Podcast: How To Write Your First Book with Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn with her 3 non-fiction books

Joanna Penn with her 3 non-fiction books

I have had many questions about how to actually get started with writing a book. I was interviewed about this by Lenore Miller from The Great Book Challenge in November so I thought I would share the audio with you. It’s actually pretty interesting! (if I do say so myself!)

In this podcast you will learn:

  • What inspired me to become a writer – and why it took me from aged 10 to age 33 before I managed to write one
  • How the literary fiction genre frightened me away from fiction writing (until now that is!)
  • How do you cope with the psychology of seeing those words stretching before you
  • Why writing is a journey and a book is a goal. The importance of setting deadlines and understanding timelines.
  • My first draft took me 6 months evenings and weekends and all spare time, then it took another 4 months of editing and redoing
  • Structuring is important for non-fiction – write down chapter headings and fill in the blanks. Set timelines for these chapters.
  • Outlining is good for fiction (something I have learnt on NaNoWriMo)
  • Reorganising your structure is completely fine!
  • Once you have a decent draft, ask a friend/target market person to read it – what is missing, is it in the right order, what is good, what else do you need? You will be able to restructure the book after this.
  • When you get stuck, get away from your book and read/research or just take time out to do something different (I like modern art galleries). Stand on the shoulders of giants. Don’t mine your own brain for ideas. Get inspiration and muddle them around in your own head. Not plagiarism, idea generation. Write notes that spark ideas. Do something that inspires your brain in a different way.
  • Your book is your story in your voice. There are plenty of books on the same topics. Give yourself permission to write. “The book you write will change your life” Seth Godin.
  • Important lessons I have learned so far: The reason I started TheCreativePenn.com was to share everything I learn – so it is all there!
  • I have learnt that I can write a book. It is possible for me – therefore I can do it again. It took longer than expected, but it can be done.
  • I’m currently learning about writing fiction. My craft of writing is poor but I am on my first draft! and I will be improving in 2010.
  • It’s ok to suck” – from author and podcaster Mur Lafferty, from I Should Be Writing. Drafts can be crap but editing and rewriting is the way to make a book. Perfect writing doesn’t just happen, you need to work at it.
  • Listener question: What if you have too much to say? What to cut? Stephen King “On Writing”, says “2nd draft is 1st draft minus 10%”. Get a pro editor to help you cut and trim your book. Slash out what doesn’t fit. You may also need to split the book into multiple books.
  • If you don’t have very much writing, then perhaps put it on your blog and see the response. Or research some more for extra chapters.
  • Recommending Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It which is very short. Plus see Seth Godin’s books – they’re tiny.
  • Writing the book on your heart vs. Writing for the market. Both are absolutely valid, but if your aim is to make money then write for the market. Often the book that is on your heart will teach you many lessons, but won’t make you rich. (but books in general don’t make you a millionaire!). The right PR and marketing can help, but it is better to write for a market (see interview on The Wealthy Author for more).
  • Get started with marketing as early as possible. Get a blog and start social networking AS YOU WRITE so the market is there when you finish. Publishing companies want authors who can sell. Self-publishers need to sell anyway so it’s needed for everyone.
  • The psychology of writing. How you feel when you are writing a book. How I moved from a place of under-confidence and fear of failure to self-affirmations. This stops people writing. So you need to break through. The fear of what might happen is worth than the reality. Affirmations really helped me. I used to say “I am creative, I am an author” every day on the way to and from the train station. After about 6 months, I started “The Creative Penn” which stemmed from my change of mindset.
  • Should you talk about writing a book, or keep it quiet? Maeve Binchy “Writing a book is a like a diet. Tell everyone or no-one“. Reference to my criticism and praise graph here. It’s a personal choice but telling people puts the pressure on. Sharing your struggles and your real story with others also helps you connect with other people.
  • Persistence and discipline is very important. Writing a book is hard work more than talent. Only hard work makes a big goal worth it.
  • You need to finish your book. Don’t wait 10 years. Finish that book and write another one. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Stop researching and get it out there! The next one will be easier. Your confidence will be grown by writing.

I hope you enjoyed the interview. I love sharing this information! Please do send me more questions and I will answer them on the podcast/blog in 2010.

You can find Lenore Miller at The Great Book Challenge and also on Twitter @LenoreMiller.

The podcast also includes a promo of JC Hutchins 7th Son: Descent, the most successful podcast novel in history now in print.

You can listen to a podcast with JC Hutchins here.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. says

    Hello Joanna Penn, I found this very helpful ! Thank you for giving your time for people like me, who need advices. Have fun with your blog !

  2. says

    Persistence and discipline is very important. Writing a book is hard work more than talent. Only hard work makes a big goal worth it. How true. I am writing children’s fiction and find myself very challenged. I can’t imagine what the adult fiction writer faces.

  3. Lucy G says

    Hi Jo, just thought I would share this with you and other writers. I am attemping to enter the Daily Mail Novel competition this year. It basically wants the first 150 words of your unpublished novel. I thought this would be easy and require no effort, just simply to submit what I already have. But it has been a great task in rewriting the first part of my chapter completely. It forced me to get to the heart of the story quickly, introduce the characters, and create a sense of place and action. Well worth a go for anyone wanting to jazz up their all-important work to grab people’s attention – whether it is for agents, writing competitions or people reading sample works on Kindle, etc. For anyone who is interested, the deadline for 2012 is 29 October. Good luck!

  4. Teryan Cooley says

    Thanks Joanna for being transparent and showing others what it takes to write a book and where to go from there! It is really good to hear that others have had the same difficulties and how they were resolved.

  5. Nancy A Haynes says

    Hi Joanna, I think i have come to the write place to actually learn how to write my first book. I would be starting a short stories book on super heroes. Now, with your valuable tips I think, I can add some extremely important points while writing. I also took an online writing courses in Christchurch, it was helpful too but before actually starting the book , I would love add a few tips provided by you. ?Thank You for your valuable tips.

  6. says

    Wish I had came here before. I was such a talking head, and shared with everyone around me so early. Now everyone is demanding my story to be completed and it is resulting more procrastination.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *