Today’s guest on The 21st Century Creative is Cynthia Morris, a coach for creatives who shares insights on the book-writing process, based on her latest book The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing a World-Changing Book.
So if you are contemplating writing a book – whether it’s your first one or your twenty-first – there is a lot of insight for you in today’s interview.
Even if you’re already a published author, there is plenty of advice and wisdom between its covers. I’ve written 5 books myself and I found myself stopping and making notes as I read through it, of insights that should make writing my next book easier.
And even if you’re not a writer, when I listened back to the interview I realised a lot of the advice applied to pretty well any kind of self-started creative project that involves a lot of dedicated practice. So whatever your creative discipline, I think you’ll find Cynthia’s story and what she has to say about creativity inspiring.
In the first part of the show I share with you a recent experience I had with my language studies, that reminded me of an important principle about creative work – you have to be bad to get good.
Cynthia Morris is an author and a coach for creatives.
The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing a World-Changing Book is for ‘busy women immersed in running businesses, building careers and caring for loved ones’, so she doesn’t just help you with how to write a book – she also addresses the big challenge of how to find time to write the book, in the midst of everything else in your life.
The book is based on many years of writing and helping others to write – Cynthia has written 8 books herself, including a novel. And she has been coaching writers, artists and entrepreneurs since 1999. So there’s a lot of accumulated wisdom between its covers.
Cynthia and I met virtually on the internet years ago and recognised we were on a similar path professionally. We’ve occasionally collaborated on audio recordings together, and we got to meet in person a few years back when I was coaching delegates at the 99U conference in New York.
She’s someone who really gets creatives and their motivations, and I always come away from our conversations with fresh enthusiasm for writing and creating.
When she sent me a copy of this book I asked if she would come on the show and share some of its insights with you – because I know there are a lot of writers and aspiring authors in the 21st Century Creative audience.
The result is a great interview in which Cynthia talks about writing a book as a relationship, and as a dialogue or a conversation with your deeper, wiser self. She also introduces us to a surprising way to counterbalance the influence of your Inner Critic.
Towards the end of the conversation, she shares some some great ideas on how to prepare for the launch and marketing of your book while you’re actually writing it, without adding to your workload.
Whether this is your first time writing a book, or whether you’ve written a few and you would like the next one to be easier than the last one, you’ll find plenty to inspire and encourage you in this conversation with Cynthia Morris.
Cynthia Morris interview transcript
MARK: Cynthia, what was it like when you wrote your first book?
CYNTHIA: I wrote my first book back in… I think I was writing it in 2002, and it came out in 2003. And it was called Create Your Writer’s Life: A Guide to Writing with Joy and Ease. And I didn’t think I could write a book because as a coach all of our… the main thing that I was trained with is asking powerful questions, good inquiries that help people discover their own wisdom and their own way of doing things. And so I was like, ‘Well, that’s the whole basis of my experience. How can I write a book of just questions? That’s going to be really boring.’ And then I realized, ‘Well, actually I do know something.’
What I did was I went through all of my client notes that I had been taking over the years from clients or sample client sessions, and I started noticing patterns. I noticed things that people would say. In common often they would repeat the same things, even using the same words. And then I looked at the homework I gave people. What were the common challenges that people face when writing and what were my hopefully unique and useful solutions for them. So that’s what I did to make that first book.
I think of that book, the Create Your Writer’s Life as a book about how to fit writing into your life. It’s addressing a lot of the things that you don’t hear about in writing workshops or other places like how to deal with the emotional labor that goes along with writing the inner challenges as well as the outer obstacles.
I’ve discovered over the years that time management and setting up your writing life is really only a small part of it. It might be 30%. The rest of it is: how do you manage your own thoughts and opinions and fears and beliefs about the writing? That’s what that book is and that’s pretty much what most of my work is about.
MARK: What challenges did you encounter when you were writing the book? And also what discoveries did you make about yourself?
CYNTHIA: Writing a book is hard! It’s not an easy thing. The way I think of it is it’s really challenging to hold a whole book in your head. Organizing the material was really challenging and what to put in and where to put it and how to include it. And I’d be in the bathtub and I’d be like, ‘Oh, I have to remember to mention that.’ And then I’d go and write that and then realize I’d already written it. So having a sense of organization is a challenge.
And then I remember one day thinking, ‘How do I structure this and how do I organize this?’ There’s just something like clever way I can do it like calling them stepping stones or something. And then I realized, ‘Oh, chapters! Chapters exist for a reason.’ Like, I don’t have to invent anything. I can just call it chapter one and chapter two. So those are some of the challenges.
