The Writing Life: Research, Ideas, Genre, Process And Tips For A Creative Career

I recently did a wide-ranging and fun interview on the Genretainment podcast with Marx Pyle and Julie Seaton.

marx julie joannaWe talked about how I got into writing and why I write supernatural thrillers, the challenges when first starting out, the details of my writing life and how I get ideas and research books, plus tips on self-publishing and book marketing in the second half.

You can listen to the interview on this page or download the audio mp3 here. Or you can read the transcript below.

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The Roller Coaster Of Being A Writer. Do You Ever Feel This Way?

roller coaster of writingI hate writing. It’s so hard to force myself to sit and type words that are a load of crap anyway.

I love writing. Some days I can get into a flow state and the words come effortlessly onto the page, and they’re actually pretty good! I love creating something from just my brain. It’s the best life in the world.

My mind is completely empty. I will never have another idea.

Trust emergence. Something will come out of the milieu of this crazy, buzzing world.

Write to live: I need to write something that will sell so I can pay the bills.

Live to write. I’m happy to make money with a day job so I can write the best book I can write, without fear of earning income.

I spend all my time alone, and I think I’m going a little crazy with only my weird mind for company.

I can’t get away from the incessant email and social media chatter. I just need some alone time.

I love connecting with my readers and fans. I love reading reviews and getting emails from people who enjoy my books.

I’m afraid of criticism. I hate the one star reviews. They make me want to give up every day. Sometimes I wonder if it would be best if no one even read my work, because then no one would attack me.

I want to win a literary prize and be featured in literary magazines for my beautiful use of language. I don’t care about commercial success.

I want to sell millions of books and be read by millions of people. I want the income that reflects that level of commercial success.

I just want to write and not have to worry about all the technical aspects of publishing and marketing.

It’s so much easier to write blog posts, do podcasts and hang out on social media, than it is to just write.

I want an agent and a publisher so that I will feel validated as a writer.

Number of books sold and money in my bank account, as well as happy readers, are all the validation I need as a writer.

I want to see my book for sale in the local bookstore so that my family and friends will understand what the hell I do all day.

I want to sell ebooks in 150 countries worldwide because in that way I will reach far more people than my local bookstore ever can.

I will not self censorI want a movie deal and a seven figure advance and global adoration and JK Rowling-like success.

I just want to sit in my writing hut and be quiet and stay away from the crowds, and think and write, and be happy.

I want people to like me and accept me and think I’m a nice person.

I will not self-censor. I will write my dark truth.

I pretty much go through this every day. How about you?

Please do leave a comment below if you understand, or please share what else you feel.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons roller coaster by Eric Lynch

Habits Of A Book Junkie In A Digital World

Reading has always been my idea of fun!

Joanna Penn reading

Reading a (clearly serious) book on the Paperwhite

I love reading and I love books, plus I believe writers are usually great readers. We spend our lives immersed with our minds elsewhere, in someone else’s world or one of our own creation. Happy times indeed!

Hugh Howey posted a video about his reading habits and thoughts on the state of e-readers last week, and I was inspired to create my own version.

In the video below, I talk about how I read, I show you some of my book collection, how I discover books, what annoys me as a reader and how I review and share the love.

You can watch the video below or here on YouTube, or read the notes underneath, which include (affiliate) links to the books I talk about. The mic is a little off (I’ve got a new one on order) but I hope you enjoy it!

How do I read now … and how I ended up that way

kindle paperwhiteI read primarily on the Kindle Paperwhite at home, the Kindle app on the iPhone 5. In the video, I demonstrate my ‘reading on the Tube’ technique, page turning and highlighting!

I love the auto-synch between devices. I finish in bed on the Paperwhite and start on the Tube on my iPhone. I get highlights from non-fiction on the Kindle app on the Mac when I am working – I LOVE highlighting. I’m probably an addict! I later transfer my highlighted notes to my notebooks by hand.

