The Writing Sparrow Episode 40 | Writing Routines: Briana Morgan

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 Briana Morgan, a horror author from America.

Her book recommendations are On Writing by Stephen King and Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. Don’t forget to check out the all-new library on my website for all book recommendations from these routine chats!

To find out more about Briana, check out her  website find her or Twitter follow her on Instagram, or support her on Patreon.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[The Writing Sparrow theme]

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.

[music]

Sarina: Good morning and welcome back, friends and sparrows. It’s the 14th of June, 2021. This is Episode 40. Today, I have Briana Morgan back with me to talk about her writing routine. Welcome back. Bri.

Briana: Thank you. I’m so glad to be back.

Sarina: Well, how many times has it been now? [laughs]

Briana: I think third time, but they say third time’s the charm. So, I think we’re good.

Sarina: Oh, fantastic. So, basically after this, you can never come on again.

[laughter]

Briana: No. This is it. [00:01:00] I’ll never speak to you again.

Sarina: Well, that sucks. I guess I’m just going to have to find a new editor.

[laughter]

Briana: Oh, no.

Sarina: [unintelligible [00:01:10] worked, has it?

[laughter]

Sarina: It’s a shame, because I’m really excited for you to read Blood Wisp 2.

Briana: I really want to read it.

Sarina: In 10 years from now when I’m finally writing all the–

Briana: Also, how awkward would it be if we broke up right here after I did that episode about finding an editor and whatnot, that would be really uncomfortable.

[laughter]

Sarina: It will be. [laughs] Well, to be fair, we did start that one with you saying that you don’t technically edit anymore, so.

[laughter]

Briana: Yeah, it’s fine.

Sarina: It would kind of make sense, but still very awkward. Anyway, let’s talk about your writing routine.

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Just before we break up just for fun, and then we don’t know how to get back together. Are you a plotter [00:02:00] or a pantser, or are you somewhere in between?

Briana: I like to think I’m a plotter, but I don’t always stick to my outlines. I frequently write myself into a corner because I will stray from the outline, which almost defeats the purpose of making the outline in the first place. But when I didn’t plot, I was much more confused and much more likely to run into a corner and get stuck. So, it does help a little bit.

Sarina: Yeah, and actually, I think the corner is quite an exciting place to be in in a way because you can then go, “Well, you got yourself into this, how are you going to get back out? Fix it.”

Briana: Right. It’s a bit of a challenge. It’s fun.

Sarina: Yeah, I always try to run with it, but obviously, sometimes it just doesn’t work. [giggles]

Briana: That’s how you learn. You have to try.

Sarina: Yeah, see, I could have sworn I saw you say somewhere on social media quite recently that you were a pantser.

Briana: I am a pantser [00:03:00] with short stories.

Sarina: Oh.

Briana: I usually have a theme and maybe a couple of lines, but I can’t plot a short story out because it’s too close to actually drafting that then I will not want to draft. It’s very strange.

Sarina: Yeah, I should really probably just try writing short stories again, but I may need to talk to you about that at some point, if you have any tips for me because I’m really struggling with short stories.

Briana: They’re hard.

Sarina: They’re really hard.

Briana: They’re still hard for me. But the only way I think I can manage to do them is because I had to do them all throughout college for my creative writing program. So, I got used to having to produce short fiction.

Sarina: So, you know exactly what to do with it.

Briana: Sometimes, I still can’t make every submission call that I would like to enter, but that happens.

Sarina: It’s fine. Pantser with short stories, mostly plotter– [00:04:00] [crosstalk]

Briana: Very loose plotter, I would say otherwise. I’m a loose plotter with everything else.

Sarina: Yeah, to be fair, I do think it’s quite a good way to do it. I plot my stuff at, but give yourself flexibility to stray from the outline– [crosstalk]

Briana: Exactly.

Sarina: Corner.

[laughter]

Briana: Have a little fun with it.

Sarina: Yeah, just see what your characters do, and if they can get themselves out of the mess that they’ve created, that’s definitely not your fault.

Briana: Yes.

[laughter]

Sarina: What does your writing routine look like?

Briana: It used to look like me getting up early and getting everything written before the day started. I really like waking up with my partner and also since the pandemic, I have realized I need more sleep than I thought I did before, so I sleep in a little bit. Usually, I write right [00:05:00] after work now, so 5:30 or 6:00-ish. I’m small now, I used to aim for 2000 words, but now I only go for 500 because my motivation has been shot. Even when I feel pretty bad, I can usually manage 500 words. I won’t say they’re all good words, but I can get something down.

Sarina: Well, that’s a first draft. So, it would be pretty impressive if they were all good words, and 500 words a day is still really good progress either way.

Briana: Yeah. One of my friends, Michael Goodwin, he is a fellow horror author. He shared his accountability spreadsheet with me. Basically, it’s just if you hit your word count that day, there’s a little bar on the side, changes to yes, and then it’s green, and if you didn’t hit it, it’s no, and it’s red. Something about seeing the red makes me [00:06:00] so angry, that I push myself harder to hit the word count. It’s so silly, but it works.

Sarina: I think that will work with me as well, actually. I’m very color motivated.

Briana: Yes. Then, on the weekends, or if I have a little more time, or I’m really trying to get something done, I will set a timer for 20 minutes and do a 20-minute sprint with a 5- or 10-minute break in between, and I’ll do as many of those as I feel like I can before I burn out.

Sarina: Oh, you don’t want that.

Briana: I agree. No, I don’t really do that anymore. That’s kind of why I’ve gone to the 500-word method. It’s more sustainable.

Sarina: I’m just so impressed that you get any writing done after work.

Briana: It’s very hard. Usually, I have to treat myself like a seven-year-old and say that I can’t play games until I get my words down.

