I first met Karyn online through a mutual writer friend. I was immediately struck by Karyn’s kindness and authenticity. Karyn’s journey to publication has lessons for many of us; especially the lesson not to confuse your journey to publication with your self-worth. I really enjoyed this interview and I hope you do, too.
NLK: Your book Letters to my Yesterday was inspired by your great-grandmother, Rose. What do you find most inspiring about her life? What do you think her life can teach us?
KS: I remember the moment that an appreciation for my great-grandmother, Rose, formed deeply within me. I was in my thirties and chatting to my dad and uncle at a family BBQ. They were recounting a well-known family story of how Rose was widowed with two small children and left with no house and little money. Yet Rose went on to buy a home and start a general store (and feed and clothe her children right through the Great Depression). The home and store were passed down to my grandma and until that moment I had never thought more about it, other than it would be cool to live in a house with a shop attached. But that day – perhaps because it was the first time I’d heard the story since I became a mother and so understood the story differently – I asked questions. A lot of them. And I continued to ask questions for months to come, discovering what the family remembered of Rose. Her determination and strength stood out in every story and I developed a deep admiration for her and a real sense of pride that I was her ancestor. Rose became very real to me – I would go as far as to say that I could feel her around me, encouraging me to write the story slowly forming in my mind.
The most important lesson I learned from Rose is to never take for granted what may seem to be an ordinary life – because when you look closer, we are all extraordinary.
When my children were young I would explain the word extraordinary from time to time, because that’s what I felt our life was. Ordinary from the outside, but when examined closer and you see all of those extras, it becomes extraordinary. Now I realise that every life is the same; full of extras.”
– Final letter from Rose, Letters To My Yesterday.
NLK: What do you feel is your biggest professional achievement to date, and why?
KS: I’ve worked hard to not view anything to do with my writing as a professional achievement, which may sound strange! But when I first started writing, I was so focused on ‘achieving’ success that I drove myself a little crazy. I thought writing success meant getting an agent and being published. I achieved both of these milestones and yet it all fell apart. My agent closed her agency and my second manuscript was rejected far and wide! I was devastated by this and had quite a meltdown. After some time, I realised that the reason I took it so hard wasn’t because of the rejection (after ten years of writing, I was very used to it and have a thick skin), it was because I had confused my self-worth with professional success or achievement. After this realisation, I made the decision to go back to writing for the love of it. I focused on how I wanted writing to make me feel, rather than what I wanted to achieve with it. I accepted that if I kept writing, there was a possibility no one but my family or friends would read it and I decided that was okay with me. I think this surrender helped me so much – I physically felt the weight leave my shoulders! Now I try and hold the whole writing journey more lightly. I view it as a hobby that I really love, but it’s not all I am and it has nothing to do with my self-worth. It’s a far easier mindset to live with! When I received the good news that my third manuscript was accepted by my publisher, I was happy, but not in the hyper, ‘oh my god, all of my dreams have come true’ way I thought I would be. It’s because I didn’t ‘need’ it to be published to feel I’d achieved something. I felt proud of myself for enjoying the writing process and creating a manuscript I love – it’s just a bonus that I can share it with readers (and of course it’s a lot of fun to share with readers!). I’m sorry to digress from the question – but I hope it helps a writer who may need this advice 🙂
NLK: Can you please share something about your journey to publication? What were the obstacles you had to overcome? How did you remain positive and motivated to keep writing? Has anything about your publication journey surprised or shocked you?
KS: My journey to publication was LONG! There were so many, ‘nearly there, but not quite’ moments along the way and it could be quite deflating at times. I kept going because I really love the writing process. I find it magical to create a story with characters who feel so real to me. And I just had this belief that one day it would all fall into place.The biggest obstacle that I had to overcome was my own impatience. I wanted it all to happen, now. I had to learn to slow down and place more importance on the editing and re-writing stage – not to send out early drafts just because I was impatient. The biggest shock along the way was that it didn’t all just happen the moment I signed with an agent (I’d always thought it would).
NLK: Have you any advice to share with emerging writers?
KS: I would repeat my advice from my answers to the second question – try not to confuse your self-worth with your writing achievements. Remember that you are already amazing for simply sitting down and writing your story. It’s a very special gift to have, to be able to take the ideas from your mind and translate them into a story – be sure to remind yourself of how special you are to do this and be proud of yourself. I would also say to try and stay open with your goals. Rather than setting a specific goal such as, I will be published by this particular publisher at this particular time, try to set an open-ended goal, such as, I will be published by the absolute best publisher for me and my manuscript at the best time for my book. And then try to trust that this is exactly what will happen. My last piece of advice is to invest in a terrific BETA reader or mentor for an early draft. The objective and thorough feedback they can give you is priceless and the best help for your editing and re-writing of subsequent drafts.
NLK: Can you please share something about your creative process? Do you meditate before writing?
KS: I do really love setting up my writing space. I will light a candle, burn some palo santo, play a nice song and do a very simple meditation of some deep breathing just to clear my mind of all the day-to-day stuff running through it. To be honest, I don’t stay in that zone for very long! I will get distracted many times during a writing session – but the short little ritual feels special and does help me to get started!
NLK: How has your background in theatre and teaching influenced your creative process?
KS: Such a good question. My theatre background has definitely helped me with dialogue. Conversation will usually flow easily in my manuscripts. And teaching helps me with giving myself a bit of a writing routine. I don’t actually like routine, but when you teach, you have to learn to stick to one – so that helps to give me some guidelines I can stick to when writing. Otherwise I’d probably be a person who thinks a lot about wanting to write, but never actually sits down and does it.
NLK: You have a podcast which shares the same title as your novel, is there a favourite interview you can share? Apart from LTMY, can you recommend another podcast for writers?
KS: It was so much fun to work on my podcast. I chatted with some amazing women and it absolutely cemented what I’d learned while writing my book – that all lives, when examined closely, are extraordinary. I can’t say that I have a favourite, because I truly enjoyed them all. But one that does stand out to me was with a woman named Fatima Siad, the founder of an incredibly successful tech company in Sydney – I didn’t know anything about her journey and I think she surprised even herself with how open she was with sharing her ups and downs along the way. We chatted about betrayal and resilience and dreams coming true. I was fascinated the whole time! I also love to listen to podcasts (it’s the best way to make any household chores more interesting!) and my favourites for writers and readers at the moment are: Talking Aussie Books, Writes4Women and Words and Nerds.
Karyn Sepulveda is an author, podcast producer and creator of short, guided meditations.
Through writing about characters triumphing over adversity, interviewing women about their strengths and designing meditations that help the listener tap into their own creativity, Karyn hopes to spread compassion, inspiration and connection.
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