Catherine was a journalist before she wrote fiction. That background and training has server her well when it comes to writing fiction, especially when dealing with writer’s block.

She discusses some tips and techniques she has learned from her journalism days that she applies to helping her to keep writing her fiction.



[00:00:00] Cathy: Are you working on your author career, but struggling to get that first book published? Does the goal of being an author seem too lofty? Or thoughts of having multiple books and making a full time living are as fantastical as living in Cinderella’s castle? Welcome to Discovered Wordsmiths, a podcast where you can learn more about the world around you.

[00:00:24] That’s where aspiring authors can be heard. Join Stephen Schneider as he finds and talks to authors you may not know, but authors that have gotten their foot on the author career path. Hear what they’ve done to get there and where they want to go now. Settle back. It’s time for a bit of inspiration and advice.

[00:00:42] Come listen to today’s Discovered Wordsmith.

[00:00:50] Stephen: All right. Well, Kathy, welcome back. Uh, the second half of the podcast, we’re going to talk author stuff. Now get into the publishing and craft aspects of it as a very first question. [00:01:00] Uh, you’ve written three books now. So what have you learned from your first book to the newest book that you’ve done differently or some things that you were like, Oh, I wish I would have known that back then.

[00:01:11] I mean,

[00:01:12] Cathy: there was so much we could fill hours with every, I mean, The more I learn, it’s, it’s the typical, the more you learn, the more you realize you need to learn, you

[00:01:23] Stephen: know, when the teacher goes, who has a question? It’s like, well, I don’t even know what questions I might have

[00:01:30] Cathy: starting and, and I come from a journalism background, so I understood a lot of in traditional journalism with print magazines, you know, back in the, back in the day, And, um, so there was a lot of basic concepts about writing and publishing.

[00:01:44] I already had a really firm grip on, which was super useful for me. Like, I think it kind of helped me skip a few of those painful lessons because I had learned them. And basically my first day on the job in journalism, I was pretty much told by the marketing department [00:02:00] that, Hey, literally nobody wants to read your shit.

[00:02:04] And when Steven Pressfield came out with a book by that name, I was just like, Oh my God, it wasn’t just me. Like, you learn real quick that, um, if you want people to actually read your stuff, you got to give them a reason to read it. And especially these days with the distractions. You know, there’s more and more distractions and more and more competition, entertainment, you know, time and dollars really got to think about who’s your market and how are you going to give them what they want.

[00:02:33] And that’s just an ongoing process. It’s taken probably until my third book before I really nailed it in my mind, who my readership is, and that’ll probably still continue to evolve. I would add. So that’s, that’s something that has. I’m learning and it’s been evolving over the course of the books. I also had been very accustomed to being edited and being told, Hey, this isn’t what we want.

[00:02:58] Go redo it. So [00:03:00] I use professional editors with all my books and when they gave me suggestions or told me, you know, this or that, I was, it didn’t hurt my feet. I had already grown kind of the thick skin for the, for the most part, but then every once in a while, something will comment will still come up and bite you even no matter how thick you think your skin’s gotten.

[00:03:19] All of a sudden, you know, there’ll be that one comment and you’re like,

[00:03:23] Stephen: I can totally relate to that because. You know, the first thing I wrote, like just about every author can probably relate to this, that I’m like, wow, this is really good. I love this. Everyone’s going to love it. Blah, blah, blah. And then you send it, the editor, you get it back.

[00:03:38] It’s like, wow, I have like 20 pages of notes and corrections and, and you’re like, well, they’re wrong and they’re, they don’t know, you know, but then after you write, it says what I tell people who are even newer than me. Just keep writing, don’t, don’t worry about editing, don’t worry about publishing, write three books, write five books, write a hundred short stories, and just get [00:04:00] everything written, and then you’ll start, you know, to really…

[00:04:04] Be, be an author. And, uh, when you get the feedback, knowing what to change and treating the books, not like as precious gold, little words, but a product, uh, and doing what’s right for that product and yourself, and that’s, I mean, three or four years ago, I would not have even understood what that meant. Uh, it really takes some seasoning.

