The Worried Writer Episode #62: Writing In Uncertain Times

This month is a ‘just me’ episode. I know that everyone in the world is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and I just want to say that I wish you well wherever you are, and hope that you are safe, healthy, and coping as well as is possible in these scary and uncertain times.

I did think about taking a podcast break, as I do feel a wee bit wobbly and kind of like hiding away at the moment, but I also wanted to speak to you and send my good wishes. Please do let me know if there is anything in particular you would like me to cover in the next episode and whether it is helpful for me to continue with the show at this time. I won’t be offended if not!

So, in today’s show I had planned a just me episode in which I was going to chat about the self publishing live conference in London and everything that I learned. Unfortunately, my husband and I made the tough decision not to attend – I have asthma and so does my son and my anxiety was too high to go. Shortly after, the virus situation escalated and I felt like we’d made the right decision, but it wasn’t an easy one.

There is a replay of the show available for $30, so if you want a day’s worth of presentations from successful indie authors like Mark Dawson to give you some motivation, I’m sure that will be great. I’m going to watch them myself this week as I could definitely do with some help with motivation at the moment. Head over to Self Publishing Live 2020 for more information.

I think, like many of us, I’m struggling to focus. I’m doing better emotionally since the official lock down as the clear directions are better than the uncertainty and continual weighing up of activities and whether they are risky or not. But I’ve also felt quite panicky and have been finding sleep tricky.

Honestly, my brain and emotions have felt a bit like being back in the midst of grief from when I lost my mum. I mean, nowhere near as bad, but similar. And it actually makes sense. I think we’re grieving for the loss of the way life was and for all the plans we had for the immediate future. As well, of course, as worrying about friends and family who may be ill or vulnerable or struggling.

Since recognising this, I’ve been kinder to myself and have been using some of the techniques for getting stuff done that I used during that previous, awful time. Rather than expecting a full eight hour focused work day, I’m prioritising tasks like writing and this show, and then allowing myself recovery time to read or nap or do a cross stitch.

I’ve also cut down on my news consumption and try to check it twice a day and only on the BBC website. Back when this all began to escalate, I was compulsively reading about the virus and all the news and speculation and it was doing me no good whatsoever.

I’ve also been focusing on gratitude for everything I have, including my lovely patrons for this show…

THANK YOU!

Become a PatreonAs ever, huge thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month, plus instant access to the back list of twenty-five audio extras.

LISTENER QUESTION

I answer a question about taking character inspiration from real life from Rebecca M.

If you have any questions about writing, process, procrastination or the business side of things such as marketing or publishing options, email me, leave a comment on this post, or find me on Twitter.

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on Apple Podcasts (or whichever podcast app you use) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on Apple Podcasts

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

The Worried Writer Ep#61: Terry Lynn Thomas ‘You Have To Sit Down And Write’

Terry Lynn Thomas is a USA Today bestselling author with two historical mystery series. The Sarah Bennett mysteries are set in California during the 1940s and feature a misunderstood medium who is in love with a spy. The Cat Carlisle series is set in Britain during World War II and the first two books are called The Silent Woman and The Family Secret.

The third book in the series, The House of Lies, comes out on 4th March 2020.

For more on Terry Lynn Thomas and her work, head to terrylynnthomas.com or find her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

 

THANK YOU!

Become a PatreonAs ever, huge thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month, plus instant access to the back list of twenty-four audio extras.

LISTENER QUESTION

I answer a question about how to practice writing from Alex Jovanovich.

If you have any questions about writing, process, procrastination or the business side of things such as marketing or publishing options, email me, leave a comment on this post, or find me on Twitter.

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

The full transcript is copied below.

 

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on Apple Podcasts (or whichever podcast app you use) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on Apple Podcasts

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Sarah: Terry Lynn Thomas is a USA today best selling author with two historical mystery series. The Sarah Bennett Mysteries are set in California during the 1940s and feature a misunderstood medium who is in love with a spy. The Cat Carlisle series is set in Britain during world war two and the first two books are called The Silent Woman and The Family Secret.

Welcome to the show, Terry, and thank you so much for joining me.

Terry: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Sarah: Well, could you just kick things off by telling us a wee bit about your latest release, which I believe is coming out… This week as this show goes out!

Terry: March 4th it releases. The book is called The House of Lies.

It’s the third book in the Cat Carlisle mystery series, set in world war II in the United Kingdom, actually set in a fictitious village in the North. It’s called Ribbonby. I made it up, had a blast, and. I should differentiate between my historical mysteries, because they’re not necessarily about happenings in the war.

There’s intrigue, but I mean, it’s fictitious based on my research. These are pretty much classic mysteries. I like to think of them as a cross between Faith martin meets Agatha Christie. I don’t write as well as Faith Martin or Agatha Christie, but that’s who I’m shooting for! So the third book in that series will be out March 4th, and we follow Cat Carlisle, who is a reckless woman with a feminist attitude, and she’s right there during world war II speaking up for those who can’t speak up for themselves.

Sarah: Oh, that sounds fantastic. It sounds like my cup of tea. I’ll have to check them out.

Terry: Thank you. I’ll send you a copy.

Sarah: Oh, thank you. So we’re actually speaking, through the magic of smoke and mirrors, we’re actually speaking a few weeks before this podcast comes out and a few weeks pre-publication. So I just wondered, how are you feeling?

Do you get pre-publication nerves?

Terry: Oh my gosh, I get them around January. I think a lot of writers have what we call imposter syndrome, so I have to deal with that. You know, you’re worried that the reviewers won’t like it and your readers won’t like it, and there’s just so many things to worry about, but I try to focus on getting the book out there to the readers that will like it.

It’s such a fine line to say, buy my book, buy my book, like everyone else. But really I want a commitment from my reader. It’s like, I want to give you a story and I would like you to read it. And if I’m lucky you like it. If you don’t like it, you know, God bless, move on to the next thing. You know, I have this thing, I started #ReaderLove, I’m sure other people do it too, but it’s really all about the readers. And when I sit down to a blank screen, I’m thinking, my reader’s not going to like that sentence. And I go back and fix it. I mean, really, that’s why I have a job and it’s very important to me.

So this year my focus and one of my goals is to really engage with the people who like my stories and engage with them about things that aren’t necessarily related to my writing. And when I think of it that way, it helps the pre-publication nerves because as you probably know this, and I’m sure other authors who are listening do, but on pub day, I’m checking my Amazon ranking every five minutes and checking facebook every five minutes.

And you know, there’s… I’m a digital first author, so it’s not like I’m at a book signing with a bunch of people acting like I’m not nervous and drinking champagne, right? But I love it and it’s fun. And even though I’m nervous and worried, I still love the process.

Sarah: I think that helps. So do you find that experience, knowing how you’re going to feel on the day and knowing that you do love it and knowing that you will hear from some readers and you’ll feel, you know, better and buoyed up by that – does all that really help now?

Terry: So this is my sixth book that’s coming out, and I think that every release day is different. And I think writing is so interesting because you have a set of hurdles and you get past, and then there’s a new set of hurdles. And so by the time the book releases, I’m onto the next set of hurdles with a different book.

And, I’m just… I get up in the morning on release day and, and tell myself that I’m just going to enjoy this and I have no expectations and then I’m not disappointed. But of course it’s, you know, it can be nerve wracking. I could flip a switch and get crazy nervous if I wanted to. It’s… Make the choice not to.

Sarah: No, that’s great. That makes me feel less alone. I definitely relate to that.

Terry: It’s funny how we all connect on social media because writing is such an introverted, solitary thing, and I think a lot of us are introverts, and so we love social media, and my sister is now on social media and she’s like, wow for an introvert, you’re very active on your Facebook page, and it’s like, it’s perfect.

Sarah: It’s behind a screen. I’m in my pyjamas. There’s nobody physically with me. It’s great.

Terry: Since I started writing full time, I have more pyjamas than street clothes.

Sarah: Me too. So I’d love now to go back to the beginning.

It’s the usual question. Did you always want to write?

Terry: Always, but I didn’t, you know… Don’t be an artist, learn to type. I’m dating myself, but what we were, what I was told is get a job, learn to type, writers don’t make any money. And so I was a court reporter. I’m from the U S and then I spent the bulk of my career as a litigation paralegal working in the legal world.

Always knowing I wanted to write, always had written, you know, novels and screenplays, got an agent, nothing happened, burned them, burned all that stuff. It’ll never see the light of day. And then my husband, we lived in San Francisco and he offered for me to move with him to Mississippi, which is in the Southern United States.

Different culture. And he said, if you move with me, I’ll buy you a horse and you can write full time. And I said, okay. I mean, okay, what do you say to that? And so I started taking it… I started writing in earnest in 2006 and I made a commitment to sit down and write every day. And I wrote the Sarah Bennett mysteries.

And these are the books that I love. Kind of like your ghost, your ghosty books, you know, The Secrets of Ghosts and The Language of Spells and The Garden of Magic

Sarah: Thank you so much!

Terry: I love those books of yours. Love Susanna Kearsley. And I also used to really love those books, like the Ace Gothics from the 1950s and 1960s where the woman’s in her nightgown running away from the castle.

I love those books. And so I set out to write the Sarah Bennett books, which kind of, they’re kind of modern Gothics I would say. And then I wanted to write something different, and I love British mysteries, and I predominantly read British authors and watch British television, and I thought… Midsomer murders I love!

And I just thought, I’m going to write what I love. And so I wrote a novella, the Cat Carlisle novella. And I responded to a submission call on Twitter and I submitted it to HQ and they said, no, thank you. And then a couple months later, Hannah Smith wrote and said, can you turn this into a novel? And I said, sure.

And I did it, you know, I, and it was like, I’m going to do this. I’m going to do it in three months, and I’m, this is what it’s going to look like. And I did that. And, she really pushed me to get clear about my vision and what I wanted to write. And so the book released in April of 2018.

So fast forward two months, my husband and I are camping in Colorado, the book comes out, no big deal. I didn’t expect a big deal. You know, I had no expectations. Right? So we come down the hill from camping and my Facebook is full of my friends saying, you’re on the USA today bestseller list. Couldn’t believe it! It’s like it was just one of those pinch me moments and talk about imposter syndrome. It took me a year to put USA today bestselling author on my Facebook page because it was… because I was like, it’s, it’s spot 132  – does that count? And they’re like, yes, yes, it counts. Go to your Facebook page and add that you’re a USA today bestselling author.

So that book has been great, and I’ve had so much fun with Cat Carlisle. You know, she’s just so, um… I’m big on social justice, and people say, well, you’re a feminist, and it shows up in your writing. And it’s like, well, it’s not about feminism per se. It’s about being fair. And people that aren’t treated fairly, and since I’m a woman, of course, you know, it’s a feminist slant, but there’s other people that are marginalized, that should have their say too. So it’s fun to put Cat Carlisle who is reckless and does not follow the rules of British society. And she’s married to someone who is very well connected and she just, when they say Cat, when they say Cat don’t do this, she turns around and does it and she’s so much fun to write. So I’m really excited for this third book. It was fun.

Sarah: I love that you write from the heart and write from your passions. I was going to ask you what led you to writing in your particular genres, and I was going to ask if you found it easy to pick a genre. And I love that you were saying it’s what you are loving, it’s what you would love to read.

And, and I also love the Gothics, by the way, who is it? Nine Coaches Waiting by…

Terry: Mary Stewart.

Sarah: Mary Stewart. I love Mary Stewart.

Terry: Oh my gosh. And I love The Ivy Tree, and Touch Not the Cat.

Sarah: Oh yes. So good. So that’s great to hear because I always, I always say that people should write what they love, book of their heart, do what they’re passionate about, so I love hearing that.

But in terms of it being historical, do you have to do a lot of research there, and if so, is that something you enjoy?

Terry: I love research and I love getting lost down the rabbit hole. But once again, to make the distinction: my job, for my style of mystery is to have my readers know what it felt like to live during this particular time.

I think that the generation who lived through world war II, especially in the UK, were heroic and brave, and there were the people up in the airplanes and my God, the women in the resistance and all those heroes that just… Your heart breaks at how brave and courageous they were, but then it was the sacrifice of the ordinary people who didn’t maybe make it into the newspapers, but that kept their chin up and with their meagre rations and carried on.

And so my goal is to really make people know how the world worked at that time because I don’t want us to forget. And it’s really nice to spend 300 pages with people who do not have cell phones.

Sarah: It’s quite handy when you’re writing mystery as well.

Terry: Right. Right.

Sarah: There are so many things and you think, Oh no, if you’ve got a mobile phone, then you would just get out of this situation…

Terry: In five minutes! And also mistaken identity mysteries are so much fun in that era because you can move to a town and say, I’m Sarah Painter, and no one has a way of knowing back then. You know? So it’s just, those are, that’s a fun thing to do.

Sarah: So let’s now delve into the nitty gritty of your writing process because I’m still obsessed with how authors spend their time. Do you write every day or keep business hours? Do you aim for a particular word count? What’s your process?

Terry: Well, let me say that I’m obsessed with the way people do it too. I mean, I just, I really want to know it cause you, you wonder if you’re doing it right. You know, it’s like, am I doing this right?

You know, am I missing something? Because you’re working home alone and I’m a very goal oriented person and that’s just how I, that’s my personal marker. So I definitely write a thousand words a day, Monday through Friday. Sometimes it’s two. You know, two is nice, a thousand’s great, you know?

So I get up in the morning and resist the urge to get on social media. I often wake up at four or five and I get my words done. You know, I do two 45 minutes sprints. If my neck and wrists aren’t bothering me, I might do three. And I, um, I get up and I do my words and I feel like I’m finished for the day.

I keep my head in my story, I think about stuff and what’s going to happen tomorrow. And I’m writing notes and marketing plans and stuff. And then I generally walk – I try to write for 45 minutes and then go walk a mile with my dogs. And that kind of clears the cobwebs. And then I come back and do another 45 minutes.

I just try to really stick to that and then I give myself permission now and again to get up and say, Nope, I’m bingeing something on Netflix today. You know, that happens, but I try to reserve the weekends to hang out with my husband. He’s a musician, so we’re both artists. And, you know, he’s really supportive.

It’s carving out the time. My, my whole writing career changed when I, when I was working full time, I got up and wrote from four to six every morning and I was really tired all the time. But it was worth it because you just… It’s the words, you just have to sit down and write. You have to sit down and write and give yourself permission to write bad prose, but keep going.

You know? So that’s my, the main thrust of my process is to write every day. Now you’re going to ask me if I’m a plotter or a pantser, a discovery writer.

Sarah: I am!

Terry: You want me to answer?

Sarah: Yes, please! So are you a discovery writer?

Terry: I wish I… I admire discovery writers. I, and I also listened to Joanna Penn’s podcast and I’m like, I am going to try to do what those discovery writers do. And I just, I can’t do it. I tried. I am an anal retentive plotter. I work from a very, very, very detailed outline. I generally, and I give myself permission for the outline to change, but my writing struggles happen for me when I’m doing the outline.

It takes me a month. Of working four or five hours a day. I generally do it long hand. I spend a week on the premise line, that one sentence, I mean, that’s like the hardest thing, and then I sit down and I work on that outline and I, that’s when it’s like, this isn’t going to work. I know this isn’t going to work and I can’t see how I can make it work.

And so I move on to the next thing. Character sketches or my storyboard with my scenes and you know, I just, I really put my blood and guts into the outline. Then when I sit down to actually compose and write my prose – I’m knocking on wood right now, god willing – it flows, you know, because I’ve done so much work with the outline and when a sentence, when a scene doesn’t work and it’s just like this doesn’t work. I realize I don’t need the scene or it’s not, it’s not doing what I needed to do. And out it goes. And now, I mean, I’m working on my seventh book right now and I, definitely can feel that the outlining, it’s getting better, that doing that is getting better. And I just realized I’m just going to suffer through the outline, having my suffering happen with the outline, and then my sentences can come from a place of joy, you know?

Sarah: Absolutely, I mean, that’s fascinating to me but I really truly believe that we all… We all outline in a certain way. We all do all the parts of the process, just at different times. And yeah, I suffer through the terrible first draft because I don’t plot at all and I don’t know what’s going on. And then I have to do so many rewrites. And I’m always cursing it and thinking, Oh, I wish I, I wish I could outline this to start with and, and get the pain then, but you get the pain at some point. That’s just how it is. It’s just hard

Terry: And it’s so subjective and it’s so individual and you just really, you just need to do what works for you, because… Another thing that I struggled with when I made the decision to write full time is, you know, Americans, we have a 40 hour work week and executives on the move put in 50 hours. I mean, we work, you know, I don’t know what the climate is in the UK. I imagine it’s similar. And as an author writing too much is an issue of diminished return. If you, if you burn yourself out, your words won’t be pretty anymore. And it’s, sometimes I do my 2000 words and I think, you know, I could slip another session in and then I think, no, I’m going to be excited for tomorrow. And that’s something I’ve had to tell myself because I came to this job late and I most certainly do not want to burn out. I am not.

I’m going to do it because I love it. You know? I feel like I’m finally old and I have a job I like, I’m going to treat that as a treasure and I’m going to enjoy it. I think it’s really important.

Sarah: That’s fantastic. That’s such an important thing to say, and I think you’re right, that there is a culture of, of working hard, working long hours, but what you were saying there as well, what you hit on there is writing… Working hard for a writer doesn’t always look like what we think of as working. So if you’ve got 2000 words done in the in the morning, and it’s gone well, so you’re all, you know, you’re done. That’s because you did that incredibly intense, focused, hard, creative work. I don’t want to be rude about an admin task that doesn’t use quite as much brain power, but maybe that equates to six hours of admin work or something – which we do as well, I’m not, not putting it down, but it doesn’t look the same. From the outside, they look the same – you’re typing on a computer. And also we do stuff. You know we’re thinking, aren’t we, all the time thinking or watching Netflix to get refill the creative well, and that’s all a part of what we do. It’s all part of work. It just doesn’t feel like it all the time!

Terry: Because it’s so much fun! Do you keep a notebook by your bed so when you wake up in the middle of the night, you can write down your ideas and stuff?

Sarah: I do. I do write, I write notes in notebooks all the time, but I don’t often do it in the night anymore because whenever I used to do that, I would wake up and think: very important note, I must write it down and then the next day I would look at it and I had no idea why it seemed so important. It would be, you know, things like avocado dinosaur question mark, you know?

But yeah, I do. I do make notes at other times. Do you find you get ideas in the middle of the night?

Terry: I do. And I write them down and there are times, I’ve solved problems  – you know, writing mysteries, it’s all about the plot. I have to just… And people are very sophisticated. And I really have to bring my A game to these mysteries that aren’t Gothicy ghost stories because mystery readers are extremely sophisticated and they will rip you.

I mean, you know, they’re there, they’re watching, and I owe it to my readers to give them a good, honest story. And if I, my job is to trick them, I’m going to trick you. And when I get reviews that “I had no idea”. I have done that. I have done my job. That’s my goal.

Sarah: So I know that – we were chatting just before we hit record – I know that your, your recent titles are published by HQ digital, is that right?

Terry: Correct.

Sarah: So what was your path to publication? Was it smooth sailing all the way?

Terry: I finished the first book I ever wrote that was, I thought was publishable, was my ghost story called The Spirit of Grace. And I took it to the, uh, RWA conference in San Antonio in 2014 and I pitched the, you know, you go through all the agent pitches and every agent I talked to wanted a full, and I sent it.

And the universe works in a very mysterious way because I also had… I heard from people, but I never got the emails. I had Yahoo, and I never got emails from people. And then this one lady from Black Opal books called me, you know, and she said, did you not get my email? We’d like to publish your book.

And I just, I said, I’m just going to go for it. The little voice in my head said, get your book out there. I was thinking maybe I’d self-publish. And they signed a three book contract for the Sarah Bennett series. I got my rights back to those books and the second two books in the series weeping in the wings, and I’m sorry, it’s called The House of Secrets, and the third book is now called The Drowned Woman. Those are with HQ now. And they revamped and redid them and gave them a boost. And they’re doing, you know, they’re, they’re happy with HQ. I still have the rights to the first book, the Sarah Bennett series that’s out in audible. That’s available at Amazon.

And so I had those books, and then of course, the Twitter… I responded to the Twitter submission at HQ. I needed the editorial support from a traditional publisher. That just works for me. I have a lot to learn still, and I am so impressed with these editors that I’ve had that just, I would never have thought of making the corrections that they, you know, and they really push you.

And you get this editorial, your structural edits back, and you think, Oh dear God! And then you just sit down…

Sarah: When you stop crying

Terry: Right! And we’re never going to be able to do this. And then you just sit down and you just  and when you’re finished, it’s . It’s amazing, the transformative process of the novel.

But for me as a writer, it’s just been so awesome to be able to do that. And, so I’ve been happy with HQ and that’s where I am right now.

Sarah: It’s such a fantastic way to learn isn’t it? I definitely agree with you. I feel the same way. I’ve learned so much through working with amazing developmental structural editors.

It’s really tough, but it’s. Yeah. I can’t think of anything else that I have done, apart from writing lots of course, practicing, that has brought on my ability to write a book or, or know what goes in one.

Yeah, completely agree. So I’m afraid the time has come. The title of the podcast is the worried writer, so I’m afraid I’m going to delve into your struggles with writing.

Terry: I have a list.

Sarah: Wonderful. Do you ever suffer from creative block and is there any part of the process that you find most difficult or when fear is most likely to strike?

Terry: Fear comes… I have a niggle of fear that I need to deal with pretty much every day because I’m a, I’m a creative who, who writes stories for the food, you know, and stuff. And, but I really – I kind of hinted that I finally have a job I love – I really feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I didn’t quit my day job easily. It was a long, hard decision. And I just feel like as long as I sit down and write well, and like you were talking about in your interview with Meg Cowley of saving for the lean times and you know, just working hard. You know, I can let that fear go.

I worry that I’m, you know, I’m not a USA today bestselling author. It’s like, that’s not me. You know, people say, aren’t you so excited? Oh my gosh. And it’s like, no, I have like, what happens if, you know, what happens if, and I don’t even want to say it out loud, but there’s so many ifs, you know, you’re, you’re really only as good as your next book on some level.

I mean, you can’t… You can’t rest on your laurels when you write a really great book and turn it in, you have to start writing the next one and you have to have the, you know, I’ve got premise lines for 20 more mysteries. I know that I, I’ve saved them and I have an idea file and I know what’s going to happen and I keep a murder book and I know if I want to kill someone, they go in my murder book and you know, and I’m afraid no one will like my books. And, you know, I try hard and it’s so hard to, you know, to take the reviews with a grain of salt. I’m grateful for reviewers, but I am better off not reading my reviews. And it’s not fair to only read the good ones if you’re going to read them, you gotta read the good ones and the bad ones. So I’ve just decided that I’m not going to, I’m just not even gonna go there because I’m too sensitive.

And I worry that I’m not doing it right. As I said, you know, the process, and it’s just so funny that, I mean, I love it so much, but there’s just so much worry about it. You know, there’s plenty to worry about. There’s plenty to worry about. It’s just the job,

Sarah: The worries just keep on changing, don’t they? That’s… Whatever, you know, before you get published, you worry about, will I ever get published? And then you get published and there’s a whole new set of worries. And as you were just saying there, the, the sort of imposter syndrome, you don’t… because the USA today best selling thing happened to you, it immediately doesn’t feel real. When it happens to somebody else, it’s got a different sheen to it somehow.

And so, yeah, absolutely. You’re very much not alone, but it is tough. And it’s also genuinely tough in that this business is so uncertain. You know, that thing of: will I get another contract and then this, my dream job could be over and I’m nodding away here, because I just empathize so strongly with you with that. That’s definitely how I felt and it was hellish. So, yeah.

Terry: And I also think,  you know, that’s the thing about writing. If you do it, you get better. The results are tangible, whether people like your stories or not. I see myself get growing and getting better as a writer, and I don’t think that ever changes, but I believe that your readers expectations go up, as your writing gets better, and then what if I can’t meet their expectations? That’s another thing, another thing I can worry about!

Sarah: We’re so grateful for readers, but then we don’t want to let them down. So tough. And so do you have any sort of strategies, I mean, as you were just saying, it’s really a daily thing of conquering fears so that you can get your work done. Do you have any particular strategies that you use, when maybe these worries are coming up a bit too much and it’s stopping you from working? Or is there anything that you’ve developed or that you do to help you keep going?

Terry: I started writing… The habit of writing the first thing when I get up in the morning and when I’m struggling out of sleep and I’d get, make my coffee and I sit on the couch, um, and I just write the words and that really helps because I’m, I’m in that state of mind of just getting out of bed and I get my work done. I get my work done and I find that I hit the sweet spot. But I, you know, when I… I made a list of stuff that I wanted to, you know, cause I know how you do your podcast and I, I made a little list of what I know, and this is kind of what I can, it’s kind of what I draw on and what I know about writing.

And this is not a business for the faint of heart. I mean, if you want to sell your stories, for money, you know, you have got to toughen up. And most of us, I’m really sensitive and I think most artists on some level are because that’s how we’re able to do our art because we’re sensitive and you have to be able to take the constructive criticism.

The House of Lies is up on net galley right now. And one reviewer, she gave me a good review, but she said that she thought the pacing was a little slow and I thought, okay, good. I’m making a note of that. And the book I’m writing on now, I used to do 2000 words scenes. I’m going to write 1500 words scenes, and I’m going to get to it.

This is what needs to happen. And I’m, I’m going to tighten up my writing a little bit and see, I can always add words and I can always fix it when I edit, but I can, that’s, that’s good information. You know, you have to be able to take that information and work with it.

And reading, of course, you know, we all  know to read. And I’ve, I have discovered and fallen in love with audio books. I love them. I listened to them all the time. I just, when I’m in the car… we listen to music a lot cause I said my husband’s a musician, but, I have repetitive stress issues. So it’s hard for me to hold my Kindle and a book sometimes. I save my wrists for my writing and, that allows me to read and write and so many great books available at the library, and then the authors get paid. And, you know, I subscribe to audible and, and I also think this is kind of a strange thing, but. I want people to buy my books. So I buy people’s books.

I buy books, you know? It’s kind of the give and take thing, you know? It’s just really important. People always say, well, why don’t you go to the library? And I do, but I also buy books. I’m I, I buy, I buy those Kindle books. And when my friends books go on sale on BookBub, I have a hundred books to read before them, I just. You know, I buy them.

I think that it’s normal to, that self doubt is normal and you need to figure out a way to push through that. Whatever it is for you individually, you know, for me it’s to, you know, not worry so much of reviews and find your tribe. It’s important to find your tribe.

There are so many wonderful writers groups, on social media and in various organizations. I think it’s important. And I think giving myself permission to fail. I mean, I might write a bad book. Everybody’s going to write a bad… I mean, it’s like it might happen, you know? It’s just, I might write a dog of the book, and that’s okay too. You know? It’s just live and learn and know that it’s…

Sarah: It is just a book. It’s just a book. That’s what I keep saying. Nobody died. It’s just a book

Terry: Right. And the career trajectory might not be straight up. It definitely won’t be straight up. You know? It’s a tough business. It’s really a tough business. You know, not for the faint of heart.

Sarah: Definitely. We’ve been talking about, we’ve been alluding, we’ve been mentioning, the business side, the publishing side, along with the artistic side and something that I struggle with, I mean, I’m getting a wee bit better at it, but I still struggle with balancing the marketing publishing business side with the writing side.

How do you manage that? How do you balance it?

Terry: I struggled mightily with it because everybody wants to check Facebook every five minutes and my Amazon ranking every five minutes. But I read this really wonderful book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. And you know, who thinks that we shouldn’t… No one should be on social media at all, and as you know, that’s not feasible for authors because we need to reach our audience. And I love engaging with readers. I love engaging with readers. So I write in the morning and then I curate my social media. I post on Twitter some, um, I do something on Facebook and Instagram. I do about three hours a week and that’s it.

And that’s what I do and I have to definitely resist that addiction, like to reach for my phone and who’s on Facebook right now? It’s it for me, that book really resonated because I am addicted to Facebook. I mean, I can easily sit there and scroll through Facebook and it’s like: I could be doing something so much more fun than scrolling through Facebook right now. So you really have to curate and, and I’m there to connect with people. And I go through notifications and I answer every comment, I do my level best to respond to every person who comments because I like that and I want to engage with them.

And you know, and then there are times when you have to say no, and learning to say no is a thing.

Sarah: That’s very true. I’m just the same. I want to respond to all comments. And my husband was saying, I can’t remember, maybe the last year, he said, you know what, there’ll come a time when you really can’t, you can’t respond to everything.

Because I was, I was upset that I’d taken ages to respond to something because I’ve just not seen it. And then I just felt really rude, you know? And he said, you gonna have to let go of some of this. You know, you’re going to have to cut yourself a break on this. And I said yes, at some point I can see that maybe, if I was successful enough, that might happen, but until that moment, I’m going to do my level best. If somebody has taken the time to interact with me, to say something nice, to read my books and whatever, and reach out to me, I want to respond. It’s just how I am. So I’m totally with you on that.

Terry: And I’m not necessarily committing to doing it within 24 hours.

Sarah: No, no, that’s important.

Terry: It might take a week or it might take two, not likely, but you know, you never know!

And, and I think that’s really important. I think readers have a lot of choices, and when they buy your book, they’re buying a piece of you. And I think it’s just important to really connect. I think that’s the part of the joy that’s part of the job I love.

Sarah: Absolutely, exactly, I love it. It’s not a hardship at all, but you’re right. I think taking, allowing, there to be a wee bit of buffer. Like it’s okay if you don’t respond immediately so that you can batch it into your social media time, rather than continually reacting and being dragged out of your deep work. And I love that book as well, by the way. It’s fantastic, it made a big impression on me as well, that importance of sinking into our work and prioritizing that. Yeah. Amazing.

Terry: Very important

Sarah: But the time has just flown by, so…

Terry: I know. I was so nervous. I was so worried.

Sarah: Oh, were you? Oh, you were on, brand. I’m always on brand.

Terry: Yes, yes. You are always on brand and I’m not worried now – I could go another hour easily.

Sarah: Oh, fantastic, that’s great. I’m so pleased.

Terry: It’s so funny because writers are so introverted. But when you go to a writer’s conference, it’s so much fun because you know everybody’s talking and having cocktails, and then you know, when they go home, they’re shutting the curtains, then they’re not going to be talking to people for a week. Right?

Sarah: It is! We’re all let out for a minute, and we all just talk a mile a minute!

Terry: But there’s so much to say, and it’s always so nice to connect. So…

Sarah: No, it’s another great tip is definitely to find, go to a conference, find a writing group, find, whether it’s online or in person, find that, like you were saying, find your tribe. It’s such a great tip. So just to finish up, what are you working on at the moment, or what’s next for you?

Terry: Oh my gosh. I am so excited about this. I have a new series. I will tell you that it features a 62 year old protagonist. And she is an attorney. She lives in San Francisco, and I am, I am over the moon about this series. The book is just flowing. I’m just so tickled about it. It kind of is like that show The Good Wife and then that UK show The Split, which I love. It’s that kind of a tone. I will say it’s that kind of a tone. I wanted to write a more sophisticated protagonist. My protagonists are, have progressively gotten more sophisticated through each series, but I think I’m looking forward to writing an older woman, you know, who… Older women have their own struggles and women in their sixties will tell you that they feel invisible, and I intend to tackle that in this series.

Sarah: Fantastic. Well, there are certainly, I don’t think, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that there aren’t as many older female protagonists. So that’s great news and I love the sound of it – can’t wait!

Terry: Thank you.

Sarah: So just to finish up, where can listeners find out more about you and your books online?

Terry: They can come to my website, terrylynnthomas.com and they can sign up for my mailing list and I don’t send out newsletters very often. I will send out an email when one of my books is 99 cents, when I have a new release, or when I have something fun to give you. So, follow me there.

I am on Facebook. I have a “Terry Lynn Thomas-Author” page  (@terrylynnthomasbooks) , and you can find me on Instagram at terrylynnthomasbooks. And I do love to put my pictures up on Instagram. And you can find me on Twitter @TLThomasBooks.

Sarah: Wonderful. Well, I should put all the links in the show notes, but thank you so much for your time. That was great!

Terry: Thank you!

 

 

The Worried Writer Ep#60: Meg Cowley ‘I Love My Readers!’

My guest today is USA Today bestselling fantasy author Meg Cowley. Meg has two epic fantasy series The Books of Caledan and The Chronicles of Pelenor, as well as an urban fantasy series Relic Guardians.

We have a great conversation about independent publishing, reader support, writing in series, and consistency, as well as self-doubt, mental health, and the importance of self-care.

For more on Meg head to megcowley.com or find her on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

THANK YOU!

This is episode 60 of the podcast, which means it has been running for five years – huzzah! I’m really proud of myself for keeping it going every month without a break – through good times and bad.

Thank you so much for listening, and for all your messages, questions, reviews and support over the last five years. I really appreciate it.

Become a PatreonAs ever, huge thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month, plus instant access to the back list of twenty-three audio extras.

WRITING UPDATE

This month I’ve been working on the fourth Crow Investigations book and rewriting the messy draft of my non-fiction branding, marketing and selling book for authors.

I’ve been suffering with imposter syndrome over the last week or so, wondering ‘who am I?’ to write a book on branding and marketing, but I also know that sharing my personal experience (and lessons learned) and viewpoint is perfectly valid. The self-doubt struggle continues and I know that it will never go away.

SAVVY WRITERS EVENT

Past guest of the show, Tracy Buchanan, is running a one-day event in London on 9th May 2020, aimed at published authors (both indie and traditional).

Participants will get the chance to attend an advanced writing workshop with one of two writers, crime writer Sophie Hannah or women’s fiction author Amanda Prowse. There will also be a panel offering advice on marketing and mindset with industry guru Sam Missingham, HarperCollins editor (and previous guest of The Worried Writer!) Phoebe Morgan, and the Bookseller editor Phillip Jones. Plus a networking lunch and agent one-to-ones.

Head to www.savvywriters.co.uk/savvywritersfest for more information.

LISTENER QUESTION

If you have any questions about writing, process, procrastination or the business side of things such as marketing or publishing options, email me, leave a comment on this post, or find me on Twitter.

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

The full transcript is copied below.

 

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

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Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Sarah: My guest today is USA Today best selling fantasy author Meg Cowley. Meg has two Epic Fantasy series of The Books of Caledan and The Chronicles of Pelenor, as well as an urban fantasy series Relic Guardians. Welcome to the show Meg and thank you so much for joining me.

Meg: Hello, thank you for having me, at last – it’s taken us a long time to schedule this!

Sarah: It has, I’m so excited. Thank you so much. So just to get us started, I was hoping you could tell us all a wee bit about your latest series or release.

Meg: Sure. So I am penning the final book in the Chronicles of Pelenor series, which is an epic fantasy filled with magic, dragons, intrigue, betrayal and deliciously morally grey characters and a smattering of romance.

So yeah, I like writing complex multi viewpoint epic fantasies. And I write stories set in the same world at the moment. I’m just continuing that. I’m due to finish it next week and I can’t wait because it feels like I’ve been writing it forever!

Sarah: That must be exciting but is it a wee bit nervy finishing as well?

Meg: Yeah, it is. It’s scary because you have a lot of expectations from yourself and your readers. You don’t want to disappoint anyone. So I have absolutely had massive stresses thinking ‘oh my God, this is… Is it going to be good enough? Can I manage this?’ But in the end, I’ve just had to push through it and think well, even if the first draft is terrible getting it written is the hardest thing and then I can edit it to make it pretty! But it’s going alright so far.

Sarah: Fantastic. I’d like to rewind a wee bit. I know that you are a proud and successful independent author and I don’t know if you know that I went hybrid a couple of years ago and I just love it.

I love it so much and I want everyone to know what a fantastic option it is, but I also was wondering: was it an easy decision for you? Did you start out as independent?

Meg: Yes, it was a really easy choice. I wrote my first book – I won’t bore you with the details of how that came about just same as any writer.

Love to write, decided to write a book and actually did it! Looking into the publishing options because once I wrote it I wanted to get it published of course, and it was quite black and white really. I looked at the options trad versus indie and indie just… It was the thing that suited me the most so I’ve gone the indie route. I have no regrets about that and I’m a really really happy indie author.

I think it’s allowed me to have the control and the financial freedom to make a career out of this which I had always dismissed because I never thought it would be possible and it’s just blown me away that life has changed so much in the past few years and I would not have been able to do that had it not been for independent authoring.

Sarah: That’s fantastic and you mentioned the sort of control there and obviously the finances. I’ve also discovered it’s a way to actually have a viable business which is fantastic. Are there any other things that you particularly like about being independent or if you were chatting to a listener perhaps who was maybe thinking oh traditional is the only way?

Is there anything that you would say to them to encourage them or do you think it’s something that some people just aren’t suited to?

Meg: I would say to ask yourself ‘what do you want from this?’ I think traditional and independent and hybrid and anything in the spectrum really – it’s all valid. There is no right answer there is no wrong answer but you have to know what you want from it and understand how to get that.

So for me, I wanted creative control and I wanted financial success. Indie was the natural choice for me. However, if you want literary acclaim, you want your book on shelves in shops where your rabid fans can go, and have release parties and pick your book off the shelf, trads probably best for you.

And that’s fine. It’s just that wasn’t for me. So I would say just ask yourself what you really want and how you can achieve that and see where on the spectrum you might be.

Sarah: I absolutely don’t want to sound as if I’m trying to push everybody to go indie, but I always want to say…

Meg: Just do it! Do it!

Sarah: Yeah! Having started in trad…

Meg: I’d say don’t dismiss it. I think people have a notion of what indie is: its sub-quality, people just popping stuff up on Amazon and that’s not the case, you know, the true indie author is an incredibly discerning avid reader who wants to tell fantastic stories that are worthy of being published and being read and being loved by readers.

We’re all the same at the end of the day. We all start off as readers who love stories and some of us want to tell those stories too, and it doesn’t really matter how you get to that reader. The reader doesn’t really care as long as they get a story that is satisfying.

Sarah: Honesty listeners, I am just nodding and nodding at Meg because I just agree so much! it’s about getting… As you say the readers are what matter, but in terms of of trad…  I think a lot of people expect certain things from traditional publishing that you just don’t get unless you are a lead title or a ‘lightning stikes’ success or a celebrity author already. So things like ‘on the bookshelf’ you might not get those things. You might not get distribution and bookshops. So I think it’s really important, whatever you decide, to educate yourself and go in with your eyes open, whatever you’re doing. But I mean, I’ve followed your career, since I heard you on Joanna Penns podcast back when you were doing coloring books!

Meg: Gosh, yeah, that was a long time ago!

Sarah: I know! And I loved listening to my interview, so thank you for doing it. And I was… I felt like I was listening to a kindred spirit in terms of – or certainly what I was aspiring to – in terms of your work ethic, your production, your business sense. It was very inspiring to me.

So thank you and I’ve been really impressed ever since really, with your rate of production, and you’ve become a mum in the meantime!

Meg: It’s been a rocky few years, so I’m suppose. I’m quite pleased with what I’ve managed to do despite everything that’s happened.

Sarah: Oh, honestly Meg from the outside it just looks like you’ve done this ridiculous amount of amazing work. So absolutely hats off to you!

Meg: It looks like I’ve got it together. Excellent, I’ll take that!

Sarah: So, now I want your secrets you see, so could you talk me through a sort of typical writing day if you have such a thing? And things like productivity – do you keep business hours? All of that good stuff!

Meg: I think life has changed a lot in the last few years, like I’ve said, so I’ve had to change everything and keep changing everything and the only constant has been change – finding out what’s working and constantly evolving. So it used to be that I would just work 60-hour weeks and I loved that because I’m a workaholic, you know, writing was a hobby before it was a job, so if I wanted to do anything it was write stories, great. Having a child? Can’t do that anymore. And well it’s been a rough few years. So for the past probably three years now, I’ve had various health problems and then had my son and then struggled with post natal depression quite a lot. So it’s been a struggle to have any kind of steady routine.

Right now, my son goes to daycare. It was three days a week, last week he started going four days a week. So this is kind of a magical, almost normal place that I feel like I’m getting back to now. I have four consecutive days a week where I can write which is incredible and already I’ve noticed that my productivity shot up just from having that constant block of time where every day is the same, you know, I put my bum in the chair and I work. So Monday to Thursday I’m working. I write in the mornings, I do other things in the afternoon – marketing… I’m an illustrator as well, I illustrate fantasy book covers. So I do that in the afternoons and evenings. So morning is really writing words, creative time, and the afternoon is everything else and then Friday through Sunday I’m in mum mode which… Nothing gets done. That’s fine because I devote that time to my son.

Sarah: He’s very young at the moment isn’t he so it’s that phase. You know, it won’t last!

Meg: Yeah, in years to come I will wish he was as needing and…

Sarah: Speaking as someone at the other end of it you absolutely will. I’m sorry it’s annoying but there you go.

Meg: You can’t live without them and you can’t live with them can you?

Sarah: I know. Everyone says enjoy every second and then you think yes, but that last minute went on for about a week!

Meg: Yeah that does not apply to the sleepless nights, but most of the rest of it is fine!

Sarah: No it’s hard. So I was going to ask you about being a full-time author and also juggling parenthood with writing. Obviously you’ve touched on that there in terms of the importance really of getting those days that are the same and getting that chunk of time that you can then dedicate…

Meg: But even that has to be sensitive – last night I got no sleep. We have a sick toddler, and I just couldn’t sleep. So this morning, to be honest today my brain is just running on about 10% capacity and I did my writing in bed. And do you know what? Got my 3000 words written which is a miracle. But today I had to take that step back and say it’s okay. Today’s not going to be one of those ‘you get everything done’  kind of day. So it’s like I have my routine but it’s also flexible and accommodates self-care as well, which I find is really important right now because it is so easy to use up energy you’ve got and burn out.

Sarah: I’m so glad you said that because again, you know, I’m big on the productivity and I always want to learn how to do more, but I’m so aware that… Again speaking to people, or people listening who maybe are in the same situation, the last thing I want anybody to think is that they are failing if they are not on it a hundred percent all the time. Like you say, that being kinder to yourself and saying, okay well today I’m going to write in bed and it’s fine if it’s complete and utter rubbish because I’m brain-dead.

Meg: Yeah!

Sarah: That sort of thing is so important to say so thank you for sharing that.

Meg: We have a culture of busyness don’t we so if you’re not busy, then you’re not doing it right! Why are you not busy? We should all be so busy all the time doing all the things. And it’s taken a lot of time to unpick that and go ‘hang on. No, that is complete BS’.

Sarah:  Absolutely.

Meg: I am at my best when I am happy, I’m healthy, you know. My energy is full when my creative well is refilled, when I’m fulfilled. I’m going to get more done rather than completely whipping myself all the time going more, more, more and just being so brain dead and sick of it all that it’s not even worth doing it because it’s not fun. And what I’m producing is not good.

Sarah: No, and burnout is a real thing in our industry, isn’t it? So it’s very wise to to pay attention to that and as well as it’s just good for you.

Meg: Yeah and learning about what kind of person you are because some people, they can pump out all those words day in day out and do that and that’s absolutely fine. That’s their natural rhythm, and for a long time I’ve tried to be one of those people and… There must just be no upper ceiling to this, if I just work harder I’ll be able to just write all the words everyday.

It’s taken a while and it’s been a bit of a bitter pill to realise, in the first instance. Now I’m fine with that. That I am not one of those writers and my pace is my pace and that’s fine.

Sarah: Absolutely. I mean, I’m far slower than you and I’ve also been trying to come to terms with what is my pace while also making sure that I am pushing myself a wee bit and not just falling into a kind of ‘och, that’s all I can do’. Like a self-fulfilling limiting belief if you like. But it’s so hard to work out where that should be!

Meg: 100% Yeah! It is just trying to work with yourself rather than against yourself at times.

Sarah: Absolutely. And in terms of the… I love what you said about the cult of busyness as well because one area again that I still struggle with a wee bit is: I love running a business. I love I love I love it. I love all of it and but I do get really overwhelmed because I could fill every minute of a 16-hour day with doing all the things and so yeah, I love the fact that today you said you felt rubbish, but you wrote in bed. So, you know your most important thing – writing the words – you prioritised that and you got that done. And I think that’s a really good tip. That’s so important to sort of emphasise that you cleared out, you know, the less important things. So is that something that you’ve come to when trying to balance the marketing, the business, the writing?

Meg: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve realised that it comes down to several core things for me as a business. So I take off my creative hat that loves creating these worlds and crafting stories and I put on my business hat and I think ‘what’s achievable? What do I actually need to be doing?’ So basically unless I am writing great stories, marketing my books and reaching readers. I don’t need to do it.

Like I don’t *need* to do it, you know, the core tasks are writing great stories and marketing and reaching readers. Like that’s it. There is nothing more to my business that needs to be done. I might have a million things on my to-do list like, I need to update this reader magnet and then oh my website needs that tweak and don’t forget to do your author page. Actually, do you know what? It’s just it’s just clutter and it clutters your mind just like it clutters your to-do list and I found that minimizing is one of the most helpful things that I’ve done over the past few years and it’s taken me about 3 years to get there from having the full page to-do list that just never gets done and then carrying over and carrying over from one week to another and just drowning under the weight of my own inadequacy because you know, I’m a failure. I can’t even do my own to-do list! What? And then realize that most of it doesn’t need to be done. So okay cross it off. And I work on that basis.

If it’s not… Obviously, I’ve got my client work as well at the moment so that you know, that is not something that gets crossed off! But ultimately, you know writing is the first thing, it’s the most important thing for me. If I get up and do that with a clear head in the morning and it’s done, I don’t need to worry about it and then the rest of the day I am concentrating on my client work and the other things that need to be done. And I’m ruthless about crossing off anything that can wait, or anything that’s not essential.

I’ve started to work with a virtual assistant and I occasionally subcontract things to her that I *could* do, but she could also do just as well. And that helps offload some of the things from my plate, and my time, and my stress to someone who is equally as capable of doing them.

So I’m really just learning to manage a realistic workload and work with the energy that I have and the type of worker that I am just to try and maximise what I can do but also in a way that promotes self care and you know avoids overwhelm and burn out basically so minimising has been key.

Sarah: And in terms of celebrating successes or celebrating what you are getting done, is that something else that you’ve been incorporating?

Meg: Trying to? Yeah, I am a workaholic. I am very goal-oriented. I’m conscientious I push myself. I’m incredibly self-critical that is just who I am as a person.

It’s how I’ve always been. If I wasn’t getting an A* it was not good enough and I used to beat myself up for it which I realise now was incredibly damaging but it’s very hard to stop doing that. So it’s a gradual work of unpicking that and actually stopping, when I’ve done something cool, to think  ‘well done! That’s really cool’.

Like a sales Milestone or finishing a project or looking at my figures, my financial figures for the month, and just actually taking them in and going ‘wow you did that. That’s really cool’. So I am trying to be better about congratulating myself and treating myself when I do achieve something good, as opposed to just breezing on through and setting the next goal and going to meet that!

Sarah: Well I wanted to touch on that since we were saying just before recording that I’m exactly the same. And again I know that we won’t be alone and I hope that it might be hopefully comforting. Or maybe a wake-up call if you are listening and you find that you end each day with a list of things you didn’t achieve or you breeze past things… Take it from us, it’s not good for you. And you need to start rewarding yourself and recognising things.

Now, onto the writing side of things. Now the title of this podcast is the worried writer! So I’d like to delve into your struggles with creative writing if I may. Do you ever suffer from creative block?

Meg: I wouldn’t say that I suffer from creative block, but I am definitely guilty of imposter syndrome insofar as there are definitely points on the process where I think ‘who are you kidding?’

Any moment someone is going to find out and they’re gonna haul you off to a day job and make you work for the man because this is obviously a sham. I’ve got very good with just telling that voice to shut up and I carry-on. I don’t really get writer’s block per se. I outline and plot a lot, so I find that really helps me overcome… Any time I don’t know what I’m writing next, I go back to the plot and it you know, it informs me and I can move forward. The thing that I’ve really struggled with is my mental health to be honest. I didn’t really write much in the Autumn, having trouble with post natal depression again, so that was a rough and frustrating period.

But I just had to step back and sort of work on my self-care and not beat myself up too much for having to delay my book launch – the book that I am due to finish next week, I should have had published in November. So it’s obviously frustrating that that didn’t happen but it is what it is, ok move forward, and what’s the next best thing that you can do? So that’s that’s been the biggest struggle that I’ve had over the past few years is just struggling with mental health through illness and antenatal depression, post-natal depression that sort of thing really. Yeah. It’s just a constant every day, just trying to see on the bright side and do the best that I can.

Sarah: I think that’s… Again, it’s so important to say that or to recognise that what we do… You know, we can’t always just push through with a work ethic because what we do goes on in our heads.

Meg: Yeah, we can’t work in isolation.

Sarah: Yeah, and if our head isn’t quite right for whatever reason then no amount of willpower is going to sort that out and that can be a hard…. That’s really really tough. So I’m so sorry…

Meg: Ah, thank you. I feel like a year ago. I wouldn’t have been able to talk about this. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact there’s nothing to be ashamed of in this and that actually, to open up a dialogue and to accept that we all face times where we struggle is a really really valid and necessary thing, because we all need to support each other through tough times when necessarily we don’t want to talk and open up about it because we feel like there’s a stigma. I feel like it’s really important especially in the industry that we’re in we often work alone, we often work long hours in isolation, socially cut off, and that is quite a challenge in itself. And then you have adult life, and all the things that that has, and I just find that I can’t work in isolation. I have to have emotional wellness to be able to write.

Sarah:  Absolutely

Meg: As much as writing is a solace, I can’t be a crying mess and get my words done because I can’t do it.

Sarah: No, I’m the same – if my anxiety is bad then I can’t write

Meg: Yeah. So again working with yourself. And being forgiving.

Sarah: Exactly. And then there’s also… Again, it’s you just don’t know, I don’t know about you, with mental health and how I react to it in terms of creativity. It can vary again, you know, there can be… I can’t write with anxiety, but with grief I found that writing was – I mean not initially but after a little while it was – an escape, is still an escape and really good for me.

Meg: That was the same for me.

Sarah: I felt guilty going into it as if I was… You know, I shouldn’t be able to write as if that meant that I wasn’t grieving properly or something. So if you can bear to talk about it and you can bear to examine it and kind of air out those worries, it can help.

Meg: No, absolutely. I’ve done some of my best writing when I’ve been upset or angry but at other times I could feel like I was just not…

Sarah: Total shutdown!

Meg: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve got to work with yourself and not beat yourself up about it.

Sarah: Absolutely and I know also you mentioned there that you do lots of planning and plotting. Now, I don’t at all – I can’t. I’ve tried and I’ve never… This is my first series that I’m writing. Now I know you have been writing series and I’m used to the terror of when I’m writing a book, I’ve got no idea what happens…

Meg: I could not do that!

Sarah: And now I’m writing a series, and I’ve got no idea what happens. So my question for you is what tips do you have for me for writing a series? Or how would you reform me?

Meg: Plot it! Plot it all! Plot everything! I have only got worse and worse as the years have gone on. My three-point plot has evolved to a five-point, to a seven-point. Now, I use a 23-point plot for each viewpoint that I have. Its chronologically ordered and everything’s in beats, and I cannot survive without that structure. Depending on what I’m writing, it might be as little as a sentence for a chapter, or it might be as much as I have to write five thousand words of planning for that chapter before I can then write that chapter.

For me knowing what I’m going to write gives me the faith to trust myself, and delve into the creative process and lose myself in the flow because I know I’ve already figured it out. I can’t write myself into a corner because I know where I’m going. But it’s not flawless and it’s not perfect. Sometimes I have to tweak the plot, sometimes I have to go back waste a bit and go off in a slightly different tangent, but plotting for me works. So for me, I would say plot everything but if that doesn’t work for you, then that’s equally fine. I have huge respect – I don’t know how you do it, but wow! I wish I could just sit down and write, that would be amazing, but that’s just not for me.

Sarah: No, it’s very inefficient, I don’t recommend it! I’m always getting stuck and going down wrong ways.

Meg: I think the thing that I do if I get stuck is I go back to the last point that it worked at, and I go from there. That’s always been my go-to and whether it’s plotting or whether it’s writing if I get to a bit where I’m stuck, I’m like ‘right, where did it last work? Where do I need to get to? Am I going down the right path? Oh no, so this character wouldn’t do that because…’ Then it usually goes forward again. Sometimes have to go sideways or backwards!

Sarah: That was something I was going to ask about- when you’re plotting or outlining, brainstorming, do you get stuck then? Because that’s when you’re obviously working out all the stuff that’s going to happen. Do you get stuck then at all or is that just skipping through meadows?

Meg: Oh, I wish! I wish!

Sarah: Sorry!

Meg: I had a sudden mental image of running through fields of wheat! Possibly only UK listeners might get the slight political reference there! No I do get stuck on the plotting phase. But again I start with a very vague idea and it might be as simple as ‘main character makes a deal with such and such to kill the king’ and that’s the entire thing for the whole book. And then it’s filling in the pieces. Ok, well what if this happened here and what if this comes out and it’s gradually just building that jigsaw and making sure everything fits. Is it all in order? Yes. Okay. I’ll put it on my beat structure. Are there any beats that are missing. Oh, yeah. Okay, what could happen here? This beats in the wrong place. Let’s switch that about.

It’s just like a giant puzzle. It’s my favourite part of the whole process and it’s actually very annoying to then sit down and write a hundred thousand word book when you’re like ‘I’ve already figured this out’. The plotting is genuinely my favourite point  – it’s like chemistry. It’s a formula of putting it all together and making this beautiful construct.

But yeah I absolutely get stuck and I have to go away and think, I go back to the last point that works. I put myself into the character’s shoes. What would they actually do? Am I doing something that’s true to them, that’s true to the plot.

It’s about approaching it from different angles for me and just checking – it’s almost like testing I guess that it’s bulletproof. Does this definitely work? Is this logical or am I just writing what I want to write but actually it’s a bad story because it’s not what the characters will actually do.

So I guess kind of stress test it in various angles and eventually fill in all the gaps and it works 90% And then I tweak it as I draft as I need.

Sarah: That’s fantastic. And you mentioned beats there and – do you have any particular resources where you learned about beats and story structure and things or is it something you’ve just picked up? Anything you’d recommend I guess?

Meg: Kind of Frankensteined as I’ve gone. So my 23-point beat structure is probably the combination of four or five different structures with my own bits thrown in that I’ve picked up over the last four or five years and I don’t even really know where I’ve got them from. I chat with friends and we talk about things and they you know, we send each other spreadsheets, because we’re cool, with beat structures on them. I guess I’ve just found something that works for me and adapted it.

There’s plenty of material out there on beats and I would just say go and read through them and some will resonate better than others or some parts will resonate better than others and take what works for you because as much as there might be a formula for writing a story, the way that you do it is entirely up to you, and again working with yourself and to bring the best of your own writing out, I found that this is the one that works for me.

Sarah: I think that’s a great tip –  that idea that if you read a structure book and some of it makes sense or some of it resonates, that it is completely okay for you to kind of cobble together, as you said, your sort of Frankenstein’s, your own version. So I think that’s really really worth saying.

Meg: I think when you get into it you feel like you… If you read a book, you must do all the things that the book says because the book is right. And then the further you get along the further you think well actually it just doesn’t work for me. So I’m just gonna make it up on the fly.

