Once a month, I talk to another writer about their writing routine. We answer questions such as Are you a plotter, pantser, or somewhere in between? , Do you write every day? , Where does your inspiration come from?, What’s your beverage of choice?, and many more! At the end of each episode, the writers recommend their favourite book on writing and share their advice for establishing the right writing routine for you.
This month, I talked to Katie Masters, a multi-genre author from California.
Her book recommendation is On Writing by Stephen King. Don’t forget to check out the all-new library on my website for all book recommendations from these routine chats!
You can learn more about Katie and her books on Twitter and on Instagram or support her directly via Patreon .
Listen to the Episode
Read the Transcript
Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow Podcast. I’m Sarina Langer, and this podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started.
Sarina: All right, welcome back friends and sparrows. It’s the 15th of March 2021. This is Episode 27. If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve probably seen the advice around that you need to write every day or you can’t call yourself a writer. Da, da, da, da! Well, I can’t argue that writing every day can be great for progress. It’s also not realistic and it doesn’t work for everyone. Things happen, and you shouldn’t feel guilty when they do. The last two authors I’ve talked to about their writing routines, they do write nearly every day. [00:01:00] But today, I want to dispel the myth that this is what we need to do, or else we can’t call ourselves authors. Today, Katie Masters is with me. She has published– how many books have you published now, Katie?
Katie: I have one and a half.
Sarina: Okay. Katie has published one and a half book so far. She’s querying at the moment, I think, as we’re recording this, and her routine looks nothing like the dream that people have been trying to sell you. Welcome, Katie. How are you?
Katie: I’m doing great. It’s nice to see you.
Sarina: It’s really nice to see you because I think we’ve already been talking for years.
Katie: [chuckles] Yeah.
Sarina: Including when I had my old Twitter account, which I have since deleted, and started over, and we found each other again anyway. [chuckles]
Katie: Because it was meant to be– [crosstalk]
Sarina: Clearly meant to be.
Katie: -in my life.
Sarina: Let’s do the most important question first. Are you a plotter, a pantser, or [00:02:00] are you somewhere in between? I think I’ll know the answer to this, but go ahead.
Katie: I’m a pantser.
Sarina: Oh, yeah, I am. I think most writers are actually.
Katie: See, I’ve met quite a number of author friends so far who are definitely plotters. My own mom is writer and she is a hardcore plotter, and I give her hives because I don’t do that.
Sarina: See, I always say that I’m definitely a plotter– Well, I do plot my books quite a lot before I’m happy to start writing, but I’m also– like, if something else comes up and my character says, actually, you were wrong, I’m not going to place A, I am going to place D which you hadn’t even thought of, but this is what’s happening, then, I’m happy to do that. I think most authors are somewhere in between.
Katie: Yeah. I have a beginning, a middle, and end. Mine is anything that gets me to point A, B, and C is [00:03:00] up to my characters and not up to me. I let them free rein it as long as I hit that middle crescendo, that moment you need, and then the end, that’s fine, do whatever you want. Every time I have tried to plot, and I mean, actually plot chapter or break it down piece by piece, which a lot of people I know do do, I lose interest in my own story because I know everything. I have a pretty good imagination, so writing for me is often like watching a movie in my head. If I plot things too well, I’ve already seen it, and now I don’t feel like writing it.
I don’t usually plot too hard because I’ve quit books for that exact reason, where I just went, “Oh, I’m bored. I’ve already seen it in my head. It’s there permanently, why do I need to write it?” and I just don’t ever finish them. They will never get finished. I learned from my mistakes and I only do beginning, middle, end, [00:04:00] everything else is up to my characters. It’s worked out great.
Sarina: I love that comparison to watching a movie in your head. I love your approach because I think– Well, no, I know that I do it in exactly the same way with a little bit more plotting, but generally I do it in the same way.
Sarina: My second question to you might take a while to answer, I imagine, or you might be really quick, I’m not sure. I have a feeling well what actually– [crosstalk]
Katie: It will be a surprise.
Sarina: What does your writing routine look like?
Katie: I don’t have one.
Sarina: All right. Onto question three.
Katie: I’m always really bad. I do not have a writing routine. Not in any traditional or sane sense, so people should not copy me. This is probably not good for your health, but I tend to do a lot of research because I do historical [00:05:00] romance for right now. But just in general, I do a lot of studying and research, especially for fantasy world. I write everything, but to me, researching is big because I like to ask why. Because of that, I will spend months and months researching. Then, I will spend– how long did it take. I think each book I’ve written, that’s gotten published, took two months to write, and two and half months. I just all in one go write it, and so it’s not like I write every single day, every single week, every single month of every month. I don’t write for months, because I’m usually researching and just letting my brain stew in research and ideas, and then I just write.
I write in weird hours, I have insomnia. [00:06:00] My best ideas and my best writing come when I write in the middle of the night, and not so much in the daytime. I have found through trial and error, and doing this a lot, when I write in the day, I almost always delete at least half of what I’ve written. When I write at night, I don’t delete things, it usually comes out– That sounds like boastful. It usually comes out I’m like, “Oh, I don’t have to delete this.” I always have to delete at least half when I write in the day. I don’t know what it is, that’s bad.
But yes, I don’t have a traditional routine. I don’t write every day. The last book I had, I had a yearlong– Actually, this happened both times, for very different reasons, but I had an almost yearlong part where I didn’t write because I hit a roadblock and realized I didn’t know characters, my main character as well as I should have, so I didn’t write for nine months. [00:07:00] Research, and I try and write other stuff. I do other things because I have different other creative outlets that I do, but I just didn’t write because I was frustrated and couldn’t do it. I don’t write every day. I don’t think that you necessarily should. Your creative well takes far more to refill than it does when you put it out. But that refilling takes time, and for some people, maybe that’s a few weeks, maybe it’s a few days, maybe it’s a few months. The input that you need is in the daily life things that you do. Most of my ideas, when I get back into writing come from just a random song or reading a line in a book and it sparks something and then I’m like, go. But yeah, I don’t have a routine. I do not have a normal routine.
Sarina: Well, that sounds like to a tiny degree you do, because you start by doing all the research [00:08:00] for quite a long time and just getting to know your characters, and then get it all out of your system in roughly two months.
Katie: Right, but I don’t spend every single day, really.
Sarina: I think it’s good to see that those kinds of routines exist as well.
Sarina: See, guys, you don’t have to show up every day to write constantly and you definitely do not do that-
Sarina: -if you don’t wait for a week or a month because your process is your process, and whatever works for you is great.
Katie: I will say this because I’ve done it myself and it’s very frustrating. If you feel like you can’t write that day, don’t write. I have written on bad days when I felt I should write even though I was upset or not feeling very inspired. They say, “Well, write anyways, write 100 words anyways.” Every time I did that, I would look at the words on the paper and hate them and it would reinforce the idea that, “I am a bad writer because this is bad writing, [00:09:00] so I am obviously a bad writer. Screw it. I’m not going to be a writer now.” If that mindset to me is dangerous of like, “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter if it’s bad or good, just put it down,” that might work for some people, I’m not saying that’s the worst advice, but I don’t think it’s good advice. I think if you are having a bad day and you are trying to force yourself to write, that’s not necessarily healthy to do because you’re going to go back and look at those words and hate them and feel worse about yourself. Yeah, you do not have to write every day and you don’t have to write when you feel you shouldn’t write or don’t want to.
Sarina: Self-care should always come first. If you feel like you’re just not in the right headspace, maybe something happened, and maybe it’s burnout because something what you described, it can easily be the lead up to burn out, and if that’s the case, you really do not want to push yourself any further. It’s fine to just have an off day, like as I said maybe–
Katie: Yeah, or a week or a month.
Sarina: Yeah, definitely. Maybe [00:10:00] something happened and everyone is different anyway.
Sarina: If you get up in the morning and that alone is a struggle, then definitely don’t feel like you have to push yourself even harder than that. Do what you can. You know yourself best, so don’t push past that, you know what you can do.
Katie: Yeah. I say it on Twitter every once in a while. I just remind people, “You not writing doesn’t make you not a writer.”
Sarina: I love all your different affirmations on Twitter. They’re so cheerful and they always brighten my day because it’s always something like, “Hi guys. Just Katie checking in. How are you today? Are you drinking enough water? Are you looking after yourself? Have you had cake today? You’re doing great.” Ah, they’re brilliant. I love them.
Katie: I think you mean salad.
Sarina: If you want to eat salad, if that’s your happy food, I don’t understand it, but good on you, enjoy your salad.
Sarina: But I’ll be eating cake. Eat whatever makes you happy.
Katie: That’s true.
Sarina: [00:11:00] Okay, so I think I may already know the answer to this one based on what you’ve said, but do you set yourself specific goals, like numbers of words you want to write, say every month because I don’t think you’re going to have a daily goal. Or, how much time you want to spend writing? I’m guessing you don’t.
Katie: No. None of those. I never set daily word goals for myself. I do sometimes to motivate myself. I will say every once in a while, I’ll say, “I’m going to write 200 words, and anything more than that is just icing on the cake,” because 200 is not a scary number. When you finish that 200 words, you have a writing sprint, and you’re like, “Oh, man, I wrote 800 words,” then you feel super motivated, and you’re like, “Well, I passed my 200 goal, might as well just keep going.” Then, usually it’s a good jumping-off point, at least for me, but I don’t do it all the time. Yeah, I don’t have goals. I just write until I finish.
Sarina: Yeah, I think that’s a good approach. [00:12:00] It gets the words done, doesn’t it?
Katie: Yeah, no, it really does.