I own over 1000 books on Kindle and have about 200 samples on my Paperwhite right now. In the same way that owning print books was part of my life even without reading them, it’s the same for ebooks.I also think it’s an extension of my brain and I use search on the Mac app when I want to research stuff and often find books I haven’t read in a while.

I rarely read paper and never read fiction in print anymore. I do own some non-fiction in print and I show you some of my books in the video:

I also listen to some non-fiction audiobooks: Jack Canfield – The Success Principles and Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro. I own both of these books in ebook, print and audio formats as they continue to have a huge impact on me.

One of the reasons I believe digital is the future is the demographic shift into cities and smaller space living. Americans may not see this so much, but in Europe, we mostly live in smaller spaces and physical books clutter the place quickly.

We left behind over 2000 print books when we left Australia – many of which I had paid to ship from England to New Zealand and then on to Brisbane. It was practically impossible to sell them second-hand so we gave most of them away to local students. I find I am now replacing books I used to own in paper on ebooks even if I am not ready to re-read them yet.

I probably read about 5x as much fiction now as I used to in print, because of the prohibitive cost in Australia and New Zealand.

Why am I a Kindle customer?

It’s basically first mover advantage! I love Kobo and iBooks and Nook and all the other options but they weren’t around when I started on ebooks.

kindle in hammock

Reading the 1st Kindle in my hammock in Australia

I was living in Australia in 2008/2009 when e-readers started to emerge. At the time, print books were AU$25-$35 which is about 3x the price of UK books. I had almost stopped reading fiction and my non-fiction reading had dropped significantly.

The Sony Reader was the first on my radar but it wasn’t compelling. Then the Kindle launched and I was hooked. Here’s my review of the first international Kindle. [That brings back memories!]

I continue to be a very happy Kindle junkie!

How do I find books

If I know and love the author and the book is available on Kindle, I will pre-order it. I don’t worry too much about price.

For impulse purchases, I will buy anything I fancy under £2 (US$4), but I don’t usually download free books. I prefer to pay, and I’m not a member of Kindle Unlimited, mainly because so many books are not in KU that I want to read.

I don’t have a budget for books, so I buy what I want, when I want. I buy books almost every day, but then it’s pretty much my only vice!

I will buy books to keep for later and I don’t necessarily read everything I buy. When I’m researching something e.g. mythology, I will search in my own ebook library first to see if I have already bought something on the topic since I often buy in order to “own” books, as I did with print.

code zeroFor fiction, I browse the genre categories of thriller, dark fantasy, non-fiction etc for books released in the last 30 days.

I rarely browse the overall bestseller lists as my book turnover is so fast. I definitely download samples based on cover design – I picked up Jonathan Maberry’s Code Zero because I loved the cover and have spent the last month binge reading his Joe Ledger series.

I will pay more for non-fiction and will buy from unknown authors more easily if the topic grabs me. If I can learn a couple of new things per non-fiction book, I consider that worth the money.

I will often buy based on listening to author interviews on podcasts or books recommended by bloggers like Tim Ferriss. I also monitor the fantastic Brain Pickings site and get a lot of books from there. Plus, I find books on twitter through recommendations that way.

When I find things I like, I sample. That means that I download a percentage. I usually give the book 4- 5 clicks/page turns and if it hasn’t grabbed me, I delete the sample. If I make it to the end of the sample, I will usually buy and continue reading. I’ve talked in length about the importance of sampling for authors before.

What annoys me as a reader

  • Books not available as Kindle books, for example, the entire James Michener backlist, which is the sourcesubstantial and weighty. The Source is one of my favorite books and it’s not on ebook. Seriously Random House, sort that out!
  • US first releases. In a world of online marketing, staggered releases by region is just a pain and annoys readers. I will see a tweet from the author on release and then I will forget about it unless I can immediately download a sample.
  • Print only launches. I generally won’t buy books in print so if you don’t release a Kindle version on launch, I may well have forgotten it by the time the ebook version comes out. At least include a pre-order button if you want to do print first.
  • Samples that include acknowledgements, forewords, essays by someone else etc. That should all go at the back so I don’t have to wade through that. Make sure your words hook me and I don’t have to wade through
  • Ebooks that are clearly just scanned versions of print books so they don’t flow properly. Please invest in doing a specific edition for Kindle.

