Dallas Woodburn, is the author of two collections of short stories and a forthcoming novel. Dallas wrote her first book at the tender age of ten. She has written more than 80 articles for national publications including Family Circle, Writer’s Digest, CO-ED, Justine, and The Los Angeles Times, and she writes a regular column for Listen magazine. Dallas is the founder of the nonprofit organization “Write On! For Literacy” that has donated nearly 11,000 new books to disadvantaged children. Her latest endeavor is starting a publishing company, Write On! Books, that publishes the work of young writers. In addition, she hosts frequent writing contests, teaches writing camps for kids, and is coordinator of the Young Writers Program at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Dallas graduated summa cum laude last May from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Creative Writing and Entrepreneurship. Dallas has received the Jackie Kennedy Onassis/Jefferson Award, a Congressional Award Gold Medal, and a “Best of You” Award from Glamour Magazine.
I may have about twenty years on her, but Dallas has been very active, giving back to the writing community as well as educating and entertaining readers with her words! Now I'd like to let Dallas tell you a bit more about herself. She's really someone we all need to know.
What drove you to start writing—and publishing—at such a young age?
I feel so blessed that I discovered what I love to do at such a young age. I have been writing for as long as I can remember and I published my first book, There’s a Huge Pimple on My Nose, when I was in fifth grade. Pimple is proof that with a lot of hard work, a lot of perseverance, and a lot of support, a small idea can snowball into something bigger than you ever dreamed. My snowball began as a snowflake when I applied for and received a $50 grant from my elementary school to write, publish and sell a collection of my short stories and poems. I proposed using the profits to repay my grant, so the school could offer an extra one the following year. My first printing, done at a Kinkos copy shop, was modest: twenty-five staple-bound forty-page books. Actually, they were more like thick pamphlets, but no matter – to me, they were the most beautiful books I had ever laid eyes upon. I swear, J.K. Rowling wasn’t more proud of her first Harry Potter hardcover edition.
My fellow students and teachers acted as if Pimple was at the top of the New York Times Best-Seller List. The first twenty-five copies promptly sold in a couple of days. Can you imagine what a turbo-boost this was to a fifth-grader’s self-esteem? I was pursuing my dream, but I wasn’t pursuing it alone – my family and friends and teachers were right there with me. So I went back to Kinkos, ordered twenty-five more books – and soon sold all those as well. After three more trips to Kinkos, I searched out a publishing business and ordered a few hundred glossy-covered, glue-bound, professional-looking Pimples. My little forty-page dream evolved from a snowball into a blizzard, with newspaper and radio interviews; appearances at literacy events all around California; even a “Dallas Woodburn Day” at the Santa Barbara Book Fair. I still have to pinch myself, but Pimple has sold more than 2,600 copies, enabling me to repay two school grants and found Write On! For Literacy.
Looking back, I was fortunate to dive into this career at such an early age because I wasn't afraid or self-conscious about my writing. I think as we get older, we tend to lose that child-like pride and confidence in ourselves and our work. But I wasn't afraid of rejection, so I sent my book out to anyone and everyone I thought might read it. Sure, I didn't hear back from a lot of them. But I did score reviews in The Los Angeles Times, Girls' Life Magazine, Cosmo Girl Magazine, and others. Many terrific doors were opened for me because I wasn't afraid to hear the word "no."
Tell us about how your early experiences shaped your writing.
It’s funny, but looking back it’s difficult for me to remember a time before I loved to write! I learned to read when I was four years old, and I gobbled up books. Like many kids, I made up stories; I was compelled to write my stories down. I think this was largely due to the fact that my dad is a writer. Every night, my parents would read me bedtime stories, and every morning I would come downstairs and see my dad writing. As a result, I was very aware that someone had written the books I so loved to read. And I decided that I wanted to be someone who writes books for other people to enjoy.
My dad is the first person who reads my work – his feedback and encouragement are invaluable. I remember when I was little, he would let me type out stories on his computer once he had filed his column for the day – how special that was! I am incredibly blessed that my parents and teachers were so encouraging of my love of writing from a very young age. Also, when I was in the first and second grade I was lucky to have an amazing teacher, Diane Sather, who encouraged my love for writing. I remember she had me read one of my stories to the class. I got such a burst of joy from sharing what I had written with others. It never crossed my mind to just write for myself.
What are your aspirations as an author? Where would you like your writing to go?
My dream career is to be a novelist, short-story writer, professor of Creative Writing at a university, and to continue expanding Write On! For Literacy. I hope to never stop growing and challenging myself, as a writer and as a person. This August I am beginning the M.F.A. program in Fiction Writing at Purdue University, and I know I will learn and grow a lot during my three years there. Right now, I have one completed novel manuscript and I have started to write another novel, which I’m in the early exciting stages of – writing and waiting to see where the story will lead me. I’m having fun working on play scripts and submitting them to festivals. I hope with my writing I can inspire people and make them think. I love to hear from people who have read my work and been touched by something I have written. I believe writing can connect people and foster understanding, and that is what I hope to do in my career.
