There are some great authors online who are years ahead of me, who are achieving success and who also share their knowledge with other writers. Mur Lafferty is one of those people and I was thrilled to interview her during NaNoWriMo to get her tips on writing.
Mur Lafferty is an author, podcaster and freelance writer. Her first novel, ‘Playing for Keeps' won the 2008 Parsec Award for Best Novel and was subsequently published by Swarm Press. It reached #1 in Science Fiction on Amazon.com and is also available as a free podcast novel.
Mur has co-authored a book on podcasting, as well as writing role-playing games. She is currently working on the Heaven series of Podiobooks, as well as new projects and has also joined NaNoWriMo this month. On top of all this, Mur has a fantastic podcast for wannabe authors “I Should Be Writing“, which I highly recommend!
In this podcast, you will learn:
- About Mur's journey as a writer. From having her confidence knocked in college, to getting back into writing in her 30s, first as a freelancer and then as a novelist.
- Thinking people are better than you is fair enough, but you don't have to be a great literature writer to be an author. You can write what you love!
- No one can do the work for you. No one will make sure you get your word count done. You have to do it yourself. If you keep doing something every day, you will get better at it. Mastery takes time!
- The journey of a writer – it takes 10 years to make an overnight sensation. The authors who “suddenly” become famous have been slogging away in the background
- You have to start… and then keep going. In writing and in podcasting. Stubborn-ness goes a long way!
- Losing the fear of failure. It's not a big deal. You just have to pick yourself up and do something else.
- “It's ok to suck” Your first draft is not supposed to be a masterpiece. You don't step out of the door and run a marathon without training. You need to be in writing training too. It doesn't have to be perfect. Don't think about it too much. Just let yourself express yourself, and don't worry about the outcome.
- Mur's top tips for novel writing in #NaNoWriMo!
- 2 parts to your brain – the writing side and the editing side. Keep them separate. Express first and then edit. Do not obsess over that paragraph forever. Move on! (You can always get an editor).
- Outlining even just a little bit can help – even basic 5 point plot outline. It keeps the writing a lot clearer. Organic writing is fine and can come up with plot twists but still an outline helps.
- How ‘Playing for Keeps' developed as a novella, then a novel and then into a potential sequel (which Mur is writing as her NaNoWriMo project). How ideas do come as you write, and how plot threads can reappear later in the novel – it's an amazing process!
- On drafting and how rewriting and editing is a HUGE part of writing a novel. It needs revision and editing. That's part of the process! Don't expect it to be perfect at first try.
- How podcasting has got Mur the most attention from agents and publishers. Her journey has been unexpected (and wonderful) because of it. Has lost fear of public speaking through podcasting.
- Podcasting is great for connection with people. Hearing your voice creates an intimate relationship with the listener. It builds an audience and they actually care about your success.
- Get over your voice! (if you want to podcast!)
- The Storytellers Unplugged post from Mur. More people will give away free chapters and also dabble in podcasting. Embracing the internet as a new author is imperative, or you will be left in the dust.
- Get over the piracy debate as well – successful people get pirated! On giving it away for free as a sales technique. The dandelion method via Cory Doctorow.
- On writing humour as a novelist. Write what you find funny. Don't try to write what you think others might find funny.
Definitely go and subscribe to “I Should Be Writing” where Mur shares her own tips as a novelist and also interviews some very cool people!
You can download the transcription in PDF here => Transcription Mur Lafferty
Or you can read below, just click Show right => show
JP: Hi everyone. This is Joanna Penn for The Creative Penn Podcast and today I’m so excited to be interviewing Mur Lafferty. Mur is an author, podcaster and freelance writer. Her first novel, Playing For Keeps, won the 2008 PASEC award for best novel and was subsequently published by Swarm Press. It reached number on in science fiction on amazon.com and is also available as a free podcast novel. Mur has also co-authored a book on podcasting as well writing role playing games. She is currently working on the Heavens series of Podio books as well as new projects and has also joined NanoWriMo this month. On top of all of this, Mur has a fantastic podcast for wannabe authors called, I Should Be Writing, which I highly recommend. So, welcome Mur.
ML: Thanks Joanna. I’m really excited to be on here. One of my favourite things to do after waking up is checking Twitter to see all of your awesome tweets on writing and all of the web sites I have to look at immediately.
JP: Thank you so much for that. Well, we – and it’s great to be able to connect on Twitter because I wouldn’t have met you otherwise so, it’s a fantastic thing. So, maybe you can just start by telling people a bit about your writing background and your journey because you’re so busy and successful now but has it always been like this.
ML: Oh no, no, no. I wanted to – I guess I decided I want to be a writer when I was around twelve and then I wrote stories and stuff throughout high school and college and in college I discovered the horrible realisation that there were people better than me. So instead of taking the challenge and working harder I decided to quit and go into the corporate lifestyle but always in the back of my mind it was, no I’m really writer. I do this thing but at night time I fight crime and I’m really a writer even though I was doing neither of those things. When I finally got laid off a friend of mine at Red Storm Entertainment where I was working, offered to give me a little bit of mentoring because he had written several novels and he also introduced to me to people at White Wolf. His good recommendation actually got me my first job there and then once you complete a job and it’s pretty good and it’s delivered on time, then you get more work. So my role playing work kind of snowballed from there and that’s when I kind of gave myself permission to start learning how to write fiction again. I guess that was around 2001 and so I’ve been writing freelance role playing games and fiction since then and things are slowly moving along with actual sales, but starting to podcast my work is actually what has built me an audience and gotten me the most attention from – for example by publisher Swarm and then agents and stuff like that. So, it’s been a bit of a snowball. I don’t – you say I’m busy and successful. I’m just still busy. I feel like I’m in a kind of holding pattern right now, but hoping cool things will begin to happen soon.
JP: And you’ve said a couple of things there that were really resident with me – sorry resonant I should say. You said first of all that you thought people were better than you and that’s something I thought. When I was younger I used to read Umberto Eco, The Name Of The Rose was my favourite book, and I thought I had to write like him in order to be a writer, but obviously he’s one of those sort of great literature writers. So, how did you kind of break through that mental block of should I have to be that great literature writer or can I just write what I like?
ML: I don’t know. I hope this isn’t for everybody, I don’t want to tell everybody they have to wait until their thirties, but I was wide eyed and naïve and really believing in my own awesomeness in my twenties. And I still had like – I still questioned by own awesomeness but at the very moment that my awesomeness was questioned by someone else, and not saying somebody else said I wasn’t good, but it was somebody showing me fiction that they wrote. And I’m like, wow you’re not [0:05:08] game and you’re my peer, why are you so much better than me? I just let that completely shut me down and it wasn’t until later when I realised that nobody is going to help me. People will help me if I ask them to but nobody is really going to do this for me. They’re not going to wake me up in the morning and tell me I have to write and make sure I get my word count done and hold my hand and all that stuff. I have to do it all myself, so if I was going to actually do this writing thing I was going to have to do it no matter where I started. And then I realised that if you keep doing something everyday you’re going to get better at it and so I began to appreciate the hard work involved and realising that if I just kept at it something good would happen just from sheer stubbornness.
JP: Yeah. And I guess following on from that, you also said you were slowly moving along and you’re talking about the hard work there and I guess I feel in this sort of world of fast, fast Internet everyone expects to become a successful writer sort of overnight. Can you maybe comment on the journey of being a writer and how you see that as sort of a lifetime thing.
ML: Oh, it’s funny. I heard at least Elizabeth Bear say this but I’ve heard a lot of other people say it is the, well it takes ten years to make an overnight sensation. Like suddenly when an author bursts onto the scene everyone says, ‘Oh where did they come from?’ and the author is thinking, ‘Well I’ve been writing books for ten years, why haven’t you paid attention to me?’ But it really is a – it’s a building thing. I mean like in podcasting people wonder how to get successful like Scott Sigler or J.C. Hutchins or to a lesser extent me. I mean I’ve got the audience. I don’t have the book deals they do but I’ve got a larger audience. Scott always says, “Look we’ve been doing this for years.” You have to start, you have to build a foundation and keep going. I mean yes it doesn’t seem like that long but in podcasting we’ve been doing this a long time and again it’s stubbornness. It’s you come up with an idea and you say hey let’s do it. I’ve lost a lot of my fear of failure because I know that if something fails then I’ll just move on to the next thing. It’s not such a big deal. I just keep throwing darts at the dart board and if one of them hits then yeah and if one of them hits the wall then I say I’m sorry and go and patch up the wall but then keep moving. So, it is just a matter of keeping going and no matter who notices you or not eventually stubbornness does work.
