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Sometimes we become so focused on the nitty-gritty technical aspects of writing and publishing that we forget the power of the unconscious mind, the part that understands story at a fundamental level.

In today's episode, Caroline Donahue talks about how to use the Tarot to find a way into your creative unconscious. 

Caroline also hosts the fantastic Secret Library Podcast, which I have been on several times talking about creativity and writing.

Have you ever wished there was a tool that could tap into the unconscious parts of your brain to help you write your book?

If so, I have great news for you: that tool exists, and it’s the Tarot.

As many people associate the tarot with fortune telling or personal growth practices, they are often surprised to hear that can also be used to support the writing process. These 78 cards depict a full range of human experience, from big moments in our lives to the more mundane and everyday events. Rather like a good book, right?

As you don’t need to be a tarot reader – or even an enthusiast of the cards- to benefit from using it for your writing, I won’t go into the history of the tarot for the purposes of this post. Instead, let’s get right down to writing.

First, let’s talk about how to pull a tarot card as part of your writing process

The tarot is most useful when you ask a specific question, but one that doesn’t have a yes or no answer. “What is missing in this scene?” is a much more useful question, for example, than “Is this scene working?” We’ll discuss examples of questions for particular situations below.

Once you have your question, shuffle the deck. You can mix the cards loosely in your hands, spread them over the surface of the table and then reassemble them in a deck, or just shuffle them like regular playing cards.

Hold your question in your mind as you shuffle. Sometimes a card will fall out – I always look at that card when this happens. If no card falls out, then pick any card that feels right to you and turn it over.

Don’t rush to a tarot book or outside validation for the meaning of the card. Instead, look at the picture on the card in front of you.

  • How does it make you feel?
  • What do the images spark in your imagination?
  • Are there any personal associations you have with the image?

The most important meaning of this card is the one that appears in your own mind.

See if your interaction with the image answers your question. Sometimes the events portrayed in the picture is enough to reveal the path forward for your story. Look for the emotional level of the card if you had a character motivation question. If your question was about plot, see what’s happening in the card and if this can help you.

The mind abhors a vacuum and will begin to assign meaning to any image it sees.

Take advantage of this tendency and allow your mind to fill in the gaps between your question and the card in front of you. You can do this by thinking or take it a step further by freewriting or journaling in response to the question and the card.

After you’ve explored your own associations with the card, you can look up the traditional meaning, if you choose, for additional insight. But make sure you know what it means for you first – all that matters is whether this process helps your writing, not whether or not you “got the card right.”

Now, let’s move on to specific situations where tarot can help you write.

Here are 4 ways that tarot can assist you in finishing your book.

1. The planning process

If you are a planner or plotter, the tarot can become your companion as you build your outline. As you’ve made outlines in the past, do you recall the moments when you aren’t sure how to get your character from point A to point B, or when her motivation isn’t entirely clear to you? That’s the moment to pull out the tarot.

Good questions for this stage:

  • Why is this important to this character?
  • What is his/her/their greatest fear?
  • What is my character trying to achieve?
2. Drafting

If you’re more of a pantser, writing by the seat of your pants, the tarot can be your companion through the entire draft. Once you have your idea for your story, you can write forward until you hit a wall, and then pull a card to move ahead. It’s a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure process, and can be great fun.

Prompts for pantsers:

  • Who will my character meet in the next scene?
  • What obstacle is about to appear?
  • Little does he/she/know BUT…. (Freewrite on what this reveals)
3. Character development

This was the first way I used the tarot in writing. Instead of doing a tarot spread for myself or a friend, I did one for a character in a book a friend was working on and had gotten stuck with.

There are many complex spreads floating around, but something as simple as “past, present, and future” of any character can open up a lot of discovery. This is also amazing to do for your antagonist, as their psychology is every bit as important (and endlessly fascinating, I find!)

Specific cards to pull for character:

  • Overview of their childhood
  • Relationships: pull a card to represent their mother, father, grandmother, etc.
  • Their greatest wish/what they are seeking in the story
  • The Achilles heel for your main character OR your antagonist.
4. When hit with writer’s block

This is perhaps the greatest gift tarot has to give you as a writer. When it feels like there are no more ideas, no more scenes, and no clear way forward, the tarot offers 78 prompts to move you through.

Often we dry up because we aren’t seeing the full complexity and opportunity in the story. The tarot is pure gold for mining meaning and getting your pen moving across the page again.

Prompts to bust through writer’s block:

  • What am I missing here?
  • What is the most interesting thing about this story?
  • Whose point of view should I explore?
  • What is lurking under the surface?
Resources to get started

If you’re new to tarot, I’m SO excited for you. There is a world of beauty out there right now and so many amazing decks. It can be a bit overwhelming, so here are some tips to help you navigate the wild world of tarot:

  • Pick a deck with art that speaks to YOU. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a popular or must-have list (including the one below!) if the art leaves you cold. Choose a deck with your heart.
  • If you learn to love tarot, you may want a few decks eventually – different art has a different tone. For example, I use a different deck for my heroine than for my antagonist.
  • If you can find a new age bookshop where you can handle the cards and see them up close- buy there. Cards feel different online than they do in your hand.

With that said, here are a few of my favorite decks and a book on tarot meanings that caters to creatives:

  • The Wild Unknown: beautiful animal imagery, black and white drawings with pops of color
  • Spolia Tarot: Collage deck printed on gorgeous card stock. Dreamy and rich
  • The Mary-El: Very strong imagery. If you want to get deep into the shadow, this is your deck
  • The Rider-Waite-Smith: the classic standard. Many contemporary decks use interpretations of this imagery. If you’re interested in learning the cards, this system is good to know
  • Aeclectic.net is a great resource to see the images of hundreds of decks- have a browse and find your own favorite!
  • The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin is an excellent book on tarot card meanings that is written with writers and artists in mind. One of my favorites.
  • Story Arcana is a self-guided email course on writing with tarot that I created and a great next step if you want to learn more.

Have you ever used the tarot in conjunction with writing your books? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Caroline Donahue is an American writer, writing coach, and literary tarot reader living in Berlin. She is the host of the Secret Library Podcast and the co-editor of the anthology I Wrote it Anyway. She is currently working on a novel. Her next book, Story Arcana: Writing with Tarot, will be out in early 2019.

[Author photo and tarot deck photo with notebook copyright Danielle Cohen.]

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I love traveling for book research and author conferences, but I've discovered that I produce my best creative work when I'm at home in a regular routine with plain food and not a very exciting life!

In today's video (with transcript below), I explain why you need to “be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work,” as described by Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary. Watch the video below or here on YouTube.

Writing Tips: Why is a creative routine so important for authors? - YouTube

Transcription of the video

Hello, Creatives, I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. Today, I've only been thinking about something and I just wanted to do a quick video on it. Now, there's a quote from Gustave Flaubert which says,

“Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

I've been thinking about this a lot recently because I've noticed that although I travel a lot for book research, when I'm away on my travels, I never actually sit down and write. I mean, I'll do work, I'll do emails and website stuff, and I'll be taking pictures, I'll be reading books, writing notes that I want to use in my stories. But I'm never actually generating first draft words for my books and I'm not editing either.

