The Writing Sparrow Episode 54 | Writing Routines: Becky Wright

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 Becky Wright, a gothic horror writer and formatter from England.

To find out more about Becky, check out her Instagramher Twitter, and her website.

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Support this podcast on Patreon.

For more from my podcast, browse the category right here on this website or listen with your favourite provider.

Sign up for my mailing list for updates on my books, excerpts, early cover reveals, and the exclusive freebies Shadow in Ar’Sanciond (the Relics of Ar’Zac prequel novella) and Pashros Kai Zo (a Relics of Ar’Zac short story, which isn’t available anywhere else).

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The Writing Sparrow Episode 49 | Writing Routines: Ash Oldfield

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 Ash Oldfield, a fantasy author from Australia.

Her book recommendations are On Writing by Stephen King and Once Upon a Time, which is a writer’s handbook and card game all in one. 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 Ash, check out her Instagramher Twitterher TikTok, and her website.

Listen to the Episode

Support this podcast on Patreon.

For more from my podcast, browse the category right here on this website or listen with your favourite provider.

Sign up for my mailing list for updates on my books, excerpts, early cover reveals, and the exclusive freebies Shadow in Ar’Sanciond (the Relics of Ar’Zac prequel novella) and Pashros Kai Zo (a Relics of Ar’Zac short story, which isn’t available anywhere else).

Take me to the Welcome page.

The Writing Sparrow Episode 44 | Writing Routines: Beverley Lee

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 Beverley Lee, a horror author from England.

Her book recommendations are On Writing by Stephen King and Writing in the Dark by Tim Waggoner. 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 Beverley, check out her Instagramher Twitter, and her website.

Listen to the Episode

Support this podcast on Patreon.

For more from my podcast, browse the category right here on this website or listen with your favourite provider.

Sign up for my mailing list for updates on my books, excerpts, early cover reveals, and the exclusive freebies Shadow in Ar’Sanciond (the Relics of Ar’Zac prequel novella) and Pashros Kai Zo (a Relics of Ar’Zac short story, which isn’t available anywhere else).

Take me to the Welcome page.

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.

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[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 Let’s get started.


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.


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.


Briana: Oh, no.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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-


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.


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.


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.”



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.



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.”


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.


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!


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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 Until next time, bye.

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The Writing Sparrow Episode 36 | Writing Routines: James Fahy

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 James Fahy, a multi-genre author from the UK.

His book recommendations are On Writing by Stephen King and From Pitch to Publication by Carol Blake. 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 James, check out his website or follow him on Instagram or on Twitter.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[Writing Sparrow]

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 Let’s get started.


Sarina: Good morning friends and sparrows, and welcome back. It’s the 17th of May 2021. This is Episode 36. Today, I’m talking to James Fahy about his writing routine. Welcome, James.

James: Thanks for having me.Nice to see you, nice to meet you.

Sarina: Yeah. Nice to meet you. As I said, before we started recording, we followed each other on various social media outlets for a few years, we’ve barely talked. [laughs]

James: We’ve just been circling one another like wolves. [laughs]

Sarina: Yes. Circling around Beverly, [00:01:00] slightly.

James: Yeah. [crosstalk] She is the grandmaster of designing this whole– yeah.

Sarina: Yeah, she’s the planet and we’re the moons.

James: [laughs] You’ll give her a big head if she hears that.

Sarina: I’m sure she will.


Sarina: I think she listens. Hey, Bev, good morning.

James: Hi, Bev, in case you’re there.

Sarina: She probably is. I’ve got 15 questions for you about your writing routine. They’re the questions I ask every author. I’m really excited about this, because I love to hear about a good writing routine.

James: Or the bad writing routine, depending on how I answer.

Sarina: Yes. Well, I have talked to a few authors who don’t actually have a writing routine, so to speak, so that’s also interesting to hear about. Because I think quite a lot of writers feel pressure to have one, so I think it’s important to hear that you don’t actually need a routine.

James: Yeah not necessarily one that’s regimented and structured. Some people work on a very strong regimen, don’t they? And some people need a bit more freedom, I think.

Sarina: Yes, lots of different ways to do this, [00:02:00] and all of them just as fine as each other as long as it works for you. Question number one, are you a plotter, pantser, or somewhere in between? Let’s go in big.

James: I would think that I’ll have to say that I am definitely a plotter, not to the extent that every single line of dialogue is plotted in advance, but for the structure of the story. My stories, the way that work, there tends to have to be a lot of foreshadowing, because I have to be aware of things I want to happen at certain intervals, either later in the book or maybe two or three books down the line in the series. In order to get myself to that point, I have to know that’s coming, so I can’t just sit down and think, “I’ll write about X subjects, and I’ll make it up as I go along.” That wouldn’t work for me at all. I do tend to be quite– I’ve got like a flow chart of major events. In, for example, the Changeling series, I know what’s going to happen in every book, where in the book, it’s got to happen. [00:03:00] So that’s all plotted out, because I know where every one of my characters was going to end up. I know who lives, who dies, who ends up in a good place, who ends up in a bad place. That’s all sort of prewritten like a prophecy.

The actual journey of when you’re typing it and writing it out, as a lot of people have said before, the characters will take you off in unexpected directions, and it’s more like you’re herding them like sheep towards the points you want to get them to. That’s what it feels like. You feel a bit like a nursery teacher with a lot of unruly children when you’re writing some characters.

Sarina: [laughs] It’s really nice to finally talk to another plotter, because I think every other writer I’ve talked to so far has either been a pantser, or somewhere in between, but mostly pantsing their books. I have tried pantsing the book and it was a disaster if you asked my critique partners, it was an absolute disaster.

James: Really? I think [unintelligible [00:03:53], you’ve got to give yourself a little bit of wiggle room and a bit of freedom. You can plot to your heart’s content and say, “This is going to happen, then this is [00:04:00] going to happen and this.” Then, as you’re writing it, it goes off on a tangent and you’re thinking, “Well, actually, this unexpected direction you’re going in is better than what I had planned, but I’ll eventually lead it back around to where I want it to be.” But I think, for me, if I just went in and thought, I want to write about X subject, let’s just start typing and see where it goes. It would be far too messy. And I think when I got it back from my agents, when I got it back from the editor, they would be like, “You’re spending a lot of time clearing your throat for three chapters here.” [laughs] I think it can work better for me in other art forms. I think in music, you can have jazz, where you’re experimenting and you’re playing with the sounds. In arts, you can throw around paint and come up with something unexpected. But in writing for myself, I like to think that [unintelligible [00:04:48] reading knows where they’re going with the story. Otherwise, I’m not as invested as a reader thinking, “I can’t predict what’s going to happen because even the writer doesn’t know” as you’re writing it.

Sarina: Now that’s exactly how I approach [00:05:00] all of my outlines. I’m [crosstalk] quite happy to finally hear that somebody else does it the same way.


James: We’re both on the same well-planned and well-plotted page.

Sarina: It’s the best way to do it if you ask me.

James: It makes editing a lot easier, I think.

Sarina: It does. It really does. As I said, I have tried pantsing because I thought it works for so many writers, maybe they’re onto something, but it just doesn’t work for me. Again, ask my critique partners, and they will tell you how much of a train wreck it was.

James: It’s an experiment. You’ve got to try different things to find what works best for you.

Sarina: Yeah, and I really admire writers who can approach it that way, to just sit down with sort of a plan, but not really a plan and just somehow get a novel out, but I can’t do it.

James: No. When I’ve done it in the past, I have tried it and I have found like you say when you come back to second and third edit, because the story is now finished, and you know the shape of it, and then having to take out huge chunks where I pounced off in one direction and it fizzled out and didn’t go anywhere– [00:06:00] Editing is mainly for me about tightening up the story.

Sarina: Yeah, it’s the same.

James: Taking out anything extraneous and if I’ve not plotted it well, there’s always far too much to take out.

Sarina: I think if you plot your books, there’s also really no risk of getting stuck at any point and not knowing where you’re going, because you don’t know where you’re going.

James: [crosstalk] -on that point though, the only thing I find negative about plotting everything out is it can feel sometimes like a bit of a chore, because you’re like, “Right, by this chapter, I want to get this, and by the middle of the book, we have to get to here, by the end of it–” So, when you’re typing, you’re thinking, maybe 20% into the book, “Oh, God, I’m nowhere near this point. Now, I’ve got a slog all the way to here.” Then it can feel a bit like you’re sort of going down the train tracks, and it’s a long way off.

Sarina: Yeah, I get that. I mean–

James: It’s still the lesser of two evils for me to.

Sarina: No, completely agree. I have with my current work in progress, it’s a trilogy. For the first time, I have written the entire trilogy before I’ve really properly started editing. And let me [00:07:00] tell you, that has been a chore, and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again.

James: No, that sounds like– I actually got shivers when you’ve written the whole thing, then you’ve got three books to edit.

Sarina: Yeah.

James: Editing is the bane in my life. [laughs]

Sarina: I have very recently been at exactly the point that you’ve described where you think, “Oh, God, I’m only at this point. I’m nowhere near this. But yet, it’s still so far away.” No, I agree. That’s definitely quite the disadvantage to it. But I do think that the positives outweigh the negatives for me as well.

James: Yeah, so do I. I think it just gives me a bit more control over where the story is going, and knowing that I’m aiming for something specific, helps me make the story make more sense, the first time around. And then in later edits, there’s less work for me to do.

Sarina: Exactly. I work exactly the same way. What does your writing routine look like?

James: At the moment, thankfully, it’s getting more back to normal. I know we were chatting before, you started recording, and we were talking about how everything has been– This last 12 months, last 15 months, [00:08:00] however long it is now since the apocalypse.


Sarina: It’s been over a year, if you believe it.

James: I know. [crosstalk]

Sarina: It feels like a month, but also like 100 years, but really, it’s just been a year.

James: I know, it’s been forever. It’s been several ages of man, I feel.

Sarina: [laughs]

James: I’m disappointed that we’ve had so much apocalypse, and then none of us are wearing leather or living in the desert yet. I was expecting [crosstalk] it’s disappointing. But, yeah, this last year, I’ve had two kids at home being homeschooled. My partner has been working from home as well. So, there’s not really been my normal, peaceful middle of the day. Because my normal writing routine is, get the family out of the way in the morning, then I come back, lock myself in a quiet office. And that’s my time to do it until it’s time to go pick them up again, because I do write full time. I do treat it very much like a regular job. I clock in at a certain time of the day, and I clock out at a certain time of the day. How productive I am during that time is completely dependent on [laughs] whatever mood I’m [00:09:00] in. Sometimes, I clock in and then I’m like, “I’ll just type a little bit and then I’ll check YouTube and I’ll just check Twitter, and then I’ll just check Snapchat and then I’ll just–” And I know the day is ruined but other days, I can get into work and right solidly through. It depends [unintelligible [00:09:17], I suppose.

Sarina: Wow. So, how long at a time can you write? What’s the longest that you’ve written at a time?

James: Well, if I’m coming towards the end of a book, my wife says I go into fugue mode.

Sarina: Oh yeah, I do that. I always feel really big burst of motivation, the closer I get to the end.

James: It’s like if you’re running a marathon and you’re tired and exhausted, but then you think, “I’ve got the last mile to go and then I’m done.” So, you suddenly get that surge of energy to just get it finished, and I think that’s the longest times I write is when I know I’ve got a deadline coming up as well. I’ve said to publisher I’ll get it to you by this date, I finished, I’ve got two weeks left to finally edit and then I will literally lock myself away. And from waking up, no one will see me apart from mealtimes. So, I’ll scurry back into [00:10:00] my writing cave like a goblin, finish the writing and then eventually sort of emerge about midnight with bleary eyes and just go straight to sleep. So, I’ve done that a few times.

On a regular day though, I would say I get home from doing all our morning chores about 10 AM, which is obviously why we scheduled this talk for now. I lock myself in, and I work anywhere from 10 till 2:30. It doesn’t sound like a huge amount, but I have to then go out and get the kids. So, that’s my normal writing routine, and I will normally sit and write solidly for that period of time. [crosstalk]

Sarina: And you can get quite a lot of what’s done in that time anyway.

James: You can some days. I try not to be too hard on myself, because I used to be of the mindset that if you sat down, you’ve got to hammer out words, be as productive as possible. Whereas some days, you do, some days as you know yourself, you’ll sit down, and it just flows and it’s a wonderful day, and you’re writing and you’re sort of patting yourself on the back, “Oh, my God, that was a wonderful sentence. I don’t even need to edit that. That’s gold.”

Sarina: [laughs]

James: And then the next day, you [00:11:00] can sit down and it’s like, you’re typing with your feet rather than hands, it’s just complete trash and you think, “I’ve written not a single word,” and you end up deleting everything you’ve done that day.

Sarina: Yeah, I’ve been there.

James: I’m not consistent really. I have a consistent time that I sit in the office, but as for how productive I am during that time, it does depend on my mood, how much sleep I’ve had. How close I am to a deadline is the main motivation.

Sarina: [chuckles] This probably does answer my next question already, but do you set yourself specific goals like a number of words you want to write every week or how much time you want to spend writing a day?

James: I have to set time, but I’ve never done word counts, and I don’t check how much I’ve written as well. Which I always find surprising, because you do see that we follow a lot of writers on social media, a lot of people talk about, “Oh, great writing day. I did X amount of words today.” Or, “I hit my target.” I know that can be a good motivation for some people, but it’s never been the way I’ve really worked. If I’m starting a new project, I can be very intimidated by [00:12:00] how little I’ve got into the book. I generally don’t settle into a book until I have done at least sort of 50 pages. Once I hit that 50-page mark, I feel like I’m into my stride. But that first 50 pages, I’m very nervous thinking, “I’m never going to get enough down to get this book going.” I have put little post-it notes over my screen in the corner, so I can’t see what the page number is because it stresses me out. [laughs]

Sarina: I do that. I put washi tape over of it.

James: Yeah– [crosstalk]

Sarina: Especially when I edit and it’s a hard edit, I tend to put washi tape over it, so I can’t see how much is left. Then normally, at the end of the day, I’m positively surprised rather than constantly checking it and thinking, “Oh, God, I’m still on the same page.”

James: Yeah, I do exactly the same thing. One thing I would say, I try and write a certain number of words per time, but I do try and finish a scene. If I’m writing the scene, before I clock off and go along with my day, I tried to get to the end of that scene, I don’t like leaving writing for the day in the middle of a conversation or in [00:13:00] the middle of a sentence, because I might not be in the same mood when I come back for the next day. Then, it’s hard to pick it up with the same energy you left it with. So, I will sometimes go over my allotted work time to finish the scene so I can start the next one in chunks. I try to [crosstalk] 

Sarina: [crosstalk] Do you write every day including weekends? Or, do you take breaks?

James: I don’t write at weekends, again because I write full time– I don’t have another creative answer with this. This is in my brain, my full career, so I literally treat it like a Monday to Friday job. The weekends are my sacred family time. I’ve got two small children and a dog, and we have to make the most of weekends, especially at the moment, because everything’s just opening up again, we can finally go out, which is nice. We’re not sick of staring at the same four walls and each other’s faces. We can go out and have what we call weekend adventures. Every weekend, my youngest, both have drama school on Saturdays, so I get the morning off while they’re out at drama school. [00:14:00] Then on Sundays, we tend to always go out for an adventure somewhere, whether it’s into the city or off to some park or off into the malls or what have you. But I don’t tend to write and give my brain a rest. [crosstalk] during the week because then I feel guilty if I have a day off in the week thinking, “But you just had two days off, you should be working now. Other people are back in the office, you should be in the office too.” Guilts me into doing it better, I think.

Sarina: I think as long as you still do even just a little bit of research or thinking about your book, you’re still kind of working on it just in the background. It all adds up, it all helps.

James: Yeah, definitely. Like you said, I’m always in research mode or even if we’re just driving along [unintelligible [00:14:44] or so, “What are you thinking about?” Thinking about my book, I was just planning this next scene, as you can get quite annoyed saying, “Just come back. You’re not supposed to be doing that.”


Sarina: It’s easier said than done though, isn’t it?

James: Yeah, you just drift off and have whole conversations of dialogue and [00:15:00] then you think, “I must remember that. I’ll write it down when I get home,” and then I never do.

Sarina: No. [chuckles] How’s your writing routine changed over the years? And if so, what have you changed and why?

James: I think the main thing that’s probably changed since I’ve first started writing full time, is I become a lot easier on myself, and a lot more relaxed. I think when I first started, I was able to quit the real world, or the regular 9 to 5 my world. And I thought, “Right, I’ve managed to earn the right to do this as a living full time. So, I have to be super productive every day. Bang out as many words as possible, work till I’m dropping, burn the candle at both ends.” I don’t push myself as hard. I’d rather enjoy it and not feel like some days– some days, you log on and you think, “I’m just not in the mood today,” for whatever reason, and it feels like a chore. I’ve learned that if I force myself to try and get that words on paper, when I’m in that mood, [00:16:00] it’s just going to be absolute dross, and I’ll end up deleting it the next day anyway.

I’m quite happy now to say, “Oh, I’m not in the mood today. I’m not feeling it. We’re just going to have a day off. And then, we will come back to it tomorrow. And then, it works out better in the long run. I feel it’s more relaxed for me, but I do try and stick my deadlines if I can do.

Sarina: I do think it’s important to remember that if you’re really not feeling at one day, it’s fine to take the day off and do something else.

James: Yeah.

Sarina: As someone who has burned out quite badly once or twice, I’m definitely now more at a point where I can say, “Well, actually, I’m not really in the mood today, or maybe I’m already quite tired. I’d rather wait, and maybe write tomorrow instead.” Then I know that I feel much better again the next day because I have had that little break.

James: Yeah, and your writing is going to be better for it as well, because if you’re forcing it, it’s not going to be good writing. You’re going to come back and read over it and go, “Not only did I not want to do the writing that day, but everything I wrote was complete crap.” [00:17:00] That’s what I generally do if I force myself. So, I’d rather wait until I’m in the mood. I think it’s just striking the balance of making sure that you are in the mood more often than you’re not in the mood.

Sarina: Yeah. And I think once you’ve built a habit, it’s much easier to be in the mood for it on-

James: Yeah.

Sarina: -well, any day, but not talking about procrastinating for years at a time.

James: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever had writer’s block or anything terrifying like that.

Sarina: No.

James: But that does scare me, because I know a lot of people talk about that and it’s always in the back of your mind, “What if one day I sit down and I can’t write anything? And how long will it last and how will I get out of it?” I’ve never had that issue, but I have had the issue where I’ve just I felt like, “For three days in a row, everything I’ve written is rubbish.” Then, you get proper imposter syndrome and think, “Why am I even doing this? Am I good enough to do this? Should I be doing something else? Should I throw the whole towel in?” Then, a couple days later, you come back to it and you’re in a much better headspace because you’ve had a rest mentally. Then, you write something that you like, and that gives you the [00:18:00] instant boost of, “Yes, I should be doing this. I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

Sarina: Doing what you’re supposed to do.

James: Yeah. Doing the one thing I’m good at.


James: I literally have to be a writer, because I’m not good at anything else. [chuckles]

Sarina: See, I know that’s rubbish, because I follow you on Instagram, and I see the things that you cook. I imagine you’re a pretty good chef.

James: I don’t know I could be a chef, but I could be a cook. I can be one of those cooks in an old stately home who work downstairs and send the food up, I could do that for a living.

Sarina: [laughs]

James: I couldn’t work in a busy high-pressure kitchen because I don’t work well under pressure.

Sarina: Oh, God, no.

James: Most of the pressure, I [crosstalk] myself. But pressure from someone else, I go into that sort of reactive belligerent state of like, “This has to be done now.” I’ll take even longer than usual to do it just out of spite because I’m quite childish.

Sarina: Now, I definitely wouldn’t be able to work at a professional kitchen. We watch MasterChef quite a lot. Every now and again, when they go into the professional kitchen, there’ll be someone like one of [00:19:00] the contestants at the end of it going, “Oh, well, this was much harder than I thought it was going to be.” We’re like, “Did you think it’d be easy to work in a really busy professional kitchen?”

James: There’s always somebody crying into the onions in the background and somebody else being screamed at, somebody else with their head in the oven just trying to end it all, it’s far too stressful.

Sarina: No, don’t fancy that. I’d much rather–

James: That’s right. Before I became a full-time writer, I worked for a while in finance. I helped people manage their money, I helped people deal with their debts as well. And a huge proportion of my clients at the time who were struggling with money or had run up debt were chefs.

Sarina: Wow, okay. That’s interesting.

James: It’s one of those professions that I think can be quite a scary profession to be in and you have to pay for all the stuff upfront. So maybe not a chef, maybe I’ll stick to writing.

Sarina: [giggles] Well, you’re very good at writing anyway, so why change?

James: Oh, thank you.

Sarina: I think we’ve kind of already covered this a little bit. I’m very excited that I won’t need to ask this question for much longer, but has lockdown [00:20:00] affected your routine?

James: It did while it was going on. It hasn’t now. Thankfully, I’m back into my normal routine now. Fingers crossed, ready for our last one. I know we’re all hoping we don’t go into any further lockdown again and never say never, but things seem to be moving in the right direction. Lockdown didn’t really affect my routine, it kind of obliterated it. It was a very strange year for me because I had other things happening before lockdown. We moved house into a temporary house where we are at the moment while we’re looking for the dream house that we’re looking for. So, I’m in an unfamiliar place with none of my things around me, like 90% of my belongings right now in a storage pod. So, that’s a strange situation to be in.

Then, we just moved in and then COVID happened, and everyone got stuck and locked in there. Then suddenly, I’m homeschooling my own kids, we had a death in the family to contend with. There are about four or five other dramas all happened at the same time. I know sort of everyone had a terrible year [00:21:00] last year, and it affected people in different ways. But there wasn’t really room for me to think, “Right, no, I’ll go away, I’ve got a book to write.” I didn’t have the head space for it all the time.

But saying that, I did manage to write a novel in 2020, which was delivered in December to my publishers. It’s not out yet, it’s coming out this year, but I was quite proud of the fact that I managed to get a book written despite everything, but it wasn’t easy. I was trying to find 10 minutes right here, 5 minutes right there. Now everything’s more or less back to normal. Kids are back in school, everything’s open. My other half’s work routine is a lot more stable and predictable now. So, I’m getting my sort of office hours back, which is very relaxing.

Sarina: Yeah, it can be quite nice to have that routine. And well done you on still finishing a whole book, despite all of that chaos going on.

James: I think a lot of it was escapism towards the end, is like, “I’ve got to get away from the real world [00:22:00] for a while. I’m disappearing into my fantasy world. Don’t talk to me.”

Sarina: I can see that. [laughs] Moving house a stressful enough as it is, but to then also have all that other madness going on at the same time–

James: Yeah.

