“LEARN ABOUT THE CRAFT AND LEARN ABOUT THE BUSINESS. MOSTLY, BE AN ACTIVE MEMBER OF THE COMMUNITY. FIND YOUR PEOPLE. BE REAL WITH THEM, AND THEY WILL BE REAL WITH YOU.”
Daniel José Older spent a decade writing about his experiences as an NYC Paramedic. Now he invests his time crafting books that have put him atop the New York Times bestsellers list and short stories that have appeared in the Guardian, NPR, Tor.com, Salon and BuzzFeed. In his Skillshare class on storytelling fundamentals, Daniel brings his years of experience and infectious positive energy to break down the 4 C’s every writer should know: character, conflict, context, and craft.
We caught up with Daniel to discover his secrets for staying inspired and productive in his writing career.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I get inspired by how folks tell each other stories. I love the spoken word, the performance, the poetry of casual language, the power of vernacular. I love the way the city seems to offer up its stories when I walk down the street. The way a certain block looks implies a whole complex history, from different storefronts to murals to the people on the street.
How do you fight creative burnout?
I stop, take a walk, hit the gym, ride the train, listen to music.
What is your advice for young writers?
Learn about the craft and learn about the business. Mostly, be an active member of the community. Find your people. Be real with them, and they will be real with you. It’s not a competition.
What’s your advice on keeping your skills sharp?
Read widely. Read like writer — watching what works and what doesn’t. When you love a book, ask yourself why, knowing there isn’t always a logical reason. Same with when you put a book down. When you’re bored, see the world as a writer, actively. Study power. Understand the changing dynamics of the world around you. Write constantly. Keep a journal.
How do you structure your days?
I make breakfast and then jump in with a cup of coffee and good music. Try to knock 1-2k words a day when I’m working on a novel. Break for lunch in there somewhere. Later on it’s busy-work time.
Where do you work best?
I tend to move around to different spots in my apartment. I really just need a comfortable chair and smooth surface. Right now I’m sitting on a porch at a writer’s colony in New Orleans so…life is good.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
When you send out something, start something new.
Who are your biggest influences?
What moment in your career are you most proud of?
Early on, my very first book in fact, inspired other young folks to become writers and tell their own stories. Nothing compares to that.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
Wow. Tough one. I think writing Shadowshaper as my first book took some bravery – it wasn’t anything the market was looking for or invested in, as the 40 rejection letters in my inbox can attest to. But it went on to become a NYT bestseller, winner of the International Book Award and become one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read.