So I find that I need really regular and orderly hours in order to pull the stuff that's in my brain out onto the page. I think that's what this quote means: Be regular and orderly in your life.' This is why it's so important to have a creative routine.

I write best in the morning. When I had a day job, I would get up at five and I would write before I went to work. Now, I have a bit more of a lie-in, and I'm at the cafe at 7:00 AM. I write for a few hours, then I have a break, do some exercise, some movement, some yoga, some walking, something like that. But I always get in two hours, two and a half hours, three hours sometimes, but that's about the maximum for my truly creative work.

I like writing in cafes

Of course, I've been writing books for 10 years now, so I've written in lots of different places. I've lived in Australia and London and now in Bath, and I'm sure I'll move again. So I've written in lots of different places but for each book, there has been a place where I've gone.

Here in Bath, I go around to a cafe, I sit at the same table, I drink the same black Americano. I'll have one coffee an hour, and I'll put my noise-cancelling headphones on, and I'll listen to rain and thunderstorms. I've literally been listening to the same album of rain and thunderstorms for 10 years. Basically, I have the regular and orderly routine for creating that first draft whether it's fiction or non-fiction.

Then, obviously when it says you may be “violent and original in your work,” it doesn't necessarily mean you have to be actually violent, in that you can still write your cozy mysteries or your romance or whatever you're writing.

But the point is that you have your originality and your passion and your drama – that's what goes on to the page.

Don't use your energy in deciding what to have for breakfast or what to wear or what table to sit at.

So that would be my tip for you today. Sort out what is regular and orderly for you in terms of your creative process. How can you make it more regular and more orderly?

I think that's important. It's saying to yourself, “Okay, I'm doing my work now and the extraneous stuff doesn't really matter. I just need everything to be as orderly as possible, and then I can concentrate in this interior world.”

So, I hope that helps. I'll read that quote one more time. “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work,” by Gustave Flaubert who wrote Madame Bovary which if you haven't read is an excellent book.

Want more writing tips?

Just click the images below for more articles and resources:

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What happens when you reach your goals around making a living with your writing? How do you take the next steps into freedom and long-term business thinking?

In today's show, I interview Yaro Starak, who taught me about blogging, podcasting and internet business nearly 10 years ago. We talk about how his own online business has changed, and how to move into freedom of mindset as well as freedom of time and money.

In the intro, I mention the FutureBook conference [The Bookseller], as well as How to position yourself for success in writing and publishing for 2019, a podcast episode with me and Orna Ross [ALLi podcast], plus the Weird Thriller storybundle which features my supernatural thriller, End of Days.

Today's show is sponsored by my own courses for writers, including How to Write a Novel, How to Write Non-Fiction, Creative Freedom, and Content Marketing for Fiction. Click here to find out more.

Joanna Penn with Yaro Starak, London 2017

Yaro Starak is a blogger, podcaster, entrepreneur, angel investor and digital nomad. His most recent company is Inbox Done, which manages email for busy professionals, which I know everyone will love. His Blog Profits Blueprint and course taught me how to make money online 10 years ago.

You can listen above or on iTunes or your favorite podcast app or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • The advantages of specificity in today’s crowded blog market
  • The value of a personal brand in a crowded marketplace
  • Making conscious choices about business growth depending on what you want
  • The importance of scalability and multiple streams of income
  • Thoughts on how we’ll consume content in the future

You can find Yaro Starak at yaro.blog and at InboxDone.com, and on Twitter @yarostarak

Transcript of Interview with Yaro Starak

Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today, I'm back with Yaro Starak. Hi, Yaro.

Yaro: Hi, Joanna.

Joanna: Hi, it's great to have you back on the show. Just in case people missed the last two that we've done over the years:

Yaro is a blogger, podcaster, entrepreneur, angel investor and digital nomad. His most recent company is Inbox Done, which manages email for busy professionals, which I know everyone will love, and his ‘Blog Profits Blueprint' and course taught me how to make money online 10 years ago. And we're talking about my 10-year anniversary and what Yaro has learned over more than 10 years, so very excited about today.

Yaro, let's just wind the clock back to 10 years ago. You were in Brisbane, Australia. So was I, I learned from you.

What has changed the most in 10 years? What are the big shifts that you think have happened in the online space since 2008?

Yaro: A long time ago. I wonder if Brisbane was the glue that got us together.

Joanna: Oh, probably. Or just you were online so early. Australia was really was a good hub, I think.

Yaro: I wonder if you were in the U.K. when I was in Brisbane, whether you would have found me. I always find it interesting how the offline connection can impact the online connection. So anyway, I'm just reminiscing after 10 years.

Joanna: We should say, then, before we get into it, we're both introverts. And I didn't actually meet you for, I think, three years. And I actually saw you at a bar…I think I told you this before. I saw you at a bar and I didn't come and talk to you, because I was so fan-girly, I couldn't speak to you.

Yaro: That's hilarious.

Joanna: Anyway…

Yaro: At least we had a good meetup in the U.K., recently.

Joanna: Yes, we did. Okay, so what's changed in 10 years?

Yaro: The obvious thing is, it's way more crowded. I think that's always the case with any emerging industry. When I started, the Internet was already seven, eight years old as a place to do business. Amazon was, like, mid-90s, starting to take off.

For me, though, like yourself, probably for 10 years ago, when we started, you could start writing content, you could publish not knowing what you're doing and where you're going, but people would start showing up and reading your work.

And then, you'd almost guide yourself as you go, decide what you're doing to do as you start getting feedback from your audience.

Nowadays, I think that slow determining what you do may not get you anywhere, because you're just not going to organically grow an audience without being a lot more specific and clear about who you're helping and what you're helping them with.

So it's just a standard answer, really, because the more crowded an industry gets, the more specialized and more specific you have to be with whatever it is you're doing.

I think back in the day, you probably could have gone on and said, ‘Well, I just help people publish books.' And now, how many other people are going to say, ‘I help people publish books,' right?

Same with me. I teach how to make money blogging. But now, you have to say, ‘I do that, but here is my speciality. I really like email marketing and I'll teach you how to sell information products.'

And you might say, ‘Well, I'll specifically teach you how to do…' It could be crime novels or something like that and you become more specialized.

I think that's the biggest change and that's been reflected in the tools we have. And in a sense, when I started, social media was blogging. That was it. YouTube, I think, was just getting started, it was basically blogging, podcasting and Google as the search engine. And that was it.

We didn't have Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat or all these other tools, where people go and get distracted now by all this instantaneous, addictive, social streams of content. Which I think is a little bit sad, because it takes away from what I used to really enjoy, which was long-form content that people really dug into and you had this sort of community at your blog.

