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The Worried Writer Episode #52: Sacha Black ‘I Go To The Extreme of Geekery’

Sacha Black writes YA fantasy – the Eden East series, and non-fiction for authors.

Her writing guides include 13 Steps to Evil: How to craft Superbad villains and 10 Steps to Hero: How to Craft a Kick Ass Protagonist.

Sacha is a proud indie author and recently went full-time with her writing.

Find out more about Sacha and her books at

sachablack.co.uk

or find her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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WRITING UPDATE

I have been busy with the launch of The Silver Mark: Crow Investigations Book Two.

In the introduction, I give an update on the launch, read the blurb and talk about my recent writing retreat.

Also, I mention my non-fiction writing mindset book, Stop Worrying; Start Writing: How To Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination.

It’s available in print, ebook and audiobook formats (and I read the audio book!).

Click here to buy it on Audible (get it for just £3.49 if you buy the Kindle edition, or listen for free with a one month Audible trial!).

IN THE INTERVIEW:

We discuss tips for writing compelling villains, antagonists, and heroes, as well as Sacha’s own writing process and publishing journey.

I’m trying something new this month, with a full transcript of the interview (below). I want to make the podcast more accessible for those who prefer (or need) to read, rather than listen. It’s pretty time-consuming to do, so I would love to hear what you think!

Recommended by Sacha (and me!):

Deep Work by Cal Newport

 

 

 

 

 

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH SACHA BLACK

 

Sarah: Sacha Black writes YA fantasy the Eden series and non-fiction for authors. Her writing guides include 13 Steps to Evil How to craft super bad villains and ten steps to hero how to craft a kick ass protagonist. Sasha is a proud Indie Author and recently went full-time with her writing. Welcome to the show. And congratulations on making the leap to full-time writing.

Sacha: Thank you so much. It’s an absolute honour to be here. I’m really really excited to be on your podcast.

Sarah: You’re so kind. I would love to hear more about making the leap into the full-time writing. Was that a goal that you set for yourself?

Sacha: Absolutely. I kind of meandered my way to making the decision that I wanted to write full-time. I’m not really one of these people who was overly self-aware as a child so it became a goal as I started writing more but I didn’t really enjoy my day job. So I worked as a project manager at a very corporate quite conservative environment, and they didn’t really allow for much creativity. I mean they wanted to they tried really hard but you know you come up with these creative ideas and it’ll be a no we can’t we can’t do that.

So about I would say probably five or six years ago I started writing with the intent to publish. I had written prior to that but that was kind of the, you know, the pivotal turning point where my mindset shifted and I and I kind of got this obsessive tunnel vision, you know kind of single-minded. This is what I want to do. I want to do this full-time and the more I write the more I wanted it. So yes it was definitely a goal.

Sarah: So you mentioned there about and sort of the beginnings of your writing so was it something that you’d always wanted to do?

 

Sacha: Yeah I think if I’d been more self-aware I’d have realised that’s what I wanted to do. But you know when I look back on my childhood all of the signs were there. You know I would carry around notebook and pen and scribble little sentences. And I think my mom also had to move libraries once, I remember because we were sort of in this local library which was sort of quite small but I’d read everything. I mean literally everything. And we had to go to like this larger library… So you know when I look back I think, actually, you know I should have realised that that’s what I wanted to do. But I was also brought up knowing that I had to get a proper job and I had to wear a suit or, you know, have some kind of a qualification. So I went to university and I probably should have done creative writing or something or English even just because I loved it and I didn’t.

 

I did psychology because I thought ‘that’s a career’. It’s kind of on the peripheries of medicine. And then I did a Masters and I sort of fell into being in my students union as president. And then I got onto a graduate scheme, a fast track management scheme because that was a proper job and that’s what you do. And it did not take very long for me to realise that was really not what I wanted to do. So I started blogging. I kind of just needed like this platform or this place to just vomit out rants about things that annoyed me. As you know writing is so cathartic, so many people say that, and that’s exactly why I came back to writing.

 

And then I got out my notebooks and kind of remembered, and I found one of these stories that I had written when I was nine. And that was the story that I always wanted to turn into a novel. So I decided to do NaNoWriMo and I took that novel and that was the novel I wrote in my first NaNo and the rest is history. You know I that was it. Once I got the bug and the habit in NaNo it was game over for me I realised very rapidly this is what I wanted to do exactly as you say the more you write the more you want to write or the more you get obsessed with it it’s your thing.

 

Sarah: So were you doing non-fiction about writing alongside writing fiction or which did you publish first?

 

Sacha: Okay that’s a great question. So I am one of these super geeky nerdy people. So no matter what I’m obsessing over I just I go to the extreme of geekery when it comes to it.

 

So I started this kind of obsessive journey to develop my craft and the other thing I am is very senile. Literally, if I don’t write something down, usually by hand, there is no way I am going to remember whatever it is I need to remember. So what I do is every book I read I add – this is sacrilege, so people please forgive me if you think I’m a kind of heathen – but I have a pencil and little sticky tabs. And every time I see something that I think is well written whether it’s description or dialogue or foreshadowing I’ll underline it very lightly in pencil and stick a sticky tab in and then when I get to the end of the book I go back and review all of the sentences that I’ve underlined. I started out by hand writing them up and then I quickly moved in to using my blog and what I would do is I would copy and paste them down and then I would look for patterns and trends and what I tended to find is that particular authors had you know really good skills in one particular area whether it be description or dialogue.

 

And so then I would go down to kind of sentence level detail and look at why it was that they did so well and I would write those lessons that I was learning up into blog posts and I did, I think it was a post on female villains, which just I mean it didn’t go viral but you know I think it had quite a lot of hits. And so I wrote I think three or four more.