Sarina: Oh, I do that. The other day, I said to myself, “Okay, I’m exhausted. [00:07:00] I don’t really want to go to work. But if I walk into work, I can have pie tonight for dessert.” I did walk in and I did have pie.

Briana: Unfortunately, one of the weirdest things about being an adult is sometimes you have to parent yourself. That’s how it is as a writer too. I read somewhere writing is like having homework every night for the rest of your life. [laughs]

Sarina: Oh, God, that’s depressing. I haven’t thought of it like that.

[laughter]

Briana: It’s so depressing, but it’s true. It’s funny in a way, because it’s like, why would anyone choose this? But a lot of us do.

Sarina: Well, the one difference there is that I never actually did my homework-

Briana: Oh.

Sarina: -if I do do the writing.

Briana: You do write. Yeah, I have your books now, I can prove it.

Sarina: [crosstalk] Well, I was a good student, I was a terrible pupil.

Briana: Oh.

Sarina: Big difference.

[laughter]

Briana: That’s okay. It’s over now. You made it.

Sarina: Yeah, it’s all good. [00:08:00] Do you set yourself specific goals? You said that you kind of aim for like 500 words a day, and then you get the little green tick, it’s say yes, it’s all good.

Briana: Yeah. I hit the 500 and I see how I feel. If I still feel pretty good, I’ll keep going. But lately, it’s just been maybe two or three words over the goal, and then I stop.

Sarina: But still it was over your goal.

Briana: Yes, and it’s still words that I wouldn’t have gotten done otherwise, so that helps a lot. If I’m revising, it’s a little trickier because I can’t do the word count. So, I’d revise in sprints, and I try to say, I’m going to go through two or three sprints today.

Sarina: How do you count it exactly when you do revising? Because that’s exactly where I am now with Blood Wisp. I’m trying to edit it for the umpteenth time. I’ve made myself a spreadsheet, because I really got into doing 100-day writing [00:09:00] sprints. I’m really into that. That’s my thing now.

Briana: I might try that, that sounds exciting.

Sarina: Yeah, well, I set the timer for at least 15 minutes a day, and I figured I can always write for just 15 minutes, that small commitment or at least get something done, but I have now finished a really big first draft. So, I’m rewriting rather than you’re just writing a first draft, and that is not the same thing and it does not fit into my 100-day writing sprint at all, which is awkward because I have like 20 days left and I’m putting myself down so hard, because I have no writing have to do, I’m just editing, and I’m finding it very difficult to track.

Briana: It’s hard. For me, before I start revising, I kind of have an idea already of what I’m going to need to fix, but I do a read through and then I make a list and I try to break the list down by phases. I’ll have a plot phase, I’ll have a character phase, I’ll have a description phase, and then I try to only [00:10:00] do one thing at a time, instead of doing it chapter by chapter. Because for me, if I know I’m going to change something in a later chapter, it’s hard, I have to trick myself basically. So, I have to look at tiny, tiny sections instead of going chronologically. For me, what works best is the sprints. Revision sprints rather than writing sprints, but it’s the same. It’s the same concept.

Sarina: Still for 20 minutes?

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Yeah. I can see how that will work quite well, because it’s not a massive time commitment. You know afterwards that you have achieved something, even if it’s not a lot of progress.

Briana: Yeah. I used to sit down, and I would say, “I’m going to edit for five hours.” But then, I felt like I would never get anything done, and that just felt treacherous and the biggest chore. Then, once I started thinking about using sprints, it became a [00:11:00] lot easier for me.

Sarina: Editing is so hard on you anyway, because it takes so much brainpower and [crosstalk] I have done four or five hours of editing straight when I did line edits, and oh, my God, really it’s exhausting.

Briana: Yeah. I’ve done it for clients before. Doing it for your own work is a lot harder, I feel like, because I’m a perfectionist with my own stuff, especially.

Sarina: Yeah, but then you also don’t see your own mistakes as much.

Briana: That’s true.

Sarina: That makes it even harder. That just sounds exhausting.

Briana: Yeah, it is.

Sarina: You wouldn’t want to do that after work.

Briana: No. I don’t recommend making this giant chunk of time and saying you’re going to edit some nebulous amount. I think you need to set a concrete goal when you go into an editing session, and figure out a way to break it down so it’s as digestible as possible, [00:12:00] at least for me.

Sarina: That sounds like a good tactic. I think maybe I’m going to try to do a bit more of that. Once I figured out all the other issues that it has right now, and I come back to it again, maybe that’s how I’ll approach it.

Briana: I definitely recommend it. I feel it saved my sanity, as well as my time.

Sarina: I just really want to send the damn book to you, so I can stop thinking about it. [laughs]

Briana: I’ll take it, it’s just probably not ready yet.

Sarina: It’s really not ready. It’s beyond not ready. So, let’s not actually go there. Anyway, do you write every day?

Briana: During the week, yes. I tend to give myself the weekends off, I used to try to do every day, and then I would burn out. Usually, I get weekends off, unless I am really into a project and it’s coming along really well. Or, I’m under deadline.

Sarina: It does healthier to give yourself a break.

Briana: Definitely. I know you take weekends [00:13:00] off social media for similar reasons.

Sarina: Yeah, exactly for the same reasons, it just gets too much. I think when you do take the weekend off, and you’re really strict with yourself, you’re then more likely to look forward to coming back to it, which is really nice. I feel like I really mangled that. It’s nearly midnight here with me, by the way. So, if any of what I’m saying makes no sense, I’m really sorry. It’s quite a long– [crosstalk]

Briana: Everyone’s going to be so confused, because you said good morning.

Sarina: I know. Well, the episode goes live in the morning. It’s just that as we’re recording this, it’s nearly midnight where I am.

