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Self-doubt and fear of failure are a normal part of the creative process, but that doesn't make them any easier to deal with. In today's show, Sarah Painter talks about how to write during the inevitable ups and downs.
In the introduction, I talk about lessons all authors can learn from Dean Wesley Smith's article on how to run a physical bookstore in 2017. I also mention my tutorial on how to build your own author website in 30 mins.
Today’s show is sponsored by my non-fiction audiobooks, How to Market a Book Third Edition, Business for Authors, How to Make a Living with your Writing and The Successful Author Mindset, available now on Audible. If you need some more inspirational audio that will give you actionable tips to make more money with your books AND stay sane while doing it, check them out here!
Sarah Painter writes bestselling contemporary fiction with a touch of magic, and she also hosts the Worried Writer podcast and blog, which helps writers with the mindset behind the writing life. Her newest book is Stop Worrying, Start Writing: How to Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt, and Procrastination.
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 part that worry plays in every writer's life and work
- The different types of vulnerabilities when publishing fiction or non-fiction
- How writers can deal with the need for validation
- Ways to deal with the anxieties that literary festivals can create
- The importance of rituals and habits when dealing with writing anxiety
- Using different spaces for different types of writing
You can find Sarah Painter at SarahPainter.com and on Twitter @SarahRPainter
Transcript of Interview with Sarah Painter
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today, I'm here with Sarah Painter. Hi, Sarah.
Sarah: Hi, Joanna.
Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.
Sarah writes bestselling contemporary fiction with a touch of magic, and she also hosts the Worried Writer podcast and blog, which helps writers with the mindset behind the writing life. And she has a new book out which I think you have there, don't you, Sarah?
Sarah: I do indeed.
Joanna: There we go.
Sarah: It's called “Stop Worrying Start Writing.”
Joanna: Yeah. There we go. And that's gonna be our theme for today, because it's so interesting that worry and anxiety and concern become such a big part of our creative life.
Let's start by telling us a bit more about you. Most people think that the moment they get the magic book deal everything will transform, and they'll never have to worry again.
But, in your book, you talk about your journey to publication and how worry was actually part of that journey. So tell us about that.
Sarah: Absolutely. To be quite honest, I was a very, very sort of worried and anxious person, and I had absolutely no self-belief whatsoever in my writing. It took me a very long time to even try to write.
I wrote nonfiction, I worked as a journalist, and it took me years and years and years. And then when I finally did, it was such a big deal to show my work to anybody, and then to submit to agents.
Everything just felt so fraught with anxiety, self-doubt, procrastination, fear. And I think what I was holding onto was this idea that I would get validation, you know, that magical day when I would suddenly think, “Oh, no. I can be a writer” or “I'm not too bad.”
I was holding on to this idea first of getting an agent and then I would feel okay, and of course, I didn't.
I got an agent and I just replaced my previously worries with new ones. And then, I got a publishing deal and I thought that will be it, no, not it at all. I was still terrified. And I still thought I was no good.
So as I say, the worry just changed. I was so frightened that the night before my first book came out, I actually seriously considered phoning the publisher and saying, “Please, don't put it out.”
Joanna: That moment, because I think all authors feel that moment. I remember it, I felt sick that day. And I recorded the video, which I'm very grateful I did, because you have to get over that moment.
Was that fear of other people judging you for what you wrote, at that moment? Or was it not about them, it was actually more about you?
Sarah: Yes, the fear of judgment was massive. And I felt like I was going to be found out or that somebody would infer something that I hadn't intended.
It's that vulnerability, that fear of exposure.
But I think, alongside that was the fact that I hadn't worked on my internal landscape. I hadn't come up with any intrinsic, “You can do this” or “You deserve to do this.”
I was still always looking for that external validation, and waiting for that to make everything feel okay.
I spoke to a writer friend of mine, who'd been holding my hand for years by this point, and I was moaning to her about… I was doing a postgrad at the time, I was doing a masters in writing, trying again to find this validation this sense of belonging or sense of being good enough.
She said to me, “Sarah, you know, at some point you just have to decide that you're good enough. You have to decide that you deserve to write these things.”
It really hit me that it had to come from me, to a certain extent.
So yes, so the whole shining world of publishing, it just opened up a whole new load of things to worry about. And of course, there are different levels as well.
I don't know about you, but I'm always just moving the goalposts. So I went from, “I just want to get published” and, you know, get that validation to, “Oh, well, I'm not on the front table at Waterstones so I'm still not a real author.”