JP: No that’s great and it’s interesting. You say you lot your fear of failure because you also do your kind of lessons learned don’t you? On your podcast I Should Be Writing you talk a lot…
ML: Oh yes.
JP: …about things you’ve learnt which I really appreciate and really recommend that podcast to people. One of the things you did recently I think was, It’s Okay To Suck, which I thought was brilliant. Maybe you could just talk a bit about that.
ML: Well, I think a lot of people – it’s something about writing and I believe it’s that we all use words every single day to communicate and that’s make people think that if I can tell you about the funny thing that happened to me at the grocery store today, then I can write a novel. Because I’m already using the words so why – what’s so hard about writing this novel. So, everyone thinks they can write and then they sit down to do it and it’s – and everybody has this great idea but they sit down to write it and if you haven’t been writing your whole life or haven’t been writing for the past couple of years, then the story is probably going to suck. And I say that just as complete honesty and I try to equate to say sports. I mean if you say, “You know what, I’d like to run a marathon,” are you going to step out of your door and run that marathon? No, you’ll get sick, you’ll hurt yourself but that’s when you start going out and running a little bit everyday. If you allow yourself to have a couple of bad days or a couple of races where you don’t perform that well, you know you’ll be better the next time. And so I think when you let go of, this one perfect shining idea I have in my head is going to be the thing to get me famous and wonderful and money and groupies and all sorts of awesomeness, and just say, I’m going to tell a story and it may or may not be good, but when I’m done I will have gotten a little bit better at least. And I think when people themselves to just write the story and not worry about what’s going to happen to the story afterward, that’s when they really let themselves be writers and let themselves actually improve. It’s like when they’re thinking about it too much they hold themselves back or they put some sort of handicap on themselves but when they just write and not worry about sucking or worrying about how good it is or where it’s going to be published then a lot better things happen.
JP: That’s fantastic advice and many of us are doing NanoWriMO at the moment which is national novel writing month if people don’t know what that is, and I was tweeting with somebody who said she’d spent her whole time, her whole day’s amount of time writing about her heroine’s eyelashes.
ML: Oh, wow.
JP: I know it’s like…
ML: It better be some good eyelashes.
JP: Yeah, that’s what I said. So, maybe on that topic, maybe you could give us a few tips because many of us are trying to write a novel this month and you’ve written lots. Maybe you could give us a couple of tips writing a novel, whether it’s fast or slower obviously.
ML: Well, there are two parts of your brain. One is – I forget like which one the right one is and which one the left one is and emotion and logic and all that, but I like to think of them as the writing side and the editing side. They don’t work well together at all and so you need to let the writing side write the story and do all the work and then you let the editing side take over. I knew a guy once who would – when I worked in the coffee shop in college, he would come in every night and he would on his book and I was so impressed. I got to know him and then when I looked – when I – after seeing him work for days and days and days, I asked him what he was working on and he showed me the first paragraph of his novel. It was a really good paragraph, it was really good, but he wouldn’t let himself get any further because he had to make that first paragraph so perfect, which again is, you’re allowed to suck. Just write it. Another thing is you need to give yourself permission and this is another one of those hard lessons I had to learn where I was writing the short story that eventually became Playing For Keeps. And then after I wrote it I wanted to rewrite it and realised it was going to be a novella. And then I realised I hadn’t said enough, then I thought, oh my God this could be a novel, am I ready to write a novel? That’s too scary. I wouldn’t even say it, I called it the N world. I’m like, oh it may turn into one of those N word things and a friend of mine is like, ‘It’s just a novel, just write it,” and I really psyched myself out. I mean it’s just a long piece of fiction. Yes, it’s got nuances and it’s got structure and there are things to fix if you break it, but just write that story. Really, that’s really all it is and let’s see, I am learning write now about outlining and I don’t do a lot of detailed outlines but I have discovered that the more I allow myself to sit down and focus even just a rough basic like five plot point outline, not even getting into the nitty gritty, but just the basic five act outline, I find myself writing a lot easier. It’s a lot clearer. So, I know a lot of people do the organic writing thing and I do. I find out wonderful plot twists and turns to take while I’m writing. I don’t think of it before hand, I think of it as I’m putting the words on the page but still an outline does help out a lot. So, those are my three tips for the moment.
