The Successful Creative Mindset with Joanna Penn

Episode 5 title graphic: The Successful Creative Mindset with Joanna Penn

This week’s guest on the 21st Century Creative Podcast is Joanna Penn, a best-selling, award-nominated thriller writer, as well as a publishing expert and host of The Creative Penn Podcast.

Joanna PennJoanna is here to talk about mindset for creatives – specifically, the attitudes and ambitions that distinguish creatives who struggle from those who succeed – according to their own definition of success.

She has written extensively about this topic in her book The Successful Author Mindset. For this interview, I’ve asked her to widen the focus to include all kinds of creatives – the essential psychology is the same, so this interview is not just for writers!

One new release from Jo that is just for writers is the new edition of her book How to Market a Book, which is now available for pre-order.

How to Market a Book cover shotJo is constantly researching publishing news and trends, and experimenting with the latest marketing methods. Whether you’re self published or traditionally published, if you want to know what works and (what doesn’t) in book marketing in 2017, this is the book to read.

Also for authors is The Author 2.0 Blueprint – a free ebook and email series on how to write, self-publish and market your book.

In the first part of the show, I talk about why 21st Century Creatives should forget the career ladder, and start creating assets.

Take Joanna Penn’s Creative Challenge (and win her book on the creative mindset)

Every week, at the end of the show, I ask my guest to set you a Creative Challenge – something practical you can do that will help you put the ideas from the show into action.

The Successful Author Mindset cover shotHere’s how you can take part – and maybe win the prize of a copy of Joanna’s book The Successful Author Mindset. Even if you’re not a writer, you’ll find the book is backed with insights and advice on the mindset that will help you succeed on your own terms as a creative professional.

1. Listen to the interview part of the show, either in the player above or on iTunes or your favourite podcast platform.

2. The Challenge is to write down your definition of success for the next year AND the next 5 years.

In other words, what do you want to achieve – creatively, professionally, personally – in (a) in the next 12 months and (b) by 2022?

Joanna encourages you to be as specific as possible, and to make the commitment in writing because by writing it down, you’re starting to make it happen.

3. Once you’ve completed the challenge, leave a comment below this post describing your definition of success.

You have until midnight United States Pacific time on Friday 30th June 2017 to complete the challenge and leave your comment.

4. Once the challenge has finished, I will pick 3 winners at random from the comments, who will receive the prize of the desktop background and your choice of one of my books for creatives.

5. Over the weekend I will send a bonus recording with my feedback on your comments and what we can all learn from the challenge. I’ll be looking through the comments for common patterns, whether that’s ways a lot of you get stuck, or great solutions you’re finding to the challenge. I’ll also be sharing reflections and advice from my own experience as a writer and a coach.

6. As usual the feedback recording will NOT be released on iTunes or anywhere else the show is syndicated. It will only be available via the 21st Century Creative mailing list – click here to join the list (and get a free Creative Career course).

One last thing…

If you’re enjoying the show it would be a huge help to me if you would take a moment to subscribe to The 21st Century Creative in iTunes.

And if you’d like to leave a brief review in iTunes, that would be even more helpful.

The more people who subscribe and review the show, the more visible the show will be in the iTunes store, and the more creators I can help with it.

This is particularly important in the first few weeks of a podcast – so if you enjoy the show, and you’d like to support it, taking a few moments to subscribe and/or review will give the podcast the best chance of success.

Thank you!

Mark McGuinness is a poet, a coach for creative professionals, and the host of The 21st Century Creative Podcast.

How to get creative work done in an "always on" world

Productivity for Creative People

Mark McGuinness' latest book Productivity for Creative People is a is a collection of insights, tips, and techniques to help you carve out time for your most important work – amid the demands and distractions of 21st century life.

“Of all the writers I know, I have learned the most about how to be a productive creative person from Mark. His tips are always realistic, accessible, and sticky. It’s not just talk, this is productivity advice that will change your life.”

Jocelyn Glei, author and Founding Editor, 99U

More about Productivity for Creative People. >>

Responses to this Post


  1. I’ll be coming back to do the challenge, but Jo’s comments on her supportive husband made me think of my Best Beloved. She runs our business, earns all the money, while I cook and clean and (mostly) write books and music. Every time I start to worry I’m not being useful and I should earn some money, she shows me the balance sheet with a black number at the bottom and says “I’ll let you know when to worry about money. Go create something.”