And that's very hard nowadays. Now, it's more like short bursts of quick, flashing video entertainment.

Joanna: When I first found you, you had long blog posts. You still have the long posts, but you also had the audio. It was podcasting, but it wasn't big, then.

I used to download your MP3s, put them on my mini-iPod and then, plug a tape into the tape machine in my car, which had an adapter to my iPhone.

Yaro: Oh, wow. That's awesome.

Joanna: I remember listening to you when I would drive to Brisbane. I was living in Ipswich, so I was driving, and then, also when I was on the train. And so, to me, I still think of you as someone I've learned from through audio.

But what has changed, I think, is the rise of audio.

You still have a podcast and of course, this is my podcast, which I did because I learned from you with audio.

You read your long text, right, on some of your shows?

Yaro: No. I did that for ‘Blog Mastermind' version 1.0. That's the only time I've ever read out lessons. I still riff, I guess is the best way to put it, when I do my solo episodes. It's not like reading a transcript or anything like that.

Joanna: Wait, but your freedom post, which we'll come back to.

That had a long blog post, but then, there was an audio that went with it.

Yaro: The blog post would have been Noah on my team. And I think there was a long one on that one, yeah. Especially more recently with my solo episodes, I don't know about you, but it would be like, here's my notes, I get on the audio, I hit ‘Record' and then, I see what the universe brings me.

Joanna: I'm a lot more the other way, then. I still write. I'll write 5,000, 10,000 words and then, I'll turn that into an audio.

Yaro: Ah, interesting.

Joanna: It is interesting, though, isn't it, because I had thought you were doing the same thing. But you're going audio to text, whereas I'm still kind of going text to audio.

Yaro: I don't think I'd want to write what I say, sometimes.

Joanna: Too much filler, like we're doing.

Yaro: Exactly. I think writing is more succinct. And that's why I like to sit down and write a blog post and then…like we're doing now. We're totally riffing.

Joanna: But this is cool, because I love having some of your time. It feels very precious.

But then, the other thing I guess I just wrote down when you were talking about…it is crowded. But I feel like the personal brand aspect. You could have written anything, but your personality has been the thing that has kept people being drawn to you. I know people listening are now worried that they can't stand out in any niche.

What do you think about personal brand and the importance of that?

Yaro: We should probably talk about what to do in a crowded space. That's an important question. So yes, you're spot on.

I think the one element that hasn't changed is this idea of the call to personality or a personal brand. And we've seen that just become more magnified with a YouTube personality and podcasting personalities.

It's that sense of connecting with one individual. Especially in a sort of a coach/client relationship, or coach/student, or a member, that becomes really important, because I think what does happen in crowded spaces is that if you're smart, you start to ignore everyone except for the one or two people you really connect with.

There's the Joanna fans, there's the Yaro fans, and they've carried with us since we first got discovered by them. And that's something that it's a relationship you can't really replace that quickly and they'll always pay attention to you.

I'm a big fan of the old Kevin Kelly ‘1,000 true fans' concept. That simple idea, you just need to find 1,000 people who love your stuff and buy your stuff, from this huge Internet made up of over a billion people. And then, that becomes your core income base, your audience, your traffic.

It doesn't have to be millions of views on YouTube or millions of downloads of a podcast or hits to your blog, it's just that core audience. And that's become more and more important to me, as well, over time.

The funny thing is, I've had people, after saying something like what we're saying now, say, ‘Well, I don't want to be a famous brand or put my face on the Internet as well.' And then, it's like, ‘Okay, so it's crowded. The only way to break free from the crowd is to become a personal brand so you can have your own audience, but I don't want to do that either.'

And then, I think the next option for those kind of people is, what is the angle you can take? For some people, it's the product itself. I remember quite recently, I was at a little meetup in Vancouver where we were listening to the founder of a ‘Cat Subscription of the Month Box' product. So they essentially sell a box that has stuff for your cat in it.

Little balls to play with, little treats. And you get this sent in the mail once a month with different things and it's a subscription. And that's their business. It's called Meow Box, I think.

We heard from the founder, but it was the product itself and that idea that was really getting the traction, helping them stand out. They were getting other Instagram influencers to promote that box, for example.

Now, that might not be as defensible, long-term, as a personal brand, because you can replicate the cat box idea, but you can't replicate Joanna Penn, so to speak.

But there are ways to come up with innovations that allow a company…whether it's a certain product category or just your philosophy and customer service, there's things you can do that allow you to, again, just get that 1000 true fans, because they just want to buy your shoes because of the way you hand-make them.

It's amazing and it feels special, having this hand-crafted product. So I think that the key here, it's kind of like an interesting inverse of the idea of a really crowded Internet where people just have trouble with paying one second of attention to things.

The antidote to that is doing something that's unique and special enough, whether it's your personality or your product or your customer service, that allows you to create this relationship with a small group of people that then cuts through the noise.

I think that's the answer, the antidote to a more crowded space. But really, the foundation of that, though, is specialization. Joanna is the specialization, that's your personal brand. So that's always been the key as markets mature. It's just the way human beings work.

Joanna: I agree with you on this. I don't think that has changed. As you said, that's something that's kind of stayed the same.

I also wanted to say to you, I was reflecting on my 10 years. And one of the things that you taught me early and also because I came from software, is, you said, ‘Build your site on WordPress.'

[If you need an author website, check out my tutorial here.]

You advocated quite a simple setup, I believe. And then, because I came from software, I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. You buy out the box and then, you don't mess with it and it will be fine.'

I have spent very little money on my website over 10 years. And that's thanks to you as well, because so many people seem to build crazy websites and then, have to pay massive maintenance costs as things change.

What are your thoughts on websites now?

If you were starting, do you still recommend WordPress? What are your thoughts on mobile optimization, that type of thing?

Yaro: I think that idea you're talking about there was borne from my own overwhelm. When I got started, it was kind of silly, because a new piece of software would show up.

I remember Marketers Choice came up, which was the first all-in-one marketing tool I came across. It had email marketing, it had a checkout so you could sell your products, it was all integrated.

I signed up for their free trial and I went in there and I'm like, ‘Wow. I could create these products. And it's an affiliate-marketing module, so I get our affiliates promoted and then, I could link with upsells.' And I was like, ‘Whoa, so many things to do here,' and it really got me pumped up for the future.

But then, I never actually started to use any of those tools and I never actually paid money for that software. And not just that, but also just the idea of the 80/20 rule, for example, trying to get what are the most important variables.

I kept looking back at my current business structure and I was like, ‘You know what? As long as I've got people subscribing to my email list…' And that's all coming from my blog, so I just need content on the blog driving people to sign up to an email newsletter.

That's driving whatever sales I make, whether it's affiliate marketing, which I started with, then switching to my own products.

When I came to switching to my own products it was the same story. How can I not deal with overwhelm and ship faster? It's all about getting something out the door and making those first sales.