Joanna: Or I haven't I have made the one million pound book deal and I don't have a castle in Scotland like JK Rowling.
Sarah: Yes, exactly. I'm not being invited to Literary Festival. So it was a bit rubbish, I'll be honest, it was hard because I was so happy. But I felt so conflicted and worried.
Joanna: Right. So let's come back to…because you said you were a journalist.
Joanna: What is the difference between putting your words out in the world, as a journalist, and putting your novel out there?
Sarah: It's so different for me, anyway, because with journalism you have a style guide and you have a very specific audience. Well, perhaps actually the more I've learned about fiction, as a publishing business, it's not quite as different as I had first thought.
But I always though to have the audience firmly in mind. And I would be writing generally to get across some specific information, to solve a problem, or perhaps to give an opinion, although that's a wee bit harder. And so, it felt very, very different.
Whereas fiction was this sort of mythical, mysterious, emotional.
As I say, as I've learned more about it, now I do think more about my audience. But what I do is I write the first draft is my mythical, the door is shut, my art, if you like.
Then later on when it's editing, then you're thinking about the reader's experience. And that's when it gets closer to the nonfiction writing experience, perhaps a little bit.
Joanna: Yeah, it's interesting. The fear of judgment is less with nonfiction.
Although, having read your book, you do talk a lot about your feelings, and you actually have put a lot of yourself in there, as I did, I think, with my “Mindset” book, put a lot of my journals in.
You aren't baring your soul there in nonfiction and you bare your soul in a different way in fiction.
Were you worried about this nonfiction book?
Sarah: Very, yes, for exactly those reasons. What I did is I built up to it, because every time I'd written a blog post that made me feel that I'd shared too much, that I've been too honest, I've been too vulnerable, I've mourned too much, those got the biggest responses.
People were so overwhelmingly kind and supportive, and would say, “Me too” and “Thank you for saying that.” And so, that kind of helped me.
And also, your “Mindset” book as well, I loved reading it so much and I'm so grateful to you for sharing, that it made me think, “Hang on now, if I get so much from it when other people share, it's not exactly my duty, but perhaps it would be a good thing, perhaps it's time I tried that, in the hope that it might help somebody else who feels as wobbly and insecure as I do.”
But I was very frightened. And generally, I don't read my reviews, but I did read reviews for this nonfiction book, just to check that I hadn't embarrassed myself.
Joanna: I think that's a really great. I know what you mean, I think it can be really hard.
Before we go any further, let's just get some definitions straight because, we're talking about worry and we're talking about fear, and I think we all feel that.
But there is a scale, isn't there, that goes up to a sort of clinical anxiety level.
Can we just sort of make it clear what we're talking about, so that if people are listening that they can get an idea where they might sit.
Sarah: Absolutely. I think that's so important.
I am a card-carrying anxiety sufferer. When I say anxiety or anxiety disorder I mean the medical diagnosis, it's an illness.
That is very different to talking about worries, which I try and do, and occasionally I'll slip up and I'll say anxiety. But generally speaking, what we're talking about today are worries.
I think, as you said, it's a sliding scale. But what I would say to anybody listening is that if you have any concerns that your worries might be more than just “worry”, if I can put that in quote marks, then go and see your GP, go and speak to somebody.
Because if you feel that way, it's possible that it is. Clinical anxiety can involve things like negative thoughts spirals that you don't feel that you have control over, and they can affect your sleep, panic attacks.
If any of these things are on your radar at all, then yes, please do seek professional help. And I really, definitely, want to say that, a lot of the techniques that we'll talk about today and that are in the book or on the podcast or I talk about on my podcast, they can help whether you've got anxiety disorder or just feeling worried.
But I don't want anybody to think, for a second, that they can just cure themselves with a positive mental attitude and add a few habits and then you'll be fine. I would hate anybody to feel like that, for a second.
Joanna: I think that is really important. My thought on mental illness as well is that we all move up and down. I mean, obviously there are some people who do sit higher on the spectrum, but we all move up and down the spectrum.
As we talk today, I've come back from a session on my book and I am at the point of just wanting to throw in the towel and just like, “Oh, this is so bad.” And it's fear and there's so many things bound up in it.
I do believe, for myself, a positive mental attitude is important. As writers and creatives, it keeps coming back with every single project we do. It's part of the process. So let's try and break it down a bit.
What are some of the most common fears and worries that writers might have about their work?
Sarah: I think the number one, that I hear from the people that I mentor is that fear of being any good. Again, it's that idea of validation, of there being some sort of external yardstick, which of course doesn't exist.
