Do you sometimes just ‘know’ when a story is right? Does something ‘click’ during the writing process and suddenly things make sense? Do you lean into your curiosity and emotion when it comes to writing and marketing? If yes, you might be an intuitive writer, as Becca Syme explains in this interview.
In the intro, Chokepoint Capitalism [Decoder]; Direct sales [Kris Rusch]; Amazon Ads for Authors by Ricardo Fayet; Ads for Authors course; Why I Ignored Target Reader Feedback for my Book Cover Design; ChatGPT for teachers [Hard Fork]; Pilgrimage Kickstarter.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors. You can find my books for authors and my fiction here on Kobo.
Becca Syme is an author, coach, and creator of the Better-Faster Academy. She is a USA Today bestselling author of small-town romance and cozy mystery and also writes the ‘Dear Writer’ series of non-fiction books.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- How a writer knows if they are intuitive
- The data-gathering process of intuitive writers
- Learning to apply feedback while trusting your intuition
- Knowing when it’s the right time to write your book
- Standing out in a crowded market by using your intuition
- Tips for avoiding burnout to have a sustainable author career
- Why we make decisions based on fear — and how to stop
Image generated by Joanna Penn on Midjourney.
Transcript of Interview with Becca Syme
Joanna: Becca Syme is an author, coach, and creator of the Better-Faster Academy. She is a USA Today bestselling author of small-town romance and cozy mystery and also writes the ‘Dear Writer’ series of non-fiction books.
Today we’re talking about Dear Writer, Are You Intuitive? co-written with Susan Bischoff, which was one of my books of the year in 2022. So welcome back to the show, Becca.
Becca: Thank you so much for having me. And I’m so excited to talk about this topic. I’m so glad you picked this.
Joanna: Me too. As I said, I love the book. And I was reading it going, ‘oh, this is just me, this is so me.’ And I wanted to bring it to my audience. We’re just going to jump straight into the intuitive topic today. So let’s start.
What do you mean by intuition? How does a writer know they might be intuitive when it comes to their writing?
Becca: So a lot of us who are intuitive — I’m also intuitive — we know things without knowing how we know them. And a lot of that gets attributed to things like emotion or assumption, right?
So if I walk into a room, and I think, “oh, everyone in here is very uncertain.” Like, I just know that and I can’t point to certain data pieces of what it is that I used. And a lot of people will say that you’re just making an assumption, that you don’t know that is true.
But what we found about intuition — and this is strengths related, but I’m not going to use any of the language because I want it to be more accessible to everyone — but there are certain behavior patterns that you have that allow you to gather data without knowing that you’re gathering data.
And they allow you to make connections between the data. So like when I assume that someone is feeling something, and I am actually an intuitive, and this is something I do all the time, I’m reading things, I just don’t know that they’re there.
Usually with intuitives, you can wait a couple of hours, and then kind of deconstruct what you were thinking in the moment, and say, “oh, yeah, I saw this, and this, and this about your body language, etc.” And this isn’t just emotional intuition, because of course, in the book, there are several. There are several types.
But in general, intuition is the ability to know something based on data that you’ve taken in, that you do not have the ability in the moment to point to how you know that.
Almost always we say things like, “well, I just knew,” or “I didn’t know why I made that assumption. I don’t know why I made that choice.” And that can feel extremely uncertain to people who are intuitive because people who are not intuitive will try to deconstruct that and prove us wrong, or say we don’t know what we’re talking about, or we’re making assumptions, or we’re being emotional.
So I think it’s really important for intuitive authors to know that is not what that means. You not being able to prove something right away in the moment doesn’t mean you don’t know it, or you didn’t base it on data.
It just means it’s happening subconsciously.
And then, of course, that affects storytelling. It affects marketing decisions. It affects ad running. It just affects every part of our author life.
Joanna: Let’s just unpack a few of these things there. So it’s so funny, you use language like gathering data and deconstruct, and I feel like these are almost logical words. Like I don’t associate gathering data with being intuitive. Now I know what you mean —
Give us some examples of how an intuitive might gather data from the world.
Becca: So let’s use a writing example, just because I think some of the behavioral examples are not true for everyone.