[00:04:26] Cathy: It takes time and it takes time to kind of understand all that. I mean, And really when it comes out to it, the, an imperfect book that’s finished and published is a thousand times better than that perfect book that you’re still rewriting chapter

[00:04:40] Stephen: one on. Yeah,

[00:04:42] Cathy: absolutely. Yeah. I fell into that for many years.

[00:04:45] Um, decades, literally of the whole rewriting chapter one syndrome.

[00:04:51] Stephen: And that’s so funny because just recently I’ve. Internalize and really come to the conclusion that it’s more about the overall book and [00:05:00] story. It’s not about individual sentences and words. Yes, you can improve your craft and improve those sentences because that’s what will keep the person reading to the next sentence.

[00:05:09] And the next chapter, you know, if it’s just all clunky and poorly written, they’re not going to keep reading. But at the end, when it’s all done, people remember the overall story, not an individual sentence here or there.

[00:05:23] Cathy: Well, I’ve worked also as a freelance editor with fiction authors and non fiction too, but and a writing coach.

[00:05:30] And what I have tried to illustrate to my writers, which seems to work for a lot of people, they kind of, the light bulb seems to go off as I tell them, look, you’re just trying to put up the Christmas tree right now. You got to, you know, put it up in the stand. If it’s artificial tree, I’d put all the branches in and all that.

[00:05:51] That’s all you’re trying to do right now. Once the tree is up, then you go back and put on all the decorations. You don’t put on one branch and then [00:06:00] string the lights on the one branch. Right. Right. You know, you don’t try and stick the star on top when most of the branches still aren’t even, what do you do?

[00:06:07] The stars like the last thing you’ve done. Right.

[00:06:10] Stephen: You don’t put the tinsel on and then the lights are, and then the. Ornaments and do the lights last, you know, there’s an order and

[00:06:18] Cathy: there’s kind of an order Just think of it. Like all you’re trying to do on your first draft is get that christmas tree put up In the window in the stand, you know, so you’ve got the green tree standing there and it’s, it’s complete and intact.

[00:06:32] Then it’s always kind of fun, right? Like, once you got that part of it done, you got it lugged out of the basement and all that. It’s like, now the fun starts, you get to like, start decorating it, you know, and

[00:06:44] Stephen: have you read the snowflake method? Yeah, that’s that’s what that sounds like. Yep, yep.

[00:06:51] Cathy: We’re just kind of continue to.

[00:06:57] Stephen: Just get the hundred thousand foot view and you keep [00:07:00] coming closer and more detailed. So Kathy, uh, when you write, uh, what do you use? You use Scrivener or yellow pad or what do you usually use to write?

[00:07:10] Cathy: No, I, I’ve tried a few different, I’ve tried Scrivener. I tried the free thing. I have to be honest with you.

[00:07:18] You know, I’m, I’m old, and I find too much technology just kind of messes me up. A long time ago, I developed a system with Word that actually isn’t all that unlike Scrivener in some ways, Scrivener in some ways. Because I use the headings, I use the comment boxes. To organize some of my, um, random thoughts or, um, historical, I write historical fantasies.

[00:07:44] So when I have research things I want to stick in and I can use the comment boxes, um, to keep some of that stuff organized. Yeah, I just kind of find that, um, because I don’t, I can learn technology. I’ve told myself you could do this. [00:08:00] But I just am at a point in my life now where I just want to write the stories.

[00:08:03] I don’t want to spend a lot more time paying for figuring out a whole bunch of new technologies to supposedly write better and faster and all that. I kind of got my own system. I also do a dictation system where I dictate into my phone recorder while I’m walking or hiking. And then I go home and I type it up and everybody’s like, Oh, you got to use Dragon.

[00:08:25] You don’t want to have to sit there and type it up. And I tried Dragon. I went back to typing up my own dictation because I found that, um, and that’s a technique I used, obviously, as a journalist. I interviewed thousands of peoples over the years and record it all and then I type it up. Well, when you hear yourself telling the story.

[00:08:47] Almost like in the oral tradition, right? You’re telling the story, and you’re hearing yourself tell the story, and then you have to type it up. I don’t type up every single word I say exactly the way I say it. I, I’m, I’m editing it. [00:09:00] Already have much more solid scene and yeah, I’m, I’m just saying, okay, I’m not even going to type that stuff up.