Briana: That’s fine.

Sarina: [laughs]

Briana: Time zones are wild.

Sarina: Yeah, they really are. Well, anything for you. I’m going to bed after this, we’ll see.

[laughter]

Sarina: Anyway, let’s bring it back to your writing routine. Has that changed at all over the years? And [00:14:00] if so, what have you changed and why?

Briana: Oh, God, I feel like it’s changed for every single book and every place I’ve lived. In college, it was a lot easier for me to get into a routine because I had regular assignments. I would have an essay do and two short stories a week, I think, something like that.

Sarina: Wow.

Briana: Yeah, it was a lot of work.

Sarina: Well, I’m tired just thinking about that.

Briana: That’s why I get angry when people say that a creative writing degree isn’t real, because I worked so hard. Yeah, but the regular deadlines really helped with that. And then, after college, it was just every man for himself. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was trying to adjust to work as well as writing. When I was writing Blood and Water, I talked about this a little on Twitter the other day, but I would come home, I’d watch like an episode or two [00:15:00] of Friends, I think, and I would make some food, and then I would drink coffee, and write until like 2:00 AM.

Sarina: Oh, wow.

Briana: I don’t know what was wrong with– I mean, I know what was wrong with me now, there was a lot wrong but-

[laughter]

Briana: -I don’t write like that anymore. Yeah, I can’t do that.

Sarina: No, that’s fine. I’m exhausted just thinking about that.

Briana: Also, my doctor would get very angry with me if I do that. I have enough sleep problems.

Sarina: Yeah, let’s not add to that.

Briana: No. There was a period of time where I could write with the TV on. I can’t do that anymore. I don’t know what that was about. I’ve gone through phases where I can’t listen to music and phases where I can. I just feel like I’m all over the place. [00:16:00] I think a lot of authors probably find themselves in a similar spot, but they’re worried to change things up, because that’s what happens with me is I worry that if I change something up that I’ll never be able to get back to where I was, but nothing is permanent. So, it’s kind of silly to think that way. If something doesn’t work, you could just go back.

Sarina: I think I really used to struggle with that, but I have got a lot better. I think now if I do want to just try something new, I’ll just jump in. But I definitely see what you’re saying with possibly quite a lot of authors thinking that they can just try something different, I think especially when it comes to plotting or pantsing, people seem to be really kind of like set one way or another. It’s almost like they refuse to try the other way because they’re so sure that it just won’t work for them, but every project is different.

Briana: Yeah, honestly. I think I’ve used a different plotting method for every book I’ve written so far. [00:17:00] Oh, God, that’s six that I have out. So, I think you have six out too, I think we’re–

Sarina: I do. We’re twinning again.

Briana: Oh, we’re twinning.

[laughter]

Sarina: See, we’re always doing exactly the same stuff.

Briana: When I got your books, I was so excited. I was like, “Ah!”

Sarina: They look so good on the Instagram.

Briana: They do. They’re beautiful.

Sarina: I saved the picture.

Briana: Good. You can use it again if you want to.

Sarina: Even though I [crosstalk] like so is much bigger now because my formatter has gone over it and she has adjusted it to brighten shadows, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw the page. I was like, “That can’t possibly be the same book, why is it so very much longer.”

Briana: It looks great.

Sarina: It’s pretty formatting guy, it makes all the difference.

Briana: It does. Don’t look at, don’t look at touch. Don’t look at my play touch. The formatting is not good, I had to make it–

Sarina: I didn’t notice though.

Briana: It’s huge.

Sarina: Yeah, but I thought maybe that’s because [00:18:00] it is a really small book because it’s a play, and I thought maybe if she had done it any smaller, Amazon would have said, “It’s too small, we don’t publish it.”

Briana: That’s exactly what happened. That’s why I had to make it so big.

Sarina: Oh, there you go.

Briana: I’ve gotten some hate for it. People have said that it’s like too big and the spacing is all weird. I’m like, “Listen, doing the best I can. Amazon wouldn’t let me publish anything shorter.”

Sarina: Yeah. Amazon are really quite strict with that.

Briana: They are.

Sarina: Yeah, you may not really get much of a say in how long your book is really, because if it’s too long, they will not publish it.

Briana: If it’s too short, they won’t either.

Sarina: Right. It needs to be just sort of in the right gap? [laughs] So tired.

Briana: The right range.

Sarina: Yeah, that’s the one, but it is quite a big range to be fair, and it does change constantly, [00:19:00] they adjust it here and there, but something to just throw out there to bear in mind. [crosstalk]

Briana: Yeah, and obviously, all this applies to paperbacks. As far as like eBooks go, it doesn’t really matter.

Sarina: No.

Briana: There’s no spine consideration.

Sarina: Yeah, and more people buy eBooks, to be honest. So, if it is a tossup, just go eBook. [laughs]

Briana: Save yourself some time and money.

Sarina: Yeah, possibly a lot of it, and a lot of mess. Has the lockdown affected your routine at all?

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Probably quite a lot.

Briana: Yeah. I feel like I couldn’t write for six or seven months, but that’s also I lost my job last February. No, not that early on. Last May, [00:20:00] somewhere in there. I was dealing with a lot of depression from that, and we moved, so there was quite a bit of change to deal with, but I just couldn’t write. I didn’t see the point in it and it felt like it was exhausting for me to just be alive. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that way because of the pandemic. But I honestly think telling myself that it was okay to not write is what helps me get back to it, taking the pressure off.

Sarina: There’s a lot of wisdom in that right there. It’s okay to not write if you don’t feel like you can write, seriously, if I had to just take a break.

Briana: Yeah. I try to write every day, but if it’s just not coming, like, last night, I was having a really bad flare, so I was in a lot of pain and I just didn’t write, but that’s okay.