I think the biggest challenge was really how to organize it. And then the first version was an ebook and how to get it online. This was before PayPal. This was before the ease of selling things online. I had to apply for a merchant account. I had to submit documentation. I had to prove that I actually had something to sell and I wasn’t some charlatan. That was really daunting and very difficult. And then the following year, I decided to make it into a print book. And so I had to go through the process of hiring a designer to design the interior of the book and the cover. Those are some of the challenges.
And what I learned about myself… so when I say it’s really difficult to write a book, it’s also incredibly empowering to actually finish something and to have your ideas and your thoughts. You know this feeling. To have it in a form that people can take and read and pass around and use and benefit from. That’s really empowering. And once you do one, you can do more. You know how to do it, you know yourself, and you have that confidence like, ‘Oh, I did it. I actually pulled it across the finish line. I can do others.’
MARK: I think that really resonates with my experience. I think all the way through the first one, it was like maybe what it must feel like when somebody runs a marathon for the first time there’s that, ‘But can I really get to the finish line?’ feeling about the whole thing. When you do, then it’s a huge boost to your confidence. And, of course, well, you know, ‘Oh, I can do this again.’
CYNTHIA: Yeah. I think you’re right. That is really the prevailing question that most of us have when writing a book is, ‘Can I do it?’ Or doing anything, pulling off any project, launching a podcast or a program or anything is, ‘Can I do it?’ And so often we feel that as a kind of an insecurity jab. It’s like, ‘Well, I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do it.’ And the inner critic is like, ‘Well, I don’t know if you can do it either. You better be able to pull this off. I don’t know. You’ve never done anything like this.’
What I’ve learned to do with the other books that I’ve written, the novel in particular, is to turn that into a sense of curiosity and to really tap into my value of curiosity. Can I do it? I don’t know. I can’t wait to see how it turns out. Let me see what happens… I think you can often turn things into a positive that way where it seems like it’s about insecurity, but you can turn it into maybe curiosity or something else.
MARK: Yeah. That’s really nice, isn’t it? If the flip side is, ‘Can I really do this?’ Well, you could say, ‘Can I really do this?’ You could say that in a very doubtful, fearful way, but see, you could say in a curious way.
CYNTHIA: Yeah. And then I don’t know. Let’s see.
MARK: Yeah. That’s good. I know how we can find out. The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing a World-Changing Book is your eighth book. Is that right?
MARK: I’m sure you have different motivations for different books.
What was your big Why for writing this particular book?
CYNTHIA: I have been working with people to help them write for 20 years. This is my 20 year anniversary, and I’d be working with clients, and we would be talking about one of the challenges they had. And then I would say, ‘What about this? Or here’s a way you can look at this or try this.’ And they would try it and they would have such a profound experience of complete transformation of the way they thought about something or did something that really helped them move along.
And I just was like, ‘More people should know this. I see the value this is providing for the handful of clients I’m working with. Why not have these for more people?’ So, that was a big motivator just to have more people have access to this and simple ways to do it to make something that’s very complex a simple process.
The other thing is I led a year-long group coaching program called The Atelier. And in that program, everybody gets to focus on one project throughout the year. And the point of that is to stay with it even when it gets difficult when you want to do something easier go back to the beginning. And I act as a participant as well. So I have to choose a project to work on as well.
Last year, I had to choose a project, and it was between this book and another book that I wanted to write. And at the last minute, I switched to this one because I felt like it was more connected to the work I do in my business and what I want for people. Last year, I wrote the whole thing, and then this year, the project was to publish it – it came out in spring – and then promote it. And that’s been great because… I don’t know about you, but promoting things is not my favorite thing. I just tend to move on to the next thing right away. It’s been so great to be in this group as a participant having to stay with it, modeling how like, ‘I’m kind of done with this or I don’t feel like it or I don’t want show up, but I’m staying with it anyway.’ It was a container for writing this book and a reason to stay with it.
MARK: Why did you write the book for ‘the busy woman’?
CYNTHIA: I wrote it for the people that come to me for coaching to get help writing books, and it’s mostly women. It’s probably 80% women who are professional women who have a book that they want to write that’s going to get their message out to the world. So I wrote it for the people that I know well. I know these people very well. I know their challenges. I know the kind of things they’re going to bump up against.
And it’s like any business or product that you create. You start with the person you’re making it for and what is the problem you want to solve. The problem that I wanted to solve with this book is people who want to write a book, it’s not just for work. It’s not just a good idea. The people I work with usually have writing a book on their bucket list. They really want to be a writer or get a book out there.
So, it solves that problem of how to get started because that’s the thing no one really knows like, ‘I don’t know where to start.’ Solving that problem and then solving the problem of, ‘How do I do this in a busy schedule?’ People are incredibly busy. They don’t know how to fit it into their lives. So, I wrote it in a way that makes it hopefully easy to get it into your life even when you’re very busy, so short chapters, short exercises that get them right into the writing. There are no case studies or stories in this book. I don’t really want anyone sitting around reading it. I want people to read it and go.