Sarina: –it’s just not the ideal environment, let’s say, for writing anything. So, well done you.

James: Not really., hopefully, it’ll be easier from now on, I think. I think we’re coming to the end of it.

Sarina: Yeah, it’s getting there. What writing program do you use?

James: I’m very old school. I use Word. I’ve heard of Scrivener, I’ve heard of several different other things. I write longhand in my first draft, in one of these. Those who can’t see, I’m holding up my booklet. I do tend to write my first draft longhand. It isn’t legible to anyone but me because it’s in my own improvised shorthand. It’s just hieroglyphs and ciphers. I know what it means most of the time. No one else does, but I tend to do [00:23:00] that because it’s portable, and I can write wherever, so if I’m out with the dog, or we’re out for a walk, I go out walking in the woods quite a lot, disappearing off somewhere, I’ve always got that with me so I can always scribble things down. When I come to type it up, it’s just Word. It’s just always Word for me.

Sarina: Oh, okay. It’s probably because I’m not used to it anymore, but when I try to write anything by hand, I can’t write for long periods of time because my wrist will cramp and it will not have it.

James: I know what you mean. It is some muscle memory thing. It’s like any exercise– I mean, we’ve only just started going back to the gym after a year of them being closed. We went on the running machines, and we used to able to run for like an hour solid with no breaks with a nice pace, myself and my other half, and I think I did 10 minutes on my first time and I was coughing up lungs, collapsing.

Sarina: [laughs]

James: None my muscles worked and I was just cramping everywhere. It’s the same with longhand writing. I think if you do write a lot, [00:24:00] or if you draw or paint, you build up a stamina to it, I think. [crosstalk]

Sarina: How many notebooks do you fill per novel?

James: Oh, my God. I think my first book, Isle of Winds, which came out five or six years ago now, I think the page count for the finished book is around 390-400 pages. It’s not a huge book, but I think I filled 11 notebooks when I was longhanding it. But this does include scribbles and diagrams, and I tend to draw floor plans of anywhere, so that I can get a visual of a certain scene, so that I know where to place the camera when I’m describing and so on. Or, I’ll draw little character sketches, or just go off on tangents. It does read a bit like a serial killer’s diary [laughs] full of [unintelligible [00:24:49]. They’re not the sort of thing that if I became super famous and died and they auctioned them on eBay, people would not want to buy them because it is fill of absolute nonsense. But yeah, [00:25:00] about 11 books from the first book and more for everyone. I’ve got shelves and shelves of them. I’ll probably never open them or look at them again, but I like to keep them.

Sarina: When you then transfer everything that you’ve written by hand onto words, do you copy it word for word? Or, do you already do a bit of editing here and there?

James: It’s more of that, that’s not my first edit, because obviously, as you’re typing up, you’re reading through your handwritten notes, and you’re sort of– I tend to read it out to myself while I’m typing, so I’ll literally be narrating the story from the page out loud to myself, mumbling like a strange person in an empty room and typing it. So, you do find phrases that don’t scan well. As you read, you might be thinking, “Oh, it would be better if I said this.” So, that’s sort of my first edit, really getting it onto the print, the type page makes it a bit easier.

Sarina: It’s quite an interesting process really, I think for writing. Maybe I should try that for a short story. Something that’s not too much of a commitment.

James: Yeah. Maybe not for a trilogy. [laughs] [00:26:00]

Sarina: No, maybe– Definitely not. [laughs] Never again.

James: Let’s do a few short stories or poems or limericks just to get yourself used to.

Sarina: Yeah, maybe. I love having notebooks anyway, so I’ll probably still have a spare one somewhere. And if not, as you said, the shops are opening, so I can easily go get one if I wanted.

James: You can. I find a lot of people buying me notebooks. I think if people know you’re a writer or in any way connects with writing or drawing, it’s like the perfect present. For someone who doesn’t know you very well, like “Oh, we’ve got you this.” It’ll be a book. “Well, it’s another notebook.” I would never be happy to get one because I always use them.

Sarina: See, I would find that quite difficult. My friends haven’t bought me a huge number of notebooks, which I actually quite like, because when I want to buy a new notebook for a new work in progress, it needs to be the right notebook, if that make sense.

James: I know what you mean, yeah.

Sarina: It can’t be any notebook, it needs to fit what I’m doing. It needs to feel right or it’s just not going to work.

James: That makes sense. People might say, “That’s a bit control freak [00:27:00] of you.” But I completely understand. It has to be the right color, the right binding, the right feel of paper.

Sarina: Yes. You know what? Those people will be correct, because I am a control freak. [chuckles]

James: There’s nothing wrong with being control– we are two plotters sitting here, being plotters unapologetically.


James: It’s okay to control what you can.

Sarina: Well, exactly. What are three important things you need to have when you’re writing? Of course, some of your stuff right now is in storage, so you might not have those things.

James: Yes. I would say, obviously pen and paper because I tend to write and scribble notes as I go along. Copious amounts of coffee, which I don’t have at the moment, because at the moment, I’m drinking instant coffee, because my beautiful, beautiful coffee-making machine is in storage, I keep occasionally going to visit it because I keep going to have to go to the pod to get [unintelligible [00:27:51] out. And every time I go, I stroke the coffee machine, “Soon, my darling, we’ll be reunited.”

[00:28:00] And my other half just rolls her eyes in the background, “Oh my God, stop. Leave the coffee machine alone.” I really missed that. Normally, so that’s something I always have to have. At the moment, I drink instant coffee and like this one I’ve got here, it’s just gone stone cold, because I haven’t drunk it. The other thing I have to have ideally is silence. I don’t write to music. I don’t ever– I’ve got my phone with me now, because I’m not writing, I’m in interview, but normally, my phone will have to be on charge in a different room, because I have got that busy fingers distraction where I could be typing and I’ll just check, and I get a message, and I’ll just go on social media and fall down a rabbit hole and waste my entire afternoon, so it has to be nowhere near me.

Sarina: I use an app for that that locks me out of all other apps. So, if I try to use my phone for something, it says, “No. [crosstalk] Go away.”


James: I couldn’t feel the pressure. I feel pressured now. It’s good enough for me that’s just out of the room. [crosstalk]

Sarina: There’s a bit of pressure with this app because it’s called Forest and you basically grow a virtual [00:29:00] tree. If you leave the app to use Twitter or anything else, your tree dies.

James: Oh my God, so ghoulish. [laughs]

Sarina: But to be honest, it works really well because I don’t want to kill my tree.

James: Well, whatever works. Yeah, that definitely works.

Sarina: That works for me, but I can’t write with music either, and I’m not sure how people can but–

James: I can write with some music. It depends what I’m writing because I’ve got two different genres series going. If I’m writing the Phoebe books, which are the sort of dark, dystopian, I tend to have silence because I don’t really like being distracted. If I’m writing the Changeling series, I can have classical music quietly. [crosstalk] I don’t know why my brain makes that differentiation. [crosstalk]

Sarina: I can have instrumental music. I can’t have anything with lyrics.

James: No.

Sarina: Video game scores are quite good for that because they were literally written to help you focus. So, I’ve got a few–

James: There’s a quite few online, yeah. I played The Witcher 3 meditation music soundtrack. That’s quite a good one, you can find that on YouTube.

Sarina: The Witcher 3 meditation music [00:30:00] soundtrack. I am writing this down, bear with me.

James: Write it down, because in the computer game, you don’t rest or sleep, you meditate. Somebody has made like an hourlong, all the meditation music in it and it’s quite nice to have one in the background.

Sarina: Well, in that case, I know exactly what you mean. I don’t need to write it down.


James: Yeah, look that one up. So, I don’t mind that kind of music in the background, but like you say, nothing with lyrics, nothing with verses and choruses, because then I end up listening to it, waiting for the next bit, rather than focusing on writing.

Sarina: That’s a really good idea. I’m going to have to add that to my list. I have been tempted to replay The Witcher, or rather continue with my deathmatch playthrough in the add-ons, and I will see you mentioning it as a sign from the universe to get back to it. That’s also my– [crosstalk]

James: I only completed it. I completed the game for the first time ever because I was very late to it about two days ago.

Sarina: Oh, well done.

James: I was like, “I’ve completed it, it’s finished.” But I enjoyed the game so much that I immediately loaded up a new game and I thought, “I’m going to play it again,” [00:31:00] and make all the different decisions.” My whole family looked at me and say, “You have a problem. Step away from the computer.” I’m like, “No.”

Sarina: It’s definitely not a problem. I’ve played Mass Effect like nine times, possibly more. I’ve lost count. You find only playing it for the second time, you’ll find you’re good, it’s nothing.

James: I’m not. I don’t need to seek– there’s no intervention needed quite yet.

Sarina: [laughs] Maybe one day. I think we’ve touched on this a little bit already, but what do you do when writing gets difficult?

James: I used to try and push through it and force myself. I think, “No, I should be able to do this no matter what mood I’m in, no matter what,” because you do read these people saying, “You write every day, you’ve got to write every day, or you’re not a writer and so on.” I used to put that sort of pressure on myself, because I used to feel guilty, that if I didn’t do anything, then I’ve got nothing else I should be doing. It’s not like I’ve got to go off and be a heart surgeon in my spare time or I’ll go off and be a train driver and [00:32:00] come back and write as a hobby. Writing is what I do, so if I’m not doing it, I feel massively guilty that I’m not doing it because I’m just coasting away through the day. If I can’t do it, or having a bad day, I’ll just step away from it now. I find that more productive than trying to force myself because as I’ve said, if I do force myself, 9 times out of 10 when I come back to read what I’ve written, it will be drivel, and I’ll end up deleting it anyway and I think, “I could have spent that time playing The Witcher or growing a small tree,” or what have you. “I wasted the day writing complete nonsense.” So, I don’t know. That’s lazy of me to think that way or if it’s just more relaxed in a way–

Sarina: No, I completely agree. I mean, I do think that breaks, especially when you know that you need a break are more beneficial, ultimately, for your writing, and then you’re trying to push through it anyway. And you do come back to it feeling more refreshed and being in a much better mindset for it. So, I do think it’s–

James: [crosstalk] -you avoid burnout then as well, don’t you? Because [00:33:00] you stopped before you get to the point where you think, “I absolutely hate what I’m doing.” You still want to [crosstalk] you’ve chosen this career, you’ve chosen to do this with your life, and it’s supposed to be the thing you enjoy more than anything else. So, if you’re forcing it and hating it, it’s going to come across in your writing, you’re just wasting your time and your readers’ time.

Sarina: And, of course, the closer you get to burning out, the more you’ll feel like you can’t take the time off, which is probably [crosstalk] really the number one sign that you should just step away for a day or two.

James: Yeah, let’s step away. Just go and have a sleep, go and have a walk. Do anything else other than writing and then come back to it when you feel–

Sarina: Play The Witcher.

James: Yeah, play The Witcher. This is not a very good writing to encourage your listeners to. And we’re two people sitting here writing both encouraging people to stop writing, go and play video games, just turn off your laptop right now. [laughs]

Sarina: Well, I always think you’re not a machine, you need breaks. And if this were any other job, you will get weekends or just any other day off. So, you’re totally fine to take a day off [00:34:00] if you need it.

James: Yeah, I think there is the guilt, because obviously, as a writer, you’re basically self-employed. So, you’re your own boss. I think when you’re your own boss, you have no more tough boss than yourself. [crosstalk]

Sarina: Yeah, no. And that guilt is always there that you need to work all the time. So, that just makes it more important, I think, to take the time off because no one is going to make you take the time off. It needs to come from you, and that can be really hard.

James: Yeah, I agree. You can be your own worst boss, I think.

Sarina: Yeah, definitely. This is possibly the most hated question to ask another writer, but I’m going to do it anyway. Where does your inspiration come from?

James: Oh, I knew it was going to be that. I could tell by your face– [crosstalk]

Sarina: [laughs]

James: –“Where do you get your ideas from?”

Sarina: I mean, I could have asked you to summarize your book in three words at one sentence but let’s go with inspiration Instead.

James: Publishers do that, and that’s bad enough. [crosstalk] -it took me seven years to write it and it’s got this many different parts. “Right, sum it up in 10 words for me.” I’m like, “I cannot sum up my [00:35:00] book in 10 words, thanks.” There you go. For inspiration, I don’t know. Where does anything come from? Generally, observation. You can just see something in passing life, which triggers a thought which gets you thinking along a certain path. Or, you could hear a piece of music that makes you visualize something that catches your imagination. I don’t really ever sit down and think, “Right, I want to write about X, Y, Z. How can I force a story around this?” It generally is something that has just been bouncing around in my head for a while, and it evolves into an idea of a story or an image that I’m interested in exploring it. You sort of mold it, don’t you, like clay, until he resembles something like a narrative. But it’s hard to pinpoint where did you start with it, with any story, I think. So, I don’t know, [crosstalk] I don’t know. I just put a gold coin under my pillow, and a small goblin comes, and when I wake up in the morning, it’s left a little note with some story ideas. That’s where I get– [crosstalk]  

Sarina: [00:36:00] -writing prompt. I mean, research is great, and I love doing research. But as you said, inspiration tends to come like just from little things, that maybe you’re watching something, and someone says something and that sentence then sparks an idea. But it’s not really something I don’t think that you can go out and actively try to find, because that’s not going to happen.

James: Yeah, something has to resonate with you. Like you say, it can be something you overhear in a conversation, that it just plays around in the back of your mind or something you’ve seen– as you’ve been driving down the street, you see something out the window, that starts a chain reaction in your mind, till it eventually becomes an idea, but I don’t think anyone can pinpoint– You don’t sit down at home, put down your cup of tea and go, “Right, I want to have a thought about this. Let’s write a story about– [chuckles]

Sarina: Inspiration is such an elusive beast anyway.

James: Yeah. [crosstalk] For most writers, for me certainly, and I imagine everyone else, the problem is more that you’ve got too many different ideas that you’d like to explore. And it’s just focusing on [00:37:00] one because when you’re writing a book, or when I’m writing a book, I’ve got about four or five other ideas that I’d like to be writing as well. And that’s why I started off writing two different genres because I tend to write them at the same time. Not strictly, but if I’m writing my Changeling series, if I get a bit fed up with them, I want to break from it, I can literally flip over to the other program, and go into Phoebe set and write some of the Phoebe series or some other different book. That’s one way to give yourself a break without stopping. [crosstalk]

Sarina: Are you working on both works in progress, is this now or do you literally just focus on one and then when you don’t want to work on that for a day, you then swap to the other one?

James: I don’t do it that routinely as in a day on one or any other. I tend to write one, and try and focus on that one, but if I’m having a rough time with it, or if I hit a bit of a stumbling block, “Oh, I just want a break from that. My brain is not in the mood to write whimsical fantasy,” if I’m in more of a sort of dark snarky mood, I might say, “You know what? I could use this energy better on [00:38:00] this. So, I’ll work on the other one for a while.” At the moment, I’ve just finished– Well, at the end of last year, I just finished the latest Changeling book, or books because it’s in two parts. I shelve that in my mind now because I’ve done Changeling 4, so that’s going to be off the backburner for a while. Now I’m focusing on a new book, which is a standalone, which is something that’s not related to either of the series I’m doing, but I’m also working on sort of the first drafts of the next Phoebe book as well. It’s always more than one thing on the go– [crosstalk]

Sarina: Yeah, lots of things happening. Let’s talk about food.

James: Food, okay. [chuckles]

Sarina: Do you snack while you write? What’s your beverage of choice? I know it’s coffee.

James: My beverage of choice is coffee. I do like tea, but I’m not a huge tea drinker. I am if I go out. If I go to restaurants or cafes or hotels, I tend to drink a lot of teas there, but at home, it’s just coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee. Monsoon Malabar is my favorite coffee that I’ve not had for over a year because I have not got my [00:39:00] beautiful coffee machine. Just the smell of it and it’s part of the comfort zone of my office. If it smells gorgeous of coffee, it puts me in that relaxy zone [crosstalk] on the window.

Sarina: I don’t stand the smell of coffee, but maybe I just haven’t smelled the right one.

James: Write this down next to your Witcher notes, Monsoon Malabar.

Sarina: [laughs] Smell coffee.

James: [laughs] And you look down, you’ll be playing The Witcher for a while, drinking coffee you’ve never had before and your little tree will have died. [laughs]

Sarina: Yeah.

James: And it will be my fault. Food wise, no, I don’t tend to eat while I’m writing. I’m quite strict with my food, not in an obsessive way, but I tend to only at mealtimes. I don’t really have breakfast because I’m one of those people who can’t eat before about 11 AM. I don’t understand people who can get up at 7 in the morning and have muesli or Weetabix. I have tried to, and it just makes me want to vomit. [crosstalk]

Sarina: Better not to then.

James: That’s all. I’ll have a lunch at lunchtime and I’ll have my evening meal in the evening, and [00:40:00] that’s pretty much it. So, I don’t really have food or snacks in the office.

Sarina: I find it takes you out of it a bit as well if you’re trying to eat something at the same time, because you have to stop writing to pick up whatever it is.

James: Yeah– [crosstalk]

Sarina: So, it takes [crosstalk].

James: We could probably do some experiments to try and find foods that you don’t need to pick up. It can just maybe licorice, long licorice sticks that you can just put one in your mouth and comfortable do get in–

Sarina: Like a spaghetti.

James: Yeah, spaghetti.


James: I’m going to try that. I’m going to cook myself a big plate of spaghetti and just put one into my mouth and start typing, and see how much I can get in. Maybe not. [chuckles] But no, I don’t eat.

Sarina: Right. We’ve already talked about whether you listen to music while you write, so I don’t think we need to revisit that. And then, which book would you say has inspired you the most?

James: Again, that’s a really hard one. It’s like someone says, “What’s your favorite book?” and if you read quite widely, and you like a lot of different genres, it’s like, “Well, this one’s my favorite book, [00:41:00] if I’m in this mood,” or, “This one’s my favorite book on this certain day.”

Sarina: That’s okay, you can list more than one, I’ll allow it. 

James: I’m allowed more than one favorite book. Woo. There are a couple, I think the one that’s influenced my writing the most is, it’s called The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. He is a British fantasy author, and it’s a book that I read when I was a young boy. I absolutely fell in love with it. I think it’s sort of set the seeds in my head for what would eventually become my Changeling series.

Sarina: All right.

James: Because what I loved about that book when I read it as a child is it’s set in our world, but it has a lot of fantasy elements, and there’s a lot of crossover between this magical world and the real world. Some of the settings in the book that I was reading about as a child, we then went to visit those places. They were National Trust properties or they were real woods, and I’d read about them in the story. And then suddenly, I was walking through them and the real world. [00:42:00] And that was quite magical to me.

Sarina: It’s quite special when you can do that.

James: Yeah. So, that’s what I deliberately wanted to set out to do in the Changeling books, is a lot of the places that are mentioned in the book are real places that you can physically go to. I suppose that has been quite a big influence on me. I recently reread it after many, many years, and I did that thing where you read something when you’re a child and you’re scared to read as an adult, in case it doesn’t hold up and it’s trash. [chuckles] “Oh, my God, I’ve ruined my childhood.” But it was still excellent. He’s been a big influence on me, I think.

Sarina: I don’t think I’ve heard of him, but I’ll have to look him up.

James: Yeah, he’s excellent. Alan Garner, he’s called. He wrote a few books. He’s famous for not liking writers, being a writer himself. He has said in various [unintelligible [00:42:47] that he’s a writer himself, but he doesn’t like other writers. He says that writers are the worst people, they’re the most awful people in the world because we’re all self-obsessed, we’re all egotistical maniacs [crosstalk] [00:43:00] but his writing is good. It’s good stuff. Good classic fantasy.

Sarina: A very similar question to that. Do you have a favorite book on the craft of writing?

James: I think I would probably go with, obvious one, Stephen King, Danse Macabre, which he wrote, and he wrote On Writing as well. He’s not my favorite author, he’s not my worst author, but I know a lot of people absolutely adore Stephen King. Some of his books are fantastic, I think some of them are for me a bit hit and miss, or a bit samey book. But his books about writing and about the mythology, the methods of writing and the sort of nuts and bolts of putting it together, I found them quite insightful and it sort of made me think about things in ways I hadn’t done before.

There was a book also on publication called From Pitch to Publication. I don’t know who that’s by, you’d have to [00:44:00] look it up. But that was the first ever book I read when I decided I was going to try and go out and get an agent, go out and maybe make a living out of this. That was a very insightful book on sort of all the pitfalls that new writers fall into, the cliches or submitting the wrong things to wrong people, and so on. The kind of things that editors are looking for and the kind of things that publishers want you to do, and that was quite a useful book. I don’t know who wrote it, I’ll have to look it up.

Sarina: Okay, I’ll have to look these up anyway for the transcript, so I might get back to you and ask you for links.

James: I’ll find them, I’ll make a note of what I’ve told you. I shouldn’t have made them up.


Sarina: That’s helpful. For now, I’ve also got a library on my website with all the books that people have recommended, so it’ll be useful for that as well.

James: Yeah.

Sarina: And I think my transcriber will appreciate it. Hi, Dax. [laughs] Final question. Do you have any advice for establishing a writing routine? [00:45:00]

James: I think it’s hard to give advice because I think everyone is different. And what works for one person is very much not going to work for another. I could say, follow my writing routine, make sure you have set hours a day, work Monday to Friday, treat it seriously. I suppose be that would be universal to anyone. If you’re going to write, treat it seriously, don’t dabble around the edges. Don’t write and think, “Oh, I’m not good enough to do this.” Don’t doubt yourself. Just get in there and write the damn story. If you write it confidently, somebody is going to love it, so stop thinking you’re not good enough to do it or what if it doesn’t do as well as I want it to, just write the story if it’s in you.

For writing routine, for me, it is a case of striking the balance between trying to be professional about it, having a Monday to Friday, set hours that I sit down and write, but also being flexible in that some days that will work, and some days it won’t, some days I won’t. I will do an hour, then I’ll be burnt out and I want to go out for a drive or out for a walk with the dog [00:46:00] and screw it all. Other days, I’ll get way past the time I normally clock off and think, “No, I’m having a good day today. So, I’m going to keep writing until I burn out.” So, just listen to your own instincts, I think, and find out what works best for you.

Sarina: I think that’s very sage advice, and it’s an excellent point to end on as well., I think. Thank you very much for coming on. Hopefully, it’s been insightful for our listeners as well. Again, thank you so much again. It’s been really [crosstalk] lovely to talk to you.

James: Lovely to speak to you, finally.


Sarina: Yeah, I’m sure we can manage it again at some point. [laughs]

James: Okay. [laughs]

Sarina: So, yeah, thank you so much, and have a wonderful day everybody, and bye-bye.