Sarina: Yeah, I mean, you need to look after yourself first, anyway.

Briana: Right.

Sarina: [00:21:00] Last year has just been– I feel like I’m talking about this with everyone I’ve interviewed because, obviously at the time, you just automatically come back to the longest year in history.

Briana: Yeah, definitely.

Sarina: I seem to remember thinking that you were just going for such a roller coaster last year.

Briana: I was. And a lot of people were surprised that I put out three books last year.

Sarina: Yeah, I am.

Briana: But most of them were not written last year.

Sarina: Yeah, but still.

Briana: Just because they came out last year, they were written before.

Sarina: I think sometimes publishing a book can be more stressful than writing a book.

Briana: Sometimes. Except for Unboxed. Unboxed is the easiest time I’ve ever had publishing anything. It was so much fun to write. I just wish every book could be like Unboxed.

Sarina: That would be a dream because I read Unboxed and it’s amazing.

Briana: Thank you.

Sarina: I love it so much. [00:22:00]

Briana: I feel like you can tell I was having fun.

Sarina: I could. Well, I was going to say, I don’t normally read horror. I do read a little bit more now than I used to. I always make an exception for your books because they are so damn good.

Briana: Thank you.

Sarina: Unboxed was just so fun, because it’s another play. You can read it so fast either way, but it’s just so much fun. I loved it so much.

Briana: Yeah, fingers crossed, someone wants to produce that at some point this year, because I really want to see it staged.

Sarina: They will be made. I could see it as sort of like a found footage kind of film.

Briana: I would also be down for that. Either one of those.

Sarina: Putting it out there.

Briana: Mm-hmm.

Sarina: It certainly has this kind of vibe. I got almost like Blair Witch Project vibes from it-

Briana: Ooh.

Sarina: -at times.

Briana: That’s high praise.

Sarina: Hmm. Well, I think that was the first horror film I ever watched and it scared the life out of me. But not as bad as Blair Witch 2, [00:23:00] maybe that was the first one I saw. I don’t know. We did it in a weird order back then. We were young teenagers, we didn’t think do things for [reasons. What writing program do you use?

Briana: Oh, I’m very chaotic. I used to swear by Word and then I switched to Scrivener. Now, I’m all about Google Docs.

Sarina: Yeah, I can’t get on with Google Docs, I really wish I could.

Briana: Yeah, I don’t have any problems with it. I don’t. I don’t know. It’s always just worked for me. I like that I can just pull it up on my phone and write a line or two, if I want to.

Sarina: Maybe I’m the problem.

[laughter]

Briana: No.

Sarina: I just can’t make it work for me in a way that I am happy to use it. It makes me nervous because I don’t like it.

Briana: Well, Word gets onto me for swearing now. So, I don’t like using [00:24:00] Word at all. Yeah.

Sarina: Oh, really? What’s it do?

Briana: I will–

Sarina: Does it tell you to change it to something non-swearing?

Briana: It says– what is the phrasing? “Some readers might find this language offensive,” is what it says.

Sarina: Well, I don’t think those readers are your target audience.

Briana: Yeah. I’m also usually just like, “Well, her arm just got cut off, so she’s– I think this is warranted.”

Sarina: But then, she said, “Shit, that’s the problem. Really.”

[laughter]

[crosstalk]

Briana: She’s saying nothing of the bleeding or anything else and the rest of the story. It’s the bad language is really going to get people. I don’t understand.

Sarina: That’s really bizarre. I suppose it can’t quite analyze it to that extent but if you can’t analyze it to that extent, maybe don’t bother with the little things, because there’s going to be worse happening in the book.

Briana: Word also gets very angry with me when I’m trying to edit one of your books in it [00:25:00] because it’s the UK versus the US English.

Sarina: Oh, yeah.

Briana: It gets very angry and I’m like, “No, that’s correct. It’s just not correct here, but it’s right.”

Sarina: See, I change the language and put on there so that when I edit a book from someone who uses American English, I make sure it knows that for the foreseeable future, I will be using American English.

Briana: That’s good. I should probably do that instead of just getting angry. It’s definitely more productive to actually act on that.

Sarina: [laughs] I do sometimes forget to change it back, but I do tend to notice when it then tells me to take the U out of colours, I’m like, “No. Why would you say that? Ah, right, I forgot to switch it over.”

Briana: The U’s are dead giveaway, we don’t use U as much as much as you guys do.

Sarina: Yeah, I don’t know, language is weird.

Briana: Language is weird.

Sarina: Oh, well. [00:26:00] What are three important things you need to have when you’re writing?

Briana: Lately, for me, it is a snack, a drink, and noise-cancelling headphones.

Sarina: Hmm. That sounds like a good plan.

Briana: But you have to be careful with the snack. Usually, I do candy or something that’s like you can eat a piece at a time and not make a big mess. I wouldn’t eat pizza or something while you’re editing or writing, that’s not a good idea.

Sarina: [crosstalk] Pizza isn’t a snack. Pizza is dinner, or lunch or breakfast.

Briana: Yes. Also, my drink of choice is usually water. Unless it’s fairly early in the day or I need a boost, and then it’s tea or coffee.

Sarina: Or, sweet tea mixed with lemonade. [crosstalk]

Briana: Sometimes.

[laughter]

[00:27:00]

Briana: I didn’t invent it, so don’t put that on me.

Sarina: You’re encouraging it by buying it.

Briana: It is yummy.

Sarina: Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve never had it, but if I ever managed to get over there and actually visit you, you’re going to have to–

Briana: I’ll make you one.

Sarina: Thank you. [laughs] I might hate it, but I will try it.

Briana: [laughs] That’s okay.

