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Many creatives suffer periods of ‘block,' but there are ways to get through. Today I talk to K.M.Weiland about the different kinds of writer's block and how to deal with them.
In the intro, I talk about the crackdown on discount ebook promotional sites as Pixel of Ink announces its shutdown. Plus, the Author Mindset book is now on pre-order, and I'll be speaking at the Digital Commerce Summit in Denver, Colorado – 13/14 Oct, 2016, so if you want to make a living online, this will be a great chance to hear top speakers.
I'll also be doing a Facebook Live Q&A on Sun 26 June at 3pm US Eastern / 8pm UK, so come along and ask me anything! Click here for the Facebook event.
The corporate sponsorship for this show pays for hosting and transcription. This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
K.M.Weiland is an award-winning and bestselling historical and speculative fiction author. She also writes non-fiction and runs the popular site, HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- The difference between a writer and an author.
- Finding the right questions to ask in order to unravel writer's block.
- The different levels of writer's block.
- Practical ways first-time authors can deal with writer's block.
- The pressure to be perfect and how that can affect writers.
- Why passion and discipline matter more than talent, and why honesty works to unblock experienced writers.
- The value in taking a break, and the danger in abandoning a project mid-way through.
- Protecting our creative side from the business side of the indie author life.
- Is it possible to find balance between these two sides of an author's life?
- The one strategy that helps Katie with blocks she encounters.
- Tips for getting inspired – the antidote to writer's block – including getting into ‘the dream zone'.
- Ideas about longevity in a creative career.
You can find K.M.Weiland at her site, HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.
Transcription of interview with K.M.Weiland
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com. And today, I'm here with K.M. Weiland. Hi, Katie.
Katie: Hi. Thank you for having me today.
Joanna: No worries at all. Just a little introduction.
Katie is an award-winning and bestselling historical and speculative fiction author. She also writes non-fiction and runs the popular site helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com. And today, we're focusing on her book, “Conquering Writer's Block and Summoning Inspiration: Learn to Nurture a Lifestyle of Creativity,” which is a fantastic title.
Katie: Yes, thank you. Sometimes, actually, I get writer's block more on titles, I think, than I do at anything.
Joanna: That is a really good point, and we might come back to title later. I want to start by asking you a bit more about you and your writing background. We've known each other online for years. We've done video interviews before.
Give everyone an overview of who you are and what you get up to.
Katie: I like to say that stories are my language, so I've always been a storyteller. My earliest memories, actually, of myself, up in a treehouse, telling my stuffed toys stories. It was just an introduction to go into writing fiction. I write primarily fantasy and historical fiction, and usually some weird combination of both of them. And I have four novels out now.
I also do a lot of non-fiction writing, how-to for authors. I have eight non-fiction writing how-to books out now. I think at this point, it's pretty much an outgrowth of my website, Helping Writers Become Authors, which is something I started, to share my writing journey, and it just took off. It's something where I'm able to really explore more of the craft for myself, as much as others, and then turn that into the books that I do.
Joanna: Which is fantastic. I just wanted to ask you there, because, I mean, I have my own thoughts on this.
But what do you think is the difference between a writer and an author? Your website wasn't always called that, was it? You changed the title of it.
Katie: Helping Writers Become Authors was actually the little subtitle there for a long time. It was originally called Wordplay. And then when I finally went ahead and bought my own domain name, I realized, at that point, that Helping Writers Become Authors was a much more pertinent title that made more sense to people who are actually looking for what I was doing.
But as for writers versus authors, really, it's just kind of semantics. Anybody can be a writer, scribbling in, you're a writer. But for a lot of people, I think, author is more of a professional title where they take it a little bit further in their intent in getting published and getting paid for what they're doing.
Really, my intent is that you're taking something that is a hobby and an interest and turning it into something that is really more something you're trying to be professional about, and that kind of thing.
Joanna: I agree with that. And I guess, at the end of the day, the author has a book.
Katie: Yeah, there you go.
Joanna: Although, I think, even people with one book often struggle even to say they're an author. Maybe it takes two or three before you really feel it.
Katie: I encourage people, if you're writing, you should be able to claim that title, because really, all the rest of it is just subjective success we think we have to get to. And a lot of it isn't something that I think are actually the individual's priorities.
If you want to be a writer and you're writing, you are a writer. And if you want to be an author and you're pursuing this in a professional way, then as far as I'm concerned, you're an author.
Joanna: There you go, excellent. Okay, so today, we're talking about writer's block. I've had a few e-mails about this recently. I was really glad to see you have a book on it.
