Back Home With…
is a new feature here at To All The People Back Home, and my way of interviewing like-minded bookish creatives, where they can share their tips, tricks, experiences, and realizations so that you might walk away feeling inspired and motivated. We’re going to focus on balance, creative freedom, envy, love, and why we cherish the stories we do.
It’s so easy to feel alone in our struggles with our projects, especially for writers, I think, so this is my opportunity to show you you’re not alone. The people I will feature on this website have big dreams to go with their large hearts and vibrant personalities.
Today’s interview features one of my ABSOLUTE favorite people in the world:
Amanda at Nerdification Reviews
Amanda is a writer and blogger from New Jersey. On her platform she promotes stories that are well crafted and impactful whether they be found in novels, manga, comics, anime, or kdrama. She maintains a website and Instagram account that is authentic to her current tastes & hopes that you will find it both fun and informative. She also writes fiction.
Besides knowing her personally as one of my offline friends, I’ve always admired her.
She’s one of those authentic human beings who are inherently comfortable in their own skin. Every conversation I’ve ever had with her has been engaging and fun and informative. I can’t wait for you guys to meet her!
But, first, here are a few of my favorite things she’s written and shared:
- Blog Essay: Moana & The Celebration of Knowing
- Book Discussion: A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Maas
- Welcome Page
- Manga Review: Kiss Me At the Stroke of Midnight by Rin Mikimoto
On creative freedom:
Amara: Hi, hi friend! So you are currently on a break where you get to focus on writing and creating. How is that going, what’s been hard about that if anything?
Mandy: While people in our society do value creative people and creativity, it’s pretty obvious that they don’t take you seriously until you’ve created something and make some money from it. And so I thought a long time about creating this space for myself where I would be able to focus on creating because that’s what I want to do with my life. Whenever I really think about it, that’s the thing that I will be most happy doing.
Even if I get a really cool job, I’ll always be longing to do this [writing]. So, I created these months for myself so that I could start working on this. But, even though I had the ability to do that at any time, it took me a long time to finally say, “I’m going to do it.”
Because I always knew I would have to tell my parents I’m going to do this. I’ve got to tell my boyfriend, who I live with, who, you know, we go half on everything, that I’m going to be doing this. And, luckily, they’re all supportive, but I think they’ll all be more supportive without that stress and worry once I make money off of it. You know?
Mandy: Because our society, it always comes back to money. You need money to live. That’s just
the way it is.
Amara: It’s funny that you’re bringing that up, because I also want to get your … I mean I know it as
your friend, but I think it would be good to include it in the interview how your workplace affected that
creative space and why it was so necessary to change your enviornment. Like right now, do or die.
Mandy: So, I worked in an office setting after graduating from college. In my last year of college also. And I don’t think I ever thought of myself as someone who’d work in an office setting. I kind of just fell into it through knowing certain people and wanting just to work part time at first while doing my last year of college. And then, the opportunity came to work full time and to have benefits and all of that stuff that you get when you work full time. And it was like, “Well, I’d be silly not to.”
Even though it wasn’t the field that I went to school for. I went to school for anthropology and I was focusing on community development within the United States. I wasn’t necessarily focused on going abroad with my anthropology, even though I would’ve liked that. But, I was focused on going into that sort of an area.
And office work, which is as far from that as you can get, is really just kind of … It’s stifling. Like office work made me efficient at tasks that don’t really require your brain. So, it almost trained me in how to kind of turn off my brain.
You have to act a certain way. You have to talk a certain way. You have to take all of your cues from your supervisors who are getting orders from their supervisors and it just goes up and up the chain until you get to these unknown backers in charge of everything. So, it all seems like it doesn’t … Like it has no soul to it.
Amara: Well, yeah. It doesn’t allow for you to be an individual really. Like you’re not beating to the tune of your drum anymore and creativity, I think, is so close to that. Like who you are is what, I think, you’re going to create. At least it has something to do with that. So, if it removes that from you, strips that…
Mandy: It’s just, for me, it was a really hard struggle. There’re some people who it works out fine for and that’s awesome. But, for me, it was really hard even with the money, benefits, and all of that.
It was just like … When I came home from that job, it was really hard to switch from having numbed my brain down to get through work, to then jumping into a creative headspace while doing the cooking and cleaning and all that.
Amara: Did you ever find time, though, to create while you were at work or after work? Did you feel that you were getting anything done at all or it just felt completely stifled?
Mandy: No, during that time, it was six years in total, I actually wrote six books. So, yeah.
Amara: Oh, wow.
Mandy: I’ve got a lot of word count, but as far as the books go, I could never bring them to the next level. Because I couldn’t keep track of all the characters. I couldn’t keep track of the themes that I was playing with. I couldn’t keep track of the way that I wanted the story to weave together in a more complex way than just-
Amara: Word vomit.
Mandy: … Surface level. So, I could write if I had an idea and I just went off on a tangent, but I could never really edit it and just bring in all of the extra things that I think goes into a great story. I had a really hard time doing that. So, I ended up with lots and lots of notebooks and notes in a very chaotic form in all of those. And a lot of unfinished projects because they were just never able to get to that next level.
And it was always like, “Eventually they will. Eventually they will.” Then it’s six years in and I was like, “Wow, this has been taking a really long time. This is probably not for me.”
On reading stories:
Amara: I don’t know. I find it a very brave choice. So, you mentioned a great story. What’s a great story to you? Like what are you drawn to in fiction?
Mandy: I read so many weird, different things. That’s such a weird question.
Amara: I know! But do your best. What do you think, or at least what’s one of your favorite elements in a story? It’s something that you always go back to again and again.
Mandy: I really think that I do like characters that are going to do their best to achieve whatever it is in the book that they need to achieve. You know?
Amara: I agree.
Mandy: I think I do really like that selfless character that’s going to save the day.
Amara: The real heroes. Yeah.
Mandy: Yeah. Those are always the books that I end up being like, “Wow. I really enjoyed that.”
Like I’ve enjoyed other books where it’s not that clear cut. But those always end up at the top of my list. Like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and all of those famous sellers. But also, Keepers of the Lost Cities series. I also really like complex plots that are like puzzles to figure out. And stories with a great meaning to take away.
Amara: I was just going to ask you for some of your favorites. And I know Keepers is one of them. What else have you got in your arsenal that you go back to?
Mandy: The Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett. *sheepish grin*
Amara: I’m going to have to read that.
Mandy: It’s a new favorite of mine. Yeah, things like that. I really like that selfless hero character. I really like that character and whatever their group is … You know, trying to save the world, trying to do something that’s going to benefit a lot of people not just some people.
Amara: How do you make sure you’re getting that time in and absorbing all of it? All the goodness?
Mandy: Well, since I’m a mood reader, I’m also a mood writer which is inconvenient in a lot of ways when you’re on a schedule. But, it’s very convenient when you take advantage of it. Like when you really get to know yourself and you know what you want to do in the moment, then you can just do it and no other thoughts get in your mind. And you get into that deep flow where you almost feel like you’re almost outside of your person, because the inner world is so real that the outside world has just faded away and gone.
And once you get all of that out, that feeling goes away and you’re like, “Okay, I’m done with this.”
So, then I don’t really struggle to keep going with that and then I move on to the next thing.
Amara: So, what do you get out of your blog, Nerdification Reviews, when you’re on there? What’s all that about?
Mandy: So, I actually have, I think a different philosophy to the book reviewing culture. Because a lot of book reviewers want to do really solid honest reviews and more journalistic style where it’s non-bias. Then you have the book hypers, but they’re just-I’m not into that.
I almost feel like I can look at a book and I can read the jacket and I can go on Goodreads and look at the rating and I can look at key words that people: are using over and over in their reviews and I can kind of gauge that for myself and whether or not I’m going to read it.
So, with my blog I’ve actually just, like … It was funny. I have a cousin who I think she’s 12 now and she went on my blog and was like, “Everything is five star reviews.”
Amara: That’s the point.
Mandy: *nods* And I was like, “That’s true.” Because I really focus on the books that I enjoy and I want to promote to others. I kind of want to make my taste become apparent in it and the things that I enjoy.
So, if someone goes on my blog and they look at even the just the aesthetic of it and they’re like, “I’m into these things. I like these things. I think that if I follow this girl I’m going to get a lot of recommendations that I’m going to enjoy.”
I do have a personal agenda of spreading anime and manga onto people who maybe only heard of Naruto and One Piece and they’re like, “That’s not my jam.” Because that’s not really my jam either. It’s a whole craft. It’s a whole art form and that’s just one genre in it.
Amara: And is it the same with Instagram? Are you trying to just keep it cohesive or do you look something completely different out of Instagram?
Mandy: I like editing pictures.
Mandy: I like making things pretty.
Amara: You’re so good at it and it’s so cutesy in the best way. It makes me really happy actually whenever I look at it. There’s like a mood attached to your aesthetic. I love that.
Mandy: Yeah, it’s not overly themed and I don’t really like to take pictures of the same things over and over. So, it’s not like a still life photography. It’s not focused on the layout or flat lays or anything like that, but it’s still content driven. It’s just that with the content, I then try to enhance it.
And the mood of… Since you mentioned the mood, that’s probably more accurate than saying that there’s any sort of theme to it.
Amara: Yeah, exactly.