Sarina: My next question would normally be, do you write every day? But I think we’ve answered that. Let me jump to the next one and then ask you if your writing routine has changed at all over the years, and if so, what have you changed and why? Have you always approached writing this way? Or, did you at some point, maybe try to make yourself write every day because that’s what people tell you to do?
Katie: I’ve been writing since I was in second grade, since I was eight. My writing has changed a lot over the years in your teens and how I did things. For this purpose of writing novels, I don’t think it’s changed much. I think it takes me longer to do research. I’ve found, at least with the last two books that I got writer’s block easier [00:13:00] than I normally did with other things I’ve written, which I found interesting. Frustrating, but interesting. I’m just trying to think if I have anything approaches that have changed.
Again, I used to try and plot everything out, because that’s what they told you to do. I found that I would just not write things because of the aforementioned problem. That’s probably the only thing that’s really changed is allowing myself to not worry that I have to plot everything. Some of my best moments, and some of the biggest surprises in my books that I’ve written, have been because I wasn’t planning them. For me, it reinforced why I shouldn’t write a bunch of scenes and try and plot everything out.
Sarina: I think you always know that you’re on the right track when you’re just sitting there writing along, and suddenly, your characters go off in a completely different direction.
Sarina: You did not see [00:14:00] it coming at all and it surprises you.
Katie: Oh, yeah.
Sarina: I think there’s this popular saying of no surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. That’s true. Many, many, many, many years ago, I think I saw the advice somewhere that when you’re trying to figure out what should happen next in your book, don’t go with the first or the second, or even the third thing that you think of, instead go with the 10th or the 11th thing, because if it’s taking you this long to think of what should happen, chances are your readers didn’t think of it either. Then, the surprise would definitely be there. But to be honest, I don’t try to think of 10 things first.
Katie: Right. Yeah, I’ve never had that. My problem has mainly been my characters deciding to do and/or say something and me saying, “That’s a terrible idea. Why would you do that?” It makes sense later. I had in my young adult novel that came out, I had a character in there that was supposed to be a one-time character. He was only supposed to show up once, do the thing that he’s supposed to do and that’s it, and then he started showing up every time. I remember [00:15:00] writing, like, “What are you doing here? I don’t need you.”
Katie: I was like, “I don’t need comic relief. Why are you here being comic relief?” He’s a mythological being, an Irish mythology, and when I ended up researching him more like what he actually was, I had to cross-reference things. It was crazy. I did all kinds of crazy research. When I found out what he actually was, I went, “Oh, my God, that’s why he’s here.” I didn’t know why he kept showing up until that moment. For me, I just let the characters do what they do. I don’t have to think of 10 things, I just have to question the 10 things that my characters keep saying to do. I’m like, “That’s a terrible idea.” They’re like, “Well.”
Sarina: That’s the kind of surprise that we’re looking for ultimately, isn’t it?
Sarina: I don’t know what things are like in your corner of the world. [00:16:00] Has lockdown affected how you approach writing at all?
Katie: No. Only because I’m kind of– at the time COVID happen– Ah, I can’t actually say that, because I just gotten back from traveling from Europe when literally lockdown happened two days later, and they said, “Guess what? No one’s going anywhere.” It affected my daily life in my work, but it did not affect my writing schedule since I write at night, if that makes sense. But I did definitely get really lonely, because I’m very social, and I have groups of friends that I would get to see, and my routine got thrown that way. So, I definitely had some days where I didn’t write because I was sad that I couldn’t hug my friends or see someone. Yeah, it didn’t affect my [00:17:00] actual, “This is when I write,” that kind of a thing.
Sarina: I’m surprised a little bit because– well, this was a question that someone in my reader group had asked that when I first decided to do these interviews, I asked my reader group and on Twitter and on Instagram, if people had any questions that they would like writers to answer, and this was one of the things that one of my readers had asked in my Facebook reader group. Well, I think we both probably thought that more people would say, “Oh, yeah. At first, I couldn’t really write at all,” or just that it had affected us in some way. From what I’ve seen so far, most of us, if anything, I found it beneficial for writing. [crosstalk]
Katie: Yeah, I was actually going to say I found more solace in writing– or solace? I think that’s it.
Sarina: Depends [crosstalk] you are.
Katie: Right. I found it nicer to escape the world by writing, definitely more [00:18:00] than the normal. I would say it helped me write a bit more than I normally was because I was busy with friends, or doing things or X, Y, Z. Because I couldn’t handle who we had as a president happening, I was constantly just diving into writing and reading to escape, which is pretty much what you do.
Sarina: It’s what all writers do, right?
Sarina: It is the best therapy, it’s the greatest cave. Writing is good for so many things.
Katie: Yeah, and reading. Lots of reading and writing.
