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My guest today is Joanna Penn. Joanna is a successful author, podcaster, creative entrepreneur and Founder of TheCreativePenn.com. Joanna helps other writers and independent publishers, as well as writing fiction under two different pen names: J. F. Penn for thrillers and Penny Appleton for sweet romance. Based in Bath, England, Joanna is a corporate cubicle escapee. She has a wealth of advice and encouragement for other other authors and creatives. She works together with her husband, who left his corporate job in 2015 to join the business. Joanna has now written 28 books, hit the New York Times and USA Today lists, and makes multi-six figures as a creative entrepreneur.
What you will learn in this episode:
• How Joanna became a writer
• Her journey from non-fiction into fiction
• How she keeps track of ideas and manages multiple projects
• Joanna’s co-writing experiences
• About Joanna’s latest co-written book The Healthy Writer
• Where she finds inspiration
How Joanna became a writer
Although Joanna has always been a reader, she didn’t think she could ever be a writer because she thought she wasn’t creative. She attended Oxford University and was brought up in a household where literary fiction was considered the highest form of art. She used to believe that if you weren’t going to write a Pulitzer prize-winning novel, you shouldn’t write anything at all. However, around the age of 30, very miserable in her job, Joanna began reading self-help books. She eventually decided to write one. This was back in 2006, before self-publishing had become acceptable and easy. In the process of writing that book, Career Change, Joanna figured out she really liked writing, and learned about publishing and marketing. She still had her day job, and was making a little bit of money on the side from speaking and book sales. She began consulting with other authors and in 2008 she started The Creative Penn to help others with self-publishing.
That first book completely changed her life, and these days Joanna tells anyone who wants to write a book to absolutely go ahead! She’s now written a series of non-fiction books to help independent authors, has a podcast and a website with a range of resources. Her philosophy is that anyone who wants to write a book will read far more books than they can ever write themselves, so if we encourage everyone to write a book, we’ll have a huge industry we can all be part of. That’s what makes now such an exciting time in history to be a creative entrepreneur.
Joanna’s journey from Non-Fiction to Fiction
Joanna still hasn’t written any literary fiction, but she has written supernatural crime novels, a bit of horror, some dark fantasy, action-adventure thrillers and sweet romance. When she was miserable in her day job, all she wanted to read in her lunch hour and commute was escapist novels where the stories were far removed from her daily life. That’s the same thing people want in their TV shows now too and it’s truly a service to people to provide that escapist entertainment. In 2009, Joanna decided to do NaNoWriMo to ‘just try’ to write something Dan-Brown-thriller-ish. What came out was the beginning of Stone of Fire, the first novel in her 9-book Arcane series (10th book due in 2018). Released from having to write an ‘important’ book, Joanna was able to concentrate instead on fun books, aiming at the person looking for an escape from daily life. This year, after having written so many books, she was looking for a new way to fill her creative well, so Joanna has now taken up screen-writing!
Keeping track of ideas and managing many projects
Joanna gets her ideas everywhere. Many of her books are based around her travels. When visiting a new place, she will go to places that might be interesting settings for stories (such as art galleries and cemeteries). She will start to notice things and take pictures. She suggests getting ideas from whatever you’re interested in. When you get used to listening to yourself, you can become a magpie and change the things you notice into something new for your stories. Joanna doesn’t really believe in blocks but recommends setting aside time to specifically fill your creative well so that it doesn’t run dry. The only way to fill it is by going and experiencing, noticing what’s happening and seeing how others see the world.
Joanna keeps folders on her computer for each author name. They are full of ideas, with sub-folders for each book. She journals a lot and stores ideas in her phone too. She uses the “Things” App for one-liners, quotes, names of paintings and other things that inspire her. She always has too many ideas, but the trick is to commit to one, and then to schedule like a boss.
Joanna uses Google Calendar to schedule her days. As a general rule she works on J.F. Penn fiction in the morning, does some exercise to switch her focus, and then does non-fiction writing, interviews, blogging, marketing, email, social media, videos and other business tasks in the afternoon. She also schedules time off months in advance to make sure she doesn’t burn out. Her advice for being a successful creative entrepreneur—healthy, creatively and financially fulfilled, and helping others—is to schedule the things you want to achieve.
Joanna’s co-writing experiences
Joanna’s sweet romance novels, under author name Penny Appleton, are co-written with her Mum. In 2015, she co-wrote for the first time with J. Thorn, a horror writer. They wrote a novel called Risen Gods, which was very successful. In May 2017 she co-wrote again, this time with J Thorn and 2 other authors on a train from Chicago to New Orleans. It was a 19-hour train journey where they planned it out, and then they spent a week in a hotel room writing. It’s called American Demon Hunters’ Sacrifice and is set on a train from Chicago to New Orleans! It was creatively challenging, as each author took one character and followed their point of view through the same story arc. J. now runs creative writing workshops and retreats on trains called Authors on a Train.
Joanna’s latest book The Healthy Writer
Joanna’s latest book The Healthy Writer is co-written with a medical doctor, Dr. Euan Lawson. The book looks at all the different ways writers struggle with their health. It includes subjects such as weight, back pain, RSI, eye strain, migraines and mental health issues. It offers advice on how to create a long-term healthy creative career and life. They surveyed over 1400 writers, and the book is a mix of personal stories, quotes from the survey responses and Dr. Euan’s evidence-based recommendations.
Where Joanna finds her inspiration
Joanna is inspired by other writers and creatives. She’s constantly reading, watching videos and listening to podcasts or audiobooks. She goes to conferences and does courses as an investment in herself and her work. Her advice is to find the people who are doing what you want to do or are a few steps ahead of you in the process, look at what they’re doing and try to learn from them.
Books and courses mentioned in this episiode
Books mentioned in this episode include High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard, The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want Yo Be by Jack Canfield and What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles.
MasterClass.com courses mentioned include James Patterson’s masterclass on writing a novel, Shonda Rhimes’ masterclass on screenwriting and Annie Leibovitz’ class on photography.
Where to find Joanna
Joanna’s podcast can be found at www.thecreativepenn.com/podcasts/
You can also follow Joanna on Twitter @TheCreativePenn