And for me, and I think it sounds like for you, as well, it was, ‘Let's use WordPress, let's put just a basic, generic password in the members' area, give them a download link,' and away you go.

You don't need to have things like a unique password for every member. I remember this. I had my members email me, saying, ‘Oh, here's my password and username,' when they wanted to do something. And they didn't all realize that they all had the exact same password and username, including yourself, Joanna.

Joanna: I did that, too for years, until I was on Teachable.

Yaro: Yes. That's such a simple thing. And okay, there's a few risks inherent in giving a generic password to the entire population. You could share it and they can get in. But I wasn't worried about a few people stealing my course versus just getting something out the door as fast as I could.

Now, fair enough, today, we do have, yes, Thinkifics and Teachables and Kajabis and OptimizePress. But I would still argue that you want to find the tool that allows you to get something out the door.

And that's often ‘less is more,' in terms of things, 80/20 rule, big, big part of how I've gone about doing things.

Today, I use one tool. Even when I made the switch from a password for everyone, the same password for everyone, I was looking at what tool to use. I ended up choosing…well, I obviously played around with a few different things, but Ontraport ended up being my choice and it still is today.

I think it's almost now been about six, seven years. And again, although Ontraport does a crazy amount of things and I was kind of comparing it to Infusionsoft around the same time, tons of our fellow marketers were talking about Infusionsoft. I think James Schramko was big on Ontraport at the time, as well, so I was kind of hearing his referral.

Long story short, I jump into Ontraport, I found it the easiest for me to start using. And that was a huge part of my decision-making, plus it was all-in-one. So it did allow me to have the affiliate program there, have the checkout system there, have the email system there.

I like to avoid what I call ‘Frankenstein Syndrome,' where you're going and you're taking your WordPress and you're plugging into some sort of WYSIWYG design plug-in, which then goes to some kind of SamCart or a ThriveCart check-in system, which then plugs into an affiliate module with another piece of software.

And suddenly, you've got these five different tools all trying to run this business, but they're not natively designed to work together. Which is a bad idea. You try and figure it out yourself, or your tech bill is just getting more and more and more and more.

And I was like, ‘I need to be able to at least do the basics myself first and then, have my one tech person handle the one system.' And that's why we're still predominantly the same, we haven't changed.

It's really WordPress plus Ontraport, that's all I do. And of course, PayPal and Stripe to take the actual money. That's about it. So it's still pretty elegant.

Joanna: I think that's really important. And many people listening won't have started to develop business as you, obviously. And I don't, either.

But even just some of the basic stuff, I still say WordPress and don't mess with it.

Don't customize even the theme, because you get the next upgrade and then, it breaks and it costs money. So I really like that, that's awesome.

I want to ask you about freedom, because I think again, this is probably why I was so into your stuff from so early on, because I heard you talking about the freedom that you had and I was like, ‘That's what I want.' And it's still my number one value.

You did this brilliant episode, which I'll link to in the show notes, an audio with a blog post about freedom. But this is something that I think is almost like a dirty secret of running your own business. It's really hard work.

I definitely work more hours than I ever did in my day job. I'm more fulfilled, but I work more hours.

Can you talk about freedom and work and how you've managed that balance, over time?

Yaro: I'm sure you really love the work you do, though, Joanna.

Joanna: I do. I love it, but I definitely do more hours.

Yaro: Yeah, of course. I found myself, especially more recently as I've been transitioning businesses, where I've had some long stretches where I didn't actually have a lot to do in the..

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The Creative Penn | Creative Writing Blo.. by Joanna@thecreativepenn.com (joanna .. - 1w ago

When I left my day job in 2011 to become a full-time author-entrepreneur, I had six months worth of savings in the bank and I told my husband that if I couldn't make it work, I'd go back to the day job. I've never gone back, but I've definitely had to learn how to make – and keep – money along the way.

In today's article, Jaren Nichols from ZipBooks gives some money management tips. 

Getting paid to write is a dream job. You set your own schedule, pull on your comfiest pants, and crack open your laptop anywhere from your favorite bookstore to the beach—all while doing something you love.

Less dreamy, however, is dealing with the financial side. Most creative types are more interested in honing their craft than bookkeeping—but making a good living as an author or freelance writer depends on more than just your wordsmithing.

Whether writing is your side-hustle or full-time gig, managing money well is what will keep you in business.

As an entrepreneur running ZipBooks, I’ve learned a thing or two about personal and business finances. You focus on publishing your next novel, and I’ll try to help out with the financial side.

Below I’ve outlined money management skills essential to a thriving writing business.

Set Earning Goals

As a writer, you are a business. Granted, a small one — but the best businesses make and track financial goals.

Make a plan for how you intend to spend your writing income:

  • Do you depend on it to pay the bills? Make a personal budget that accounts for all monthly expenses, including rent, groceries, bills, entertainment, etc. To get organized, you can go old school with pen and paper or a spreadsheet, or simplify things with an online tool like You Need a Budget.
  • Do you have an additional income stream? If so, your side gig may contribute to the household bills—or go toward for a big purchase, such as a home or family vacation. You may want to invest your money, or use it to fund your own future full-time writing business.

Based on your expectations, come up with an exact number you want to earn over the next quarter. Be realistic—but don’t be afraid to stretch yourself.

Calculate your current income from your projects and clients, and determine how much more you need to take on to meet your goal. Evaluate your actual and desired earnings every few months, and adjust as necessary.

Give Yourself a Paycheck

Use both a personal and business checking account. Send your earnings to the business account (and pay any expenses from it), and draw a regular personal “paycheck” from it every few weeks.

One challenge writers face is inconsistent earnings—instead of receiving a predetermined amount every other week, your monthly earnings will bounce from barely anything to huge payouts.

Giving yourself a regular paycheck will keep you afloat when times are lean and rein in the spending after a big payout.

Another way to avoid falling behind is to create an emergency fund—set aside $5,000 or so and commit to touch it only during dry spells, and fill it back up as soon as you can.

Track Expenses

Keep track of the money you spend on your writing business. This includes any equipment—your laptop, printer ink, a chair for your home office, etc.—along with marketing, editors, website fees, and investments into improving your skills, such as books or writing courses.

You’ll be grateful for your thoroughness when you list your deductions during tax season.

Look for ways to cut back. The fewer expenses you have, the more profit you’ll earn—so instead of investing in a lavish home office or fancy website, reduce spending on office decor (or buy used) and shop for a cheaper (or free) web host. The easiest way to stay on top of your business expenses is to use an online expense manager, like the one we offer for free at ZipBooks.

Track Income

Know how you’re spending your money—and how much you actually earn.

Evaluating your earnings monthly will help you make sure you get paid on time for each project, follow up on outstanding invoices, determine if you need to raise your fees or find a higher-paying client, or do a marketing push.

Pay Taxes Quarterly

Don’t wait until April 14. As an independent contractor, taxes won’t be automatically withheld from your payments—but you’ll still need to pay up come spring.