Sarina: If the lockdown gets to you again, and you feel lonely again, let me know, we can talk more about our old English teachers. [chuckles]
Sarina: What writing program do you use? Do you use Word? Do you use Google Docs? Scrivener? Something else? [00:19:00]
Katie: I use Word because I’m, I guess, old school. Really, I just don’t like things telling me what to do. I don’t like being reminded, “You’re using this word too much.” I tried to use one of those programs, because I happen to be using a dialect, there was a word that came up a lot because that’s just how they talk. They were like, “Did you know you use this word five times?” I’m like, “Leave me alone. It’s their thing. It’s their catchphrase. It’s what they say. It’s a dialect.” They were like, “But you’re using it a lot.” I’m like, “Because they say it at the end of their sentences.” I didn’t like seeing the red squiggly lines or the little reminders, and I went, “I’m done. I can’t. I don’t like people telling me what to do, anyway. I don’t need a fake computer program telling me what to do.” I didn’t do Scrivener. I like Word because I feel a bit more freeform on it. That’s why I use, and it has a [00:20:00] thesaurus, which I really like. My thesaurus is good on Word. [laughs]
Sarina: I think writing dialect is quite hard as well, so good on you for tackling that.
Katie: Thank you. When I went to Ireland, I listened really carefully to dialects. It’s important to me to get things accurate and right, especially how people talk. I found it really interesting because in the part of Ireland I was at, they use a very specific phrase. In another part, they reverse it.
Katie: [crosstalk] -from one starts the begin– it’s all very like that and my computer program would say, “Oh, well, you’re using that word a lot.” I’m like, “because it’s how they talk.” I had one person say, “Well, we don’t talk that way.” But I literally have recordings of this is how they talk, you say this, this much.” They’re like, “Well, we really don’t.” I’m like, “No, you really do. I have the recordings to show [00:21:00] it.” I found that really interesting, just to pick up the dialects and dialogue and word choices, fascinate me. That’s why I like languages. I learn languages too.
Sarina: Oh, I love learning languages.
Katie: Right. It’s so fun. I would get the computer programs, it’d be like, “You’re saying this wrong.” Or, “You’re saying it a lot.” I’m like, “Well, go away.”
Sarina: Which languages do you speak?
Katie: My major in college was American Sign Language, I was going to be an interpreter.
Sarina: Wow. Oh, I would love to learn sign language.
Katie: It’s super fun. I can’t teach it to you because you would have to learn British Sign Language, which is 900 times different than American’s.
Sarina: Is it, really?
Katie: Yep. Each country has a different system for sign language.
Sarina: Oh, I had no idea.
Katie: Then, I speak Japanese. I was trying to learn Gaelic, but that’s really hard unless you have someone speaking it to you. Then, I was learning Farsi, I still am. I speak [00:22:00] Spanish-ish.
Sarina: I’m currently trying to teach myself with Duolingo, which is a great app by the way, not sponsored. I’m currently using it to try to learn Spanish and Japanese.
Katie: Is it Spain Spanish? Or is it Mexican Mexico Spanish?
Sarina: I think it’s probably Spain Spanish.
Katie: Where you have a lisp?
Sarina: I think so. I’m on the first lesson, but– [laughs]
Katie: For instance, in Spanish, if you were in Mexico or in a lot of parts of South America, it would be si, S-I. In Spain, it’s thi, with T-H.
Sarina: Oh. Just a few small differences in there, depending on whether it’s a male speaker or female speaker.
Katie: Oh, yeah, because it’s Latin based, everything male or female. I had to interpret one time for people who were from Spain, because I could speak Spanish. I understand it really well, because of where I grew up. Speaking it can [00:23:00] sometimes be hard for me. It took me a hot minute to help translate because I realized– they said, “Do you speak Spanish?” I said, “Yeah, I can speak it pretty well.” I had to readjust my brain and really concentrate because they were from Spain. Anything that with an S sound was a TH and so you have to re– and they have a lot of S words. So, I had to adjust how they were saying things and then translate it into Spanish I knew, it was crazy.
Sarina: Yeah, it can certainly be quite difficult. I’ve had a weird situation last night where I was listening to my mom on the phone who speaks German while I was trying to talk to my partner in English, and my brain got a little bit confused doing that, but it was fine. I managed.
Sarina: Anyway, moving on. I don’t think people are here to [00:24:00] talk about languages, are we?
Katie: Right. Yeah, I will literally talk about languages all day.
Sarina: I can. Every time I do one of these interviews, it gets all carried away, talking about something different. What are three important things you need to have when you’re writing? I mentioned a big cup of tea, use one of them [unintelligible [00:24:16] you can get it?
Katie: Yeah, big cup of tea, music with earphones. I can’t listen to it outwardly, I like having it inwardly. It helps just my world into the paper and music. Three things, and a fluffy place to sit. I don’t like hard chairs. Even when I go to my coffee house before pre-COVID, the coffee house I go to has couches and comfy chairs and that’s where I sit.
Sarina: That sounds nice.
Katie: It’s really nice. It’s all open windows and really friendly staff and lounge chairs. It’s really the best. It’s awesome. They do poet readings [00:25:00] and book readings on Fridays, twice a month, before COVID.