It's a completely subjective business, but I think that's a very common one. And the other one that comes up, I think, most often is perhaps fear of failure. Because, I mean, for me, it was that being a writer was all I ever wanted to do since I can remember.
I didn't try because if I failed at it, it would take away that dream, that possibility, that would be gone. And, I think, that's quite a really frightening, sort of, gut level, deep fear.
And other fears of failure are judgment. Friends or family seeing you try something and fail, it's a sense of embarrassment, I suppose, or maybe even shame.
And finally, which can often look like fear of failure is fear of success. And it sounds very, very weird. But I think, again, its fear of failure on a magnified scale and fear of exposure on a magnified scale.
Because with every success, it's almost like you're upping the stakes or feeling more exposed to a greater number of people or with higher stakes, however almost imaginary those stakes might be.
Joanna: That fear of exposure, I think, is interesting because, as you said, we're having to bare our souls in many ways when we write, and by putting ourselves out there, we are exposing ourselves, and then people will inevitably judge us.
So the whole thing becomes this sort of vortex. It's always if you think too much about it, it becomes a bit of a nightmare. And, of course, the show is all about thinking about it.
I want to come back to that validation, because recently, again, as we talk I've come back from ThrillerFest where I was up for an award, and I didn't win.
It was weird because I was thinking all the time, “What if I do win…” like that fear of success “…does that mean I should get an agent? Does that mean I should go traditional publishing, like, what does that mean?” And then when I didn't win it's kind of like, “Oh, so I'm not good enough writer because I didn't win the award.”
And it's crazy, as you say, because an award is external validation and thus is quite unhealthy.
How do you tackle that need for validation? Or that fear that you're not good enough? What are some of the ways you personally deal with that?
Sarah: It's very much an ongoing process. And, I mean, as you were just saying, with going to ThrillerFest, that was a perfect storm for you in that it was a time at which you couldn't get away from it, it was very much front and center.
So what I do is that, if I can avoid the trigger points, if I can avoid the things when my ability to cope with that comparisonitis and my ability to cope with those feelings of inadequacy, if that is really quite low, then I will avoid bookshops, for example, or I will deliberately avoid the things that I know will trigger those feelings.
And if I'm feeling quite good and reasonably strong in my mind and with where I am, and the writing is going well, I can go to bookshops and have just as much fun as I ever did.
I'm just kind to myself now, “No, Sarah, you're not up for that right now. That's just going to make you feel rubbish so you don't have to do it.”
It's a lot of that self-knowledge and then being kind to yourself saying, you don't have to put your hand in the fire, you don't have to read your reviews if they hurt you too much and they stop your writing. You don't have to do it, there's no law. And that has been hugely freeing.
Joanna: Yeah. I don't read my reviews either. I do you look at the overall score. In fact, I've had my VA do it to get quotes out, and my husband do it and but I just won't go anywhere near… Because the good ones puff you up and then the bad ones…
Sarah: For a few second there, right?
Joanna: Yeah. And the bad ones they bring you down, so it's like, oh yeah, this is not worth it.
I do want to ask you about literary festivals because you mentioned them. And I was just emailing with an author friend today, successful author, as some would consider I'm a successful enough author.
Both of us were saying how literary festivals make us just fall apart with comparisonitis and this validation. Because in England…you and I are both in the UK and it's quite snobby, the literary festivals are very traditionally published, and not just traditionally published because you're traditionally published, is prize winning.
Reels of big names, and make you feel terrible. But, I feel like I have to go because in that way we have to force ourselves out there sometimes. And once you make friends with many of these authors, you realize that they feel the same way too.
Talk a bit about literary festivals and if we can't avoid them, or we don't want to avoid them, how can we deal with the anxiety and the worry then?
Sarah: I think what you were just saying about befriending some people is perfect, because it's all about the reality versus the outside, the external. That old saying about don't compare other people's outsides to your inside.
Don't look at somebody else's success, or whatever it might be, and compare it to how you're feeling inside, because they're just not the same thing.
I heard something recently, although I'm traditionally published some of my books are digital only, and the ones that I'll definitely print are with Lake Union which, of course, is an Amazon imprint. So I haven't even tried, but I imagine that many bookshops, for example, aren't going to be over keen on stocking me. And so, that was another, “Oh, you're not a real author” sort of feeling.
There's an organization called the Scottish Book Trust who are wonderful, and they have a live literature database, which they use to help recruit literature events, festivals, writing events at schools, and libraries and so on.
