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Running across New Zealand is a tough adventure and in today's show, Anna McNuff talks about how writing her book about the journey was a completely different challenge.
In the intro, I talk about my writing progress on The Healthy Writer, as well as recommending the Netflix documentary on Lady Gaga, 5 Foot 2, which is an incredible story of creativity and tenacity in the face of chronic pain.
I also mention my experience speaking at ScotsWrite and the great news that BookFunnel is now delivering ebooks if you sell direct from your own website.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Anna McNuff is an adventurer, professional speaker and author, named by Conde Nast Traveller as one of the 50 most influential travelers of our time and by the Guardian UK as one of the top modern female adventurers. Anna's latest book is Pants of Perspective: One Woman's 3000 km running adventure through the wilds of New Zealand.
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.
- Dealing with self-doubt and fear of failure
- Managing comparisonitis in a very competitive field
- How Anna writes on the run
- On Anna's business model and her choice to publish independently
- Tips on public speaking for authors
- Balancing health, creativity and work
You can find Anna McNuff at AnnaMcNuff.com and on Twitter @AnnaMcNuff
Transcript of Interview with Anna McNuff
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today I'm here with Anna McNuff. Hi, Anna.
Joanna: Just a little introduction.
Anna is an Adventurer, a Professional Speaker, and Author, named by “Conde Nast Traveler” as one of the 50 most influential travellers of our time. And by the “Guardian U.K.” as one of the top modern female adventurers. Anna's latest book is “Pants of Perspective: One woman's 3,000 kilometre running adventure through the wilds of New Zealand.”
You must be one of the most exciting guests I've ever had on the show, Anna.
Anna: Oh, definitely not. I've listened to most of the other guests, and I'm certainly not as exciting as them. I can try though.
Joanna: You can try, yes.
Start by telling us a bit more about you and your adventures so far. And your potted history of getting into adventuring.
Anna: I owe a lot of it to my parents, actually, because both of them, they are Olympic rowers. I'm a spawn of Olympians. I'm the test tube baby of two specimens of athleticism. So that was my upbringing and my background.
I was certainly a very sporty kid. And I did a lot of elite sport growing up. I played football with the boys. I've got two brothers. And then I was doing elite sport right up until I was about 23. I did end up rowing for Great Britain.
But after retiring from the sport, as I did in my early 20s, I then found myself slipping into the horrible…the corporate web. I know you've been there yourself. I spent about five years climbing the greasy pole and thinking, “This is what I wanted to do with my life.” And then at one point, I just thought, “Is this it? I mean, surely, there's gotta be something more out there.” And I just had this feeling that I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
So I took a leap of faith, and I negotiated a sabbatical from where I was working. And I decided to go on this big adventure, and I was going to ride a bicycle, a giant pink bicycle called Boudicca, through every single state of America. So 11,000 miles from Alaska, a little wiggle through the lower 48, and then finish up in Hawaii.
I did that journey and it took me seven months. And I just thought, “Oh, I'll just get it out of my system. I've just got this adventure itch. It's just fine, I'll scratch it.”
But on that trip, I just felt like me, is the only way to describe it. You know the kind of the me that I wanted to be. I was excited every day. I was meeting new people, I was seeing new things. I had very little belongings with me. Everything was on my bike. And I was just so happy, and I had all this material to share stories as well. And I just rediscovered my love of writing and of sharing things with people as I was going along.
So I came back from that journey and basically I just opened up a gigantic can of worms. And I thought, “I think I might want to do a few more adventures.”
And so fast forward now, let's say four years from that trip, and I have run the length of New Zealand with all my stuff on my back, very, very silly idea. And I spent a month riding across Europe, directed entirely by social media, which was, again, a really, really uncomfortable idea. If you're a planner, do not do that. It's horrific.
And I've also spent some times riding through the Andes Mountains in South America as well. So I am now a fully fledged adventurer, but it didn't start quite that way. It just started as an idea that I might wanna do something slightly different with my life. And it was incredibly scary at the point that I made that decision. But I'm so pleased I didn't quit.
Joanna: Yeah. Wow, it's so amazing. You just decide to do stuff and then go and do it. People I think often wonder how they can do that. And many people listening will be writers, and people feel that about their books. So self-doubt and fear of failure, these are two huge issues that both writers and adventurers speak to.
How have dealt with self-doubt and fear of failure? Are you just this fearless adventurer?
Anna: Oh my gosh, absolutely not. Anyone who reads my book will be like, “Great, she's mental too.” I am certifiably mental when it comes to…I think you can definitely separate the two.