James: Bye-bye.


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 and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course, [00:47:00] on my website at Until next time, bye.

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The Writing Sparrow Episode 31 | Writing Routines: Julia Blake

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 Julia Blake, a multi-genre author from England.

To find out more about Julia, check out her website or follow her on Instagram.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[The Writing Sparrow theme]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow Podcast. I’m Sarina Langer. This podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at Let’s get started. 


Sarina: Good morning, and welcome back, friends and Sparrows. It’s the 12th of April 2021. This is Episode 31. Today, I have Julia Blake back with me to talk about her writing routine. Welcome back, Julia.

Julia: No, I’m just thrilled that you actually have me back, obviously I behaved myself last time.

Sarina: Of course. You did very well last time. 

Julia: Oh, thank you.

Sarina: I didn’t do very well last time, because we’ve got a few questions– well, quite a few questions last time from your followers on Instagram. There’s one that [00:01:00] I completely forgot to ask about. If we start with that one today, and I’m very sorry, Bruce, that I forgot about your question last time, we will start with it today. Then, I also have with usual 15 questions that I ask every writer who comes in to talk about their routine. You’ve just told me as well that your internet connection is a little bit unstable, so we may run into some issues with that, but hopefully it’s fine. If we start with author, Bruce A. Hansen’s question from Instagram, which is most commercial author stick to one genre, the masses seem to really like that. What advantages and disadvantages have you seen in your approach?

Julia: Okay, first of all, hi Bruce, thank you for the question. Again, this question implies that there’s actually a method to my madness. 

Sarina: [chuckles] 

Julia: I know that [00:02:00] if I was traditionally published, they probably would pin me down and say, “Right, pick a genre.” That is probably the biggest reason why I like being indie published, because I have complete freedom. I have autonomy over what I can write because I just love stories. I love telling stories. For me, the genre doesn’t really matter. Now, I took a conscious decision– well, maybe not a conscious decision, but I think at the beginning, people did suggest to me that I use a different pen name for every single genre and I think we’ve touched on this before, but I’m so far up to eight different genres, I would have schizophrenia, I would not know who I was, and marketing that many different genres, I get quivers just thinking about it. 

Sarina: It sounds like a nightmare. 

Julia: It does, it sounds like a real identity crisis going on there. I have enough going on without dealing with that as well. I then realized that [00:03:00] people were actually– although people sorted out this issue for me, they were like, “Oh, Julia Blake, she’s the multi-genre author.” That kind of put a label on me, which I was happy with that, I’m comfortable with that. From that, the tagline developed Julia Blake, an Author for all Seasons, and I sort of ran with that as well. I really liked it because an interview I did way back several years ago, the interviewer actually put that label on me and said, “Oh, so you’re an Author for all Seasons,” and I really liked that. I thought, “Yes, I like that.” So, I’ve run with that as being my tagline. Am I commercially viable? Probably not. 


Julia: So, is any indie author commercially viable, really? Also, I think the thing was having lots of genres under your belt. If the reader doesn’t like a particular genre, well, I’ve got another seven, eight. I’ve got a good one that you will like. Maybe in a way, not [00:04:00] having all your eggs in one basket does actually increase your readership. I hope that answered your question, Bruce. [crosstalk]

Sarina: I think it does. That was quite thorough and in depth. Hopefully, that’s all right. I think it eased my mind a little bit every time I consider writing in another genre. Thank you for that. If we start with the 15 questions that I ask everybody, let’s start with the most important one on my list. I think I actually already know the answer to that one. Are you a plotter or a pantser or somewhere in between?

Julia: Oh, complete and utter freefall, no parachute, no planning, no looking ahead, pantser. Let’s just jump out the plane and see what happens.


Julia: I could not plot my way out of a paper bag, because when I sit down to write a story, usually I have the title, I have a character and I have a vague concept, but that could change. [00:05:00] I just write the first line, get the first line down, and then it’s linear for me. I’m not one of those authors who jumps ahead and writes the scene and then goes back. I start at the beginning, and I just work my way through until I hit the end. Yeah, pantser, definitely. Although I don’t like that word, being British, that just denotes underwear to me. I wish they think of a new word for us.

Sarina: Or, we do need something different. If you’re a bit of both, which I think most writers are, then that’s quite easy, because you can then put plotter and pantser together to make plotster, for example, which I think works a lot better. [laughs] 

Julia: I think I’m organic. I’m an organic writer. Let’s put it that way.

Sarina: Let’s run with that then. what does your writing routine look like?

Julia: Ooh, again, routine. A tricky word for me. I’m the world’s worst procrastinator. It takes me absolutely forever to put my backside down in the [00:06:00] chair and actually start writing. I will think of a million different reasons why I should not sit down and write. “Ooh, the shed needs sorting out.” “Ooh, I need to go and clean out my freezer.” There’s always a reason why I shouldn’t write. But then, when I decide to and I sit down, it’s like a little voice inside me says, “Ooh, you actually love this. Why haven’t you done this more often?” Then, once I get my teeth into a project, I’m absolutely tunnel vision. I like the house to be quiet and I like to be alone in the house. Of course, this past year, that has not happened very much. [crosstalk] 

Sarina: No. It’s been a little bit difficult for people like us who need silence when we are writing.

Julia: Yes. I’m not one of those writers who can have a playlist blaring in the background because I would just stop, come into the music and I will get totally– I would find I was typing the lyrics into the story– [crosstalk] 

Sarina: Yes. That’s how I am with that. 

Julia: Yeah, I need silence. And if the people in the street could possibly shut up as well, that would be very nice. 

Sarina: Yes.

Julia: I don’t have a lot of [00:07:00] complicated stuff, there is just my desk. I always write at my desk, it’s my writing zone. When I sit down at my desk, it’s because I’m going to do something author related. It’s my work zone. I can’t write sitting on a sofa with my laptop, because I’d need six strong men to straighten my back, back out of the [unintelligible [00:07:21] afterwards. It’s always at a proper chair, at my desk, with my laptop, and the only equipment I have is a glass of water. That’s it. It’s not too close to the laptop. After the “hot chocolate” incident in 2016, I’m not allowed to–[crosstalk] 

Sarina: Okay.

Julia: Yes, there were casualties. I’m not allowed to have beverages anywhere near my laptop anymore.

Sarina: Oh, that sounds terrible. It’s the last thing you want, isn’t it? When you’re just sitting down and you have high hopes of writing all the words, and then, bam, laptop broken because you spilled your drink, and you spilled the drink.

Julia: Yeah, hot chocolate, all over the laptop. 

Sarina: You lose a– [crosstalk] Oh. [00:08:00] That sounds painful. [chuckles] I feel like we’ve maybe preempted this next question a little bit already as well, but I’ll ask anyway. Do you set yourself specific goals when you sit down to write? For example, do you have a certain number of words in your head that you want the overall work in progress to have? Or, do you set yourself a certain amount of time to write for every day? 

Julia: No. I don’t write every day.

Sarina: That would have been my next question. 

Julia: I think that can be a little bit of misleading. That’s misleading information for new authors, write every single day, or you’re not a proper writer. Well, if all you’re doing is you’re at home, and all you’re doing is writing, and it’s your job, and it’s what you earn money from then, yes, obviously that gets priority. But sadly, like most indie authors, I’m not in a position where my writing is my main job. My main job has to come first, because that’s what pays all the bills. I’ve completely lost track. What’s the question again? [00:09:00]

Sarina: Do you set yourself word count goals, for example or– Yeah.

Julia: Well, for the actual book or for each writing session?

Sarina: Either way.

Julia: Okay. Well, if it’s a book in a series that I’ve already written books for, for example, The Perennials Trilogy, nearly was 175,000 words. Daisy, I think almost 160,000. I know when I write the third book, it’s going to be in that ballpark. It’s going to be because obviously, if you’ve got the books lined up on a shelf, you can’t have big book, big book, tiny book. There has to be continuity in a series. Likewise, when I’m writing the Blackwood Family Saga, they all clock in at between 52,000 and 54,000 words. They’re short, snappy reads. Of course, the other books I write in that series must fall into that word count. You can’t go any further. But if it’s a new book, and I’m sitting down to write it, I really have no idea [00:10:00] how when many words that is going to– usually too many. When I wrote Black Ice, it started out– it was going to be a short story, and it’s only going to be 3000 or 4000 words long. Well, 150,000 words later, I paid no attention to that word count whatsoever.

Individual sessions, when I sit down to write, I’m more of an idea person. I sit down and think, “Right, I’ve got this scene that I want to write, I would really like to get that scene down today. Never mind about the word count, it doesn’t matter if it’s like 800 words or 8000 words, it doesn’t matter. This scene, I want to get down. I don’t want to walk away halfway through the scene.” Usually my brain goes, “Okay, you want the scene,” and the words just play out to me. Then when the scene is done, I’m usually exhausted, and I’m dry. That’s it for now, so I stop. There’s no conscious, sort of, I don’t sit down and think, “Today, I’m going to write 3000 words.” I think that’s just setting yourself up to fail. If you say that and then you only manage 2000, you’re going to feel [00:11:00] dreadful. But if you sit down and just say, “Well, let’s just see what happens. I would just love to get some words done.” You do 2000 words, you’re going to go, “Wow, awesome. That’s brilliant.” I think set realistic goals is the tip anyway in life.

Sarina: I think sitting down with the goal of just writing a specific scene is quite a good approach for it as well, because obviously, your individual scenes are going to make up the entire book. So, if you already have a strong idea for a scene, and you know you have time to write, and you’re excited to write the scene, why not try to get the whole thing done? I don’t massively like stopping in the middle of any one scene or any one chapter. But at the same time, it then also helps me to get back to it next time I go back into write, but it can also be really fulfilling, I think, if we can wrap up a whole scene in one session.

Julia: Also, I think, if you write, especially if it’s something like a battle scene or an action scene, if you can get that down in one hit [00:12:00] in one mad, panicked, urgent rush, I think that comes out in the writing. I think that sense of urgency does come through in the writing, and it will put the reader right in the moment. I think sometimes people can overthink things like that. 

Sarina: Yeah, I think so. Just speaking from my own experience, I’m terrible at writing battle scenes, for example. When I plan them because I’m a plotter, see? [chuckles] 

Julia: Mm-hmm. 

Sarina: When I go into the writing sprint for the day, for example, I know that I have this battle scene to write. I’ve known for a while that I would have this battle scene to write eventually, but I have no idea really when the time comes to do it, how to do it. My notes will just say write epic battle scene and I just stare at it and go, “Um, character picks up sword, character hopes to not die.” I don’t know. I’m terrible with writing things like battle [00:13:00] scenes. I agree that if you already have the energy for it, and if you’re feeling really pumped up to write it, then that definitely comes through in the writing, assuming that you know what you’re doing, which is never a given on any day.

Julia: No, certainly not for me. 


Sarina: Has your writing routine changed at all over the years? If so, what have you changed and why?

Julia: No, I’ve always written in this way. When I first started writing novels, my daughter was very young, she was a baby, and she was going down for long naps. My word, that child slept for Britain. 

Sarina: [laughs] 

Julia: I’m not complaining but sometimes it was quite alarming how much she slept. I used nap times and knowing that I was against the clock that she could wake– She was generally a good child, she did sleep a lot but she could wake at any moment. My writing time was going to be curtailed at some point. It’s like, “This is the time I have to write, so you better write, girl.” [00:14:00] There was none of this, “Do I feel like writing? No, I don’t.” It was that, “This is the only time you’re going to have to write, so you have got to write.” I think I need that kick up the backside. I need that kind of– If I’m given too much time, I will fill it. I will faff about and then suddenly, I will go, “Ooh, no, I have a lot of time to write now.” Whereas if I’m told, you have an hour, hour and a half, tops, get to it. Then you sit down and suddenly in that hour and a half you’ve done 3000 words, that is how I cut my teeth writing novels. I think that habit has stayed with me. Now when I decide to write, I’m going to write now. I sit down and I just hammer out the words.

Sarina: I was really surprised last year to see that I really work in exactly the same way. I figured when I stay home to write, if I do it full time self-employed style, I’d get a lot more writing done because I wouldn’t have any other distractions in the way like a day job. [00:15:00] But that’s not at all what happens. As you said, if you have too much time on your hands, you end up filling that time with other things. I think because I had that much time, I always thought, “Well, if I don’t write today, doesn’t matter, because I can then write tomorrow.” But then the next day, I had exactly the same thought. Now, that I’m back at the day job, and actually, when I still went in physically, back in the day, when that was a thing, when we were allowed to do that, I made a point of getting up earlier so I could write for just 15 minutes in the morning. Like you said, I then had that urgency of, “If I don’t write now, I’m not going to get any writing done, so this has to happen. Or else, I’m not going to do any.” It’s probably some of the best words I’ve written to be honest because you then have that urgency.

Julia: Yeah. I think is probably as well, that’s one of the reasons why a lot of authors didn’t write, or don’t write well in lockdown, because there’s, “Oh, I’ve got all day to write,” and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. “You know [00:16:00] what? Today, I’m just going to put on my pajamas and watch Netflix.”

Sarina: I eventually got into a better routine. To begin with, it didn’t help that I had burned out pretty badly, in my defense, which isn’t much of a defense because I pushed myself into a burnout. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be, so that’s a lesson learned. 

Julia: Yeah.

Sarina: I think now when I sit down to write, I do now have a lot more time because we’re in lockdown. But I still try to limit how much time I give myself so that I don’t feel– Well, if I want to write longer, I can. So, I do tend to set short timers, 15 minutes or half an hour is what I try to limit my writing time to now. Then, I feel that I write with so much more focus. 

Julia: There is nothing like a time constraint to really sharpen the mind, really make you realize that, “This is the only time you’ve got, so make the most of it.” For me, the timing of lockdown was both good and [00:17:00] bad, because I was embarked on updating and republishing several books. I had [unintelligible [00:17:06] that I was doing, three Blackwood books plus The Book of Eve, of course, that was a huge major reconstruction job. They just coincided with the first lockdown. Everyone was saying to me, “Oh, I bet you’re writing lots in lockdown.” Well, actually, no, I’m not, but I hadn’t planned to. Even if I was still at work, this is what I would still be doing because– but the only thing was, instead of it taking me six months to get these four books or five books out, it only took me three. So, lockdown was great in that I had all day to sit down and edit, format, and source images and cover and things like that, it was great in that way. If I wasn’t doing those books, then I would have written. 

The irony is that as soon as lockdowns lifted, and I went back to work in June, and we got Book of Eve out in July, that was a big push. We got that out in July. I sat down mid-August, [00:18:00] and started Black Ice, six weeks later, 150,000 words was out, and that was on top of working. I did do overtime as well, so it was on top of doing my job, plus overtime. I think time is irrelevant issue, isn’t it? If you’ve got the time, you tend to fill it.

Sarina: Yeah. That was going to be my next question as well. If lockdown has affected your writing at all? But it sounds like for you, it’s been very beneficial.

Julia: It has. It’s given me time to do stuff. Then, of course, November, we were back into lockdown for a month in November, and that was the month in which I published Black Ice. So, having whole days to do final edits, final polishing, final formatting, setting up all the promo material, liaising with my formatting company, and just getting it out. That took up the whole of November. Then, of course, I went back to it, and then we’re back into lockdown now, but, of course, at the moment, [00:19:00] I am just going to grab doing a few other bits and pieces of tweaks, I’m working on my website. I’m trying to branch out into other social media because Instagram seems to have issues, so I’m sort of exploring other platforms as well. I’m constantly busy with writer things, but not actually writing, if that makes sense.

Sarina: Yeah. There’s a lot more that goes into writing a book anyway than just the writing that isn’t there. It might feel like you’re not being productive in terms of actually writing the thing, but really, you are doing a lot of work towards that.

Julia: Yes. Promoting is obviously a big thing that goes on behind the scenes and readers are not aware of it, and that takes up a huge amount of time. 

Sarina: Massive amount of time.

Julia: [crosstalk] -time I would rather be writing, but there it goes.

Sarina: It’s to be done. It’s a necessary evil. What writing program do you use?

Julia: Oh, all the writers out there all going to laugh at me. I have a really old laptop and [00:20:00] it has basic Word on it, and that’s what I use.

Sarina: That’s enough. You don’t need anything fancy.

Julia: I don’t need anything fancy. I literally don’t. I know Word. Before my current job, I was a professionally trained secretary, and I understand Word, I know how to use it. Everybody sort of lauds the benefits of using things like Scrivener, and I just look at them and think, “Why should I pay to have something when I have something that does the job just as well?” I’m sure Scrivener is fine, and maybe in the future it will be something I’ll explore but at the moment, I like Word, I understand it, and I tend to get things done, I understand.

Sarina: I do have a love-hate relationship with Word, because when it works, it works really well for me. I love using Word for editing. So, I write in Scrivener, and I edit in Word. But when it doesn’t work, and when it breaks down, I’m always ready to throw my laptop out the window because I feel like every now and again, for no reason whatsoever, Word just closes itself down [00:21:00] and restarts and I do not understand why.

Julia: [laughs] There are certain issues of Word, section breaks and pagination over section breaks that has caused me many a tear.

Sarina: That’s a formatting issue though. That’s not Word though, that’s just formatting being– it’s horrible, hell itself. 

Julia: Well, they made it as difficult as they could possibly make it. I’m sure there were easier ways.

Sarina: Thank God then for businesses like Platform House Publishing that make it so easy, and they just do it for us. Bless Becky.

Julia: I do all of the formatting so when I actually send my document across to Becky, it is in the correct template. It has got all the section breaks, it is paginated, it has all the dropped capitals, it has all the headings, it has the illustrations, everything is perfect. So, she literally just goes in, tweaks it, [00:22:00] make sure everything stays where it’s put. She does some kind of magic, arcane magic, some of the illustrations-

Sarina: It is. 

Julia: -so they don’t go wandering off. I don’t quite know what she does. I think she waves a wand and stirs up a potion. I don’t know quite what goes in there. Then, when it comes back to me, I know I can rest assured that I can upload that into KDP and it won’t move. When I go in and look at the preview, I won’t go, “What? No, that’s not what I wanted.”

Sarina: That was my problem back in the day when I first started writing my first book and I was still using OpenOffice. I swear I edited one thing, and everything shifted. Oh, I hated that thing. I’m sure it works perfectly fine for people who really understand it, but it’s not the program for me.

Julia: I remember early days, Becoming Lili is a huge book. I remember it was all perfect in the Word document, so I uploaded [00:23:00] it to KDP. When I went into the preview, it had all shifted ever so slightly, so it had knocked all my chapters out, knocked all the page numbers out. I had a lot of chapters that ended with a little orphan, just kind of one line at the top of the page, which I absolutely hate. I was going back in and trying to pull everything back and then uploading it and looking, “No, it’s still not right.” Then going back down, nightmare. Now, thank goodness for Platform House Publishing, and the adorable Becky, she just does it all for me. [crosstalk] 

Sarina: She loves doing it. I always think I may as well. Makes her happy, makes me happy, everybody wins. I think you’ve already mentioned this a little bit earlier, but what are three important things you need to have when you’re writing? I don’t know if tea was mentioned.

Julia: Tea first thing, definitely. I’m a tea drinker first thing in the morning. Then when I’m actually writing, a big glass of water. I don’t know if I breathe faster or I just dehydrate or [00:24:00] something but I get incredibly thirsty when I’m writing. I’m always gulping down water. Peace of mind, I have to have an uncluttered mind. If I’m worrying about something, then the words just don’t come. If I’m stressed or I’m really upset about something, it’s very hard for me to write because the way I write is literally just open up my brain and then it goes straight from my imagination to my fingertips. I think if there’s clutter in my head, it stops the process. It gets in the way of the thoughts, you know what I mean? So, a clear head definitely. 

A decent chair. I have slight back issues. If I slump or slouch, which I’m bad for doing, especially as I sit for long hours, sometimes I’ll sit for 8, 9, 10 hours writing and if I’ve not had my back, my spine properly supported, then I will pay for those 10 hours. Also, when it’s cold, fingerless mittens, [00:25:00] because if my wrists get cold– I find my wrists get really cold when I’m writing, and then I get really sore wrists and I get repetitive strain injury. I’ve found that just a nice pair of cheap woolen wrist warmers, fingerless mittens, and that sort of solves the problem. That’s my needs, quite simple.

Sarina: I was meaning to get myself some nice fingerless gloves for writing, especially in the winter.

Julia: They are amazing. My [crosstalk] pair there. 

Sarina: Oh, they look so comfy, too. 

Julia: They are. 

Sarina: I like anything that’s soft and fuzzy and warm. I’m very easy to please. You said about writing that you need a clear mind, an uncluttered mind. Do you find that you avoid writing if you’re feeling stressed or if you have something worrying you? Or, is there anything that you do to unclutter your mind before you start writing?

Julia: Believe it or not, a few rounds of Tetris will help or a few rounds of Candy Crush will just help. [00:26:00] It just take away– I think the banality of the game and the mindless repetition of the game just helps me, almost like a meditation sort of thing, almost like taking a deep breath before I go in. That can sometimes help. But if I’m really stressed and worried, then there’s no point in even opening my laptop because nothing’s going to come out. Or if something does come out, it’s going to be deleted next day.

Sarina: No, that’s fair enough. What do you do when writing gets difficult for you? I think some people call this writer’s block, which I don’t believe in.

Julia: I’m going to make myself hated by every single writer if I say I never actually had writer’s block. [crosstalk] 

Sarina: See, I don’t believe it exists, to be honest, so I’m right there with you.

Julia: I have the opposite problem. I have writer’s diarrhea. Is that a thing? 

Sarina: It should be. 

Julia: I have the problem, I have too many stories in my head, and it’s the, “Which one do I write next?” So many words. [00:27:00]

Sarina: Well, that’s good to know. I think with most people that when we talk about writer’s block, what they really mean is either that they’ve burned out on writing, and they need a break. Or, they’re procrastinating too much, and they don’t really want to write.

Julia: They’re overthinking it, maybe they’re just like we said, overthinking. I had one young writer who actually messaged me. I do get quite a lot of young writers who messaged me asking for advice, which is lovely. I’m not quite sure I’m the best person to ask, but I always do my best to help. One young writer said, “I just sit down and I’m just staring at a blank page and I can’t write anything. I’m trying to plot this book.” I said, “So just write a short story.”

Sarina: Yeah. don’t overthink it. Just write something. 