Sarina: Yeah. It’s the disclaimer we currently have to add to everything.
Katie: Yeah. Pre-COVID, I was not there, this did not happen last week.
Sarina: When you listen to music, do you need instrumental music like me? Or can it have lyrics?
Katie: I actually curate a listening or like a playlist, because certain music, certain songs set the tone for me. I only need those four or five– That’s not true, I think I have 13 songs on one track. I will have certain songs for scenarios I know I’m going to have. It’s more about mood. Sometimes, it’s lyrics because it helps me get my character or the situation, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s exactly the situation,” and I need that music and those lyrics to help me really drive that home. It was really fun writing this last romance novel, [00:26:00] because it’s historical romance, like you know, Sarina but I literally use modern day music. I was like, “Why am I doing this? Why [crosstalk] classical music. It’s Victorian era.” They’re like, No, you definitely want some R&B,” and I was like, “Well, I guess that’s what we’re doing today.”
Sarina: If this is just the attitude that your characters want to have, then I guess that’s what you’re going with.
Katie: Yep, exactly.
Sarina: I don’t suppose it’s really easy now to find good Victorian music on YouTube.
Katie: I love music of all kinds. I listened– I looked up Victorian era music because they do have records and they have other things, or people by the time records came out that still had the musical pages and stuff, so they recreated it with the instruments with the– and it is now my favorite.
Sarina: Fair enough. R&B, it is.
Katie: Yeah, I know. [00:27:00]
Sarina: I think we’ve already touched on that a bit, but what do you do when writing gets difficult, when you hit a roadblock?
Katie: I don’t write and I get really mad about it. I’ll read. I’ll either read comics, or I’ll read books. I’ll talk to friends. Generally, I whine at friends, and say, “Why isn’t it working? What am I doing wrong?” Then, eventually, I get over it, then I write. Usually, it’s because I’m trying to think– the last time I had blocks, it was because I didn’t understand my main character, and what it ended up being– and I had a block for three months, four months, because I was trying to make her be someone she wasn’t. The main character– the love interest for the main character is very– it’s Mr. Darcy, so very quiet, stuck up, proper, like, “Ugh, people.” [00:28:00] She was supposed to be Lizzie because it’s a loose interpretation of Pride and Prejudice. I wanted her to be witty and funny, and she was serious. I can’t have two serious main characters. I can’t do that. I tried to force her to be something she wasn’t. It took four months of being really scared of that I would have to delete like 20,000 words, and start–
I “sat down” with my character and was like, “All right, let’s face this, and talk about why you won’t be funny.” Essentially, she said, “Just let me be serious and it’ll be funny.” I kind of had to trust that, which was really hard. I realized in making her serious, all of the catastrophes that happened to her, make her look like she’s not to the love interest. [00:29:00] Like that timing. For instance, she’s very put together, she’s everyone’s mom. She’s like the rock. She makes sure everyone’s not doing stupid things. Every time Alex meets her, she’s trying to help her friend out of a situation that looks terrible, like she doesn’t have her stuff together. I swear, I’ve got this and she’s like, “Sure.” She’s like, “No, I’m a very responsible person.” She’s like, “Oh, sure you are. Sure, you’re very responsible person.” It ended up working well, but I ended up with that writer’s block, because I refused to listen to– essentially my intuition of what my book actually needed. Facing that can be hard, but you have to do it.
Sarina: Just figure out what your characters really want. I had one character I was trying to write to who I just couldn’t figure out at all. I did what you did. I said, “Right, we’re going to have a sit down, and we’re going to talk this through because I need you to be in this book.” I realized through that– [00:30:00] well, not even through him because he just won’t talk to me. I talked to another character who had known him really well. This other character said, “Well, he’s just really secretive. He doesn’t like talking to people. He’s immensely paranoid and he’s created all these different personas so that if he’s tired of one way of life, he can basically escape into a different one. No one really knows this guy.” That’s when you click that, maybe that’s just his thing, that he is so mega secretive, and it’ll be part of my writing it that’ll help me get to know who he is, because my characters have to figure it out.
Sarina: We’ll hopefully figure it out together, because I still haven’t written that much of the work in progress. I’m still full of hope.
Katie: That’s going to be fun. I would say just let him do it because, yeah, like you were saying, you’ll probably just find out his actual problem or his actual thing, because you’re writing it.
Sarina: He’s the main villain, so I know what he’s done. [00:31:00] But I don’t necessarily know yet why he’s doing it because he won’t talk to me. I’m hoping that my characters are going to come across a letter or recording or something and that’ll explain it.
Katie: Yeah, the characters are so annoying.
Sarina: Seriously. Do your friends ever do that? My partner always says, “How can you not know what happens? You’re writing it.” I’m like, “It’s not that simple.”
Sarina: Yeah, I know, I’m writing it but that doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing.
Katie: Right. Most of my friends and the beta readers that I have know that that’s how I– know that I’m just beginning, middle, end, and I can’t tell them what’s going to happen because I don’t know, so they don’t bother asking anymore. got it. I’m like, “Okay.”