And then in terms of women, I believe we need more balance of women in power and more balance of women’s voices in the world. And when women write a book, they gain so much confidence, so claiming your power, claiming your confidence, claiming your contribution to the world to helping solve the problems that we’re seeing now. I’m a real stake for women to claim their voice and claim their power. It’s also perfectly useful for men too. The men that I’ve given this to and have been reading it, they’re like, ‘This works for me as well.’
And the other thing to throw in there that’s really surprised me is that I’m hearing that people are using this to write things other than books, like a client is working on her Patreon. And she’s using it to write posts for Patreon. And another client says she’s carrying it around because it encourages her to write her articles for her blog. So, I’m loving that it’s not really just about writing a book. It’s not really just for women. It’s actually useful as a tool for writers of all genres and all genders.
MARK: Just to share a couple of things from my own experience. The book arrived, and I think I told you this. Within five minutes of me opening the parcel from you, my wife Mami, who’s writing her first book, looked at it and said, ‘It’s for me!’ And she grabbed it and disappeared with it and devoured it. And she loves it. She said it really felt like you were writing with her in mind in her particular situation and challenge and dreams in mind. So I can confirm it works for the target reader!
And on the other hand, when I did eventually get the copy back and I read it myself… I’m a guy who probably people can hear, and I got a huge amount out of it too. I think there is some great stuff where you talk about maybe there are particular challenges that women might have in terms of life situation and so on. I would say it was pretty well applicable across the board.
So, gentlemen, if you are dreaming of writing a book and dreaming rather than writing, then I thoroughly recommend that you check out Cynthia’s book.
CYNTHIA: Thank you for that. As I was coming out with it, there’s a lot about gender and non-binary. So, I felt very nervous at one point of like, ‘Oh, no, have I messed up? Is this wrong to target a specific kind of person? It should be inclusive. It should be for everybody.’ And it is inclusive. It is for everybody. I don’t intend to exclude anybody. But the feeling that your wife felt when she saw it, ‘This is for me!’ I want that feeling. I want people to feel recognized and heard and gotten and spoken to. And that is I think a powerful thing.
And one of the things that’s really important when you’re writing a book that you know who it’s for that it’s directed toward a reader. One of my clients had several different audiences in mind. She wrote a first draft, and it was kind of for all of them. It was all over the place, and she felt it right away when she was reading it afterward. And I noticed right away. You really want to be meeting your reader, meeting that person, identifying their problems and helping them solve it. It will be such a more powerful book and help them much more quickly when you can do that.
MARK: One more question about the readership before we plunge into the book itself.
When you wrote this book did you have fiction writers primarily in mind, or were you thinking of non-fiction writers as well?
CYNTHIA: I think that this book can apply to fiction writers as well. It is definitely geared toward a nonfiction book and in general a book that’s related to your work. But I think there are some pieces in here about mindset and having a writing practice, developing your prompts using free writing. Let’s say at least half of the book I think can apply to fiction, and I’ve got clients who are writing novels who have said that they’re using this book. So, I think it is for that. It’s not geared toward plot or character development or things like that. I do recommend a couple of books in the book that are related to writing novels.
MARK: Yeah. Obviously that 50% is also relevant to poets. In the final stages of finishing my own first collection of poetry, I would say a lot of the same principles apply as well.
CYNTHIA: Great. That’s great to know.
MARK: Let’s delve into some of the insights from the book. We’ve established the why. In terms of the world, your chapter titles where you can skim through, and this is my first way into the book, was to skim through the chapters and home in on the ones that really spoke to me, to begin with.
One that you have very early on, which I think is quite intriguing, is ‘Commit to a monogamous relationship with your book.’ What do you mean by that?
CYNTHIA: That’s a great question, and this also speaks to the way women are either… whether we’re naturally or inculturated this way, we’re very relationship-oriented. It’s very hard to say ‘no’ to people in our lives. We feel guilty if we’re taking time for ourselves. So, I thought if I frame this as another relationship versus an obligation or to do and how do you have a good relationship with it. How do you commit to writing and having writing dates and not standing yourself or your book up?
When I present this perspective to people, they love it like, ‘Oh, yeah, I get that. I get that feeling of being in relationships.’ So, how do you make it a lively relationship, a fun relationship, an engaging relationship, one that both you feed and feeds you versus here’s this to-do list, to-do-item on my list that I have to do or I’ve got to struggle with figuring it out?
The other thing about writing a book, Mark, and you probably have experienced this, is the book has a life of its own. Every single person I’ve ever known or ever worked with, myself included, has this experience where they think, ‘I’m the expert or I’m the person in the know. I’m the dictator. I’m going to dictate this book or make it happen.’
