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If you struggle with the creative process, you are not alone. If you find the myriad things we have to do every day as authors a little overwhelming, you are not the only one! In today's show, Tim Grahl shares honest thoughts and tips from Running Down A Dream.
In the intro, I comment on Aretha Franklin dying without a will [The Guardian] and recommend you check out the podcasts on estate planning with ML Buchman and lawyer Kathryn Goldman.
Plus, my first Korean foreign rights sale though CurlUpPress. In the UK, Waterstones (recently bought by an investment company) buys Foyles bookstore, further consolidating the high street [The Bookseller].
Today's show is sponsored by IngramSpark, who I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 39,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries and more. It's your content – do more with it through IngramSpark.com.
Tim Grahl is the author of Your First 1,000 Copies, he's a book launch consultant at Booklaunch.com, and the co-host of the Story Grid Podcast with Shawn Coyne. His latest book is Running Down a Dream: Your Roadmap to Winning Creative Battles.
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.
- Why Tim chooses honesty and vulnerability in his most recent book
- The importance of telling the truth when writing
- The difference between telling the truth on the page and using a book as therapy
- Knowing when we’re ready to tell a particular story
- The practical tool that Tim shares that gets the biggest response
- What Tim did wrong when launching his most recent book
- And how he’s taking the long game approach to book sales
- Details on the book launch webinar Joanna and Tim will be hosting on Sept 20 – www.booklaunch.com/penn
- The challenges of writing fiction vs. non-fiction
You can find Tim Grahl at BookLaunch.com and on Twitter @timgrahl
Transcript of Interview with Tim Grahl
Joanna: Hi everyone, I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com. And today I'm back with Tim Grahl. Hi, Tim.
Tim: Hey. How's it going?
Joanna: It's good to have you back on the show. Just a little introduction.
Tim is the author of “Your First 1,000 Copies,” he is a book launch consultant at booklaunch.com, and the co-host of the “Story Grid” podcast with Shawn Coyne. And his latest book is “Running Down a Dream: Your Roadmap to Winning Creative Battles.”
It's a fantastic book and we're going to talk about it in a minute. But Tim, first of all, you've been on the show twice before and the last time was 2016, which seems so long ago now. So, what's changed?
What's changed for you in the last couple of years? Any reflections on changes in the publishing industry, as well as your personal journey?
Tim: Probably, the biggest change has been doing more with “Story Grid.” So, I have probably been doing the podcast about a year and so now we're at three years, we published the first book out of the podcast, which was “Running Down a Dream.”
I'm now working more with Shawn and Steve at Black Irish Publishing. So, just more projects and doing a more variety of things, but still working with writers and then publishing.
As far as the publishing changes go, I feel like it's more of the same, things continue to change, but at the same time, I feel like they're just going in the general direction that people like you have been talking about for a long time of controlling your destiny of looking at you career as a standalone thing and always making the best decisions.
To me, the only thing that keeps happening is more options for writers, which I think is a good thing. So, not a lot, I feel like this change in two years is the broad picture.
Joanna: It's funny that because sometimes it feels like everything's changing so fast and then sometimes it feels like, okay, it is just more of the same.
You're in America and I'm in Britain and at the moment. We're hearing quite a lot about the whole Barnes and Noble CEO as we record this, the stuff in the news about that situation. And one of the things I think is really interesting right now is print sales.
Since you see a lot of book launches, do you think print books for indies might be the thing that is shifting because everyone's been focusing much on eBooks for so long?
Tim: I don't know. It's hard for me. I don't keep quite a finger on the pulse of that side of things as probably you do and other indie writers do.
When I'm looking at my book sales, it's actually surprised me how evenly split it has been between audio, digital, eBook, and print. And so in my work with traditionally published authors, especially on the business books, self-help side, it's always been heavily print.
People still in that space tend to want a print book in their hand and that's what I figured with another non-fiction book, but it has been pretty heavy on the digital and I'm seeing the reflection of what we've been seeing for years, which is audio is growing. And so I don't know.