Sarina: The next question, it’s a bit of a mean one, but I think it’s probably the first thing that people ask us when we tell them that we’re writers. Where does your inspiration come from, Katie? [00:32:00]
Katie: The ether.
Katie: It comes from a thousand different voices in my head. My inspiration is a lightning bolt idea that has probably been months in the work in the back of my head without me realizing it. I don’t know many authors that– and by many, I mean any that operate how I do. A good 40% of my stories come from extremely vivid dreams I have. I’ve had dreams where it’s a series, and I will dream of it chronologically for a week. I call it an instant download, usually I’ll something, or saying something or whatever. Immediately, an idea will drop in my head. [00:33:00] Then within, I don’t know, 10 minutes, it’s a fully formed story with characters that are complex and deep and whatever. Probably, what’s really going on is, for months, my brain has been just doing something in the back and then just waits for the right moment and then goes, “There you go.” You actually were doing it, but it really genuinely feels like an instant download of a book where they’re like, “Here you go fully formed.” Any questions I have, they’re like, “Here’s the answer.”
Sarina: Well, now it just sounds like the Gods favor you. [laughs]
Katie: I have been told that multiple times.
Sarina: It sounds just a little bit like a divine spark, and how dare you? [laughs]
Katie: Right. I know. It creeps me out sometimes, I’m not going to lie.
Sarina: Some people are just born to be writers, aren’t they? Clearly, you’re one of them.
Katie: To be fair, I was storytelling before I could write [00:34:00] because I come from a family of storytellers. My dad would make up stories all day in his head and then tell them to us for bedtime. That’s what he would do all day because we lived in the middle of nowhere half the time. I’d see him staring and just like have this weird look on his face, I’m like, “What are you doing?” He’s like, “I’m just thinking of part of the story that I’m going to tell you tonight.” Then, he would just like just keep staring off into the mountains, I’m like, “All right,” and I don’t know, go play with dirt or something.
Katie: He’d always come up with these stories. I come from a family of storytellers. I was telling stories as a kid, and then I could write and I wrote “my first book” when I was in second grade. Then for extra credit, I wrote a sequel. I was like eight years old. I was like, “I’m going to write a sequel,” because I read a ton of books. I’ve always loved telling stories. I loved reading because books were my only friends as a kid, [00:35:00] barely literally. I don’t know why I get to have all these instant download ideas where they’re just like, “Here you go.” I got lucky, I guess. I know that I do work. Oftentimes, and writers this happens a lot, too, I can look extremely lazy to people because I’m just on my– I’m watching something or I’m reading something, and it looks like I’m being lazy, but it’s all progress. It all goes into the creative well. In a few months, something instant downloads and now, “Here’s the story. Okay, now write it for the next two months.”
Sarina: Well, Katie, I don’t know who the gods of creativity and inspiration are, but I think they like you.
Sarina: We can’t argue with that.
Katie: It’s to make up for my height. I’m only five foot even. I guess they were like, “Well, we feel bad for you. Here, have some extra inspo.”
Sarina: I already know that your beverage of choice is tea when you can get it. Do you snack while you write and research?
Katie: I don’t snack when I write because I wear earbuds and I can hear the sound of chewing if I have earbuds, so I don’t eat.
Sarina: Do you hate the sounds of chewing too?
Sarina: Oh, my God. Me too!
Katie: [crosstalk] -with the earbuds, but, yeah, no, it doesn’t really [unintelligible [00:36:24] [crosstalk]
Sarina: I’m mostly okay with my own. I just hate it when I can hear other people chew.
Katie: Well, usually I can block it out, but when I can’t, it–
Sarina: Yeah, but when I wear earphones– no. I’m normally fine with myself, but when I wear earphones, it gets out on us, I just disgust myself now.
Katie: Yeah, I know. I try not to think about it, and then it’s fine.
Sarina: Okay. I guess we can mostly skip that. We’ve already said that you do listen to music while you write. So, thank you for preempting that question.
Katie: You’re welcome. I try to double whammy it. [00:37:00]
Sarina: This is going to be possibly a really big question, and I’ve had some swearing when I’ve asked this. Which book has inspired you the most?
Katie: As in to like be a writer?
Sarina: Either to be a writer or to write a specific book or just in general in life.
Katie: I know exactly which book actually.
Sarina: Oh, go on.
Katie: I read the Alanna series in sixth grade. I think they call it The Lioness Quartet. It’s by Tamora Pierce. It’s four books. At the very end, after I’d finished all four books, I very, very distinctly recall that I was laying on my bed and I closed the book and I was crying, and I looked at the ceiling, feeling like all the emotions ever as a 12-year-old going, “Oh my God, there’s just too many complex feelings.” But the one that kind of rang out the most was, [00:38:00] “I want to do that. I want to make someone feel how I’m feeling right now.”