    A supportive partner is exponentially more important to this process than money in the bank. She helps me keep my mindset where it belongs. I wish all creators could have what I have.

  2. Re: the conversation about why there’s such a dichotomy about whether this is a good time or bad time to be a creator, I think Mark said it early on, that some people have an employee mindset in the worst way, needing someone to tell them what to do every step of the way. Others love the control of making things happen, they’re self-starters willing to take control of their own work and life. The former whine, the latter get on with it.

    • I think it also depends whether you’re part (or have long and deeply held ambitions to be a part) of the established system or not. If you are, it’s bound to be frightening and disruptive to find it changing.

  3. Working for myself as a creative writer and having enough time to balance health and family. Starting as self published to find my voice and then being successful enough to have an agent.

  4. It was great to hear more from Joanna! As someone at the very start of a writing career I find her very encouraging, though she keeps it realistic and I always particularly enjoy hearing her on mindset related subjects. It’s good to know that the doubts etc are just part of the process!

    The challenge – I’m an ambitious beginner writer working in my first novel and I’m aiming to be a hybrid writer from the start.

    My goals for the first year:
    – Finish this novel, have it with beta readers by the end of August and be submitting it to agents by November. So by this time next year I’d like that novel to be sold but that’s not entirely within my control! This is a victorian crime mystery and is intended to be the first of a series.
    – Have finished the first draft of a novella to be published under a self publishing pen name (I’m still a bit undecided about using a pen name). I want to work on a collection of stand alone gothic horror stories in the vein of Susan Hill’s shorter works – creepy not gory.
    – To have at least the beginnings of online presence for myself and the pen name (if using).

    By 2022:
    – Have left my day job and be earning roughly the same amount from my writing – I’m a gardener so it’s a modest but adequate salary.
    – Have some dedicated readers who love my work.
    – Have established the crime series and the gothic books and be looking forward to new developments.

  5. 1-yr goals: Publish 2 poetry anthology books; completed draft of first novel or short story collection; begin earning monthly income of $3k from sales; pay off one credit card in full.

    5-yr goals: Become a FULL-TIME author; publish 20 books; have a dark fantasy series and a mystery series; earn an annual income >/= $100k; pay off all student loans.

  6. Found your podcast for the first time today–outstanding interview and responses from Joanna.

    One-year promise/goal:
    Publish four new books which are currently all in varying stages of progress, create a viable podcast, and accept the realization that marketing is a vital thing for me to do–and act upon that!

    Five-year absolute intention/goal–by 2022:
    Have a minimum of seven more fiction books published, and have both my genre fiction and inspirational blog and podcast reach millions of people.

  7. My 1 year goal: – To have my debut album finished and have it receive radio play on at least 5 local stations.
    – To start earning a competitive average salary through my various income streams, one that can cover all my bills as well as leave me with enough to see to my wants

    5 year goal:

    – To have released 3 albums (one every 2 years)
    – To become a thought leader for creativity, events and music in my city – to be the person local artists and media come to for advice
    – To be earning a passive income from bookings through the events department of my company which is currently finding its feet
    – To be living comfortably, without the lack so associated with being a “struggling artist”. To always have provisions set aside, more than enough.

  8. What does success mean to me? I am going to use some of your words…: My creative pursuits are worthwhile and satisfying in itself and as they make my life fun, happier, easier, and more rewarding, as they become more profitable via connections.

    One year goals:
    1) Pay for email services because of list growth
    2) Build creative assets such as videos, etc. and therefore building connections/audience
    3) Self publish items with my paintings via print on demand services.

    Five year goal:
    Using my creative assets, I will be enrolled in a subscription service that uses my paintings, drawings, and sketches to provide artwork and services to 1,000 happy, thrilled, excited, and paying subscribers.

    This podcast was very valuable to me in terms of defining creative assets. I clipped into Evernote to read when I’m needing encouragement.

  9. Sometimes a dog sees something, hones in on it and makes a focused move towards it.

    Sometimes it simply follows a rather interesting scent.

    My 1 & 5 year goal is simply to trust and openly follow the path as it unfolds 🙂

  10. I’d be interested to hear J’s thoughts on academic publishing. I went to a seminar the other day, provided by my UK university, top Cambridge Press editor. Whole seminar was massively eye opening, apart from the fact that no one mentioned author income. When I raised it at the end, I got laughed at.