I really wanted to be registered on it. But when I looked at the criteria, I realized that I didn't fit traditionally published, their criteria, because you had to be available in bookshops around Scotland, and I didn't fit their self-publishing thing because those books are not self-published.
Old me, a couple of years ago, before I ran the podcast and kind of did a lot of head work and experience, I would have just simply crawled away and cried. So I did the crying bit, but then I thought, “Actually, they're wrong. I am an author and I have sold X number of books. I think I've probably sold a lot more than many of the people on that list”, now that I know more about the business side.
So I got in touch and said all of that and gave my sales figures, and my literary agent's address and said, “I fall between these two things and I'm sure lots of people do. There aren't that many bookshops any more. How many authors are on a bookshop shelf for any more than a week?”
Joanna: Yeah. Unless they're really big names, of course.
Sarah: Absolutely. So they came back to me and they reviewed their policy and I'm now on the database. And it was a real lesson.
I think as you were saying, yes, there's protecting yourself which is my advice. But also, if you do feel strong enough, push yourself, email them and question their criteria.
As you said, go to the festival but befriend some people, and get the kind of the behind the scenes “skinny on it” as it were. So that you really make it more normal and less of a shining palace of perfection, that we're not allowed into.
Joanna: Yeah, I think you're right. And, in fact, the International Thriller Writers, ITW, they officially don't take indie authors. They have this sort of open… “We are open to all other applications” but there's no standard form.
I actually had to send them all of my sales figures and everything. And I only had the strength to do that after I'd met some other authors and realized that my sales of indie books were far higher than many of the debut authors, and even some of the mid-list authors.
And also, what's the worst that can really happen? I mean, they could have said to you, “No” and you would say, “There you go, that's life.”
Sarah: I'm so weary of saying, “Oh, just do it, it'll be fine. It gets easier with practice.” Because all of that is true, but I also know that I'm saying that now with a few years of practice under my belt.
I feel, oh my goodness, so much better and more able to deal with those things and to do those things. Sarah, of three years ago, four years ago, I would hear that advice and I would think, “But I still can't.”
So I really want to acknowledge that while I'm saying, “Yes, just do it. What's the worst…” which is true, it can feel like the sky will fall in, and that it would just be too awful and too destroying.
If you feel that worried about something to do with your writing, and it's something that you want to do because the possible effects are going to be so good, which is gonna sound a little bit, it's a little bit out there but I suggest getting yourself a writer's hat. I mean, really seriously, something physical that you can put on.
And so, it's not you and Sarah doing it, it's writer Sarah doing it.
And automate as many things as possible. If sending an email, for example, an email like that it just seems beyond you, then break it down into a series of steps. So you think, okay, well first I'm going to do my research and then I'm going to write my draft of the email and save it, and then I'm going to go back in and rewrite that email and edit it. And then, I'm going to leave that and then the next day, whenever you're sort of at your strongest, or lie to yourself, hit send and pretend you haven't, whatever it takes.
But if you break it down into those steps, and then just follow them, as a process, not letting yourself think about what you're doing, if that makes any sort of sense. While wearing your hat and you hit send or you send off your submission, or you post something in your critique forum or whatever it is that's freaking you out, once you've done that you go and reward yourself, reward the heck out of yourself.
And make it as much of a win situation, just the doing it was your win. And then, hopefully, you'll start to build just a more positive attitude to tackling those things, and the tackling them to be the end in itself rather than the result. So just really back well away from the result.
Joanna: Everything you're saying is great. I'm looking back, and one of the things I love about having a blog is being able to look back and see at what point I was then. And some people who listen to this podcast go back and listen to the whole backlist, which I find crazy, but, you know, go back to 2009 when I hadn't even written a novel.
The first 18 months of my podcast I hadn't written fiction or I was writing fiction, but I hadn't got a book. You said three years ago that Sarah wouldn't have been able to do it.
Is it writing, blogging, podcasting, that has actually demonstrated to you that you can do this?
Sarah: Absolutely. And the podcasting, in particular, has been hugely beneficial, has completely transformed my working and creative life. Because I was so frightened.
It's your fault. I don't think I told you before but it's entirely your fault, because I loved your podcast so much and I got so much value from it and so much comfort from it. It transformed the way that I thought about writing as a business.
I then began to think of it as a business, which has been very very good, in all ways. And again, it was that thing of wanting to be part of the community, not just to be consuming, to be creating something and giving something back, and feeling that bit more involved. And being on our own so much is great.