And then the book has its own influence, either the way it wants to be told, the structure of it, what it needs to be. It changes from what it is in our mind. So, you kind of have to meet the book or meet the project and see what’s there versus, ‘I’m in charge. I’m controlling this whole thing.’ And especially once we can let go of that control, the process becomes a lot more dynamic and interesting and fun. It’s like, ‘Okay. What’s the book? What is going to come out today? What’s it going to be like now?’
MARK: Which is for me, the real attraction of writing, because if you knew it already, it wouldn’t be worth sitting down and discovering it. I mean, when we had my poetry teacher, Mimi Khalvati, on a few seasons ago, we ended up calling the interview Poetry as Discovery because she kept using that word to describe how she writes. She says, ‘I write to discover what I think or what I feel or maybe what I don’t feel about the subject.’ I absolutely agree, everything that I’ve written, certainly every book – my phrase is once you’re ‘inside the book’, then you start to discover things everywhere. You can be out walking and you notice something that gives you an idea or you have a conversation or you read something else. It’s got to have that life.
That’s the really fun part is discovering what that book’s all about.
CYNTHIA: Yeah. And if you think of it as a dialogue or a conversation, I think it’s much more dynamic and interesting versus, ‘I’m just writing what my expert self knows.’ That can feel like a lot of pressure.
MARK: Yeah. And talking of pressure, and also you were talking about the Inner Critic earlier on. I love the fact that you have matched against the Inner Critic or balancing it, you have the Inner Champion, which I’ve not come across before.
Tell us about the Inner Champion.
CYNTHIA: This is another thing that has emerged from the writing. I use free writing as the technique to write everything. So, that’s what I talk about in the book. It’s what I teach in my workshops. It’s what I use to write everything where you just set a timer, choose a prompt that’s based on what you want to write and just go and write freely without editing or stopping yourself. So, free writing can be used to write your material. It also can be used as a reflection tool or to process what’s going on inside you.
If you’re feeling insecure or afraid or anxious unable to write, you can often just write out what the Inner Critic is saying. Just get it out. Like, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. Someone’s already written this. This isn’t going to be good enough.’ What happens when you’re writing like that is it doesn’t take long before the Inner Champion emerges and says, ‘Well, but you do know what you’re talking about. And we don’t know if it’s going to be good or not. You just got to try and see.’
It’s crazy how in our minds this Inner Critic just runs rampant, but the minute you sit down and give it the microphone or give it some space to express itself, it just runs out of steam. It doesn’t really have two legs to stand on. And the Inner Champion emerges to say, ‘You know what? You actually are valid and worthy or whatever your fears are.’
I’ve seen that happen again and again with myself and other people. So I was like, ‘Well, let’s bring this out as a character. We know that Inner Critic voice very well. Let’s bring out this Inner Champion and actually bring her or him onto the team.’ So it’s that part of you that knows you can do it. It’s that encouraging part.
It’s a part of you that if you were talking to a friend or your child and I always refer to if you’re a parent, you’ve got a lot of great skills for writing or creating or doing creative projects because you’re parenting in a way that’s kind and compassionate and encouraging. So you already know that part of you. You just need to turn that voice and that part of you onto yourself and your project.
MARK: Give yourself the benefit.
MARK: You also in the book, I love the phrase you use, ‘the immediate benefits of writing.’ That was one of the chapters I read first because a book particularly is a long-term project. It can feel like, ‘Well, if I slug away, if I suffer for X number of months, then I’ll have something eventually to show the world, and that will be my reward and benefit.’
Tell me what are the immediate benefits.
CYNTHIA: That’s so important because it is a long haul, and it’s a thankless job, and it can take years. It took me 12 years to write my novel, and I know that a lot of times we’ll let our friends know that we’re writing. And they’ll be like, ‘Still working on that book?’ Yes. It’s taking forever. It just takes a lot of time.
In order to buoy ourselves along and give ourselves some more fuel for the journey, I invite people to really recognize how it feels to do the work. And some days it’s frustrating. Some days you hate it. Some days you want to give up. But at the end of the day, doing it is satisfying because you’re showing up for yourself. You’re honoring that commitment that you made to do the work.
Speaking for myself, I feel very much in integrity when I’m doing what I said I would do. And that’s really important to me. That’s another one of my values, integrity, doing what I say I’ll do, even to myself. So, there’s a lot of satisfaction in that.
And I’ve also noticed after I write, I feel really alive. I feel energized. I feel sexy. I feel my vitality. And that feels great and that spreads out into the rest of my life. Even if I’m not finishing the book today or finishing an article today, I’ve committed to it. I’ve danced with the muse, so to speak. I’ve given that part of me space, and I feel my vitality. I want that for everybody. Even if it’s like, ‘Oh, today was a slog,’ I still feel like I showed up for it.