Sarina: What do you do when writing gets difficult? We’ve already talked some about that. You said last year, you just reminded yourself that it’s okay to not write if you’re not feeling it.

Briana: Yeah. I feel like the more I write and the more books I put out, the more I’ve come to understand my own working rhythm, and when I need to take a break versus when I need to try to push through. I’ve notice I don’t really push through as much, I have accepted my limitations. So, I’ll step away if something’s not working, or I’ll [00:28:00] work on something else.

Sarina: That is really important, because I think if you don’t know when to step away, you’re so likely to just push yourself right into burnout. That can take a while to recover from, and it’s not pleasant, no matter how long it lasts.

Briana: Right. For me, if I get to that phase where I start to burn out, I just don’t like writing at all anymore. It’s not fun. Then, at that point, I start to resent it. I don’t want to get to that point. I don’t want to resent it, if I can help it.

Sarina: No, I don’t think anyone does.

Briana: No.

Sarina: So, coming back to just taking a break again, if you feel like you need a break. It’s fine, you don’t have to push for it. Just take a day off.

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Or take a week off. I don’t know. We don’t judge.

Briana: Yes. Or a month off, I don’t know. It’s your life.

Sarina: Yeah, [crosstalk] take whatever you need until you feel that you can write again without hating everything.

Briana: Exactly. Especially right now, there’s so much other big picture stuff going on in [00:29:00] the world to worry about, if you can’t write for a day or two, it’s not going to ruin everything.

Sarina: No. But also, first drafts do tend to be a bit shit, so don’t mistake not liking your first draft for hating all writing because first drafts are just not great.

Briana: Yeah– [crosstalk]

Sarina: It’s a fact, it’s fine.

Briana: They’re terrible.

Sarina: Yeah, you’ve read the last thing I’ve written and pantsed so, yeah.

Briana: [laughs] I’ll send you something rough of mine sometime, and we can compare.

Sarina: That might make me feel a lot better actually. [laughs]

Briana: I just wrote a short story for an anthology and I sent it to a couple of beta readers, but really, I have barely done any revision on it. So, they’re mostly finding typos and things like that. I’m like, “See? I do make mistakes.” Everyone does. I do.

Sarina: [crosstalk] You’re perfect.

Briana: God, no. [00:30:00]

Sarina: All right. Well, where does the inspiration come from?

Briana: My inspiration comes from, I feel like it’s a cliched answer, but almost everywhere. Usually, other forms of art. If I watch a really good movie, I kind of spend the time in the movie. I’m also a film minor, so maybe that’s part of it. I like to deconstruct the plot of the film and figure out why it works while I’m watching the film. And then, afterwards, I’m like itching to write a good story. Books always feel like that’s an easy answer though. Any kind of art tends to inspire me or sometimes I’ll hear a really weird story on the internet, and I’ll want to write about that.

Sarina: There are a lot of really weird stories on the internet.

Briana: Yes. Like Unboxed was inspired by– I found a bunch of weird darkweb mystery box unboxing videos on YouTube, and I fell down that rabbit hole.

Sarina: Wait, that’s real? [00:31:00]

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: I had no idea. I thought you made that up.

Briana: No, I’ll send you the one that I based Greg’s character off of.

Sarina: God, I feel sonaïve.

Briana: No, it’s fine.

Sarina: Do I even know the internet? Clearly, not.

Briana: It’s fine. It was a big thing a few years ago, I think. But YouTube is like, “Here, you like weird shit. Just look at this.”

[laughter]

Sarina: But look, it’s inspired a play.

Briana: Yeah, there you go.

Sarina: It has inspired the play that you love more than any of your other book children. It’s just fine– [crosstalk]

Briana: Yes. Don’t tell them that.

Sarina: No.

Briana: It’s also my best selling, so I guess I did something right with that one.

Sarina: You’ve got a point.

Briana: Watch more weird shit on YouTube, that’s my advice.

Sarina: All right, well, I’m going to have to– if you forward that video to me, then that’s where I can get started, and I’ll just see where YouTube wants to take it from there. [laughs]

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Which [00:32:00] could be a terrible idea, but we’ll see.

[chuckles]

Sarina: We’ve already talked a little bit about whether you snack while you write, and you said that you tend to drink water as your beverage of choice or, I don’t really know if water counts as a beverage to be honest.

Briana: It’s the beverage.

Sarina: All right, sorry. [laughs]

Briana: It sustains life. It’s kind of a big deal.

Sarina: Oh, well, I think beverage, I think of tea or hot chocolate.

Briana: Gotcha.

Sarina: Yeah, but I’m not sure if you really mentioned what kind of snacks you eat while you write. I think you mentioned candy, but candy to me feel quite vague.

Briana: I like gummy candy and I like sour stuff. Not so much chocolate.

Sarina: Oh, I do like some sour candy.

Briana: Like the sour gummy worms. Oh, those are my favorite.

Sarina: Oh, I haven’t had those in years. I’m going to have to get some.

Briana: Now [00:33:00] you’re going to want them.

Sarina: Yeah. We have to go to the [unintelligible [00:33:01] anyway to buy a few essentials, so I’ll see if they’ve got. I don’t think they will, [unintelligible [00:33:08] arereally small places. I don’t think they’ll have gummy worms, but I’ll make sure to get some.

Briana: The only gummy candy I ate when I was over across the pond that I remember was wine gums, and they weren’t good.

Sarina: I’ve had some vegan version I think of wine gums. That was not good.

Briana: That seems like it’s worse.

Sarina: Yeah. I’m not sure if maybe that’s what you tried. I don’t know, because I have tried vegan wine gums and, look, if you like that, that’s fine. But to me, they had this really weird consistency. It didn’t really feel like a sweet.