But a lot of intuitives who are writers will have watched movies, read books, listened to oral storytellers who are extremely proficient at storytelling, and they will have naturally intuited the connections between plot points, and then they will write their books according to that intuition.
So do I need to know what a black moment is in order to write one? No, I don’t, if I’m intuitive, because I’m intuiting, or again, I’m reading the data patterns. So like, let’s look on a micro level at me listening to you tell a story. My intuition is saying, “Oh, you dropped your voice here. You changed your cadence there. And that produced this emotion in your audience.”
So if I want to do that, and this is how people who are not intuitive — and I hesitate to use the word logical, because a lot of intuitives have latched onto the word, ‘I am logical’ as a way to fight against that natural criticism we get about not thinking about what we do.
But a lot of people who are not intuitive will consciously say those things to themselves. “Oh, you did this” or “you did that,” or “here’s that device that they use.” And they can often break it apart and tell you what they’re doing. Whereas most intuitives can’t, unless they’ve acquired that skill as a defense mechanism. And almost always, they have to do it in retrospect, anyway.
But like, you’ll be watching a movie, and you’ll see the flavor of a particular line of dialogue that produced an emotion in you, and then you’ll know once you’ve seen that 10 or 15 times, you will know how to utilize that device in your own writing, but you could not describe to me how you do it.
I think this is the most important part for writers, is that because —
We make decisions according to intuition, but those decisions are actually based on previous data gathering that we were not aware we were doing.
They are actually sound decisions, we just don’t realize that they are because we couldn’t say, “oh, yeah, 10% I have to do this thing.” It just naturally happens when intuitives are storytelling because, again, they’ve assimilated that data on such a subconscious — I would argue unconscious — level because it’s usually inaccessible to them.
It makes them, or us, mistrust our storytelling capacity because we hear people who can explain the mechanics behind why they make the decisions that they make.
And again, the certainty and correctness axis, we assume that because they’re so certain about what they do, and they’re doing it correctly, that we have to be similarly certain and logical and intentional about what we do, instead of trusting that our intuition is already being intentional for us.
Joanna: And it’s funny, because there are psychological studies that show humans will make up a reason why we did something, even though that might not actually be the reason.
So we might say, “oh, yeah, I wrote this because I know that at 10% I have to put in this, whatever, due to Save The Cat or whatever.” And yet, that might not actually be the reason. So I guess it doesn’t really matter which way, but part of this interview is really talking about trusting that intuition.
So from the book, I wanted to read one of the lines, which says,
“Writing with intentional plot structure is not necessary for the story to be compelling.”
And that comes to a bit about what you just said there. I mean, that gave me a great sigh of relief, and I’m a discovery writer.
So how can we avoid forcing ourselves into a plotting box when most of the writing advice around us wants us to have this intentional plot structure?
Becca: Right, the crazy part about an intuitive brain is that if you try to do it intentionally, it will not work the same way.
So you, Joanna, if you sit down with a plot structure that has been given to you as though this is the exact way to do it, and then you sit down and try to write that plot structure, it is not going to have the same compelling nature that your natural storytelling would have.
There are a lot of reasons for that, not the least of which is, please, if you do not believe me, read Aristotle, like read the poetics. The data samples that were used to define a lot of what we think about three act structure are so variable.
Like the inciting incident, we nail it down to 10% because that is what we have been taught. But the reality is, the plays that he was using to make some of these — and again, he didn’t use the word inciting incident, but that’s what’s been made out of his theory. It could be 5%, it could be 20%, like the graph of compelling story is a wider graph than we think it is.
But so many of us who are intuitive, we don’t trust the fact that we could write a compelling story without that. And so how do we do that?
I think some of it is that you have to allow yourself to do what your intuition is guiding you to do.
Whether it’s write with a tiny bit of structure and a lot of discovery, or write with a lot of discovery and no structure.
Whatever it is, we have to learn how to trust the fact that we have gathered this storytelling capacity through the same process. It’s just happened subconsciously instead of consciously.
Intention will not help us if we are wired this way. And you might have to test that on your own in order to believe me, or you could just believe me.
Joanna: When I read the book, I recognized myself in it. Some people won’t, and probably they’ve stopped listening already!