I don’t think I wrote about this in the book, but this goes along with procrastination. I’m not a procrastinator because I can’t bear the pain of the anxiety of having something sitting there that I have to do. So, it’s not that I’m so on top of it and need getting things done early. I can’t stand the pain of the anxiety of knowing I have to do it. So, the people who are procrastinators are like, ‘Kudos to you because you can bear the anxiety of that over time.’ That’s also one of the benefits that you can glean immediately is like, ‘Oh, I’m not putting this off.’ It’s not sitting there in that space of, ‘Oh, someday I’ll do this.’ The power that you get, the confidence that you glean from doing it now feels way better to me than the anxiety of not doing it.
MARK: This is definitely one of the reasons I like to write early. I like to write in the morning. I’ve got the kind of the afterglow when you’ve been working out. It feeds into the rest of my day. So I feel like, ‘Well, I’ve done my thing. I’m plugged in. I’m energized now.’ And then my clients get the benefit of that when I work with them in the afternoon.
And it’s so much easier to help other people and focus on their priorities, whether it’s clients or family or friends or children or whoever if I’ve done something great for myself today. And writing absolutely feels like that by the time I get to the end of it, even if it’s not right there upfront at the beginning.
CYNTHIA: Yes. Yes. And that you do feel that throughout the day versus the pain of like, ‘I need to do that. I’ll get to that.’ I love the word you use. I love that afterglow. That’s a great way to describe it.
MARK: And the other thing is I get to call myself a writer all day without having to do any more in the afternoon! So, I like that.
MARK: Okay. So, we’re up and running. We’ve committed to this monogamous relationship. We are listening to the Inner Champion and experiencing some of the immediate benefits of getting going. But there’s always going to be the plateau in the middle, the long stretch when you’re in the middle of the book, and it feels like you’ve been here for a long time.
Can you give us some ideas on how we can keep ourselves motivated and sustain the writing practice during that period?
CYNTHIA: Oh, yeah, that’s a great question. I think always remembering why you’re doing it. Often it’s a book that you’re writing is related to your work, and so you’re in touch with the people you’re working with and seeing the results of your work with them that can buoy you up.
I was working with a client yesterday who was in this place of just like, ‘Uh, like this is hard, and I don’t like it. And I don’t even care about trying to make it fun. It’s just like uh.’ I brought up what we talked about at the beginning of our coaching, which was why is she doing this? What’s the impact she wants this book to have? It’s not just writing a fictional book or a series of novels. It’s the ultimate impact she wants to have on her readers and the difference that’s going to make in the world and why that’s absolutely vital now.
Sometimes that can have the opposite effect where it becomes too much pressure, but often I think getting out of our own selves is not just about me and I’m doing this for me because I’ve always wanted to write a book. I know this is going to do something in the world. It’s going to make a difference. So tapping into that bigger picture, that Why, can be helpful.
Having somebody in on it with you, so either a coach or a writing community. What I’ve seen is most of the people I work with really crave some connection with community. Being in it with other people is really helpful. And if you don’t have that in person, there are lots of places to find that online or working one-on-one with people. A lot of the clients I work with one-on-one, they don’t have time for a group. It doesn’t meet their schedule or their needs. They really just want to have one-on-one. So remembering why you’re doing it, looking at what are those immediate benefits.
Often too, Mark, it’s a matter of just pausing and looking back at what you’ve done. We’re very good at looking forward and we finish something and ‘Okay. What’s the next thing? What’s the next thing?’ We’re very bad at relishing what we’ve already done. It’s almost if we think if we just take some enjoyment or appreciate what we’ve done that will somehow become a trophy to fall off and won’t be able to keep going. But often there’s a time when if you’re just like, ‘Ah, what am I doing? Where am I at?’ Printing it up and looking at it.
MARK: That’s always satisfying, isn’t it? When it’s a thing.
CYNTHIA: Yes. Yes. It’s a thing, and often we don’t print it up. We’re just kind of endlessly scrolling online, and when you print it up, it gives you that object that you can see, ‘Oh, look, our pages have accrued here something’s happening.’ It also helps you to just see the material more clearly, ‘Okay. Here’s where I’m at. Here’s what I’ve done. Here’s what’s left to do.’ So, often it’s taking a moment to just pause and reflect, ‘Why am I doing this? Where am I at? What is it doing for me in the now and what do I need to keep going?’
MARK: I want to pick up on this phrase ‘world-changing’ because it’s in the title and also you used it a couple of minutes ago talking about the Whys for writing a book.
What would you say to someone who’s listening and thinking, ‘Well, but is my idea really world-changing or can I really do it in a way that it’s going to change the world? Is that not too ambitious? Am I getting above my station here?’