Fear of failure is something I have got a lot better with over the years. And I don't know whether that comes with just getting older and realizing that actually, at the end of the day, you know, when I'm really old and I smell of gin and tonic, I just want to look back and make sure that I've done what I wanted to do with my life and got the most out of it.
And I think that helps me overcome that fear of failure because I think, “Do you know what? Everyone is so afraid of what other people think of you.” And actually, no one is paying any attention. The only one that cares is you. So you might as well just do what you want to do.
So fear of failure, having put that one to one side, it's still scary, but I think I've been through it enough times now that I think, “Do you know what? Actually, that feeling of being afraid, I know that that means what's on the other side of it is gonna be incredible.” So I just think, “Let's go again.”
Self-doubt, though, that is a very loud voice. And I think anyone who's creative or ambitious has that voice. And it's very difficult to stop it completely. And I think it just becomes about listening to those doubts and those fears and those things that tell you, “You know, you're going fast enough, you're not going hard enough. What you're doing isn't enough.” And to just make sure that they're just thoughts and you deal with them. And you let them go rather than actually let them affect any future plans.
But certainly, when I was running in New Zealand, I mean, all the time, constantly, I'm running the length of a country with a backpack of my stuff on my back. And for the first half of the trip, all I heard were these thoughts saying, “It's not good enough. You're not doing it hard enough. You're supposed to be running, but you're fast walking.”
And honestly, you just get better over time. And you realize yeah, at the end of the day, it's your life, and you should be living it to the best of your ability that you can. So I try and remember that.
Joanna: Yeah, that's great. And I mean, I've read the book, and like you say, it's quite a journey. And what's interesting is you…there were obviously some amazing moments, and, you know, there's this one where you're kind of dancing on your own.
But there are actually quite a lot of low broken moments, both physically and sort of emotionally. I want to ask, coming round to writing the memoir, how did you choose what to include and what to leave out? Because part of your job is motivating people to be adventurous and yet you're sharing this kind of negative…almost negative. You know, negative in that they were very painful for you.
Anna: Yeah. No, they are. Yeah.
Joanna: How do you balance authenticity with motivating others in writing memoir?
Anna: There were days when I'd come away from my laptop and I'd say to my other half, I'd say, “I am sick of listening to myself moan. I feel like all I've done is just moan all day. Moan, moan, moan.”
I think in the end I just thought, “You know what? So first off, for the first one, let's get it all out.” And I thought, “Let's get it all out even if I feel like I'm moaning for days, you know, or weeks on end,” as the run went on that I was documenting. So let's get it all out. And then when I've got more energy and a fresh pair of eyes, go back through it.
And if I do feel like I'm too low for too long, then actually try and bring back in some of the up moments. Because there were loads of them and I was constantly pepping myself back up and finding tools to do that.
But I also realized actually, that you have to share those low moments because I felt like that was the way that I'm going to help people. Because if you just present yourself as this person where everything is constantly okay and everything is amazing, and, “Oh, yeah, fine. You know, running the length of New Zealand is no biggie,” then you don't help anyone because you just go up on this pedestal and people think they can't do those things.
So it was really important to share those low moments, even if when I'm writing that first draft I'm thinking, A, I'm just sick of myself and my moaning.
But also, it's quite raw. And I was a bit nervous about putting the book out there at first. But by the end, I'd read it so many times anyway, I was kind of over it. But I definitely think you have to find that balance.
But I think it comes in the second or third edit rather than right at the start. I think, I just decided to let it all out at the start. But it was emotional, yeah.
Joanna: You mentioned that you have tools for getting yourself back up again. And obviously, many writers have suffered these moments of hating the draft, or other problems in life.
What are some of your tools for getting back up again?
Anna: Oh, I'm a really big fan of denial. I mean, denial is a great one.
This more relates to adventures, but if I had to run 40 kilometres in a day, I'd just tell myself I only had to run 10 kilometres. Then I'd get to the end of the 10 kilometres and go, “Oh, isn't it great? You know, I've only gotta run 10 more.”
And I guess with writing, it's the same thing. When I stood back and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I've gotta write, you know…” It ended up being 130,000 words, but I've gotta write 100,000 words. And I was thinking, “That toss is too much for me.” So I just think, “You've just gotta write a chapter.” Or, “You've just gotta write 500 words today,” especially on days that I didn't want to write.
So the same thing I did in adventures, which was breaking it down and lying to myself, and pretending I only had to do 500 words got me through the writing process. That's definitely a good one.
Distraction was great as well. Another on the adventures I used, going into schools and talking to kids as a great distraction tool, or running with other people on the trail and things like that.