Becca: And that’s totally okay. Because what I want to say about the people who are not intuitive, is the reason people tell us you can’t write without intention is because they can’t.
So the people who are doing this, like who are teaching this stuff, have come about their theories honestly. Not everyone is an intuitive writer. And so of course, there should be a complete guide to not being an intuitive writer, which there is. There’s plenty of them, we don’t need another one. Like, there’s a lot.
What we need is more information about how to be a good discovery writer.
Not how to use plotting techniques to correct a behavior that is not incorrect, but how to be a good discovery writer. How to use tools and tactics to get unstuck consistently, things like that, so that we’re not putting undue stress on ourselves. But also, we need to learn how to trust the intuitive storytelling mechanism that’s inside.
Joanna: And it’s funny, I think maybe I didn’t write my book on How to Write a Novel for many years because, as you say, like 95% of the books out there on story are for those who can understand a structure and use it versus the intuitive approach. So I guess everyone who writes intuitively has at least a percentage that is discovery writing.
Becca: Yeah, yeah.
Joanna: So let’s just come back on this word, trust.
You and I have been doing this a long time, and I feel like I do trust my creative process.
And yet, I know that this would be very hard for someone just starting out because I feel like for fiction, particularly, finding your creative voice is very hard.
And you might think, oh, you know, intuitively, I want to write it this way. And then maybe you get your first edit, and it’s like, well, you screwed this up, and this is wrong. Or maybe you made it all the way to publication, and the book just didn’t sell, or it got bad reviews.
When we talk about trusting our intuition, how do we combine that with editing feedback in order to become better at the craft?
Where’s the line?
Becca: I think you’ve nailed it in terms of the earlier you are in the process, the more you want to be at least questioning the premise of, “should I fully trust my intuition or not?”
Because there’s a difference between, “I don’t want to get edits,” which is valid, and also can be really dangerous. There’s a difference between that level of rebellion against the system and the intuition of, “no, this is what I think is the most compelling way to tell this story.”
Again, whether you’re intuitive or not, I think you should always be developing your craft, period. But what I would do when you’re getting edits, or when you’re getting feedback on your story, is I would be asking about the quality.
Does the quality of the edit match my personal storytelling preference?
Because if the editor is telling you, “Hey, you waited too long for the inciting incident,” and when you ask them about it, they say, “well, because it has to happen at 10%,” then they are not the right editor for you. Like they’re just not.
Because the questions that you need to ask are things like, “Is there non-compelling stuff before this that I need to take out? Or am I one of those writers who writes a little bit differently?”
I have a particular client whose inciting incidents are usually around 30%. And she sells bonkers [numbers of] books. And every editor she’s ever had has told her, “You have to move up your inciting incident. You have to move up your inciting incident.”
And then she said, “Well, the numbers say differently.” Right? Like the number of readers who are buying my books say differently. I don’t need to move up my inciting incidents. But when you read her books, they’re compelling from start to finish.
I think that’s the difference is, we’re asking questions about structure instead of questions about intuition and storytelling. Am I learning how to tell a more compelling story? Which means if I’m going to include real life, or backstory, or whatever it is, before the inciting incident, is it serving the forward motion of the story of the readers interest or not? And that’s the kind of editorial feedback you want to look for.
And of course, there are intuitive editors, in the same way that there are intuitive writers. And so I would always be on the lookout for someone who is going to ask the right questions of your books, and not someone who is going to only ask structural questions.
And I say this in the book, and I’ll just say it again —
If structure was the only thing that made stories compelling, then you would never see a bad movie out of Hollywood, ever.
Because there is nowhere that structure is more important than in Hollywood. In fact, if you’ve ever been edited by producers or studio execs, you know, your screenplays, they will literally say, “No, this is page 10. You have to have this here.”
And they get very dogged about it, and then they make you change things, right? So there’s this sense of, well, structure is so important, why isn’t everything that is structured well selling? Because structure is not righteous, I guess is the right word.
“Is the story compelling?” is the right question to ask. And I would say, so how do we get there if we’re newer? I would always try to follow the intuition that you have about the way you want to write the story.