Sarina: That’s lovely. I love everyone’s stories of what made them decide that they wanted to be a writer.
Katie: Yeah. I wrote as a kid just because I liked telling stories, to I wanted to write and to write for others because of Tamora Pierce’s book. I wanted to make other people feel that way.
Sarina: I have to look them up.
Katie: Oh, they’re fantastic. I reread them. I mean I reread them anyways, but I had not read them in a long time a number of years ago. I was like, “I wonder if they’re as good as what my like 12-year-old self-thought.” I went and reread them, and they held up, they are so good. She’s actually the reason I write characters the way I do. The Alanna book, she is a flawed character. [00:39:00] She has flaws. She has a temper. She’s impatient. She’s not perfect. She curses at the gods a lot. They’re like, “We’re going to punish you.” She’s like, “Bring it on. I don’t care.” [crosstalk] “-do but too late now. Guess, I’ll just keep yelling at them.” She was flawed and it led to problems in the book and she had to be held accountable for those problems.
Actually, one of the things was, she’s supposed to be a healer, it’s like a gift, it’s rare and if you get it, it’s a real gift, and she’s like “But I want to be a knight. I don’t want to heal people. I don’t want to kill people. I don’t want this.” The gods were literally, like, “No, but you have to because it’s good for your soul. You’re going to have to do this.” She’s like, “Well, make me.”
Sarina: [chuckles] Oh, I like her.
Katie: Oh, she’s great. I had never up until that point read such a flawed character, where it was both a good thing and a bad thing and [00:40:00] that, for me, made me made sure every character I write has a flaw. They have to have a flaw, to me.
Sarina: All character should have flaws anyway, because otherwise it’s just not realistic.
Katie: We don’t need Mary Sues.
Sarina: Hell no. It’s boring.
Sarina: We’re all flawed as people anyway, some more, say, than others. We’re all flawed. It only makes sense that characters are flawed. I think I once read a book where the main character was perfect in every way, and you just can’t relate to that. No one can.
Katie: Nope. I also don’t like it when they have flaws. I understand sometimes your flaw is also your strength. I found in YA books of recently in the past maybe seven years or so, that they have they’re practically perfect, or the flaw that they have is the thing they needed all along to defeat X, Y, Z. I’m they’re going like, “No, that should have been a thing that is the reason why they failed and it broke them, and now they have to deal with [00:41:00] the consequences because of that flaw.” That’s what Alanna had to do. She had to deal with the consequences of her actions and her flaws. That to me, I think you should– I think if you have flaws, and they get you in trouble, there shouldn’t be an easy out. I don’t think that your flaw should always necessarily be the thing that saves the day, necessarily.
Sarina: You’re really making me want to read these books.
Katie: They’re really good. She’s a master storyteller, honestly.
Sarina: I will look forward to them if I can squeeze them in some way in my ever-growing, possibly crushing to-be-read pile.
Katie: Oh, no. Well, I will say the Alanna series is shorter though because it was written a little bit a while ago, and so they were– I think the original book is like 300 pages or 280 pages or something.
Sarina: Okay, that’s short.
Katie: Yeah, because YAs used to be shorter, and they’re not anymore, but they used to be shorter, and so you could easily [00:42:00] probably read that book in a day or two.
Sarina: I don’t trust that I could, I’m a very slow reader.
Katie: I don’t know how fast you read, I’m just saying–
Sarina: I’m a slow reader.
Katie: Oh, you’ll finish it in a week then.
Sarina: Thank you for your confidence.
Katie: You’re welcome. It’s what I do.
Sarina: On a similar note, do you have a favorite book on the craft of writing?
Katie: Honestly, I have not read any [crosstalk] writing them. I know that Stephen King’s book is really good– the things– I have like ever passages from his how to be a writer books. They’re really useful. I would definitely recommend it. I see why people recommend it. He’s very no nonsense and doesn’t bullshit you. I like him. The parts that I have read I’ve really liked and I do want to read his book. I should just read it.
Sarina: It is really good. I read it some years ago, and every year [00:43:00] I think I’m going to make this like an annual pilgrimage thing where every April I will read On Writing again. [unintelligible [00:43:06] ones. It is really good and it is really funny as well. I think if you’re into audiobooks, you might consider that because he narrates it himself.
Katie: Oh, you know what? I’ll do that. I actually don’t usually do audiobooks. I actually don’t like them, and that sounds really awful because I have friends who are audio narrators.
Sarina: I think quite a lot of people either just don’t get on with it for one reason or another.
Katie: For me, because I have a vivid imagination, I hear characters voices when they talk. If I have a male protagonist or whatever, and it’s a female talking, I can’t. It totally ruins for me because I can hear their voice in my head. It’s very distinct. To have a girl being a boy, I can’t.
Sarina: Doesn’t work.