And I think, in writing, finding new coffee shops to write in and experimenting with where I'd like to write and when I like to write. I think that kind of takes my mind off the actual task at hand and actually just makes me excited about, “Ooh, am I gonna learn today?” And then I'm just there and I'm writing. So denial and distraction are my two favourite Ds, definitely.
Joanna: And we've got to give a nod to “The Pants of Perspective” which were one of your tools one day.
Anna: Oh, the pants. Yeah.
Joanna: Just tell us what they are because the book cover has them on, but I think we need to know.
Anna: That's my bum. My bum is on the cover. Yeah, basically I thought, “How can I get my bum into the world? I'll put it on a book cover.”
Joanna: It's a very nice bum.
Anna: Oh, thanks. Thanks very much. So the cover editor tried to put someone else's bum on the cover and I was like, “You can't do that. You know, it's gotta be mine.”
No, the pants in all seriousness, they became this mechanism. And they don't have to be pants, but when I was having a very, very dark day, I had these pair of pants which have a unicorn on them and they're having a fight with a robot, and it's under a rainbow. And they're the most ridiculous pair of pants you could ever imagine.
I had them in my bag, and I thought, “If I put these own, scientifically, I cannot be unhappy while I'm wearing these pants.” And I just laughed at myself. They were my secret weapon, and they've become somewhat of a famous entity in themselves.
I use them in my talk, and I quite often strip down to them, which is a bit of a shock for the audience. I've got some stripper leggings that I use over at the top.
“The Pants of Perspective” are now famous in their own right and as are the unicorn and the robot that adorn them.
Joanna: That's interesting. We should just point out that we're talking pants in the American sense, as in full length, not pants in the British sense, which are underwear.
Anna: No, I kind of cheated, because “leggings of perspective” doesn't really sound cool, so I thought, “You know what? I'm gonna steal the American pants and just make it my own.” So yes. And no one seems to pull me up on that. All the Brits love it. They're like, “Right, yeah, got it.”
Joanna: No, they're super. And we will come back to pants in a minute, but I wanted to ask you about comparisonitis, because I was very encouraged, at the end of the book, you said, “I had a moment of “no envy, no jealousy, no discontent,” which kind of implies that these things are happening to you and you have this moment without them. I imagine as an adventurer, how can you ever be like the best adventurer?
How do you manage that comparisonitis in a field which is incredibly competitive?
Anna: Yeah, it is. And again, the adventure world, it is rife, and especially with the rise of social media and a lot of adventure is on Instagram. And I do find myself going down these rabbit holes and thinking, “Oh, that's such a cool journey. I wish I'd done that.”
Or, “Wow, so and so has got a book out or they're on this TV show or whatever.”
But I actually now stopped myself. Even though I use social media a lot to put stuff out into the world, I'm not a scroller. I try and keep my thumb under control.
And the question I always ask myself is, “Would I be doing what I'm doing if nobody else was watching?” And I find that that question keeps me on track, and it keeps me true to what I want to be doing, and the value I want to be bringing to the world.
And ultimately, my favourite definition of success is to leave the world probably a little bit better than you found it. And that's really what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to motivate people to just take the smallest steps, whatever they can do to get out there.
And also get in the minds of kids as well and tell them they can dream big and do massive things. Whenever I feel myself comparing my life and my journeys to other people's, then I just try and remind myself of that thing.
And you're right, even I can't compare with myself as well. So when I got to the end of New Zealand, yeah, I thought I was gonna be like, “Yeah” Amazing, elated. And I just felt this amazing sense of calm and contentment. And that, to me, was so much more valuable than any feeling of elation or happiness.
It was just, “You know, it's okay. That's enough. I don't honestly feel like I've got anything left to prove in my life at this point,” which is fantastic and a bit scary actually.
I think it's about making sure that you don't always try and go bigger and faster and higher and longer, because you just…you can't. Where will you go? And so I try and experiment in different ways.
The trip I did across Europe directed by social media was to try and make myself mentally uncomfortable as someone who likes to plan, because I've done physically uncomfortable things. So I'm always trying to find different ways to test myself and to grow and to learn. I think that's the way I avoid it.
Joanna: Yeah. And it's a good answer. And, you know, I'm always like, “Yes, I've dealt with my comparisonitis today,” and then it just brings its head another day. And it's like one of those bat the rat things at the funfair. You know, it just keeps popping up, but you think you've dealt with it because you're so mature.
Anna: It does.
Joanna: And then it pops up again.
Anna: No, that's it, that's it. And now I kind of look at it like an old friend and so it's like, “Ooh what's going on now? You know, hi comparisonitis? How are you doing? Why are you here?”