JP: They’re fantastic. I guess I have one question out of that. Well, it kind of flows out of that cause I was thinking about Playing For Keeps. At the end you basically left it open for a second book and I believe you’re working on the sequel, is that right?
ML: Yes, that’s my NanoWriMo book.
JP: Oh, right, okay. Well, did you – when you started writing that, did you already have in mind that it was going to be a series or did the ideas, you know, at the end suddenly you found yourself finished and there was another book coming. How did you know that?
ML: Well, the short story that – I will give away the ending but I have three major characters Keepsie, Peter and Ian, and the end of Keepsie’s story was the original end of the short story. So, I always knew that would kind of be a this has potential but it doesn’t have to – it’s not really a hanging thread. But the other two characters their futures are much more in balance right now and much more hint of a sequel and those came about while I was writing it. So I didn’t have a whole series mapped out when I started writing it. I guess that’s a really long way to answer that question but yeah dangling plot threads came up when I was writing.
JP: Yeah. This is interesting to me right now because I’m writing my first fiction and I was very nervous before NanoWriMo and thinking I’ll never get ideas, like the ideas won’t come. But what’s happening is as I write something, something else will appear and I just wondered if that’s what happens for you as a novelist.
ML: Oh, totally. It’s totally what happens and the beautiful thing is, and it’s so hard for me to describe this without sounding so freaking full of myself, but it’s like I’ll lay some sort of plot seed, let’s use a metaphor here, and I won’t know what it will turn into but later on while I’m writing I’ll realise that whatever I planted in chapter three will fit perfectly in this new thing I just came up with in chapter nine. And I’m so proud of myself it’s like my subconscious was working at it and I had no idea it was coming but it just fit perfectly right in there like a little puzzle piece. That’s one reason why I know I’ll never be a hard core outliner because of moments like that. I’ll never get it until I’m deep into the writing process.
JP: Oh, there are so many things I want to ask you, but okay, well one thing I know that people really feel bad about or don’t really understand, is how many drafts there are between the very first one and a finished book. Stephen King just seems to do his one big first draft and then a second draft and then it’s done, how did your drafting work?
ML: Oh, gosh. It’s always seemed to be – like at the beginning it’s I write it and then I revise it once and then I start – and then I would send it out and then it would get rejected and then I would revise it again and then I would send it out. For my first novel that’s being pushed by an agent which is my Heaven series, it’s the first two novellas, I’ve edited that together to be a novel. That has gone through – first I wrote the novellas, then I edited together to be a book and then I edited it again and then my agent sent me edits again. And then she sent me line edits which didn’t take a lot of time but still required me to go through the manuscript one more time and look at it all and I expect if it sells, I’ll be doing that process again with an editor. So, how many have we gone through? I’m not sure. We’re looking at five or so right now and if it doesn’t sell then I’ll be talking to my agent, should I revise, should we talk about where I should change things. So, you feel great when you finish that rough draft but – I’ll try and say it in an optimistic way. It’s not the first time you’re going to feel great about finishing that book.
JP: Yeah, yeah. No, that’s really – yeah that’s a really good tip because I’ve written non fiction books before and I was just so sick of reading it again and again.
JP: And I see that’s happens to you as well. You’re just like I am so over editing this now, I want to do the next thing.