Briana: Yeah.

Sarina: Maybe that’s what you had.

Briana: Yeah, but I like candy that’s easier to– you can just take a piece out– I’ll take a couple pieces out and sort of set them aside, and [00:34:00] as I finish a page or something, I’ll just pick up a gummy worm and eat it. [laughs]

Sarina: Oh, it’s a reward.

Briana: Yes. That’s a good idea. I sound like a seven-year-old on this episode. I’m like, “Parent yourself, give yourself candy,” but it works.

Sarina: Well, shall we talk about the time that we both awarded ourselves star stickers for reaching workout? [laughs]

Briana: Yes. I still do that. I print out my outlines, so that I can put a star sticker next to a scene when I’ve written it.

Sarina: I need to do that again. I’ve still got a quite a lot of stickers left, but I keep forgetting.

Briana: It’s so easy and so good.

Sarina: And it’s really rewarding. It does work. It’s so satisfying.

Briana: Yeah. And then, if I don’t get to put the sticker down, I’m disappointed.

Sarina: Yeah, same. Look, we’re grownups, we can do anything we want.

Briana: That’s true.

Sarina: I’m pretty sure this is what people grow up for so [00:35:00] that they can do things like that without feeling guilty about it.

Briana: Yeah, like the idea that you can buy cake just because it doesn’t have to be your birthday or anything. You can just buy a cake if you want to.

Sarina: This is true. Did you know that? You can just buy cake just because you want cake, there doesn’t need to be a reason. Yeah.

Briana: I’ve never done that, but I sure would like to.

Sarina: When I was growing up, my parents were really against any kind of fast food, so I didn’t actually have a burger until I met Barry, my partner. And he took me to a burger van, I think, and oh my God, it was a revelation. Burgers are awesome, I love burgers now.

Briana: He corrupted you.

Sarina: He did. Yeah, but turns out you can eat whatever you want. It’s fine.

Briana: Yeah. Like I said, just maybe avoid messy things because you’re going to– I don’t know, you’re going to get shit in your keyboard.

Sarina: We were talking about things did while you write. [00:36:00] I wouldn’t eat a burger while I write. That’s just crazy.

Briana: Yes. Any kind of really cheesy thing that’s covered in cheese dust is probably also a bad idea.

Sarina: Yeah, you don’t want anything that can mess up a keyboard.

Briana: Mm-hmm.

Sarina: Where was I? Oh, yeah. I think we’ve kind of touched on that as well, but do you listen to music while you write?

Briana: I do. I listen to music with lyrics, which means I’m a monster.

Sarina: No. [crosstalk]

Briana: I have to go with songs that I’ve heard before, like a lot, then I just kind of tuned it out. But I do a playlist for each book I write usually.

Sarina: See, I was just talking about that this morning with Beverly for her writing routine chat, which is coming up next month.

Briana: Oh.

Sarina: I’m just confusing myself now. But hers is in July, yours is in June. We were saying [00:37:00] that we can’t write music and we don’t know how people can write with whole playlists.

Briana: So, you don’t listen to anything when you write?

Sarina: No. I might sometimes have– not even instrumental music, I might have like some nature sounds., maybe but generally, I need silence. Is that weird? I prefer silence when I write.

Briana: My thing is, I get easily distracted, so the music tunes out most of the background noise. It’s also like a visual cue to my partner and others that I’m working on something.

Sarina: Well, see, I get easily distracted, which is why I can’t write with music.

Briana: Yeah, it’s wild that brains can be so different, though. I know a lot of people who can’t write with music, and then I know people who can only do music without lyrics. And then, there are people like me who are animals who just listen to whatever.

Sarina: Well, actually, I always thought that I [00:38:00] couldn’t write or edit with music with lyrics. But on a recent book that I have edited for someone else, I did put on some music with lyrics, and I did find that, bizarrely enough, editing was much easier with that. I think it’s because it had lyrics because that helped me to not overthink what I was editing.

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: That was helpful.

Briana: I think that’s why it helps me with fast drafting, especially. I just kind of tune it out. Usually, I just kind of go with the pace of the song.

Sarina: Maybe I should try it again, we might be onto something.

Briana: I mean, it might have changed for you. That’s one of those things, like I said, I went through a period where I couldn’t write with anything, and it was just white noise and then music without lyrics. Now, I’m back at this. So, who knows? It might change.

Sarina: It might, but as you said earlier, if it doesn’t work, I can just stop doing it again.

Briana: Exactly. You’re not marrying anything you try. [00:39:00]

Sarina: Phew!

[laughter]

Sarina: Which book has inspired you the most? That’s any kind of fiction book or even nonfiction, I suppose.

Briana: In out of every book I’ve ever read?

Sarina: Uh-huh.

Briana: Oh, Jesus. God. I don’t know.

Sarina: You can list more than one, it’s fine.

Briana: Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like I go to The Great Gatsby a lot, that’s a big one because of the way Fitzgerald uses description and imagery and the language and just it’s almost musical. After I read that book, I was like, “Okay, you can make books that sound pretty without being too flowery. You don’t have to strip away all of the description. You can [00:40:00] put a little bit in there, as like a treat.” So, that one. And Dracula, because it’s told in– it’s letters. It’s found footage pretty much, the original found footage. [crosstalk]

Sarina: Yes, I haven’t thought of it like that, but you’re right.

Briana: And I am dying to write a book that’s either a diary or in letters or something like that. I have one that I’ve started, so we’ll see if I come back to it.

Sarina: Yeah. You know how we said earlier that we’re twinning again because we’re the same person?

Briana: Yeah. Are you doing that too?

Sarina: Yeah.

[laughter]

Briana: Just so everyone on the podcast knows, we did not discuss that with each other.

