I have the distinct pleasure of introducing you to Ed Cyzewski. I came across his writing browsing on Twitter. I appreciate his honesty in all of his writing. I am glad he agreed to do this, because I enjoyed his interview. I believe you will too.
1) Did you always know you were a writer?
No. I started writing all of the time when I was 12, but my family always emphasized picking a practical career in medicine, law, or business. My high school teachers always praised my writing, but I didn’t take it seriously until graduate school.
2) If not, when did you discover you were meant to be one?
It was a last resort. I attended seminary, got an MDiv, and knew before I finished that I wasn’t cut out to be a pastor. Writing was always in the background, something I expected to do on the side.
3) When and why did you start blogging?
I credit my best friend Josh. When I got out of seminary, I had so much church stuff and theology to process, and he picked out the name “in a mirror dimly” for a blog that we started together. The blog was the continuation of our conversations over breakfast at south Jersey diners. As his family grew, he eventually stopped blogging, but it became a lifeline of sorts for me. While it was a creative outlet, my early years of blogging were mainly devoted to processing my struggles with church.
4) What was it like for you when you wrote your first book?
It’s hard to say. I started it as this side project, but publishing a book was also this kind of flakey dream I had. I wanted it, but I also didn’t fully understand at the time the significance of what I was getting myself into. I just know that the day I signed my first book contract was one of the most emotional days of my life, right up there with my wedding day and the day my son was born. Nothing prepared me for it. It was like I crossed some kind of threshold and was about to do this big, difficult thing I’d always wanted to do but hadn’t quite realized it.
5) Besides the Bible, what is one book that changed your life?
Tough call… I need two. The Cost of Discipleship has been significant in my life as a Christian, but Traveling Mercies was a real eye opener for me. I loved it. It’s a great book. But more than that, I had read books by David Sedaris and thought, “If only I could write funny stuff like this someday about faith!” Lamott showed me that Christians can laugh, be irreverent, and write with an appealing candor about their faith. That book was an important sign post for me.
6) When did you cross over into writing full time?
When my wife got accepted into the English graduate program at UConn, I started looking for work, and I realized I probably had a better chance at finding writing work. In addition, I wanted a portable job that could go with her academic career. The more I invested in writing, the more it has been affirmed as a clear calling for me.
7) Was it a difficult transition and why?
It was a horrible transition. We were broke for two years, living paycheck to paycheck. There are many reasons for that: a cancelled book deal and TWO cancelled magazine columns didn’t help. But I also thought I could find steady work writing magazine articles. A friend looked over my resume and suggested a different strategy for steady income: edit books and write blog posts for companies. We’re not rich, but we’re at least stable for now. Phew!
8) If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?
Going back to my college days, I would have taken the creative writing program AND the communications program to learn how to do copywriting. Learning to write a good book takes time, so more practice always helps. And copywriting for businesses is where steady freelance income is at. In addition, there are so many places where copywriting comes in really, really handy as a book author and a website owner!
9) What does your average day look like?
I try to write for an hour before taking over with our son for the morning. Then I hang with him and try to do a few things here and there if he’s playing happily. I put him down for a nap around noon these days and start working. My wife comes home during his nap and takes over for either all or part of the afternoon depending on her work schedule. The best time to write is in the morning, but writing in the afternoon is cheaper than paying for childcare!
10) Do you have any mentors or influencers?
I’ve had a lot of great guides along the way. Matthew Paul Turner has been among the most important sources of advice and wisdom. He’s opinionated, speaks his mind, and really, really cares. I’ll take blunt advice from him any day. Also, I look at writers like Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey as models for working hard, building community, and addressing topics that people care about. My former agent David Sanford was a huge help, and I lean heavily on the feedback of my agent Karen Neumair.
11) Who are your favorite authors and why?
I have a hard time picking a favorite author. I’m probably too picky. No one can write a fact-based nonfiction book like Malcolm Gladwell. He is the master of telling stories while conveying a big chunk of information. I think there are a lot of nonfiction authors who have great ideas to share, but they fail to make it compelling and readable. That is the area where I’m spending a lot of time these days. When it comes to fiction, most of the books by Jasper Fforde are brilliant.
12) What are your all time favorite books and why?
I usually end up recommending Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Cold Comfort Farm, and Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series. I also love Girl Meets God. I’m sure I’m forgetting something really obvious too!
13) What things did you do or books do you read to perfect your craft?
I read Writers Digest, blogged a lot, only read books that I liked, read writing advice books that had general craft tips like On Writing, and participated in writing groups. The most important thing for me was to take myself seriously enough to practice but not so seriously that I stopped practicing.
I share a lot of my publishing lessons in this eBook I put together: A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book.
14) Lastly, what advice would you give a novice writer?
Get a notebook and carry it everywhere. A small moleskine or medium moleskine is perfect. Start rituals. You need habits and rituals to cultivate good writing habits. Before you go to work, spend 30 minutes writing anything, brainstorming, sketching characters, griping, whatever. Just start jotting down ideas. You need raw materials. Don’t expect to use them all. But let them roll around in your head. Create space in your day to just think about your writing ideas. Then, when you sit down at the “blank page,” you’ll have plenty of jumping off points.
Thank you so much, Ed.