 

Collectively, I think they garnered me you know 50000 or 100000 hits something like that on my website which to me at the time having not been blogging for that long was just an enormous amounts of hits. So I dug a bit further and I looked into whether or not there were kind of books on this and there weren’t. So I was like well, hey, you know, there’s obviously a market for this. I’d already started writing up my lessons. Why not do a bit more research and compile it into a book? So that’s what I did. So my 13 Steps to evil was the first book that I published which I know some people like ‘well, you know, what validity do you have?’

 

Sarah: Well I think teaching creative writing is different. I mean some people will say ‘I’ll only ever take class with someone who is a bestseller in my particular genre.’ And I’m not criticising that opinion, that’s a perfectly valid opinion, but speaking as someone who has done a Masters in Creative Writing and been taught by very very talented writers, not all of them are great lecturers, not all of them are great tutors. They don’t necessarily go hand in hand. So I’m not sure I completely agree with that.

 

Sacha: I completely agree and that’s why I wrote it, because I’d learnt these lessons. You know, one of the things that I was really keen to do, because I was also reading a lot of writing craft books at the time, was create something that wasn’t dry because so many of these writing craft books, forgive me, they are incredible fountains of knowledge, but they’re also so dry and I am a very sweary, very sarcastic author – I’m on my best behaviour today – so I just I wrote in my voice. So my writing craft book is sarcastic and it is sweary, but people like that. Well actually that’s not true. People either love it or they hate it. That’s fine. But you know I kind of I had a goal of making writing sarky and fun and not dry. And I think actually not necessarily having those years and years and eons of knowledge enables you to craft non-fiction in a way that’s slightly innovative I suppose.

 

Sarah: And another thing you said there about your voice and writing it in your voice I think that’s so key. And again it comes down to the teaching thing when I said that some of the lecturers maybe weren’t so good. They weren’t good for me. And what matters is your teacher is right for you and that’s why you know when writing craft book or business book or whatever it is will speak to a particular reader and it makes it the perfect match.

 

But  if you don’t write your blog post or your teaching book or record your podcast then those readers out there who would respond to your voice don’t get a chance. And so I’m aware that we’ve sort of gone a wee bit into whole non-fiction antagonist, we’ve uses the word antagonist and I love a good antagonist so I was instantly drawn to that title but thinking in terms of protagonist and antagonist doesn’t always come naturally to everyone. So I thought before we go any further we should maybe just have some basic definitions.

 

Sacha: Yeah absolutely. So I kind of think and talk about villains and antagonists as being on a continuum. So a villain is somebody or a character who is inherently evil and by evil I mean perhaps they perpetrate acts of violence.

 

They might murder lots of people, their mindset is very dark. An antagonist, the similarities with the antagonist is that an antagonist gets in the way of the hero. So they are a blocker or an obstacle. They they want to prevent the hero from achieving his or her goal but they aren’t necessarily evil at the core.

 

So a good example of this would be Harry Potter. You have Lord Voldemort who is a villain. He is evil. He you know he kills people freely. And one of the, I mean there are many antagonists in Harry Potter, but one of the most obvious ones would be Draco Malfoy. You know he’s just you know he does step in the way of Harry. A lot.

 

But at his core he’s just a bit of a weak coward. He’s not necessarily evil and violent. And so with a protagonist and a hero the protagonist is typically who the story is about and a hero is somebody who will have you know magical powers or they would be Superman somebody who tends to have you know unnatural amounts of strength or skill or power.

 

Sarah: Okay. So what makes a good antagonist?

 

Sacha: Another great question. So there are so many things, so many things! I will try and summarise I think, I could be here all day because I just love it and I obsess about it, but I think I think one of the most common mistakes with villains or antagonists is not having a sound motive. We all do things for a reason, even villains. And I know that somebody is going to come and argue ‘well you know look at a psychopath they don’t necessarily have reasons or justifications for doing things’ and okay, sure, sometimes that is the case, but that’s the difference between writing truth and writing fiction. We we are writing fiction we are not writing truth, and in order to convey fiction effectively and make your characters believable you do need to have reasons and justifications for your characters doing things.

 

Sarah: So I know from my own experience that sometimes I get stuck in my story because I haven’t thought through my antagonist and their goals or their point of view properly. Is that something you’ve found?

 

Sacha: Yeah I think so and the thing that I always come back to is making sure you have the why behind that behaviour. This is a bit from my psychology background, but as children we build these things called heuristics in our brain. And they’re kind of a set of rules by which we categorise things so a square, as a child you learn that a square whether it’s big or small or red or blue or patterned is still a square.

 

And one of the things that we learn about people is that, you know, 99.9 percent of the time people do things for a reason which is why to make your villain believable, you have to come back to them having a why and a justification and a motive for doing something. And even more than that is having a cause or a driver behind the motive. And this is probably one of the key tips is to go further than just saying why your character is doing something.

 

For me, I try to link my villain’s behaviour to something that happened in their past.

 

So we always talk about heroes and how they have a wound that creates the flaw but actually your villain ought to have the same thing. You know they are perpetrating things that are bad or they’re doing these negative actions that are getting in the way of the hero. And and why is that? Go create a motive and then go back into their past. I’m not saying that you have to have reams of background and information dumps in your story but you knowing why your villain is doing something will help you naturally convey more believability and depth in your villain.

 

And the last thing that I do is that I try to connect that flaw or wound in your villain to the theme. Your hero obviously embodies the theme itself and your villains should embody the ante theme so the opposing kind of force to whatever your theme may be. And I try to derive something that happened in their past that is connected to that. So say if your theme is sacrifice perhaps your villain failed to sacrifice something back in their past, and perhaps they lost somebody that was really important to them and that then would be the why and the drive and cause behind the motive for why they’re behaving the way they are now.

 

Sarah: So, developing your hero and your antagonist kind of in tandem is a good idea, then?

 

Sacha: Absolutely and I talk about this in, I think it’s my heroes book, but I actually try to develop all of the characters in tandem and I know that’s really overwhelming and it sounds ridiculous, but bear with me. So often we just concentrate on the hero, but if you’re a smart author you will look at the hero and the villain as kind of a yin and yang with each other.