And then check your intuition against someone who will tell you if the story is compelling or not. I wouldn’t trend towards trying to outline first, unless you literally can’t think of anything else to do, or your intuition is like, “no, I need to know what the structure is,” and then I would listen to that.
Of course, there are intuitive writers who are 75% discovery, and then there are intuitive writers who are 20% discovery, because they have different types of intuition that aren’t just emotional. So it’s possible that you need to experiment. But I would also always listen to your own intuition first, before you listen to teachers, period.
Joanna: Yes, because I guess part of our voice as a writer comes from that place that is just us. And that has to come with trusting who we are and putting it out there. But I was just thinking as you were talking, like let’s even wind it back, and this is true for nonfiction as well, I think. So I’ve got my next book that’s coming out, it’s called Pilgrimage.
Becca: Which I’m so excited about, by the way.
Joanna: Oh, thank you. And it’s so funny, because I think one of the questions people ask is, “how do you know which book to write, when?”
And, like, I thought I would write this book when I walked my first pilgrimage, and it didn’t happen. And then even like How to Write a Novel, which is a completely different type of book, it is a nonfiction self-help book, like you write as well for writers. And yet, it was always like, I felt an intuitive sense of, okay, this book’s time has come.
And I put things off like ‘the shadow book,’ about the darker side of ourselves. Again, I haven’t felt right writing that for years. It’s been kind of ticking away and ticking away. And some people, I guess, would say that this is the muse. I have so many more ideas than what I can write. But yet —
At some point, something in me just says, “right now is the time.” Can you explain that?
Becca: Yes. So from your particular perspective because you have a future forward personality, like that’s one of your strengths, right? That is part of what I would consider to be like spatial intuition, for instance, which is: how do all these things fit together and how does everything move in a direction that is correct, that feels like it has alignment? And there are some personality traits that would produce something like that.
And again, because I’m a strengths coach, my tendency is to go very granular, like to look at the future forward part, particularly, because I can explain how I do it, I have a very similar type of intuition.
And what happens is, I know that I’m gathering data from listening to a writer’s talk, because of course, I coach writers all day, every day. So like, I’m listening to writers talk, and I’m watching the patterns, and I’m seeing, oh, this is consistently coming up. And then at some point, it sort of just clicks with me that this is a meaningful pattern, and I need to do something with this right now.
What’s been happening in the background is that I’ve been gathering data over the course of the years and seeing the patterns come together.
And then finally, the pattern becomes significant in a way that my intuition knows, but Becca doesn’t. I couldn’t explain to you why I wrote the burnout book when I did or why I wrote the Dear Writer book when I did. But I knew in the moment that it was like everything had come together and aligned, and the book just came out.
And that is, again, it’s the result of having gathered a whole bunch of data, watched a whole bunch of patterns and seen everything come together in that alignment moment where I just felt like, okay, now is the time. I don’t necessarily think that it’s a predictive thing, like that because I did that, that that means it’s somehow going to be more successful than if I hadn’t listened.
It’s more like, whatever purpose this book was going to serve in my life and in the lives of the people who would read it, this was the time in needed to happen. Whether it was successful or not as a different metric that we can’t control.
I do think there is an alignment to timing that is very intuitive and is based on, you know, who you are in the moment and where the world is. And of course, you’re a future dominant personality, you’re also looking at what’s coming and what are we going to need to hear three years, five years from now, things like that, because your future dominant is so strong.
Like you’re always ahead of everybody, and that’s not a surprise to you. But the timing piece, I think, is a combination of different types of intuition, recognizing patterns, basically, and gathering data. You just don’t know when.
Joanna: I think you’re right there, it’s like you don’t know it. But what I felt with the Pilgrimage book — so you know, I had like 120,000 words or something of this book, and sitting on that, it was really hard. And yet, as you say, there was just some feeling that it wasn’t the right time. And it may not be the right time now. But hey, a book on pilgrimage, it’s hardly going to hit the top of the charts!
But as you say, sometimes it’s about us. And I love that you say that because so much of the indie space, particularly, and the traditional publishing space, is about making the sales. And that’s important, making money is important, marketing the book is important.
But yet, sometimes our intuition might tell us to write a book or publish a book that doesn’t hit big.