I did also kind of miss that one to one connection with people, and I wanted to talk to people and I thought, “This is a good way to do it,” but I was really really frightened, really frightened.
But I was also wee bit excited and I thought, “If I'm excited I need to do it.” But again, the process of forcing myself to do the thing that I found so frightening, by breaking it down into the steps and following through and each time lying to myself, “You're just gonna buy a microphone, you don't actually have to do anything. You're just gonna record a test episode nobody else has to hear it” all of those steps. I do a lot of lying.
Joanna: Lying to yourself.
Sarah: A lot of denial, denial all the way. But, by doing that over the last couple years, it's been so many ways but firstly, that I can be scared of something and I can still do it, which is huge.
And, by speaking to lovely authors and finding the same thing over and over again, that I'm just not alone, I'm not that weird or we're all that weird. Everybody and all these people that I'd look up to, as being so much more successful and more productive, more creative, more confident, and over and over again they would say, “Oh yes, self-doubt”.
Or they'd say to me, you know, in the chat before we'd started recording the interview, they'd say, “Oh, I could never do a podcast. That's really terrifying.”
Joanna: I've talked before so I wasn't worried about this one, but my heart still hammers. Like if I haven't met the person before online, my heart is just thumping, and I go to the toilet like three times before an interview. And I've been doing this, you know, for seven years.
And when I speak, I get the same thing. I like the lying to yourself thing and the hat.
Do you have podcasting hat or self?
Sarah: I do have a podcasting self. My daughter says I have a podcasting voice. I have a ritual, where I make hot water and lemon, and I stand up and do the sort of deep breathing and stretching my arms, and that kind of thing.
I might have gotten that off your book on public speaking actually, a wee bit, of sort of psyching myself up as if I'm going to go on stage. Yeah, that helps.
Joanna: That's great. You're read all my books, it's awesome.
Sarah: I really can't believe I'm on this show. I listen to it every week, and I'm very much a fan girl.
Joanna: Oh, thank you. Coming back to the focusing on others. And the speaking thing is the same, the podcast is the same.
At the end of the day, the reason I asked you on the show is because what you're talking about will help the listeners, and you know that. When you're podcasting, it's not about you, and when you're speaking, it's not about you, it's always about how can I help the person on the other end, the person listening or reading or whatever.
Is that another way to help us frame anxiety or worry, by going, “Okay well, how am I serving the person on the other end? Stop thinking it's about me.”
Sarah: I think that's a brilliant way of framing it, to help with anxiety. And I absolutely do it when it comes to blogging and podcasting and the nonfiction book.
I did want to write it but it was also the people asked me, very kindly, asked me to write it. And I thought, well if a handful of people are going to…maybe one or two people will really get something from this, from my experience, then it will be worth it.
It was very much that, as you say, focusing on the audience, focusing on the other people and what they might get. I haven't done it so much with fiction, but as you were just speaking, I thought I really am missing a trick. I think I really should.
I think if I could focus more on what that escapism might be for the reader, that might be another trick I can use on a bad writing day.
Joanna: I'm reminded of Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who is one of my heroes. She wrote a post about how important fiction is, especially in a political time when things are difficult all over the world. The economy is difficult and things are difficult.
And, in fact, the reason I think Netflix and Amazon Prime video and all these stories have taken off is because people want to escape their lives into a story.
And yes, delivering nonfiction is great but actually, people crave a story to kind of learn about these things. So yeah, I think that's really good way.
Coming back to what you were also talking about, the ritual, you do talk about habits in the book, and how habits can be a way to work around the worry.
What are some habits that people could try and put in place in order to get the work done?
Sarah: I'm such a huge fan of habits. And when I read about this idea, that you have a certain amount of decision making energy throughout the day, and it just made so much sense to me, and so much sense of my own experience.
Rather than feeling as if, “Oh, you're just this terrible and undisciplined person who has no willpower,” I suddenly thought about it in those terms, which I definitely encourage anybody else to do as well.
And the thing about habits is that it cuts out decisions. My favorite and best habit for writing is to write first thing in the morning. So I prepare for it the night before. My netbook is by the bed, fully charged, or my little lap desk. And I know that my husband's going to make me a cup of tea, because I'm very lucky, and bring me a cup of tea. And I'm going to sit up, I'm going to open that netbook and I'm going to start typing.
Everything is in place. I affirmed myself that that's what I'm going to do, the night before. When I open my eyes, the moment I'm conscious, I will sit up and I pick it up…and I've been doing it for so long that it really is a sort of motor habit, to lean down and pick up that computer and the desk and go.
