this mini doesn’t work out, for another retreat, to be on campus. Or let’s think ahead and dream big and think about Whole Novel.
That this magic place has been designed to help YOU find your truth and your story.
So take advantage of it. Join us. Gather together. Begin the conversation. We honor you at Highlights. We honor who you are, what you want to say, and how you want to say it.
Cat: Oh,man, Sarah. Thank you. Definitely. And I second that, as someone who works for Highlights, as a writer myself, as someone who was a scholarship recipient, I send that. Highlights is a very special place, and we welcome you to this mini, at another mini, at an in-person, everyone is welcomed in our family.
I’m going to wrap it up because time is running out. But you know, you can still see Sarah in a couple of weeks.
Sarah: I will not be wearing the sparkles, though. I wore them today.
Cat: I say sparkles never go out of style.
Cat: I say sparkles should just run through the whole year. But if you’d like to learn more from Sarah, register for her 2-night mini: Write the Novel Only You Can, taking place Januaary 16 and 18 at 7pm Eastern. If you cannot come to the course live, please still register and you will get the recorded – um, the recordings by email and as soon as the course ends you will receive all of those by email and you will have about a month and a half to watch all the materials.
Her books are also available to purchase at our virtual bookshop, powered by Bookshop.org.
Thank you, Sarah, for joining us today. I cannot wait to see you online. I know I’ll definitely be watching this mini and tuning in because I’m so excited to kick the year off with new energy and a warm virtual hug from Sarah makes everything better.
Sarah: Thank you so much! I promise this is going to be a fun mini with lots of writing prompts. We’re going to get out of that comfort zone and reach, reach, groan and get excited.
Cat: Thank you, Sarah. Thank you, everyone, for joining us!