[00:09:09] I just said, but this, this part’s really good and I’ll hit pause and expand on it a little more than, you know,

[00:09:15] Stephen: which that method. I mean, that sounds like it may even free people up and we were going to talk about, um, writer’s block here in a minute. I think a lot of people get hung up on dictation because they feel they have to quote.

[00:09:29] And then he said, quote, right? You know, doing all those things. Whereas just. Spew out what’s in your head and, you know, listen, but use that as the basis and type it up editing as you go in a way. I think that’s, that’s a good system. It’s

[00:09:45] Cathy: um, yeah, if you’re, if you’re, maybe if someone listening is maybe interested in trying it, it there’s a bit of a learning curve.

[00:09:51] A lot of people hate the sound of their voice because you have to yourself telling this like ridiculous or really [00:10:00] bad like story in Bad sentences because you’re just kind of spewing it out, but you get, you get used to your voice real quick. I mean, just ignore it. Nobody else has to hear it, you know, right?

[00:10:13] You’re the only 1 hearing it. Then you can erase it right away. And, um, you do get better. It takes a while to get used to talking a story. To and some days it’s comes out a lot better than other days, but so what, you know,

[00:10:27] Stephen: I think that might inspire me because I know I’ve had dictation on the back of my brain for a while, but like, a lot of people, it’s like, oh, it’s too hard.

[00:10:35] It’s unnatural. And maybe I’ll approach it that way with. Let me just view the story out, edit a little bit from that. I just want to, cause I do know one of the other things I’ve learned is I can write a better story. If I’m not worried about every little piece of it as I’m doing it, if I just really get that first draft done and then go back and catch all the things I want to improve.

[00:10:57] This is kind of like a, another step to that too. I [00:11:00] like that. Yeah,

[00:11:00] Cathy: give it a try. Tell me how it works for you. Maybe I’ll try it with. Adjustment though. So,

[00:11:06] Stephen: yeah, well, like you said, I’ll go walk in, you know, when I’m walking, I can zone. What are you doing to market your books?

[00:11:14] Cathy: Um, oh, probably not near enough.

[00:11:19] As we know, we’re, we’re We writers are bombarded with marketing ideas and, and I kind of got overwhelmed on my first book and I spent way too much time and money trying to market it when I should have really just been, I think, in my opinion, continuing to write. Um, so I’ve, all I’ve done is I notify, put out my newsletter and notify my subscribers that there’s a new book out.

[00:11:44] Friends and family, of course, no, but again, they’re not always my big market anyway. Um, I’m going to, I haven’t gotten the trade reviews back yet for this book, but trade reviews has been, um, a really good marketing tool for me because if you get a good [00:12:00] review, they publish it in their trade journal that goes out to librarians and bookstore owners and, um, especially if you have a star review, it’s, you get like in instant credibility with that.

[00:12:13] So I have found that’s been a really good investment so far. Yeah, you take the risk that maybe you’ll get a really crappy review. I tell authors, too, that I’ve worked with who are nervous about doing that. It’s like, look, if you did the proper things, if you went through the… Steps on your story. You got a good editor.

[00:12:33] You went through the editing steps. You listen to your editor and revised and she did everything properly. You’re probably not going to get a really crap

[00:12:42] Stephen: if you did listen to him.

[00:12:45] Cathy: That’s the key. If you, if the editor is a good editor, because there’s not everybody’s a good editor

[00:12:51] Stephen: says, and it’s not even that they’re necessarily bad, but sometimes you just don’t click with the thinking of how you might.

[00:12:58] Yeah. Yeah.

[00:12:59] Cathy: You kind of need [00:13:00] the right editor for the right genre. I would recommend doing, putting time into, to finding a credible. Editor with a good track record. I personally prefer an editor who’s also published books, because there’s a lot of editors out there who actually don’t write. Right. I don’t know if I’d say a lot, but it’s not uncommon where they’re not, they might write a newsletter or blog post, but they’re They haven’t been through the process, that process of actually publishing a fiction book.

[00:13:28] I don’t think they quite get it until they actually do it.