    One year – finish and pass PhD, get contract for its part-publication, and journal publication for the rest (get tactical about which ones).

    Five year – develop symbiosis of practice and research across employment in higher edu (specific universities), and a solo exhibition in a commercial gallery in London (specific ones). Need to earn for the family, and would like to have a mini-break with my daughter.

  11. The Creative Penn is one of my favorite podcasts, so glad you had Joanna on the show, thanks Mark! I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing down a plan, but this episode has been a great kick in the pants to actually do it. Anyway here’s my plan,

    1, and 5 year plans.

    1 year plan (2017).
    -Take an accounting of the current portfolio, identify assets potential, current editing needs, and best suited sales model.
    -Formalize, and set production schedules for existing as well as immediately forthcoming assets. Edit, and finish production of current assets including novel length work.
    -Develop understanding of advertising functionality, and creation.
    -Continue making refinements to technique through additional education, and practice. Set up author platform, and mailing list.

    5 Year plan (2022).
    – (A) be able to augment income with writing, if not replacing the traditional career entirely by the five year mark. (B) Income in at least the mid 5 figure amount, (mid -> high if replacing the 9-5 entirely).
    -Have a minimum of 15 to 20 assets in major markets producing scale-able income.
    -Utilize the best advertising at the time to increase sales, and then reinvest into advertising, research travel fund, and potential diversification of product line; i.e. expanding into audio books, box sets, etc.
    -Travel, refill the creative tank. Visit at least 3 places I want to see by the end of year 5.
    -Win awards, like the International Thriller award for Best E-Book original novel, Short Story, or the Stoker Award for similar categories.
    -Hybridize publishing, possibly with an imprint of Amazon.

  12. Kathleen Kettles says:

    I really enjoyed hearing Jo on this weeks podcast, her enthusiasm was awesome! I could tell she was smiling all the way through the interview! Brilliant!
    Having worked as a psychotherapist & reverse therapist for 14 years I recently took 5 months off to focus on my ceramics / pottery. Listening to Mark and all the podcasts so far with the emphasis on following your passion etc etc..I decided to spend 3 1/2 days doing therapy and the rest working with clay and writing my blog, “Keeping Body & Mind Together”. Interestingly, when I put my website back on line 2 weeks ago I immediately got 5 emails asking for more info about my work..and all 5 turned into clients booked in! This was the nudge I needed to tell me I’m back on track…apologies for the waffle..but I needed to get that explained before I share my 1 year and 5 year plan!

    Year 1: 10 clients a week working 40 weeks of the year.
    Writing increased to 4 blog posts a month.
    Mastering the coil pot technique, no obvious ridges, producing beautiful smooth unlined pieces!
    3 or 4 new client testimonials this year!

    2022: The short film I’ve helped write be completed and short listed at one of the film festivals The director making the film (Shaun Hughes) has made some excellent shorts..I’m excited about our collaboration!
    For me to have a constant flow of clients (sticking with the 10 a week for 40 weeks number)
    4 more outlets / galleries stocking my ceramic ware.
    To have found and bought a bigger house on Islay.

  13. Olga A Kochergina says:

    Ooh, i love this challenge! I read the Successful Author Mindset in December 2016 and did a similar exercise, and in doing it now I can see that my answers have evolved in the 6-month interim!

    I’m actually gonna start with my summer goals. These next two months my toddler is on summer break from daycare, so my independent creative time is cut short. I also struggle enormously with structuring my own day. Right now, if we don’t have any playdates scheduled for the day, we may just spend hours doing nothing to the background of Netlix.

    So. By September 5th, I’m going to
    – have a routine of waking up at 6:30am and writing;
    – complete two short stories and show them to beta readers;
    – maintain a daily elliptical and strength training habit;
    – develop a habit of planning my meals for the next day every evening;
    – reach out to universities and unions to help my kids daycare hire a 2nd teacher;
    – set a tone of respect and enthusiasm on the daycare’s new school board (i’m the new vp)
    – when i’m with my daughter and/or husband, prioritize engaging with them