I haven't kept as much of a pulse on that and I honestly, with what's going on in our political climate, I have not read or watched the news in probably about three months. So, I don't even know what you're talking about with Barnes and Noble.
I just don't pay attention because it's so saturated with everything in our political realm that I just can't take the stress.
I go back and forth because it's hard for me. I read almost exclusively digital when it comes to fiction while I still on non-fiction prefer to have print. But who knows what other people want? That's just what I like. And so what I like about, honestly, what I like about things is it's just so easy to offer it in all the formats now.
And so you don't have to make the decision, you can just make it available in all the formats and then follow whatever you need to follow.
Even through Black Irish, we do print on demand through CreateSpace and so I'll just keep a box of 200 books, literally in the back of my car and I just give them out to people and stuff. It's whatever is working is the direction I'm going to go.
Joanna: Let's take a pragmatic approach. We should say for you and anyone else listening then as we record this, the ex CEO of Barnes and Noble is suing them for wrongful dismissal [CNN Money] and the court case shows that another publisher was going to buy them but then pulled out of the agreement.
So, it's a really interesting time because a lot of their stuff is being revealed in this court case. Lot of their financials and that type of thing. But I totally get not registering the news. I think that's very healthy.
And it's interesting because you're very honest guy and your new book, “Running Down a Dream,” is super honest and at times, I almost had to look away from the page. It can be quite brutal about yourself. You're sharing things that many people would look at you and be like, “Oh, wow. Tim, you're at the top of the tree and you're super successful.”
And yet you reveal some really dark times. I wanted to thank you for sharing that and I know a lot of people are really pleased, I guess, that you're sharing that.
What drove you to be so honest in this book?
Tim: I really didn't want to be and I worked hard for about a year and a half to avoid it. It was originally just going to be this set of tools that I've come up with to overcome Resistance. So, it was going to be some kind of title like, “30 Tools to Overcome Creative Resistance.” Something like that.
And my original draft, I showed it to Jeff Goins and I showed to Shawn Coyne, my editor, and Jeff said, “This is a great collection of blog posts, but it's not a book.”
And then Shawn agreed with that and said this is a book that people will immediately forget. They'll read half, put it on their shelf, and immediately forget. Which is not what I'm going for.
Shawn just kept pushing me on. I'd write pieces of it, I'd send it to him, it's not there yet. He gave me some things to think about and I just fell into this place because I really wanted to turn it around quick.
I wrote the first draft over two years ago. And so I wanted to just turn it around quick and finally, he kept telling me no, that I just decided I was going to keep working on it until he said it was ready. Whenever Shawn said it was ready, I'd finish it.
I had rewritten a bunch of parts of it over Christmas and into January and I sent it to him and once again, he's like, “Nope. This isn't it. You're not telling the stories, you're not really making it personal. You need to ground this in your own story.”
I kept trying to because my first two books are about book marketing. And he's like “guru on the hill” guy, right? I went out and learned all this stuff and now I'm going to pass down what I've learned to you, which is fine. That's most books and that's what I learn a lot from. And I kept trying to write this book the same way.
And so Shawn and I were actually on the podcast. It was back in February and he kept pushing me and I was trying to open the book with the story of when I quit my job to work for myself because that story makes me look good like, “Here I am feeling good and I've like planned and I built this thing, and I'm gonna go quit my job and start out on my own.”
And then I told him the story of about six months later when I ran out of money and had to ask my parents to send me a check so that I could pay my mortgage, pay my house payment that month. And I just started talking about how I didn't feel good enough and I didn't feel how I could do this and I felt broken. And it was the only time on the podcast that I broke down crying. I wasn't sobbing, but choking up and struggling to talk.
Shawn started laughing and he goes…I think what he said is, “I think you found your book.”
So what I ended up doing is realizing that this book is not about me being the guru on the hill, it's about me touring my ruins and bringing people along for what it really takes to run down a dream. Because what I've realized for myself and working with so many people is nobody gets away with it.
Nobody gets an easy path. Even if the first thing they do takes off and it's successful, they still have a long road ahead of them. And so it became really important for me to tell the truth, my truth about what this looks like and the kind of things that it took to get to the places that I wanted to be. And so it's one of those, Joanna, it's one of those things where it was just the book.