Julia: “Go away, and write me a 100-word story, and come back to me tomorrow. Here’s your title.” She went, “Oh.” She went to work. She came back next day and said, “I’ve written it and it was really good.” I said, “How do you feel?” She said, “That was amazing. It was so exciting.” Looking at the word [00:28:00] count, thinking, “[gasps] I’ve gone up to 101 words, what word can I take out.” She said, “I feel is also helped me in preparation for writing the blog.” This understanding that you can pare down a sentence to its absolute basic, and it still made sense. But sometimes, words are too much, that more is not always a good thing, it’s sometimes just more. She said, “This is a fantastic exercise, and I am going to use this quite a lot in the future. This little flash fiction I wrote has actually given me an idea for another novel.” I was like, “Oh, there you go then.” Last I know, she was doing really well. She finished a book, so that was wonderful–[crosstalk] 

Sarina: Oh, brilliant. Congratulations to this writer if she’s listening. Well done. This may be a slightly hated question, possibly for every author, but I’ll ask anyway. Where does your inspiration come from?

Julia: Oh, goodness me. I don’t know.


Julia: Usually out of the ether, spirit world, fifth dimension. [00:29:00] I don’t know. Sometimes, I can pin down the exact moment when a story idea comes to me. I remember before I wrote Book of Eve, I actually went to an aunt’s funeral. She was elderly and she’d been ill for a long time. I looked around at all these people at the funeral who I hadn’t seen some of them in years, and I suddenly thought how funerals are a great gathering place, maybe more so than weddings, because weddings are all about joy and happiness. Whereas a funeral is about hugging someone and sharing emotions, sharing these memories and nostalgia and regrets. I went away from that funeral with an idea in my head of starting a book at a funeral of actually starting the book with the death of the main character, their funeral, and then working from there. 

I was sort of kicking ideas around about that and the ideas were brewing in my head. Then, I went to bed that night. Normally, I don’t dream, but this night I had a very vivid dream, and I dreamt [00:30:00] of a woman sitting on a white marble staircase with actual blood flowing down staircase. I woke up before, “Good heavens, where did that come from?” I knew that was the pivotal moment of the book that I had in my head. I don’t give too many spoilers, but it is one of the pivotal moments in the book. If you want to know how those two things connect, you’ll have to read the book. 

Apart from that, all my other books have just floated in. Obviously, Black Ice, I was given the remit of Snow White. I had that as barebones to work from. The only others book that I can definitely pinpoint the exact moment and go, “There, that’s where that came from,” was The Forest. It’s a long time ago, it’s about 10 years ago, and I was at a big family party. One of those family parties that go from great-grandfathers sitting in the corner, clutching a pint of beer, down to babies and push chairs in the other corner and every generation in between, huge family party. It was getting towards the end of the party. [00:31:00] My brother and I were sitting there, finishing up a bottle of wine between us. Just sitting there and listening. There was a group of grandfathers, an elderly gentleman behind us having a wonderful conversation about the past and people they knew. Suddenly, my ear was caught by the most amazing name I’ve ever heard in my life. One old gent lent across to the other old gent and said, “Whatever happened to old Wally Twitchett?” 


Julia: My brother and I just looked at each other and I turned around and said, “Who?” [laughs] He said, “Wally Twitchett.” I said, “Please tell me that was the real person.” they said, “Oh, yeah, old Wally used to ride around the village on his old bike, he did. Wonder he didn’t fall off it.” By the time I got home that evening, I had Wally Twitchett in my head. I knew what he looked like down to the rickety old bone-shaker bike, down to his patched with clean clothes, his protruding Adam’s apple and [00:32:00] a big braggy nose. I had him in my head. I had to find a wonderful village for him to live in, a quirky village, full of equally quirky people as him. I had so much fun with the names in The Forest. I really did. The names are amazing.

This forest, plus village, the inhabitants of the village are very strange, very insular, and they never ever leave the village. “Ooh. [whispering] Why? Why never? Because the village is next forest that has a curse on. “[gasp] A curse. I like that.” That’s how my process goes. One idea sparks another, and it’s almost like the voices in my head are brainstorming. It’s like they’re having a session where everyone– and I can almost imagine the head of the meeting going, “Come on, think outside the box people! Throw the ideas in!” It is like that, it is a meeting with everyone just throwing in ideas and throwing it at the wall and seeing what sticks. That one, The Forest, I can definitely pinpoint the inspiration for that one. The others? [00:33:00] Not so much.

Sarina: Well, I think I’ve learned two things from that. One, we have very similar approaches. Two, family gatherings are your big inspiration focal point. 

Julia: Yeah, [laughs] well, two of them. Yes.

Sarina: Yes. The book that you talked about that you started at a funeral, which book is that?

Julia: That’s The Book of Eve

Sarina: All right, thank you. I couldn’t quite hear it earlier, wanted to make sure that we had the right title there.

Julia: Oh, sorry. 

Sarina: That’s okay. Do you snack while you write and what’s your beverage of choice? You’ve already said tea and water.

Julia: Yes, tea first thing. I always have tea absolutely first thing in the morning because I find coffee too aggressive. But then mid-morning, I will always break it about 11 and go and have a coffee. I am rather partial– I have proper coffee, I won’t drink instant. The only time I ever deviate from that is, those little sachets you can buy a cappuccino and stuff? I like those. Yeah, I might treat myself to one of them. [00:34:00] But when I’m actually writing, it is a glass of water. A glass of water at arm’s length from my laptop. As to snacking, no, I have breakfast, I stop for lunch, and that’s it. I don’t eat at the laptop, I don’t snack. Well, also, because you get your fingers dirty and the keyboard gets really grungy and that.

Sarina: It’s actually quite annoying to do, isn’t it? For example, say if you were to eat crisps, then you’d have all the dust on your fingers and then you would just get the keyboard dirty.

Julia: I don’t want to clean my keys. Yes.

Sarina: Some of it you never get out again. Then your keyboard just forever smells of cheese or whatever it is that you had. 


Sarina: I think you’ve already mentioned some of this as well. Do you listen to music while you write? I’m pretty sure that’s a no. 

Julia: No, I don’t. The only time I ever listened to music was when a long time ago, I wrote my novella Lifesong and that was inspired by the music of the composer Karl Jenkins, and his [00:35:00] extraordinary album, Adiemus. it’s the exploration of human voice vocalizing without actual words, just made-up words. Everyone will know this of a certain age because they did the music for the British Airways ad with the people on the beach, making the symbol, that sort of song. I did while I was writing Lifesong, I did very much put on that that album, and each track kind of inspired a different piece of the book. It was very, very specific, but that’s the only time. The rest of the time, ti’s silence for me.

Sarina: This is a mean question and I’ve had all kinds of interesting reactions when I’ve asked it. Which book has inspired you the most?

Julia: Ooh, okay. [pause] Oh, I have read so many books. I learned to read at a very early age. I was reading by myself [00:36:00] because I was a very lonely child, so books were my refuge. I would have to say that going back right into the dawn of time, obviously when dinosaurs roamed the earth when I was young, Enid Blyton, The Magic Faraway Tree was my first exploration of the fantasy genre. Now, I know some people may turn around and say to me, “It’s not a fantasy book,” but three children go to a fantastical wood and climb a magical tree that’s inhabited by elves and magical creatures, and has a portal to other worlds at the top. If that’s not fantasy, then what is? It is fantasy. That triggered a lot of books not just being an escape from your world, but being an escape into a different world, to a different world of people with other creatures and other worlds that didn’t abide by the same laws as ours, perhaps. That was very early on. 

Later, of course, the Narnia books. Absolutely. I don’t think there can be any [00:37:00] fantasy author who can honestly say hand on their heart, they didn’t read the Narnia books, and were not inspired by them. [crosstalk] 

Sarina: [unintelligible [00:37:08] haven’t read them.

Julia: Oh, my goodness, you have to. It was YA fantasy before anybody even knew what that was. Narnia is such– I have no words to describe, you have to read it. 

Sarina: Okay. Maybe I’ll make a point of it this year.

Julia: They’re short books. Seriously, I constantly go back and reread them, just touching base with where it all began for me. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I can read that in a couple of hours. They’re very light quick books. They’re children’s books with a heart and a message in them. The impact cannot be underestimated, the impact that these books had on a generation, are still having. So, the Narnia books, and then when I was slightly [00:38:00] older– [unintelligible [00:38:03] I read Narnia when I was eight, maybe younger, seven, eight that kind of age. When I was slightly older 11, 12, I discovered the amazing British fantasy books by an author called Susan Cooper. She wrote The Dark Is Rising series, which are extraordinary books. They really are extraordinary. What I liked about them was they are so British. The focus is on British mythology and British myths and legends. Things like the Green Man, the Wild Hunt, Wayland’s Smithy, just things like that. They instilled a love in me of British fantasy, which came through in my books, Erinsmore and in Forest, that sort of acknowledgement of my roots. I’m very British.

Other than that, I think one book that sticks out in my mind is, it’s an Agatha Christie book called The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I remember when I was mid to late teens, I went through a [00:39:00] Agatha Christie binge where I think I read every single thing she ever wrote, one massive binge-fest, eat read of her books. This particular book blew my mind away because it was the first book I had ever read with an unreliable narrator. [crosstalk] Yes, where the person who was telling the story is lying to the reader. 

Sarina: Ooh.

Julia: Yes. It’s not until you reach the end– I don’t want to give any spoilers, it’s not until you reach the end that you realize that every single thing this narrator has told you has been a lie or has been from his point of view because he’s hiding the truth from you.

Sarina: That’s interesting.

Julia: That’s just– mind blown. The fact the narrator could lie to the reader. I read very few books since then that do that. I think it’s a very brave thing to do, and it has to be handled right. Of course, Agatha Christie was just the queen what she did. Her books are actually really short. [00:40:00] Nowadays, we always call them novellas, but she manages to get the entire story and it’s beautiful, and it tells you everything you need to know in that very small space of time. I think we could all do with reading a bit about and just seeing how she does it, how brevity of words can sometimes get across the message much more so than great big, long purple prose and everything. So, that one as well. Of course, Robin Hobb. I have long and abiding love for Robin Hobb.

Sarina: I had started reading Robin Hobb entirely because of you on Instagram. 

Julia: Aww. [chuckles] 

Sarina: I’ve still only read the one, but I’ve really, really enjoyed it.

Julia: They get better and better.

Sarina: All of her books are in my list now.

Julia: Yeah, they get better and better because she allowed herself the luxury of space and time and word counts to just have this amazing, epic story that she was like, “Okay, I’m not going to tell this in the first book. It’s not going to get told in book two, book three, book four. In fact, it’s going to take 17 books.”

Sarina: 17? 

Julia: Yeah. 17 [00:41:00] books to tell the story. You know what, you’re going to love every single word I write, and you’re going to hang on. When you finished book 17, you’re going to go, “No, I want more!” That made me unafraid to write big books. That actually inspired me that so long as a book is a page turner, it doesn’t matter how many pages there are. That gave me the courage to write books like Becoming LiliChaining DaisyBlack Ice. Big, big books, weighty books. But I have readers contact me and say, “I read Black Ice in a day, I couldn’t put it down.” That, I think, is the thing.

Sarina: On a very similar note, do you have a favorite book on the craft of writing?

Julia: Never read a book on the craft of writing. Is that a terrible thing to say? I’ve never ever–

Sarina: [crosstalk] 

Julia: I don’t like self-help books, full stop. I think they are mostly peddled by people [00:42:00] who couldn’t write an actual book, so decided to write a self-help book and scammed a lot of people out of money. 

Sarina: Oh, see, I have a few of those books. [chuckles] 

Julia: I just don’t have time to read them. I’m too busy writing. Is that crazy?

Sarina: No. You clearly are a reader anyway. It’s not like you’re a writer only and you don’t read at all, you do read quite a lot. 

Julia: [crosstalk] I do read.

Sarina: Because we seem to be so similar in our approaches, I’m wondering if maybe you’re missing out there a little bit because I love reading a good book on writing. If it’s a good book– I mean they’re not all going to work for you, because as you said, there are so many different ones and not everyone does it well, I don’t think. My favorites are the ones that I can close and I immediately feel inspired to pick up writing again. Those ones are my favorites, because I feel like I’m really taking something away from them.

Julia: Well, who knows? Maybe if I get a bit of time in the future, [00:43:00] I’ll have a look at one, but I do like that. Any spare time I have, I tend to like reading novels or other sort of works of fiction and usually of indie authors. Last year, I managed to buy, read, and review over 40 indie author books. I really want to do more, but it’s just a question of time. I’m just one person and there’s so many books on my TBR.

Sarina: Oh yeah. [crosstalk] 

Julia: Oh, I don’t look at my Kindle. I swear that thing growls at me every time I go [laughs] past it. 

Sarina: Yeah, I get the feeling. I’m now considering already the next books that I would quite like to buy and read, but then I think I’ve just bought a few they are still on my Kindle, I still haven’t read them. I should probably read those first. It’s not that simple, though.

Julia: Every now and again, I get a big stick and just stir up the contents of my Kindle and see what floats to the top. Sometimes, I’ll read a book that I actually bought [00:44:00] two, three, four years ago. I’ll finally get around to reading and reviewing it. It’s difficult, and I do feel guilty about it. But like I said, I’m just one person and I only have a certain amount of time.

Sarina: On to our last question, we’re nearly there. Do you have any advice for establishing a writing routine?

Julia: Don’t do what I do, probably. 


Julia: I think sometimes establishing a writing zone can be a good idea. Now, I know most people don’t have big enough houses to have an actual writing room. That would be amazing. Wouldn’t we all love that? Just to have a proper study where we go and shut the door and that would be great? But most of us do have a corner or somewhere where we can put– even if it was just a little fold-up desk or a little table something that’s ours that we can leave or laptop or desktop or whatever on, we can have our pens, we can have our lamp, we can have our [00:45:00] writing books or notebooks or whatever. A zone that is ours and ours alone for writing in. If you have family and other people in the house, maybe rub into them that that is your zone, that they don’t touch it, they don’t dump their stuff on it, they don’t take anything from it. And when you are at that table, it’s because you are working. Unless it’s fire, flood, or blood, they must not disturb you. 

I think trying to get across to people that it is important to what you’re doing, maybe it’s not important to them, but it’s important to you. I think maybe you do have to be a little bit firm about that. Maybe be firm to yourself. I actually posted a meme a few weeks ago, which said, “If you clean a house, it’ll stay clean for a day or two. If you write a book, it’s out there forever.” I think sometimes saying to yourself, yes, I do need to go and [unintelligible [00:45:58] the bedroom, or, I do need to go and do the dishes, but [00:46:00] they will always be there for me to do. So, yeah, maybe be a little bit selfish sometimes, maybe just say, “Oh, hang it. I am writing, that’s what I’m doing.” I don’t believe in how you must write every day, because most of us have incredibly busy lives and it’s not always possible. If you’re a parent and you’re working, then obviously your job and your kids come first. But then, sometimes, I think you need to be selfish to say, [unintelligible [00:46:25] need to do it.” I hope that answered the question.

Sarina: It does. That’s wonderful advice. Thank you very much. I completely agree. That brings us to the end of our interview today. Thank you very much for coming back and talking to me again.

Julia: Having me anytime, I enjoyed it. 

Sarina: Very good. I’m glad to hear that. I always love hearing about other writers’ routines anyway, and I like to see how we all approach the same thing in slightly different ways. Today, especially I think I’ve come away with quite a few book recommendations. [00:47:00]


Julia: Oh. Narnia, definitely read the Narnia books. 

Sarina: No, I’ve already opened– what was it? The Dark Is Rising. I have already opened it on Goodreads while we were talking. I’ve got it ready, and I’ll be sure to get it later because it sounds like everything I want. Thank you so much for that as well. 

Julia: You’re welcome. 

Sarina: Yeah, thank you very much for talking to me again today. Have a lovely day. Bye-bye.

Julia: Thank you, bye.

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 @Sarian_Langer, on Instagram and Facebook @SarinaLangerWriter, and of course on my website at Until next time, bye.

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The Writing Sparrow Episode 28 | Your Team of Pros: Your Cover Designer with Andrew and Rebecca Brown

This week, I had the great pleasure of talking to my cover designers, Andrew and Rebecca Brown from Design for Writers, about all things–you guessed it!–cover design! If you’re a writer who’s unsure about how to find the right designer or if there’s anything you should know before you hire, this is the chat for you. It’s also a great listen if you’re just curious about what exactly cover designers do and how they work their magic.

You can find out more about Andrew and Rebecca and get in touch via their Twitter and their website.

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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 Let’s get started. 


Sarina: Welcome back, friends and sparrows. This is the 22nd of March. It’s Episode 28, and this is the final installment in this mini-series where I talk to my professional team of my editor, cartographer, and cover designer. Today, I’m talking to Andrew and Rebecca Brown from Design for Writers. They have been my cover designers, while since 2016, probably even started in 2015, come to think of it. We’ve been working together on every single one of my beautiful covers. [00:01:00] If you haven’t seen them, please do, because they are stunning, and while you’re there, maybe buy the book, I don’t know [chuckles]. Yeah, welcome, Andrew and Rebecca. 

Rebecca: Hello.

Andrew: Hello. Thank you for having us.

Sarina: Yeah, my pleasure. I really appreciate you being here because I know podcasts are terrifying. 

Andrew: Yeah. 

Sarina: I don’t know if you’ve listened to my first ever episode, but it was incredibly awkward. [chuckles] What made it more awkward also was that my partner was sitting in the corner, so I wasn’t-

Andrew: [chuckles] 

Sarina: -even just by myself and I knew he was silently judging me when I did the thing of, “please subscribe” and all that.

Andrew: [chuckles] 

Rebecca: He wasn’t holding up scorecards, was he?

Sarina: No, he said he was ignoring me, but you know, he was listening. 

Andrew: He’s not there now in the corner too, is he? 

Sarina: No, he’s working downstairs. To be fair, I have no way of knowing if he’s just outside the room. I don’t think he is.


Sarina: It won’t be anywhere near as awkward as that, I hope. [laughs] 

Andrew: Thank you.

Sarina: Where do I have my [00:02:00] questions? It’s just sad that my Word has died on me, so thank God I’ve written things down so I can refer to it on paper. Yeah, technology, eh?

Andrew: Absolutely. Yeah. 

Sarina: Well, as I have just said, you have been my cover designers for quite a long time now. You’ve done all of my covers. Some of them have been a little bit harder than others. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: [crosstalk] -bloodbath. [laughs] To start with, how long have you been in this business of creating book covers and what has attracted you to working with authors in the first place?

Rebecca: We were just saying this morning, we’re about to hit our 10-year anniversary. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: Oh, wow.

Andrew: April, it’ll be full 10 years, April of 16th. Before that, it was another couple of years where it was a bit of a side hustle. So, keeping the day job going and then working nights, early mornings on skills and trying to get contacts and things. [00:03:00] Probably 12 years altogether, but next month, it’ll be a decade of full time of business. 

Rebecca: Full time [crosstalk], yeah. 

Sarina: Wow. That’s a big anniversary. 

Andrew: We were probably working with you [crosstalk] for half of that time.

Sarina: Yeah, actually. [crosstalk] That’s weird to think about.

Andrew: Yeah. What got us into it is really– it started off originally as just general design. Design for anyone who wanted a design done but we really wanted to focus on something and we both love books. 

Rebecca: Yeah. 

Andrew: Not just reading the books, but the whole experience and book culture. 

Rebecca: Yeah, my [unintelligible [00:03:42] is full of books. 

Andrew: Yeah. 

Rebecca: My [unintelligible [00:03:41] is actually covered in books.

Andrew: [chuckles] 

Sarina: Oh, yay. I need one like that. I’m surprised I haven’t got one already.

Andrew: That’s always been something sort of we just decided we’d focus on that, and we knew some people.

Rebecca: Yeah, through Twitter actually-

Andrew: Through Twitter.

Rebecca: -because I was doing a lot of writing at the time. [00:04:00] So, I had lots of writer friends, and a couple of them needed their book covers doing. So, I said, “Oh, well” as it happens.

Andrew: Yeah. We were starting a business and it kind of– went for it accidentally at first, but then also based on just something that we love, and it was a really, really good natural fit, wasn’t it?

Rebecca: Yeah, one of our very first clients was doing a really successful blog at the time on Self-Publishing’s Catherine Ryan Howard. 

Sarina: Oh, yeah. 

Rebecca: She [crosstalk] Catherine, Caffeinated blog, which seemed to be a really big hit among self-publisher at the time. Then, she did a book on self-publishing and then a second book of self-publishing.

Andrew: Well, prior to that, actually she did a book called Mousetrapped

Rebecca: Mousetrapped

Andrew: -about her experience working in Disneyland. I think in around 2010, that was one of our first ever project.

Rebecca: It was because our daughter was born in April 2010. One of the her first pictures still in the hospital had the Mousetrapped book cover in the crib. 

Andrew: Really?

Rebecca: Yeah. [crosstalk] -was out in the world. Yes, [00:05:00] so April 2010. Yeah.

Sarina: Wow, that was a big month for you, wasn’t it?


Sarina: Birth of your business and birth of your daughter, new pressure.

Andrew: It’s goodbecause working with authors means we’re always working on something with people where the design means something meaningful to them, like yourself. It’s not just another ticky box corporate design exercise. It’s working directly with people or via the publishers on things that are really meaningful to somebody and the whole project then takes on– [crosstalk] 

Rebecca: Yeah, it’s their baby, isn’t it? 

Andrew: Yeah. 

Rebecca: You want to do well, because you put so much work into it.

Andrew: Yeah. It’s always important to remember that as well when you’re working on a book design or web design for someone, but this is something that someone’s put possibly years of their lives into getting right.

Rebecca: Blood, sweat, and tears. 

Andrew: Yeah. That’s how we came to work with authors.

Sarina: All right. Did you do the cover for [00:06:00] Catherine Ryan Howard’s book, Self-Printed?

Andrew: Yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Sarina: That may be how I’ve found you.

Andrew: Actually, she’s got us in there. She mentions us in the book.

Sarina: Yeah, because I borrowed the book from a library at the time, and then I ended up liking it so much that I bought my own copy. 

Andrew: That one?

Sarina: Yeah, that’s the one. But when then the time came for me to find a cover designer, I possibly looked in there and had a look at who she had hired, and that’s possibly how I came across you. 

Andrew: Catherine’s gone on to massive success. She is published in America and all around the world now.

Rebecca: [crosstalk] 

Sarina: I think she’s now also branched out into thrillers, is it, I think?

Andrew: Yeah, crime, uh-huh.

Sarina: Now that she’s a big-name author, do you still do her covers? Do you also–?

Andrew: No. It’s one of those where the publisher she signed with, they-

Rebecca: -have their own in-house team. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: Yeah, because I was wondering if you design covers exclusively for indie authors, or if you also work with [00:07:00] some traditionally published authors.

Andrew: No. [crosstalk] Both, yeah. 

Rebecca: We’ve done a couple of publishers. 