CYNTHIA: Absolutely. I love that because I don’t generally go around saying like, ‘Go big and you can be huge and you can change the world and you can do all these.’ That doesn’t motivate me. I don’t like going big. It’s like, ‘No, I just want to be cozy here. I don’t need to be Oprah.’ I don’t think a lot of people feel that.
But what I’ve experienced is that when you write a book, it changes your world. So, that’s the basic premise. If no-one’s world is changed but your own, you have changed the world because, as you’ve said, when you write, your relationship with your family and your clients is different. So, that has a ripple effect. So, changing the world can be a lot smaller than having some big stage or being some big influencer or a thought leader. It can be the person who’s walking around, smiling at people and engaging with people because they feel good about themselves and confident because they’ve written a book that has a ripple effect. So, that’s like the first level of it.
The thing about writing a book or creating anything and putting it out there, you have no idea what it’s going to do. Once you put a piece of art or poetry or a book out in the world, it’s its own thing and it’s no longer your responsibility. The world will interact with it and have its way with it and then stay with it and do with it what it will. So, we don’t really know what it’s doing or how it’s changing the world. And you’ve probably experienced this where you’ll meet somebody in person and they’ll say, ‘I’ve been reading your newsletter, your blog for years or listening to your podcast, and you totally changed my life.’ And you’re like, ‘I had no idea.’
MARK: Yeah. That’s great. Occasionally, I’ll meet that person. They’ll come for coaching and they’ll say, ‘I’ve been reading your newsletter for ten years.’ And you think, ‘Really? Wow.’
It’s easy to take for granted what you’ve already done, but who knows what would be the right message at the right time for the right person.
CYNTHIA: I must stand for our creative expression. I believe that if you have the impulse to write or make things, you have to follow it. You have no idea whether it’s going to be any good or whether it’s going to go anywhere or do anything, but you have to follow it, first for your own satisfaction, and then who knows what it will do. So, it’s the world-changing thing. It starts off as this humble thing like you’re changing your own world and it could change the world.
I remember when I put the title out on my Facebook page to just kind of check it out and test it and see what people thought about it. And the world-changing thing really caught people and like, ‘Oh, I don’t know. That seems too big. Ratchet it down a little bit.’
MARK: And what did your Inner Coach say to that ‘ratchet it down’?
CYNTHIA: I wrote an article years ago about this whole thing like we’re either too much or we’re not enough. It’s like, ‘Okay. Well, where is that middle?’ There is no knowing middle. So, I was like, ‘You know what? I really am going to take a stand for the impact that we can have with a book. It may change the world. It may be big, it may change your world, but I’m not backing down on this. I’m taking a stand that you and your work and your ideas and your books matter and to not play small. So, try it and see. See what happens. See how it changes your world and then see how it changes the larger world.’
MARK: Well, as you say that, I’m in the office and I’m looking at my bookshelves. I’m seeing how many books, mostly poetry, have changed my life. I’m not the same person for having read them, and so who’s to stop you listening to this from adding to the world-changing books that are out there?
I mean, when I saw your title, I thought I love the daring of that and also I thought about it and I realized, ‘If I’m thinking about writing a world-changing book, well, I know no matter how insanely, confident, or incredibly doubtful I am, I’m probably going to write a bigger and more ambitious book than I would have written if you hadn’t put that thought in front of me.’
Is this world-changing? Could you be more ambitious here? I love the boldness in it.
CYNTHIA: Thanks, Mark. And you know this. We need this sense of boldness and humility. When I was writing this book, one day I was like, ‘This is great. This is going to be great. I hope people are going to love it. This is going to really change the world.’ And then the next day I was writing and it was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know. This has been said before. Everybody knows this. I don’t need to write it.’ And it was so perfect that juxtaposition of those two commentaries on the process.
I was like, ‘Okay. If I believe this or I believe this, neither are true. Both are true. It doesn’t matter what my ideas about it are. All I need to do is just keep showing up and writing the book.’ And however it turns out, all I can say is, ‘Have I shown up? Have I done the very best I can?’ And that’s all we can do and to just sort of let all of that commentary, our fears, and beliefs about how good it is really are irrelevant to the actual work.
MARK: And on the theme of boldness, another really big idea that I found in the book is ‘write a manifesto for your book.’
CYNTHIA: One of the things that people get stuck on with writing a book is writing the introduction. To me, it’s like a stand and deliver moment. It’s the big, ‘Here’s what this book is about, here’s why I’m writing it, and here’s what’s in the book.’ And often I find that if we try to write that at the beginning, we’re going to have trouble. We don’t know what’s in it and then we haven’t earned the confidence that we get by the time we get to the end. So, we still want to have some sort of rallying, some sort of like, ‘Here’s why this matters.’