    1 year goal (my daughter will be 4, we will need to plan where we want to live next)
    – parent with a “compassionate guide” mindset
    – self publish my first book
    – collect 50 rejections for short stories
    – lead the daycare board toward a culture of enjoying each others working relationships, and making the parents feel empowered to suggest and implement projects
    – be stronger than i am today (i feel anxiety about making this a measurable goal, gotta work on that)
    – feel competent at feeding myself predictable meals that feel good in my body
    – make new friends (go into new social situation every month?)
    – treat health and personal relationships like the most important rejuvinating thing that they are

    5 years out (my daughter will be 8 years old, in second grade)
    – improve my relationship with my parents
    – have a second child
    – belong somewhere (a community of writers, or parents, or an organization with a mission that deeply aligns with what motivates me – i’ve yet to discover what this is)
    – have 3 books published (assuming novel writing turns out to be my jam)
    – be a boss at household budget and eating well
    – be so strong that I can be invited on a weekend backpacking trip on a friday, and spontaneously go the next morning without experiencing actute anxiety and feelings of worthlessness

    (Ok yeah, I am afraid to plan for 5 years out. Aftaid to put down anything specific for each goal because this feels so daunting at the moment, and what if I’m doomed to fail? Like, what if it’ll be hellza difficult and somehow, innately, i will still fail and discover that I am worthless?
    When the goal is smaller, I am able to envision with confidence that Yes, I can definitely do it. I can envision a me that has done it. I can then stop worrying and think “what steps donibneed to take to make this a reality?”.
    I also can remember that I don’t actually believe in “innate” paths or personalities”. i believe character is a set of choices, actions, and responses to a specific environment. And I can influence my environment. I can change who I am, overtime.
    Phew, for a moment there I was freaking out. )

    Ok, 5 year goals, take two:
    – be able to openly voice my opinion and talk freely about my choices in from of my parents, having a clear understanding that their responses are mostly a reflection of their world view, not of me
    – cook dinners 5/7 days of the week; pack lunches
    – have household savings of 15K; max out on 401K contributions yearly; have a 3K budget for travel yearly
    – write daily, show my work to people on a bi-weekly basis; write enough to experience flow daily and feel really connected to myself
    – bring in 500$ a month via writing
    – comfortably run 3mi in 30 minutes; do a half marathon; do a 2-day backpacking trip in Dolly Sods, WA, where i loved it as a teenager
    – develop a couple more friendships deep enough that, if my husband suddenly died, i wouldn’t feel completely alone and untethered (just mostly, hah).

  14. One year goal:
    • Finish and put on-line my Draw Fantasy Creatures website– (include 20+ short videos)
    • Finish creating 2 how-to-draw books for kids: Draw Fantasy Creatures and Draw Monsters (and print them on Createspace)

    5 year goal:
    • Study and find the ways that work best for ME to better market myself. I have tried (dabbled) for years and not been too successful at it.
    • Finish 4 other books I have started (and get them printed/published): Three Billy Goats Gruff, Jason Flies His Kite, Baby’s Backyard Adventure, and my graphic novel about a tree creature.

  15. Thank you for another great episode of the 21st Century Creative Podcast- Joanna Penn has always been very inspiring and upbeat- her site is great and her books on writing are very good too- her podcast is excellent as well- this interview is great and very interesting to listen to about the mindset of creative people
    So, my definition of success is making things that surprise me, that resound with me and others. Success is having financial stability so that I can carry on creating. To show other people that making art and being creative is a good and a beautiful thing. To be happier with myself, to let the light through. To love myself and to trust myself.
    For the next year I will finish two books of my drawings (either with a publisher or self publishing)
    In music, I will finish one EP with Onze Onze and another EP with Zarboth (probably indie publishing)
    I will find a gallery that wants to show my work- I will set up an online gallery, linked to my website
    I will do at least one performance art piece that is sexy, subversive and funny.
    I will contact press, magazines and other outlets for my drawings.
    I will spend more time with my wife and kids.
    For 2022
    I will have a studio workspace
    I will have an online gallery and a real one
    I will be financially thriving with diverse income streams.
    I will eat well and be fitter. I will have done a semi marathon.
    I will have a permanent job but I will only need to work part-time.
    We will all live in a bigger appartement. I will spend good times with my family.
    I will have brought out 3 albums, at least, I will do a solo album – a mixture of spoken word and music.
    I will be unafraid of myself and my creativity.
    I will have shown my work in 2 group exhibitions and 1 solo exhibition.

  16. Thank you everyone, this week’s Challenge is now closed, I’ll shortly send the feedback and announce the winners via the mailing list.