How I review books

GoodreadsSince the sock puppet controversy, I have mostly stopped reviewing on Amazon in case of any issues there. So I review on Goodreads instead – follow my reviews here.

I include book recommendations in both my newsletters – fiction for J.F.Penn subscribers and non-fiction for TheCreativePenn subscribers.

I do blog posts with lists of books like my Christmas reading list, or thrillers for a winter’s night. Plus I have this list of fiction books I love, and this list of non-fiction books for writers.

I also share a lot on social media, primarily Twitter, with buy links. Plus, I buy books for others as my primary gifting.

OK, now it’s your turn. I’d love to know about your reading habits so please leave a comment below or leave a link to a blog post or video on the topic. How do you read? How do you find books? How do you review and pass on the love?

Self Development. We All Need Mentors At Different Points In The Journey.

I love to learn, and I’ve been sharing what I learn on this blog for almost 6 years now!

still learningI had an email from a lady the other week and she asked me, “How do you continue when things are tough?” This could be about writing, or just life in general, but for me, it’s about constantly learning from others and changing based on what I learn.

When I first started this site, my mentors were people making a full-time living online and the mindset of entrepreneurship – which helped me escape my day job.

Then I learned about writing books and non-fiction, and then about writing fiction and deeper creativity. I feel like I circle around these topics, learning new things from new people all the time. I devour books every week, writing copious notes in my many Moleskine notebooks. I’m a learning junkie, but I also try to put things into action, and this keeps me constantly motivated.

There have been some key mentors in my life, but all their teaching has come from books, seminars and online programs, not from 1:1 discussion.

These people put their knowledge out in multiple formats to help a broader spectrum at one time, and I now try to do the same. When people email me asking to be mentored, I say ‘go read my books, read this blog, listen to the podcasts, or come and hear me speak’ that’s how I pass on the mentoring relationship. I hope you will do the same with what you learn.

Our mentors change over time, so I wanted to highlight some of mine at the moment.

Robert McKee STORY conference

storyI’ve just returned from the 4 day intensive STORY course taught by Robert McKee, and it was absolutely mind-blowing.

I’ve now written 8 fiction books – from short stories, to novellas and novels, and I felt that this was exactly the right time for me to learn what he had to teach. I was going to blog about what I learned but seriously, I have 130 pages of notes and it was way too deep to try and capture in sound-bites. I’m also going to be processing for a few weeks before trying to incorporate it all into my 2015 creative works. It’s not about screenwriting, so much as story itself and how that resonates through people for maximum human impact.

If you want to check out this stuff, read the book STORY, and if you are serious about investing in your creative writing career, then take the multi-day seminar. He also has an online video program, Storylogue, but to be honest, I think the live experience is far superior (but obviously more expensive!)

Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch

perfectionDean and Kris have 30+ years as full-time writers and they’ve seen the full spectrum of what the publishing industry can offer – from trad pub deals, to indie, to owning their own publishing company and physical bookstore.

Their advice is completely devoid of any hype or short term tactics, it’s all about creating a long-term successful career as an author. They are also both prolific writers and incredibly humble, plus they’re fun, and seem to have a good marriage :) What better mentors to have!

I’ve read all their various non-fiction books and taken a number of courses. The ones that have particularly helped me are:

Steven Pressfield

Turning Pro Steven PressfieldTurning Pro is the only book I own in print, ebook and audiobook. Pressfield kicks my ass every time I read or listen to it, and I make sure to read it every January to assess whether or not I am closer to being a ‘pro.’