Mandy: Because it used to be much darker, moodier look like last year around Halloween, around that time. In the darker months. And then over the summer it got very bright and pink and pastel and now I’ve been playing with lots of stickers because I’m super into kpop and I think it’s cute.
Amara: So, I want to switch gears a little bit. Because you have such a big following on Instagram specifically, but you’re growing your platform in other areas, do you find that it’s competitive? Do you feel like it’s easy to remove yourself from this ongoing need to instantly getting followers, instantly building an audience? I don’t know, do you ever feel that pressure?
Mandy: No. I mean, I … In the beginning of Instagram, I actually got … I feel like I got pretty lucky that I got like a handful of really solid, pretty active followers that are still solid and still active today. They’re still using their Instagram accounts too, so they’re still actively posting and engaging on their own accounts and then coming over on mine and vice versa.
So, I feel like when I started Instagram, I right off the bat found a really nice, core group of people that it was almost like I had them in mind when I post something. And when they comment, I won’t be surprised. Because I recognize them, I enjoy engaging with them.
And then I got a couple more followers that were not as active but they’re there. And that’s nice too because not everyone is as active on the internet as everyone else.
I mean, I think I would enjoy having a lot of people on my account because I like the … Like when I post on Instagram, it’s like I’m creating something for everyone else, and to showcase something that I really enjoyed.
So, having lots of followers is definitely appealing, but just having lots of followers for the sake of having followers has never been … It’s not me. It’s not really a concern. It’s not a source of envy.
I mean, I definitely dedicate a solid hour or two a day to Instagram. Just being on it, losing 20 minutes here, losing 30 minutes there. Maybe dedicating a whole hour while I’m having coffee to Instagram. Beyond that, then I switch gears. Like I want to read something today. I have to clean the house. I want to write this many words today.
I spent the whole day yesterday shopping and running errands. I didn’t go Instagram until the end of the day.
Amara: And that was just natural or did you tell yourself to do it and not to look?
Mandy: No, it was natural. It just happened. I didn’t even really think about it.
Amara: Shifting gears once again… Okay, so we’re writers.
Amara: Us and our other friend Kayti are writers and we do this thing together even though we do it seperately. And I want to talk about it.
Mandy: We’re each other’s writer buddies.
Amara: Writer buddies, critique partners, indeed. The Magical Girl’s Writers Guild. That’s right. We got to coin that or patent it or something. Trademark it because I love it so much.
So, I want to talk about confidence and motivation because you recently liberated yourself from a nine to five, and you say you’re enjoying some productivity and creative freedom is really helping that. But it’s still hard to get words down and it’s still hard to get your draft where you want it to be no matter how many times you finished one, how far a long you are, whether you’re even in the publishing industry or not. You still suffer from that.
Mandy: And you’re always going to.
Amara: You’re always going to, right. It’s never going to go away.
Mandy: It’s always going to be book writing.
Amara: Yeah, it’s always going to be storytelling. I feel like that’s almost the easy part. It’s when you want to translate it that kind of gets wonky. So, because you’ve been writing actively now, what have you been doing to keep your confidence up, your motivation up? Do you struggle with that? How do you, or why do you struggle with that and what do you kind of do to combat it?
Mandy: So, definitely do struggle with that. It did … You know, going back to the first question that you asked, deciding that I was going to dedicate myself just to writing over these next couple of months definitely helped. Because I freed up that time for myself and I also allowed myself to say, “Alright, this is all we’re going to be focusing on.”
So, I think that gives you the time and the permission to focus which is definitely helpful. But, really, I think it was only helpful because I went into it expecting it to still be difficult.
I didn’t go into it being like, “This is going to be the magic fix.” Because there is no magic fix.
I feel like I did a lot of soul searching- That’s like … In one sense that might sound like a cop out answer because then how do you unpack that? But really, just in general, that’s the kind of person I am. I really check in with myself.
I know my moods and my feelings pretty well and I know, usually, when one is negative and one is positive and judging negative and positive based on “Am I being productive or am I being a potato?”
And there’s obviously time for just being self-indulgent and just really relaxing and giving in to what you want to do, but you can’t do that all the time. For example, like you can’t read a great, inspiring book, feel inspired to write and then not take advantage of that time.
If you feel inspired, you better sit down and you better take advantage of that because that’s not a state that you’re working towards holding onto indefinitely. Its not possible. That’s a state you’re working towards recognizing and then taking advantage of.
Amara: So, do you think that you’re working toward a deadline you’ve sort of created? It can’t be indefinite doing this until you make money elsewhere, so are you feeling any sort of pressure to get it done? Is that helping you or are you just putting that out of your mind?