I want to say, upfront, writer's block is not a monolithic disease with one cause, one cure, and we're going to go into detail.
Let's start with what does writer's block feel like? How do people know that they have at it as such? And why is so pervasive in the writing community?
Katie: Well, I think, like you say, it's just this feeling. It's this nebulous black cloud thing that is hard to define. It's just something's not working.
But I like that you bring about your feeling, because we all, even though we may not know what's causing it, what's going on here, we all know what that feels like. We know that feeling. And it's something that's very easy for us all to identify with.
I know you've read Steven Pressfield's wonderful “War of Art,” and I love how he describes it. I don't know if he actually describes it as writer's block, but he talks a lot about resistance. And it's this feeling that everybody can relate to. It's just this feeling you can't move forward. Something is holding you back. And I think that's the essence of writer's block right there. It's just kind of this lost feeling, like you don't know how to move forward.
For me, I find that really the root of writer's block, and being able to identify what's going on, all starts with being able to find the right answer, because you're asking the right question. Because if you can find the right question, it's finding that loose end that you can pull and the whole thing unravels.
And I think that's where a lot of the nebulousness and the lost feeling come from is just because you don't know what's going on. And if you can figure out what's going on by asking the right question, then the whole thing suddenly becomes clear and you're not blocked anymore.
I think that creativity is a hard thing. If it's easy we wouldn't be having this conversation. We probably wouldn't have jobs, really, when it comes down to it, because I think it's something that is really difficult for all of us for a lot of reasons.
There's a lot fear involved a lot of times, and a lot of uncertainty. And that's where that resistance comes from. If we can figure out how to conquer that, that really helps us move forward and be able to find those right questions that are going to help us unravel our personal blocks that are getting in our way.
Joanna: That feeling, I think we all do understand. There are number of things it could be: laziness, procrastination, just hopping tired. These are all terrible, and of course, this are all opinions, but how long is it before you can say, “Yeah, I'm really blocked?”
If someone just sits down and like an hour of going, “I don't really know what to write,” that's not blocked, right? It's got to be a sustained period.
Katie: I think that there's different levels of writer blocks, definitely. I think there are the minor blocks where you sit down for a day and you don't know where you're going, you're running into your story problem. That is writer's block, to an extent. It's just we don't always think of that when we think of capital W, Writer's block, because it's something that's relatively easy to overcome.
The bigger blocks are usually, I find, much deeper personal issues. Like I said fear is a big one that's holding people back, it's for whatever reason, for whatever personal reason.
I don't know that there's literally a time period that we can put on block. It's a personal experience. So for each person, depending on how long this is going on and how dramatic it's starting to feel and the more resistance you're feeling, the harder it's gonna be to overcome.
But I would say, if you're struggling for this for more than a couple of weeks, if you're someone who tries to write on a regular basis and it's just not coming after a couple of weeks, then that's writer's block. And that's definitely something that you have to address it as writer's block and get down to it and start looking for the causes, the root causes, that are obviously not there on the surface for you.
Joanna: There are different ones at different stages of the journey. So first time author; I wind the clock back to when I first met you, I was writing non-fiction. I really do feel I had a block around the fact that I could write fiction. I was like, “I could never write fiction. I don't have enough ideas.” It's so funny now. But I really believed that. I'd never have any ideas, I don't know how to write fiction, how do I even start.
With first time authors or people writing their first book, say they have writer's block, what are some of the practical ways they can fix some of those issues, as a first time author?
Katie: That's interesting, actually, to hear you say that, because honestly, I had never considered that non-writers, at that point, would have writer's block. So that's actually a very interesting point of view on that.
I think it comes down to what we're talking about; people dealing with fear issues and what's connection with that. And I think people who say, “I can never be a writer, I will never have enough ideas,” I think that absolute negative statements like that are almost always wrong. So there's an absolute positive statement for you, because they're based on fears. They're based on things like that, just that nebulous feeling of resistance rather than an actual, logical fact.
If you can just put aside that whole mindset that ‘I could never do this', and actually start exploring what's involved in doing it, then suddenly, you have a little road map for moving forward. This is something that I recommend for writers in all stages.
I'm a big proponent of outlining and preparation. If you know what you need to do to move forward, if you can take that overwhelming big picture and break it down into smaller steps so that you know what you have to do first, suddenly, the whole thing becomes much easier.
An object in motion stays in motion. If you can get going and know how to move forward, then everything becomes… I mean, it's still hard. It's still the same amount of work. But it becomes so much easier because at least you have a plan and you know where you're going.