It's normally something that's in someone else's manner or the way they are. And I think, “I quite like to do that.” And then think, “Why aren't I doing it?” And then I have to be honest with myself about why I'm not doing it. But yeah, it doesn't ever go away. It is. It's exhausting.
Joanna: It is. Right. Let's talk about how you actually wrote the book.
Did you take notes on the trail? Did you write it later? How did you actually do that?
Anna: Yeah, definitely I took notes. I took really detailed notes. I think that's one of the benefits of travelling by yourself is that I didn't really have to be sociable a lot of the times. So actually, it was just myself and my thoughts at the end of the day. And I found that was very conducive to writing a lot.
But also, I would take voice memos as I was going along. So I'd step into an icy river and I'd think, “Oh. That's a nice sensation. I haven't had that for three weeks.” I'd leave a voice note about it and how I felt and what I was seeing. And you can hear the bird noises.
When I went to write the book, I went through a combination of the notes and the voice memos. My memory, there's no way I could have recorded in the level of detail that I did. And also, the way you feel at the time is very different to the way you feel in hindsight. So definitely taking notes is the way forward that I think on adventures. So that's the way I did it.
Joanna: What app did you use for voice memos?
Anna: Just the one that comes with your iPhone, whatever it is. I think it's just called voice memo.
But, of course, I would have a mild panic every now and then that I hadn't saved them all. And they're quite funny going back listening through them because…I mean, I listened to your show and a lot of stuff about dictation, and you did say some absolute waffle that was funny. You know, I went off on one at one point about the green country roads of England. And yeah, so it's quite funny listening to them back.
Joanna: Did you share those on social media at all?
Anna: No, I haven't actually. I could do some kind of like jammed, you know, DJ-mix compilation of them. You know, like, “Bird, bird, bird.” I don't know.
No, I didn't share them. I think that I felt they were a bit too waffly at the time, but I kept them all because they're quite personal some of them.
Joanna: I think that's really interesting. And I guess the question about…because obviously, you're someone who's very active and your default thing is moving, and you're running, and doing things.
How was the process of writing a book where you actually had to sit down presumably at a desk? Was it as painful to write the book as it was to run 3,000 kilometres?
Anna: Oh my gosh, I've got my hand up to the side of my face, because yes, it was so much harder than the actual adventure, because, like you say, I'm very good at doing things. I am absolutely terrible at not doing things.
It's the same with medicine or rest. I can't rest, I can't recover. I'm awful at that. If someone gives me something to take, I'll take four times as much because surely that will get me there faster.
I wrote the first draft mostly stationary, but then the editing, I actually did on one of my adventures. I was in the Andes Mountains and I was using a solar panel, or a bike dynamo to charge up a battery. And I was then plugging it into my battery.
At 7:00 at night, I'd sit in my sleeping bag and my tent propped up under my head, and I'd be editing my book as the sun was going down. And I spent 10 hours cycling through the Andes at like 4,500 meters, and I was absolutely exhausted.
But I hit a point, I think it took me about a year and a half to write the book, and I just started getting really frustrated with myself. I wasn't doing it, and I was putting it off because it's so easy not to write and to think about new trips rather than consolidating the old ones.
I was feeling the resistance as Mr. Pressfield puts it. I had to do a lot of editing in the tent, which I'm quite proud of myself, in hindsight, but it was just the case of, “This has to get done, or you're not gonna have a book.” So there you go.
Joanna: That's amazing. That's just crazy that you did that, but I like the fact that you found a way to incorporate that into your adventuring life, as opposed to like some people set aside like three months and they don't do anything else. I think that would drive a physical person very nuts.
Anna: Yeah, yeah, definitely, yeah. So it was good. And in a way, I think my mind, although it was tired, there was less resistance in my brain. I just had to let the words come out, and I wasn't fighting them when I'm that exhausted. So actually, I think it was quite good.
Joanna: And then, you know, and I'm interested because, of course, you said, “If I didn't do it, I wouldn't have a book.”
What does the book mean to you as an adventurer, both personally and for your business model?
Anna: I loved English at school. I wrote poetry when I was like seven years old. I wrote poems about twiglets. I wrote a lovely poem about how much I love twiglets. So I grew up writing loads.
And then I went through the schooling system and I was going to do English at university, I did terrible in my AS levels, as they were then in England, and it put me off completely. And I thought, “Well, I must be terrible at English. How can I do so badly in my exam?”
I stopped writing. And then when I started doing adventures and I went on that American bike journey, it suddenly just stirred something within me again.
The book has just become years of telling myself that I wasn't really a writer, and then going, “Do you know what? I don't care whether I am a writer or not. It's something I love to do.”