Sarina: It’s never even come up before. But to be fair, I haven’t started mine, but I have thought here and there, how cool would it be to just write a book that’s just letters? Or just someone’s diary? [crosstalk] 

Briana: Is yours about killer mermaids too? [00:41:00]

Sarina: I mean, I haven’t got that far in the process, but should we?

[laughter]

Sarina: I did say early on my reader group that I haven’t read that many books with mermaids in them. At the time, my motivation was that mermaids could be quite cool on my work in progress, because my main character can’t swim. So, I feel like there’s a lot of tension there immediately, because mermaids can swim pretty well, and my main character cannot.

Briana: Yes, that would be a problem.

Sarina: But, yeah, I have kind of thought about mermaids, just not in that respect. I’m going to make a note of it because I have so many works in progress on the go and planned next already, that I really shouldn’t add another one.

Briana: Yeah, I know what that’s like.

Sarina: It will go in my notebook of ideas.

Briana: I had a play idea the other day, and I’m like, “Oh, I want to work on this,” even knowing that plays don’t sell.

Sarina: Well, Unboxed is selling pretty well.

Briana: Unboxed is selling pretty well. I’m surprised a lot [00:42:00] of people have said that it is either the first play they’ve ever read, or the first play they’ve read outside of school. So, that’s incredibly flattering.

Sarina: Well, I don’t know really any other modern plays to be honest, apart from yours.

Briana: Self-publishing for plays is not really a thing. I would like to help destigmatize it and make it more of a thing, because it’s great. It’s just like any other book. I don’t know why there’s this weird discrepancy there.

Sarina: See, now I want to invite you back again so we can talk about how to write a play, but that would be a fourth one, and that’s the thing, that will split us up, so we can’t do it.

Briana: It’ll tear us apart.

Sarina: [laughs] In the most dramatic way.

Briana: [laughs]

Sarina: Whatever that will be, I guess we’ll find out when we do that episode.

Briana: Mm-hmm.

[chuckles]

Sarina: Okay, [00:43:00] so similar question. Do you have a favorite book on the craft of writing?

Briana: Ooh. I have a couple answers. Stephen King’s On Writing, even though I very much don’t write like he does. I really liked the way he lays out the idea that you sit down and you do the work, it’s like any other job, because I think a lot of people tend to over romanticize writing, and it is a lot of work and it is hard. So, I think the romanticization of it, is actually– it’s a curse sometimes, because then when you encounter anything hard, you’re like, “Oh, well, I must not be a writer because it’s not supposed to be hard,” which is ridiculous. I feel like writers are the ones who struggle the most with writing.

Sarina: Yeah, I completely agree.

Briana: Yeah, that one really helped with the idea of discipline, and then [00:44:00] I recommend this book, I feel like on every podcast, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel.

Sarina: Oh, yes. I second that. I mean, I also second On Writing by Stephen King, but I kid you not, everyone who comes on here recommends that one. I want a seconded that one a few times. Yes, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel specifically, because there is also a screenplay version, which is also good, but we’re writing books here, so why not go for the write a novel one.

Briana: I read the screenplay version first, because like I said, I honored in film in college. It was really helpful for me to think, “Oh, yeah, I can take the structure that I’m used to seeing in film and kind of rework it for a book.” Unboxed is actually the first thing that I fully plotted using that method and it seems to have worked.

Sarina: Yeah, clearly.

Briana: I’m sticking with it.

Sarina: Now, I think I first borrowed Save the Cat! from a library, the original one, the screenwriting one, and I liked it so much. It was possibly one of the first books I’ve read [00:45:00] on writing. Then, I liked it so much I bought it, and then some years later, I think it was possibly you where I first saw the novel version.

Briana: It was me. [laughs]

Sarina: Yeah. I was on the fence about buying it for the longest time, because I had already read the other one. I wasn’t sure if I would get the novel one, but it’s honestly so good. I’m so glad I’ve got it. I actually took a highlighter to it which I’ve never done before.

Briana: It’s so different. You wouldn’t think that there would be that much of a difference, but it has so many little structure tips and things like that, that don’t necessarily work if you’re trying to just pull from the screenwriting version.

Sarina: Yeah, completely agree. It is such a gem. I can’t second that recommendation enough. It’s such a good little book.

Briana: The author is also super nice. I’ve talked to her. I’ve emailed her before, and she’s a sweetheart, so definitely recommend it.

Sarina: All right. So, that’s nice to know. I feel like most authors [00:46:00] are really quite nice people.

Briana: Yes. Despite most of us not liking people.

Sarina: Yeah. It’s weird, isn’t it?

Briana: Yeah.

Sarina: I’m a massive introvert but look at me having a podcast and I’m planning a second one, so.

Briana: There you go. That’s why I started making myself do podcast interviews, because I’m also an introvert.

Sarina: But weirdly, I really enjoy talking to people on the podcast. Maybe it’s because I just close my laptop if I don’t like them.

[laughter]

Briana: Just goodbye, you’re out of here.

Sarina: Just run away. Not even a goodbye, just close the laptop and run away.

Briana: Oh, my God.

Sarina: Then just leave it long enough, so that they have time to decide that I’m not coming back and leave. [laughs]

Briana: Yeah.

Sarina: Wouldn’t want to then open my laptop, and they’re still going, “Oh, where’d she go?”

Briana: Oh, no. That’s a horror story right there.

Sarina: Someone should write that, but I don’t think I could pull it off. [laughs] Yeah, it’s a [00:47:00] story in like one paragraph and it’s over.

Briana: Flash fiction. It’s a thing.

Sarina: Yes. Very true. I have got a bit of flash fiction in a magazine next month that’s coming.

Briana: Ooh, I’m very bad at flash fiction. I just can’t stop. I can’t shut up. I just keep going.

Sarina: I think I have the opposite problem, maybe. I’m struggling to develop things into whole short stories. I think I’m much easier if I can just stick to like 100 words.

Briana: Yeah. I don’t know why not plotting short stories works for me, but it does. Then, there was one short story in Tricker-Treater that collection where I wrote it. I wrote most of it, and then there was kind of like a hole in the middle that I needed to fill in, and I had the last line. I basically worked backwards from the last line, like I would add the line before and then would add another line before and I wrote the ending of it [00:48:00] backwards.

Sarina: This is really weird. I talked to Bev about that earlier as well, and we don’t get how people can do that.

Briana: I don’t know how I did it. I’ve never done it for any other story, and I don’t do it for my books. That one was just like, “Write me backwards.” So, I did.

[laughter]

Briana: It’s the story about the men on the boat.

Sarina: Oh, I like that one.

Briana: Yeah, I had the last line of that one first.

Sarina: I really like that one.

Briana: I pretty much wrote it backwards. I’ve also gotten some weird pushback for that because people haven’t– they haven’t realized that it was British, because that’s the only story in the collection I think that’s British. They use a lot of English phrases and things like that and some people were mad at me about that for some reason. I don’t know, someone’s always mad at me. [crosstalk]

Sarina: I’m not mad I’m just very confused because I didn’t notice it. [00:49:00] This is the first time I’m hearing about this.

Briana: Also, the names are like George and– I don’t know. I picked really English names. You were probably just like, “Oh, it’s whatever.”

Sarina: Do you not have any Georges over there in Georgia?

Briana: No one younger than like 70.

Sarina: Well, to be fair, we probably don’t have many young people called George. We have a few, but it’s probably more often– I don’t want to say this in a rude way that makes any younger George listening feel like their names are too awful. I think it is [unintelligible [00:49:40] name here as well that you are less likely to find on younger people. I feel like I’m digging myself a grave.

[laughter]

Briana: That’s okay. I feel bad that you didn’t know that it was an English story.

Sarina: I didn’t notice it. It didn’t stand out to me in that way of, “Oh, what happened here? This doesn’t read like her other [00:50:00] stories,” because I think they’re all so different to each other anyway, I just didn’t think anything of it.

Briana: Oh, we have Clive and Harry. Those are very English.

Sarina: Are they really?

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Do you notice that you don’t have any Harrys across over there?

Briana: I’ve never in my life met a Harry or a Clive.

Sarina: I mean neither I have, but. [chuckles]

Briana: Her name was Georgia. That was okay. Yeah, I had to explain that to the audiobook narrator too, I was like, “This one is British.” she’s like, “Why?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.”

[laughter]

Briana: It just is.

Sarina: Okay, well, same as with Unboxed, Very, very good little book– [crosstalk]

Briana: Oh, thank you.

Sarina: [crosstalk] -short stories, really loved it. Go buy it. [crosstalk]

Briana: Thank you. I feel like if you liked it, that’s a high praise too, because you don’t usually like horror, and there’s some yucky stuff in there.

Sarina: See, I didn’t think so. There was nothing in there where I [00:51:00] thought, “Oh, that’s grim.” But that might be more reflection on what’s wrong with me rather than what’s good about your horror. [laughs] I don’t know.

Briana: I don’t tend to go for super gory. I usually like the psychological, existential dread stuff better.

Sarina: Maybe that’s why it worked so well for me. I like that kind of stuff as well. If you’re listening, also like that kind of stuff, you really want to read the short story collection.

Briana: There’s like a little blood in it, but it’s not– I wouldn’t say it’s super gory. There’s body horror, so throwing out a trigger warning for that if you’re not into that. There’s people’s body parts move around and do things they shouldn’t.

Sarina: Oh, is that what that is? I didn’t know there was a word for that.

Briana: It’s that one story that I can’t name because then it’ll spoil the whole story.

Sarina: No, we won’t go into that. But anyway, final question before we run way over time. Do you have any [00:52:00] advice for establishing a writing routine?

Briana: I would say don’t be afraid to try a bunch of different things, and if something doesn’t work for you, it’s okay to abandon it. Even if it’s something that works for you feel like everyone else, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick with it.

Sarina: Yeah. I think especially with writing routines, they tend to change so much as you go on and just change as a writer. I mean, as you said earlier, you’ve written six books. You’ve published six books anyway and you’ve had a completely different approach with all of those.

Briana: Yes. And I feel that’s going to happen going forward too.

[chuckles]

Sarina: Whatever works. Just try things, it’s fine.

Briana: Yes. Don’t be afraid to try things.

Sarina: And if it doesn’t work, as you said earlier, you can just stop doing it.

Briana: Exactly.

Sarina: There’s no one right way to do it, which is great in a way, but also makes it harder in another.

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Ah, such a joy. [00:53:00] All right. Well, I think that’s a good place to wrap this up. Thank you so much for coming back again.

Briana: Thank you for having me.

Sarina: Anytime. Maybe not any time, we’ll have to consider if dare a fourth interview.

Briana: Do we tempt the universe?

Sarina: I don’t know. The universe has been pretty good to me lately. I don’t want to piss it off.

Briana: Me neither.

Sarina: Maybe we shouldn’t. But as long as it gets [unintelligible [00:53:29], then it’s fine. All right. Thank you so much for coming back. As I said, have a wonderful week everybody. Have a great day. I’m going straight to bed. [laughs] Have a good rest of your day, Bri. Bye-bye.

Briana: Okay. Thank you.

[music]

Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @Sarina_Langer, on Instagram [00:54:00] and Facebook @SarinaLangerWriter, and of course, on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.


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