 

But actually if you can take that one step further and look at how all of the characters are an embodiment of your theme.

 

A good example of that would be the Hunger Games. So Katniss embodies the theme of sacrifice. She constantly sacrifices herself for others. The villain, President Snow, embodies the anti theme in that he constantly sacrifices other people for his own benefit. But when you look deeper at the story and you look at the other characters they are all reflections on that theme. So Rue for example is a good portrayal of this, in that she is also a tribute. For those who don’t know what the Hunger Games is it’s essentially a dystopian novel where lots of these children have to go and fight each other to the death. And Rue is one of these children fighting against Katniss and instead of fighting and killing Katniss which because she has the opportunity to she decides to save Katniss. So Rue in herself makes a sacrifice and is a reflection of that theme in a different way and all of your characters should do that. They kind of mesh together on different representations of the theme. Does that make sense?

 

Sarah: Absolutely. And while we’re on heroes, what do you think makes a really good hero – is it that link to the wound that you mentioned?

 

Sacha: Absolutely. My favourite types of heroes are heroes who aren’t perfect. I think heroes who are perfect are boring. And I think your readers are going to think that they’re boring as well.

 

So you know I think the best kind of heroes are the messy dirty ones who make bad choices and poor decisions, but they learn from them. For me, having a hero who does have a bit of a moral greyness to them I think builds depth because it makes them more of a reflection of humanity. We are not perfect beings. And I think when you when you can kind of embody that in your hero it makes your reader connect much more, and on a much deeper level your hero because they can see parts of themselves in your in your characters.

 

Sarah: And it’s seeing them struggle as well, isn’t it? I know when I first started I found it quite difficult to be mean enough to my characters because I like them. I wanted them to make the right choices because I knew they were a good person and I like them. But, as you say, making sure that they do fail, making sure that they don’t always make the right decisions, is super important. What you said about the yin and yang thing reminded me that one of my favourite types of antagonist is the doppelgänger antagonist, where they start out very similar to the hero and then you see them make different choices throughout the story.

 

Sacha: Absolutely. I think I think you can always see the difference between a hero and a villain when they are forced to make a choice in a difficult situation because the hero will make the right choice for the right reasons or, okay, sometimes they make the wrong choice but for the right reasons. But that’s more going into the anti-hero realm, but the villain will more often than not make the wrong choice or you know they’ll make the wrong choice for what they deem to be the right reason. And this is what I’m talking about, that moral kind of greyness. Sometimes, in the villain’s mind they’re making it for the right reason, which means morally they are on the right side of the line in their eyes.

 

Sarah: Do you develop your characters before you start writing, or do you just dive in and then get to know them as you write?

 

Sacha: So my writing process is still in fluctuation and kind of going through this process of change. When I wrote my first book I was very much a plotter, but what happened was I plotted for an entire year before I even wrote a word.

 

I was like ‘what are you doing? It’s going to take me 20 years to write this book unless I get on with it!’

 

I am moving away from that and I am actually now trying to write completely as a pantser. I haven’t quite found the right balance yet, but I think I am probably going to end up more on that continuum more towards the pantser side than I am the plotter side. I quite like to let the characters develop on the page because if I don’t they’re just going to do what they want anyway. You know I spent all of this time doing character interviews and development and, actually, they never ended up anything like what I thought they were going to end up. Yeah. I don’t know whether it was a newbie mistake or I was just delusional about what my process really was, but I stopped trying to control my characters and we all get along much better now.

 

Sarah: That’s fantastic. I think it is, as you say, a case of just learning what your own process is, and you don’t know that without doing it and trying things so that makes a lot of sense. Because this is the worried writer I do like to ask about blocks and things, so do you have any tips for writers who are maybe trying to come up with a really good antagonist or they’re trying to round out their characters either while they’re writing or in the planning stage? Do you have any methods that you would offer people to get unblocked on that.

 

Sacha: Yeah absolutely. A few actually. So that the first thing to say is to just stop what you’re doing and write something completely different. So I play this game with some of my friends and we call it the one word game or the one sentence game and somebody will pluck a random word out of thin air or out of the dictionary or out of something they are reading, and we will just write a sentence. Or a paragraph or sometimes we end up writing a whole page, it really just depends.

 

The point of that is to just get you writing because, so often, the answers to block come when you are not brow furrowing and concentrating on trying to find the answer, but when you’re in the shower or, if you’re me, when you’re driving and have no pen. So that would be the first one. Write some flash fiction – something that doesn’t have to be part of your story or whatever.

 

 The second thing would be to take your character out of your story and put them in a high stress situation and just write it completely out of context. Put them in a different story or a different situation, because people as a whole tend to show their truest self when they are under high stress or high pressure. So that’s something that I quite like to do. And another thing to do would be to either add in an obstacle or throw in some conflict. Now for me conflict comes at kind of three levels. So you have a macro conflict which is you know usually kind of in dystopian it’s like wars it’s world battles or societal issues or you have micro conflict which is between characters.

 

That’s often the best unblocker for me is to put an argument or a problem between two of the characters because that will lead you to generating more plot, and then you have inner conflict and this is one of my favourites. So inner conflict is where your characters have emotional battles. So a good example of this would be Ned Stark from Game of Thrones. And actually George R.R. Martin generally does a lot of this, but Ned Stark has kind of two personal values. The first one is that he values wisdom and the second one is that he values loyalty and he is very loyal to the king who asks him to go and work for him in the palace. But Ned’s wisdom leads him to realize that he’s probably going to die if he does that. That puts his two most valued values against each other. What does he go with? Does he go with his wisdom or his loyalty? And that butts up against each other and gives him this inner conflict that he has to kind of turmoil over and that will also usually unblock for me or if it doesn’t necessarily unblock me it will unblock the characters who will then tell me what I need to write.

 

Sarah: While we’re on the subject, we’ve been talking about quite big stories with real villains – the examples of Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games – but something that sometimes people ask me is what to do if you were writing a romance or a quieter story that doesn’t have a serial killer as the villain? I’m aware that you still need an antagonist; are there things in your book about crafting super bad villains that are applicable to people who are trying to write those quieter or non-crime-driven stories?

 

Sacha: Absolutely. So talking about that kind of inner conflict, that’s often what you see in romance stories. So you’ll see a character conflicted against what they think they should do versus what their heart wants them to do. And I talk about that kind of turmoil and how to create that conflict and that is genreless, almost. Also, one of my favourite topics in there is around mental health, because so often villains are given a mental health issue and it’s the reason why they’re doing their thing that they’re doing. And actually that just creates stigma, it creates discrimination, and it’s just wrong. Mental health does not cause you to behave badly. You being a bad person causes you to behave badly! There’s that chapter as well which spans genres. There’s also a chapter on clichés and clichés tend to span genres. So yes I have tried to make my book as genre-less as possible and I have got examples from lots and lots of different genres as well. I also have a book on endings and I talk about which endings most suit which genre.

 

Sarah: That’s brilliant because I know that sometimes it can be a wee bit trickier to get a handle on conflict or villains or antagonists when you are writing those kinds of stories. So that’s fantastic. Now I want to move on a wee bit to your writing process and so on, and your head space and time management particularly since now you have gone full-time which is great. You’re writing and publishing in two separate genres, and that of course requires lots of different tasks. And I just wondered how do you balance the various parts of your professional life both in terms of the head space and the time management?

 

Sacha: Really badly!

 

It’s hard for me to answer how I am going to be doing that because I’m really literally only in my first week of being fully self-employed. So, I mean how did I manage it before when I was working full-time? I have a five year old and I have a wife and a house and I managed it really badly.

 

I was essentially working two full-time jobs. And it’s not healthy, it’s not clever and I ended up suffering from burnout all of the time. I had really bad imposter syndrome all of the time, really bad doubt, because of course all of these things derive from being exhausted and not treating yourself very kindly not giving yourself any self-care. I mean the biggest thing that I did was to make lots of sacrifices. So I gave up TV about four years ago, I think. I will binge watch something on Netflix once I’ve finished a project or once I’ve hit a goal. But, of an evening, I wasn’t watching TV anymore and you would be surprised quite how much you are capable of achieving if you don’t watch TV. You know I kind of gained four hours every evening. People like to say they don’t watch TV. Trust me you are watching TV! I gave that up.

 

I kind of withdrew a bit from my social circle. So I would go out less so that I had more time to write, I would get up early sometimes, I would also write on my lunch break or I would do marketing and admin on my lunch break at work and when I was walking down corridors at work I would write a sentence or two on my phone. I had Dropbox and iCloud sync up so everything was accessible everywhere, and you’d be surprised, I would go home sometimes with 1000 words because people had been late for meetings or I had to walk further for a meeting. So, I say badly, but I was just acutely aware of how I spent my time and I tried to maximize every opportunity to write or do marketing that I possibly could.

 

Sarah: Do you think it’s key to know why you’re doing that or to have a goal, as that sounds quite full-on?

 

Sacha: Yes, I don’t really recommend it. I did suffer some quite intense burn-out and that’s just inefficient as it stops you from working essentially.

 

Sarah: Do you have plans, now that you are full-time, for making sure you have boundaries and self-care?

 

Sacha: While I’m transitioning, I’m still doing some freelance work, so I’m trying to time-block so that I have calls or freelance work related time on some days and great swathes of time on other days so that I can do deep work. There’s a book called Deep Work by Cal Newport which is fantastic and it really helped me to set clear strategies for deep work.

 

One of the other things I gave up was exercise which was really bad… So, I’m planning to get back to that.

 

One of the other things is I have a Fitbit and that shouts at me every hour, if I haven’t moved enough, so that’s good, and there are some woods near my house so I’m planning to walk there.

 

Sarah: I also love Deep Work! Just to finish up what you working on at the moment or what’s next for you?

 

Sacha: I have three things. I want to finish my YA fantasy series, which is about a third done. The next is to finish my next non-fiction book. I don’t quite have the pitch down yet but it’s something along the lines of the anatomy of prose. I’m not looking at grammar, but sentence level word choice. It’s right down at the deep sentence level, on the exactly how you convey emotion, how you use juxtaposition to foreshadow etc etc. It’s my piece de resistance. And the last thing is creating some mini writing courses.

 

Sarah: Where can we find out more about you and your books?

 

Sacha: I have a website sachablack.co.uk. And that’s Sacha with a ‘c’. I have a blog and I’m on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I’m pretty much everywhere, please come and say ‘hi’. I don’t bite unless it’s a Tuesday!

 

The Worried Writer Episode #51: B.P. Walter ‘I Need A Map To Follow’

My guest today is Barnaby Walter, who writes under the name B. P. Walter. His debut novel, A Version of the Truth, is a dark psychological thriller published by Avon.

It has been called: ‘Beguiling, surprising and sometimes shocking.’

Barnaby is an alumni of the Faber Academy and currently works in social media coordination for Waterstones in London.

Follow B.P. Walter on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

 

 

 

IN THE INTRODUCTION

Become a PatreonThank you so much for supporting the show on Patreon. I wouldn’t still be doing the podcast without you as, much as I love podcasting, it does take a lot of time and some money to produce and I wouldn’t be able to justify it as part of my business.

Massive thanks to new patrons and to everyone supporting the show. Thank you so much!

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

If you want instant access to the audio and to become an insider member of the podcast, you can sign up for just $2 a month via the link above. (You can support me for as long or a short a time as you like – cancel any time).