And compared to my other half who's dyslexic, but he absolutely hates writing. I try and explain to him what's it's like. I say it's my happy time. You know, I get up early in the morning and I'm so happy there with my screen. I can't explain it to him how happy I am. How it lights me up.
So it means a huge amount to me personally to have actually got the book out there. And I'm one of those people who's got incredible starter energy, but my finishing energy is just dreadful. So I think to have actually finished something was quite an achievement for me because it's not glamorous towards the end. So yeah, I guess it's very important.
And then, a business model. I mean, I am in awe when I listen to you talk on the show because your business brain is incredible. And the thought I might have a business model for my life, I sort of go, “Nah.” But actually, what I have done over the years of being an adventurer, I have learned that there are certain things that's kind of effort versus reward, where I should be channelling my time because they are more lucrative and they will allow me to support myself.
I make most of my money from speaking. As well as writing, it's something that I absolutely love, but it does also pay well once the gigs start to come in. So I've realized that there's a lot of other things I could be doing, but actually, it's about directing your energy in sort of one direction. So speaking is my main source of income.
And I have a few other little bits on the side, and I hope that over time, books will become that. But I also appreciate, that you probably need to write a lot of books to make a decent living. I always seem to be learning from it. I'm only on book number one. I'm doing it for the love at the moment, but I'll get there.
Joanna: Do you think as a speaker that having a book actually gives you more authority and therefore you will get better speaking gigs because of that?
Anna: Yeah, 100%. Absolutely. I've already seen it. I've already had speaking, bookings off the back of having a book out there.
And I think it's just another way to reach the audience, and it's another way for them to, even if they listen to a 15-minute talk you're giving. If you can then give them a book at the end of that, they get a deeper sense of you and who you are.
I have a talk that links directly to the book as well. So they really do feed off each other.
The start of my book came from an idea I had for the start of a talk. I thought, “Where do I want to take people? I want to take them to this rock place in New Zealand.” And so when I came to do the second draft of the book, I thought, “Oh that was a great start to the talk. I can just bring that into the book.”
So it definitely has. It's opened my eyes that as a speaker, having a book is a fantastic thing to have. And I guess if you're a writer as well, being able to speak and tell your story in that way is quite a plus as well. So yeah, it's storytelling in all its forms really.
Joanna: Just staying on the business model; it's probably not much money, but you actually are selling those “Pants of Perspective” on your website, aren't you?
Anna: I am. Yes. I think there are two different ways you can get monetary value from things. And I don't make much off selling the magical pants, but what it is doing is it's spreading my brand.
As a personal brand, people see those leggings and they go, “They are ridiculous. Where did you get them?” And then hopefully, it sparks a conversation about me and the values that I'm trying to promote.
So it's really just like the bookings, it's another way of getting your brand out there is to sell the pants as well. People seem to want it. It came from demand. They say, “Can I have the same pants too?” “Yeah, of course”. And people take them off on adventures.
So it helps me do what I want to do, which is get people outside and excited. And if they need to do that in unicorn and rainbow pants, then go for it. Brilliant.
Joanna: And you said earlier you don't have a business brain, but actually, these things are very smart in terms of business.
Anna: Oh, thanks.
Joanna: I love selling the pants, and the branding, and the book, and everything. But doing this…I can imagine the strip pants, you know, the strip trousers underneath.
Anna: Oh, it's a jaw-dropping moment.
Joanna: That's fantastic as a speaker because, of course, one of the things as a speaker is to be memorable. And you have this very memorable thing. So that's very cool.
I want to ask you about speaking. If any writer, fiction or non-fiction, if they are going to sell any books, they are very likely going to be asked to speak. And many writers do not want to speak. You're obviously very confident now about it.
What are your top tips for getting over yourself with speaking and delivering?
Anna: The first is literally get out of yourself, get out of your own way. I think that's it.
There was a point where I thought it was all about me, and I then realized, “I'm not there for me.”
You're there for the audience. And ultimately, if you're a good person and your aim is to help the world, then you should have no anxiety about being up there and that being your intention. And I find that that really helps.
The other thing is just to remind yourself that especially if it's an adventure, or a personal story or something that you've devoted your life's work to, that you know more about that subject than anyone in the audience. They may ask you questions out of curiosity.
But I think, coming from a corporate background, we quite often feel like we're about to go into a meeting where someone is going to question our numbers and trip us up because our PowerPoint slides are out of whack. And actually, that's not the case.
Most of the time people are there to be entertained, and they want you to succeed. So I think it's to remind yourself of that, that you are the expert. This is your life, this is your book. This is your knowledge that you've acquired. And actually, you're there just to share it with people and to help them. So that would definitely be my tip for kind of getting over any nerves you might have.
