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A Wavelengths Interview with Andrew Johnson

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yezxC8Gb3rE&w=560&h=315]

“I remember liking blocks as a kid…I think that’s a good way of trying to describe the pleasure I get from writing and building a sentence…when I’m enjoying [writing] the most and when it is the most engaging to me is when it feels like I have…this tower I want to build and these blocks available to me and I’m finding all these different ways of piecing them together.”

— Andrew Johnson


I am thrilled to post our first Wavelengths interview with my dear friend, Andrew Johnson.

Andrew and I met when we were both graduate students in the creative writing MFA program at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. I have always admired Andrew’s thoughtfulness and commitment to his writing, and I still enjoy the friendship we have developed through the years. I always learn from our conversations, whether we’re talking about writing, teaching, spirituality, current events, or Royals baseball. (You can’t really see it in the video, but Andrew wanted me to tell you he’s wearing a KC cap.  Go Royals!)

I had fun keeping it real and talking about writing, not writing, reacting to current events, using social media to respond to the world, and the best way to penetrate the human heart (hint: it’s not with a tank).

To learn more about Andrew and to read his work, check out the following links:





Grammar is Not a Weapon

Recently, a friend of mine said, My mother always wanted to be a writer, but she was embarrassed by her grammar. 

I hear this a lot from people who want to write, but are embarrassed by their command of spelling and grammar. When I was a teacher, I worked with so many students who were scarred for life by teachers who used grammar as a weapon. Often, when I would tell one of my students how great their essay was, they would respond with, No one has ever told me I’m a good writer before.


Now, Go Make a Mess

One of the scariest parts of writing is getting started. Even getting to the place where your butt is in the chair, and the paper and pen are in front of you can be tough.

Many people say they aren’t writing because they don’t have enough time, but I’ve found that it’s typically for a different reason: the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect.


Week 19: Simplify & Commit

I have realized many things over the past week-and-a-half about my creative life, and all of them have had the same basic underlying message: simplify & commit.

I am happy to share two of the realizations that brought clarity to my writing:

You Don’t Have to Chase Every Item on the Teeming List of Potential Projects and Exciting Opportunities

I realized I have been sabotaging my progress on my book manuscript by distracting myself with other book ideas, manuscript contests, and potential applications to writing residencies. I experienced a wild burst of creativity this summer, and I was so thrilled to have so many new ideas that I tried to go after all of them. (Not recommended.) As I pushed forward, I realized I was moving dangerously close to Burn Out Land, and I needed to slow down and simplify.

For a while there, I honestly thought I could work on three book manuscripts simultaneously, while also putting together a poetry collection, while also applying to writing residencies and contests. All of these things excited me. But, I realized the more I filled myself with ideas of these potential projects and opportunities, the more I ignored my main manuscript. I was distracting myself with shiny new things, instead of continuing the work that I set out to do.

So, I re-commit to finishing one book manuscript.
I commit to finishing a full first draft by my birthday, January 23.

And, as my friend and mentor, Dodie Jacobi, always says, I’ll park my other ideas in the parking lot for now.


Research Doesn’t Count as Writing; Writing Counts as Writing.

Ok, so as important as research may be, it still doesn’t count as writing.

Sitting down and writing is the only thing that counts as writing.
(Lightbulb moment, ammiright?)

So, I commit to meeting my word count goal each and every week, as I continue to ask my parents interview questions and collect their responses. Even if I feel stuck, I will write at least 500 words a week, to keep up the momentum and to remind myself of how good it feels to write and add to my total word count every week.


I feel renewed in my energy, and I truly have this blog and your readership to thank. Without you reading and holding me accountable, it would be so easy to let another week slip by without taking action. So, thank you.


Goal for Sunday, September 27:

  • Write 1000 words
  • Send 5 more interview questions to my parents
  • collect any interview question responses and add them to the manuscript


Week 15: Time to Interview

It’s Week 15 of my First Book Project, and I’ve taken a step back, reflected on the 20,000 words I’ve written so far (so proud), and evaluated for next steps.

As I mentioned last week, this is usually the time in the cycle when I lose steam and give up, but this time I am armed and ready to rally.



Email me at barbaravaranka@gmail.com

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