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VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: LitHabits Alumni Spotlight with Christal Mancari
Hello. My name is Renee Long and I am a writer and the founder of the LitHabits Blog and Workshop.
Are you struggling to develop a consistent writing schedule? Maybe you're having trouble sticking to your dedicated writing time or even developing a dedicated writing time at all. Maybe you struggle with perfectionism and imposter syndrome, and you feel frozen when you sit down at the computer or your journal to write.
Perhaps you've thought about working with a writing instructor or joining an actual online writing workshop to jump start your writing practice? Maybe you're still on the fence?
Maybe you're thinking a few of these things.
"Writing workshops are huge financial investments." That's true.
"I've heard all the advice before, and I'm still struggling." Does that resonate with you?
Maybe you're thinking,
"I'm not a good student, and if I join another writing workshop I'll fall behind and end up not benefiting at all, and it'll be a huge waste of money!"
Well, my friend, today's LitHabits Alumni Spotlight interview is just for you.
My student Christal Mancari is a speculative fiction writer and she had all of those same thoughts. I know that because she told me in this interview so definitely stay tuned and watch.
She had all of those thoughts before joining us in our last January workshop. I am so honored to say that she is singing a completely different tune after participating in our writer's workshop. She was even able to finish the first draft of her novel after working on it for years.
If you are ready to finally develop consistency and a writing schedule that works for you and helps you share your soul's work with the world as in either putting it out there on your blog, submitting to journals and getting published, or finishing that novel and sending query letters to agents, you've got to watch this interview.
Christal is actually one of my closest and dearest friends. We've known each other since 2011. We have watched each other grow as writers and professionals over many, many years. It was such a pleasure to talk to her today and get to have her in my workshop.
She did this incredible honor of signing up for my workshop in January as a paid student. She was generous enough to share her honest thoughts with us in this interview today.
A little bit about Chris and her work. Her short story “Hungry Birds Eat Chicken Salad” was featured in the Indian Review and her poetry appears in the collection of Love Is The Drug and Other Dark Poems: A Poetry Anthology. She writes poetry, creative nonfiction, and most recently science fiction with a focus on trauma survivors. She seeks to write with honesty, grace, and, not least of all, humor. She currently lives in Virginia.
Without further ado, here is my interview with LitHabits Workshop alumni Christal Mancari.
Hello and welcome to this alumni interview for the LitHabits for Writers Workshop. I am here today with writer Christal Mancari. We're going to talk about her experience in the workshop. She was one of the students in the January workshop of this year and so we're just going to talk a little bit about her story and about her experience in the workshop and the community.
Hi, Christal. Welcome!
Hi. Thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here and talk about this workshop.
Yay! Why don't you tell everybody a little bit about yourself and what kind of writer you are––what kind of writing lights you up and what you do?
I am a writer of mostly nonfiction, creative nonfiction is my preferred writing. However, right now I'm working on a speculative fiction novel, which is completely something I never knew I would be able to do or would do. That's right now what I'm working on.
I'm living in Virginia but pretty much I've lived all over the place in the last four or five years. I've moved a lot. Right now I'm focusing on my fiction.
Just so everybody knows, Christal's workshop project was actually an excerpt from her speculative fiction novel and it's amazing. I can't wait to see the whole thing complete. It'll be awesome. I'm sure we're going to be seeing it in bookstores.
Let's dive right in. What would you say were the biggest struggles or blocks in your writing practice before you joined the LitHabits for Writers Workshop?
Well, some of the big struggles I had with my writing projects, specifically the speculative fiction novel that I'm working on, was creating a space for it in my schedule that made sense. A lot of times it’s said, "Write whenever you're inspired."
I had opened up my schedule completely to focus on this book, which actually created a lot of insecurity because all of a sudden instead of having, "Okay. I write after work" or, "I write this time" it was like, “You're focused only on writing!” And the space was so big that I needed help because I would sit down at the computer and for two hours just stare at the screen.
That was a big thing: scheduling. Also just a fear of fraudulence was a big thing. I was like, "I can't do this. I don't know how to do this!" There was always that feeling. Those were some of the biggest struggles.