LISTENER QUESTION

I answer the following listener question…

Holly asked:

I’ve now got a ‘finished’ manuscript and I know the next steps will be to send it out to readers, agents and ultimately publishers. However, I can’t bring myself to let anyone read it – even my very supportive husband!  I just seem to have a real worry about anyone reading my fiction (which is a bit of a contradiction in terms for someone who wants to be a novelist…) The fear of being judged or finding out I have no talent is really holding me back, but I know I won’t improve my draft or my writing generally unless I get some feedback. Do you have any strategies for getting over this wall?

If you have a writing, productivity or publishing question that you’d like me to tackle in a future episode, please get in touch via email or Twitter or leave a comment on this post.

I’ll answer it on the show and credit you (unless, of course, you ask to remain anonymous).

WRITING UPDATE

This month I’ve been editing The Silver Mark and I sent it out to my ARC team last week. I’ve already had some feedback – good feedback – which is, as always, a massive relief!

Those who have been listening a while may already know this, but my Crow Investigations series is something I decided to do independently, another step along the hybrid publishing path and, so far, it’s gone really well. Far better than I hoped, I’ll be honest, which is very exciting indeed. I’m in the process of signing a deal for the audio rights, too, so The Night Raven will be truly hybrid with a traditional deal for the audiobook.

I think a large part of The Night Raven’s success is down to the amazing cover and, in case you are hybrid or independent (or thinking about it!), I want to recommend the agency I used. It’s called Books Covered and the art director is Stuart Bache who has many years of experience in the traditional industry. He has designed covers for authors such as John Le Carre and Stephen King and he is absolutely brilliant to work with. www.bookscovered.co.uk

 

RECOMMENDED

Barnaby plans his books and recommends the following book for getting to grips with story structure.

Stealing Hollywood by Alexandra Sokoloff

Barnaby also did a creative writing course at the Faber Academy and he recommends it highly. His tutor at the academy was Rowan Coleman.

 

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

On his book industry day job and how it affected his dreams of becoming an author:

I started for Waterstones as a weekend bookseller when I was fifteen or sixteen years old… Now I work in the head office doing social media coordination… Surrounded by the industry, the traditional publishing world, being surrounded by a lot of success… And on the other side of it, knowing that some books don’t do very well…

Knowing the astonishing the highs which are possible – and it’s very exciting to see a book catch fire like that, I think in part inspired me. Not that I thought I could achieve that, but seeing people be so passionate about story was amazing.

The other side, it meant I knew how difficult it was for any book, even once it’s published, to even make it to a bookshop shelf… Simply there’s just not enough space… It’s a fight, really. It didn’t stop me, thankfully, I didn’t shrink away in fear.

 

On the Faber Academy:

I had an idea for a third novel, but I was conscious that I had never been taught creative writing… So I read in the back of a lot of books, I quite like reading acknowledgements in the back of novels, particularly if you’re trying to get published… The things they say are often really interesting and the Curtis Brown and Faber Academy courses kept cropping up… I was so lucky, my employer made it possible for me to got to the Faber academy and change around my working schedule to make it possible for me to attend on Thursday mornings… I felt I needed some kind of guiding hand, a route through the darkness.

The Faber Academy was a very important turning point when I was trying to do this thing we call writing. It gave me tools, almost like an armoury, to approach it in more of a methodical way… It helped me realise that it wasn’t this strange potion making, this mystical magical thing that nobody knows how it works… It helped me to find my formula, my own mystical alchemy. And by sharing it with other writers and by being guided by a brilliant tutor, I had the wonderful writer Rowan Coleman…  She’s such an incredible inspiration to her class because she really, clearly loves what she does and the art of storytelling and that really helped me get to grips with the story I wanted to tell. The WIP I did while at the academy was the one that ended up getting published.

I can’t even say how helpful it was because it’s so buried in the fabric of what I do… If anyone is considering it I would say go for it.

 

On the submission process:

So many times in this industry you are ready for the next step or for things to get better, or you think ‘my God this is the next step, this is it’ … Each time you get an email which says can we have the full manuscript or can we have an exclusive on this title or whatever, you think ‘oh wow, it’s really going to happen’. And then it doesn’t. It’s hard not to feel as if you’re back to square one.

 

On writing when working full-time:

I find it really difficult… Trying to cram in the thing that’s most important to me, but squeezing it into little bits of time here and there is quite upsetting really. Because it’s the thing that you want to devote your full attention to and to do the best you possibly can… but you really have to slot it in.

I try to write a little bit in the evenings and I write every lunchtime for an hour.

The main hassle for me is that I spend my entire day in front of LED backlit screens so when I get home the last thing I want to do is spend more hours in front of a laptop screen.

Weekends are when I’m most productive because I can do bits and have breaks… I would struggle to give tips because I don’t have it figured it out.

I would say do what fits in the rhythm of your own life and don’t get too hung up on trying to get a routine if your current situation doesn’t lend itself to a routine yet.

I don’t focus on the amount of words I’m doing or pages or anything like that. A lot of it can be research or thinking which doesn’t lead to a thousand words a day… I do try to think about the book each day and think about how it could progress and to think about any of the nitty gritty problems in the plot and try to untangle them.

 

On plotting:

I need a map to follow. When I have an idea for a book… I then have to write it down step by step. I normally write down a chapter breakdown, with a plot synopsis.

Just having it makes me feel in control of the process rather than the process being in control of me.

I quite often cast my characters with actors. I cut out their pictures from publicity stills or whatever and I copy that to a cast list with every character and their age, job, where they figure in the plot and have their picture next to that. It helps me visualise them when I’m laying it out and that probably comes from my film studies days.

 

On writing process:

I can write at home, I can write in a coffee shop, I’m not too sensitive or particular, really. Complete silence would probably be the worst thing. If there’s nothing, I put on rain sounds or something in the background. Something to generate white noise so it’s not pin drop silence which can create an echo chamber in your head.

 

On the three act structure:

‘Once you’ve got structure to build on, the building on it becomes a lot more enjoyable.’

