An Interview with Laura Jane Williams
On the death of blogging, Instagram storytelling & the reality of writing a book.
I first encountered Laura Jane Williams' writing while I was meant to be working at a soul-destroying day job. In desperate need of a pick-me-up, I would scroll through her blog and feel a little less lost after reading her words. It wasn't escapism in an unrealistic sense, it was better. Relatable and raw. I've mentally recited her mantra, "because none of us is fucking up like we think we are", ever since. This month marks the release of her book, Becoming. I interviewed her about the process and her answers are just amazing. Enjoy!
1. You recently wrote a book, Becoming (order it here!). What did you learn about yourself through that process, both creatively and on a personal level?
Oh god. WHAT AN OPENING QUESTION! Writing this book was the most emotional, difficult, beautifully stubborn experience of my life - especially after it had been bought by the publisher. When I was writing on my own watch, I could dip in and out of writing about a very painful period in my life (BECOMING is a memoir), but once I'd signed a contract for it I had to sit my ass down in the chair, surrounded by ghosts and painful memories and it cracked me open. It was an exorcism of so much hurt, and only now, months after completing it, am I starting to feel like myself again. What did I learn? I don't know. That writing a book is work. That writing a book is actually very boring. That writing a book isn't waiting for "inspiration" to hit you, but rather one must show up to the laptop day in and day out, and simply carry on. Gosh... I sound very grumpy about this, don't I?! I'm so proud of what I have made, but dear Lord it took every last ounce of myself to create this thing.
2. What does being "brave" mean to you?
Bravery isn't about being fearless. Fearlessness is for toddlers in A&E and psychopaths. Being brave is feeling afraid and doing the thing anyway - mindfully, self-aware, carefully and methodically. "Brave" is knowing when to say stop. "Brave" is taking tiny, weeny baby steps. "Brave" is love - of doing whatever it is that must be done with love.
3. Which is your go-to book or article when you need a pick-me-up?
I love this question! I watch The Bodyguard or The Notebook once a month to feel better about life, and I love reading anything by Zadie Smith as a reminder of what good writers look like. Meg Fee always makes me feel better about life, as does Brianna Wiest. Increasingly I find myself turning to Instagram over blogs - blogging is dead, I think. I love the rise of the "micro-influencer", of the people who use Instagram as a diary, a small window into their world, and build a tiny but powerful army of people who think the same way. I'd like to see more of that. Of truthful words alongside beautiful pictures. Girls Gone Child is marvellous for that, as is Chelsea Latimer.
4. Becoming is a deeply personal and honest memoir. What would you advise someone who is scared about putting their stories out into the world?
Try the insta thing! Don't make a big deal of it. Tell your truth one sentence at a time, because that is all it takes. I owe so much to the people who have waved a hand online to say, "Laura, me too!" whenever I've given something of myself. That kindness encourages me to reveal even more of myself, both to myself and in my work. But one thing that I think is truly important is the notion that you do not have to be broken to be interesting. We mustn't think the only things worth saying are those things which reveal our scars. There's room for lows and highs. It is as charming to me to see a note about the smell of the lilies on your windowsill or the way the light looked on the drive home as it is anything else. And it is in the telling of those smaller details we can say so much more about what is bigger. Does that make sense? I think I'm saying don't worry that you have to deliver something grand and unlike anything anyone has ever said before. Do you. Start with the tiny things, for that is where biggest truths often hide.
5. Do you have any "writing rituals" per se?
For the practice of it, no. Maybe a good, wide table and access to a plug socket. Beyond that, I do not identify as a "writer", so much as a human who lives her life and then writes stories about it. That attitude is valuable to me - it stops me getting too precious about my work.
6. Do you have a writer/podcast/film recommendation?
You know, not to be self-serving but every weekday morning at about 8.15 a.m. I upload a "commute read" of any interesting article I've come across that week, on my Twitter feed. On Instagram, I've started to use #laurajanesbookclub for books I read and have nice things to say about. I love the "grammification" of books! I can't tell you the last time I picked up a read because I read a review in a newspaper on it - I look to the people I follow online for ideas on what I should order on Amazon next. We don't need a fancy books editor to tell us what is good, not when we can simply look to each other. (Also: if I sound like I am obsessed with Instagram, it's because I am!)
7. What’s the one bit of advice related to work and/or creativity that changed your life?
I think probably to take the work seriously, but not yourself. I try to follow that as closely as possible - to do work that is the very best that I can do, without losing sight of the fact that they're just words. Just stories. I'm not down a mine, digging for coal - nobody's life is saved by anything I can do. And yet - I am worthy, all the same.
8. What is the quality you most admire in a woman? And in a man?
Kindness is a dying bastion, and something I admire in woman, men, children, animals...! As I get older, thoughtfulness holds more weight for me, as does anybody who is committed to the art of conversation. Because, it is an art! I'm always so impressed with those who can talk with the newsagent, their mother and their boss with the same respect and charm.
9. Lastly, what drives you?
Same as everyone else, I suppose - I just want to be seen, and heard, and told that I'm doing okay. That manifests in healthy ways, and in slightly confused ways, but the root of it is the same: I just want to matter, even if only to the number of people I could count on one hand.
Follow Laura on Twitter @SuperlativelyLJ & order her book! You won't regret it.