And I guess we have to trust that too, right?
Becca: Yes, because you don’t ever know that. Like anybody who tells you that they know 100% is either lying to you or lying to themselves, like one of the two.
But no one knows 100% how a book is going to do because this industry is run by Loki, the god of chaos.
And it is not run by Captain America, the god of logic. I know Captain America is not a god, but like, I mean, you could make an argument. But that’s not how the industry works. It is not predictable in that way. So no one really knows what’s going to happen.
And again, the famous quote from the Random House trial is like, that’s literally why they named Random House, random house because they knew it was random. And they were going to throw money at it because they thought that they could make good on investments in publishing.
Yes, that turns out to be absolutely true. It is random. I mean, when we think it’s predictable, like when we see something that we’re like, oh, yeah, I knew that would take off, then we’re like, oh, it must be 100% predictable. No, it’s not. It’s chaos. So sometimes it’s predictable, and sometimes it isn’t.
I do think that’s important to know, that when we do things in the timing that our intuition is telling us, there are things our intuition doesn’t know. It doesn’t know whether or not — like to use your example, the pilgrimage book — is this the perfect time right now and not a year from now?
Your intuition does not know that for sure. But what it does know is this is better timing than it was a year ago, or two years ago. It’s better timing than it was 10 years ago, because it’s you who’s writing it, right?
So you can never take yourself out of the equation, first of all.
If a book won’t leave you alone, sometimes you have to write it.
And if it will leave you alone, sometimes you have to leave it alone. And I think we make strategic intentional decision making, we worship it like it somehow is God. But that’s because we all think Captain America’s in charge of the industry, and he isn’t.
So if we acknowledge that there is some level of unpredictability and chance to this experience, regardless of what everyone who is successful wants to tell us, then we acknowledge that sometimes intuition is the best thing to follow because there is no predictable outcome that just because I make the smartest strategic decision intentionally that I can make, that it is going to have the outcome that I want it to have. Because that’s just not how the publishing industry works.
Joanna: So interesting. You did actually say near the beginning, that intuition can come into things like marketing. And yet that then does involve things like money, which is more specific than stories and ideas and muse and all of that kind of thing.
How can we both use our intuition in marketing and business, yet, also be a bit more pragmatic about it?
Becca: I love that question because I think it gets to the risk involved, right? Like, I always think that it’s important to be as cautious with risk as we can when we are risk averse.
Because a portion of the population is extremely risk averse and so they may be less likely to take risks with their money than they would be with writing a story. And that’s valid, I want to acknowledge that it’s okay to be that way. But I always want people to test their assumptions, and then live by the data that you get.
So if you continually try everything that every expert tells you, and it does not work, and you’re ignoring your intuition about marketing and money in order to do that, then stop listening and listen to your intuition instead. Because the intuition is trying to tell us something about ourselves.
So for instance, in marketing, there is a segment of people who are really excellent at social media, they have intuition about how to connect with people, and they can utilize it and they can grow social media platforms very quickly.
And then there are the — I’m just going to throw a number out that’s an assumption on my part — 85% of us who are not great at it. So we’re only ever going to get middling results. And then we want to ask ourselves the question, “Is this actually worth my time?“
And if I’m watching for the results, and I’ve given it a good try, and I’ve done everything that I should do for long enough to expect results, and I’m still not seeing results or I can’t tell the difference, and I always say, if you can’t tell the difference, then it’s not making a difference. So that is actually the answer itself.
Some of us are so committed to doing things the “smart, strategic way,” that we’re ignoring both the results that we’re getting, and also our own intuition, in order to do what we’re being told we should do, and I think that’s actually riskier.
From an objective perspective, if you have an intuition that is really talking to you loudly and you are ignoring it, I think that’s riskier than spending $10,000 trying to learn how to do Facebook ads in a way that you are completely not wired to do. Like, I think it’s a bigger risk to not listen to your intuition.
We do talk about intuitive ads, like running ads as an intuitive author, and what we’re trying to help authors realize is that you do not have to look at data all the time in order to make decisions, regardless of what you have been told.