Katie: Yeah, but I appreciate them. [00:44:00] I know how hard it is to be a narrator for audiobooks. I know, I have friends who do it, and they’re fantastic, and it’s hard. I them and they’re amazing. Thank God people like listening to them. I can’t. [laughs]
Sarina: I don’t think you’d have quite the same issue with this one, because it’s just Stephen King reading his own biography basically.
Katie: Exactly, I’m good with that.
Sarina: Just reading his own writing advice. I haven’t listened to the whole audiobook, but I know the paperback is really funny. I can only imagine how much of a hoot the audiobook would have to be.
Katie: I know, right? Yeah. You know what? I think I will do that.
Sarina: I’m looking forward to your reply to our last question, which is, do you have any advice for people wanting to establish a writing routine or struggling to establish a writing routine?
Katie: Well, I’m going to caveat this with [00:45:00] no one writing routine works for everyone. No one should copy mine, mine’s unhealthy. Don’t do what I do. Don’t do it. But I would say, from experience, from actual literal experience, the best thing you can do, especially when you’re scared, is to just do it. I have stared down at my computer having to look at the little word icon saying, “I can open it,” and I’ll spend 10 minutes just staring at it, knowing I have to open it and I sometimes psych myself out. It’s important to start. When I get intimidated, I ask myself, “If you don’t write it, who is?” [00:46:00] At a really young age– I’m from a big Irish family, and so someone’s always dying. I was going to as a kid, that’s just how it is, that’s fine. But I knew from a young age, time is short. I didn’t want to spend my life filled with regret, looking back and wishing, “Oh, I wish I’d done that.” I try my utmost to do things that I don’t regret when I look back. I want to look back and be like, “Good job, me. Good job” with as little regret as possible, I don’t want to have a whole bunch of it.
If you think at the end of the day, and you’re 85 or 90 or 100, on your deathbed, is not writing the book or hitting send to a query going to be that regret? [00:47:00]
Sarina: That’s beautiful, Katie.
Katie: [chuckles] Thanks. I know it’s scary. New things are scary. Doing something big is really scary. It takes a lot of effort. Even to just push then, that is a big effort to do. The first time I hit send for my query, I laughed and cried at the same time, while I just stared at my thing going, “Just push send. Just push send!” I couldn’t do it for five minutes. Well, I just cried. Then, I know I’m going to regret it, and I pushed it. I would say my writing advice is just do it. You do not have to write every single day. You do not have to write when you’re sad. You do not have to write when you’re depressed, but you should anyway.
I’ve had a few conversations with writers before on Twitter, where they said, “Well, I’m really tired. I had four kids that I had to [00:48:00] put down and I just got back from work and I had to do laundry. I know I should write, but I’m so tired.” I was like, “Then don’t write,” and but then I feel guilty that I’m not writing. I’m like, “Well, does you not writing for a day not make you a writer? You’re still a writer.” Your mental health is so much more important than your writing is. It really is. You can’t write if you’re dead. Take your mental health breaks. You are still a writer. If you don’t write for a week or a month or six months, I’m still a writer. I have published books, and I won’t write for like a year, that doesn’t make me less of an author or less of a writer. Starting is hard. Opening up Word is hard, writing gets easier.
Sarina: There you go. Thank you. That’s really beautiful [00:49:00] note to end on, I think. Just one little thing I would like to add to that, with what you said of just start, is I think for many people, when they first think that they want to write a book is that immediate fear of, “But what if no one wants to read it once it’s published? What if no one wants to publish it?” Look, you haven’t even started writing the thing yet. If you’ve written it and you don’t want to publish it, that’s fine. It’s fine to just write a book just to write a book. No one ever has to read it if you’re not comfortable with that at the end. It’s fine to really just write for the fun of writing. Don’t even think about putting that pressure on yourself, especially when you’re only just starting. No one needs to write this thing if you don’t want anyone to read this thing when it’s done. You don’t have to publish it just because you’ve written it.
Katie: Yeah, absolutely. 100%.
Sarina: It can totally just be your passion project if that’s what you want it to be. There’s no obligation at all to publish your book just because you’ve written the book.
Katie: Yeah. Every book is practice.
Sarina: Yeah. [00:50:00] Probably also therapy to a small degree, but not when you’re already feeling exhausted. If you need a break, take a break.
Sarina: I don’t think we can repeat that often enough. [laughs]
Katie: Yeah, take a mental health break. It’s okay.
Sarina: Please, please do, it’s fine. I think that’s a good note to end it on. Thank you so much for having this chat with me and for letting us know what your writing routine looks like. Thank you so much.
Katie: Yeah. You are so welcome. Sorry that I don’t have one. That’s very good– [crosstalk]
Sarina: Okay. I think this will hopefully resonate with lots of people and show them that you do not need to write every day. It’s fine to do you.
Sarina: All right. Well, thank you so much. Thanks for stopping by.
Katie: Thank you, Sarina.
Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learned something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @Sarina_Langer, [00:51:00] at Instagram and Facebook @SarinaLangerWriter and of course, on my website, sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.
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