February 18, 2020
Interview by Jessica Mack
Tim Storm is a writer and the owner of Storm Writing School, which examines what aspects of story affect an audience emotionally and keep them engaged. He does all of this with a certain gusto, helping anyone who is willing to learn at his school. Previously, he taught high school English for 15 years and briefly pursued an Olympic rowing berth. Tim will be a presenter at the 2020 Let's Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference, at the sessions “Tension on Every Page” and “What Writers Can Learn from Sports Psychology” with Ann Garvin.
Q: What genre do you write in, and do you ever explore other genres?
A: I write literary short fiction and essays. My fiction skirts the edges of various genres, from fantasy to horror to mystery. I love getting all upset about how arbitrary the distinction is between literary writing and genre writing. I write on that border, and when I teach, I often search for exemplars right along that border because they have wide appeal to students.
Q: What inspired you to lead the sessions of “Tension on Every Page” and using Sports Psychology in your writing with Ann Garvin? What past experience will you bring to the table at your session?
A: With regard to the session on tension, I’ve been obsessed for the past 6 or 7 years with how to get readers to engage with a story. The best rejoinder I’ve ever heard to the debate about whether stories should be character-driven or plot-driven is to point out that all stories are tension-driven. In my developmental editing, I’m constantly on the lookout for how and how much a writer hooks a reader and maintains the momentum of a story, and I’ve taught several classes on momentum and tension.
As for the sports psychology session, a while after we first got to know one another, Ann Garvin and I discovered something crazy: she did a doctoral thesis on overtraining and burnout in rowers, and I was once an elite level rower who overtrained. Much later, we had a discussion on working around burnout as a writer, and the next day, when I was out rowing on Lake Monona, I thought to myself, Hey, Ann and I should teach a class on sports psychology for writers. So much of the mentality needed for high-level competition is also necessary for writing, which can be a real downer of a vocation from time to time.
Q: What inspired you to become a teacher, and how does your everyday life translate into your writing?
A: I’ve had 25 years to think about why I became a teacher, and I’m not sure I’ve ever come up with a satisfactory answer except to say that teaching brings together so many qualities I value: authenticity, critical thinking, compassion, and careful consideration of disparate ideas. Teaching is also one of the best ways to get paid for being a student. I’d say the most common way in which my everyday life translates into my writing has to do with my preoccupation with time. I regularly find myself amazed by what causal chain of events has landed me wherever I currently am, whether that’s watching my child dance to an 80s song I’ve never liked or shaking hands with an author I’ve long admired or learning that I just ate blood sausage for breakfast while vacationing in Ireland. My fiction keeps returning to the strangeness of growing up and finding yourself in new situations and to the monstrousness of time’s passing.
Q: What, in your opinion, establishes someone as a writer?
A: Someone who feels unsettled when they don’t write.
Q: What do you think are the most important elements that make good writing?
A: That’s a big question. I’ll offer this paradigm: Good writing provides coherence, immersion, momentum, and resonance. Coherence: it’s clear; it makes sense. Immersion: it invites the reader to mentally co-create the spaces and events and people described within. Momentum: it keeps the reader wanting to read on. Resonance: it affects the reader emotionally or intellectually. Language is social. It means nothing without other people. Good writing is thus measured by its effect on people.
Q: What is your writing process? Has it evolved over time?
A: I typically write at night, once everyone else in the house is in bed. When I’m drafting a new story or essay, I try to make marginal headway every day (250 words at least). If I’m stuck, Iresort to a lot of listing. I usually involve a reader or writing group to give me a critique, and then I procrastinate on revisions for a while until I feel too lazy and start to dig in on the revision process, usually coming up with a revision plan (to-do lists, problem identification, posing the right questions), and then working my way through the piece. The only major evolution to my process is that it has become more regular. I haven’t always been a night writer; I haven’t always had reliable readers; I haven’t always had a job that didn’t drain me completely by day’s end. I’m fortunate to have an otherwise pretty predictable existence outside of my writing time, which helps.
Bio: Tim Storm is an award-winning writer and teacher whose work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Black Warrior Review, Copper Nickel, Short Story America, and Literary Hub. His passion for storytelling and its inner workings informs his teaching, editing, and mentoring. He runs an online writing school (stormwritingschool.com), which offers articles, worksheets, and courses geared toward helping writers hone their craft of engaging and moving stories.
Interested in attending the conference? Visit https://www.chicagowrites.org/conference for more!
Interview conducted by CWA intern Jessica Mack
Jessica Mack was previously Editor-in-Chief for the Joliet Junior College Blazer, editing and preparing articles for publication and managing a general staff. Under her leadership, the Blazer was 2018 Best-In-Show at the Illinois Community College Journalism Association annual fall contest and received 2018 Awards for Excellence. She is currently working on her Masters of English at DePaul University with a focus on creative writing and hopes to become a book editor.
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