If you are an intuitive author, there are certain questions that you need to learn how to ask yourself, and they’re often the questions you’re intuitively thinking to ask anyway. Things like, is it making me money, right? Very easy, big picture questions, but you’re trying to follow a system that someone else has told you is the correct system. And so you’re ignoring your own intuition at your peril.
So again, I think it’s riskier in marketing to not trust your intuition than it is to sometimes trust what is the “correct” thing to do, that isn’t actually working for you or delivering results.
Joanna: Coming back to emotion, you talked about it a number of times, but at the beginning, talking about the emotions around intuition. And if I hate something, then of course, I mean, either I hate it because my intuition is telling me I hate it, or that’s not how I want to spend my time, you know, with something I hate. And I think ads is a great example because I do ads, but I have a lot of outsourcing. So I don’t have to do it myself.
But talking about podcasting, I didn’t know I would love podcasting back in 2009 when I started this show.
I just thought, oh, this is interesting. Lots of authors don’t know how to use any kind of tech stuff, and back in 2009, you had to use tech stuff more than we do now. And so it was like, well, I could maybe make some friends because I didn’t have any author friends.
So I went into podcasting with this sort of intuition to try it. And then I guess over the years I’ve just kept leaning in and leaning into this as my primary marketing thing.
Do you think that podcasting for me has been an intuitive process that I’ve done through emotion?
Becca: Yep. In fact, I think that is often how it works. And I think you’ve nailed the word hate, which I’m always using this example in trying to talk to authors about marketing.
Like if you hate social media, you’re not going to be good at it. So either find someone to do it who is better at it than you are or find a way to do it that you can live with, whatever that is. And that might take some experimentation.
Then on the flip side, when you are a curious person, and you naturally want to try everything out, and your intuition is hey, let me try this thing, then often that emotion of interest or of curiosity is exactly the thing you should be following.
So those people who I coached who were into TikTok really early because they love new technology and it interested them, all strategic signs pointed to, at the time before BookTok became a thing, pointed to the fact that this was a waste of their time. But their intuition was, no, this interests me, I like it, I want to try it out. And then they ended up being among the first early adopters of BookTok.
So when you think about what your intuition is guiding you towards, often that interest or curiosity is either guiding you towards something that will actually be successful for you, because again, our instincts are often the things that guide our intuition and your instincts for, first of all, like the deep thinking that you do, that is something that not everyone can do for themselves.
So having a resource to be able to listen to where someone has deeply thought through all of these topics in the author world and can find experts to give us, like that is a huge gold mine resource for authors.
And because you’re naturally good at that, it’s a good alignment for your personality to do something like that, especially as early as you did it.
So that intuition wasn’t something you could have known in the moment.
But the emotional interest that you had was the intuition that you should have listened to, and did, thankfully, because we all appreciate that you did that so early.
Just being able to know that Joanna will think about this, and I will be able to go and listen to her think about this, or the outcome of her having thought about this deeply, because we know we can trust you to do that. Like that is a voice in the industry that needs to be heard. And because you did it, you responded to your intuition, it was successful.
I wish more of us would have that level of trust of our intuition because there are so many times when I sit across from someone in coaching, and they’ll say, “oh, I want to do this thing.” And I’m like, oh, that’s such a good fit for you, like it’s so perfect.
But they keep questioning it because, oh no, everybody says I’m supposed to do TikTok or everybody says I’m supposed to do this. And I’m like, everyone is wrong. Just do what your intuition is telling you to do.
Joanna: Thank you for your kind words, I appreciate that. And yet, I would also say to people —
I have certainly not always been this confident in what I’m talking about.
You know, I’ve had all the fears that everyone has. When I started out, it was about nine months before anyone even listened to this show. It was years before I made any decent money from my books.
And so I guess it’s not like, oh, you follow your intuition, and next week you’re a bestseller.
Becca: Exactly. Like you have to know, on some level, that you’re willing to take the risk that your intuition will be wrong. In terms of like, my intuition, especially things like the adoption curve of podcasting, where you got into podcasting, it’s much more likely that your intuition was going to pay off than it is in 2023 when podcasting has been around for two decades. You know what I mean?
Like, it’s a different question, when you’re looking at: is it naturally going to lead me to success? But what I have seen is that you will be more successful following your intuition than you will not following it.