I've never really experienced it before, but it was like I just knew this was the book and if I wrote anything else, it wouldn't be telling…Stephen King talks about it, wouldn't be telling the truth.
Every morning I would drop my kids off at work because I do my writing right when I get to my office, I drop my kids off at work and on the drive back to my office about 20 minutes, I'd start thinking about, “Okay. What painful story am I gonna tell today?”
Some of this stuff in the book I had not even thought about for years. I had good friends that were friends with me during the time of the book that read the book and they're like, “Dude, I didn't even know this was going on.” I'm like, “Well, yeah.”
These aren't the things you're like, “Woo, this is awesome. Let me tell you about when my wife had to leave the grocery store because we didn't have enough money for groceries.”
Those aren't the things you share. But it was all these things, all these little nuggets of how to overcome creative resistance, I learned through something painful. And so it was the same book.
It's a set of tools of how to overcome creative resistance, but it's wrapped in the true story of how I found those tools.
Joanna: I definitely agree with you and it's so funny because this year I wrote “How to Write Non-Fiction.” And it was meant to be a really quick book that was like, “Here's how to do a non-fiction book.”
And then I bored myself stupid with the book and just went, “I'm not publishing this, it's awful.” And then I realized what was missing, like you, was the heart of the story.
I went back to my journals and found the moment when non-fiction changed my life and added in a whole load of that. And that's basically what you've done. You've taken your tools, as you say, and added your heart and that's what people remember.
Joanna: I'm like, “30 tools? Wow.” I think I can remember one or two of them, but I can remember your stories in the book, which is so amazing.
I have got to ask you then, because it's a very difficult line between sharing your heart in order to help others and writing for therapy.
Tim: It's interesting, I had this conversation. In the book I talk about this woman, Jill, who helped me with a lot of stuff and we haven't talked in a while and so the book coming out precipitated us getting back on the phone and we're talking.
I was telling her about a bunch of stuff I'm going through in working out with my own spirituality and religion and all this kind of stuff. And I was talking about how I could see me being able to write about this in five years, at least five years.
And I said, “I just feel it's weird. Why do I have to wait so long to write about this stuff?” And she's like, “Because you want to be an author, you don't want to be somebody who is working out their shit on the page.”
I felt like the book has an arc to it and I felt to the best of my ability, I had a surprising but inevitable end. But that end, I figured that out a couple of years ago and it was that I had come full circle.
So, the stuff that I was writing about that was really hard, I had also dealt with. So, I don't feel like I was doing therapy on the page because I have done plenty of therapy.
But for me, it is have I come to a conclusion on what I'm trying to talk about, have I come to an actual end where I feel like I know what I'm trying to say. I've read some of those books, some memoir-ish books where people are just kind of like…they've been trying to work through their issues on the page and I feel like most of the time at the end of those books, there is no real conclusion. There's just like, “And it's still awful.”
I really wanted to write this book to help people that have been in the places that I've been and the only way I think I can help them is I think I figured out a few things through all of that pain and process that can help them.
For me, it's just this natural break of I know when I'm ready and I know when I'm not ready. And for me, it was just like I knew what I was trying to say. There is a lesson in the book that I hope everybody gets and it's at the end of the book. And you can see where I was leading to that through the entire book.
I'm sure it's one of those things that are different for different writers. The other thing is I wasn't looking for affirmation. I don't need anybody to agree with the book. You know what I mean? I don't care whether you agree with the book.
It's my story, it's hard to argue with it. Though I've gotten plenty of emails about it. But I felt like I have something to say and I'm going to say it and I'm going to use my story to say.
This is what I think Steve Pressfield does so well. In all of his books are all of his personal stories, but he's saying something, right? So, it's not just like, “I'm going to share with you a bunch of pain so that you'll go on this journey with me.”
From the beginning of the book he's got something he's trying to say and he's just using his stories to say the thing. That's probably the best way that I could put it.
Joanna: I totally agree with you and it's so funny because I have a book, obviously on the successful author mindset, and again, share my stories in there. And I feel that there's another book I want to write about the shadow and I'm not ready to write that either.
It's like you say, I've been wanting to write it for several years, but there's no way I'm ready and I think it might take…I don't know how long.
It might take the rest of my life actually to learn the shadow enough.
Tim: I think that's a maturity.
One of my favorite Stephen King books is “11/22/63.” One of my favorite books of all time. I got to the end of that book. I'm reading on my Kindle and I shut the Kindle and I set it down, and I sit there for about five seconds and then I just bawled like a baby. Just sat there bawling.
I was in a hotel room in Las Vegas. I'm sure lots of people cry alone in Las Vegas, but it just broke me.
Anyway, whether I was listening or reading something about an interview with him and he had the idea for the book in the '70s. And he felt like he wasn't ready as a writer, he felt like the country wasn't ready to revisit JFK's assassination and so he shelved it until he was ready to write it, whatever, 30 years later or more.
To me, that's a mark of a mature writer. Of like, “I know when I'm ready to write something, I know when I'm not ready to write something.” And I think there's too many people…I mean, we could go on a rabbit trail about too many people that are pretending to be experts that don't really haven't worked out.
What my wife keeps telling me about the spirituality stuff and she's like, “You have not lived it long enough to test it. What if what you're saying is not true? Just because you believe it today, are you still going to believe it in two years or in five years?”
But you put it in a book and that moment in time is locked. And so she's like, “You have to be ready, you have to let it stand the test of time long enough that you've worked out your issues and you actually know what you're trying to say.”
I think too many people don't have the maturity to wait. Work on something else, it's not the only idea I can come up with to write. So, write something else while you let that book be ready. I think that's important.
Joanna: I totally agree with you. And there are a lot of fantastic stories in the book that are really useful. But you also do have practical tools. I want us to maybe pick one that a lot of people have said this was really helpful.
What would be one of your more practical tools that people can learn as well?
Tim: The one that I've gotten the most feedback on, which is surprising to me because it's you've been doing this long enough where you're like, “I've been saying this for 10 years and people are still interested in hearing me talk about this. How is this possible?”
But probably the most feedback I've gotten is the section on systems of systematizing things. What I am always trying to do is anything I'm doing more than…if I back up and look at it, basically anything that is not all that important to me, I try to systematize.
You can't systematize your writing, you can't systematize date night with your spouse, you can't systematize the rides in the car with your kids having conversations, but you can systematize what you wear, what you eat, how you set your calendar, how you get to work every day, getting your car worked on.
Anything that is not your work or important to you, try to figure out a way to just systematize. And all a system is, is doing the same thing over and over to get predictable results.
So, the simplest version of a system is if you walk in my front door on the right…we've moved six times and it's the same silver dish that we move to every house, it's right inside the door and as soon as I walk in the door, I drop my keys in there. I'm sure most people have that. They either keep them in their purse or on a hook inside the door.
The reason we do that is so the next morning when we're leaving the house, we don't look for our keys because we know where they are. So, we do the same thing over and over to get predictable results.
And all I'm saying is apply that to every area of your life that you possibly can. Do it the same way every time, do things at the same time every time. If something takes more than five steps, turn it into a checklist.
When I edit the podcast or get it ready for the editor, there's like 30 steps. They're in a checklist in Evernote. When I set up a new webinar, there's probably 50 steps. They're all in a checklist in Evernote.
Literally, every single time I do one, I open it up and I go through every single thing because I don't have to remember it, I don't have to think about it, I just follow the steps.
I go deeper into it in the book, but that to me is the thing that helps me get more done in less time. I'm a writer and then I run my own business and I'm partners in 2 other businesses and I only work about 30 hours a week.
So it's like at some point, something is got to give. And so the thing that gives is I systematize everything and try to turn things into things that I don't have to do over and over and over and over. And I think a lot of creative people, if they got better at systematizing the non-important things in their life, it would give their mind so much more space to be creative because they wouldn't be worrying about so many things. Once you systematize it, you don't worry about it anymore.
Joanna: I think that the reason people like to hear you talk about it, and this is the third time you've been on this podcast, and I think we've talked about it three times. I still don't have a checklist for pretty much anything. I still rely on my brain to just remember. And it's so funny because I so hear you.
And I know people listening are like, “Oh, he's so right. I just totally have to do that checklist thing.”
Tim: Joanna, it's the amount of peace you feel because I never forget a step when it comes to editing my podcast. I never have to remember anything. I literally just do it the same way every single time.
Joanna: I think people resist it though because there is this talking about everything creative. And you've talked about creative battles. Maybe one of the creative battles is, “I'm a creative, I just do stuff,” versus organizing and the idea of a checklist.
I was a management consultant working in IT for 13 years and to me things like spreadsheets and checklists and oh goodness. The software we used to do for systems testing and things. Just kills my soul.
Tim: I'm not saying go crazy. My in-depth software is Evernote, which is just fancy word. But my thing is it allows me to be creative.
I think that's the thing to remember is that I don't care about the podcast, I just need it edited and off my plate. Once I've recorded it, of course, I care about the recording, but after that, it's the thing that you just need checked off your list.
There's nothing creative about it, it's literally just processing files. And so what I have just seen over and over is the more that I systematize, the more that it frees me up to focus on the things that are important.
And then the other thing is when you get to a place that you can hire somebody, you just hand them all your checklists. I hired a guy to help me set up my webinars and set up all this stuff, and I literally was just like, “Here's the video walkthrough and here's the checklist.” And then I was done.
I didn't have to show him how to do anything. It was all already done because I created the systems. So, yeah, you gotta do it. Just do one. Just pick one thing, create one checklist.
Joanna: It's funny because I guess I do have something like that for my podcast because I have four other people who help me with it. So, when there's other people involved, I do that. But it's like our own process.
I think that's partly what I like about the book and about you as a person. You managed to combine the heart piece with the process piece, which I think is why your business is successful.
I want us to come onto a book launches because you have, obviously, recently launched your own book, “Running Down a Dream,” and that's also your business is book launches. But sometimes the business of doing book launches for other people can be different to doing your own. Right?
Joanna: What has worked really well for this book launch? What have you been surprised about? What has changed? Is there anything where you'd say, “That's interesting that I need to do more of that and less of that”?
Tim: Overall I flubbed the launch, the immediate launch.
It's funny because I'm sitting here and I'm like, “I have a great excuse.” But I always rolled my eyes when my clients said the same stuff.
But it was really an unfortunate series of events basically took four major life events of moving a product launch for a client, my book launch, and then a week-long training I did and they were supposed to be spread out over two and a half months and everything got rejumbled where they're in a three and a half week period.
I had no time and my kids were out of school, my wife was in grad school full time. And so I did about 15% of what I would have liked to do for the immediate launch. But I'll talk about the launch and what's happened since, and what I think has been interesting.
For me, what's been interesting is the reaction of my audience wasn't as much as I thought it would be of my immediate book launch audience. And then afterwards, or kind of in the middle of it when I'm like, “They're just not reacting the way that I thought.”
There is this core group of people that are really excited, but everybody else is just ignoring it. And my wife is super smart and she's like, “People have come to you for years for book marketing and they have not given you permission to talk to them about the kind of stuff you're talking about in your book.” She's like, “So, they're not ready to hear you talk about that.”
And I was like, “Okay. That's true.” And with the book, I did with the book what I tell everybody else not to do and it's fracture your brand.
If I wanted to maintain a solid forward-facing brand, I would have come out with a third book on book marketing and instead, I came out with this memoir-ish, self-help-y, creative resistance book.
And so she's like, “You need to set your expectations.” So, that was a little weird. I was really happy with how Steve's audience reacted to the book.
Joanna: I was going to say, that's your audience, right?
Tim: They bought a ton of copies of the book and they really got behind the book. I've gotten tons of emails from his audience saying they've never heard of me, but they're really excited, they really love the book and that kind of thing.