Mandy: So, the helpful pressure is when I think about my goals and achieving them within that time and it’s like, “Yes. I do want to do this. So, yes, I do want to work hard.”
Anytime that it’s negative, unhelpful pressure is honestly me projecting thoughts onto the people I know. So, it’s me projecting that my mother wants me to get finished with this book by a certain time and me projecting on my boyfriend that, when he gets home from work, I’m going to be able to say that I have this many words written and I had such a productive day. Me being able to tell my sister that so many people read the first chapter and said that they think it’s got a lot of potential. Things like that that are fabricated. They’re made up.
That’s what your human brain does. It gives you that incessant chatter and it gives you anxiety and tries to throw resistance in your way so that you won’t achieve these things. And I think that happens to everybody and I think that the people that are successful must be the people that are able to overcome that.
I don’t think this is like a “Woe is me. I have to deal with this and other people don’t.” No. I think everyone deals with this.
Amara: I want people to write that down. Whoever reads this … Because no. That’s a nugget of gold right there because I find that sometimes I’ll do the same thing whether it’s my own siblings, my own mother. They’re not thinking that. They completely believe in me and are proud of me. It has nothing to do with that.
Mandy: Yeah. they want you to do your best. They don’t wish bad on you. They care about you.
On author platforms:
Amara: What do you hope the readers that vibe with you will get out of your platform? What are you hoping to communicate about yourself?
Mandy: It’s more about the content that I post than it is about me, but going forward as an author: in my writing, there is always going to be subjects of social justice and wellness. And I’m usually going to slip some animal welfare in there. I want people to feel like I’m here in the world and writing for an audience that wants to make this a better place.
I would like people to know I’m from New Jersey, I’m in my late 20s, my content is obviously the things that I like and I want to promote. I have it out there that I am a writer. I never really specified my writing so much online because it’s kind of like a private, intimate thing to myself. So, it’s not really something that I talk about that much.
Amara: But it is what it is.
Mandy: Yeah. I mean, you don’t want to be a ghost.
Back to writing:
Amara: Okay, so since we’re going to wrap it up now, what are you working on right now or what are you excited about? It could be a theme. It doesn’t have to be the exact project. Whatever you feel comfortable sharing. What’s making you excited to breathe life right now?
Mandy: Currently, the manuscript that I’m working on now, it is the sixth book I’ve attempted to write and it’s the first one I feel has really good marketability and really good sale potential as a first novel. In the past, I’ve always written things that call to me, stories that I think are awesome. But I’ve always had it in my head that this might be a challenge to query an agent for. So, when I happened to get this idea, I didn’t pursue it at first. I just kind of let it sit while I was working on something else.
And then the more it warmed in my mind and the more I kind of started to play with the different things and a lot of it pulled from my life at the time, it felt very current, it felt very fresh. It has a satirical aspect to it-
Amara: Which I love.
Mandy: I just feel like the world needs that at the moment. We need a little more satire out of the circumstances that we find ourselves in. And it kind of aims at … I guess it could be a young adult novel, but I feel like it’s much more one of those adult novels that reads like a young adult.
Amara: Crossover appeal.
Mandy: Uprooted and all those types of novels that you think they’re YA, but then you go to the bookstore and they’re being sold in the sci-fi fantasy section. I feel like it’s along the lines of that because the protagonist is also in her early 20s who’s in the 24-26 range.
SO, I feel like it’s a story that’s going to be focused at more so the people who went through school, they went through college, then they find themselves out in the world and they’re like, “Oh shit. This is it? I worked all of my time to get here?”
Finding your feet as an adult. It’s almost like that second coming of age that you have. Because maybe back in the day you only had one coming of age. You were a child and then you were essentially an adult. But now you’ve got this weird childhood. Then we got this weird adult childhood.
Amara: Yeah that we call young adult.
Mandy: Yeah, and then it’s like you get to that point where you’re like, “I can make my own decisions now. Which ones do I want to make? What responsibilities do I want to take on?”
Amara: And, “Oh yeah, who am I? I didn’t figure that out.”
Mandy: You might even need to figure out where you came from.
Amara: That’s a good one. And what that means to you too. What the expectations are there.
Mandy: What ideologies do you really carry versus which ones you absorbed from parents and teachers and institutions. And then you have to make that pivotal choice. Am I going to stay here where everything’s going to be comfortable but I really do not want to be here? Or are you going to take that risk and go where you want to go, but it might not be comfortable?
Amara: And I’ll leave everyone reading with those powerful questions in mind. Thanks so much for joining us at To All The People Back Home.com, Mandy. For everyone who’s been reading, you can find more of Amanda online at:
Personal Instagram: mandaluna_
Photo Credit: These gorgeous photos were taken by Amanda herself, so thanks for contributing them to the post, Mandy! <3