For authors who are just starting out, that's definitely something that I recommend. If you don't know what you want to write, if you don't have any idea how people do this, then just sit down and start learning about it. Start learning about the craft, start paying attention as you're reading novels and watching movies.
And start just making little notes, take it one little bite at a time, until you have enough material and ideas that you're able to then go ahead and start actually preparing an outline or something, or going ahead and writing that first chapter, if you're someone's who's more inclined to pantsing it than you are to preparing.
Joanna: And perhaps it's also when you write at the beginning and you don't even know what you're doing, it's learning.
It's also understanding that the book doesn't emerge fully formed from your mind to the page.
Katie: Yes, exactly.
Joanna: What you write is a craft.
Katie: I think people put so much pressure on themselves to be perfect and that's baloney. I love the Ernest Hemingway quote where he says, “We are all apprentices in a craft that no one ever masters.”
Because first of all, it takes all this pressure off of us to be perfect. If even Earnest Hemingway felt like he was never prefect, then certainly, we have a little leeway there to work in. And also, to me, it's really exciting, because it's this continuing journey where there's always something new to learn and experience, and that's exciting.
It doesn't have to be frightening. It should be really exciting. And I think if writers can embrace that part of it, that it's not scary thing anymore. It's really cool thing.
Joanna: Yeah, and both of us believe that this is a learned skill.
This is something you can learn and improve at. You're not born as this perfect writer.
Katie: Yeah, definitely. I think talent does play a certain…or aptitude, let's say, does play a certain role in it. But I definitely believe that passion and discipline are the ultimate factors in a writer's success. Because if you have those, then you're going to come back, and again and again and make it work.
We've all heard about the statement about how someone with a ton talent is never going to reach the same level of success as someone with a small amount of talent, but a ton of discipline and passion for what they're doing.
Joanna: And hard work over years. That's what I'm relying on anyway.
Katie: Yeah, same here.
Joanna: Okay, so that's the kind of beginning writer. They can obviously find out lots on your website, and on my website, about these things.
Let's take the next level of block, which is an author who's in the middle of a book. And I think this is quite a common one, isn't it? They might have lack of plot ideas, they might be bored, bored with their own work. They might be trying to create a 90,000-word book out of a novella-sized idea.
What are some the other sorts of blocks mid-work, and how can people deal with those types of things?
Katie: I think, again, in solving them, it always comes down to figuring out what is the source of the problem. And I mean, you just listed a ton of great ones and they're all different. And they all have different resolutions, really.
The first step is always figuring out why am I blocked, why am I feeling this resistance. And I think sometimes it's obvious, and sometimes it's not. If you're running into a story problem and you just have no idea how to move forward, that's pretty straightforward.
But sometimes, if you're bored or like you say, trying to expand word count or something, it's not always clear right away why you're struggling. Sometimes we're in denial. We don't want to be bored with this story that we've worked on for so long.
We have to be really honest with ourselves, and really dig down deep and just follow that resistance until we find its root cause. And like I said, once you find that, it's so exciting.
I think there's nothing worse than not knowing what's wrong. It's like a lot of people are overwhelmed in the revision stage. They feel like, “Oh my gosh, I don't know where to start and it's horrible,” and I totally feel that. You start getting in all your suggestions from your editor and it's just like, “Oh my goodness, this is… I don't know what to do.”
But as soon as you break that down and you have a path forward, that's exciting. Having a ton of stuff you have to do is great. That's not what causes resistance. What causes resistance is when you don't know the first step forward. And you don't know how to dive into all that work and actually do something productive with it and make it better.
What I recommend is asking yourself lots of questions. And what I like to do with is actually sit down with a notebook and a pen, because there's just something about writing longhand for me that really just helps me asking a lot of question.
Why am I struggling with this? Or if it's a plot problem, what's going on here? What can I do to fix it? And don't sensor yourself because you're wanting to throw all the stupid ideas, all the surface ideas out there so that hopefully you can dig down and find the one that's actually going to end up a solution.
And I will say that sometimes too, when you're in a middle of a book and you're just blocked, and you don't know how to move forward, sometimes you just need to take a break. Sometimes, it's just burnout. Sometimes, your conscious brain is overworked.
I don't know how many times where I've been stuck on something in a story and trying to move through it. I've worked on it and worked on it all day, then I just forget about it and go to bed. And suddenly, the next morning, my subconscious has dug it up and the answer is right there in front on my face. Sometimes we can just give ourselves a little bit of space. I think that that's huge in allowing us to then be able to work through our issues and come to the solution.