Andrew: We’ve done direct with the publisher. Sometimes, there’s been a couple where people have gone to a publisher, and they’ve allowed the authors still to use us. Then we work with lots of smaller publishing houses where we’re the-

Rebecca: White label. 

Andrew: -like a white-label third-party designer.

Rebecca: If they’re too small to have their own in-house team, they branch out to us.

Andrew: Yeah. It’s kind of a mix, really. I would say probably three quarters of our work is direct with the author, and the other quarter via the publisher, usually a small publisher.

Sarina: All right. Well, I know from personal experience that you are very approachable, so I’ve never thought that you were too big for me to contact or anything.

Andrew: Oh God, no.

Sarina: What really sold me way back when first on emailing you, I think [00:08:00] was possibly your “About Me” page where I think you both had portraits of yourselves, and you talked some about your experience and then you had some testimonials in there. I was thinking I really liked them, I hope they want to work with me. Well, it was my first book, I always had this idea of what if they just say, “Well, you’re too small, we don’t want to work with you.” In fact, one of the cartographers I emailed just never got back to me. 

Andrew: Oh, no.

Rebecca: [crosstalk] 

Sarina: Yeah, well, I ended up with a really good one, so loss on them. 

Andrew: Oh, it worked out well. Their loss. 

Sarina: Yes, it was fine. That’s always been really nice for me, I think. You’ve always been very easy to work with.

Andrew: Thank you. Yourself as well, obviously. When we were setting up the website, it’s hard because we’ve– for a long, long time, we didn’t even have our own website. We’d like the back and forth with people initially, so you’re getting a feel for who the person is before anything is [00:09:00] signed up. But then, also you want a website so that people can get more of an idea about you and who you are. So, it’s hard trying to get a balance, isn’t it, between your whole automated side on the website, and also having a little bit of dialogue with people.

Rebecca: We wanted to get the balance between being professional and being friendly and approachable. 

Andrew: Yeah. Gosh, exactly that.


Sarina: Well, I think you’re certainly doing that. With your 10-year anniversary coming up– well, 12 years, really, you must have designed an awful lot of book covers. At a rough guess, do you know roughly how many you would have done in that time?

Andrew: Oh my God. We don’t know for certain because we haven’t got like a tally. It’s definitely more than 1000. 

Rebecca: I think it’s closer to 2000.

Sarina: Wow.

Andrew: In the region of 2000 copies, and you can double that because most jobs that we do, we do a couple [00:10:00] of concepts at least, so probably double that for the number of actual concepts we’ve done, but probably around 2000 books, a few hundred layouts.

Rebecca: Formatting because that’s only quite a recent development. [crosstalk] 

Andrew: Yeah, we only added that a few years ago. Probably a couple of 100 websites over the years, but we’ve done quite a few now.

Sarina: You have branched out quite a lot in recent years as well, so you’re not doing just the book cover design. You say that like it’s a small thing, it’s not. You also do website design and some formatting and general design things as well. Like I know, you’ve done my massive banner that I took with me to the Brighton Book Bash some years ago.

Andrew: Yeah. The banners are really popular actually. Well, not so much now in lockdown, but prior to that, lots of authors were after it, it was a really good way of promoting yourself. We do all kinds of print, bookmarks, business cards, big banners-

Rebecca: Postcards.

Andrew: -postcards, basically anything that you can print on, we can do. [00:11:00] Yeah, it’s predominantly, I would say, 50%, 60% book covers, and then probably the rest is evenly spread.

Sarina: It’s quite a good variety for you. I imagine, just with the nature of the business, no two days are ever really exactly the same because obviously every author wants something different.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. At any one time, we probably have around 30-ish projects on the go. There’ll be different stages from sort of just signed up to the whole signup process. We’ll be working on different aspects of different covers most days, or different whatever it is that we’re doing. Yes, just give a good lot of variety because we don’t just focus on one genre. We do-

Rebecca: Yeah.

Andrew: -at the minute we’re working on crime, [00:12:00] children’s, few thrillers. Historical fiction, we’ve got a few of those at the moment.

Rebecca: Yeah, World War II saga.

Andrew: Yeah, World War II saga. Brilliant children’s fiction series about aliens playing football against children.

Sarina: That sounds fun. Where were all the alien books when I was a child?


Andrew: So yeah, there’s quite a lot of variety in there.

Rebecca: A lot of variety, yeah. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: You really are designers for every author, basically. 

Andrew: Hopefully, yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah. We have a good handle now on what works for different genres. 

Andrew: Yeah, and we do– [crosstalk] for every single client, we start with a complete blank page and try and bring as far as possible, no preconceptions to it other than your own experience and things about what works and doesn’t, so that each author that you’re hopefully not giving the same cover with a bit of variety every time we’re doing something different based on whatever comes [00:13:00] up in the brief.

Sarina: Yeah. Every author, of course, also wants different things. 

Andrew: Absolutely. 

Rebecca: Yeah.

Sarina: The other lady I talked to this morning, Rachel Grosvenor, who’s a writing coach, we talked about a trend that we have recently noticed in romantic, in romance books, where a lot of covers seem to have half naked men on them. Which doesn’t really work for us, but then it’s not really our genre, but there seem to be a lot of those.

Andrew: It’s strange actually because when we’ve done romance, most people say, “Do not put a naked man on the front or half-naked.” Most of the authors that work with us on that, will specifically say- 

Sarina: Thank you.

Andrew: “I don’t want that.” 


Sarina: Thank you. You know from my briefs that I will normally always say please don’t put people on there because I’m not a fan.

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: Ironically, with Blood Wisp,we did kind of have faces on them, didn’t we? 

Andrew: Yeah. [00:14:00]

Sarina: People still haven’t seen them because you did them about two years ago, and I still haven’t published them.

Andrew: That seems like such a long time ago since that was on there. 

Sarina: Doesn’t it? 

Andrew: Yeah. 

Sarina: When I talk about how long I’ve had these covers, I always think, “Yeah, is it really been two years?” I have not published them yet, what’s wrong with me? 

Andrew: [chuckles]

Sarina: I think I’m probably struggling through editing and rewriting them about as much as you struggled with doing the third cover.

Andrew: Oh, yeah, that cover was a good one. 

Rebecca: Interesting. It was an interesting cover–


Andrew: It worked out in the end.

Sarina: It did. I’m sad that people still haven’t seen it because it’s so beautiful. Eventually, I’m getting there. I’m hoping to maybe finally have the first book out by the end of this year. They’ve not been easy to do. This is my fault for thinking that I could do a novella trilogy, which has since fused into the first book of a novel trilogy. So, it’s been a whole nightmare, to be honest. 

Andrew: There are too many ideas, that’s the problem. 

Sarina: Yeah. I could talk about why [00:15:00] not to do it this way for a long time, but I won’t. Okay, talk us through how this whole process works from your end and also for the author, the things that you consider, important things to know, before you start, etc.

Andrew: Do you want to start? Or me–?

Rebecca: Okay. Someone gets in touch, we book them in. At the minute, we have a mega long waiting list, which is a lovely position to be in, but we do have to sort of say– I keep saying on our social media like, “Get in touch sooner,” because we do quite a lot of work–[crosstalk]

Andrew: We can’t take any bookings now prior to June. We can’t take it if it’s got so late, if it’s expedited in somewhere, but ideally, no plans bookings prior to June now.

Rebecca: Like a hint to authors, you don’t have to have your book finished before you look for cover design. If you know that you want to be publishing in August, then get in touch and book your slot for July.

Andrew: Or, start even [00:16:00] just contacting potential designers. 

Rebecca: Yeah, because we won’t be the only ones in demand, so shop around, see who you like, and make sure you get your slot booked. Anyway, that was beside the point. People get in touch, they get booked up, and we start up a briefing. We have a briefing questionnaire, which we’ve worked on for quite a long time, I think, since day one actually.

Andrew: Yes, it’s kind of been tweaked on in the way, hasn’t it?

Rebecca: Yeah, but because, as much as we would love to, we can’t read every single book that comes to us. We really would love to. We have to use our questionnaire to get a really good insight into the book, and there’s been quite a few people over the years have said that it’s actually made them think of things that they wouldn’t have thought of before.

Andrew: How did you find the brief honestly, Sarina? Unless you think it’s awful, then don’t say it.

Rebecca: Don’t be– [crosstalk]

Sarina: No, I really liked it. As you’ve just said that some authors have [00:17:00] got back to you and told you that it’s made them think about the book in different ways, I’ve certainly had that. With my first book, as any author can probably tell you, you make a lot of mistakes, obviously. When I then went over the brief, and you asked me things like, “Are there any important objects in there?” Or, “Is there like a dominant season?” I was like, “Should I know these things?” [chuckles] 

For me, it was quite interesting on that, because it did make me think about my book in different ways, certainly. But I also think that it’s actually really quite an easy brief to answer. I think one question that any new writer is going to struggle with, is this comparison. If you saw your book on Amazon, what– [crosstalk] 

Rebecca: Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: -authors you might compare to. Because, on the one hand, you obviously want to give good answers to that. On the other hand, I think some of my books in some way, are similar to Sarah J. Maas books, [00:18:00] in some respects. She’s such a big author for that, for me, putting that down feels so weird. I can’t believe I’ve just compared myself to this massive author, but they asked.

Andrew: There’s no reason you have to do that. [crosstalk] If you’re writing a book and you’re wanting to sell, which is probably why you’re getting a cover design done, then you do hope that your book is one day going to be in a position with those books, and therefore you want it to look good alongside those books. To start with that, we’re going to go and copy that off the style, but it helps us to identify where you want your book to sit in the market, and therefore– 

Sarina: Yeah. [crosstalk] identify the kind of style as well that the author might like.

Andrew: Yeah, because one thing that I think, especially indie authors definitely shouldn’t do, is try and reinvent the wheel and think, either, A, I’ve got a whole new genre that’s never come up before. 

Rebecca: Which you probably don’t.

Andrew: Or, B, I want to redefine how the genre looks, you can do that, and we can do it for you, but it’s going to give you [00:19:00] a lot of trouble along the line because really, you don’t have a massive HarperCollins budget. You want to press the buttons in potential readers, so that they get what they think they’re going to get from your book. This is quite a topic for writers, but genre design generally works if you’re starting from a standing start, and you want to make as much impact as possible and get the biggest bang for your buck.

Sarina: Yeah. I think to consider there also is that readers tend to have certain expectations of what books in various genres look like. 

Andrew: Exactly. 

Sarina: So, to come back to those romance books with so many half naked people on them, I think that’s probably something that readers expect so they can look at the cover and instantly know that it’s a romance book or probably more likely an erotic novel. 

Rebecca: Yeah.

Sarina: They want a cover like that, but if that’s what they’re looking for, it instantly helps them identify that. Knowing your genre ultimately really helps you attract readers in that genre because [00:20:00] they will expect to see various things. Likewise, there are things that they probably wouldn’t expect to see.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely.

Rebecca: Yeah. It helps you align yourself even within the genre. So, you’ve got a contemporary YA novel, or you could go John Green style, not that you think that you’re John Green, but that’s a very separate kind of way a novel compared to something like Harry Potter or Rick Riordan, or something like that. Even within the genre, having those similar authors that you would like-

Andrew: To align yourself with.

Rebecca: -those readers to– If you like this, then you will like me sort of thing, that helps you pick something up. Then if you do that, if you go John Green’s style, and then your books are full of teenage romance– readers of teenage supernatural romance, I should say, your reader is not going to be disappointed. It is worth considering that it’s not that you suddenly think that you are [00:21:00] John Green, or that we’re going to think that. It just helps us pitch you. 

Andrew: Yeah, definitely.

Sarina: Alternately, your book cover is the first impression that you’re going to make on a potential reader. So, you don’t want to mislead them at that point and make them think that your book is some other genre. Actually, my example of Sarah J. Maas was actually a terrible one, because while I feel like our writing styles are similar in some respects, she has people on the cover, so please ignore that. Please don’t start putting people on the cover.


Sarina: From a design point of view, that was a terrible example. [laughs] 

Andrew: I guess, if the big publishers are designing genre books in a certain way, then absolutely we can design yours different, and that’s one of the good things about being an indie author, you get to call the shots. We probably advise you don’t, but if you want to, fair enough, but there’s a reason why genre covers look as they do, [00:22:00] and it’s because generally they work.

Sarina: Yeah. I don’t know, maybe many writers end up thinking that the book doesn’t really fit into any one genre because chances are there is lots of crossover in the book. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: For example, with my first book, Rise of the Sparrows, it’s an epic fantasy, of course, but there are also some– well, apparently, some horror elements, because for some reason, it’s been ranking on Amazon under dark fiction horror, which I can’t explain. I’m confused about that, but thank you. There are some mystery elements in there of “Ooh, what’s going to happen? What’s going on with this?” There are some slight romance parts in there as well, with the slow burn romance that I’ve got going through them, but predominantly, they are epic fantasy. The chances are there is one genre that will be stronger in your book than any others.

Andrew: Yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah. I think a good book probably does have [00:23:00] some different elements brought in, because that makes it richer and more complex, but it will still be identifiable to the reader. Like even the ones that don’t feel quite so much, they’re literary fiction, they still have a certain feel that you’re going for, a certain reader you’re going for.

Andrew: The main things we would look for, and when we’re reading the brief, we haven’t come up how many questions. This maybe is 15, 20 questions in there.

Rebecca: Something like that. 

Andrew: Not all of them might be relevant, but the idea is different questions that hopefully, by the answers we do get, we’ll be able to draw out the key things we need to know which are, where should the book sit in the market? What tone does the book have? Really important, what we always say, is what feelings do you want to evoke in your potential readers, because a cover is much more about feeling than details and things like that. If you can get that, then you probably well on the way of doing that. [00:24:00]

Sarina: Yeah, that’s very well put. What did you love the most about this business?

Andrew: You or me? Both? Who’s going first?

Rebecca: [laughs] I love seeing people on Twitter. The authors when they’ve got the new cover done, and hopefully their book formatting too and they have their big release day on Twitter and they’re like, “I’m really excited to show you my new book cover,” and everything. I love that moment.

Andrew: Yeah. When you get the email back or the comment back, and the clients really liked the cover, that probably is the best moment. Or, when actually doing the design and you know that the design has come together because you’ve done the research and you’ve developed the ideas, when you feel like coming together, that’s really good, but ultimately, it’s when the client– 

Rebecca: “Oh my God, I love these so much, I can’t choose between them.” 

Andrew: Yeah. 

Sarina: When I’ve been in that position, [00:25:00] I’ve asked my critique partners to help me and say, “Which one do you prefer because I can’t choose?”

Andrew: Also, just the other side of it, you’ll probably find this as well, but having the freedom during this sort of job, meaning you can do your hours at work and we can be there for the kids in lockdown and being able to help with schooling and things like that, which is a big privilege, because a lot of people haven’t been able to do that.

Rebecca: Yeah. When our kids were growing up, we could go to all their activity plays, and school fairs and things, and so many parents don’t get that chance. [crosstalk] 

Andrew: I think a lot of indie authors, or people like yourself who work with indie authors well with what you do, the editing, it’s good to have that freedom so that the business is very much part of life, so you never can leave it behind and shut the door but also– Well, it feels like I have a third child in lots of ways, doesn’t it?

Rebecca: Yeah.

Sarina: No, that does make sense. [00:26:00] For me, seeing my covers for the first time is such a big moment, it’s easily my favorite thing. It beats seeing my map for the first time, for example, or definitely beats seeing how many suggestions my editor has made and how many cuts she’s made. Because I think when you see your book cover for the first time, it helps make it real in a way that other things don’t because you’ve got your name on there and you’ve got the title, obviously. I think to just see your name with the book title on an actual book cover- 

Andrew: Yeah, it all becomes very real.

Sarina: – is just such a big moment for me every time. My favorite thing.

Andrew: We actually– Have you got your cartographer? Because we often get people asking for someone to do maps, I’m not sure if you’ve got yours to recommend. 

Sarina: Oh, [unintelligible [00:26:48].

Andrew: You can pass that along.

Sarina: It’s Glynn Seal. His business is MonkeyBlood Design. I’ll send you the link. 

Andrew: Yeah. 

Sarina: [00:27:00] Just this coming Monday now, I’ve done an interview with him that will go live then about cartography and what goes into creating a map for authors. 

Andrew: Oh [crosstalk] looking forward to that one.

Sarina: I’ll send you the name. 

Andrew: Yeah, because we actually get people asking for that, don’t we?

Rebecca: Yeah. 

Sarina: I can see people ask you potentially for quite a lot of various referrals because, obviously, you do have an awful lot of clients at this point, which is a nice problem to have. You clearly have a lot of jobs on at the same time, which is amazing. I can see that a lot of them, I’d ask if you know an editor or if you know a cover designer– Well, not a cover designer, but– 

Andrew: Throw us in though if anyone asks that.


Sarina: Instant no if you know a good cartographer or– [crosstalk] 

Andrew: Actually, we should put something out on the website, shouldn’t we with people that we trust? Yeah.

Rebecca: [crosstalk] -make a note of that. 

Sarina: Just like that, it’s forever evolving. [laughs] [00:28:00] Do you have any tips for writers who are looking for the right cover designer for them? Maybe writers looking to change designer or looking for the first time? Is there anything we should know before we choose? Because with cover designers, maybe more than any other professional, there’s an awful lot of choice out there.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I think I would try and see if you can build-

Sarina: A relationship.

Andrew: -relationship, if it’s someone you feel comfortable working with. Ideally, not just for this cover, but someone you feel you can build a relationship long term. Obviously, look on the website, work through their portfolio, check out testimonials.

Rebecca: Do you trust that they know what they’re talking about?  They’re probably going to give you advice on what’s a good cover. So, do you trust that they’re giving you good advice? I think that would be–

Andrew: Also, what do you want from a designer? Do you want someone who is basically going to move pixels around at your direction? Which is fine, if that’s what you’re looking for? Or, do you want someone who [00:29:00] can bring something to the table and you’re kind of– your own mini business and as an author, and someone who can bring something to the table and advise you, and ultimately, you’re always going to make the decisions. But hopefully, if you get an editor, such as yourself, or a cover designer, whatever, you want some advice from them. That’s why you spend the money rather than just saying put this bit here and this font, and things like that. What are you looking for in your designer, is something to consider. Make sure they’ll answer questions. I think that they’re often–because that’s like a signal for what’s going to come down the line because it’s very much a collaborative process, isn’t it? 

Rebecca: Yeah. 

Andrew: Hopefully, we know what we’re doing about the design, you know your book, and somewhere in the middle of there, is the right answer for what your book cover should be. [00:30:00] If they’re not really open to that in the beginning, then maybe it’s not going to be a great collaborative process further down the line, do you think? 

Rebecca: Yeah, as long as you don’t take up the other way and start saying, “I am going to have this very specific symbol on there, and I will not budge.” 

Andrew: Which we can do. 

Rebecca: Or, this very specific scene. Well, not always.

Andrew: Yeah. Actually, something important is to realize that you don’t have the ability to have a photographic scene of a man riding a donkey, with these clothes on– you know what I mean, because you can’t set up that photography but also, that wouldn’t necessarily make a great cover anyway because like you said, the cover is about evoking a feeling so that the key elements, however complex the scene you have in your head that you might want on the cover, for example, there’ll be key elements in there that we can take out and make sure that your cover evokes what it is you’re wanting to evoke without having to get the level of detail that isn’t really possible, [00:31:00] with imagery that’s available at a decent budget. 

Rebecca: Yeah. 

Andrew: What else is important to look out for? Make sure you can trust them, which I guess comes from the conversation. 

Rebecca: Yeah. I would look at their portfolio, and I don’t know I’ll get hung up on– I’m doing historical, so this person has to have 10 million solely historical covers on books. Have they got a good grasp of what makes a good cover? So, I don’t [unintelligible [00:31:32] too focused on genre book. 

Andrew: Good designers, good design, basically.

Rebecca: Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to get at. 

Andrew: Yeah. As long as there are some examples that that designer–

Rebecca: Sympathetic to a genre.

Andrew: Yeah, and can turn the [unintelligible [00:31:45] to that, and have a conversation with them and have a conversation with whoever else you’ve narrowed your options down to, and then choose design for writers probably. 

Rebecca: Yeah.

Sarina: I think with something like a book cover, [00:32:00] really, your portfolio speaks for itself. If you as an author, find a website off of a cover designer, and there are no examples on there of previous work, then that’s probably already a red flag right away to begin with, because why wouldn’t you want to showcase what you’ve already done? Equally, if there are examples on there, but you don’t like any of them, then equally, maybe you should keep looking.

Andrew: Yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah. That’s one of the questions in our briefing, and what do you consider to be good design, bad design, not because we want everyone to turn up with an example of bad design to be in a picture with Comic Sans on, but because design is subjective, so it could be a really good design, but you personally don’t like it.

Andrew: Which is a good way that leads into a conversation for us saying, “Okay, why is it that you don’t like this?” Then from that, we can make sure that the designs we put forward, although this still needs to be relevant to the genre and to the market, because [00:33:00] the author doesn’t like this particular style, we can make sure that we avoid that or steer away from it. Or, sometimes actually, they say that, and then we explain why that might work. 

Rebecca: Oh, they do come around. 

Andrew: They thought, “Yeah, okay, that’s probably what’s needed.” 

Rebecca: I think that’s why it’s good to have a range, like not just all historical or not just all the way on your portfolio, because you have to show that you can make a good design that fits that author. If you have a proper range of styles, then there will be something on there that as an author, you’re going to warm up to.

Andrew: Yeah, because no one’s going to like all designs. 

Rebecca: Exactly. Yeah. I think we’ve got quite a few on our website, and no one’s going to like all of them, as Andrew just said, but hopefully you’ll see from the range that’s there, that there might be something that you think, “Yeah, I can where that’s going on.” “Yeah, I like that one, even if it doesn’t work for me personally.”

Andrew: For us, when people get in touch, the main thing that I’m always looking for, it’s just that there’s a chance that this is [00:34:00] going to be a respectful engagement. If someone comes on saying– Oh, you kind of learn signals. If someone comes on without a very nice attitude in their emails, it is a bit of a red flag that might not work out so well. It’s rare. It’s very rare. Most people are lovely. That’s what you want. You don’t want to go to work and be dealing with people who have got no respect either way. You want to have a nice experience together, hopefully build up a relationship. Like when we see you on Twitter, and we engage on Twitter on different things, or the same with other clients, hopefully it feels more like a friendship where we do covers for you than just some sort of transactional thing.

Rebecca: We really want your book to work. We love seeing– when we get the book club daily emailthing, I get actually thrilled when I see one of our covers on that because it means that the author is getting some really good reviews and they’re really getting out there. We really love [00:35:00] seeing our authors get success and get awards and all this. Yeah, we really, really want your book to work, probably as nearly as much as do. 