[00:13:33] Stephen: Yes, I can attest. Let me ask you, we were talking about your journalism, and we’ve been talking a little bit about writer’s block. You made the comment that journalism has helped you overcome writer’s block. So, give me a little bit about how that, what, how that came about, or…

[00:13:52] Uh, what happened?

[00:13:53] Cathy: Well, basically in a nutshell, and I’m sure people have heard this before, but um, When you’re, and [00:14:00] I wasn’t even on a newspaper which has even tighter turnaround times and deadlines. But even with a, a frequently published magazine, ours was every other week, we had 2 million subscribers.

[00:14:09] You have deadlines and the editor doesn’t care about your angst and your writer’s block and your trauma and your, you know, I just don’t They don’t care. They, they, they want the story. And if you can’t produce it, they’re, you know, eventually your days are numbered, you know, or if you’re a freelancer, they won’t call you back.

[00:14:28] So, you kind of learn very quickly that, hey, get something down on paper, you know, get some story down and at least complete the story. Then you can always go back and fix it up, but you can’t just sit there forever and ever trying to make it perfect. ’cause they never are in the end. Right? And the more you do that, the better they get.

[00:14:47] They get better by just meeting your deadlines and cranking out the material and writing, writing, writing, writing. That’s how you get better. Not taking forever to get one story done and constantly having an excuse to your editor why you can’t. [00:15:00]

[00:15:00] Stephen: Right? No, there, there’s a, a famous author quote, and I, I apologize, I totally don’t remember.

[00:15:06] Maybe I’ll look it up and get it right for the liner notes, but it was, I make sure I write. Uh, when the muse strikes me and I make sure the muse strikes me at 9 a. m. Every day. Um, I don’t want to attribute it to him because it seems like everything’s

[00:15:23] Cathy: him. Yep. That’s absolutely true. And there’s another quote similar to, um, the muse will find you when you’re working.

[00:15:31] Yes, that’s

[00:15:34] Stephen: so true. And I’ve heard several things with the writer’s block, you know, the quote unquote, high end professional writers, the ones who have been doing it for decades and have tons of books out there. Like, you know, that’s your job. You can be as creative, as fanciful as you want, but your job is to write those words.

[00:15:53] So if you’re going days and weeks, whatever, waiting for the right moment to strike, you’re not a professional writer. You’re not [00:16:00] getting the words out. Uh, in our mastermind, that’s one of the things Jay is pushing, you know, writing every day and we were keeping track of it for everyone else to see. And there’s holes, you know, and a lot of us aren’t full time professional writers.

[00:16:13] So, you know, life and family does interfere, but. I think the ones that are really pushing to be a full time author, you see it more consistently. You know, I’m going to sit down and I’m going to write every single day. No matter what it is, what it takes. Uh, and just that mindset, I think alone, overcomes some writer’s block.

[00:16:34] Cathy: Yeah. Well, if I could offer a bit of hope, maybe, is I have found… That those days where I’m just not feeling it, but I make myself sit down, it’s like, okay, I don’t care. I’m going to sit down and write anyway. I’m going to, you know, sit down for at least a couple of sprints, a couple of 30 minutes, 40 minutes, whatever, and do it no matter how bad it is.

[00:16:55] And at least I’ve done something. I’m going through the motions. It’s not going to be [00:17:00] good, but at least I’ve done something and I won’t feel so bad at the end of the day and never fail. A lot of the days where the best stuff happens

[00:17:09] Stephen: because you’re not expecting to do good. You don’t have the pressure on yourself.

[00:17:15] Cathy: I’m just like, okay, I’m just going to, I’m just going to scribble anything just to say I have words down. And then Yeah, it’s, it’s kind of funny how that happens.

[00:17:24] Stephen: So, um, and that fits right along with a personal life philosophy. I’ve, I’ve discovered myself that the times I really don’t care that much. And I’m just.

[00:17:34] Pushing to get something done and not trying to be perfect and all that. And my mindset is just whatever. That’s the best times, the best things happen. And I think it’s like Pavlov’s dog, train yourself. Once you start writing, it just keeps coming and flowing. You got to sit down and you got to put your hands on the keyboard or mouth to the mic and start doing it because then you’d get into those.

[00:17:56] doldrums of days of not doing any writing.