That feeling of imposter syndrome or feeling like a fraud––especially when you've already taken that first step towards the, "I'm a writer. I'm declaring it"––and then you clear your schedule, and then you really do have to show up. And you actually have to do the work. That's when all of that fear takes on a different mask and it starts to manifest as, "I'm a fraud. I can't do this. I'm not capable. I'm not good enough."
Thank you so much for sharing that.
Did you have any hesitations about joining the workshop when you were first thinking about it?
Yes. So many. One of the first ones was I was not a good student. I didn't like the classroom. I'm so stubborn. I like to do things in my own time. I felt a little bit afraid of a structure that would resemble a classroom. I was first afraid of that.
Secondly, monetarily, I was like, "I don't know if I can afford this right now." It was really hard to bite that bullet and be like, "This is worth it. I'm worth it. My writing is worth it. This is going to give me a shot to do it."
One of the big things I believe helped me get over those things was the fact that I was reading the LitHabits Blog and, no joke, every time I would think, "I can't afford this.” “Anything that I want to learn from this … I am so afraid that it's going to be stuff I've heard before.” “I'm just so afraid it's going to be good, but stuff that I could have looked up… “ Like inspirational quotes or things that just said, “Here's how we do it."
Every time I got onto the LitHabits Blog, your blog, I would read it, and I would always feel more inspired to sit down and do my work. I always had this little refresh button and I'd be like, "No, no. It's good. I can do this. I am able to do it."
My partner was like, "Every time you finish reading one of her [your] writings, you want to work. It's worth it to pay for that." That was huge.
Oh, thank you so much. That was so affirming. That's really honestly my goal. There are obviously going to be overlaps with any workshop or anything you learn. Depending on your teacher, it can always be repackaged into something new.
For you, I may have been the person that a light bulb finally turned on, even though you heard something maybe a thousand times before or from reading books. Some of our favorite authors are Anne Lamott and Elizabeth Gilbert––teachers who’ve already discussed creativity and fear. But sometimes you need that person to kind of repackage it in a way, share it in a way, or add their own spin and experience on it for that light bulb to turn on.
I'm so glad you joined us. If I could bottle the magic of our January workshop, I would. It was truly a magical experience.
You dove in. You went in full speed ahead. What specific changes, now that we're out of the workshop, have you noticed in your writing practice? Any specific examples you could share with our viewers?
One of the big changes was that scheduling. Because I had this open schedule. I was like, "Okay. When do I schedule things?" A part of the workshop is identifying your chronotype, which helps you identify when you are best able to do your cataloging, your organizational tasks, and your creative work.
Identifying that changed my entire writing practice because I was actually able to get done. I had a certain hour specifically set down for outlining and my more logistical stuff. Then another time where I was doing my creative writing, where I'd write a chapter. And then the next day during that logistical time I'd edit the creative work that I did the night before.
I was like, "How have I not been doing this for years?" The way that the LitHabits Workshop identified it and then set markers for us to work on, it was like, "Whoa." It was huge. That was a huge thing that has changed my whole writing experience.
Yes, that's so amazing! That was a really important session for all of us in the workshop. I remember the other student in the workshop said, "Oh my gosh. I have permission to schedule my life based on my body's natural rhythm, my body's natural chronotype!" And that was like boom, boom, boom for her too.
It's so fun when we can give ourselves permission and say, "This is how my body works best. I can take ownership and plan my days according to how my body works best." I love that that was a light bulb moment for multiple people in the workshop. So cool.
What would you say is your proudest achievement from the workshop?
Well, definitely one of my proudest achievements is the fact that I finished a first draft.
Of the whole novel?
I did, and the last two chapters aren't written yet but basically, my outline is done. I have those last chapters synopsized. I know what happens. I know what happens!
Which is amazing. Insane. I can't even ... I stepped back when I wrote the synopsis for the last chapter I was like, "That's how it ends." That was insane.
Just so everybody has some context, you've been working on this novel for several years now. How would you say that the workshop helped you push through that last barrier?