And then the thing that I teach everybody and that I really am doing myself is my goal is to do something to promote the book twice a week because I have a full-time job, I'm writing my next book, I've got plenty of shit to do, but I want to get this book out into the world.
I'm just focusing on what can I do every week to just move the book a little bit further. I'm doing lots of podcast interviews. And so this is probably my sixth or seventh one. And I'm doing lots of those, and then I'm really trying to break into spheres that I've never been.
I'm trying to get into the world of music and musicians because I'm in Nashville, which is music headquarters. And so I'm doing stuff in the music world, I'm going to be on some art podcasts.
I'm reaching out to lots of artists, I'm doing stuff on Instagram and reaching out to people on Instagram and sending books out to people.
And then Steve and Shawn's methodology of marketing is to basically give a book to anybody that will take one. And so I drive around with a box of books in the back of my car and I just give them out to people.
I do Jujitsu with this local politician. So, I saw him at a coffee shop and I gave him a copy of the book and he texted me the next day and he was like, “I'm halfway through the book. I love it.”
I'm looking at it like this is a book that I hope is still selling 10 years from now. And so I'm really taking the long game approach, which I really recommend, and this is where I am taking my own advice. So many authors get so caught up on the first week or first month of sales and if that doesn't go as planned, then they just get discouraged and they let the book die and they move on.
My first week was not what I hoped it would be and also not what I know I could have made it to be. So, I just was not able to launch it the way I wanted, but it's okay, that is a tiny percentage of the life of the book, that first week, and I have a long time.
That's what's so fun about books is they have a timeless nature about them. People are reading “The War of Art” for the first time and it's been out for almost 20 years. And so that's the stance that I'm taking is every week I'm going to do at least two things to promote the book.
That's 104 things a year, at least. If I do 104 things to promote the book, it's going to have an impact.
The launch was meh, but I'm continuing to promote it. And continuing to promote it is fun because I'm getting it into new places.
I was exchanging this email with this guy that runs one of the top three art podcasts on iTunes and he's thinking about coming out with his own book. And so I was helping him. It allows me to connect to people that I would never really have a reason or opportunity to connect to.
So, I just try to keep it fun, try to look at it as I'm just looking to connect with other nerds that are like me and talk about the similar stuff. And in the process, I'll sell some books I've been taking.
Joanna: I think the good thing about having a book that is more mindset-y, creative-y, memoir-ish is that it does have that longevity, whereas, I'm sure you found that as I found with “How to Market a Book,” which is on its third edition now. Things that involve any kind of tools go out of…tools as in like your book has tools, but they're more processes and stuff.
Whereas, if you mention anything technical, things change and you have to change stuff, right? You mentioned CreateSpace earlier. Whereas, again, maybe you missed this, but CreateSpace is gone and it's now KDP Print. Now anything that mentions these things has to change.
So, it's like goodness me, what a pain in the neck. I really like the way you combine these two and that makes it have longevity. But you have helped a lot of people launch best sellers in launch week and you do have a process for a book launch, don't you?
Joanna: And we're actually going to talk about it on a webinar, which is very exciting.
Tell us about what people can learn in the webinar. And then we'll give people a link.
Tim: Every launch that I look at, I always start with two questions. I'm trying to figure out what type of launch I'm running and then I got to figure out what I'm going to do on that launch, what the checklist is.
That's always whether I'm working with a client, whether I'm answering emails or whatever. If you come to me and you're like, “Well, I've got this book coming out, what should I do to launch it?” I'm like, “Okay. Well, what type of launch are we running?”
There are four different types of launches. Once we know what type of launch we're running, it helps us know what we should be doing and when we should be doing it. I have a checklist and a timeline that I go through to make sure that I know exactly what to do to launch my book.
That's what we're going to go over on the webinar is I'm going to teach those first two things because so many times with launches, we get caught on the tools. Like, “How am I gonna use Twitter? How am I gonna use a blog?” Or, “Should I start a podcast, or should I be on podcast?”
Asking those questions first is kind of like asking, “Okay. I want to build an island for my kitchen, what tools should I use to build it?” And it's like, “Well, you don't really even know what you're building yet. Do you have a plan? Do you have a blueprint?”
