Once upon a time there was a soft Southern young woman who ended up in a tough Northern city to study at university. She didn't do much of the studying bit but she did fall in love with the city, and has kept that love and fondness in her back pocket. Whenever she meets someone from this city or the surrounding area, she goes a bit crazy and immediately asks too many questions and shares too many stories and does a terrible impression of the leur-cal accent... Ahem.
I cannot thank Hull for turning me into a highly successful professional or prolific academic (because it was my fault I drank too much Snakebite on the Marina on Sunday nights) but I can thank it for helping me open up a conversation with Mr Mike Sowden of the highly entertaining Fevered Mutterings blog, who was one of these poor unsuspecting East Yorkshire folk that I pounced on - over a hotel buffet breakfast in Rotterdam, I believe. I can now say he is one of my online friends I turn to and look up to when I feel like writing (or life!) isn't going the way I want it to. He believes uncompromisingly in the power of stories and of writing, and all writers need friends like that.
With that in mind, I recently asked Mike to share with me (and you!) some of his processes and his approaches to writing as he has a very loyal and engaged following online and we are all eagerly waiting for that first book of his. In the meantime, you can sign up to his newsletter (so you can find out when his fantastic storytelling course is open) and to his latest email course, which is all about not being bored. Sound odd? Sound perfect for you? Yes, I think it's both of those things...
TODAY ONLY: Mike has opened up his Engage Storytelling course for a very limited time and it closes TODAY (Friday 15th Septemebr) - please do yourself a favour and sign up. I did it a few months back and still often think back to the lessons he shared. It's one of the reasons I'm back blogging to be honest - so do it! Sign up and learn and write and tell your story!
Anyway, enough about me - over to Mike and what his writing routine looks like...
Hi Mike! Can you give us an overview of your relationship with writing; professional, personal, emotional, whatever...
Obsessive. I can't think of another way to describe it. I started writing short stories around the age of 10, and kept that up until I got published in a couple of British small press magazines. Then I stopped, because I thought I'd better grow up and do something more productive with my teenage years, and became an amateur computer nerd (which I kinda regretted until the internet came along and nerds inherited the earth).
As a twenty-something I did lots of semi-skilled jobs (working in a pottery, working in an office, gardening and grounds work) - and on the side, I found myself writing again. But come on: who makes a living as a *writer*? So I decided to go to University, ten years late, and became an archaeologist - ironically, perhaps the only job less stable than being a writer. That was great, but I kept lapsing back into writing with my free time. Then I worked in insurance, but - writing again. I was never dedicated or organised enough to get strategic and really build something with what I wrote, but I kept writing.
Around the age of 40, I looked back over the last two decades and finally acknowledged what was going on.
Now I'm committed. I don't mean locked up, although perhaps that will come one day. I mean this is my thing, it's how my brain works, so I'm determined to make the best job of it I can - and perhaps for the first time in my life, I'm feeling enormously ambitious about what I want to achieve.
Obsession isn't always a good thing, but the right amount, parcelled out in a sane way so you don't lose your wits, and at a potency that utterly consumes you when you're really in the throes of it? That's the good kind. To anyone who has felt the touch of that kind of obsessiveness - don't shy away. Rein it in and put it to work, without shame or guilt, as soon as you can. You head and your heart will thank you for it, and in today's creative-obsession-rewarding world, your accountant might thank you too.
How often (and how much) do you write now? When did this habit or routine start?
I've been spending the last year experimenting with my writing routine to find out what works best. I've tried getting up at 2am, writing for a few hours and going back too bed. (I wrote garbage.) I've tried writing in 30-minute bursts. (Never got into "the zone" so the writing always seemed flat. I'm now trying to teach myself to get up at 5am or 6am so I can write for 3 hours before the normal day starts - and being in Costa Rica helps, because the sun comes up at 6am every day, all year round. I'm cautiously optimistic this is the one that works for me.
Because of copywriting, blogging and writing courses, I've got used to getting around 3,000 words written every day, which is a good rate, and I hope to maintain that pace when I shift to full-time fiction writing at some point in the hopefully near future.
One of the best things for my writing speed has been taking the wise advice of Jeff Goins: most writers struggle because they try to plan, write and edit all at the same time. (Guilty.) So if you break your work into a session of outlining, a session of drafting and (ideally a day later) a session of editing, you're not straining your brain by multitasking, and you can really burn through the words. Works really, really well.
What helped you build a writing habit - A book? A quote? A real-life experience?
Self-disgust. That was the start of it. Reading posts like this, realising I didn't have a daily routine, and then giving myself enough grief about it to go and find a solution.
Beyond this, reading The War Of Art was enormously helpful. The whole book is about recognising your worst enemy is yourself - all those self-defeating lies, "oh, I'll just do twice as much tomorrow" or "what's the point? Nobody will ever read this, which is probably a mercy," and so on. It's a real kick in the pants. The first step to building a writing habit is learning how to be brutally honest with yourself - and then push at your expectations until you're doing the seemingly impossible.
Oh, and coffee. I am nothing without coffee. I'm just a clumsy, squishy bag of inert chemicals, taking up space in the world. Coffee turns me from a Muggle into a wannabe wizard.
Your e-course Engage! Storytelling for Bloggers aims to help bloggers build both a brand around their own narrative - do you really believe that there is a place for personal stories in the age of click-bait and listicles?
Absolutely. All corners of blogging are built on a foundation of personal stories - "here's how I did x and y and so can you" being the most popular across all niches - so it's super-important to know how to tell a yarn that really grabs people from the first line.
But there's the other big story at work in blogging, and it's the one so many people struggle with. Why am I doing this? What's the end goal here? What's this blog for?
We are all driven by these kinds of stories. If we don't have them, we're frozen with indecision. Businesses have these stories - fictional estimates of how the business will grow, based on best guesses - and they're called business plans. Why don't bloggers think this way? Too many don't, so they burna lot of energy without knowing why, and then they flame out. Shockingly, the New York Times reported that around 95% of blogs on the internet are dead - and that's because their owners never worked out what to do with them.
So my course helps bloggers do that too. Because just as important as being able to tell a great story in your blog.
If a wannabe writer or blogger was reading this now, what would be your advice to them to help them get started - practical, or otherwise!
Watch from the host of This American Life, one of the most popular podcasts in the world. It applies to anything creative, but especially to writers.
Next, stop watching videos or reading articles about writing advice, and just get used to making stuff, publishing it and having other people read it. The world is filled with people who want you to follow "rules" (and I guess since I have a course, I'm one of them). Your biggest asset is your ability to decide to do something weird and then go do it, just to see what happens.
When you're doing enough weird things on a regular basis, or you've already tried a bunch of things and they just didn't work or feel right, now you're ready for other people's advice. But not until you've put yourself to work. So go experiment with what you can do, like the best writers spend their entire careers doing. Screw around. Provoke. Challenge. Weird things up. There's no better way to get started than this.
Thanks so much Mike! Now get writing those books of yours please... preferably one about Hull...
And if you're curious about the cards in the second and third photo - find out more or get your own pack here!
Frances M. Thompson
Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before putting down some roots with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her son around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+