ML: Yeah, and one thing I’ve wondered about and obviously this hasn’t come for me yet, I’ve had one small press fiction book and it came out a couple of months after it sold, but I wonder what it’s like especially in the podcast world to podcast your book and pump it up and get people talking about it and get people excited about it and then eighteen months you may be working on a completely different book and that’s the foremost thing in your head. But I’m wondering your book’s out and suddenly you have to go back to that mindset you were at eighteen months previously and going, ye I’m writing a book, hey pay attention to my book.
JP: No, that’s exactly right and I think self publishing helps with that.
JP: Okay, right. Well we haven’t – we’re running out of time and I’ve got some more questions here. So, I guess one thing is you obviously have done several podcast novels and you’ve got your brilliant I Should Be Writing podcast. So, what has podcasting actually done for you as an author and as a person I guess.
ML: Podcasting has done everything for me. My career has not done anything I thought it would. I mean if I ever thought I would go from wannabe writer to a published author, that was my dream but it has not gone the way I expected it. I’ve lost a lot of my fear of public speaking just by podcasting. I’ve lost a lot of my – oh gosh. It’s a tough thing to write and then podcast because you have to have a certain sense of brass ovaries as I like to call them, simply because you really need to really believe in your work. And it doesn’t matter how shy you are, that is a sense of hey I’m awesome enough to spend hours and hours and hours beyond writing this to put it out there. And I think that whole fake it till you make it slogan, I pretended to be confident for quite a while and now I think I can pull off pretending to be confident pretty well. I’m not saying I’m confident, I’m saying I can pull it off, but really what it’s done is it’s given me an ability to talk directly to my readers and one thing that is amazing about podcasting is, when people read you, when they read your blog, they don’t hear your voice, they don’t hear your tone. And when you’re podcasting, people think you’re talking directly to them and it creates a so much more intimate relationship with your reader or listener. I think it builds the audience but the audience cares. I don’t think people who buy Stephen King, they’re not thinking, ‘man I really hope this book is a success for him,” I don’t think they’re thinking that. And it’s not only because they know it will be, I mean they just want to buy the book and read it. But when you start to know these people and you know them and you’ve heard them read the book and you’ve had them talk to you and say, well my book’s coming out, I really hope it will do well, and you become a person to them, they care a lot more about your success. It’s a beautiful feeling having a community and having a listener base and reader base before I even have a major publishing deal is such – it’s such an amazing feeling and I never, ever want to take my listeners for granted. This is why I always want to be able to give away my stuff because I don’t want to give away my stuff and have people support me and then get deals and then say, sorry guys the gravy train stopped. I always want to reward people who supported me this far.
JP: That’s fantastic and you’re right, it’s about knowing people or feeling that you know people and everyone who listens to your podcast feels that they know you more than people who don’t I guess. And I must say I really love your voice as well. You’ve such a…
ML: Thank you.
JP: …a lovely, lovely voice and it’s so funny when I listen to you and JC Hutchins and people and I think, oh why don’t I have such a nice voice and then I get people telling me they live my voice. So, I think it just goes around doesn’t it?
ML: The exact same thing happens to me. I don’t get it. I say thank you, I smile but I don’t get it and you do have a lovely voice.
JP: Oh, thank you. This is it. I mean you have these things, blocks in your mind as to why you can’t do things one of which is I don’t like my voice or I don’t like the way I look on a video and so people find that stops them. But as you said, people are very forgiving if you put ourself out there I think.
ML: Yeah, definitely they really are and yeah it is amazing. But, you know, you sound different in your head and then you think you sound some way and then when you hear yourself recorded you sound different because that’s not how you sound when your voice is echoing in your head. And then you think well that sounds weird so that doesn’t sound good, and then you go on a little downward spiral. That’s like the first rule of podcasting really, is get over your voice cause you’re going to have to, cause no one else is going to care really.
JP: No, that’s exactly right. Okay, a couple of more questions before we finish. We recent wrote a post on storytellers unplugged about the changes in the publishing industry and obviously you use podcasting which for a lot of people is a new technology. But, what do you think the next year is going to hold for writers and how do you think changes will affect how you are going to market yourself.