If I just go out into my shed and start grabbing boards and hammering them together, I'm not going to build anything. I need to know what I'm building first.
This is what my wife and I did a while back is she wanted a kitchen island. I know enough about building stuff that I'm not going to cut off a thumb, but I can't just go build something. So, we went online and we started looking up plans and we're looking at blueprints on how to build one.
We found one we liked and lo and behold, the first thing that the plan did is it told you what materials and what tools you needed to build it. And then you just go step-by-step through and the plan is what tells you which tools to use. And if you start with the tools first, you never just go to the hardware store and buy a new tool and then like, “What should I use this tool for? I'm gonna use this tool for something.”
That's what we do with launches.
What I walk you through is the blueprint of a launch and how to know what kind of launch is right for you, so how to find which plan is right for you. And then the checklist that I use, it's funny because it's the exact checklist I use for my own launches to the point that when I get hired to do a launch, I log into my own course and download the checklist because that's the one that I use.
We're going to go over that. I'm going to share the timeline and the checklist and basically, try to answer all the what and when questions when it comes to book launches.
Joanna: Fantastic. And that is going to be Thursday, 20th of September, 2018. And the link is booklaunch.com/penn, P-E-N-N. And if people go to that afterwards, that will just redirect to some of your amazing content anyway, I'm sure.
I'm looking forward to that once again. And what's so funny is we've done webinars before and I always write stacks of notes. And brilliantly, the timing for me is I have another book launch coming up.
Tim: Hey, perfect.
Joanna: It's like my 26th book or 27th book or something and I still feel like every time I do it differently. So, maybe I just need a new goal which is to write my own checklist or to modify yours.
Tim: It would be perfect.
Joanna: Tim, final question because we're running out of time, but I want to just refer people to the “Story Grid” podcast, which you've been doing with Shawn Coyne for years now, right? Like three?
Tim: Three years.
Joanna: One of the things you began that show talking about your fiction project and I've got to ask:
What is the update on your fiction for anyone who doesn't listen to your show, and how is fiction very different to non-fiction/memoir?
Tim: Well, first of all, it's so much harder to write…
Joanna: So glad you said that.
Tim: Oh, my God. I'm trying to decide how honest to be here.
I'm two-thirds through the second draft. And the second draft is miles ahead of the first draft. But a week ago, I literally was writing an email to Shawn explaining to him why I can't finish this book and I need to move on to a new project.
I was just like, “I'm done. I can't write this. I've been putting it off for weeks.” And I was just like, “This is never going to come together.”
Then I started thinking, “Well, what's he going to say? I know what he's going to say, so I just shouldn't make him say it.”
Writing “Running Down a Dream” almost made writing fiction harder because I dropped into this place where I feel like “Running Down a Dream” is the first time I wrote something. You know what I mean?
I've been writing for years, but it was the first time I really dropped into that place where it was flowing and I was writing something meaningful. And then when I was done, I knew I was done. Shawn had not seen it and I was like, “This is done, this is the book, this is what I've been trying for two years to say.”
And I cannot find that place in my fiction. I'm trying all kinds of different things but I feel like all of my characters are just cardboard cutouts or half-assed versions of characters I've seen in other books.
Dropping into that place, I've done it on some short fiction where I've been able to do it, but trying to string together 100,000 words from that place has just been brutally difficult for me. And it's still brutal. I have not figured it out yet.
The book flows better, it is a better story than the first draft. It's definitely hitting the mark, but my very harsh criticism of it is it is a completely forgettable book right now. And so trying to figure out how to drop in that place with characters that I've made up, is really hard for me to do.
Honestly, if you have any feedback on that, that would be super helpful.
Joanna: I would like to come back on that because, firstly, it doesn't have to be 100,000 words. I mean that's a big thing. I think so many books are too long at 100,000 words, but then I read thrillers and dark fantasy and stuff like that.
But then also I think there's the quote that novel is never finished, it's only abandoned. I can't remember who said that. I was talking to somebody else and I've written about it in my “Mindset” book, creative dissatisfaction is what drives novelists to write the next book.