Oh, definitely the SMART goals.
Incredible. You're able to do specific and measurable. You have all of these different things––measurable, achievable, timely. I was able to narrow it down and narrow it down.
If I had read that in a book I would have been like, "Oh, this is great!" But what I initially did was I wrote my SMART goal, but then I submitted it to the group. And it had to be tweaked because I had you as my teacher say, "Okay but let's actually tweak it a little bit." And we made it more specific.
If I had just been reading that in a book, I would have tried to stick with that initial SMART goal outline but I probably would have fell short of it. Having a moderator, a teacher to be like, "Okay. Actually here's how we can do this better," I finished my first draft because of that.
That's so awesome. That's such an incredible achievement! I am just so excited to see this novel come to life. I am so proud of you for pushing through it. Just to get that first draft is a huge accomplishment. I am so glad all of us in the workshop could be part of that.
Now that you've done the workshop, we're all finished, and we're moving forward, would you recommend this workshop to your other writer friends?
Definitely. I already have. I have completely 100% confidence in this being not just something that I could benefit from, but others could benefit from.
It's pretty much like a failsafe in my mind as a great tool to help you with your work. For sure.
Wonderful. Thank you. During the workshop, as you were going through it, did you hit any resistance or blocks as you were working through the workshop? If you did, how did you work through those?
Interestingly enough––going back to what I was saying about my initial hesitation of taking the workshop––was the fact that I don't love classroom settings and assignments. I never liked assignments for the sake of a gold star at the end. I would have finished something to say I finished it.
Each of the assignments… I would get nervous. I'd be like, "I don't want to do my homework!" But the thing is, the homework was so tied into my work that it wasn't just like, "Oh, you have a gold star." It was like, "You have an open door to the next step in your project."
The fact that the actions that were given as assignments weren't just solitary in themselves. They were doors that opened you up to the next step in your process. As someone who doesn't like to do meaningless assignments, it took that roadblock and was like, "Oh, it's not. I'm actually getting stuff done."
Yes. That's amazing. I'm so glad to hear it. I am of the same mindset. I don't believe that in online courses or workshops there needs to be a worksheet for every single concept and that if there are worksheets or are assignments, it's directly tied to you taking action towards that goal, whether it's finishing your workshop draft or finishing a short story.
It's all tied together to make that happen. It's never just a frivolous, "I'm just learning something." No. You're taking action towards something exciting. Thank you for sharing that.
How would you describe the community aspect of the workshop? We had a pretty small group. For me, it was just a magical community. What was your experience with the community?
Completely. The community was so safe. It was so inclusive. It was so organized in such a way that we were able to talk but also not scattered. That was what was really cool. Sometimes you have to compromise between the two. You have a great group where you can just mesh and talk and talk, and it's awesome and you feel safe but you don't get things done.
[The LitHabits Workshop] was a really good balance of both. We got things done, but we also were able to know one another and talk to one another and open up. Yeah. It was amazing.
Awesome. I feel exactly the same way. I think it was a really lovely balance of discussion and also taking action and supporting each other.
Tell me a little bit about the difference between your writing practice pre-workshop (back when you were making that decision to jump in) and your writing practice now. What are the differences there?
The big differences between my pre-workshop practice and my now LitHabits-focused practice is the fact that that schedule, first and foremost, and creating and giving myself permission for breaks, which actually gives me a better ability to work.
I used to binge work. I've already seen in my work … I've scrapped whole chapters that I wrote while doing that binge writing. Not that binge writing doesn't happen. The other day I had a kind of a marathon session, and that was fine but it happened, it was flowing. It wasn't that I was sitting down or being like, "You have time off right now. You have to write! You have to do this right now!"
It was like, no. I create my schedule and then I'm like, “Okay. This is my two hour window. I get to write right now." And the work that comes out of that versus a 12-hour day where at any point I'm like, "I'm going to write. I'm going to write. I'm going to write." I got so much more done.
Yes. That's wonderful! I'm so glad that we're chatting right now because in the beginning of the workshop, we take personality assessments. I think you took Gretchen Rubin's assessment, right? And came out as a Rebel.