Andrew: And so do the kids, they love it when they see one of our book covers.

Sarina: Oh, there you go. I agree that that personal relationship makes such a big difference. You don’t feel any more so much like you’re just talking to someone you don’t know, rather you’re just discussing your next big project with a friend who really wants you to succeed. 

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. 

Sarina: Which is so lovely. 

Rebecca: I think– [crosstalk] I think if you’re doing the traditional publishing route, you’re quite a few steps remote from the design team. So, that is one big benefit of doing it this way. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Sarina: I certainly feel as the author like I have that extra level of control over what my cover looks like. I know that I’m involved in pretty much every step of the process with you, which is lovely. I know I’m not going to publish a book and hate the cover, but I don’t get a say in it. [00:36:00] You’re very open to feedback and really making it something that we both really love, which is so important.

Andrew: Then within that process, sometimes there will be differences of opinion on how it should go but, always hopefully, a respectful one, and that’s an important part of the dialogue as well. Then, from that, as long as the client is open to us and this is what we think and why we think it, then it’s totally down to the client then to decide, “Yeah, I agree with that,” or, “No, I still want to go this way,” in which case, we can have a set direction, which narrows down the options and helps us get to the right design for you either way.

Sarina: All right. We had one question come through on Twitter as well. From author, [unintelligible [00:36:47] RhianWilliamsAuthor on Instagram, that’s a username. How do I figure out what to put on the cover? I feel like that’s going to be an easy one for you to answer. [00:37:00]

Andrew: Does that mean if she is approaching a cover designer do you think or if she’s putting together her own cover?

Sarina: Well, I think previously, she hasn’t worked so much with the cover designer to the same degree that I have. So, I don’t think that’s been the kind of level of briefing or anything like that. I don’t think she’s used to the attention that I had with you.

Andrew: Okay. Well, probably the most important thing is I keep it simple. If you’re going to try out a cover foryourself and you’re looking to make that decision on what to [unintelligible [00:37:30] keep it simple. Don’t try and mess around with complicated font combinations and things. Go for classic fonts and then you’re not going to go too far along. Make sure that whatever fonts, images you’ve chosen work within the genre. 

Rebecca: Don’t get hung up on having to [00:38:00] have a very specific person on the front. 

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. 

Rebecca: Try and think of something that sums up your book or sums up a key part of your book or theme, but not scene number six from chapter five, line four.

Andrew: If think of your cover as a 100-foot view of the book or someone’s across– may be 100 feet is a bit far actually, I can’t see that far. If someone’s across the bookstore and something just catches their eye quickly, or someone is scrolling through quickly down Amazon, scroll, scroll, scroll, and something catches your eye, trying something simple in impact– which doesn’t mean you can’t have other things on this, when people get closer, then make them see more. Just keep it simple. Don’t try and be too clever with it, really.

Rebecca: Yeah. A lot of our crime and thriller books or Rebecca Bradley’s books, it’s like a snapshot [00:39:00] of not even an exact scene in the book– There was one of them where it was about children being kidnapped, so we had a snapshot of some children’s feet in a dark cellar, and that wasn’t an exact thing in her book, but it did kind of give you a feel straight away “Okay, so this is dark. This is about children.”

Andrew: Or Griff.

Rebecca: Yeah, Griff Hosker.

Andrew: Who’s a historical fiction writer. 

Rebecca: He’s [unintelligible [00:39:25] some millions now.

Andrew: Literally millions now, with our covers on our site. He’s been really successful. He’s got a great wide audience, and his are very much– they just place the book in its time.

Rebecca: Yeah, so he’s got a few different historical periods, so we make sure we get a figure that sums up that period and some real classic [crosstalk] typography and all of his readers know exactly what they’re going to get and what the cover is going to be. If you’re going to decide what’s on your cover, [00:40:00] whether it’s doing it yourself or getting someone to do it, I think enough to sort of think about what are the two or three things or even just one thing that you want your reader to take away? There’s a genre and YA fantasy of magic academies, and you get a girl standing on the front just posing with a ball of fire and a hand. It really doesn’t matter the exact story on those covers, you know what you’re going to get, because there’s a girl standing in a uniform with a ball of fire in her hand, and cover after, cover after, cover after. Theme from that book, it’s magic, and that’s what you put on the cover. We’ve got historical romance [unintelligible [00:40:44] the minute[?] series, and you want the couple in there, not necessarily with heads, and definitely not with shirts off. 

Sarina: [laughs] 

Rebecca: There’s a couple on there in historical dressing, boom, it’s historical romance.

Andrew: Yeah. [00:41:00] Just get a good image. Make sure you’ve got some good, classic fonts on which work for your genre. 

Rebecca: Make sure everything that you use is licensed. 

Andrew: Yeah.

Rebecca: Don’t go looking on Google for an image and then just pick it and think that’s fine, because it’ll come back to bite you. It’s not fair use.

Sarina: The only thing I would add to that is that if you do hire a cover designer, you as the author, don’t have to figure out what to put on the cover. 

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. 

Sarina: Obviously, when I work with you, I get a briefing, and I fill everything and I give you all the info, and then you take away from that what you will, and then you decide what to put on there. Unless I already have a very clear idea of what I want on there, like, with Rise of the Sparrows, I knew there was the sword, I thought maybe we can put that on there. But ultimately, I also didn’t really know what I was doing. I give you the info that I can and then you [00:42:00] as the cover designer figure it out for me in a way. So, that takes a lot of the pressure off me.

Andrew: That again comes back to what it is that each individual client is looking for in their design. Do they want a solid relationship like you have? Or, do they want to sit– if they’ve got a very solid idea that they want us to translate, so yeah.

Rebecca: Like I said earlier, we can’t read every book, but we’re way more than happy to spend time, like having a bit of back and forth saying, “Okay, so give us 10 scenes that you love, and what you love about them and then we’ll just tease it out.” That’s fine. If you do know exactly what you want, that’s great. If you don’t know what you want, then we’ll tease it out with you. 

Sarina: I’ve given you info on books where I needed covers where I personally had no idea at all what I wanted with them. You somehow still managed to put together something very beautiful. I think that was the way with Darkened Light and Brightened Shadows where I started the brief and said, “Look, I have no idea what I want. I don’t know what I’m doing. [00:43:00] Please tell me.” [laughs] 

Andrew: Those ones, they came together and then we struggled a little bit as we went on to the second one and then doing that, kind of redefined what it was you wanted done and went back over again, but the answer is always there, it’s all– [crosstalk] 

Rebecca: You just need to know where to look.

Andrew: You just need to know where to look. 

Sarina: Yeah. There, I hope that’s answered the question.


Rebecca: You can always email us and we’ll answer it for you.

Sarina: Yeah, exactly. I think you’re all very helpful with that, I know you are. I know you wouldn’t just ignore the email of someone [unintelligible [00:43:37]. Yeah, so I think that’s a good place to end the interview on. Thank you very much. 

Andrew: Thank you.

Rebecca: Thank you.

Sarina: I hope that’s clarified the process for all writers looking to hire a cover designer in the future.

Andrew: Thank you very much for having us, Sarina.

Sarina: My pleasure. Thank you so much. Bye-bye, everyone. Have a great day. [00:44:00] 

Rebecca: Bye. 

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, at Instagram and Facebook @SarinaLangerWriter. And of course, on my website at Until next time, bye.

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The Writing Sparrow Episode 27 | Writing Routines: Katie Masters

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

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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 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. 

Katie: Yeah.

Sarina: See, guys, you don’t have to show up every day to write constantly and you definitely do not do that-

Katie: No.

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. 

Katie: Yeah.

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: 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. 

Katie: Yeah.

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? 

Katie: Yeah.

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? 

Katie: Yeah. 

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] 

Katie: Perfect. 

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. 

Sarina: Oh.

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. 

Katie: Yeah. 

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.”

Katie: Yes. 

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. 

Sarina: [laughs] 

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.


Katie: Cool. 

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: No. 

Sarina: Okay.

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?

Katie: Yeah.

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. 

Katie: Yeah.

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.

Katie: Exactly. 

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.

Katie: Yep. 

Sarina: All right. Well, thank you so much. Thanks for stopping by. 

Katie: Thank you, Sarina.

Sarina: Bye.

Katie: Bye.

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, Until next time, bye.

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The Writing Sparrow Episode 23 | Writing Routines: R.S. Williams

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 R.S. Williams, a fantasy adventure author from England.

Her book recommendations are The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester, Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran,  and Business for Authors by Joanna Penn. 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 Rhianne and her books on her website or support her directly via Patreon . You can also find her on Twitter and on Instagram.

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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 Let’s get started. 


Sarina: Welcome back friends and sparrows. It’s the 15th of February 2021, and this is Episode 23. Today, I’m talking to urban fantasy adventure author, R.S. Williams, about her writing routine. We already touched a little bit on this many, many weeks ago, when Rhianne talked about fitting her walking progress around her everyday routine. Today, we’ll be more in-depth and more specifically talking about her writing routine. Welcome back, my love, how are you?

Rhianne: I am good. I am loving life. [00:01:00] [crosstalk] 

Sarina: [chuckles]

Rhianne: I actually quite enjoy the introverted nature of what’s going on in the current world. 

Sarina: Oh, yes. 

Rhianne: Because I don’t actually have to go anywhere.

Sarina: It’s nice, isn’t it? When you’re an introvert in a way, it’s so perfect because you don’t have to put up with other people as much.

Rhianne: Yes, exactly.

Sarina: What a dream! We should always do this. Not the pandemic itself, just the lockdown. 

Rhianne: Yes. 

Sarina: Without the pressure of killing someone when you leave the house. [laughs]

Rhianne: Yes.

Sarina: That got darker than I intended for the first two minutes of [laughs] the episode.

Rhianne: You know, let’s just– it’s fine. [laughs] 

Sarina: Let’s start with a similarly severe first question.

Rhianne: Ooh!

Sarina: Oh, yes, you better be ready for this. I hope you’re sitting down. [chuckles] 

Rhianne: Okay. 

Sarina: Are you a plotter, a pantser, or you somewhere in between?

Rhianne: Well, [00:02:00] it’s funny because I’ve literally just recorded an episode for this on my podcast.

Sarina: Oh, there you go. Great [crosstalk] all that.

Rhianne: Essentially, I’m closer to the plotting side of the spectrum, but I am in the middle because although I have a plot, my characters are allowed to do whatever they want.

Sarina: I think that’s probably the best way to do it because you have an idea of where you’re going, and you know where you need to go, so you can’t really get stuck because you always have this, “If I don’t know what I’m doing, I know where I need to go, so I’ll just move on with that.”

Rhianne: Yeah, exactly. What I really like about it is when I get so far with my characters, and I’m like, “What the hell are you doing all the way over there?” 

Sarina: Oh, that’s the best. 

Rhianne: I’m completely lost. I know how to get them back. That’s the bit I like. [laughs] 

Sarina: Yes. Also, when your characters do their own thing to that extent, you really know that you’ve thought them through well because they’ve literally taken on a life of their own. 

Rhianne: Yes. [crosstalk] 

Sarina: And they know where they’re going.

Rhianne: Yeah, well, at least I hope they do. [laughs] 

Sarina: More so than me, [00:03:00] I hope, but you just never know.

Rhianne: No, exactly.

Sarina: Sometimes they are wrong, but let’s be honest, most of the time they are right, and we’re wrong. 


Sarina: Okay. To do the actual writing routine thing, what does your writing writing? [chuckles] You know what? This is my second tea, and I thought before we started recording that this may be a terrible idea and look at me slurring my words. It’s tea-

Rhianne: [laughs] 

Sarina: -in my cup. It’s definitely tea on this day– [crosstalk] 

Rhianne: We’ll believe you, don’t worry. 

Sarina: -which is possible, but it’s tea. [laughs] It’s definitely just tea, please believe me. 

Rhianne: I do, don’t worry. 

Sarina: Thank you. What does your writing routine look like?

Rhianne: Just my writing routine looks like me getting up at 4:50 every morning and then writing before I go to my muggle job. 

Sarina: Oh, crikey, 4:50.

Rhianne: Yeah. Now, see, when I say that to people, [00:04:00] they often go, “Jesus, I wouldn’t get up that early.” Now, in all fairness, I do only have an hour, maybe an hour and a half to write because I usually start my writing at 6, so I give myself an hour to get up, have breakfast, sort the cats out, move around a bit.   

Sarina: That’s really very relaxed.

Rhianne: Yeah. Then at 6, I sit down, I write, and sometimes I write for an hour, or sometimes I’ll write for an hour and a half. It just depends what I’m doing in the morning and how quickly I need to be out of the house.

Sarina: That’s still very nice and relaxed. That’s probably the best way to do it because that way, you’re getting up early to get it done, but also you’re doing it in a way that doesn’t really put any pressure on yourself.

Rhianne: Yeah. Then I do my editing in the evenings and on the weekends, because I just think doing that in the morning would fry my brain.

Sarina: I think it would, especially before tea, or with too much tea as we’ve just seen. [chuckles] 

Rhianne: Yes. [chuckles] 

Sarina: It’s funny because we talked about– well, a little bit about your writing routine and then getting up early and all that [00:05:00] on the last episode that we did together. At the time, I was saying, “I could never get up that early, some days I just don’t write and that’s fine.” Actually, I think about a week after we did that, I changed my routine so much that it’s not really anything anymore like what we discussed at the time. You may say you inspired me. Thanks for that. It’s changed a lot again, because at the time I changed it, I was going into work, physically back in the day. Because of that, I ended up getting a lot earlier than I needed to if I were only go into work. Then, I made a point of writing for 15 minutes or half an hour before I left. What you’ve told me the last episode has inspired that a lot.

Rhianne: Yeah, I think if you put too much pressure on yourself, you just end up not writing anything. From last year, my worst day, [00:06:00] I was like, “I’m just going to write one word, and then that will spiral.” My worst day was 66 words, they’re still 66 new words I put down.

Sarina: Well, exactly. It’s all progress. The important thing is that you’ve written on that day. It may not be much, but it’s all going [unintelligible [00:06:14] and your work in progress is 66 words, which [unintelligible [00:06:18].

Rhianne: Yes.

Sarina: What I really like about it, I don’t know how you feel, but if I get it done first thing in the morning, especially before work, I then have that really nice accomplished feeling throughout the day, it doesn’t matter if I don’t write anymore, because I’ve already written.

Rhianne: Yeah, well, that’s one of the reasons why I moved my writing to the morning because I found that I was coming home from my muggle job. Then I was trying to work and I just wouldn’t get anything done because my brain was fried from the day job. I thought, “Well, let’s do it beforehand.” That [crosstalk] worked. 

Sarina: Yeah. Clearly, you’re more motivated in the morning to do it, and you’re more– Ah, I’ve just had the word. See, there is such [00:07:00] a thing as too much tea in short succession.


Sarina: Yeah. You’ve got to write when it works the best for you. I find when I write in the morning, I probably write a lot more than if I wait for it in the afternoon, and then you have more the feeling of, “I need to write now, or the day is going to be over and I won’t have done anything.” Getting it out of the way early is always always a bit of a motivation boost of productivity. That’s the word I wanted. You feel more productive that way, you know you’ve already achieved.

Rhianne: Yeah, exactly. Yes. 

Sarina: I think you’ve already just mentioned a little bit about that, but do you set yourself specific goals like a number of words you want to write every week or how much time you want to spend writing a day? Do you have an ideal goal?

Rhianne: Yes. I’ve always kept my goals small. My bog-standard goal is 500 words per session. The majority of the time I hit it, sometimes I’m just super epic, and [00:08:00] I write 1000 words, which is great. Then, as I said, sometimes I get two words done, but it’s all progress. At the moment, I’m really enjoying using a website called StoryOrigin. You put in your book, and then the goal words that you want, and you set a start date and a finish date, and then it tells you how many words to write at the moment. 

Sarina: Oh.

Rhianne: That’s really fun. StoryOrigin is currently free, but I know that they are bringing in paid plans soon. Sign up if you want to continue to have it free for a couple of extra months longer.

Sarina: Well, I can totally bear that in mind for myself. By the time this episode goes live in a month, it may already be too late. We will see. If it’s still there and if you’re interested listening to this now, can’t hurt to have a look just to see what’s available. 

Rhianne: It’s been free for about two years. 

Sarina: Okay.

Rhianne: Hopefully, it still will be. 

Sarina: It’ll probably last another two months or so.

Rhianne: Yeah.

Sarina: At least just [00:09:00] one more month. [chuckles] You’ve already answered that just now, I think, but my next question would have been do you write every day but you said that you try to write every day and then you edit it at the weekends?

Rhianne: Yes. My main writing days are Monday to Friday for books. Then, for any blog posts or podcast episodes or anything like that, anything that’s not related to a book, I do on the weekend or on an evening. Then, that’s when I do my editing as well. So, I tend to do a similar sort of thing with word counts as I do for editing. I’ll split it by chapters. Usually, that means I’ve only got to do four chapters a week, which is really easy to fit in in [crosstalk] own life. 

Sarina: When you put it that way, it doesn’t sound like too much and it sounds easily achievable.

Rhianne: Mm-hmm. Yeah, it makes my life so much easier because I don’t feel I’ve put on a horrendous amount of pressure on myself. For example, I’m planning on editing [00:10:00] my book, Kingdom of Lies, by this first quarter, so by the end of March. When I worked out, I only had to do 11 chapters a month, which meant I literally have to do two a week.

Sarina: That’s fine. That’s doable. 

Rhianne: Yeah. 

Sarina: I know you’ll power through it too.

Rhianne: Yeah, I am. I did my first session the other day, and I already did three. So, we’re on to a win. 

Sarina: Very good. That feels good as well because you can almost already take off that goal, I think, when you achieve things early on, in the timeframe that you’ve set yourself. Even if it’s just a small thing really, you feel that instant boost off, “Yes, I’m getting things done.” 

Rhianne: Yeah. 

Sarina: Has your writing routine changed over the years? If so, what have you changed and why?

Rhianne: Well, it hasn’t changed in the last, how long have I been with Ian? Six years. It [00:11:00] hasn’t changed in the last six years. Before I got with my now-husband, I used to write in the evenings after work, and it was when I got with him that he was like, “Oh, all you do sit on your laptop all evening, and you never spent any time.” I was like, “Well, I get up early, and you stay in bed till like 9 o’clock, so I want to do my writing then.” It worked for me because I was a morning person. It was like, well, I was already up two hours before him, so I might as well do something productive in those two hours.

Sarina: Yeah. That sounds very– well, as you said, it’s very productive, because you’re working with the time that you have available very well. We’ve already talked about that a lot in our last episode, so we won’t go into it massively now. But if anyone is interested in how Rhianne is organizing her time, and how she knows when she has time free or time to spare, you want to check out the last episode that we did together because that’s what we talked about in detail there.

Rhianne: Yeah. 

Sarina: [00:12:00] Obviously, at the moment, we’re still in lockdown, and we have been for a little while. Many writers have either struggled with that and not written at all for a while, or they really took to it and they’ve written a lot more than they usually do. How has lockdown affected your routine?

Rhianne: A lot, to be fair. The only thing that lockdown has done really is given me more time to work on the weekends because I don’t go out and see people.

Sarina: [laughs] Thank God. [laughter] 

Rhianne: Yeah, normally I’d go out and see friends or my family or stuff like that. Yeah, at the moment, I can’t do any of that. So, I just spend my time either playing Pokémon on the Switch or doing something productive.

Sarina: That sounds nice. That’s such a good weekend.

Rhianne: Well, I bought myself the game for Christmas and within three weeks, I’ve completed it. [chuckles] 

Sarina: Which edition do you have?

Rhianne: I have Pokémon [00:13:00] Sword, no Pokémon Shield. Oh my God.

Sarina: I think I’ve got yours as well. 

Rhianne: Yeah, my friends have Pokémon Sword, so we swapped Pokémon that we can’t get, so it’s really–

Sarina: I was going to say we can’t exchange Pokémon that way– we can– that’s fine, you’re sorted. [laughs] 

Rhianne: You’ll have to send me your friend code though, so we can be friends on the Switch.

Sarina: Oh, yeah, I have to do that. For Animal Crossing as well, I’m sure you either got that already or you will get it at some point. 

Rhianne: No. 

Sarina: No? You’re not an Animal Crossing person?

Rhianne: I’m not an Animal Crossing person. 

Sarina: It’s so relaxing.

Rhianne: I tried it, but it’s not my jam.

Sarina: Did you know Barry told me the other evening while I was playing Skyrim, again–


Sarina: –that the three most relaxing games apparently– I don’t know what list that’s from, but, apparently the three most relaxing games to play are Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley I think, and Skyrim.

Rhianne: Skyrim isn’t [00:14:00] really a relaxing game though.

Sarina: It is, because if you don’t do any fighting, if you get lucky for a bit, it’s basically a walking simulator in a very detailed–[crosstalk] 

Rhianne: Beautiful. Yeah.

Sarina: You can just sit there and just watch the Northern Lights for a bit.

Rhianne: Yeah, unless you’re me, and then you just go running around killing things.

Sarina: Yeah, but then of course, if you have all the power, you don’t really need to worry about your character dying, so that’s the relaxing.


Sarina: It’s all good. What writing program do you use? Do you have a favorite? 

Rhianne: Um. [pause] Huh.

Sarina: Ahem. I didn’t think that would be– the hard question is still to come, I didn’t think this would be it. 

Rhianne: I don’t actually use anything exciting. I just write because– I’m an Apple person, so I use Pages to write my first drafts because I find it has less distractions. Then, I use Google Docs and Word [00:15:00] to send people to do edits. That is me in a nutshell. 

Sarina: That’s fine.

Rhianne: I don’t [crosstalk] exciting. [laughs] 

Sarina: Well, I don’t have Apple, so I don’t even know what Pages is. Is that like Word, basically–?

Rhianne: Yeah, it’s essentially Apple’s version of Microsoft Word, but it has– I mean, I don’t know how to use all the features, so I ignore them. In which case, I just have a blank piece of paper, beautiful [crosstalk].

Sarina: There’s only one. See, this is what I like with Scrivener’s full-screen mode, because you don’t see any of the other usually very distracting tabs. You’ve only got the blank screen and whatever words you happen to put on it, which sounds like it’s roughly the same thing. I think a lot of listeners or new writers who haven’t done this process an awful lot yet might not know how you can use Google Docs, for example, or Word to get feedback from critique partners and beta readers. What about that do you find the most helpful and how does it help you edit? [00:16:00]

Rhianne: I like the fact that if both people are in the same document, then you can have a little chat down the side, so that’s always fun. The way me and my critique partners use it is, I won’t look at the document until they’re finished because if I start making changes, it messes up all the comments and stuff. 

Sarina: God, that is so good, because I know I would go in just to read their comments, I would be too curious.