When I interviewed Steve earlier this year on my podcast, it was a true pinnacle, because talking to someone who had been a mentor to me for years was very special. You’ll hear it in my voice – I am a little star-struck!

I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Turning Pro in the last few weeks, trying to up my creative game. Pressfield’s books are really about mindset and what really matters, leaving behind the ephemeral to get to the heart of why we do what we do.

His quote from Krishna is particularly important to me right now: “You have the right to your labor, not the fruits of your labor.” Think on that before moaning about book sales!

Tony Robbins

money tony robbinsI’ve said before that I was so inspired by Tony’s self-help books and information that my aim was to become a professional speaker like him, and change people’s lives in the way he does. His book, Awaken the Giant Within, helped me to overcome a lot of mindset issues and start to create, another pivotal moment in my move from IT consultant to creativity. I’ve never been to one of his live events, although that is on my list for the next couple of years.

But Tony makes my list again at the moment because of his new book, Money: Master the Game. It’s his first book in many years and comes from his anger over the 2008 global financial crisis and how the lack of financial education costs people far more than they could imagine. I consider myself a decent enough business-woman, but I have made my share of financial mistakes, both in business and in property. I’ve been reading this book slowly, and will continue to re-read until I understand it and have made the changes necessary to my own financial setup. It’s incredibly value packed and may change your life! I have bought the print edition as well as digital as it is the kind of book you need to digest slowly.

Various podcasts

podcastI listen to podcasts when I do chores or go to the gym, or travel and I find it’s a great way to learn about new things and discover lessons learned from people in all walks of life. I’m loving the Tim Ferriss show at the moment and particularly enjoyed this episode with Kevin Kelly. I also like the James Altucher show, particularly this episode with Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame.

In terms of self-publishing and related topics, I also listen to the Self-Publishing Podcast (for laughs NSFW), the Sell More Books show (for news and marketing tips), the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast (for deeper interviews with top self-publishers), and I’ve just started listening to the Author Biz, about author-entrepreneurship.

Put away your self-development inner cynic!

I hope I don’t have too many cynics in my audience – after all, my relentless positivity would probably put you off over time! The world I live is in brimming with possibilities and exciting projects and a never-ending stream of learning and creating. If your world doesn’t feel that way, then you need a kick in the creative rear!

These are just a few of my mentors at the moment who help me push the boundaries of what I can achieve in my week, my year and my life. You will need to find your own mentors for what you need to learn, but DO find them. After all, if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room!

I’d love to hear about some of your mentors, now or in the past, preferably from books/seminars/courses so others can benefit. Please do leave a comment below and join the conversation.

Flickr Creative Commons: still learning by Anne Davies

Beating Self-Censorship And How Embracing The Shadow Helps My Fiction

I recently did an all-encompassing interview with the lovely Deb Ozarko about changing the status quo.

red wineWe talked a lot about going indie, self-publishing and creative entrepreneurship, but we also got into some deep and meaningful topics.

I must admit to being fueled by pinot noir for the interview, so I opened up a lot about some of the things that really matter to me :) If you’d like to listen to the whole interview, I suggest joining me for a glass!

You can listen to the whole interview here [1 hr 44], or you can watch or listen to the 5 minute clip below or here on YouTube.

desecration deliriumIn this part of the interview, I talk about:

  • How I finally stopped self-censoring, and how my fiction helps me work out what I believe
  • The theme of good and evil is resonant in all my fiction, as well as aspects of my own travels and experiences
  • How I want to tell a good fast-paced story to keep people reading but that I also want to tackle deeper topics that leave you thinking afterwards
  • Carl Jung and the Shadow side, and how embracing it can make a person whole

I also talk more about Desecration, London Psychic Book 1, and what it means to me. You can find Desecration in ebook, print and audiobook formats here. The sequel, Delirium, is also available.

Do you use the Shadow side in your creative work? I’d love to know your thoughts so please share them in the comments below.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons red wine by Wes Peck