 

On life post-publishing:

‘It introduces a new level of consciousness and anxiety into the process’

‘It’s very strange… When you’re writing you think of it as the dream. You think something really stupid, you think once this happens all my problems will be solved and I’ll be forever happy.’

‘You just collect other problems and stresses… Which isn’t to diminish the wonderful feeling of having done it. It is wonderful but it’s not a one-sided thing.’

‘The feeling of anticlimax… Your life, quite often, doesn’t change.’

‘The week of publication when there’s a lot of focus on you and your book, I actually found that trickier than I expected… I’m a natural introvert and I’ve spent decades making sure I’m not the focus of attention in a room full of people.’

 

 

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 #50: ‘We Can Do This!’

Welcome to episode 50 of The Worried Writer!

I cannot believe it has been over four years since I started this podcast and, I must admit, I’m a little bit proud!

Thank you so much for listening and, if you’ve been listening for a while or have ever tweeted about the show or sent me a message or asked a question or recommended the podcast to a friend, please know that you are the reason I have made it this far.

A Life-changing Podcast

This podcast has been life-changing for me. I feel more confident than I did when I started, and the conversations I have had with other authors has helped me to refine my own working process and to feel less alone and weird in my self-doubt. That’s the key, really. I am still as filled with self-doubt and fear as I was before, but I am now solidly aware that it is completely normal and an occupational hazard of this profession. Whereas I used to feel that my various neuroses  and tendency to procrastinate meant I wasn’t cut out to be a writer, now I know for sure that it’s part and parcel of creating new things in the world. And while there is a variety of experiences and intensity, we all feel it to some degree.

I’ve also made lots of new writing friends, and feel more a part of the writing community than I did before. The main thing, however, has been the satisfaction I get from helping others. It means the world to me to hear that I’ve helped another writer feel less alone or to gain a little bit of motivation.

We Can Do This!

Joanna Penn’s Creative Penn podcast this week featured Damon Suede and his book Verbalize. They were talking about the importance of language and Damon said that he had come up with verbs to describe himself in his professional capacity. As soon as he said that, I started to think about what my words would be… Joanna must’ve have been doing the same as she ended her show by saying that her word would be ‘create’. That’s a great one, but thinking about this podcast, and the WW side of what I do, I came up with ‘comfort’. I hope that I inspire and enthuse and energise people, but I do think there are plenty of folk who do that better. Ultimately, I want you to feel comforted. To know that I empathise with your writing struggles, that I battle them myself, but that we can do this thing. It is hard and it is wonderful and, through learning more about ourselves and our own particular processes and strengths, and by being kind to ourselves, we can do it. And succeed.

Okay! Today’s show is a just me episode. I haven’t done one for a while and I thought it would be fitting for my fiftieth! Also, I have had a few questions from my lovely patrons, but which I think will be widely useful. My kind patrons have said they are happy for their questions to be answered on this show so that everyone can benefit.

THE WORRIED WRITER ON PATREON

A huge thank you to my supporters on Patreon. While I wouldn’t have got to year three without the amazing feedback and support of our little podcast community, I definitely would not have got to this point without my Patreon supporters. Knowing that you value the show so much that you are willing to support it financially is huge. I really can’t articulate how big a deal it is to me.

Head to patreon.com/worriedwriter to support the show from as little as $1 a month. For $2 a month, you get access to the exclusive audio extra every month (there are thirteen backlist extras to enjoy right now!). Thank you!

WRITING UPDATE

A quick writing update before I get to the questions. Having written ‘The End’ on the second Crow Investigations book, I then immediately went back to work on making it a proper, readable draft. As long-time listeners know, my first drafts are so awful I can them zero drafts instead.

This month, I got to The End on something I would consider a proper draft. It’s still going to need editing and, for me, that usually means adding more words and scenes as I tend to underwrite, but it’s a readable draft which I have given to my husband who, handily enough, is my first reader. I’m a bit behind where I wanted to be at this point, but I will make my planned publishing month of May. It’s just likely to be at the end of May, rather than the beginning.

In other news, I revealed the cover and title to my Sarah Painter mailing list (sign up here!) and had lovely feedback, which is very reassuring. It’s called THE SILVER MARK and here is the cover. Meep! I think the designer has done another brilliant job and I’m absolutely thrilled.

The Silver Mark book cover, book two of Crow Investigations by Sarah Painter

For those interested in how running a hybrid career works, I thought I would also share that The Night Raven was chosen for a Kindle Daily Deal this month. It went very well and I grabbed screenshots of TNR with the orange bestseller flag and topping a few category charts. I’m mentioning this not to boast, but to reassure you that these kinds of deals are still available, even when the book is independently published.

Also, a few days later, I was contacted by a prominent audiobook publisher to enquire about the audio rights for TNR and TLG. My agent was already in talks with another publisher for these rights, and it’s too soon for me share any definite news, but I just wanted to let you know as it demonstrates that going hybrid is possible. It isn’t a case of indie publishing or traditional. You can do both. And independently publishing a book doesn’t mean you won’t be able to license the subsidiary rights to traditional companies, too, if you so wish.

LISTENER QUESTIONS

In this episode I answer listener questions about my methods for tracking daily and weekly goals and word counts, tips for writing dialogue, and how to protect your ideas when sharing your work with fellow writers.

If you have a question you would like answered on the show contact me via email or Twitter or leave a comment on this post.

Recommended:

The Passion Planner – my current planner of choice!W

Zebra Mildliners

Washi Tape

WordKeeper word tracking app

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 #49: Kate Harrison ‘I Still Get Imposter Syndrome’

The Secrets You Hide book cover

My guest today is writing coach and bestselling author Kate Harrison. Kate has written contemporary women’s fiction, the YA Soul Beach trilogy, and has recently moved into adult thrillers with the dark and twisty The Secrets You Hide, under a new pen name Kate Helm 

She has also got a successful non-fiction brand with a range of diet and lifestyle books based on the 5:2 intermittent fasting method and regularly teaches other writers through courses, events and her consultancy service.