ML: Oh, gosh, you know, I’m so bad at doing predictions of what is going to be happening next in an industry. I just think there is going to be – I think the Internet is just going to grow. We’re going to have more people at least blogging their work or giving away free excerpts. That’s going to be – I think that’s going to be the next big thing is to give away free chapters of your book. And I’m talking like everybody, not just podcasters because podcasters [0:24:35] the whole thing away. I think we’re going to see more authors dabbling in podcasting and seeing what works which will get their readers involved, which will get their readers discovering people like me. This is my little dream here, but I think it’s going to have a – I just think if you don’t embrace the Internet especially if you’re a new author, you’re going to get left in the dust, I really do. I don’t think that – you mentioned my storytellers unplugged thing, I don’t think that publishing is going to go 100% digital but I think if you don’t embrace that digital place, then you’re going to get left in the dust if you are beginning or mid list. I mean if you’re already a star then it doesn’t matter but for the rest of us, we got to do – we got to bust our butts however we can reach people.
JP: Absolutely. I think it’s exciting as well. If people are embracing the changes, there are a lot of exciting opportunities for people.
ML: Yeah, yeah there are and one thing I talk about in the post and actually I was thinking about this today, is people saying that they’re worried so much about piracy and people downloading their books and not paying for it and lost sales. And then I thought, well if I did not – if I had my small press release — my small press release did not into many book stores, it was mostly available online — would I – and if I had not given it away and I had made sure that everybody who had a copy of that book bought it first, that’s one theory. And then the other theory would be what I did which was release it via PDF, release it via free podcast and do the, as [0:26:24] says, the dandelion method of just throwing it out there, and it’s going to hit a lot of people who just don’t care and then some other people are going to read it and not buy it and then other people are going to buy it. Now if I make more sales the second way, which one has lost money because everybody who does the first thing says e-piracy makes them lose money. But if I make more money by giving it away for free which one has the lost sales. I don’t know. That’s what I’ve been thinking about today.
JP: Yeah, and it is, it is difficult and I’m always getting this question as well myself about digital piracy and I say about the obscurity thing is far worse basically. So, no I totally agree with that. Okay, so we’re almost done. I just before I sort of – before we finish, you write in a sort of humorous manner and you’ve got a sense of humour on your podcast and in your speaking which I really like cause I’m terrible with humour.
ML: No, you’re not.
JP: No, I can’t – you know, I’m quite English about it. Do you have any tips for sort of writing humour? Is it just literally don’t try just write how you speak or you know, do you have anything on that?
ML: Oh gosh. It’s – I haven’t been able to dissect it. You’ve got to write about what you find funny and I think in blogging, in podcasting at least, self deprecating humour is – it’s a fine line. I mean there is like you can do it too much and make people sick of you or you can do it to where you’ve laughed at yourself first and so anybody else laughing at you will laugh at your joke and not at you so much. But I think it’s mainly to write about what you find funny not what you think other people will find funny and then take it from there. I remember there was a scene in Playing For Keeps that when I picked it up to do another rewrite, I read the scene and I surprised myself and I laughed out loud and I was pretty proud of that cause I’d forgotten I wrote the scene and it was pretty funny. It didn’t register at all as something I had written. Also remember a lot about humour is surprise and I think we forget that. So, it’s not only funny but it’s unexpected.
JP: Yeah, that’s brilliant. Yeah, sorry just threw that in there cause I was thinking about that the other day when I was listening to you. Okay, well we’re out of time. So, where is the best place for people to find you and your podcasts or get in touch with you if they’re interested in your books?
ML: All of my projects are murverse.com, M-U-R-V-E-R-S-E dot com and most of my projects have another url associated with them but they’re all linked off of murverse.com.
JP: Brilliant. And you’re also on Twitter?
ML: Yes, as Mighty Mur.
JP: Fantastic. So I’ll put all those links on the blog. Thank you ever so much for your time Mur, that was brilliant.
ML: It was a lot of fun talking to you. Thanks for having me.