And the thing, as well is storytelling, the power of a story. Rather than telling people what they should take from your talk, I've just found through doing adventures, you tell a story and different people would take different things from it.
You don't always have to have a point, so to speak. You can just have a great, rich story, and they will come out brains buzzing just because you put something in their mind and you've sent them off down a little alleyway. So yeah, that would be another tip too.
Joanna: That's a good tip. And that's actually a tip for writing fiction as well. There's no point, at some point having a character that says in your book, “And the point of everything is to be kind to your parents,” or something. You know?
Joanna: They should get the point from the story, not have to be told the story. So really, that's a really good point.
Anna: Right, yeah. I never thought about that. It's true.
Joanna: I have a number of other things, but let's come to publishing.
Why did you decide to publish independently?
Anna: A couple of reasons really. I invested quite a lot of time with a literary agent at first. And I thought, “I need to get published. You know, I want to walk into Waterstones,” which is our big chain store in the U.K. “I want to walk in there and I want to pick up my book. I need that validation. I need someone to tell me that I'm good enough and I'm an author.”
And then I probably spent a year trying to make that happen until I realized I was with completely the wrong literary agent. They didn't get it. They were trying to get me to change the book. And through that process, I asked what was important about getting this book out there? Why did I want to put it into the world?
And I thought, “I want to put a story into the world that is true, that is honest, that tells the tale of exactly what happened.” It's not glamorized, it's not loads of it cut out just to try and suit another editor. And so I started to think, “Well, maybe I'll just do it myself.”
Then I started to read a little bit and I started reading your blog about self-publishing, and I thought, “Actually, it suits my personality.” I'm the kind of person that wants to know, “How does that work?”
I don't mind learning about ads and everything like that, and working with various different editors and kind of pushing it forward myself and having that amount of control. So I guess I kind of wanted it to be done my way, and I thought I'd actually really enjoyed the process. And I have.
I absolutely loved it. I love that I know what I do now, and I feel so much more knowledgeable than when I started. Nowhere near knowledgeable enough, but I'm getting there. And I like that process in itself. I'm very happy with it.
Joanna: Oh, that's fantastic. I think there are personality types of people who really enjoy self-publishing, and that is one. It's kind of one thing that control…and being an independent person, which you clearly are.
And I think also, I don't know if you've found this, but being in a corporate job and having someone telling you what to do kind of is what happens if you have an agent or a traditional publisher. They're like, “No, you should do it this way,” and you're like, “No.”
Anna: When I was there, at one point I presented my book and the agent said, “The editor is interested in the book of all your adventures.” I was thinking, “That's not the book I've written. I'm really confused here. Why would I change it?”
And you're right, being told what to do. I couldn't go back to it now, you know. I'm completely freelance now and I just couldn't go back to it.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. So that's cool. I'm interested, because, of course, as you said, this is your first book. I don't think it's the last. I think you'll be doing lots more.
Joanna: But how are you marketing the book? I mean, obviously, you have a brand as such, you have a website and things.
You have an audience already, but how are you specifically marketing the book?
Anna: Yes. So definitely, for the next one, which I will write more, I will do it very differently and plan a lot more.
There's two waves I see. The first wave is that I've ridden the wave of the audience that I've built up over the last five years through doing my adventures, who are very used to my stories. And they're used to the way I write, and they're used to my kind of sense of humour. So it's just phase one was making sure every possible person that follows me knows about it, knows that I have a book. If they choose not to buy it, that's cool.
That was kind of mission number one. How do I make sure? That was just lots of social media posts, promoting Facebook posts, all of that kind of stuff.
And I had a launch event which I was so nervous about, but it was absolutely amazing. I've not gotten married yet, but it was kind of how I imagined a wedding to be. I didn't even speak to my mom. She was at the back somewhere the whole night and I was just signing books.
I also thought, “Well, that's a quite good way to sort of sell 140 books up front.” Get everyone to pre-buy the ticket. So that's what I did. I launched it in style to my audience.
But I feel like now the dust has settled and I launched it a couple of months ago, that I need to go into phase two, which is bringing people into my follower base that would buy the book and then follow me for my adventures, who don't already know about me.
That's where I've got your book, How to Market a Book. And to actually play around with all of the more technical stuff, and Amazon ads and Facebook ads, and try and reach a new audience.
I'm quite excited about that because it's completely unknown territory to me. I've never done anything like it before, but I do honestly believe that it's gotta be possible. And then that's only going to build over time and over the next adventure. That's how I'm doing it so far.
Joanna: That's fantastic. But, of course, you have this personal brand that you've been building up for a while.