If you don’t plan ahead, you might not have enough to cover bills and pay Uncle Sam.

Set aside 30% each month for taxes. You may start making quarterly payments toward your annual tax bill—the payments are based on an estimate of your annual earnings, and when the official amount is totaled at the end of the year and you submit your taxes, you’ll either have more to pay or get a refund.

Maximize Your Time

Good businesses focus only on activities that earn the most money. You should do the same.

Are there any less lucrative tasks you can cut or outsource? It might be cheaper to pay someone else to transcribe interviews, for example, or to proofread your chapters. Check out Upwork to find potential help at an affordable price.

If you have a low-paying client, it might be worth it to drop them and spend the time instead looking for a better-paying opportunity.

If you can start to implement each of these tips, I’m confident your business and financial life will be better than it ever has been!

Even though you’re a writer, don’t forget that you’re also an entrepreneur and businessperson — so make sure you manage your money like one!

Do you use any of these money management strategies? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Jaren Nichols is Chief Operating Officer at ZipBooks Online Accounting Software. Jaren was previously a Product Manager at Google and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

[ Note from Joanna: If you want to know more about the business side of being an author, check out my book: Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur. ]

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On 3 December 2008, I posted my first article on this site!

It's my 10 year anniversary of starting an online business as a writer, and in this show, I reflect on the changes in the publishing industry, lessons learned, and the way forward.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

There's always coffee with my morning writing!

Joanna Penn (yes, it's me on my own today!) is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under J.F.Penn and also writes non-fiction for authors. She’s also a podcaster and an award-winning creative entrepreneur. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com has been voted in the Top 100 sites for writers by Writer's Digest.

You can listen above or on iTunes or your favorite podcast app, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Backstory: How I started writing and publishing
  • What are some of the big changes in publishing over the last 10 years?
  • The stigma of self-publishing has (almost) gone away
  • Why indie authors are part of the Maker movement
  • Some of my biggest mistakes in publishing
  • 6 lessons learned and questions for your author journey
  • What about the next 10 years? What will I be doing in 2028?

If you want to join me on the journey ahead, sign up for the Author Blueprint so you're on my email list, and subscribe to the podcast for inspiration and education every Monday.

10 Years Of The Creative Penn

On 3 December 2008, I posted my first article on TheCreativePenn.com: Publishing 2.0 is an incredible opportunity for authors and book lovers. Here’s an excerpt:


Joanna Penn, Queensland Times, Jan 2009

I am writing this blog as a passionate lover of books, and as a recent author.

I love books and browse bookshops for hours, I buy online several times a week and read obsessively whenever I can. I am not anti the physical book at all.

However, I am excited about the possibilities for authors in the “new” publishing world.

Traditional publishers, agents and literary critics are no longer in the way of people who want to get their words out there. There is no barrier to entry into the market of being an author anymore. I can get my book on Amazon.com for very little money, and when ordered, it is printed-on-demand. I hold no stock, but my words are out there. I am my own publisher and my book is available for sale globally.

Traditional publishing is changing in the face of new technologies and developments in the book world. The last few months have seen massive layoffs in the publishing industry, the first Espresso Book Machine has started print-on-demand at Angus and Robertson here in Australia, the Kindle is one of Oprah's favourite things, and sales of e-books are on the rise.

These are all positive signs for authors and readers of all kinds. The future is now, and having your book out there is accessible to all!

This blog will be focussed on self-publishing, print-on-demand, internet sales and marketing and new technologies in the publishing arena.


In one way, nothing has changed at all. Those words are just as true as when I wrote them 10 years ago. But first, let’s rewind a little.

Backstory: How I started writing and self-publishing

First, some history in case you don’t know my story. You can find my Timeline here, but here’s a little recap.

Joanna Penn with friend, Ian Miell, at Mansfield College, Oxford, matriculation 1994

Mid 1990’s, I did a Masters in Theology at Mansfield College, University of Oxford and in 1997, I joined Accenture out of college, becoming a management consultant.

I ended up specializing in SAP software, specifically banking and accounts payable, and I had fun with the millennium bug in Europe for a few years.

In 2000, I resigned and went travelling to Australia, then New Zealand and ended up staying down under and got my NZ citizenship.

I had a lot more fun and traveled, worked hard, got married, got divorced (!), and in that time I tried a number of different businesses that failed for different reasons – a scuba diving company, an online travel itinerary service, property investment. (More detail in my book, Career Change).

Joanna Penn, New Zealand, 2001

I even did another degree in psychology and looked at re-training as a clinical psychologist. But I kept going back to consulting to pay for those experiments, all the while trying to discover what I really wanted to do with my life.

Through all this time, I read a lot and wrote my journals. I also wrote for my day job, but those were technical specs and business documents, all killing my creativity. I actually reached the point where I did not believe I could ever be creative. That was for other people, not me,

In 2006, I met my (now) husband and followed him to Brisbane, Australia where I started once again back into consulting. But this time, I was determined to change my life.

I started reading a lot of self-help books and a few books, in particular, helped me at that time. The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, and Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk. I also listened to a lot of audios from Tony Robbins and other self-help stuff.

This is the affirmation I had in my wallet for years!

I wrote down the affirmation, “I am creative. I am an author,” and I started writing my first book – a self-help book about finding work you loved that I later updated and re-branded as Career Change.

My hope was that by writing it I would help other people, but also figure out what the hell I wanted to do with my life.

I finished that first book in early 2008 and after discovering how long traditional publishing would take, I self-published it. I printed 2000 copies and had them delivered to our house.

Me with my print books in 2008, knowing nothing about marketing!

I love this picture because I am super proud of my book, and it is about two days before I realised that I had no way to sell them!

But that realisation led me to learn about marketing. I did the whole PR and local marketing thing, getting onto prime time TV, radio shows as well as local and national papers in Australia, but the books weren’t selling.

I started speaking and learned how to build a speaking business, as well as building a blog. I learned internet marketing from Yaro Starak – you can get his (updated) Blog Profits Blueprint here – and I still use his principles of online business today.

I started TheCreativePenn in December 2008, just as digital publishing technology started to take off. I started my podcast in March 2009 and continued to blog, podcast, do videos on YouTube, and use Twitter as well as connect with a growing indie community online.

I did NaNoWriMo in 2009 and started writing my first novel, which eventually became Pentecost in 2011.

[I re-published and rebranded as Stone of Fire in 2015, and now there are 10 books in the ARKANE thriller series.]

I continued to write books, podcast, blog, and connect with authors and readers through social media and in-person events.

In 2010, I decided that I wanted to finally change the direction of my life. My wonderful husband, Jonathan, was supportive, so we sold our house and our investments and down-sized, as I continued to work on the author business.

In mid-2011, we moved back to London and in September 2011, I quit my job to become a full-time author-entrepreneur. I had multiple streams of income by that stage – speaking, affiliate income and course sales, as well as book sales.