So the people who are doing things that are against their intuition, that are only because someone else says they’re supposed to do it and are not seeing results. And those results make sense, right? Because I don’t like it. I’m not good at it. It’s not something I think is valuable. I don’t see the value. And yet I’m being told I should do it, and so I’m doing it.
That’s the kind of question that I want us to question the premise of. Like, should you really be doing this thing? Because what everyone says in terms of, you know, should you be doing X, Y, or Z, like, whatever it is, if you are not good at it, then no, you should not be doing it. Because there’s too much to do. Like there’s too many potential things to do for us to do everything.
In a crowded marketplace, we have to be able to stand out at what we’re doing in order to be able to use it as a selling tool.
It’s so crowded, like the Gold Rush is over. Everything is crowded, everything is saturated.
So the rules change when there’s no more blue water. When the sharks are there, we have to be better in order to get food. And that’s the downside of a crowded marketplace.
But the upside is there’s still plenty of food around, so just like narrow down and listen to your intuition and be willing to be better at a few things rather than trying to be half-good at everything. Those are gold rush rules.
Joanna: There’s a lot of blue water in pilgrimage!
Becca: I’m so excited. It’s so funny because when you were talking about timing, I was like, oh, I can see it, though. Like, I can see why this is the right time for something like that, because we’re all coming out of sort of the burnout era where everyone is finally listening about burnout.
Like when I was talking about it, you know, four years ago, nobody wanted to hear about it. Because they’re all like, “We’re fine. We’re fine. We’re not going to burn out.”
And I’m like, oh, just wait for it. Wait for it, wait for it, and now. Now, I’m getting calls from publishers about like, “can we please buy this book from you?” And I’m like, now everybody’s listening, right?
But four or five years ago, they weren’t. And that’s why I’m like, oh, this book is going to be so good for us. Because what we need is, if I’m not going to burn out, again, like if I’ve been through it, I’m recovering, and I want to not do that again, what am I going to do instead to make sure that I don’t go down that road again? And how am I going to realign myself?
So things like sustainability and deeper connection and what we call like making energy pennies, where you’re intentionally trying to create energy for yourself in order to sustain a long life and a long career, those are going to be the topics of the next three to five years.
And so you’re essentially sort of like kicking that off, right? Which is, again, totally normal if you’re futuristic. Like, I love that.
Joanna: I’m pleased you think that, and you’re right. And you’re talking about making energy pennies, I think all of us, you know, exercise and being out in nature, and walking, these are kind of human things.
And also, I was narrating my audiobook earlier, so it’s all in my head. But this sense that as writers, we’re just in our heads all the time, it’s almost like we forget our physical bodies exist.
I mean, even you and I, right now, we’re talking through the ether, and it’s two brains connecting, but we’re not physically with each other. We’re not looking at each other, it’s an audio only. It’s like we’re two brains connecting through voice, and yet we have physical bodies, and those physical bodies carry our brains.
So in terms of sustainability, just before we finish, let’s talk about that. You coach writers every day, you see writers on every spectrum of every personality type, and people who write differently and release differently and publish differently. So what do you see as your recommendations or, I guess, commonalities for authors who want this sustainable career as a writer for the long term in order not to burn out?
What are you seeing in terms of the best way to be sustainable in a creative career?
Becca: Conquering the fear that we have that we’re not going to get what we want out of the career, like 100%. Because the fear is the thing that’s driving us to burn ourselves out.
The fear that if I don’t do it this way, I’m not going to make money. If I don’t do it this way, I’m not going to have a long career. I’m going to miss out on something if I don’t do absolutely everything.
And then I think the most important knowledge that we can have is that everyone in this industry who’s a nonfiction person, including me, is giving you a perspective on how author life can be done.
Every single one of us, not the perspective on how it should be done in order to have success. And if we could just change our expectations of how we look at the people who are helping us who are being good, helpful people who are very sure that their way is the correct way and who should be, again, because like all experts, they’ve had success doing what they are doing.
But the downside is from someone whose job is to sit with authors for 45 minutes at a time, all day, every day, I see the outcome of the people who have tried to “do it all,” in quotes, with capital letters, and who are burned out because they were doing everything out of a fear place.