If you can build it so it's automatic in that way, whatever your own particular writing habit might be, whether it's sitting at your desk at 9 or after dinner, before the washing up, perhaps. Whatever it is, if you can make it a habit so that's completely automatic, you don't have to choose to write. At that point you have to choose not to write.
It's using that lack of decision energy for you, if you see what I mean. And when it's automatic there's less space for your worries to come in.
The reason I like first in the morning so much is that, because I'm not fully awake I've got less resistance because I'm not fully awake yet. So all my resistance, sort of brain, is not firing on all cylinders yet and I'm closer to the sort of subconscious sleepy space, I suppose. And so that really helps.
And also the day has not begun, you've not had time to be distracted by anything else. I definitely recommend that or certainly giving it a try. But yes, in terms of habits, it's cutting out those decisions, making it so that it's just something that you're going to do.
And it's also focusing on the process of it, again. So it's always, whatever the habit is set, a really, really small one to start with, so it could be five minutes of writing or 10 minutes of thinking about your novel. And then hook it on something that you already do.
This is why I said maybe after dinner. Let's say you always get up after dinner and do the washing up before you go through to watch Netflix, as an example.
Instead, you could say, “I'm going to add in my 10 minutes of writing time in between those two things.” And then, if you stick to that for a couple of weeks, it will just be part of that little routine. And I do think it's easier to do if you hook it on to something that you already do every day.
Joanna: Yeah, it's a very good point. And on that TV thing, it's so interesting because today a TV has arrived. Now, we haven't had a TV for six years. When I decided to be a writer like back in 2009, we got rid of the TV because it was distracting and so I made the decision not to watch TV. But TV was pretty crap back then and now it's amazing.
Sarah: Now it's brilliant.
Joanna: Now it's brilliant and there's so many stories, so engrossing. But what you've just said there is really good point, because in the past I would have said to people, “Why aren't you writing in the evening? Why are you watching TV?”
And now I'm watching TV in the evening myself. But what you've said about finishing your dinner and maybe doing the washing up and then putting some writing time in before you go and sit down.
The problem is, once you sit down it's very hard to pull yourself away unless you're a night owl. And I'm a morning person, so for me, it's always the morning like you.
But the other thing I find is, I can't write fiction at this desk. So where I'm standing now, at my sitting standing desk, I podcast, I email, I do my blog.
Do you find this as well? Do you find that you have to do your fiction in a different place to your nonfiction?
Sarah: It's something I've been trying to sort out, to be quite honest, over the last few months, because I always used to write fiction at this… this is iMac in my lovely garden office, bought for the purpose of writing in.
Joanna: Wow, awesome.
Sarah: I know, brilliant. And the whole point there was to get me out of bed because I used to write in bed. And I still do, first thing in the morning, as I admitted.
But I used to write all the time in bed and it was very, very bad for my back. But now I do so many more things and now I run the business, The Worried Writer and there is just more business stuff to do, and I do it all at this iMac in my garden office.
I found that it's harder to write fiction in here now because it's got too many other associations. I think it might have been Dean Wesley Smith that talked about getting a dedicated writing computer.
So I bought a Neo for 30 quid or something on eBay, which is a really old word processor with a tiny little screen which shows you five lines of text or something. And it runs on AA batteries. It's amazing. The batteries go on forever, it's super light, really rugged. It basically was built for education purposes, for the schools.
I will write on that if I really need to focus, and I'm being feeble about it, or I'll go somewhere else. I know that you go to cafes to write. So I'll sometimes do something like that, although not very often because I feel bad about not using my office.
Joanna: Because you got it specially.
Joanna: That's really funny. I'm trying to dictate as well, and as we were talking…
Sarah: I really wanna try that.
Joanna: Well, this is the other thing. We were just talking about sharing our offices with our respective husbands before the show. And, of course, now I can't dictate in my office because my husband's here, you know, with fiction.
And also the dictation, I'm still not finding, you know, you can't have a brilliant sentence when sound like an idiot. And you can't dictate in a cafe or at least I don't…that would be mad.
Sarah: You probably shouldn't.
Joanna: Not with my type of book. So I'm dictating in the afternoon…I get a co-working space for two hours, a room in a co-working space, and I dictate for as long as I can within the two hour period.
And then in the morning session, right now, because I'm in first draft, kind of going through and just editing a bit, and making sure the recording works. It's so interesting how this sort of process hacking works, but it's interesting how you're finding the issue with the space as well.