Together in Spain, May 2016

In 2015, we hit six-figures, and my husband left his job to join the business.

So as we speak right now, in December 2018, it’s been 10 years of The Creative Penn website, but 12 years since I started writing seriously for publication. It feels like a lifetime ago – and also, no time at all!

I could not have the business I do today without the technology that underpins everything I do.

What are some of the big technology changes in the last 10 years?

So many things have changed in 10 years, but here are some of the key moments that have made it possible for authors to make a living online.

It’s important not to take these changes for granted, even though they have both positive and negative effects. It drives me nuts when people say it was easier when I got started, but remember when I started out, we had none of this!

  • 2007 – iPhone and Kindle launched in the US.
  • Reading the 1st Kindle in my hammock in Australia, 2009

    Print on demand was available through Createspace, Lulu and other platforms but that was the main option for getting books out into the world (unless you had a traditional publishing deal).

  • 2009 – International Kindle launched. Plus, international authors could publish direct on KDP (as it was only open to US authors originally)
  • 2009 – Kobo launched.
  • 2009 – B&N Nook launched. They shut down their international store in July 2015, leaving only US and UK, then shut down UK in 2016, handing customers over to supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, who soon afterwards left the ebook market and handed over to Kobo.
  • 2010 – iBooks launched. Renamed Apple Books in 2018
  • 2011 – Borders went bankrupt. Time magazine said that it was because it was too late to the web, too late to ebooks, it has too many stores, too much debt and and over-invested in music sales through CDs at a time when music was going digital.
  • With Orna Ross who I met on Twitter years before we met in person

    2012 – Launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors, representing a shift in authors being proud to say they're indie and a recognition that we are stronger together. If you’re feeling lonely as an author, come join ALLi or one of the other groups online.

  • 2013 – ACX announced services to authors and in 2014, to UK authors and continues to open up slowly to other countries. Now there are multiple services available to help like Findaway Voices and Author’s Republic.
  • 2013 – Ingram Spark launches, previously authors could use Lightning Source, but it was more for publishers. Now indie authors can do all kinds of print sizes, paperback, hardback, large print.
  • 2014 – Kindle Unlimited launched in the US and UK – a pro and a con for indies. Rise and rise of the subscription model.
  • 2015 – Podcasting went mainstream with Serial. Crowdfunding went mainstream through sites like Kickstarter, and subscription services like Patreon emerged, enabling creators to be paid regularly by fans and create a new economy based on supporters. Thanks to all my patrons of The Creative Penn Podcast – you are amazing!During this period, publishing technology changed but marketing changed as well. Email marketing, online advertising and social media marketing tools have made reaching readers, other authors, journalists etc possible for individuals, rather than just huge companies with massive budgets.

This shift in marketing has marked the next transition for authors.

  • 2016 – Facebook changed organic reach to ‘pay to play’
  • 2018 – Amazon changes a lot of things which we still haven’t quite figured out but overall, it also looks like a ‘pay to play’ move – also-bought changes [David Gaughran], category changes, new country-specific reporting and splitting sales by new country stores [The Digital Reader],

    Mark Dawson with Joanna Penn, London Book Fair 2018

    international readers not being able to buy from .com store [David Gaughran]. Plus, Amazon's ambitious drive into digital advertising [The Economist], and the rise of the ‘pay to play’ market with Amazon Advertising. [Self-Publishing Formula Podcast episode 146].

The stigma of self-publishing has (almost) gone away

We used to discuss the stigma of self-publishing all the time, and now it has pretty much gone away in the developed digital markets of USA, UK, Australia and Canada.

Of course, they are still pockets where indie authors are not welcome, but in the main, we are joining traditionally published authors on panels, speaking at conferences, being interviewed on blogs, podcasts and even traditional media, as well as selling just as many – or even more – books.

Traditionally published authors ask us questions at events or by email about going indie, and more authors are going hybrid with projects as it becomes more challenging to make an income in the trad pub world as a mid-list author.

Indie authors are part of the Maker movement

The growing significance of online community and creation was recognised by Time Magazine in 2006, when the Person of the Year was You. “Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.”

I remember hearing this idea in more detail from Clay Shirky in his book, Here Comes Everybody (2009). People want to create and they want to come together in groups to support each other. The internet has enabled creativity without the..

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The Creative Penn | Creative Writing Blo.. by Joanna@thecreativepenn.com (joanna .. - 2w ago

Craft is the heart of the writing life, and in today's show, I discuss Plot Gardening with Chris Fox, as well as some thoughts on how to build a career for the long-term.

In the introduction, I mention my research for the next Mapwalker dark fantasy novel, as well as preparing for year-end.

Plus, some of your thoughts on the changes at Amazon that I discussed last week.

Today's show is sponsored by my own courses for writers, including How to Write a Novel, How to Write Non-Fiction, Creative Freedom, and Content Marketing for Fiction. Click here to find out more.

Chris Fox is the bestselling author of science fiction and dark fantasy as well as nonfiction for authors including Write to Market, and Six-Figure Author. Today we're discussing his book on craft, Plot Gardening: A Simple Guide to Outlining your Novel.

You can listen above or on iTunes or your favorite podcast app or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • On the impetus to write a book about craft
  • On the development of writing craft over time
  • Using the gardening metaphor in relation to both storytelling and author backlists
  • Tips for writing conflict that is rooted in story and interesting to readers
  • On the different types of conflict that can add depth to a story
  • Thinking like a reader when you’re plotting
  • Balancing world-building with writing fast
  • On the recent changes in Amazon discoverability
  • Protecting our future as writers

You can find Chris Fox at ChrisFoxWrites.com and on Twitter @ScholarlyFox.

Transcript of Interview with Chris Fox

Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com. And today, I'm back with Chris Fox. Welcome back, Chris.

Chris: Hey, good morning, Joanna.

Joanna: I'm so glad to have you back on the show. Just in case people missed that earlier edition:

Chris is the bestselling author of science fiction and dark fantasy as well as nonfiction for authors including Write to Market, which I know all the listeners know about. And Six Figure Author, which Chris has been on the show talking about before.

Today, we're going to talk about Plot Gardening, which is more about craft and I know everyone loves to hear about craft.

But also, we're going to talk a bit about ads and about data as well because I want to pick Chris's brain. So, exciting show today.

Chris, talk about why you doubled down on craft.

Why suddenly a craft book when you're known for data and Write to Market?

Chris: This was always the plan for me. When I first got into the market, like every author, you've got to get a backlist of books out there so that you can actually make enough money consistently to do this, but you eventually reach a point where, in my case, I had, I think, I don't know, 12 novels out.

I was earning enough money that I could slow down and take a look at my craft. And when I put out Write to Market in February of 2016, I kicked it off with the 21-day novel challenge. I wrote the novel ‘Destroyer' which sailed up to number 200 in the store and it did extremely well for a couple of months and it made great money.

