Caroline has a serious job and working on her author career is serious work. Which is in contrast to the fun writers achieve when writing. We discuss how authors can balance the two.
Before we get to our topic of playfulness and seriousness do you have any favorite software or services that you like to use?
Caroline: Yeah, and this is gonna sound a little bit strange cuz I, writers love to talk. This fancy thing and that fancy thing that, you know I use one of the, one of the free Microsoft Word, knockoffs, office, Libra office, open office, maybe Open, yeah.
One of those. And that’s fine. . I also use a lot of spreadsheets, so Excel or a Sheep Knockoff a free knockoff thereof. That’s how I organize my writing, and occasionally I’ll use index cards and graph paper and so forth. And for each book as I’m writing it, I have one file that has the.
I have one file that has odds and ends, scenes that occur to me that I wanna write down, but I’m not there in the book yet. So I put them in this other file, and when I get to that point, I can cut and paste them in. I have various kinds of outlines. I don’t outline prescriptively, it’s not like I write up an outline and then follow it.
I write up outlines in order to figure out what I’m. and then I go and write something out, . So there’ll be outlines and there’s often files that include backstories for characters world building notes, all kinds of stuff like that. Research notes for what, whatever research I’m doing.
And then the Excel files.
like I might have characters names across the top years across the side and then what each character is doing it each year. So I can look across and say, okay, it’s 2000, whatever, where is everybody? And things like that, keep me organized. So it’s a lot of files on two very. Sort of normal programs.
Stephen: Got it. Okay. That sounds great. And I like that you’re using open office in Lieber. Because I work with kids and I talk to parents and recommend those. I’m like, you don’t have to pay for Microsoft or whatever. They work just fine. So they do. I like that. Yeah. So you’ve written two books.
You’re working on a third. What are some things you’ve learned that you’re doing differently?
Caroline: Between now and the first book, the importance of having an elevator speech. Okay, nice. An elevator speech. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the term. Not everybody is. It’s the way you explain what you’re doing to somebody you’ve bumped into on an elevator, so it’s like the 22nd version. The, the 22nd long version of the, and my first book doesn’t have an elevator speech. I didn’t know it was important to have one. And the thing is impossible to describe succinctly. It’s, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna badmouth my own book. , it’s sprawling, it’s got a lot going on in it and there’s no simple way to summarize all of it.
And that made the, when I went into doing revisions and editing, that made it harder because, if I can’t explain it to somebody quick, I can’t explain it to me quick either. And it just made it a lot harder. So since. One of the first things I do say, okay what’s this? Book’s, elevator speech,
And it makes writing easier, not just, it makes marketing easier, but it makes the writing easier too. That’s a big,
Stephen: easy. Okay. And what are you doing to market
Caroline: your book? Not enough. Podcast, trekkies will recognize this phrase, darn it, I’m a writer, not a marketer.
Caroline: But, talking about it on podcasts, I’m trying to learn how to do ads on Facebook. I did a series of library. That worked pretty well. What I would love to do is I would love to hire somebody to take care of this for me. Somebody who actually knows what they’re doing and they have a brain that can, it’s just their cup of tea, their thing, they’re good at it.
I don’t have the money. So if anybody works on commission for this sort of thing, I can offer you a. Come on over. I do have a marketing assistant and he helps keep me organized and focused and he, he is wonderful. If you wanna go, if you wanna hire him, get in touch with me and I’ll send you the link to his work.
He, nice. For what he does. He is wonderful.
Stephen: Okay. All right. So our topic that we’re going have a little discussion on is playfulness and seriousness, which I and I love the fact that you’re a scientist. So people have this stereotype vision of, the serious scientists in the white lab coat or all the time, which probably doesn’t fit when you’re talking about ecology and c conservation, cuz you’re probably outside more than in a lab.
So why did you choose this? And why does it apply to authors?
Caroline: First of all, when it comes to ecology don’t picture white lab coats, picture jeans and flannel and waiter
Stephen: boots, sometimes . Yeah.
Caroline: Nice pair of sneakers. Anyway part of all of these. Writers groups on Facebook and you think that you post a question and 10 zillion people jump on and answer and I think it’s really useful. And I notice what kinds of questions keep coming up, especially from the really new writers, people who haven’t published before or haven’t published very much, and they’re just really trying to find their.
Or people wanting to figure out how to help their kids. Hey, my 10 year old daughter wants to write a book and how do I help her? And a lot of ’em get this, an important thing backwards. They’re talking about getting a literary agent for a 10 year old or trying to figure out What genre to write in based on what’s marketable or how to do formatting and stuff and, no, that’s the wrong kind of serious.
And then they don’t do the right kind of serious because these people, a lot of them, they’re not hiring editor. They’re not hiring writing teachers. They post cover images for, to get feedback on ’em. And these things were obviously put together like in Photoshop or something by
Stephen: serial killer do doing mashup work.
Caroline: Yeah, that’s the wrong kind of playful. It’s not even playful, it’s the wrong kind of, not serious.
The thing is for people who are just starting writing, and I mean everybody who’s writing actually, but especially for people just starting, it’s really important to give yourself time to be a kid. Even if you’re 67, you know the great thing about being a kid or you know about being some kids anyway, is that a lot of children.
They understand that they’re not turning out adult work. When some, when a kid, I’m gonna write a book and they get the construction paper and the stapler and, crayons, Ivanni, who does this? They know this is not gonna be on the New York Times bestseller list. They’re not looking for an agent.
They, they know this is not what adults mean when they mean writing and publishing a book, but they do their. And they’re proud of it. And they come. Aunt Caroline and Caroline, I wrote a book. You did. That’s awesome. That’s amazing. That’s so cool. And you have to do that. No matter how old you are, you have to give yourself time to play, to do the best that you possibly can and not care whether it’s good enough.