If people are listening are managing multiple brands, fiction nonfiction, and struggling, that's definitely a way, isn't it, to split it? Because, otherwise, you end up worrying about not writing your fiction.
Sarah: Something that I have tried as well, which is working quite well. I just remembered with the iMac is that I…when I realized I didn't have another space to set up a really good working space, you know, good desk and all that for the RSI and bad back and so on.
So what I did was I set up a different login profile for my iMac. So there's writer Sarah. So if I log in as writer Sarah there's nothing else on my desktop, I've taken everything out. I've removed everything except Scrivener.
Joanna: That is a good tip.
Sarah: And also iTunes because, music. But when I go in I know, it's like a signal to my brain, it's writer Sarah, there's nothing else there. I don't get distracted by Audacity in the corner and think, “Oh yes, I need to, you know, edit that podcast interview or whatever.” There's none of that. And I've got a nice inspirational picture on the background and everything. And that's really helped.
Joanna: That's really good because, this is a laptop. And I take the same laptop to the cafe and I write on the same laptop there. But that login is super. I think I'm gonna do that.
There are obviously pros and cons of running a nonfiction writing business at the same time as being a fiction writer. And this is kind of…one of them is splitting yourselves into two.
You mentioned before that the podcast has helped and the blog has helped. A fiction writer came to me the other day and just said the money is difficult as a fiction writer.
Have you found that having the multiple streams of income, so sales of nonfiction, other things, does that help you as a writer, as a businesswoman writer?
Sarah: Absolutely. It helps, not just in the bottom line of, as you say, getting multiple streams of income is good because seeing more income is good, but I think it's also good, from a psychological point of view.
I find writing nonfiction uses quite a different energy, it sort of feels as if there are other possibilities. If I'm feeling particularly low about my creative writing, it'd be very easy for me to spiral into a, “You're never going to write another book that anyone will ever want to read, and you're going to have to get a proper job and everything is awful.”
It really helps me to be able to think, “Ah, but you could write a blog post about these feelings, that's quite practical. But also you have this other strand of writing that you do, that isn't quite as dependent, on the muse is the wrong expression, because I do believe in just the hard work and the craft.”
It's contingent on identifying other people's needs and answering them. It's a skill. It feels more like a skill that I have, nonfiction writing. I've written articles on computer graphic design and all kinds of things. You learn about it, you write about it, that was my training.
And so, it just feels more of a work a day kind of a skill that I can use and fall back is the wrong word, but it does help me feel a wee bit more secure.
Joanna: Yeah, no, that's great.
Sarah: However wrong that might be.
Joanna: I also think that fiction book sales are interesting in that they go up and down a cycle. So if, for example, in Britain right now there's just been this thing come out that says, “Psychological thriller with a female protagonist that is an unreliable narrator is a woman with a girl in the title is now over.”
Sarah: That's it. We're not buying that anymore, that's done.
Joanna: So it's like, okay, but what if those are the type of books that you write?
Sarah: What if you just spent four years writing that?
Joanna: What's also brilliant is they're reporting that self-help books are coming round and positive self-help books.
So back on fiction, I think the cyclical nature of the book environment means that, if you have different books that address different things, fiction and nonfiction, like I have action adventure that's a bit like Dan Brown.
Now, Dan Brown, I'm waiting for it to come around again, but he has a new book out. He's such a slow writer but he has a new book out this autumn. So I'm like, yay, hopefully, that will help me.
But I think it's so important to balance your different writing side. And, as you say, I think you can almost separate your ego more from nonfiction than fiction to make you feel better.
We're out of time, we could talk forever.
Tell everybody about your fiction, because we've talked a lot about The Worried Writer stuff, but tell us about your fiction.
Sarah: The first three books are contemporary fiction, with a touch of magic. So it's in this world but there is a bit of magic going on, but it's supernatural. I can't get away from supernatural, it always pops into my books.
Joanna: Me too.
Sarah: And they're kind of, well hopefully, quite fun, and sort of emotional women's fiction, I suppose.
And then last year “In The Light of What We See” came out. And that is part psychological thriller and part historical, sort of a dual narrative.
That was my first book with Lake Union. And Lake Union have given me a deal for another book which will be coming out early next year, and that's called “Beneath The Water.” And that's also got a wee bit of historical along with the present day strand.
Joanna: Yeah. And just tell people where you are in the world as well.
Sarah: Oh, I'm in Scotland.
Joanna: Because you have a little bit of an accent but it's not too broad, is it?