But I got an email from another science fiction author by the name of Glynn Stewart. He's a great writer. I followed his stuff for a while and I knew him from Kboards for a long time, and the title of the email was ‘The good, the bad, and the ugly'.

And let's just say there was a lot of bad and ugly in the email about what he had to say about ‘Destroyer' and none of it was wrong. None of it was incorrect. Everything he pointed out about my craft was accurate.

Around the same time, I was looking at the market and I saw that two different types of books come out. You would have a series that would hang on for a couple of years and do really, really well. Like The Martian, it spread through word of mouth, and people really loved it.

And then you had those series that as long as you were pushing them, they did pretty well, but as soon as you stopped, they just disappeared from the public eye.

And the only difference I could see between them was craft. The series that hung around had better craft, they had better characters. They had more compelling plots, they made me laugh at the right times.

I realized that craft ultimately is what's going to keep you selling in 20 or 30 years. And now that I had extra time, I decided to double down and focus on that.

Joanna: It's so funny because I do feel like the number one, I guess accusation against the indie community used to be quality, but it was often quality around book covers or quality of the book, and I think now we can agree a lot of people have really good covers.

But it's interesting because I didn't like the word quality because it's like, ‘Well, if you're writing about, whatever…' What's your tagline for your science fiction ones, I love it.

Chris: There are a few different ones. Which series?

Joanna: It's something in space.

Chris: Oh. It's ‘Enslaved and forced to fight dragons' and it's got a picture of a guy hovering in space.

Joanna: Which is cool. Dragons in space. That's really cool. And people think you can't write a quality crafted book with a genre premise, I guess.

Maybe put your thoughts on this, the quality word versus the accusations that have been leveled against indies.

Chris: I hate to say it, but there is some justification because if you have a great title, and a great blurb, and a great cover, and terrible craft, and you've never written a book before, you're probably going to sell a lot of copies.

You may get some really bad reviews once people start reading that book. But craft is like the fourth or fifth thing that people check when they're buying a book, and so marketing is really important.

It may not even be clear to a lot of authors that they don't have the writing chops yet to produce a novel that's going to sell really well until they actually start getting it out there and getting fan reactions. But to those people who do focus on craft, the beauty of this is you can have both speed and quality.

The more you know about writing, the cleaner your first draft is going to be when you turn it out. And so, if you do make craft a priority, and if you're always reading a book on craft and kind of working on that, every project that you finish is going to be better than the last one.

That continuous improvement's really going to serve you over the course of your career.

Joanna: At the moment I'm reading aloud some short stories that I wrote in 2014 and there's a lot of passive voice, and I didn't know that. Those stories were actually commissioned and published, and I had an editor an everything.

I didn't even realize that there were problems at that stage. Obviously, I know I'm not the world's best writer, but I feel like craft is almost an issue because we've marketing.

There's a problem because you don't know how to do this particular thing. But often with craft, you might not even necessarily realize that there's an issue.

So, for me, I reckon it was around book five when I was like, ‘Oh, I'm writing quite differently now.'

Do you think there's a certain number of words? Is it the million words thing? Or what?

Chris: I feel like we're continuously leveling up. So, a year into it, I was like, ‘Wow. I'm glad I'm not making those mistakes anymore.' And then, you get a year further and you're like, ‘Oh, my God. There are all these things I didn't know.'

Here I am today, 17 novels into this and I have to wonder what am I going to think next year? What am I gonna realize that I was doing incorrectly?

I don't know if there's ever a point where you stop learning and stop having those aha moments.

Joanna: I've just been doing Dan Brown's master class on masterclass.com, which I love. I love Dan Brown. Obviously, he's my hero.

He talks about his first book, Digital Fortress. He said it was a young book. I actually really like those words. It's like, yeah, it's a young book.

So, to people listening, he might be feeling like, ‘Oh, no, I should just put all my books down and rewrite them.' I don't agree that's what we should do. It's almost an acknowledgement of a young book.

And then your job as a writer is to grow up and learn more.

Chris: That's a great way to put it, because you're always still proud of that book that you put out, even though it was a young book. But you can look back at it, I think in context and say, ‘Okay, I did make some mistakes. And I was maybe not as advanced a writer as I am now.'

Joanna: Exactly.

Let's get back to Plot Gardening.

Why the gardening metaphor? And how does it help authors who might resist the sort of hardcore outlining approach?

Chris: I think the architect analogy that I hear constantly, never really fit with me. I've never met an author that just makes an outline, sits down, and writes the book and follows the outline.

It's always some blend of creativity where maybe you'll create a character midstream that you didn't even think about or you'll suddenly do a 90-degree turn in the plot that you didn't see coming that wasn't in our outline.

It's sort of like planting tomatoes or planting corn. You know what the crop that you're aiming for is, but you can't really predict what's going to come out. And it's going to take its own form and its own shape.

And while you're going to get tomatoes, you don't know how big they're going to be, or what color they're going to be or how many you're going to get. I felt like it was a better analogy and that you preserve the creativity that you need to embed when you're writing a novel.

Whereas the coldly analytical I'm just going to do an outline and that's going to be the story, scares so many authors because you feel like it chases away that creative part of you.

Joanna: I like the metaphor as well and I don't even garden, but I like the idea. I also feel that sometimes I end up with seeds of things that I've read, or seen, or been, and then years later, something pops up that you just didn't expect from the garden.

But also, you have to tend that garden or it totally goes nuts. Would that be another way to look at it?

Chris: Very much so. You've got to till that soil. You've got to have guide poles for your plants to grow along.

The analogy includes planter boxes. Think of every novel as a different planter box and you're attending the five or six at once, maybe. You have ideas about projects you're not even actively working on, but you're tossing some seeds into those other boxes so that next year maybe you'll get to those.

Joanna: The other thing I've been thinking about a lot is the tending to the backlist. I almost feel that you can get your crop and then eat that crop now, but unless you're looking after your backlist of books as well.

Because I feel like a lot of people are sort of racing into the next book all the time. I agree with you that there's no relationship as such between speed and quality.

But the constant pushing out of new books feels like that's not necessarily what is going to make a long-term successful career.

Chris: In gardening terms, sometimes a farmer will need to let their field lie fallow for a while, and I think most authors need to do that. So, not all of them.

I do know some, like Amanda Lee, who just continuously crank out content and never seem need to stop, but a lot of us, we've got to take a season off and watch some documentaries and play some video games if that's our thing. Or read some books, or watch some Netflix, and recharge and refill that creative well.

Joanna: That's certainly what I feel. Plus, I feel that that's the really, I find the research, for example, the planting of seeds, a really enjoyable part of the process. So, that's something I'm going to definitely keep doing.

I wanted to ask about conflict because you have a lot of great chapters in the book about craft, but I feel like the conflict one is interesting because you write genre fiction and I also write genre fiction as well.

Some people will think that conflict means exploding spaceships or fight scenes with fists or knives or guns. But it doesn't mean that, does it?

