Lana shared with us from her wells of wisdom a little over a year ago. Since then she’s been published in several journals. I wanted to learn more about what was fueling her so I asked her a few questions. And I’m so glad I did. Her honest self-reflection and love for the craft is mesmerizing and inspiring. Please read on and enjoy!
What have you been up to since the last time we spoke?
I’ve been swimming in flash fiction ideas. And every time I finish a new piece, I overhear a conversation between two octogenarians in the street or recall a summer-camp incident from my childhood, and off I go to start a whole new piece.
I’ve had twelve publication acceptances in the last year—mostly flash fiction—and this has increased my confidence in working with the genre. Acceptances and kind words from editors energize me to no end. I wish that approval seeking were not such a fueling force for me. I’m working on this. But for now, approval seeking is one of the reasons I continue working on pieces that become too hard. And I’m thankful for this impetus, because regardless of my motivation in sitting down to write, once I am actually writing I end up forgetting myself and exploring human emotion in the most genuine way I know.
I’ve noticed recently that when I spend a chunk of time working on a string of flash pieces, I do start to miss longer stories. I miss existing within their settings. I miss exploring the characters within the spaces of their homes and then following them to churches or bars or watching them sit on the tram and gaze out the window.
I actually started a draft to a novel last year. I put it aside several months ago, but my mind keeps returning to the plot. The novel takes place in my native Sarajevo ten years after the Bosnian war. The story follows the relationship between two women: a solitary young woman in her twenties and her mother’s best friend, a creative an intelligent woman in her fifties. The young woman has spent the Bosnian war outside the country as a refugee, while the older woman has remained behind. Their perspectives on life differ not only due to age but due to the different kinds of trauma they’ve experienced.
I’m excited to return to the novel and to explore the interactions the two women share. I keep feeling the urge to start the whole draft anew, but I’m going to try to push the existing draft to the end before revising.
Tell us more about the longer works and your process there.
I also recently returned to a full-length short story I started five or six months ago. It is more provocative and sexual than most of my work. Comical, as well. I’m working on the second draft now but can’t get the language right. I spent three hours at Barnes and Noble the other day, writing and rewriting the same four-sentence paragraph. Then I just gave up and read Bukowski.
And the novel I mentioned keeps on tugging at me. I’m interested in not just the relationship the two main characters share, but also in the Bosnian living rooms they inhabit and the trays of Turkish coffee they prepare. I’m interested in the lights of Sarajevo at night. Writing this novel allows me to exist in the Sarajevo I remember. And that’s a moving experience for me.
I put the novel aside because I kept on focusing too intensely on the tension between the two main characters and writing myself into corners because of it. I’m so used to writing short stories, where everything is streamlined and tight, that I kept on feeling the urge to do the same with the novel. I have to keep on remembering to open up the world of the story instead of narrowing it down.
What do you want to let our readers know about the elusive work/life balance?
I work as a student advisor, and I love the stability of my job. I love that it is a permanent position—with teaching, I would likely be applying to positions every year or few years—and I love that my work hours are regular. My work ends up being largely confined to the physical space of the office. My nights and weekends, therefore, can be dedicated to writing and social contact, which I crave regularly. I’m an extrovert.
I enjoy variety in life, and I enjoy travel, but I also like to have a stable home and job. I think that temporary jobs and teaching positions would keep me in a perpetual state of stress—a state of always fretting over what the next thing should be—and this would not be conducive to writing.
I have been studying Buddhism at a local Tibetan monastery for the last six years, and this has also provided support and stability when it comes to my writing. Going to the monastery once or twice per week gives me a quiet space in which to think about larger philosophical questions. It provides perspective and allows me to exist mindfully in most areas of my life.
When I was reading Bukowski’s book of poems the other day, I was struck by the roughness of his craft in places. But as I read, the voice that emerged from the pages became so raw and tragic and comical and real that I wanted to kiss the pages of the book. I want to write like that. I want to get away from perfectionism. I want to keep the bigger picture in mind and not get so lost in the lyricism of a single sentence or in small details. I want to stop wasting my time. I’m slowly learning how to do it, I think, but what helps is writing consistently and not taking breaks for long periods of time.
That’s such a simple bit of advice to offer—I know most writers give this advice—but fighting perfectionism has been my biggest struggle.