I will say don't be a drama queen about it. I see so many authors who are like, “Oh, I've got writer's block, it's the worst.”
Joanna: Oh poor me.
Katie: Yeah, exactly. That's the worst thing in the world. And this is just part of the business. You try to learn and say, “Oh yeah, today I'm blocked, let's work on that today.” Instead of it being this horrible life crisis, then it's much, much easier to manage.
Joanna: I wanted to ask that about the finishing energy in that. I've been thinking about this recently. A lot of people have great starting energy. They start the work and it's really exciting. And then that boredom can set in if they don't have finishing energy.
I wondered about your opinion on when should you or should you ever give up on finishing a story. So getting through that boredom part for me, I hit it, I think everyone might do, is I just have to get through it and write a good scene or just grin and bear it, basically.
Do you ever think that people should give up on a story or is that just block, writer's block winning?
Katie: I think it's a really, really good question, because sooner or later that's an issue that we all have to face. My standard advice to people is always finish the book, because I think there's no more important habit for a writer and getting into the habit of finishing. Because once you finish your manuscript, 99% of the problems can then be fixed.
But I do think there are exceptions. There are definitely exceptions where, for whatever reason, a book just isn't working. It's not working for you and you're just going to have to cut your losses and move on. And generally, I would still recommend that people actually finish the manuscript, if it all possible.
Because a lot of times, the things that you're facing in the middle, you may work through them and get at the end, and they may then be salvageable over the long run. But there comes a time where you just have to realize that, for whatever reason, a novel isn't working. It could be fundamentally broken. I had a story like that a couple of years ago that… I mean, I loved the story. I really did. And I finished the manuscript. But I couldn't get it to work, it was fundamentally broken in what I wanted to accomplish and how I would have to actually do that.
And then there's times when you just do lose interest, and I think there's a point where, like you say, we all get bored with the book after a certain point, and you have to be able to differentiate between just that standard boredom and just a general, “I have zero passion for this project anymore,” and being able to then to move onto something that's more productive.
But I think you have to be really careful with that, because people get hung up on the resistance of it. And it's so much easier to quit rather than to keep going, and it's easy to make excuses about why you would be better off if you moved on to what seems like a new and more exciting story.
You have to be really aware of the habits that you're creating and the choices that you make in whether or not to finish a story. Because getting into the habit of completing novels is… that's the whole biz right there. If you can't do that, then you're not, frankly, an author. Because you're not putting in the effort and the work to really make it, to really see it through.
I think it's so, so easy to get in the bad habit of not finishing. And you have to be really careful with that because you don't want to put yourself in that position where your breeding these habits that are really going to come back and bite you in the long run.
Joanna: It seems like if you give up on one book or one story or non-fiction book, whatever, it's then easier to give up on another one. And that's how people end up with five unfinished books in their drawer.
And you've mentioned discipline. I read a definition of discipline is something to do with punishment. I was thinking about this, I was like, “It's a negative connotation,” but then I was like, “You know what, the punishment is not finishing the book.”
Katie: Yeah, I like that.
Joanna: That actually is the punishment, isn't it? Because you then feel a bit of a failure because you haven't finished it, and also, you don't have this thing that could potentially turn out to be of life-changing for you and also other people.
I think that really attacking that block, the lack of finishing energy or boredom, like that's where you have to work it through, get it done, and then you can pay an editor to help you fix it, can't you, really?
Katie: I totally agree with that. It's a very slippery slope to start down, if you give in to the resistance.
Joanna: Yeah, definitely. Let's talk about the author who has finished the book. And especially, at the moment, what's really interesting with the indie community is the feeling that you must write lots of books. And one, yes, of course, we all know that you can't just write one book every year and expect to make a living.
I think the number of people who are burned out is increasing dramatically. When I finish a novel, I often feel I am completely empty. I will never have another idea. And I think that's quite common.
How do people fix that emptiness, the block of starting again?
Katie: It's interesting, actually, that you bring that up, because that's something that's really been on my mind on a personal level here lately. I have been fighting that too, to some extent, that feeling of burnout and just trying to really keep my life balanced.
I think the secret is you have to know your priorities. Like you say, the people in the indie community right now are struggling because we've taken this thing that we love, this art, this creativity, and we've turned it into a business, a career, which is awesome. It's such an exciting time to be a writer because of that.
But I think that it's so easy for the business side to take over, for the pursuit of monetizing our art to take over, because we all have to live. Because there's such a feeling of success in being able to do this with our art that it wants to take over. And sooner or later, one day, you wake up and you realize that basically you're back in the rat race, because all of your focus is on the business side rather than the creative side. I think it's really, really important for people to know their priorities.