Can you give some tips on writing conflict that will keep a reader engaged?

Chris: Sure, this was a big light bulb moment for me. Like many authors you hear, ‘Oh, we've got to have conflict in there.' Just having somebody walk up and punch your character in the face is conflict.

But if it's not rooted in the story, it's just going to confuse your reader and they're not going to be emotionally invested. All conflict that pulls reader in is in some way tied to that plot, to the stakes, to what's going to happen between your protagonist and your antagonist.

Your antagonist wants something and your protagonist wants something. And the conflict arises from the fact that they can't both have that thing.

In science fiction, most of that conflict tends to be physical. You've got dragons tearing apart starships or robots punching each other. But almost all types of fiction, and this includes science fiction have other types. And I didn't understand this until maybe a few years ago.

There's also psychological conflict. So maybe your character is afraid of certain things, and they're having to face those fears and overcome them.

There is social conflict. Maybe they are fighting against society and certain norms that exist, that they're being penalized for because they're maybe coming from an underclass.

And then, there are moral flaws. Maybe they're in a position where they have an opportunity to do something that goes against their morals but will benefit them, and we as the reader want to know how does that conflict resolve? Do they do the right thing? You can continually ratchet up the stakes around any of these decisions.

The example that I use in the book is maybe you've got a main character who has fallen on hard financial times, and you can show that by saying, ‘Okay, their mortgage is three payments behind.' And then, you can also show maybe their spouse is sick and so they need to get money to pay for that.

Only then do you put them in a situation where their morals are tested. So, maybe they're at work and they have to do the right thing and blow the whistle even though it's going to cost them their job. And as the reader, by the time the character gets to the scene you know, oh no, their wife is gonna be in danger because they can't afford the medicine, and their mortgage is behind. You care a lot more because it's rooted in the story.

Joanna: I think you're right. And actually, that internal conflict can be very powerful.

This is not a political show, but what's interesting in the world we're living in right now, in 2018, here in Britain and in America, particularly, we have a lot of conflict within a country that is almost a sort of moral conflict, societal conflict.

In any other old generation, like 100 years ago would have been a civil war, but we're actually doing it online.

It's so interesting how this internal conflict doesn't necessarily mean physical attack, or even physical death. It can be the death of some things you care about like the European Union.

Chris: Yes. Or maybe the death of your old self. The person that you thought that you were at the beginning of the story.

Joanna: So important. And you also mentioned emotion, because I think we notice it more and more.

In fact, my husband and I were talking about Pixar and about when you're starting your story, do you start with character or do you start with plot?

Or do you start with the emotional resonance you want to leave people with?

How do we incorporate that emotional resonance into our book? You mentioned reader loyalty to your book because of the way they feel over the long term.

Chris: I think it begins with thinking like a reader. You need to understand who is reading your books and why they're reading your books.

If you are a romance reader, you're probably seeking a very different emotional resonance than if you were a horror reader or even an epic fantasy reader. Everybody's looking for different things and you need to understand what those things are.

Usually, you could begin that process just by looking at yourself because odds are good that as an author, you're probably also a reader of some type. And hopefully, you read the same genre that you write in. In my case, epic fantasy was my big genre of choice when I was a kid. And I'll try and make the story fast.

I'm putting this in air quotes for audio listeners. I was kidnapped by my mom at age 8. So, my brother and I… She lost a custody battle for us. And she decided, you know what? I'm not going to obey the courts.

She took us and we lived on the run for a year. And I went by my middle name and so did my brother, so I became Todd and he became Alex.

But the takeaway from writing is that I felt very unstable. I didn't know what school I was going to be in, in the next week and my life was changing constantly. I discovered ‘Narnia' and I discovered ‘Lord of the Rings.'

I found all these series where the protagonist was a young man who had no control over his own life, but through the course of the story, gained that control and became powerful enough to make their own decisions and to affect the world around them.

And so, as I age as an adult, I realized that's the emotional resonance I was seeking because I could get the certainty that I was in control by reading these books.

As an author, you want to look at what is my audience getting from this. And then, you want to craft an emotional experience that's going to satisfy the things that those people are looking for.

Joanna: That's a good way of putting it. think the themes of our fiction repeat over and over again in our books, like you're saying. You might write a different story or a different character, but those themes that you care about always come back over and over again.

And it's funny. The type of dark stuff I write and I read with horror is always bad stuff happens but good will win, or someone will survive or the monster is defeated. It's not about the horror. It's about defeating the monster, good killing evil. And that's in all my books. It's so funny, isn't it?

Chris: That's why I read books like yours. I love thrillers, because you're going to see bad things happen to good people, but I have that knowledge going in that the good people are probably going to triumph in the end and that's kind of what I'm looking for. It's going to be a struggle which they'll win.

Joanna: And the funny thing is how they're going to win, not if they're going to win.

Let's go on to writing fast. We've talked about a bit, but you are also famous for the book 5000 Words Per Hour. And you do have some good book titles, Chris, 5000 Words an Hour. Everyone's like, ‘Yeah, I want that.'

We talk about the importance of time, spending time world building. And I thought was interesting in your book, especially with fantasy.

How do you balance going deep into world building and all of the things we've talked about as well as getting your words done?

Chris: I tend to separate the activities entirely. My writing is done in usually a two to three-hour block in the morning. I do writing sprints and I just kind of am cranking out chapters that have already plotted.

And then after that work is done for the day, I get to do the fun stuff. For me, the fun stuff is world building. I love thinking about characters on my next novel, and I'll watch a documentary and think, ‘Oh, I can do a character like this or a locale like that.'

I'll create a document and toss it into whatever appropriate script or document I've got. And I typically am world building for, like, three or four novels at the same time. So, I am doing that 5000 Words an Hour and I'm working as hard as I can every day to get that down.

But then in the background, I'm also world building on the side. I recommend as an author that if you can, you silo these activities. You allocate some time to world building. And if that's hard for you, if you don't like world building, maybe you try and do that first.

Some authors do find the natural flow state of writing a little easier, although most people that I talk to tend to find that difficult and find the world building a little easier.

Pick whichever one you like the best, make that the reward, the icing on the cake and do that afterwards, and then try to take care of both activities separately. And that's worked pretty well for me.

Joanna: I agree. I'm just writing the second book in my Map Walker Fantasy Series. And that's got a magic system. I've never had a magic system before so it's really interesting too.

That is actually something if you don't sort out early, you're going to have to do some editing later, editing around who can do what.

Also with segregation, one of the ways I segregate my time is the creative stuff is completely separate to the marketing. I do want to come on to marketing because as we talked about in our first interview, you've come out of the data world, the IT world, apps, Silicon Valley type space, so you're very comfortable with data.

Things have really changed with Amazon, as we speak in November 2018. There's been a real shift in the environment. I wonder if you would perhaps comment on what you think has happened.

Are we in a..
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