Now you've found your voice, I think you found your voice with “Running Down a Dream,” and I feel like I don't know whether you should abandon this book or try another one. But if you've now found your voice, you may find it easier in the future to dip down into that flow or whatever.
I don't know if I ever feel my books are finished.
There's never a point where I'm like, “This is it, this is the end.” And, in fact, you talk about this in “Running Down a Dream.” You say there is no finish line. There is no end. There's just the next goal.
I think trying to write your magnum opus novel with your first novel is unrealistic. And most novels, at the end of the day, are forgettable. And most people just read a novel to have fun and escape. Sometimes maybe we take ourselves too seriously.
So, maybe just lighten up a bit, Tim. There's my pep talk to everybody.
Tim: All right. All right. Sounds good.
Joanna: You can come back on it if you like.
Tim: No, no, that's good.
Joanna: That's a tough one.
Tim: It's tough. I will take that to heart. I can probably stop destroying myself over the book constantly.
Joanna: I think you should. And I'm talking to myself. I'm editing at the moment, “Valley of Dry Bones,” my next ARKANE thriller, and last week I thought it was awful, today I thought it was pretty good. I know it would just go back and forth.
I send it to my editor next week and I'm like, “At the end of the day, it's just fun.” My readers want some more of these characters, they're having fun. I read thrillers to escape. If I can help someone escape for a couple of hours, then I've done my job.
Tim: That's helpful.
Joanna: Good. Well, I really enjoyed “Running Down a Dream,” and I hope at some point to read one of your novels. Maybe we'll just be friends for another five years.
Tim: Oh, my God. No. It has to end at some point.
Joanna: You can always publish under another name.
Tim: Oh, jeez. Well, no, because I've got the podcast. So, at some point, we've got to finish something. That's the thing.
Joanna: It's tough. Having a podcast means everyone is tracking what you're doing.
I really appreciate your honesty and I know it will help people listening because I do think non-fiction/memoir or self-help is very different to writing a novel. So, good to hear that. Not good to hear you're struggling, but I think…
Tim: No, no, no. I hear you.
Joanna: It's the truth.
Tell us where people can find you and everything you do online.
Tim: I've set up a new site to point to everything, the books and everything else at runningdownadream.com, and then on the book marketing stuff I have booklaunch.com. So, those are the two places to find me.
Joanna: Fantastic. All right. Well, thanks so much for your time, Tim. That was great.
Tim: Thanks, Joanna.
J.P. Choquette says
I’m really looking forward to listening to this podcast soon–sounds like a ton of good information. I’m especially interested to learn more about the “honesty vs. therapy” portion as it seems that a lot of us blur those lines at times…
I actually tend to go into the “don’t be too raw/honest” camp as it feels like it could be misconstrued as therapy or people thinking, “dear Lord, she’s off her rocker!” That’s where my fiction writing comes in handy. *grinning*
Thanks for another great post on an important topic, Joanna.
Peter B. Dudley says
I particularly loved the end of this podcast, when Tim talked about facing the difficult task of finishing his novel and you gently encouraged him. It was gentle because you didn’t say you knew if he should finish the current book and try another. Instead you said he has found his voice and may find it easier to write in the future.
What brings my writing to a halt, is when I put too much pressure on the result. I do my best writing and it’s the easiest, when I have fun doing it.
Thank you for your pep talk Joanna, to “… just lighten up a bit.”
Joanna Penn says
Glad you found that useful 🙂 I need to listen to myself as well!
Peter B. Dudley says
I was struck by your kindness. I could benefit from following your example, my friend would appreciate it.
Leigh Ann Beckett says
Im so happy you had Tim on! I have been following his journey on the Story Grid podcast and i have already listened to his book once and am on my second time through. I am a ‘systems’ girl already but since listening to his book I have already implemented more systems in my life to include a household budget so that I could set up all of our bills for autopay so that I don’t have to spend any mental energy on getting those paid each month. I highly recommend his book!! I also loved your advice to him about not taking things so seriously. 🙂