Sarah: No, not at all. Well, I'm actually a bit weird because I was born and brought up in Wales by a Scottish mother and an English father. So what we can basically say is that I'm British.
Joanna: That's awesome.
Sarah: So yes, I've just been living in Scotland the last 12 years or so.
Joanna: No, that's brilliant. Okay. So you tell people where they can find you, and your books and your podcast and everything online.
Sarah: Wonderful. Well, for my fiction if you go to sarah-painter.com then you can find about my books there. And “The Worried Writer” is, of course, available on all good podcast catches or you can go to worriedwriter.com. And you will always find me…not always, I shouldn't say that. You might often find me procrastinating on Twitter @Sarahrpainter.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Sarah. That was great.
Sarah: Thank you, Joanna. Thank you so much for having me.
Suzanne Grosser says
Great show! So many actionable takeaways. I am going to start by being gentle with myself and then create different work spaces for fiction and nonfiction. Hats off (but not the writer hat) to both Sarah and Joanna for being so open about the struggle as well as the joy of writing.
Sarah Painter says
Thanks so much, Suzanne – I’m so glad you found the interview helpful! And thank you, again, to Joanna for having me on the show.
Henry Hyde says
A lovely show – I’m going to recommend this to a number of writers I know who are battling with the issues you raise. I’ve already given several copies of Joanna’s book on Public Speaking for Introverts as gifts.
I was particularly alerted to your mention of fear of success, as opposed to failure, and realise to my surprise that this may, in fact, apply to me! I shall have to think about this…
And Sarah, I really love your voice, you have beautiful clarity.
Sarah Painter says
Thank you for your kind words, Henry! Yes, fear of success can be a surprising one, can’t it? Very best wishes to you and good luck with your writing.
Marie Elrich says
This is an awesome podcast, as always, Joanna and Sarah. Out of curiosity, Joanna, do you have any map-makers you recommend? I would love to add a map to my fantasy book as well.
Henry Hyde says
Marie, I’m a map-maker myself, but thoroughly recommend a visit to The Cartographers’ Guild https://www.cartographersguild.com/ where you can see some truly extraordinary talent on display.
Thank you for sharing that resource with me! However, I would love your information as well, in case I would like you to make me a map 😉 Do you mind sending me an email with your contact and current rates?
Helen Allan says
Thank you so much for this, I needed it at this point having just had a ‘oh no I’m not making any money – in my first year of full-time writing! – I’m shit and I’m going to start applying for real jobs – sob! – I’ll have to go back to teaching, boo hoo! But having heard this I now think, man up woman, get a grip, hang in there, money isn’t everything and it will all be ok. I’ve got to add too, as a former literary festival director in Australia – we simply do not know about indie publishing – no shit! – we are inundated with trad publishers offering us their authors free (we usually have to pay thousands) and we receive hundreds of emails from ‘self published authors’ who turn out to be freaks, ie) “I’m a dolphin whisperer!” So maybe if real indie authors started contacting festival directors and ‘educating’ them there would be a real change. I left my position to start writing full-time in the middle of 2016 after meeting and hiring an indie author who changed my view on publishing. He showed me that I could drag my manuscripts out of the cupboard and self-publish. And apart from the fact I am poor now (again, sob!) I’m loving writing and publishing. Thanks again Johanna – you have been a lifeline.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Helen, I’m glad it helped – and remember, multiple streams of income are important for any author. Most authors do not make all their money from book sales – I certainly don’t! Many authors teach or do services like editing or manuscript assessment, I am a paid pro speaker – many of us also sell products from websites – and many have other jobs. The reality of book sales is that it’s up and down over time.
In terms of Australia, I started my indie journey in Brisbane in 2006 – self-published in 2008 – attended Sydney Writers fest in 2009 and developed quite a community of indie authors in Oz over time. Things have changed since then too – see this recent interview with John Birmingham – https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2017/08/21/how-to-be-a-writer-john-birmingham/
All the best with your journey!
Melissa Uhles says
Thanks for another great podcast. This was so inspirational. I know overcoming fear and anxiety is an important step before making progress as a writer. It took me until I was 40 to overcome mine and finally finish writing and publishing a book I’d been thinking about for years. Now as I continue the journey I’m getting more thick skinned…but I know all too well that this can be a hard profession for sensitive types.
Boghos L. Artinian MD says
The great writer
Fine Essays, offhand rejected
Made him feel sad and dejected.
Now he worries, his old rubbish
They would soon dig out and publish.