She has a few different types for how you approach habits and Christal's was Rebel, which normally means, like she was saying earlier, bucking against structure, a bucking against being given an assignment to do.
A lot of times, Rebels kind of resist structure because they think it's going to take away from their spontaneity and creativity; when actually, if there's just a slight amount of structure and planning injected into a writing practice like that where you can actually let that spontaneity and creativity come out in the work rather than having that tension of like, "I'm supposed to be writing today but I want to go do something else and be spontaneous" when you have just that little tiny bit of structure even when it's uncomfortable at the start.
I think it really works well for Rebels because they can actually be totally wild and spontaneous in the actual work, which is super important for something like you're doing which is speculative fiction. Yay!
To add to that point, which I think now hearing you talk about it … For that type, one of the things you also touched on a couple times and, I mean, a lot throughout the workshop, was the change of language. Instead of saying, "I need to, I have to," we changed it into, "I get to, I want to."
For a Rebel, of course, saying, "I want to" or, "I choose to" is so indicative of the spirit of the Rebel. So that works so well.
Yeah. It takes back ownership so you're not rebelling against yourself but you're rebelling against everything else that is telling you, "You can't be a writer. You can't do these things!" You're like, "No. I'm a Rebel and I choose to be a writer and take this time for myself."
It's just that shift in mindset. I'm so glad to hear that.
In the workshop we chat a lot about the seven muscles of highly fruitful writers. Those muscles are courage, faith, focus, know, willpower, grit, and drive. We go over those right at the beginning in the first session.
Since coming out of the workshop and going through the workshop, have you noticed growth in those areas?
Definitely. I mean, all seven of the muscles have definitely been strengthened. It's crazy. Specifically, one of the ones that I really appreciated was the focus because I can be really scatterbrained. I was given tools through the LitHabits … like real tangible tools like website blockers and things like that. Things that I probably wouldn't have looked up or wouldn't have known which one to choose. Those helped so much.
Then the giving of permission to take breaks also helped with the focus. It was all these different things, and it really is cumulative the way that all of the different things connect and strengthen each muscle. It's amazing.
Yes. Awesome. So glad to hear you're intrinsically a powerhouse bodybuilder!
To wrap it up, is there anything else you want to share with folks who might be thinking about joining the workshop for the next round of LitHabits?
Well, of course. For anyone thinking about taking this workshop, it doesn't matter who you are. Honestly, I cannot stress enough that it is structured in such a way that it will absolutely help people of every type of personality. You may not like the classroom and you may think that, "Oh, this is something I've heard before," or "I've seen this. I can read a blog on this. I can read a book on this."
It doesn't stop with motivational phrases. It doesn't stop with pep talks. It continues with structure and tools that actually give you the ability to move forward and in whatever project you are working on. You will see tangible differences. It is incredible. Do it. It's worth it.
Awesome. Thank you so much, Christal! We are all so excited to see your novel come out and to see you moving onto that next stage after first draft. Anybody who has written a novel before knows that it's just a whole new ballgame after you get that first draft done. There's still a long way to go but you're doing amazing. It's been so wonderful to have you in workshop. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Thank you so much. Bye!
Thanks so much for watching this LitHabits Alumni Spotlight. If you're feeling inspired and ready to jump into the next round of our LitHabits 7-week Workshop, sign up below and become a LitHabits VIP and you'll be the first to know when enrollment opens up PLUS special discounts and opportunities I don't share anywhere else but with my VIP email list.
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Thank you again for watching and write on, my friend. Bye!
Student/Customer Testimonials: This is a real student testimonial, but as with all writing programs, your individual results may vary. Customer testimonials may not reflect the typical workshop experience and are not meant as a guarantee of specific results. Every writer is unique and will apply workshop strategies in different ways yielding different outcomes, so I cannot guarantee specific results. Developing a consistent writing practice takes time, willpower, and a lot of faith. No program can magically turn you into a consistent writer––that’s up to you. The LitHabits Workshop can provide a blueprint to get out of your own way and share your soul’s work with the world.