I like the idea of writing a manifesto because a manifesto is… to me, it’s about the impact you want to have. So, this book is going to do this, and this book is for this. It’s for these people to have this sort of emotional or intellectual impact, and this is the difference that this book is going to make in the world once it’s out there.
It’s really a moment of taking a stand, not as a stand-and-deliver approving moment, like let me just prove to you that I know what I’m talking about that this book and this idea is valid. It’s more of, ‘Here’s what I care about, here’s what I’m so impassioned by, here’s why I must do this, and here’s why you must read it.’ My intention is that that fires you up.
What I came to think about books as I was writing this and even writing that part about the manifesto is that a book is a passion shared. You have to be really passionate about something to write a whole book about it and that you have that inner fire that inner passion really fuels the book writing. And then once you have it, you can say, ‘Here’s what I’m passionate about. Take this and check it out and see if it ignites something in you.’ And then the reader can say, ‘Wow, this was great, and I’m sharing this passion with somebody else.’ A book is a way to share that passion. The manifesto is a way to distill that passion down into just a few simple sentences that can hopefully serve to remind you why you’re doing it.
MARK: I love it. So, following our imaginary writer as she’s going through the journey of the book. She’s got started. She’s overcome the Critic and the other obstacles. She found a way to stay connected to the big why in order to produce this world-changing book. And as you get towards the end, inevitably, there’s the thoughts of, ‘Okay. But how am I going to sell this? Where am I going to promote it? Is there anybody out there who’s going to want to read this?’
There’s a lovely chapter near the end where you talk about capturing promotional ideas while writing. Could you expand on that a little bit, please?
CYNTHIA: First I just have to say like I don’t know that there’s really any conquering the Inner Critic. The Inner Critic is there along the way, and that was something that like it’s a daily thing. There you are. Okay. Well, I’m going to write anyway. This was what surprises me with my clients. They’re very smart. They’re very accomplished. They’re really into their topic, and they still face these issues on an ongoing basis. And I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’
My problem as a coach was like thinking, ‘They’re so smart. They’re accomplished. They’ve done other huge things. They can do this one too.’ But there’s something about writing a book that really calls on us to really root in our belief in what we’re doing, and even if we don’t know how to, we know very well what we’re doing in our professional work. Writing a book still is something that is a specific thing to learn. So, I was really surprised by that.
And so that’s why I really wanted this book to be there as a reminder throughout the whole process like when you start feeling like you’re failing, when you’re freaking out and thinking you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s normal. That is totally part of the process. That is just baked into writing a book. It’s not you. It’s not that you’re inherently inept or not good. That’s really something important I wanted to say there.
But in terms of capturing promotional ideas while writing the book, I think that often happens alongside where we are thinking about, ‘How am I going to get this out there? What am I going to say?’ So, I noticed as I was writing this book… and you see this in blog posts and articles. I tweet this. This is a tweetable. So, it’s kind of in that same vein.
When you’re writing something and you’re like, ‘Okay. This is what I say all the time. This is something that I repeat to my clients or in my classes.’ That’s something to highlight or make bold that you can use that later as like how you’ll see a social media image or just a background with a word or a sentence. You can just put that sentence there. So, I think capturing those along the way.
And the thing that I noticed that was really great about doing that for me at least was I would put my thought down like, ‘Oh, that’s the tweetable.’ And then I was like, ‘Well, that’s not really a tweetable. I need to write that. I’m going to make that more concise and really clear so that you can grab that at a glance.’ So, by capturing your promotional ideas like that or the pull out quotes or the phrases, it forces you to be a better writer along the way and really kind of clarify your thoughts.
You can also like what’s the basic concept of the book, and we’ve talked about this book. It’s for busy women and it’s about changing the world, writing a book. So, I could write a blog article about that or when I do get the introduction, the introduction can be used as a standalone piece, so pieces that can be a standalone piece. It’s a great way to think about, ‘Okay. This one is something I can use later.’
For instance, the whole first section of my book, which is dealing with some of the challenges or issues that are going to arise with a book, I’ve pulled all of those out. And those have been standalone articles that I’ve posted on my blog throughout the year, so kind of having that in mind as you go like, ‘What are some things I can excerpt?’ Quizzes and tests are fun things to use that you can think about like, ‘Okay. How could this be a quiz?’
One of the chapters in my book is about making sure that you actually have space to write a book because often busy people really, no matter what anybody else does, they just literally don’t have the space to add something else in. So, turning that chapter into a quiz like, ‘Do you really have space like to test it out?’ Stuff like that that make it fun that you can use later.