Sarah: Yeah, when I’ve attempted plotting when I was trying to learn how to do it. I definitely read a lot of things and I tried to apply them but because it didn’t really work with my own process, but as you say I would try and slavishly follow that particular formula or method because I was looking for that…

Meg: The Magic Bullet!

Sarah: Yes, I was!

Meg: The Magic Bullet, yes. And the secret is there is no magic bullet, unfortunately, but the closest you get is finding what works for you and being able to apply that as much as you can in the lifestyle that you have.

Sarah: Yeah, definitely and I think you’ve sort of answered this probably in terms of your elaborate and detailed plotting and outlining. But again, I want to pick your brains a wee bit more on writing series. Does that help you in terms of keeping all your details? Do you keep a story bible or anything like that or is the fact that you’ve got all these outlines does it for you?

Meg: I should keep a story bible – I’m on book four now, and I keep looking back through 300,000 words of the past three books going ‘oh, I did I do this? Have I forgotten anything?’ I need to get better at series for sure. I do make sure I wrap up all my plot holes, but I definitely need to improve how I plot series and how I record because it’s just – especially in the current sleep-deprived state of my life – there is too much information to hold in my head like I used to be able to do. So. Yeah, I definitely need to get more more down onto paper. But the series for me is I guess it’s like a nested three or four act structure – the series is the three or four act structure and then each book has a three or four act structure and then the structures inside that have… And so on and so forth.

So it’s about just making sure that the books within the series are complete story arcs. That’s really important – nothing annoys me more than reading a book that is not a complete story. Cliffhanger is fine, but it still has to be a complete story and then the series as a whole wraps everything up, and all the foreshadowing through the past few books sort of come together. That’s really satisfying to do and I like to make sure that I tick all those off.

Sarah: Yeah, definitely and I’m I’m sort of keeping a series bible, but I need to get better at it. So it’s kind of comforting to me to know that you haven’t got it completely sorted, yet!

Meg: Well, I’m writing in the same universe and, well the same world, and I’ve only done almost two Series in it so far, but I’ve got like 5,000 years of history there – Tolkien sort of scope.

I really need to start writing it down, but it’s such a big job. I just don’t have the time to do it. So I need to figure that out probably sooner rather than later because it’s only going to get more and more and more that I need to write down, the more and more that I write.

Sarah: Well, maybe you’ll just have to get your VA to do that. Get your VA to create a story bible.

Meg: That’s not a bad idea actually. I might beg some of my fans – does anyone want create a world bible? That would actually be pretty cool.

Sarah: It would! It would be amazing. So another thing with writing a series, I always panic, I always put a lot of pressure on myself and I fret a lot about letting readers down. And I’m finding that even harder with a series because… It’s a series! Is that something that you struggle with at all?

Meg: Yeah. Absolutely. I’ve really struggled with that, this book 4 because this series has just been incredible to write and the reader feedback I’ve received has been amazing. People love these books and and it is humbling.

It is also terrifying to think that I have all these people invested in the mad delusions of my brain. Yeah, that’s scary. But I really really take heart from my readers, every word of encouragement from them really really heartens me. I actually printed out… I know your listeners won’t be able to hear, but you can probably see over my shoulders there’s a photo frame and a few weeks ago, I did a reader survey on branding. I really really value my readers feedback in everything from from stories to my branding, everything, and there was an empty comments box at the end and I just you know, the usual anything else to add, and they wrote the most lovely things. You know, you have the most amazing mind, thank you for sharing yourself with us, don’t ever stop writing, your series are you know one-click buys for me, I love everything you write… And I printed them out and put them next to my writing chair because it was just like, every time I feel like I’m not good enough or that I’m going to let someone down, I read those, and I think, I can do this. These people are counting on me. They believe in me and I can do this, and that’s just been really really heartening to think that I’ve got all these people cheering me along. I love my readers. Genuinely. They’re amazing.

Sarah: That’s wonderful. That’s such a good tip as well. I’m stealing that tip!

Meg: Every nice review you have, every really lovely one that fills you with warm fuzzies, if you’re feeling down, go look at them. Print them out, stick them in a book and go read them when you’re feeling like you’re struggling to do this and you’re not sure how you’re going to manage it because it’s just it’s just lovely.

Sarah: So obviously you’ve got your next, your last in series, is coming out, or you’re finishing up on that. What are your other plans for this year or or the next few months? Or would you rather not say?

Meg: In 2020… Can I swear on this podcast?

Sarah: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah, I’ll put a tag on it.

Meg: 2020 is the year of getting my – together. So this is the first year that I will have vaguely full-time, so four days a week. I know what I’m doing as far as people I guess can know what they’re doing in that I can write good books. I’m confident of that. I can sell good books and hopefully support my family doing that.

That’s that’s my ultimate goal. That’s why I do this. I love stories, but I also want to provide for my family doing this. I don’t want to have to go back to day job and this is the first year where I really have the chance to do that.  I won’t be having any more babies. I am hoping I won’t have any more life-threatening illnesses or situations to deal with hopefully, hopefully I’m praying that 2020 will be a straightforward smooth year where I can actually show The Very Best of myself and what I’m capable of and I feel really motivated to just go out there and try and have no limits and say yes and just be the very best that I can be.

So I want to get this series finished. This closes a really important but sort of dark chapter of my life and go on to my next series which will be set in the same world. I’m already working with my readers to sort of brainstorm what they would like to see as well as my own ideas. So yeah, I’m excited to have fun writing great stories meeting more great readers and just hopefully having a fulfilling healthy year full of self-care.

Sarah: Well, I love your goals for this year. I particularly love again as we’ve said in this in this interview that how self-care is up there. So just to finish up – where can listeners find out more about you and your books online?

Meg: So I’m on Amazon Meg Cowley, my website megcowley.com. I’m on Instagram @meg_cowley and that’s pretty much it. Again I try to minimise, so I do the bare minimum of what what is fun and what is achievable.

Fantastic. I’m definitely

Sarah: making notes as we speak. So thank you so much for your time. I’ll put all the links in the show notes.

Meg: It’s been lovely to chat. Thank you so much.

 

The Worried Writer Episode#59: 2020 Writing Goals

This month is a ‘just me’ episode in which I chat about my writing and publishing goals for 2020.

The full rundown of my goals is available in a separate article here. Please feel free to head over and add your own to the comments section!

THANK YOU!

Become a PatreonHuge thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month, plus instant access to the back list of twenty-one audio extras.

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes (or whichever podcast app you use) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

The Worried Writer Episode#58: Lessons Learned In 2019

This month is a ‘just me’ episode in which I chat about lessons learned in my author career during 2019.

THANK YOU!

Become a PatreonHuge thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month, plus instant access to the back list of twenty-one audio extras.

WRITING UPDATE

The third book in my Crow Investigations series, THE FOX’S CURSE is out now!

I am also halfway through writing a book on branding, marketing and selling for authors. I am not a marketing guru or advertising expert, but this book covers the subject from the point of view of mindset. Most authors I know have – at best – conflicted feelings about selling and making money (and valuing their own creative work) and it’s upon these mindset issues I will be mainly focusing, as well as strategies and tactics which I have found helpful.

 

 

 

 

RECOMMENDED

Writing Into The Dark by Dean Wesley Smith

News Feed Eradicator for Facebook (free Chrome extension)

 

 

 

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes (or whichever podcast app you use) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

The Worried Writer Ep#57: Branding For Authors

This month is a ‘just me’ episode in which I discuss branding for authors in response to a listener request.

THANK YOU!

Become a PatreonHuge thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month, plus instant access to the back list of twenty audio extras.

WRITING UPDATE

I finished writing the third book in my Crow Investigations series and I’m cautiously pleased with it – huzzah!

It’s called THE FOX’S CURSE and will be out on the 26th November. I love the series branding created by the talented Stuart Bache at Books Covered, and think he has done another wonderful job on this latest instalment.

 

 

 

RECOMMENDED

I’ve been doing lots of research on author branding and marketing and here are the resources recommended in this show:

David Gaughran

Derek Murphy: www.creativindie.com

Creating Your Author Brand by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Dean Wesley Smith and the ‘Magic Bakery’

The Six Figure Author podcast

 

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes (or whichever podcast app you use) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.