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Have you ever read a story or a poem and wanted to know how the writer came up with it? How they landed on that spectacular word choice? Why oh why they had to make your heart break so? Of course you have. It’s a feeling as natural as getting pumped up for your favorite show or wanting to hide in a corner when you see your high school nemesis.

At The Prompt, as fans of the crazily talented writers in our community, we experience this feeling frequently. But rather than sit with the wonder, one of our own (shout out to Jillian Conochan) came up with a solution.

Enter our Tag! You’re It series, where we are given the opportunity to ask our fellow Prompt writers some of our burning questions about their work and writing process. Once the interview is done, the interviewee then becomes the interviewer and, like at the weekly Prompt meetings, gets the chance to “popcorn” to another one of our writers, ask their own set of questions, and help us learn more about the people who contribute their time and creativity to our community!

When I was given the privilege to interview one of our writers, Eric Mochnacz immediately came to mind and I was so grateful when he said yes! A frequent contributor to The Prompt, Eric’s work never lacks variety, with new themes, immersive settings, and entertaining and intriguing characters in each. From fantasies with teleporting closets, to touching personal essays, Eric injects his wry sense of humor into each of his pieces (and into our meetings), while keeping the stories grounded in their humanness.

This is on display in our interview as he shares how he keeps the creative juices flowing, his proclivity for pop culture references, how he handles his inner critic, and so much more.

TAG! Eric, you’re It.

Hi Sarah!

I’m going to treat this like a real, in-person interview, because I just want to imagine we’re sitting across from each other at a bar, halfway to drunk on fruity martinis, waiting for Kelaine to come back from the bathroom so she can drive our drunk asses home.

And I tend to type like I talk, so pretending I’m talking to you will make this a lot easier to work through.

Thanks so much for choosing me for this Prompt assignment! I feel honored.

One of the few blue-check verified people I know on Twitter.. who actually follows me… which is like, totally cool. And you put up with my drunk shenanigans and chats during the Sunday Prompt meetings. So, you cool.

What does your writing process look like? Do you have any rituals or tips that you swear by?

This is going to sound really strange and may not speak strongly to the quality of my writing, but I write in my head before I go to bed. Rather than count sheep, I plan out how I want a story to go. I’ve had a novel idea in my head for years about a mysterious carnival popping up overnight in a small beach town—think “Something Wicked This Way Comes” meets “Needful Things”—and I think about the plotting and characters in my head before I sleep. Or, sometimes, if I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, writing in my head helps. If it’s not my next great horror novel, I’m mapping out my next Prompt piece. Sometimes inspiration will come right before sleep.

The only problem is sometimes I forget what I wrote in my head the night before.

Also, if it’s a particularly inspiring and fun Sunday Prompt meeting, I’ll just start writing in Google Docs with the newly voted upon prompts immediately after the meeting and let the words flow based on our brainstorm or if inspiration struck. Sometimes, I can churn out a whole piece, and either send it right off to Kelaine for edits, or revisit it later in the week to edit it myself based on thoughts I’ve had about throughout the week.

It’s hard not to fall into a rut, but you consistently churn out stories loaded with creativity. Do you ever get writer’s block (if you believe in it)? If so, how do you cope?

Well, to be clear, I wrote once for The Prompt and then disappeared for a year or two. Honestly, I think it was my own insecurity that got in the way of contributing more, earlier. It’s so easy to think, “No one will like my writing”, or “It isn’t good,” or “These other people won’t get my sense of humor.” But the cool thing about The Prompt is the praise and acceptance we get as writers from the entire group.

Or, I would be worried about using curse words or being too sexual or being way out there, and then you realize there is a piece centered around the fuckability of cereal mascots. So, weird shit is apparently highly encouraged.

I don’t take criticism well, especially something as personal as writing, but Kelaine, as editor in chief, gives good, solid, constructive feedback, even if she doesn’t “get” it. She’s cut out paragraphs of stuff for me, and I’ve always felt she does it for the good of the piece and does so with a gentle editor’s pen. She writes in green ink, not red, if that makes sense.

So if I can just get out of my own head and put words to paper, that’s half the battle of getting through a rut. It doesn’t need to be perfect – because I can always go back and refine it or count on the writing community to fix it for me.

Also, as a note, I write a lot of blog posts and content for work—and that’s all HR-focused, and we try to abide by SEO guidance so we can rank to get leads to our website. So, it’s all very technical and prescriptive, and that can tire me out with writing. But, on the other hand, The Prompt lets me let loose! So, even just writing for fun gets me out of the rut.

Your stories always seem to infuse the right amount of humor without distracting from the story itself. How do you strike that balance?

Years of crippling fear due to social rejection has really helped me hone my ability to deflect from raw, human emotion and the harsh reality of existence by making a well-timed joke.

We’ve talked about your aptitude for making quick pop culture references: do you find that pop culture lends any inspiration to your writing? Where do you find the inspiration to keep your stories unique not only in terms of your own work, but just in storytelling in general?

As a kid who was left to his own devices for the majority of his life, I just consumed pop culture. Even in my ‘tween years, I was mastering “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” and the TV Guide crossword puzzles. I just love knowing stuff about stuff that interests me because there are other people out there like.

In life, if I can make a random retro reference at a party, and others get it, those are my people. I’ve just made friends for life.

Some people are passionate about NFTs, Bitcoin, and all that other bullshit; I’m passionate about minutiae and trivia from the 80s, 90s and early aughts.

So, since pop culture was (and is) so important to me, I feel like it’s a great connector. When I write an ode to 80s slasher flicks, I know someone out there reading it will appreciate it. The more obscure, the better.

And sometimes, a well-placed, off handed reference to the weird Indian burial ground episode of Punky Brewster really brings a piece together.

And thank God they saved Cherie from the old refrigerator.

What has been the hardest writing lesson you’ve had to learn? How has it paid off?

This applies to life in general, but also to my writing, I’m my own worst critic. Because I’m afraid of making a mistake or someone not liking what I do, I hold back and don’t do it.

And like, not everyone is going to like me or my writing, so does it really matter if any of it is perfect? Nope.

And, like, it’s not that serious. It’s just writing. Not brain surgery.

So, just write. It’s probably better than I think it is. And if it is a total piece of shit, Kelaine or the other Prompt writers will tell me.

And overall, the feedback has been positive from the writing community, so I need to listen to them more than I listen to the negative self-talk in my head.

What keeps you coming back to writing?

My brain is a mess. I can get so hyper-focused at work, I end up having all these crazy non-work thoughts bouncing around my head once I “clock out” – so that keeps me writing for The Prompt and one day hoping to publish the next great American horror novel.

And it’s just fun. Like I said, I write a lot for work, so writing outside of work let’s me try different styles of writing. I can be irreverent and casually drop F-bombs and make random pop culture references, things I can’t do when I’m writing HR blogs.

I’ve also always been a creative person, and I like creative outlets, whether it’s through reading someone else’s creativity (I’m a voracious reader) and writing my own stuff. As an introvert, I recharge my battery by spending time with myself, and writing is one of the things I do with that time. Otherwise, I’d just keep watching shitty Netflix dating shows like The Ultimatum.

I am stealing this question from Jillian because I love it: do you have a favorite quote about writing or creativity that inspires you?

Not necessarily, but sometimes when I realize I am taking life too seriously, I consider this line from a song from Wicked, “It’s just life, so keep dancing through.”

Life is too short to not explore your creative outlets.

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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