Rhianne: Well, the thing I like about it is I get emails with their comments, and I can reply directly to their comment from the email, it’s perfect. I’ve had loads of conversations while I’ve been at work, getting all these emails through and I just reply to them. [laughs] Then when I go into the document, when I’m editing, not only will it have their comment, but it’ll also have the conversation that we had. If say they’ve taken, I don’t know, six weeks to go through the whole manuscript, when you go back to that comment in Chapter 2, [00:17:00] you can see your conversation and go, “Oh, yeah, that’s exactly what I need to do.” 

Sarina: You get all the joy of going through the comments, but without feeling the need of doing any changes right away.

Rhianne: Yes.

Sarina: That sounds perfect. 

Rhianne: Yeah. [crosstalk] 

Sarina: If that’s not the perfect advert for using Google Docs, I don’t know what is.


Sarina: Right. What are three important things you need to have when you’re writing?

Rhianne: [pause] That is a good question. I need to have–

Sarina: I think that question came from Jess over in my Reader group.

Rhianne: I like to have a notebook to make notes on because I’m really bad at remembering what color hair my character has. When I write things where I’ve described what their hair is like or stuff like that, I have a notebook, I write all of those down, so that next time I do it, I don’t have to flick through like, loads of information, I can just go, “Oh, yeah, I wrote that down. That’s fine.” I also like to have– I’m really weird, I either prefer dead silence, or I have to have some kind of background on. Whether that be a TV show that I’ve already watched, and I know what’s happening, I can just hear it on in the background. Watching some YouTube person play a game, that’s always fun. Or, I just listen to instrumental music.

Sarina: That’s roughly what I do. I think I’ve just talked to Villemey a little bit about that, because she’s very good at having music going and getting inspired by the words and basing, maybe chapters and some scenes of what she’s hearing, but I can’t do that because when I try to write and there’s any kind of lyrics or [00:19:00] talking going on around me, I can only do one thing. I need silence or I need instrumental music.

Rhianne: Well, I have had instances where I’ve been listening to a song with lyrics driving on the way to work, and then all of a sudden, this scene has just unfolded in my head. I do understand where she’s coming from and I have had that happen to me. In my Project Kerradin playlist, I do have three or four songs with words, because they inspired a scene. Otherwise, it’s all just instrumental background noise so that I can do that while I’m writing. 

Sarina: All right. What do you do when writing gets difficult? Sooner or later, you’re going to sit down with your work in progress, you look at it, and you’re not quite sure how to go from there. What do you do? How do you fix it?

Rhianne: I act like a toddler and have a little tantrum.



Sarina: Don’t knock [00:20:00] it if it works. [laughs] 

Rhianne: That is usually my routine. I’ll usually have a little tantrum, and then I’ll just go away. Sometimes talking it through with other people helps. Most of the time, I will come to either yourself and be like, “Can you help me with the plot point?” Or, I’m part of a membership for authors. The coaching that offers one to one sessions every couple of months. Sometimes, I’ll just wait and then I’ll have a session with her and then we’ll full-on hash it out. And then, that’ll be good. To be fair, that is how I got the plot for book 3 of Project Kerradin. That’s how I worked out. She helped me with weaving in some things that are happening in the previous books to tie back in. I can’t say any more, because it’ll just give spoilers but, yeah.

Sarina: We don’t want that. 

Rhianne: It fired me up so much, and I was like, [00:21:00] “Oh, my God. Yes.”

Sarina: How does this work? Is this an online writing group, basically? 

Rhianne: Yeah, so it’s Pagan from Paperback Kingdom.

Sarina: Pagan from Paperback Kingdom?

Rhianne: Yeah. It’s Authorpreneur Kingdom membership. Basically, she has a coaching call every week. She’ll put up a post and you can respond whether you need mindset help, knowledge on how to do something, and stuff like that. Then, every couple of months, she’ll put in a post to say, “I have this many sessions available.” Then, you basically just do what we’re doing now. You hop on a video call, and hash it out.

Sarina: All right, that does sound very helpful. Okay. You’ve already mentioned a little bit of that just now when you said that sometimes you’re driving and you hear a song and suddenly, bam, there’s a whole new scene. Is that where most of your inspiration comes from? Or, [00:22:00] is there anything, for example, that when you stuck, you know you can go to that, and you’ll probably get inspiration from it? I phrased that terribly, but I think you know what I mean.

Rhianne: Well, my brother asked me this question the other day. He was like, “Where do your ideas come from?” I was like, “I don’t know.”

Sarina: I think it’s quite a popular question, isn’t it? 

Rhianne: Yeah.

Sarina: One of the first things that people ask you when you tell them that you’re a writer, or an author is, “Where do you get your inspiration from?” You’re like–

Rhianne: I’ve had inspiration from TV shows that I’ve watched, books that I’ve read, films that I’ve watched, conversations that I’ve seen other people have that had nothing to do with me. I had this really weird dream about Henry Cavill, which has started off an entire Assassin trilogy. They can come from anywhere.

Sarina: To go a tiny bit off-topic just briefly, because I need to know. We talked a little bit about that. I thought at the time that when you said Henry that this was a character [00:23:00] in GreedFall because you were talking about that. I’ve gone through the entire game looking out for this Henry. I thought, “There is no Henry in this. She told me there was this really hot guy in this called Henry and I can’t– Where is he? How am I missing him?”

Rhianne: Henry Cavill is an actor who plays Geralt. 

Sarina: Well, you only said Henry at the time. Then, eventually it occurred to me she must have meant him. Literally, I went through the entire game looking for Henry, and I thought, “I can’t find a Henry.” 

Rhianne: Well, I’m sorry to mislead you like that. I didn’t mean to.

Sarina: Googled it several times, and by the time the game was over, I still don’t know who Henry is.


Sarina: It was really driving me mad.

Rhianne: Oh, you should have sent me a message. 

Sarina: I was going to but I kept forgetting.

Rhianne: Well, [unintelligible [00:23:51] you on that point. [unintelligible [00:23:51], because I misled you and I do apologise. [laughs] 

Sarina: Well, I think you then mentioned his full name very shortly after you said, and I thought it [00:24:00] should probably have clicked that you meant him and not a character in the game. I even thought, “I know that she likes to watch let’s plays, I think, on YouTube. So, maybe she was watching a go play but in with the game in another language just narrated in English, and maybe some character’s name in France is Henry, but here, he’s something else. And maybe that’s where Henry came from.” 

Rhianne: I love how this has gone off on a tangent about Henry.


Sarina: Sorry, everyone. I’ll move it on. See this is why these episodes are longer than they should be. Sorry about that. 


Sarina: I’m glad I cleared that up. As you said, I kept forgetting to ask. While we’re here– [laughs] but that’s gets back to the– I think they’re on to the really important questions now. Do you snack while you write and what’s your beverage of choice? [00:25:00]

Rhianne: [pause] Do I snack while I write? Sometimes. Not really, because it’s usually first thing in the morning.

Sarina: Yeah, fair point.

Rhianne: I’ll eat my breakfast beforehand and then I’ll continue writing.

Sarina: Okay. When you do snack, do you like something dry like a crisp? That then ruins your keyboard with the flavor dust or–?

Rhianne: No, I tend to eat chocolate.

Sarina: Yeah, you can’t go wrong with chocolate. What’s your favorite chocolate?

Rhianne: Magic Stars.

Sarina: Hmm.

Rhianne: For people listening, I just pulled a bag out from behind my monitor and showed Sarina, [laughs] because I always have chocolate beside me. 

Sarina: My desk is littered with various snacks right now. It just depends, just so that I have something on here for when I’m in the mood for– like if I want Malteses, I hvea Malteses on here. If I want digesters, [00:26:00] I have digesters to my right. I’m surrounded by snacks, just in case. 

Rhianne: Fair enough.

Sarina: What’s your beverage of choice? Is it tea or you a coffee person?

Rhianne: I’m a water person.

Sarina: All right.

Rhianne: Yeah, I don’t drink tea or coffee.

Sarina: As we’ve seen in this episode, it’s makes me a little bit jittery at times. 

Rhianne: A little bit, yes.

Sarina: This is only my second cup, excuse you. [chuckles] I only have one cup of black tea a day. It’s unusual for me to have two, but I feel like when I do an interview like this, I need to have tea. I feel like it’s rude to not have tea for me. You can do whatever you want, but I feel it’s only natural that when you’re having a chat with friends that you have tea. So here I am, making mistakes. [laughs] 

You’ve already talked about this a little bit as well. I was going to ask if you listen to any [00:26:58] music while you write, and you’ve already talked about that. I think we can probably skip that unless you have anything to add.

Rhianne: Actually, yes, I will add something. Lindsey Stirling is great listening for when you’re writing really action-packed, dramatic scenes. She’s amazing.

Sarina: I second thought. Yeah, I started listening to her because I talked to you, I think I asked on Instagram for instrumental music recommendations and you said, “Try Lindsey Stirling.” 

Rhianne: Yes. 

Sarina: And it’s so beautiful. It does work really well. It’s very atmospheric music. It’s violin music, right?

Rhianne: Yeah.

Sarina: It’s been a while for me. It’s quite atmospheric. It’s really perfect for, well, pretty much any scene because every scene should have some form of ethnicity in it, so it’s perfect for that. And there are no lyrics, so you don’t get distracted.

Rhianne: Some of her songs do have lyrics, and when they’re featuring other people, [00:28:00] but if it’s just her, it will be instrumental.

Sarina: Yeah, those are the ones that I tend to flock to. To get to maybe the meanest and hardest question on my list. Sorry, in advance. What book has inspired and influenced you the most? What one book? I just want one.

Rhianne: [pause] Okay, my favorite book, Graceling by Kristin Cashore.

Sarina: Oh, that’s been on my list for so long. It always looks really interesting. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but it is on there.

Rhianne: Yeah, I read it in a day, it was so good.

Sarina: In a day?

Rhianne: Yeah. 

Sarina: God, I don’t get through anything in a day unless it’s a play, or a short story, or sometimes a novella.

Rhianne: To be fair, it was a couple of years ago when I was on holiday and it was raining, so I had nothing else to do but read. [00:29:00]

Sarina: That sounds like a wonderful day.

Rhianne: Yeah. 

Sarina: What do you think about this book that has inspired you so much?

Rhianne: Just the uniqueness of the idea. It’s literally– I’ve never read anything like it. I love the fact that they keep part of who Katsa is, the main character, a secret until the end.

Sarina: Hmm. It’s always nice to have this really big reveal at the end, especially if it wasn’t hinted at, or you didn’t see the hints because it’s your first time reading it. It’s such a punch.

Rhianne: Yeah. Some people in this world have something called a grace. That means they have different colored eyes and a special power. Now, all you know about Katsa in the beginning is that she has a grace and she’s got different colored eyes, but you don’t actually know what her grace is until the end of the book, and I love that.

Sarina: Ooh. Okay. See, I think I’m going to maybe put it up my list [00:30:00] a little bit-

Rhianne: Do it.

Sarina: -so that I can read it this year, because you’ve made me very curious. It really has been waiting for its turn for a very long time. I think it’s only fair if I bump it up a bit, and we could talk about it.

Rhianne: Yeah, I reread it probably once every couple years, because I just enjoy the book so much.

Sarina: That’s always a good sign. I would suggest doing a buddy read, but I’m really, really bad at buddy reads because I’m a slow reader. 

Rhianne: Me too. [crosstalk] 

Sarina: To start off December, I was starting a buddy read with Lisa and Bev of The Starless Sea, which is such a stunning book. I’m loving it so much. As I’m recording this, it’s the 14th of January. I think I’m just over halfway through. [chuckles] We were supposed to read the whole thing last month, so I’m very conscious that they’re probably holding back off gushing about it on our group, so they don’t spoil anything for me. I’m very sorry, Lisa [00:31:00] and Bev, for being such a slow reader. I am genuinely loving the book. It’s nothing with that, I’m just a slow reader. So, maybe we shouldn’t do that. But you’ve already read it, so you know what’s coming, and we can talk about it.

Rhianne: Yes, we can. 

Sarina: Very good. To stay on the topic of books for a second longer. Do you have a favorite book on the craft of writing, any recommendations?

Rhianne: I have loads of recommendations, I don’t have a favorite one.

Sarina: We can do a few. I’m not going to be as mean on this one. You can give me two or three titles if you want.

Rhianne: I do really enjoy The Fantasy Fiction Formula, which is fun. Then, I’ve got, Let’s Get Digital. I’m currently reading Business For Authors by Joanna Penn, which is quite interesting.

Sarina: Well, blimey, I haven’t even heard of the first two. What am I doing? You’ll have to send me the links, and we can– [00:32:00] What I’m going to do I think with every episode is that I’m going to have a link of the recommended book in the show notes and we can get a little library going that way.

Rhianne: No problem. I will just write this down as a note to remind myself to send it to you.

Sarina: Don’t worry. If you don’t remember it, I’ll remember it, at the latest when I go through the show notes. When I do the transcript, and I realize I still haven’t got any links in there. 

Rhianne: Fair enough. 

Sarina: Okay. Just to finish up, do you have any advice for establishing a writing routine? [unintelligible [00:32:35] for six years, so you’re clearly very good at that.

Rhianne: Yeah. You just need to find what works for you. I would say experiment until you find what works. Don’t be disheartened when it doesn’t, because you can always change it.

Sarina: Yeah, very true. That’s nice and short and succinct, and very to the point. Thank you so much. 

Rhianne: You’re very welcome. 

Sarina: We will wrap it up on that. Thank you so much for [00:33:00] stopping by and talking to me about your routine.

Rhianne: Thank you for having me. I’m happy to chat whenever.

Sarina: Always a pleasure. Thank you so much. Bye. 

Rhianne: Cheers.


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, at Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at Until next time, bye.

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The Writing Sparrow Episode 18 | Writing Routines: Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir

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 Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir, a horror author from Iceland.

Her book recommendation is Writing in the Dark by Tim Wagner.

To find out more about Villimey, check out her websitefind her or Twitter , or follow her on Instagram.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

Sarina Langer  00:08

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 Let’s get started!

Sarina Langer  00:27

Welcome back friends and sparrows. It’s the 18th of January 2021, this is Episode 18. Oh, that works really well doesn’t it? 18th January, 18th episode, it’s almost like I planned it. And this is the first of a new series of monthly interviews where I will be asking a different author every month about their writing routine. Personally, I love hearing about different approaches. And some of you have told me that you love hearing about this too, so I hope you enjoy these.

Sarina Langer  00:55

The first author I’m interviewing is Villimey. She’s a horror offer from Iceland, and I’m really excited that she’s here with me this morning. Welcome to the writing sparrow.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  01:06

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Sarina Langer  01:09

Such a pleasure. So before we started this, you tried to teach me your surname and I failed miserably and then I gave up. Can you– What do you mind introducing yourself before I slaughter it?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  01:22

Yes. Okay. For all you guys listening I hope you can try rolling your R’s like I, like we true Icelanders do, but my full name is Villimey Kristín Mist Sigurbjörnsdóttir.

Sarina Langer  01:38

You’re welcome, everyone. So you can try to follow that along with the, with the title of this episode and in the transcription, which I am feeling a little bit sorry for, my poor transcription service, which can barely cope with the word horror. So I’m interested to see what it gives me. I have to send you a picture of what I get.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  02:02

I, this is going to, this programme is going to have a field day.

Sarina Langer  02:05

I think it’s gonna. Yeah, it’s gonna be fun to see what it does.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  02:09

It’ll probably give you a big ass error code.

Sarina Langer  02:13

Yeah, like, what was that? I can, it can barely cope with English. So we’ll see how it copes with Icelandic.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  02:20


Sarina Langer  02:21

So let’s do the most important question first. Are you a plotter, a pantser, or are you somewhere in between?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  02:30

I’m definitely somewhere in between.

Sarina Langer  02:33

All right.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  02:34

What I usually do, especially when it comes to novels, I tend to do like an outline of each chapter. So I usually get in my head, like what kind of what, how, how sufficient that chapter would be, how many chapters there should be in a novel. Usually, in my novels, currently, there have been like 30 to 35. That’s like a good, it’s a good amount for like an 80k novel. And then I just structur it like that. And then, then when I go and start writing, at least I have like a good skeletal progress of how the novel is going to be, how story is going to be. So I can always just go into the, into the chapter outlines, see like, Okay, this chapter is going to have something like this. And then I just start writing, but at the same time, I don’t completely adhere to the outlines themselves, like I have like the core points. And with that, I can just let my pen freely flow.

Sarina Langer  03:35

I think that’s quite a good way of approaching it. I do it in a very similar way, actually. So you know, I think we both, we’re both people who really like to structure things so that we know where we’re going. But then if our characters at any point say Actually, I’m going over that way, then we’re flexible enough to run with that.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  03:54


Sarina Langer  03:55

It’s interesting I think that you said that you, that you tend to aim for about 50, 53 chapters for an 80k novel. So do you try to always have roughly the same number of words per chapter? Cause I think just chapter length can vary so much, you know, so you get some books which have maybe 20 chapters and they are all quite long, and then you get another book with roughly the same number of words overall, but they might have 60 chapters.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  04:25

Yeah, well, I usually I try to have like the chapters like three– 2000 or 3000 words. I think that’s a really good like, the length for a chapter is like, it doesn’t it doesn’t have that too many words that the reader will get bored. It’s all, I mean, of course everything depends on like how interesting you’re going to write the chapter. But I think it’s like appropriate length, like if I’m reading like a fantasy story, and it has like a chapter is like maybe 6000 or 7000 words. I usually like to go over to where the next chapter is and see how much I have. And I’m like, this is, this is gonna take too long. And I might get impatient, because I’m such an impatient person.

Sarina Langer  05:15

Yeah, I get it. See, this is why I rushed my debut novel out the first time I did it. And this is why I had to get it re edited, because I was very impatient. But I think it’s got a lot better over time. And I know that you’ve got a lot more patient over time as well. Because I’ve known you from your first book, so I know how much you’ve improved in those terms.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  05:37

I know. I, I really should pat myself on the shoulder here.

Sarina Langer  05:41

You really should.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  05:43

For learning that much patience.

Sarina Langer  05:45

I mean, generally writing a book and getting it out there is such an exciting process anyway, that I think it’s really easy to get carried away.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  05:53

Oh, yeah, especially when you have like, these nuggets that you really want to share with people. And then you get really excited, and then you reverse plan like, okay, on this month, I’m going to like, reveal this, and then you get to, god, fuck, I’m just gonna put it out there right now. I’m sorry, I tend to swear when I’m excited.

Sarina Langer  06:14

That’s okay. That’s okay. I don’t think there are any children listening to this. We’ve had, I’ve had a couple of swears here and there over the episodes, and they would be much too annoying to edit out.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  06:25

Thank god.

Sarina Langer  06:26

So this will come uncensored. I don’t think anyone’s going to be offended at that. If any of you are, we’re very sorry. It just slips out. We’re just very passionate authors, that’s all.

Sarina Langer  06:40

So to come back to your writing routine, in general, what does that look like? Do you have a specific routine every day? Is there tea involved? Is there anything that you need to do, a specific process?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  06:56

Well, I, I usually tend to like, wake up early. I do my workouts early. I have this kind of situation with my, with my work that I’ve start work usually around 11, it’s not really typical of work elsewhere. So it gives me time to do stuff in the morning. So I can I just can get my workouts done, and then I feel energised enough afterwards to sit down and write a little bit. I don’t aim for a lot of like a daily counts or anything like that. It will just stress me out. Because if I, it feels like I’m not doing it and doing anything enough, and I’ve trying to have this kind of mindfulness of whatever you’re doing is enough. Like even if you wrote maybe a sentence or if you wrote two words. It’s, for that that’s enough, so you don’t have to really stress yourself out about it.

Sarina Langer  07:53

I think I can hear your cat, it’s so cute.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  07:56

Yep. That’s Robocop.

Sarina Langer  07:59


Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  08:00


Sarina Langer  08:01

That’s adorable. Hello, Robocop.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  08:05

Yeah, he is.

Sarina Langer  08:06

Aww, he looks a bit like the elderly cat who comes by every now and again. She’s 20 years old.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  08:13

Oh my!

Sarina Langer  08:14

She is completely deaf. She’s gone blind in one eye. And she looks a little bit like she, she always looks a little bit like she’s just been in a fight. So a little bit rough. Your cat isn’t there yet, but your cat isn’t 20 years old, so.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  08:27

No, he’s eight, though.

Sarina Langer  08:29

Oh, bless him. I mean, sorry listeners. You can’t see him. He’s the most, the softest looking cat. He’s grey and he– I think he just huffed at me.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  08:41

He’s a really soft teddy bear. I’ve never had such a soft cat before and he’s like, he’s got everything.

Sarina Langer  08:49

And he looks like he loves cuddles.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  08:52

He does but then he’s the kind of cat that I let– he wants me to come to him. It’s just he’s still like such a, he’s such a tease. He’s like oh look at me I have such a nice looking for. Don’t you want to pet it? I’m like, Yeah, come here. No, no.

Sarina Langer  09:09

I do. Yes, I do. How do you know?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  09:12

Yeah, and then again, like no, no, no, you come to me and the he runs off, and I’m like you wanted pets!

Sarina Langer  09:19

We’ve had so many pet appearances on this podcast so far. So I think I’m gonna have to almost do like a list of, of guest appearances by our various cats and dogs.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  09:31

See, now he’s, now he’s doing the I’m not getting enough attention whine.

Sarina Langer  09:35

Our cat is about to be fed in about 25 minutes, so there is a good chance that we’ll hear her cause she gets absolutely insufferable around this time.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  09:45

I don’t even know. We went off track because of the goddamn cat. Oh, yeah.

Sarina Langer  09:50

Oh yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. Shall we, shall we get back to the point of why we’re both here. We– you’ve already just touched on this in that you don’t really set yourself a specific word count goal every day, which was going to be my next question. Um, so I think we can skip that. So do, do you write every day without fail? Or do you take breaks?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  10:13

I try to write a little bit every day. But I mean, sometimes just life gets in the way.

Sarina Langer  10:20


Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  10:21

Like sometimes when I’m just sitting here like, my, my laptop is such a huge distraction. My phone is a huge distraction, it’s basically the home of Twitter. I do nothing else on this goddamn phone except be on Twitter, so I try to like shut down the laptop so I can focus on writing. Because for those of you who don’t know, I write everything by hand.