Tell people more about how you attract people to your website and how are you doing general marketing around your personal brand?
Anna: I guess content is my marketing, which is quite easy in a way when what I do is go on adventures and that creates content.
But I also try to make sure I keep the balance of not just going on adventure purely for the sake of sharing it, because I think that comes through. And if I'm not enjoying it, then it's not a very entertaining and engaging story.
It boils right back down to what I said at the start is would I be doing what I set out to do if no one else was watching? And I would think as long as I stay true to that and I stay true to trying to do things that excite me and interest me, and then I don't have a war between me and my audience.
I grant them access to what I'm doing, including what's going on in my brain as well as what I'm seeing and the beautiful pictures of it. Then actually, that passion that I have for what I'm doing seems to carry over into them and ignite them, and they can go in every different direction.
Sometimes, especially because one of the other sources of income I have is as an influencer now. Brands approach me and say, “Can you do social media posts about our products?” And it's a fine line when it's obviously nice to be paid, but at the same time, definitely, the brand is so valuable.
I've spent five years building that brand, the last thing I wanna do is destroy it for a quick buck. So I have to think very long and hard about is this a brand that I would actually…do I like their message? Do they fit with my brand? And if we both fit together. And I like their product, and I would actually use their product and I'm happy to promote it to my followers and I think it's a benefit to my followers, then I will accept the job.
If it's not, no matter how nice the money is, I would say no because, ultimately, at the end of the day, then you just become a kind of a puppet, and it's all for nothing really.
I think just staying true and being honest, and trying to keep on your path and let opportunities come into your pathway rather than chasing off in every direction to try and, you know, do 10 different things that may or may not suit you.
Joanna: There you said content, but is that specifically photos as your primary content?
Anna: Photos, yes. I use a lot of photos, photos, and videos. I'd like to do more video, but mostly it's photos. And again, I love taking pictures. So I'll run past them and go, “Oh, that looks fantastic. That shot there through the trees with the sunlight beaming through.” And then some words will pop into my head to go with the picture. It's trying to put people where I am. That's my content, I guess.
And then when I was on the road in South America recently, it was the story. So if something happened, like I got bitten by a dog and had to go and have chat about my rabies jab and I was bleeding leg. And all I could think was, “This is a great story. Oh, my leg really hurts and I hate dogs at the moment, but this is fantastic story. And how can I share this? Do I wanna talk about the warm liquid dripping down my leg and just really trying to get into it in rich detail of what's happening. And try and put the people there beside me.”
So basically, my content is I'm trying to take people on my adventures from their armchair. That's what I'm trying to do, armchair adventuring.
Joanna: Yeah, that's awesome. And I think people always think that they should be blogging, like writing stuff. But I think images are so important. And I know it's hard for some people if they don't do adventures.
I actually think that where you live can be interesting to someone on the other side of the world, right? It could be the flower in your garden. It doesn't have to be the flower in the Andes.
Anna: Absolutely. We're all interesting. I think people take for granted how interesting they are.
Everyone has a different life and no one is you. And honestly, I'm fascinated when a friend says to me, “Oh, I'm really geeky, I like learning about the cheetahs.” And I'm sitting down like, “Tell me about the cheetahs. What were they like?” I think it's the beauty of the world that we're also different.
So definitely, I think people should celebrate what it is they love and let people in before they say, “Oh, they won't be interested.” Just try it.
Joanna: Yeah. No, that's fantastic. And then I wanted to ask you because you run a lot. People do follow you on Instagram and social media. I think you're a running person, and I say you're very healthy. But what was interesting in the book was how kind of really unhealthy you were at a point.
It seemed like you didn't eat, and you were in pain, and you kind of broke yourself.
Anna: Oh, yeah. All of the above.
Joanna: You go a little far sometimes clearly in the pursuit of adventure.
I'm doing a book at the moment on the healthy writer, and it's not a healthy thing to kind of sit and smash away on the keyboard for hours on end.
How do you balance your health with your creation and your work, and what are your tips for being a kind of more healthy writer?
Anna: I guess I try and always get some outside time in. So normally, for me, it's lunchtime because I find early morning is my writing time, and I have to get up. When the world is calm and quiet, that's when I write.
And then I find if I leave my exercise to the end of the day, I've given myself 100 excuses as to why I couldn't possibly go out and do the exercise. And something happens, you know. So I try and set it in at lunchtime.
And then there's that distinction between am I actually just mentally tired or am I physically tired? And quite often you're mentally tired. And actually, the best thing that you can do is go for a run. Or quite often sometimes I'll start, I'll start going for a run, and I'll get 10 minutes in and my brain will be at a place where I just want to walk. And so I'll walk instead.