And if their priority is the business side, which is great, and that's totally fine. I'm not in any way saying that that's a bad thing, but if that's where their priority is, then churning out a couple of books a year or more, that's where they're gonna have to be.
If their focus ultimately is on the art, it's on just the act of creativity and producing their fiction, then they're going to have to take a step back and realize that the art and the business are two separate things, and you have to really make sure that you are protecting the art side from the business side.
This is something that I really focus on pretty much every single day. Making sure that I've created this space where the creative process is protected from all of the demands of actually making a business out of it, marketing it. Because all that stuff, it takes over your day and it can also take over your intent for what you're actually wanting to do with your fiction.
You decide, “Oh, I need to do romance because there's where largest readership is, and I need to write more books every year,” and none of those are bad things. But you have to make sure that you're doing them because they line up with your priorities and what you want out of your artistic career.
Once you've done that, it really gives you a better perspective of whether you're failing or succeeding in different areas, and so you can make adjustments. I think it's important that we have to pace ourselves, because like we were talking about before we started, if you're a workaholic, you just feel like you have to be moving 110 miles all of the time. And you don't.
Once you've got your systems in place and your business is self-sufficient, to some degree, then you can back off from that a little bit, and make sure that you're nurturing the creative side, which is really the whole point. And if you lose that, then you lose the whole point of everything that you've been trying to succeed at.
I think it's really important to nurture that love of stories, and to take care of your body. We all know, I know this is something you talk about a lot is sitting at a desk is not the healthiest lifestyle. So we have to be really careful that we're not sacrificing important things, like our love of our stories and our physical health, and that we're creating a good balance of all of these things in our lives.
Joanna: Now, I think that's exactly right. I actually did think of you this weekend while we're talking about work. Because you're a Christian, aren't you're, a person of faith?
Joanna: I was actually at church service yesterday. My favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes. And I found this Ecclesiastes 2:24 says, “There is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. These pleasures are from the hand of God.”
And it was so funny, because I was sitting there, thinking I've got so much work to do. I've just taken two weeks holiday, and it's really important to have a break, but then I read this and I was like, “You know what, we are meant to work.” That is one of the joys of our life is to find work that we love. And so I feel very grateful about this. The problem I see is the rebalancing. I don't think there ever is balance.
Joanna: I think we're constantly lurching from one side to the other of like, “Oh, I need to look of to my creativity,” and then, “Oh, I need to look of to my business.” And then like, “Oh, I need to have a rest.”
Ecclesiastes is a thousands of years old book, and this is clearly something that has always been a problem for people in general.
Katie: I totally agree with that. It constantly is a recalibrating, defined to incorporate new things that you're trying to do and define the new balance.
I also like in Ecclesiastes is the famous verses about “There's a time for everything.” I think that that's really pertinent as well. Most of the time is the time to work and to enjoy, like you say. I love my work. I love what I do. I feel so blessed to be able to do it. And there's also a time to step back and reflect, and take care of other areas of your life.
So it just depends on where you're at, and what you're doing, and what you need to focus on at whatever place in your life you're at, at the moment.
Joanna: Yeah, and as that applies to writer's block, it's like, okay, if today, it really just isn't working, then fair enough, like go have a coffee, chill out, whatever.
Katie: Take a walk, yeah.
Joanna: But if tomorrow, the same thing happens, and the next day, and the next week, then I'm sorry, just sit there and do the work.
Katie: Yes, I totally agree with that. That's a really good way to put it.
Joanna: It's very difficult, again, isn't it, to keep these things in check? But probably, my number one tip for this is set a deadline.
Joanna: And then just do it.
How have you ultimately overcome some of your personal blocks around these things?
Katie: I always say that schedules are my secret weapon. Which is something that's really important, just in general, in making writing a business and making sure that you're doing everything that needs to be done, being responsible and accountable.
But it's definitely true in my writing itself. I learned this really early on, and I'm so glad I did because it made all the difference, was that if I did not make my writing a priority every day, nobody was going to do it for me. Nobody was going to help me respect my own writing time if I didn't do that.
That was something that I did really early on was just carved out two hours in my day, and just made it sacrosanct to my writing. After other people get the idea that you're not available during this time, they'll leave you alone.
And then it becomes really you're protecting it from yourself as much as anyone, so that you're not goofing off on the internet or pursuing something that's meaningful like the business side, but that isn't what you're supposed to be doing, which is the really hard stuff of actually creating fiction.
