One of the hardest things about moving to Beaufort SC a few years ago was leaving all of my nerdy friends behind. Knowing I was lonely for brainy conversation, a friend from Greenville suggested that I get in touch with a freelance writer and teaching artist down here named Lisa Rentz. I contacted her out of the blue that same day. Lisa was nice enough to not only meet me for coffee, but to listen to me talk her ears off for over an hour. She also helped me on my way to becoming a teaching artist. I’m just as impressed with this many-hat-wearing nerdy chick now as I was when I met her. In addition to her teaching and writing, Lisa is the transmedia publicity leader at Artworks, which means she promotes the arts in Beaufort County and helps other artists do the same, using all platforms from the newspaper to Twitter. Her writing has been published in various genres including short stories, articles, and essays. Ever on the cutting edge, she’s recently added writing apps to this list. Thanks so much Lisa for joining us today!
What is your favorite way to flaunt your brain power?
Most of my flaunting is done in my writing, which is my preferred method of communication (email before phones for me.) I consider writing to be a form of self-defense, so I have to get in some impressive high kicks, if you know what I mean. My writing skills are what got me through high school, college, and many jobs. I’ve written book reports about books I didn’t read and about books I made up.
What social norms are you fond of flouting?
My husband does the dishes and the shopping, and I do all the yardwork— those are still norms to challenge, right? We split the taking out of garbage pretty well. I’m a feminist, which is still a fun way to flout, despite all the progress. Stereotyping is a big part of the social norm, and I’ve learned to not judge a book by its cover (or its mousy brown hair) because of all of the people who’ve mistaken me for a shop girl or an office assistant. I’m always getting asked where the bathroom is. The only retail I’ve ever worked was my husband’s artisan bakery. I’ve had only one regular 9 to 5 job, and that was working at my dad’s business for a couple of years in my 20s. I’ve definitely flouted that get-a-real-job norm too.
Great examples of flouting, Lisa! How is brain power an asset to your career?
As a working writer, I am a content provider, which means I generate stories, articles, photographs, illustrations, and connections for other people like journalists. So I spend a lot of time focusing, and problem-solving, and info-organizing, and meeting deadlines. That process is brain-power intensive— I rarely get to read novels anymore, thank goodness for short stories and magazines like Harper’s Monthly.
Visualization is a component of brain power that I use a lot. It’s a great way to slow down and find clarity, so that my work—an email or a short story—will be effective and enjoyable. Doodling and drawing work great as visualization.
Tell us a story about a time when nerdiness turned out to be an advantage for you.
All the time I’ve spent reading has been a huge advantage- reading is the foundation of writing, and I’m pretty good at trivia. I have a lot of memories of reading while walking home from school, reading in bed late at night, reading in class. The Thomas Cooper Library at USC in Columbia was fantastic when I attended there. And if being uptight about deadlines is nerdy, then I’ve got an advantage there, my deadlines are literally every other day.
If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Oh that would have to be a good stock tip. Apple, Microsoft, etc.
Hmm. That might be the best advice yet. It’s certainly the most fiscally responsible! Now can you tell us what’s cool about being nerdy?
Having knowledge and the ability to use it.
Right on! You already write across several genres, and now you’ve added writing downloadable apps. I couldn’t begin to write an app. What are some skills needed to do this? Particular challenges?
Writing an app is like writing a novella— one specific subject and just the right length. I determined the concept and content of my apps, and my publisher, Sutro Media in San Francisco, took care of the programming, thank goodness. My two apps, an arts & travel guide to Beaufort SC and ‘Pencils, Words & Kids’ could both be published in paper-book form. But smartphones are the new desktops, and one of the new ways to read, so I wanted my work to be there too.
The challenge of filling an app is organizing all the content. In a book or a magazine, the writer knows the reader is going to start at page 1. In an app, all the contents are sortable and searchable and cross-linked and filterable, so I had to make sure that each entry is both stand-alone and harmonizing with the rest of the app. In ‘Pencils, Words & Kids’ I wanted to relay the whole writing process, but also make it a la carte, so people could just pick and choose a creative step for themselves— write what you enjoy, not just what you know. My apps include hundreds of photos, which was a lot of work but also a lot of fun.
Lots of ways! The premise is that creative writing is like weight lifting, every repetition makes you stronger. So I emphasize writing-writing-writing, in the Just Do It sense.
All the prompts and techniques were developed in the trenches, while I was working in the schools in Beaufort SC, so other nerdy chicks and geeky boys and all sorts of other types helped me develop my ideas about learning the creative writing process. I’ve included their opinions in the app too. One 7th grader told me something beautiful that I quote whenever I get a chance- “Writing long & adventurous stories calms me.”
The app is really informative, about the big How Tos and Whys of writing, and I also included information (like vocabulary and definitions) because that’s what writers need for describing and explaining— that’s why science works so well with the arts, right? I also emphasize writing by hand. I heard recently that pencils can write for 35 miles. That’s a long line and a lot of potential.
What’s something you like to do that might be considered a tad bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?
Being a homebody as much as possible and doing a sewing project about once a year. For the past few years I’ve been making purses from thriftshop blazers— the pockets are built-in better than I could make them.
I saw Lisa toting one of her cool blazer purses the other day. She said it takes a whole blazer to make one purse! Do you have a favorite hobby? Details please!
I take lots of frisbee breaks and walks with my dogs. It’s great for stretching, taking my eyes off the computer screen and, since I’m always looking for ways to get three things done at once, also takes care of the dogs’ need to get outside the fence.
Believe me, we’ve just scratched the surface of the many ways Lisa creates. To find out more about her, visit her website: www.eatgoodbread.com. You can take a look at her writing app HERE, and her Beaufort guide app HERE. Lisa’s short story, The Chimney, recently won a Liars League competition. Click below to hear it read in beautiful British English.