You can learn more at Kate-Harrison.com

Or find Kate on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

IN THE INTRODUCTION

Plan, Pitch & Sell Your Book Course

**SPECIAL OFFER**

Kate says that writing pitches (or ‘hook lines’) for books is her ‘superpower’, and she shares her knowledge – and enthusiasm – on the subject in her online course: Plan, Pitch & Sell Your Book.

The course covers much more than writing a compelling pitch, though. I’ll let Kate explain:

In seven steps, you’ll learn how to attract an audience and overcome rejection by identifying what is unique and irresistible about your work. It’ll help you to  hone your story or concept – without losing the excitement. 

The course is reasonably-priced at £99, but Kate has generously offered a SPECIAL 50% DISCOUNT for Worried Writer listeners. Thank you, Kate!

I give thanks for the wonderful Patreon support and a shout-out to new patrons.

I love the ‘community within a community’ that we’ve created over on Patreon and I really enjoy making the audio extras (which go up in the middle of every month).

Thank you so much to everyone supporting The Worried Writer in this way – it means so much to me.

To become a Worried Writer insider and to support the podcast – for as little as $1 a month – head to The Worried Writer on Patreon.

LISTENER QUESTION

If you’ve got a question you would like answered on the show, contact me via email or Twitter or leave a comment on this post.

IN THE INTERVIEW

On writing:

I have a butterfly mind

It’s always all about the idea for me… An idea either grips me or it doesn’t and once it’s gripped me, I have to do it.

Process:

I do aim for a word count… I wrote part time for the first four years, and switched full time in 2007. I imagined I would get loads done, but it didn’t quite work out that way… So, I have a word count… I tend to sent a lowish goal and then exceed it because I’m a bit of a girly swot.’

I try to write really quite quickly because I like the bright shiny thing and if an idea is knocking around my brain for too long, it gets stale for me… I try to get it down fast and then go back and edit it later. But it can vary from book to book, too

‘I do find that 25 minutes on a novel, to start with, is quite hard work. We’re just so addicted, now, to getting distracted by things around us. And I will give myself a bit of talking to with that and say ‘look, if you can’t write for 15 minutes without checking your email you’re a bit of a lost cause…’

On self-doubt:

Although I have written a lot, now, I still get imposter syndrome, I still get the doubts in the saggy middle or near the end and I have no concept of whether a book is good or bad until I have a bit of distance

When I’m very stuck I consciously change my environment.

On writing pitches:

My one superpower seems to be to listen to someone’s book idea and go ‘okay, that’s what you need to put in your pitch, and this is your hook or your elevator pitch… It’s just something I’ve got a knack for.
All my writer friends ask me to do this… Partly, I think, it’s my background in journalism and television.

You can’t expect everybody to love your book but you must have a clear idea of what you’re offering them.

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

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 #48: Kerry Barrett ‘Just Keep Swimming’

My guest today is author and editor Kerry Barrett. Kerry Barrett is the author of eight novels, including the Strictly Come Dancing-themed A Step in Time, and The Girl in the Picture, about a crime novelist who solves a 160-year-old mystery. Kerry’s latest novel is a time slip called The Hidden Women.

For more about Kerry and her books, head to kerrybarrett.co.uk

Or find her on Twitter or Facebook.

Kerry’s editing services.

IN THE INTRODUCTION

I give thanks for the wonderful Patreon support and a shout-out to new patrons.

I love the ‘community within a community’ that we’ve created over on Patreon and I really enjoy making the audio extras (which go up in the middle of every month).

Thank you so much to everyone supporting The Worried Writer in this way – it means so much to me.

To become a Worried Writer insider and to support the podcast – for as little as $1 a month – head to The Worried Writer on Patreon.

THANK YOU!

WORLD ANVIL INTERVIEW

I talk about my recent live interview on the World Anvil Twitch stream (video now available on YouTube HERE).

And here is the link to World Anvil – an app which helps you to create and organise your fantasy world for book-writing or RPG gaming.

LISTENER QUESTION

If you have a question you would like answered on the show

contact me via email or Twitter or leave a comment on this post.

IN THE INTERVIEW

On making time to write:

‘I wrote a lot on the train, I kind of squeezed my writing in wherever I could.’

‘My son is a swimmer so I do a lot of writing poolside, watching him.’

On transitioning to full-time writing:

‘It was quite lucky as soon as I finished at the magazine, I was stright into edits on the The Girl in the Picture… I didn’t really have time to think which was brilliant… The edits on that kind of got me into the swing of things.’

‘If I hadn’t had those edits with the deadline, I might have been a bit floaty… I did watch quite a lot of Netflix, I have to be honest. It was quite funny to have all that time and it almost made me less productive,

Kerry’s writing process:

‘I’ve been a journalist for a long time so I thrive on a deadline.’

‘I aim for a chapter a day… I consider it a triumph if I write more.’

‘I just write on Word.’

‘I do write down my word count every day and I cross it off and write the new amount.’

‘Head down, keep going.’

On getting blocked:

‘My mantra when it comes to writing is I’m very inspired by Dory and how she says ‘just keep swimming’… I wear a charm bracelet that’s a fish which reminds me… Just keep going, it will happen eventually.’
 
‘Just keep swimming!’
 
‘I write an outline initially with a beginning, middle and end, on an A4 sheet of paper, and I print it out and then I start writing. And as I write, things change and I realise things that won’t work… I’m very old school and I scribble on my outline and stick post it notes and write in different colours and draw arrows…And when it’s got to the point when I can scribble no more I type it up again and print it out. And then I staple the new one on so by the end of the novel I will end up with 12 or 15 outlines that have all come from that initial outline.’