For me, creating these schedules and then getting into the habit of doing them and sticking with them has been huge. Because when you get in the habit of showing up at your desk at a certain time of the day, every single day, for years, I mean, it becomes second nature. It's like getting up in the morning and having breakfast.
You don't think about it, you don't fear it, you don't dread it. It's just something you do. And you sit down and you're going to write whether you are just flooded with inspiration or whether you're dealing with a block. You're going to keep moving forward because all of these wonderful habits are in place.
I really love Somerset Maugham's quote about how, “I only write when I'm inspired. And I make sure that I'm inspired every morning at 9:00.” To me, that's how it works. I have never sat around and waited for inspiration.
Because first of all, I feel like inspiration is always there, we just have to tap it. When people talk about, “I can only write when I'm inspired,” what they're really talking about is more of a mood kind of a thing. And personally, I do not want to be dependent on my moods for how consistent and productive and disciplined I am or how inspired I am.
I will say that I have never stopped writing because of writer's block. Even when I'm dealing with something that just isn't working and I'm really struggling, I always show up at my desk. I always keep going, and I work through those writer's blocks so much more quickly than I would if I just kind of sit back and wallowed in it and did nothing to actually work through it.
Joanna: I totally agree with you on that. I wanted to come back on inspiration. I just finished a novel and I'm writing a non-fiction book right now, but I'm starting the process of inspiration for the next novel. And for me, that involves travel, it involves a lot of research. I read a lot of books. I write a lot of notes. I think you have to fill your head with stuff so that you can then create from that. You can't create from a completely empty mind.
What are some of your recommendations for getting inspired? Because there's a lot in your book, even though it's partly to do with blocks, it's also to do with being inspired, isn't it?
Katie: Yes, because ultimately, I think writer's block is the problem, inspiration is the antidote. You can find inspiration in your systems of creating inspiration in your life on a regular basis, then you don't have to worry about writer's block.
But again, this is something, actually, that I have been thinking about a lot in my own life lately, which is what I call discovering the wonder in life. And it's something that, sadly, I have seen decrease in my life as I get older. When I was a child, my stories were there with me all the time. I miss that. As an adult that I'm busy thinking about other things, about work and the business side and things that ultimately aren't as important to me as the actual creativity and the pursuit of inspiration.
That's something that, as an adult, because it doesn't come as naturally as it did as a child, it's something that I have to focus on deliberately, and make sure I'm structuring into my life. One of my favorite ways to do that is this: It's spring now, it's getting warmer, so it's the warm time of the year here. And when I can go outside at night and have a fire pit and a full moon and music playing in the background, to me, that was I call my dream zone. That's my magic spot where I can just sink into my subconscious and let my imagination just take over.
That's where I find the really interesting and special ideas for what I'm doing. It's not that my conscious brain isn't totally capable of coming up with great ideas. But that's, I think, where the really special and interesting things just well up because they're not in any way harnessed by an outside stimulus, that my conscious brain is filtering.
And Robert Olen Butler, if you're familiar with him, he has really a good book called, “From Where You Dream,” and he talks about the same thing. Getting into what he calls the dream zone and really using that to just feel your inspiration. So that's something that I try to do on a regular basis.
I also try to just let go of stress, whatever it is, that's involving my mind in things that really aren't that necessary, and instead try and go in the other direction and follow more of that creative thing. So that it's just there with me all the time every day, and it just feels like a really healthy, energizing thing. If I can tap into that, then I never have to worry about the whole resistance side or the writer's block side of things.
Joanna: You mention scheduling and I diarize everything as well. I do find, especially given what you and I do which is the non-fiction and the fiction, that I need to schedule them separately. I almost need to not do anything on my blog or the podcast or interviews like this. I need to be J.F. Penn, completely separately to my non-fiction and business work.
To me, that bit, like you're saying, that getting into a dream zone, it's not a quite process. I think that's the bit maybe before you've done the outline or before you start writing.
You actually need quite an intense or longer period of just thinking, don't you, and letting your brain have time?
Katie: Definitely. For me, my creative process tends to be a little bit slower than a lot of people's. But I get an idea, and it usually sits in my head for a long time. I'm busy on the other things, working through other deadlines and projects, and books. My ideas sit in my head for years, sometime, which I love.
It's like this period where they just get to be in this warm, safe place where they can grow and really mature, and I can see what interesting directions it's going to go in that I know I would never discover if my conscious brain just totally took over and started constructing a story.
I love it when it gets to just sit in the back of my head for a couple of years and I'll take it out and play with it every now and then, and add new stuff to it. And by the time I'm actually ready to start outlining, I have generally a pretty complete idea of the story and lots of different scenes I want to work on.