Sarina Langer  10:48

Yeah, we will come back to that in a bit, and that’s very impressive. You can almost do I think, its own episode just on how you do that. But we’ll do a little bit about that in a bit. Yeah.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  11:00

pSo I try to do like a little bit every day, like, even if it’s just a small outline, or just a couple of words, if it can get squeezed that like in the morning, and maybe when I get back home from work, I work late, I usually come back around 7, 7:30, or something like that, and though in the evenings, so and that leaves me like doing dinner, and then you know, cleaning that up, and then afterwards, just I get a couple of hours before going to bed. So I usually try to do just a little bit, but on the weekends, I give myself time off. Like, I usually, usually have the time to you know, go for walks and watch my favourite shows and do the household chores, I usually leave that always on the weekends. And, yeah, and reading. I’ve, I’ve like set this goal for myself this year that I will focus my weekends on reading so I can finish as many books as… I mean, I have a YouTube channel now, so I kind of need me to keep up with that.

Sarina Langer  12:06

Yeah. Now I think that’s a nice way of doing it because you need time to recharge anyway.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  12:13


Sarina Langer  12:13

And I think in, in our industry, maybe more than definitely, well definitely more than in traditional jobs, say where you have an office that you go to five days a week and then you know that the weekends are off. We don’t really get that in the same sense. Because we know that we’re self employed when, when we do all the authoring stuff, which I think makes makes it quite… well, I think it makes it feel really like we need to write all the time or else you’re not doing enough, and it can make taking weekends off quite difficult. So it’s nice to see that you look after yourself, and hopefully you don’t get burnt out.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  12:50

No, I, I’ve, after listening to your burnout episodes, I’ve been really paying attention to what my symptoms are going to be like.

Sarina Langer  12:59

Oh thank you!

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  12:59

so when I writing, like with the plotting that I’m doing now with book four, I feel like I’m getting a little bit of burnout. So I’m like, Okay, I’m gonna focus on something else.

Sarina Langer  13:09

That’s a very good thing to do, well done, because it can be really hard actually, to notice, I think.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  13:16

It is.

Sarina Langer  13:16

Like on paper, it looks really easy when you just go through the symptoms, but then it actually happens to you and you’ll probably think actually, it’s probably something else. It’s not going to be burnout. I’m probably just tired because I didn’t sleep well enough, which in itself can be a symptom, so… but I’m getting sidetracked again. I can talk about burnout until the cows come home as my mom would say, so.

Sarina Langer  13:38

Um, so obviously at the moment we’re recording this, we’re still in lockdown. And I imagine that by the time this goes live in a few days time, we’re still being in lockdown. How would you say that your routine has changed at all over the years, and how has it been affected by the lockdown?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  13:55

The thing is, we don’t have a lockdown here in Iceland.

Sarina Langer  13:58

Oh, right!

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  13:59

We… Yeah, we–

Sarina Langer  14:01

Never mind!

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  14:02

We’ve like, I can’t say that we have been like successful, but compared to other Scandinavian countries we’re doing fairly well. Because we’re, our government is like really pushing down on keeping the infection rate as low as possible. And we’re doing that by like checking with every, everyone that goes into the country. So they have to get checked. They have to do the testing when they arrive at the airport, and then they have to go for a five day quarantine. And then they have to go do a second testing. And when they are tested positive, they are, they’re immediately shipped to another place where they are contained.

Sarina Langer  14:49

That sounds so sinister.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  14:51

I know, it really does! But it’s the best way to keep it from infecting the society. Beczuse we’re really, like we’re really, really, really, really worried about the British, the British contagion, the contagion.

Sarina Langer  15:08

So you should be.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  15:09

As it’s called in the media, which is supposed to be a lot more infectious. So we’re really, really trying to contain that away from society as much as possible. So with doing that, we’ve actually managed to, like, go easy a little bit, like yesterday was, was one of the where they are slacking off a little bit on the restriction. So instead of now 10 people gathering together, now 20 people may gather together. And…

Sarina Langer  15:44

So what you’re saying is, it hasn’t really affected your writing routine at all.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  15:48

No, not really. I mean, I just I’ve been going to work ever since it started. And I mean, I’m kind of like a frontline worker, I work in an office and crafts, arts and crafts store. So a lot of people have been go, needing to go there, because everyone’s working from home, so they need office supplies, and all the kids, they need stuff to do while they can go to school. So I have been really busy at work. And I’ve just been doing my routine what I’ve been doing like this the last two years, I think. Just the same. Same old, same old. It’s boring as hell.

Sarina Langer  16:28

But it works. And that’s why it’s a routine, isn’t it? Ultimately. And then, I know, I think you’ve mentioned the other day, possibly on Instagram or on Twitter that in your store, you have like 50 different kinds of notebook.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  16:43


Sarina Langer  16:43

Which brings me on to my next question. And you’ve already talked about that a little bit. Which is your, the writing programme that you use, and you actually write all your drafts by hand.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  16:55

I do, yup.

Sarina Langer  16:56

And they all have their own dedicated notebook. See, that was a link there, I know what I’m doing. Alright, so talk me through that. How does, how does your hand survive that, cause every time I try to write much by hand, certainly that much, eventually, my hand will cramp. And then there’s no way I’m writing anything else that way.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  17:16

I think it might have to do with the fact that I’m also an artist. So I, I draw everything by hand as well. Like I do a lot of traditional art, trying to move towards digital arts ever since I got the iPad. It’s just been challenging. And I’m, and I’m impatient when it could faster.

Sarina Langer  17:33

It feels very different.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  17:35

Yeah, it really does. But so yeah, I’ve always… and also just, I have always been the person who likes to take notes, like ever since I was in school. And ever since people brought like, we’re allowed to brought laptops to classes and stuff, they would just type everything up there. But I felt like I couldn’t really pay attention to everything while I was writing in my laptop, so I would always just pull my notebook and just take notes with that by hand. And I noticed that I can pay attention, listen to the, the teacher and take notes and understand what I’m writing at the same time.

Sarina Langer  18:17

That’s impressive.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  18:19

And I’ve kind of actually moved that towards writing my novels, like a lot of people tend to have, want to have like complete silence when they are writing.

Sarina Langer  18:29

Like me!

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  18:30

Yep. Sometimes it works for me. Like if I need to really get into the zone, I will do that. But you, I usually hate silences because it has something to do with with me when I was a kid. I’ve always have had to have some kind of sound in my room. So I always have to have background noises. So I usually just put up like Friends or Brooklyn 999 on TV. And it doesn’t bother me when I’m writing. Because it just feels like I’m with someone or I’ve been in class and I could just write whatever I want.

Sarina Langer  19:04

And when it then comes to getting what you’ve handwritten onto your computer, what programme do you use for that, and how do you… D you type everything out again by hand or I think you dictate it?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  19:19

First, I typed everything by hand and my god I don’t really recommend it because it is hard. But then I discovered this cute little button on Word that basically saved my life and my sanity. It’s the dictation button. So basically what I did is I just said everything out loud to the to the Word programme and it just dictated for me, and the only thing they had to do was to fix what the dictation didn’t really get from my accent.

Sarina Langer  19:52

That doesn’t sound so bad.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  19:54

It doesn’t, and it also, it also helps because there are some, some some of the writing tips as you’ve probably heard is to read your stuff out loud.

Sarina Langer  20:03


Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  20:04

And it’s a really good thing. And I noticed that when I’m really reading my first draft into the, into the draft that there are some things that really don’t, don’t, don’t look good or don’t really loud good. So it gives me time to edit that at least.

Sarina Langer  20:20

That’s, that’s a good way to do it. I mean, I think it definitely helps to hear it yourself as well. Because I think when you just read it silently to yourself, it sounds quite different in your own head than when you actually read it out loud.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  20:33

Yeah. Yes, definitely.

Sarina Langer  20:35

So that’s a big help.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  20:36

Yeah. Actually, it’s kind of it’s difficult for me sometimes, because what, what the English we learned in Iceland is actually the British English.

Sarina Langer  20:48


Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  20:49

So I mean, the proper English of course.

Sarina Langer  20:52

Of course.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  20:54

But then I’ve also been exposed to American English through watching television. I mean, I grew, I basically, I think, I think my best friend was the TV when I was growing up. And Cartoon Network really helped spice up my vocabulary in English. So I tend to mix those up a little bit. Like there are some–

Sarina Langer  21:15

I think a lot of people do, to be fair, because American English is everywhere, especially on TV, you know, we get so many shows over here now from America, especially also with Netflix and things like that. So I think for most, most people don’t necessarily realise that they’re using American English over here. It just happens naturally, cause, you know, you just, you just soak it up.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  21:39

Yeah, exactly. So reading out loud really helped me to detect if I’m using the proper English or not.

Sarina Langer  21:48

So to move on, cause I’m very aware of the time – damn your cat for being so cute and distracting us. What are three important things you need to have when you’re writing, and I imagine your cat is one of those.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  22:03


Sarina Langer  22:04

What are the other two?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  22:07

My notebooks. I need to have my notebooks. If I, if I don’t, I will probably scrounge for like post it notes or anything like that, like I will probably order everything from, from work. And I need to have tea, tea or water next to me.

Sarina Langer  22:25

I’m having a tea right now.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  22:26

I haven’t had mine yet.

Sarina Langer  22:27

Of course, it’s quite, it’s quite early in the day that we’re recording this anyway. So it’s just my regular first tea of the day.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  22:33

Yeah. I, my throat is actually a little bit parched. So I might get some tea afterwards.

Sarina Langer  22:39

Do you need to go? Do you need to quickly go get some water?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  22:43

I’m fine now. It’s just so frickin cold here.

Sarina Langer  22:46

Yeah. So… there we are, what do you do when writing gets difficult? Because it’s not always easy, especially when you try to make a little bit of progress every day. You know, sooner or later, you’re going to sit down with your notebook and you’re not quite sure where to go and how to move things forward. What do you do when that happens?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  23:08

I’m actually in that situation right now. I’m currently outlining book four of my vampire series. And like the beginning sounds really good. And I’m super happy about that. But then when I’m like, I have the middle left, and I have no idea how the ending is going to be. And I’m just stuck. So I decided like okay, I… Until like, maybe until I talked to it to someone who actually knows my series like you, for example, or Damascus, my illustrator, we usually chat back and forth. I decided just to move on and just work on something else. So I had like a short story that I had in mind. And I hadn’t really gone into outlining it. So I decided just to sit down and outline that and now I have a basis for a short story that I might work, work on until I get like a light bulb moment for outlining book four.

Sarina Langer  24:09

See, what Villimey does when she doesn’t have a whole novel draft to write is she writes short stories. She writes a lot of short stories.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  24:19

Well, I only just started but it’s super fun.

Sarina Langer  24:23

You have to… well maybe if we do another episode on that at some point, cause… I mean, I’ve already done one episode with Bev anyway. And when we did that one I got really excited to write short stories, and then I tried it and I just don’t know how to kick that off. But it seems to be so effortless for you. So maybe we can do another episode about that at some point.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  24:42

Well, yeah. I’d like that.

Sarina Langer  24:44

There we are. So when you write, do you, do you snack and what’s your beverage of choice? We’re getting to the really important questions now.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  24:54

The thing is with me, I can’t really snack on things that I’m really focused on. Like, even when I’m at the movies and I have like a big bag of popcorn in front of me. I can’t eat that while I’m watching the movie because I’m so engrossed into the movie itself. So what I usually do is I cram like a mouthful, just before the trailer starts. And then when the movie starts, I’m like, nope, nope, I need to watch, I need to be focused. And that’s kind of how it does with my writing as well. So I might maybe get a, like a… I have like, right now I have… I’ve got like a box of Icelandic chocolate for Christmas.

Sarina Langer  25:39

Oh. I’ve tried some of your Icelandic chocolate and it’s delicious.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  25:42

It is. A lot of people don’t know it, but we have one of the best.

Sarina Langer  25:47

Especially the ones with caramel chunks, they are wonderful.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  25:50

Oh, yes. The one with Icelandic sea salt.

Sarina Langer  25:52

Oh, yes.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  25:55

Um, so I try not to have a lot of snacks. But I do, I always emphasise on being hydrated. So even though you’re working on something, and you’re super focused, even when it comes to either writing, or in my case, also, when I’m drawing, I have to remind myself to stay hydrated. So I always keep a bottle of my water there, as well as something warm, which is, would be my like tea and stuff. I like green tea and chai.

Sarina Langer  26:26

You have to teach me at some point maybe how you can make a perfect cup of green tea, because every time I’ve tried making green tea, it was disgusting. But I’m such a tea drinker that it feels weird to me that I can’t enjoy green tea. I think I’m just brewing it wrong. That must be it.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  26:44

And I think also if you just have a like a combination of things, because there are some people who can’t take the bitter taste of green tea. And also as, like, as my husband likes to say, it tastes like grass.

Sarina Langer  26:57

I don’t… I like, well, I like the smell of grass right after you’ve cut it. That’s a lovely smell.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  27:01

That’s the best smell.

Sarina Langer  27:03

Maybe that’s how I should think about it. It’s concentrated cut grass juice. It doesn’t sound appealing.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  27:11

Like I said, it really depends. Like the tea that I always drink at work that really helps me get energised is actually a tea called Green Energy. And it’s like a combination of like ginger, green tea, and ginseng.

Sarina Langer  27:29

Oh right. That sounds alright.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  27:32

Yeah, it’s not, it’s not as bitter as I thought it would be.

Sarina Langer  27:35


Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  27:36

It’s from Yogi Tea. So I think you guys have, sell it there in Britain.

Sarina Langer  27:41

Probably. I mean, if nothing else, it’ll be on Amazon because everything is on Amazon anyway. Well, I’ll have to look it up. I’d like to have a nice healthy cup of green tea at some point.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  27:51


Sarina Langer  27:52

Moving on to the, to the subject at hand. So how do you, how do you find inspiration? One of the big questions, something that everyone is forever wondering: how do writers constantly find more inspiration?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  28:07

Well, it’s really hard to say, like, my ideas just pop into my head whenever they, whenever they want. Like even when I’m doing such mundane tasks like cleaning, like the cleaning the apartment, suddenly I just have like this idea about a really bad serial killer who wants to kill everyone? I’m like, how does that fit into cleaning?

Sarina Langer  28:30

Well, maybe you just really hate cleaning and it makes you maybe just a tick violent? No?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  28:35

Yeah, I don’t know. It’s just, I was just watching one, like I was watching, erm, like a TV series that is based on a manga on Netflix called Alice Borderland. And I was just watching that and really enjoying it, and then suddenly out pops into my head like, Hey, have you ever done a story with a sinister Japanese spirits? And I’m like, No, I haven’t.

Sarina Langer  29:05

I think I’ve just seen you mention that on Twitter, something about a Ouija board and, and a Japanese version of that. Is that where that came from?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  29:12

That’s where it came from. Even though like nothing of that happened in that TV series. Just the thing that I was being absorbed by like the Japanese culture that I’m really familiar with, because I used to live there for two years. It just really just brought me back.

Sarina Langer  29:30

And how do you record your ideas when they pop into your head? Do you write it down anywhere? Or do you remember them?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  29:38

Twitter is a really good thing to storing these ideas. Just like for like YouTube references like if you have Twitter and you get an idea, write it down and tweet it and get people excited. That way I will get it will help me remember like I have a story that people were excited about and I need to write that down.

Sarina Langer  29:56

That sounds like a really good way of doing it, cause one You have a record off the idea, so if you forget it, it will still be on Twitter, so you can’t lose it. And it gets your first reaction of whether people are excited about it or not. Why isn’t everyone doing this? Sounds like a great way of doing it.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  30:15

Yeah, it’s a good idea

Sarina Langer  30:16

I’ll have to consider that next time I have one.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  30:20


Sarina Langer  30:21

You already said earlier that when you write you like to have some kind of background noise, but do you listen to music while you write? And do you have, like, like dedicated playlists for every book?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  30:35

I find that really interesting. I, there are some songs that I, that I didn’t really understand that it could fit well with my stories until afterwards. Like, I decided, like on Instagram for one time, like, hey, what kind of songs would you implement with my stories? And a lot, I got a lot of suggestions from a lot of people. And when I listened to the songs, they really fit it, the stories. So it usually comes up to me afterwards. So if I’m, if I need, if I need some inspiration when it comes to music, I usually tend to go for the metal ones.

Sarina Langer  31:17

Metal music, especially metal covers are a recent obsession of ours.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  31:24

Yeah, it is really, really nice. And it gets you pumped up.

Sarina Langer  31:29

And I think it suits your stories quite well as well.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  31:33

Yeah, I mean, kind of, yeah. I mean, Leah kind of has to listen to that all the time now.

Sarina Langer  31:39

Bless her. It’s a hard life.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  31:41

It is. But it really helps, especially when you’re like, if you find that listening to music helps with your writing, I would kind of try to associate it with the scenes that you’re writing. Like for me, if I want to ride like a really tense action scene, I would put metal on. And that really helps.

Sarina Langer  32:03

That’s a good idea. I mean, I wish I could write with music. But if there is any kind of lyrics, I can’t focus on both, but instrumental music, I think it needs to be for me, either that or silence. But God, I wish I could try it with metal music. It sounds so perfect for really getting you into the right mood for the scene you’re writing.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  32:25

Yeah, it is. But I think there is like, there are some like YouTube channels that do covers, like metal covers that are just instrumental.

Sarina Langer  32:34

Oh, yeah, you’re right. Every now and again… it’s not really relevant, to be honest, but every now and again, we play a game where my partner will put on a metal cover and I have to guess what the song is. It’s quite fun.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  32:46

Oh my God, our house are the same.

Sarina Langer  32:50

There you go. It’s such a fun thing to do. And it really shows you just how bad your knowledge of music is.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  32:57

The thing is, I’m good at, I’m super good, like, I could be like the computer, like the computer equivalent to recognising like celebrity faces when I’m watching stuff. If I’m watching a movie, I’m like, I know this guy. He played in that and my husband will be like no, that’s not right. I’m like, Yes, he does. And then I go on IMDB and I’m like, yeah, it’s that guy. When he switches around and we go to music, he knows every single thing. Like he knows the bass player. He knows when it was, like, recorded and at what time and stuff. And I’m like, I know one note from this. I don’t know the song. I think I know who it is. I like it.

Sarina Langer  33:44

So my next question is a little bit mean. But, but try, just try your best. Which one book, just one, has inspired you the most as a writer?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  33:58

Ah, shit.

Sarina Langer  34:01


Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  34:03

Well, I mean, that’s it… I mean, if I have to be honest and even, and even despite the the current affairs with that particular author, I’d have to say Harry Potter.

Sarina Langer  34:19

I mean, I think for most of us, that was such a big influence as we were growing up. So if we, if we separate ourselves, maybe, from the person behind the books, and just think about how it made us feel at the time.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  34:31


Sarina Langer  34:32

And you know, those those feelings were real. And yeah, that love and the passion for it all that was real.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  34:38

Yeah. I think that was the one that I kind of, like drove me, like if that person can do it, then maybe I can as well.

Sarina Langer  34:46

Yeah. And you know, obviously, everything that’s going on now has absolutely no bearing on how… that, the fact that it inspired you to be a writer in the first place all those years ago. Sa, you know, I think that’s still, that’s still very valid. And yes, I just I love hearing about what books have inspired other people to pick up writing because it’s, it makes it so powerful to me.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  35:12

Yeah, it really does.

Sarina Langer  35:14

It’s really all about the books when you come back down to it.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  35:17

Well yeah, I mean once it’s out there, it’s not yours technically.

Sarina Langer  35:22

Yeah. And on a very similar note, do you have a favourite book on the craft of writing?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  35:29

I’m actually, I, one of my favourite now is this one here. It’s called Writing in the Dark by Tim Wagner.

Sarina Langer  35:37

Okay, I don’t think I’ve heard… actually, no, I think I have seen it around a little bit.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  35:42

Yeah, he just published it a couple of months ago. And it’s basically a guide book on how to write good horror fiction, because he’s a really established horror author. So he both, basically he is telling him, telling people like how he went into it, how he kind of went through the stages of writing horror, and he’s giving like, good, really good advice, and really good lessons. And I, well, I haven’t gone through everything yet. But it’s really, really, really good. So I definitely recommend that if you are thinking of writing horror. You might, you might, you might learn something from him.

Sarina Langer  36:25

Always good to have a book like that. I love having a book on writing that I know I can come back to any time if I’m stuck, and I’m instantly feeling inspired to write again. Which comes back to inspiration.

Sarina Langer  36:38

And, finally, um, do you have any advice for establishing a writing routine?

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  36:47

Well, I think what you just have to do is… It can be really tough to say just come up with a plan, because you know, life gets in the way, and you can’t really stick to that plan. So what I just say is, be kind to yourself, and try to maybe start like less, don’t start like with trying to write 1000 words a day. If that doesn’t fit into your schedule, then just scrap it altogether. Just try maybe one or two sentences. And if that flow is still within you, then just keep on writing and see if you can keep on going for the rest of, the like, for the rest of the week. And if that helps, definitely just tried to amp it up. But don’t try to go, don’t go exceeding the things that you can’t really do.

Sarina Langer  37:40

No, especially right in the beginning, if, you know, if you’re only just starting to get into writing, I mean, you… I think one of my writing friends easily knocks out 10,000 words a day. And I don’t know how she does it. Please don’t ask me. It’s dark magic to me.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  37:55

That is dark magic to me as well.

Sarina Langer  37:57

But if that had been the first impression that I’d had about how many words other writers do a day then that would have been quite off putting, I think because that is such a massive count, just for one day.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  38:11


Sarina Langer  38:11

So you know, just, just start slowly as you said to see what you can do in a day. And let that be your benchmark to begin with. And you know, you can always step it up a bit over time.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  38:21

Yeah. So I have to add because I work out, like it’s the same, similar if you’re going to do physical exercises. You don’t go straight for the heavier weights, you go with the ones that you can deal with.

Sarina Langer  38:34

That’s a great comparison.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  38:36

And then once you get stronger, you can move up to heavier weights.

Sarina Langer  38:41

That’s a really good comparison, because I think everyone will possibly have tried working out at some point or another, and it’s really easy to overdo that immediately and just think, I’m going to work out, I’m going to start by running one kilometre, and it’s probably not gonna happen. I mean, I hate running anyway, so that’s a bad example from me, but…

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  39:01

I’m not even at the point where I can like jog continually. I have to take like, intervals when I’m just walking briskly. And then I start jogging. And I’ve been running, jogging now since March. So it takes time.

Sarina Langer  39:17

Yeah, like any, like any routine, really getting into a writing routine also takes time. So as you said, Be kind to yourself, and take it slowly.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  39:25


Sarina Langer  39:27

All right, we will end on that. Thank you very much for stopping by and talking to me about your writing routine, Villimey. Thank you so much.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  39:35

I hope everyone can learn a little bit something from it.

Sarina Langer  39:38

We can hope. Thank you very much. Bye.

Villimey Sigurbjörnsdóttir  39:42


Sarina Langer  39:44

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 and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at Until next time! Bye!

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