I talk about a book is a way to be a conversation leader and a book is a way to lead the kinds of conversations that you want to have. So, looking at that and thinking about it that way, you can look at the themes in your book, ‘What are some of the underlying themes that I want to talk about?’ So, it’s not directly talking about, ‘Here’s how to sit down and write,’ but it’s like, ‘Here’s why you must write or here’s why I want more women to write or here’s what busy is doing in our lives.’ So, some of the themes that you’re writing about can be pulled out.
What I usually do is I’ll have another document that’s just ideas for promoting the book later, and as I’m writing, I’m like, ‘Oh, this is something that could be a talking point.’ So, wanting to go on podcasts was one of the ways I wanted to share about the book. What are some talking points as I was writing the book, really pulling some of those things out? So, you’re not switching and putting the cart before the horse. You’re not switching gears into thinking about publishing, promotion. You just have a document going the whole time that you’re capturing ideas.
MARK: I love that because, to me, the most effective promotion is the stuff that is authentic and it’s aligned with the true spirit and message of the book. And what I like about this perspective is is if you look closely, you’ve probably done a lot of the promotional work already. You’ve got the material there, and it’s just a question of taking it out and using it.
That’s great particularly when we get to the end of the project and we think, ‘Oh, gosh, I’m going to start the promotion now?’ Well, actually, if you’ve already started, then that becomes a lot easier.
CYNTHIA: Yes. And also the whole year I was writing it, writing is not a very visual medium, but here I am at the cafe and here I am at the Botanic Gardens and just sharing images of me like just teasing it out, the whole year I’m writing this book. ‘It’s coming.’ And just briefly talking about it and then sharing the title and getting people’s opinions about that so that when it did come out, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, you wrote a book. Oh, people have been waiting for it. Hopefully, they’ve been waiting for it.’ So, you’re right, like getting to the end of it and then suddenly, ‘Oh, now I’ve got to think about promotion.’ It’s really no one wants to be in that position.
MARK: Cynthia, thank you so much. You have given us a real wealth of wisdom and tips and insight around the topic of writing a book and, of course, while being a coach yourself, I know you don’t like to end any conversation with without the next steps and what are we going to do.
And so this is the point of the show where if you’re new to the show as a listener, then this is where I ask my guests to set you the listener a Creative Challenge. This is a task that is related to the theme of the interview, and it’s something that you can do within or get started on within seven days of listening to this conversation.
Cynthia, what’s your creative challenge?
CYNTHIA: I love this. This is a great chance to get everybody into action. I’ve mentioned free writing, and free writing in case you’re not familiar with it is a very simple technique. You set a timer, you use a prompt, and you write without stopping. You write without correcting. You write without worrying about making sense or it being correct grammatically or anything like that. And the point is to get into the flow to get out of kind of the thin layer of the top of your mind and into a deeper place where you’re in that flow state that we so love.
To do a free-write with a prompt, ‘I must write this book. I must write this book because…’ or this works for any project, if you’re not writing a book say you want to launch a podcast or you want to launch a business, any art form, ‘I must do this thing because…’ Set the timer, and you said seven days. So let’s just say 7 minutes. 7 to 10 minutes, set the timer and write non-stop without censoring yourself. You’ll get very clear about why this is important to you now.
And then after you’ve written that, go back through and read it over and highlight or underline any words or phrases or sentences that really glow or light up or really hit the nail on the head for you about why you do it. And what you want to do from that is to pull together a sentence or a phrase that is your rallying cry, and someone might call it like this is your why. I like it as your rallying cry because this is what will remind you why you’re doing this. If you forget, if you lose track, if you go off path, if you suddenly want to do something else, another bright shiny project, this will help you remember why this must be done.
MARK: I love the rallying cry! That’s going to get me started in the morning.
CYNTHIA: Good. Sometimes we forget, ‘Why am I doing this?’ And then there’s just a short simple phrase that just reminds.
MARK: Yeah, definitely. Okay. Cynthia, thank you so much for your wisdom and insight today. If you’re listening to this, you found the conversation helpful and inspiring, I really encourage you to get the book, The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing a World-Changing Book, whether you’re a busy woman or a busy man. And, Cynthia, as well as the book, obviously, you have coaching one-on-one. You have writing programs.
Where should people go to get more help from you?
CYNTHIA: First, thanks for having me on, Mark. You’re such a delight and such a contribution to the world for creatives and others, and I loved our conversation. So thank you for having me. You can find everything about what I do and more at my website, originalimpulse.com.
MARK: Excellent. And obviously, we will make sure that the links to the book and the website are right there in the show notes as usual. So, Cynthia, thank you so much. I think I may be dipping into this next time I get started on my next book or even my next podcast season. And I’m sure I won’t be alone in that. So thank you so much.
CYNTHIA: Thank you. I appreciate it, Mark.
About The 21st Century Creative podcast
Each episode of The 21st Century Creative podcast features an interview with an outstanding creator in the arts or creative industries.
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