[00:17:59] Cathy: Yeah. [00:18:00] And then you just feel worse and worse and worse. And it gets, for me, anyway, it gets harder and harder and harder to get back to the, to the actual writing.

[00:18:08] Stephen: So it was probably not, and it might be harder nowadays, but it’s probably not a bad idea. People who want to be an author to do some journalism, do some writing on a deadline for somebody, you know, Hey, I’m gonna pay you to write this.

[00:18:22] Nowadays, there’s places that will hire you to do, you know, Two 500 word blog articles a week or something. You’ve got a deadline. You’ve got to meet that deadline. It’s got to be high quality. Yeah, do it. Yep, and

[00:18:34] Cathy: um, Well, I started out by doing a lot of stuff, like I said, for free for the hospital, you have to do it for free, but if you, you know, give yourself something where you have a deadline, see if that, you know, might not work for everybody, but it, it certainly be

[00:18:49] Stephen: so.

[00:18:50] Well, you know, I mean, uh, diamonds aren’t formed by being in soft, cushy environments. You know, .

[00:18:57] Cathy: That’s good. Yeah. Yeah. [00:19:00]

[00:19:00] Stephen: Any other advice you would have for new authors?

[00:19:04] Cathy: Oh, well, we had touched on before we talked about maybe the cabin in the wood smith. I, I’ve lived that one I think a lot. Yeah. Well, tell us about that.

[00:19:12] Yeah. A lot of us, um, may have had the share the fantasy of, you know, I’m gonna be this writer and I’m gonna go live and have it in the woods and right by myself and crank out, you know. The Great American Novel or whatever, and I did that. I, um, I, we moved to Colorado and after we lived in a trailer for a while, so we figured out where we wanted to live and we did.

[00:19:35] We went up in the middle of nowhere for 10 miles down a dirt road, um, outside a very small town that was like very far from anything. Substantial from a grocery store or anything and, um, it was a road that wasn’t plowed in the winter. Um, so we’re being extremely isolated there. Four years I lived there, it didn’t write any fiction.

[00:19:59] [00:20:00] Wow. I mean, I was working freelance, um, remotely as a journalist and stuff. So I had a job, so I kept… It was just my job that was distracting me and I just couldn’t do any more writing at the end of the day. And really when it came down to it, then we moved back down closer to a metro area and I got, started getting involved in some writers organizations and events and, and that kind of stuff.

[00:20:24] And then I started, Writing fiction. That’s, you know, when I got into a community again, getting into the author success, um, group that we’re in was even a hundred times better than the community I had around here. Actually, I kind of found the, the, the right blend of writers that works the best for me. So.

[00:20:50] Yeah, so the whole, yeah, cabin in the woods thing for me turned out to be a complete flop.

[00:20:58] Stephen: I, I, I [00:21:00] agree. I, I think there’s a lot of fantasy in people’s minds about a writer. And still, you know, I can’t say I was any different, but people think, Oh, I’ll just. Sit down one weekend. I’ll write a book. I’ll put it out and I’ll be a millionaire next week And it’s not like that at all.

[00:21:17] And there’s a lot of other myth misconceptions and fantasies Associated with being a writer because I think a lot of people really don’t understand it.

[00:21:26] Cathy: Yeah. Yeah Not to mention the fact that I started talking to the trees and stuff too. I mean, that kind of isolation is even for an introvert. Yeah.

[00:21:38] Stephen: Well, the problem is when they start answering the problem.

[00:21:44] And the funny thing is, I don’t, I think I mentioned we’ve got a small, our upper acre has some. Woods, a really small area, but we put a cabin in that and I haven’t written once up there in the cabin. Uh, I’ve got my computer set up. I’ve got [00:22:00] everything. This is where I write. All right, Kathy, it’s been really great.

[00:22:05] And it was really fun meeting you over the weekend. Uh, I hope we’ll get to see each other on some future events also coming up. Yep. And you’ll have to let us know when your next book comes

[00:22:15] Cathy: out. I will do that and thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate it and it’s been fun.

[00:22:20] Stephen: It’s been a good talk.

[00:22:21] Thank you.

[00:22:24] Cathy: Thank you for listening to Discovered Wordsmiths. Come back next week and listen to another author discuss the road they’ve traveled and maybe sometime in the near future, it might be you.