Who cares whether it’s good enough, right? It doesn’t matter. . What matters is you’re having a good time in your learning. That’s what’s important. Figure out if it’s marketable later. Figure out if you’re gonna publish it later. A lot of people write five or six books before they get around to one that’s publishable and that’s okay.
You don’t have to publish to be a writer. You just have to write. And so that’s what I mean by playfulness and then the serious side of the coin. You have to approach it like a professional. If you’re gonna be a professional. If you don’t wanna be a professional, that’s fine.
You don’t have to be. But if you wanna publish, it has to meet certain CA standards. You have to hire an editor. I don’t care if you are an editor, , you have to hire one. Exactly. Everybody is better if they have an editor other than themselves looking over. And you have to be able to not take it too personally.
You have to be able to let editors say, okay, this is not good enough. . If you’re if you take that as, I’m not good enough, you’re not gonna be a professional writer. You have to get to the point where somebody can say your book isn’t good enough. And it of hurts to hear that, but you get over that and you go, oh, thank you for telling me.
Now I can figure out how to make it better.
Stephen: Yep. And what you mentioned about kids I’m working with kids. I wanna help show that kids can write and not necessarily be published, but they get the practice in, they get the experience in. So when they’re adults, they’re like, I know I can write. It’s time to be serious about it.
And I think part of what I also try and do in my own writing is show that there’s still magic in the world and that kids. Know that magic, but we lose it as an adult and as a writer. We need to recapture that sometimes. They’re, I’m sitting here watching the snow and I’m fascinated by it.
I love the snow. That’s magical to me. And adults miss that. They just get grumpy and it’s cold and they, but look around at the world. It’s fun. I’m going to bet some of your playfulness is taking your dogs out into the leaves, the snow for a walk and things like that. Would you agree with that?
Caroline: No I would agree with that, but I would disagree with something else. Okay. Yeah, everybody says that kids have this sense of magic that adults don’t. And I remember being a kid and I remember ha, I had a sense of magic in some ways, but I was also , Way too serious about way too much and took way too many things, far too literally.
And the kids around me, oh my gosh, I was constantly being mistreated by other kids who just did not have much of a sense of much really . And, kids have a sense of magic because they don’t know any. They don’t really know what’s real and what’s not and what’s possible and what’s not. So you give them an idea like, Hey, Santa Claus and flying reindeer.
They’re like, okay, why not? It’s not any weirder than anything else I’ve been learning about the world, , right? And things are new and they’re less self-conscious. I remember one time a friend of mine and I and her baby daughter, Were we went to the mall just before Christmas and we walked into, the, this area that was all decorated for the holidays and me and the baby simultaneously said, wow.
But you get older, you grow up. And yet some people, they don’t turn into grownups. They turn into. And that’s not good. Do not do
Stephen: that. That’s my son. He’s 22 and we tell him he is a 75 year old man. .
Caroline: Yeah. I just, you don’t do that. You don’t have to do that. It’s just not fun. But you get older, that’s not the only way to grow up.
The other way to grow up. Is you learn not to take yourself in. Too seriously. Exactly. You learn that if something, see, when you’re a kid, if something goes wrong, you don’t know that it’s gonna go right later. Cause you don’t have the experience, you haven’t had time. You get to be my age.
I’ve had days that just sucked. They’re just awful. No. How can it ever get any better than this? And it. So I know that now it’ll get better. It’ll be fine. Really. You get to learn, you have choices about how you’re gonna react to things. Oh. It’s snowing. Okay, I could be upset about this cuz I have to drive in this stuff, but it’s really pretty and I can choose which one I’m gonna focus on.
I agree. And you learn about metaphor and you learn about mystery and you learn about paradox. And things that don’t make sense, but they’re actually real. And you can, and that’s where the sense of magic comes, where
Stephen: Paradox. Paradox. That’s from the Christmas special of Dr. Who, paradox. Paradox.
Stephen: So what are some things that you would recommend writers do to gain some playfulness?
Caroline: I dunno, there’s a, you remember the old quote? There is no way to piece pieces the way. Yeah. Like that. There’s no way to playfulness. Playfulness is the way. Okay. Hanging out with other playful people might help to get the juices going. But, just. Try it. One, one phrase that really helps me when I’m writing is, it’s okay to write badly.
It really is. You wanna fix it before you publish it, but , it’s okay to write badly. Just give yourself permission. This is gonna suck. I’m gonna write it anyway. You just, nice.
Stephen: Yeah. Agreed. All right. So to, to finish up here, Carolyn. What would be your last minute advice for new authors?
Caroline: Ask specific questions.
Okay. I Why mean?
Because generic advice that you think will apply to everybody doesn’t always. And if you’re not ready, if a piece of advice isn’t the piece that you need right now, it’s not gonna be useful anyway, even if it will be useful. . If you’re not ready to hear something, you’re not really gonna hear it. But when you’re riding along and you get stuck okay, I don’t know how to do this.
When you get stuck, that’s when you go to. An established writer or an editor or a teacher or somebody who likes to read a lot, and you say, okay, here, I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do. And they can tell you, okay, here is the next step. And you take the next step and you get unstuck and you go and that’s how you make progress.
So you don’t look for generic advice. It’s going to apply to everybody. Start writing and when you get stuck, ask somebody. You can ask me, my, my contact information is on my website. Shoot me an email. It’s
Stephen: ca carolyn’s, get outta stuck writing service. , we’ll get everybody flooding you. .
Caroline: I wouldn’t mind.
Stephen: Nice. All right. Carolyn I appreciate you thi This was a nice last minute thing. I’m glad you found the podcast and got you on. It was great, Tania, I hope your book does well. It sounds wonderful. Thank you. All right.