November 12, 2019
Interview by Meryl D'Sa
Samantha Hoffman wears many hats: she is a writer, editor, private chef, traveler, VP of the Chicago Writers Association, and also the Executive Director of Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference. Having been a writer all her life and seeing the value in good writing, Samantha has been instrumental in helping the writing community in Chicago grow. She also has a blog that focuses on life in Chicago and provides writing tips and ideas that inspire readers to work harder on their writing.
Q: How do you balance work and writing?
A: I don’t! Those scales are always tipping. Writing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember; writing stories in grade school, journaling from the time I was a teenager, sometimes writing creatively, sometimes business writing, sometimes novel writing. At different times in my life, writing has been the emphasis, at other times it’s been on the back burner.
If people aren’t writing for a living they think they can’t call themselves a writer. To me, if you write, you are a writer. We all have other responsibilities that take precedence at different times.
My goal is to write every day, even if it’s only for five minutes. There are days I don’t even do that. I try not to beat myself up about it. I tell myself: write when you’re able, write when you’re in the mood, write when you’re inspired, write sometimes when you don’t feel like it. And even if I'm not actually putting my fingers on the keyboard, I'm thinking about my characters and my story, and that counts. Sometimes if I feel stuck it just takes sitting in the chair and rereading some parts of my work to get back into the story, and moving forward. I know that if I just keep at it, it will come together, and it will all balance out.
Q: Do you have any favorite writing spots/spaces?
A: I’m easily distracted when I’m writing at home – there’s always something begging for my attention: the internet, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, the internet, email, my cat, this interview... I’m more able to focus when I’m away from all that, so, if the weather’s nice, I’ll work in a nearby park or an outdoor café. Nature always inspires me. If the weather’s not conducive to outdoor writing, I’ll go to a coffee shop, or the lobby of a lovely old hotel. which is weird because you’d think there would be more distractions there. And let’s face it, there are. Somehow, though, I’m better able to focus, maybe because I'm there for that purpose. I want to be better about focusing when I’m home, but right now I’d get a D- in that class.
Q: What genre do you write in? Do you explore other genres?
A: I write contemporary fiction, almost exclusively, with the occasional creative nonfiction piece thrown in. I write what I like to read, and that’s what I think I’m best at.
Q: What do you think are the most important elements of good writing?
A: Unique and interesting characters, ones people can relate to in some way, even if we’re talking about the villain. When characters have some vulnerability the reader can understand the motivation behind their actions, even if they’re doing something criminal or unethical.
A story that engages the reader, one they can believe, and buy into, even if it’s fantasy.
A story that asks questions so the reader will keep turning the page to find out the answers.
Conflict – happily ever after is great in real life but it’s the kiss of death in fiction, unless it's the very end. The best families for fiction are the dysfunctional ones.
Interesting, unique language (avoid clichés at all cost).
And if you’ve got all that, then you need to make sure you have a good editor (and that that person is not yourself).
Q: What is your role within the Chicago Writers Association? What special projects have you worked on for CWA?
A: I am on the CWA board as VP and secretary. I worked on the Book of the Year Award contest for a couple of years. Then one day Randy Richardson, our president, and I were talking about the future of CWA and I said I thought we should put together a writers conference. He said that had been his vision for a very long time, that it was something he felt was needed in Chicago. He told me some years ago one of the board members started to plan one. She had gotten pretty far, he said, and then it got too difficult and she gave up. He was all for the idea of trying it again but he didn’t want to be the one to do it. He said if I did, he’d be 1000% behind me.
I’ve been to a number of conferences; some excellent, some less than excellent, some friendly, some stuffy, and I had a very clear vision of what I wanted ours to be; the best of each one of those.
So that’s been my special project. Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference focuses on the art, craft and community of writing and we’ve gotten great feedback on it. 2020 will be our third year and it’s becoming our signature event. It’s been a labor of love and we’re all very proud of it.
Q: What is your favorite moment of being a CWA board member so far?
A: When Randy asked me to join the board. I was very honored. He’s created an amazing organization and I’m proud to be part of it and to be in the company of the other board members. We’re a diverse group, all working toward the same goal of fulfilling Randy’s vision by fostering an inclusive, supportive atmosphere and giving back to our membership.
Q: Every writer needs a few stars to align to help create good literary work. What resources do you work best with and why?
A: I have always found motivation in being in the company of other writers. I’ve participated in a number of critique groups, I’ve attended lots of conferences, writing workshops, online writing classes and writing retreats, and I always learn something from every one of those. And at conferences and workshops I always meet at least one person, sometimes more, who becomes a friend. That’s what helps me become a better writer: community…that’s my favorite resource. I’ve always found the writing community to be supportive and encouraging, and that’s a gift.
Q: What accomplishment in your writing life has had the most impact on you as a writer?
A: The single most impactful moment in my writing life is the day I got the call from St. Martin’s Press that they wanted to publish my book, What More Could You Wish For. That was a can-you-believe-this moment; incredible and amazing; a dream coming to life.
But I would have to say the accomplishment that means the most to me is finishing the book in the first place. Writing a book is really hard. I’ve been working on two others ever since, trying to finish one or both of those. It'll happen. Eventually.
Bio: Samantha Hoffman is a writer, editor, personal assistant, private chef, runner (8-time marathoner), film and theatre buff, world traveler. She is the author of What More Could You Wish For (St. Martin's Press), V.P. of the Chicago Writers Association and Executive Director of Let's Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference. Visit her at www.samanthahoffman.com
Meryl D'Sa, transplant from Mumbai, recently earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Florida Atlantic University, where she also worked as a graduate teaching assistant and as the visual art editor and social media handler for the program’s literary magazine Swamp Ape Review. In her writing, she often tries to go beyond what feels comfortable in order to better understand herself and the world. She writes, she breaks form, she reads, she pets dogs, she lovers ginger wine and all kinds of peppers.
Write City Magazine
Write City Review
Windy City Reviews
Book of the Year
First Chapter Contest
Chicago Writers Association
Make a Difference!