Then I can just start my outlining process by connecting the dots between all these things and figuring out how they all of it together. But the longer that it can sit around my brain and be a part of this dream zone thing, then the better stuff I actually have to work with by the time I sit down to write.
Joanna: I definitely agree with that. And we're running out of time. We can talk about this forever. I did just want to ask you briefly about longevity. As I mentioned to you before we started recording, I've known you online since we both started with our blogs, 2008, 2009-ish. I think we met on Twitter or something back then, and we were both nominated for the Top 10 Blog for Writers. I think it was 2011.
Joanna: We're just so old in this career now.
I wanted to ask about how you ensure longevity in both a creative and an online career? And how do you keep inspiration for the long term?
Katie: It's always a period of readjusting, constant readjusting as you're always learning new things and having new experiences. But I think, for me, definitely like I've said, it's really important to me to know what my priorities are and to make sure that I'm filtering out the static of everybody else, what the world is telling you you're priority should be. I'm always very focused on making sure that I'm lined up with what I actually want to accomplish, and that I'm not letting myself feel bad or pressured, or whatever because I'm not measuring up to someone else's standards.
To me, that's always the first step, because if I'm chasing my tail trying to fulfill something that I don't actually believe in, then I think that's the fastest track to burnout and dissatisfaction, just the whole thing not working and coming down.
But as far as actually writing and achieving longevity in that, again, I think, for me, making sure everything is scheduled, so that everything has its spot, that the fiction has its spot. Like for me, it gets precedence. It's the first thing I do in the morning. That's my morning work before I look at the internet, before I do anything.
It's a very calm and a peaceful period of my day where I can just focus on energizing the story. And then having the schedule for the non-fiction and for taking care of all the internet and the marketing staff, so that everything is have its place in my day so that I'm not overwhelmed by any of it. Hopefully I can finish each day in a healthy place. I definitely don't observe that perfectly all the time. And there comes a point where I am doing too much in one area, usually the business side, and I can tell, I'm run down, I'm out of steam, and I'm losing the energy for the creative staff as well.
It's very important to me to protect my creativity and to think of it as a child, as something that I have to nurture and take care of every day. For me, it's really very important to make sure that I am prioritizing that and nurturing it, and protecting it, and feeding it every single day. And if I can keep that healthy, because I'm doing all of that, then that is what allows me to have the energy to pursue something as far as longevity goes on a long term basis.
Joanna: That's great. Just about blogging, as I mentioned, you and I have both been blogging as non-fiction authors for a long time now. But we're also fiction authors. So what is your opinion?
What part does blogging play in your non-fiction life versus your fiction life?
Katie: I started blogging way back, like you said, basically just because at that point, the mantra was “Every writer needs a blog.” That was like the thing that we were supposed to do. It's magically supposed to jumpstart your whole book marketing. Of course, I did it. And as most authors are confused about what to actually write, what am I going to write that's actually going to interest people? I tried a couple of different things. But what interested me most obviously was the writing.
I just started sharing about things I was learning or I was at in my writing. And it took off, obviously, on its own, became its own thing. On a personal level, I'm just so thankful for the blog, because I know I have learned far more from it than anyone who reads it has. And I'm sure you've heard it too, the statement that “Those who can, do; and those who can't, teach,” and I totally disagree with that. I think that's absolute nonsense, because nothing has taught me more than teaching.
I know for a fact that I would never have been spurred on to learn some of the things that I have pursued, and then to have to actually iterate them in a way that they have become part of me much more deeply than they would if I had just read them in someone else's book and moved on.
My blog had been just an absolute huge blessing to me on so many levels. It allowed me to connect with so many great people, including yourself, and so many great readers, It's a joy to be able to help other people in their process, but I'm being totally honest, the best thing about it is how much it has helped me and challenged me to be a better writer.
Joanna: I think that's great. It is interesting, isn't it? I say that for a fiction author, you just don't have to blog. I just don't believe you do anymore.
Joanna: I actually think you're probably better off writing novellas, using your words to write more fiction and put it out it out there. But as I say that, I'm also like my blog changed my life.
Katie: Yeah, exactly.
Joanna: It really did. And I wouldn't be without it. It plays a very significant part in my income. But as you say, I get to do my podcast and meet and network with people, and that does help sell fiction and also other books. And yeah, I've learned so much too.
What do you recommend to people? Do you say yes, it's a good idea still or do you say it's not?