I think part of that is, if you're going to go out and get outside and do some outside time, don't tell yourself you're too slow, or, 10 minutes are not going to make any difference. Those 10 minutes of clearing your head can make you more creative when you come back.
I guess the answer is I've forced myself through it even when I don't want to. And then I find it is the more I run, the more I want to run. And it's really quite contagious in that sense. And now, I know I'm at my happiest sitting at my desk if my muscles are tired and I feel like I've used my body. And then it's time to use my brains. So yeah, those are my tips on that one. Force it.
Joanna: Force it. And do you get ideas when you run?
Do you find it's one of those times when you get ideas, or do you listen to podcasts and put stuff in your head?
Anna: Oh, a mixture. It's input and output in the day, I think. I actually say this to my boyfriend, like a roadblock. “I've had too much input today, I need to hear an output.” And then that's when I turn all the music off and I just run and let my brain go crazy.
But equally, I would say more often than not, my running time is my input time. So I listen to podcasts or audio books, or things like that. I think it just depends what mood I'm in.
Quite often I have amazing ideas while I'm running, and then I'm trying to write in my notes as I'm running along, or do a voice note and I'm tripping over things and falling over. And people think I'm mental.
If you're a creative person, you've got to stop, and that moment is gone unless you capture it somehow. So yeah, I definitely use it as a mixture of input and output time. And it's just about being in tune with what you need at that point in time. And embracing that version of it, I think.
Joanna: What's next for you in terms of adventures or are you going to write about the American trip or the Andes?
What is next for your adventures, and what's next for your writing?
Anna: Okay, so writing, I wrote about 60,000 words of my American…the 50-state cycle before I went and ran New Zealand. And I'm so pleased that I didn't finish it because it is absolutely terrible. If you go back to it now, it's not interesting. It's sort of like, “And this happened, and then that happened.” It is so boring.
So I'm currently going through and rehashing that. And I'm sort of reigniting it, which is great. I'll bring that one out next. But I've got so many more book ideas in my head. I can't write fast enough really. But I've learned a lot from this time round as well.
And then adventure-wise, in the short-term, I've got this theme where I like to go and run long distance footpaths in the U.K., but in fancy dress. So I ran Hadrian's Wall dressed as a Roman soldier, as you do. And we have this Jurassic Coast on the South Coast of the U.K., and I ran it dressed as a dinosaur.
Next, I'd like to run the West Highland Way dressed as a highland cow, which should take about four days. Just because, you know, life is more fun in fancy dress, isn't it?
Joanna: For some people.
Anna: Yeah, for some people yes, for some people, yeah. If you happen to like it, it's more fun.
My boyfriend and I are off to Canada for three months over the winter. And that will be in a campervan. And that is partly for me to be able to finish off the next book. And he's on his own book tour because he does the same thing as me. So that should be interesting. We'll try not to kill each other in a campervan. There is a title for a book, isn't it?
Joanna: I do think quite a few adventurers kind of end up together, don't they? Because that's the kind of life you're leading. But I think there's definitely something there, the kind of relationship thing. And if people are interested in the book “Pants of Perspective,” you do talk about the beginnings of your relationship, don't you? So there's a bit of gossip there.
Anna: Oh, no. What a risk. Let's hope it doesn't go wrong. Honestly, it's in written form now.
Joanna: It is. It's just fantastic. Okay. So where can people find you, and the book, and everything you do online?
Anna: They can go to www.annamcnuff.com. Just my name. And I'm Anna McNuff on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, all of that good stuff. So yeah, they can find me on there.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Anna. That was great.
Anna: Thank you. It's been awesome.
Ben Greenfield says
As a fellow fitness write trying to balance professional obstacle course racing with writing, this one was definitely encouraging – especially knowing I’m not the only one with the “bleary-eyed” feeling at the end of a hard day of racing when there’s still an article or chapter to churn out!
Anna McNuff says
Ah thanks Ben! So glad you enjoyed it – Joanna threw me some superb questions. Sometimes I wonder if I’m more creative and productive when bleary eyed… less ‘resistance’ going on!
Icy Sedgwick says
I just listened to this podcast on the way to work and I’m glad I checked out the blog post so I could see those amazing leggings!
Peter Dudley says
You’ll want to visit the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Sarah Winchester kept building on to it to, I believe, to keep away the ghosts created by her dead husbands Winchester Rifles. I would say, it is the most spiritual cite in the Bay Area.
Absolutely loved this podcast, one of my all time favs. Especially liked that description of feeling calm and contentment as opposed to elation at the end of massive goal. Very interesting. Keep doing what you are doing Anna. The world needs more people like you.