What is special to your writing process? Is there something unique you do to get the juices flowing?
I try to write every single day – I am most productive and happy when I have an established routine. Even if I don’t feel like writing, I tell myself to write for just fifteen or twenty minutes, and usually by the end of that time I am in the groove and write for longer. My goal is to write 1,000 words every day. I am a night owl, so it is not unusual to find me at my computer writing after midnight, when the world is quiet and I am alone with my thoughts.
Do you ever experience blocks, or are you one of those lucky people who never have them? If you do get stuck sometimes, what do you do to get out of it?
One of the best things for me to do when I am facing writer’s block is to step back from the story and get away from the computer a bit. I love to go volunteer at schools and teach writing activities to kids. This is one of my favorite activities – it gives me great joy and fulfillment. Whenever I am feeling discouraged or creatively drained, going to schools and speaking to students inevitably recharges my batteries and gets me excited about writing again. So much energy and enthusiasm! It’s contagious!
I also frequently post tips for busting through writer’s block on my blog, http://dallaswoodburn.blogspot.com.
What are the negative aspects of the writing life, if any?
Rejection is something that ever author has to deal with. As a writer, I joke that I could wallpaper all four of my bedroom walls with all the rejection letters I have received from editors! The important thing is not to take it personally. For whatever reason, you or your writing just wasn’t a right fit for that publication at this specific time. That doesn’t mean that they won’t love the next piece you send to them! When I get a rejection letter, I first read the comments to see if there is any advice I can glean or ways I can improve for next time. Then, I submit my story or essay or article somewhere else. It took me more than a year to find my literary agent. A year of rejection, rejection, rejection – until finally, I found my perfect match. My agent understands my writing and has faith in my career. I just had to have the patience and perseverance to find her!
What is the one piece of advice you’d give writers just starting out?
Write every day, read as much as you can, and enjoy the process! As John Wooden says, “The journey is better than the inn.” In addition, publishing my books has taught me not to be afraid to take risks, and to take the initiative when you have an idea and make it happen yourself rather than letting fear and doubt make you wait. Because, why wait? Take small steps towards your dreams, and small steps can snowball into amazingly big opportunities!
What else do you do?
I love to run, hike, cook, travel, and spend time with my family and friends. I also founded a nonprofit organization called "Write On! For Literacy" in 2001 to encourage kids to discover confidence, joy, a means of self-expression and connection through reading and writing. I spend a lot of time volunteering, teaching writing workshops in schools and working with young writers. My website www.writeonbooks.org features writing contests, book reviews, fun writing prompts, and more. I also hold an annual Holiday Book Drive to collect and distribute new books to disadvantaged kids who don’t have many, if any, books of their own. We’ve donated more than 11,000 books the past eight years.
Every year I teach a Summer Writing Camp in my hometown of Ventura, California, for kids ages 8-18. The goal is for students to have FUN while also learning how to improve central components of their writing, including dialogue, characterization, plot and setting, through various writing exercises. Many students are initially intimidated about writing and shy to share their work, but by the end of camp they are much more confident in not only their writing skills, but in all aspects of themselves. I look forward to Summer Writing Camp all year long! The students blow me away with their creativity, wisdom, and respect for each other. I am fortunate to have a handful of students who have been with me since the inaugural camp three years ago and have come back ever summer, and it has been such a joy to watch them grow.
I have found that often when students are more receptive to exploring the world through reading and writing, they become more passionate about learning as a whole. Throughout the year, I frequently volunteer at schools to teach writing activities to kids. This is one of the most fulfilling things to me. Whenever I am feeling discouraged or creatively drained, going to schools and speaking to students inevitably recharges my batteries and gets me excited about writing again. So much energy and enthusiasm! It’s contagious!
See, I told you Dallas was someone we all should know! I am privileged to introduce her to you all. To learn more about Dallas, visit the links below.
Tomorrow, be sure to stop by Robert Medak's blog to learn more about another busy and prodcutive author, Kevin McNamee
Dallas Woodburn Links:
I would love to hear from readers –email me at email@example.com. I also have a blog, where I frequently post writing tips, advice, inspiration, interviews, contests, and more: http://dallaswoodburn.blogspot.com/. And the Write On! website is http://www.writeonbooks.org/
My second collection of short stories, 3 a.m., is available on Amazon.com: 3 AM
Follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/DallasWoodburn and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/writerdallas/. Join the Write On! Facebook group at Write On! Facebook Group Page