Katie: Well, that's a really good point. I agree that the vast majority of people who start a blog, that it's probably not going to be super helpful to them in their marketing efforts. But then, you have 1 out of every 10 people who, for whatever reason, it connects and it takes off and it turns into a really good thing for them on the marketing level, but also on a personal level.
So ultimately, it's very subjective bit of advice. But for people who are drawn to the idea of blogging and have ideas about things that they want to share, then I say yes, definitely. You'll probably find it rewarding in and of itself. And then hopefully, it will take off and be helpful to you as a platform.
If you're resistant to the idea of blogging, you have no idea what you want to blog about, and you just hate the whole idea, then don't. There are so many options open to us authors right now for other things we can do to build our platform and write a book. I think that it definitely hasn't been something that's been super helpful to me as a fiction author. I can attest to that and I would say that if you're not interested in it, on its own merits and attracted to it, and you don't think you'll find it personally rewarding, that you can probably find some better ways to invest your time for marketing your book.
Joanna: Yeah, I'm really grateful for your blog. I think you share all kinds of really interesting stuff.
Why don't you just tell people a bit more about what they can find at your site, and what other books you have there.
Katie: Yes, so I post twice a week. I post on Mondays and Fridays. And my site is totally focused on writing, how-to craft. I don't get in to the business side of that mostly, because you do such a good job of it that I just send people over there. Yeah, I post a lot. I'm really into story theory and the whole idea of creating strong story structure and using that to create strong character arcs, and just really exploring the intricacies of the practicalities of writing. And if we do this, then this will help readers feel the way we want them to and react the way we want them to.
I'm always studying and breaking down books and movies and using them as example of why this works and why this doesn't work.
I have my first online writing course coming out pretty soon here, probably today, actually, “Mastering Character Arcs,” so that's exciting. I'm going to be working on a character arcs book for later this year because a lot of people have been wanting that.
And then, on a more personal level, I'm actually going to be starting outlining my next book which will be a sequel to my portal fantasy “Dreamlander,” here pretty soon. I've been taking a break this month. I've got to get back in the harness here, full blown here, next week.
Joanna: Fantastic, so just remind people again where they can find you and your books and your websites online.
Katie: Yeah, so my writing website is helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com. And if you're interested in my fiction, you can find more about that on my personal site which is kmweiland, which my name is spelled as W-E-I-L-A-N-D -dot-com. And of course, you can find all the books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and all of those online retailers.
Joanna: Fantastic, well, thanks so much for your time, Katie. That was great.
Katie: No, thanks for having me. It was a lot of fun.
K.M. Weiland says
Thanks so much for having me on the podcast, Joanna! 🙂
Jeff Chapman says
Fussy Librarian has not shut down. See http://www.thefussylibrarian.com/blog/were-open-for-business/. The blog had the story wrong.
clare weiner (aka Mari Howard) says
Came along here cautiously as I hate the ‘writers’ block’ phrase and never had it but have been so stuck all through May and am still feeling utterly weighed down by getting on with novel no. 3! Found all you said about Indie writers very useful and insightful. Right now I know what is my ‘block’ problem though am loathe to call it that – a combination of burnout resulting from doing all the blog/newsletter/etc stuff and not seeing results and simply being weary because I am also a painter and also have family stuff that’s occurred and involved me … and finally, because I am not a natural introvert, I need and enjoy social interaction. So … something tells me I’m ‘not a proper writer’ and so I give myself messages that getting down to sorting this book’s plot out and just writing it will be a tiring waste of time! So … useful stuff to work on … I like the idea of doing 2 hours before looking at business/social media … may try that one.
Joanna Penn says
I also don’t like ‘block’ but it’s what people use 🙂 Sounds like you just need a break – and to refocus on the writing …
Blane J. Nasveschuk says
“You can’t create from a completely empty mind.” A most significant observation. Feeing empty and spent is probably symptom to it’s reality. Out of balance? For me, many times.
Do your think “balance”, while in the process of creating helps or hinders flow?
Carol Balawyder says
Very interesting post! 🙂
Sara Hovel says
Really enjoyed this interview (as I enjoy all your interviews, Joanna). Love Weiland’s writing resources especially her Creating Character Arcs. I have a question regarding the part of the conversation about developing the bad habit of starting manuscripts and not finishing them. You must have been looking at my computer files to see all my unfinished manuscripts. So, my question is what to do if you are in that bad habit – do you go back and finish those incomplete manuscripts or start finishing what you start from this point forward?
Joanna Penn says
Glad you enjoyed it, Sara. Whatever you pick, old or new, it doesn’t matter what — just finish it 🙂 Whatever you are working on now, finish it.