On self-doubt:


‘I can always write something… When I was preparing for this podcast I started thinking about what worries me and it’s not the writing…  Maybe because it’s been my job  for a hundred years… I just write… But once I have that’s when – oh my – I’m just so scared…’
 
‘For me it’s not the process, it’s the aftermath – I just want to hide.’
 

Recommended:

Save The Cat by Blake Snyder

On Writing by Stephen King

Into The Woods by John Yorke

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.

My 2019 Writing Goals

This is my fourth year of setting my goals in public. I have been making plans – both personally and professionally – for a long time, but the added accountability of sharing them definitely helps me to stay on track.

In case you’re interested, the previous posts are here: January 2016, January 2017 and January 2018.

Throughout 2018, I also swapped goals and progress with two writer friends on a weekly and monthly basis, and that was hugely helpful from both a productivity and happiness standpoint. I highly recommend finding an accountability partner if you can!

So, I will continue with the same system in 2019 – sharing my goals and progress both publicly on The Worried Writer and privately with my friends.

In 2018 I flirted with software solutions for ‘do do’ lists and planning, but kept falling back on my trusty Moleskine business planner. This year, I’ve treated myself to a Passion Planner (look at the pretty!) with some new washi tape and highlighters. I am hoping that the combination will help me to remember to follow my passion and to keep hold of the joy of creation, even while I get, inevitably, overwhelmed and and stressed…

So, 2019…

Writing

As always, I want to maintain focus on writing as my primary goal each and every day. I will write first thing, block out time in my schedule for writing, and track my word count (and time spent writing).

I am also going to practice dictation. I began experimenting with it at the end of 2018, but need to give it more of a go… I will start with non-fiction and note-taking, as that feels more doable than fiction, and re-read Christopher Downing’s Fool Proof Dictation book.

I have two books in progress at the moment: the second Crow Investigations mystery and something I have described to my agent as ‘magical realism Downton Abbey’. I am thoroughly enjoying both and want to finish them in the first half of 2019.

To stretch myself (and try for my most productive writing year ever), I’m planning to write the third Crow book in the second half of the year.

For non-fiction, I am considering writing the second Worried Writer book during the second half of the year, but I am concerned that might be a little bit too ambitious. Especially as I am feeling very fiction-focused at the moment. However, I am planning to write six articles for the site during the year, and some of those might form the basis of chapters in a new non-fiction book at a later date.

  • Finish Crow Investigations Book Two
  • Write Crow Investigations Book Three
  • Finish ‘magical realism Downton Abbey’ book and send to my agent
  • Write six articles for the Worried Writer

 

Publishing

Siskin Press will be two years old on the 1st March and I want to do a review of the company’s progress, including a breakdown of sales and different streams of income.

I want to make sure that I am making the most out of the creative assets at my disposal. This includes making sure that existing titles are in as many formats as possible and are widely available, and continuing to learn and improve my marketing/advertising activity using Amazon, BookBub and Facebook.

My author website is due an overhaul and I’m thinking of purchasing a pro WordPress theme to make this easier.

I want to continue to build my newsletter list and to improve my newsletters!

  • Create print and large print editions of The Secrets of Ghosts
  • Publish The Lost Girls, my supernatural thriller, at the end of January.
  • Put existing audio books ‘wide’ with Findaway Voices.
  • Either secure audio book publishing deals for The Night Raven and The Lost Girls or get the audio books made myself.
  • Create a workbook edition of Stop Worrying; Start Writing and a large print edition
  • Request the print rights back for my novella The Garden of Magic
  • Publish Crow Investigations books two and three

 

Learning

I learned lots about advertising and marketing in 2018. However, in 2019 I want to put far more of my knowledge into action, particularly with Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

I am going to try some video this year. Even if I decide I hate it and don’t even release the video, I need to give it a go!

As I am now a small publisher as well as a writer, I want to learn more about being a good publisher and improve my skills… One specific area is writing good book blurbs. This a definite skill and not one which comes naturally (to me at any rate). I have Bryan Cohen’s book How To Write A Sizzling Synopsis and I intend to work through it this month.

 

Creativity

Once again, I am putting the goal of scheduling ‘artist’ days (getting out and about to refill the creative well) onto my list. Perhaps this will be the year I manage it!

I also want to get out of the habit of staying on the computer, even when I’m not being productive, because it fees more like ‘work’ when I should just close the laptop and pick up a book!

  • Schedule one day per month to leave the house and go to a gallery (or to explore somewhere new, sit in a cafe with a notebook, walk up a hill etc)
  • Enjoy reading without guilt and make books my ‘go to’ distraction/break-time treat
  • Continue to use good TV and film for inspiration and learning
  • Continue to use cross stitch (or knitting or other craft) for relaxation and thinking time

 

Health

Last year was my worst walking/exercising year for a very long time. I was devastated by grief and felt physically exhausted from May onwards.

I know that I need to be kind to myself and that my emotional state is still pretty fragile, but I want to build up my physical fitness to improve my energy levels and mental wellbeing.

I have a lovely new walking accountability partner for encouragement and I’m planning to slowly increase the frequency and length of my walks over the next couple of months.

 

 

  • Get back to daily walking habit
  • Do some longer walks and hill walks.
  • Continue playing badminton and add in yoga class (or schedule time to do yoga/stretching at home).
  • I had breathing exercises on my list last year, but I discovered I’m actually asthmatic. The inhalers have made a huge difference!

 

Community

  • Continue to improve my newsletter and increase the size of my reader group/mailing list.
  • Continue with monthly episodes of the podcast and the patron-exclusive audio extras.
  • Research the creation of an online course based on Stop Worrying; Start Writing.
  • Attend at least one professional conference. I’ve bought my ticket for 20BooksEdinburgh and am really looking forward to it.

I am also considering visiting The London Book Fair in March.

 

Your turn! What are your goals for 2019?

Feel free to share them below or on The Worried Writer Facebook page.

Let’s make it a great year!