And I think one of the best things that can happen in our — and what burnout often does is it forces us to reckon with the fact that we were doing all of this because we were afraid. My book isn’t going to sell, I’m not going to be able to do this, I have this dream that I’m holding on to and what happens if it doesn’t manifest itself.
Then we make a lot of our decisions about how much to take on based on fear, and we don’t know it.
Because we don’t realize that our brains are wired for survival, and so anytime fear kicks in, your brain is like, well, we have to do that because if you’re afraid of it, then that must mean that we need it in order to survive. And we don’t.
We will survive if our books don’t sell. We will survive if we don’t have a long term career.
And I mean that unfortunately, like, there are a lot of us who will not have long term careers because the industry cannot support 2 million authors having six figure careers. It is not possible for that to happen.
And so the unfortunate essential pain, as we call it, is that not everybody will be able to do this. But that doesn’t mean you, in particular, can’t do it. And that fear that you might not be able to do it or that if you don’t do this, then you won’t have it, that is a manipulation tactic that your brain is using to try to keep you alive.
We have to calm that fear and answer the question. Like, what will happen if in five years, I have not sold more than $1,000 on every book that I am writing? Like if each of the individual books that I write have not made more than $1,000. And I have to reckon with what might happen if that happens, because if I don’t, that fear is going to drive me to burnout over and over and over and over again.
That is why we’re making so many of our decisions, including: do I pay for this class or conference? Do I pay for this book? Do I spend money on this advertising? Do I hire this expert consultant?
So many of us are making those choices out of fear and we don’t realize it. And that’s why when we do our public live coaching, and whenever I’m at a conference, I’m always listening for, “but what are you afraid is not going to happen? Or what are you afraid is going to happen?”
Because if we don’t deconstruct that part of yourself and calm your survival mechanism down, you’re going to continue over and over again to make those decisions out of fear.
Then you’re going to not listen to your intuition because you think it’s risky to listen to it. And so I really think, and some of this might include therapy for some of us, I’m just going to acknowledge some of us have trauma around not getting what we want or around not actualizing our desires, and we can’t just talk ourselves into letting the fear go.
But some of us do just need to consistently confront the fear and make a plan for what happens and then act in spite of that fear because we are not making good decisions when we are in survival mode.
Joanna: Oh, you are very wise.
Becca: It helps that I coach people so much because I just see it literally every hour of every day. It’s like, I feel like all I do, somebody joked that you’re the pastor, right? Because all you’re doing is like addressing these existential issues. And I’m like, because that’s what’s making us act this way.
Sometimes we actually need spirit care because our spirit is the place where the tension is. And we’re disconnected from ourselves because we’re so caught up in fear, and that is literally what we need, is somebody to sit with us and remind us, “but it’s going to be okay, though,” like, “but you’re going to survive this,” or “it will be okay,” or “but you can do this,” and “but you have all the tools you need.” Because that is often what we need to hear when we can’t produce it for ourselves. Like, we just need someone else to remind us what’s true.
Joanna: Absolutely. And that’s why I keep reading your books, and you have a fantastic Patreon.
So tell us where people can find you and everything you do online.
Becca: So the QuitCast is the easiest place to find me on YouTube. And we consistently talk about these kinds of topics there. And it’s also free, because everything else that I do, other than the once-a-month public coaching is not free, because of course, like I need to make a living. But the QuitCast, I try to do as much content delivery there as I can. That’s the free channel.
And then beyond that, I would read the books, like read the intuitive book if you’re resonating with this information because so much of how we act has to do with whether we trust other people more than we trust ourselves.
I think my goal in writing that book, and in doing a lot of the work I do, is to help us learn how to trust the intuition that we have because so much of our intuition is magical.
Like I joke about this in the book, every single time in my life I have tried to do something intentionally smart and strategic, it has bombed. Every time. There isn’t a single example of something that I did intentionally with a plan that has gone successfully. But every time I do the thing that’s in front of me to do that my intuition pings about, every time.
Like I just moved across the country because I showed up somewhere to do research for a book and my intuition was like, you need to move here right now. And I applied for an apartment like the next day and moved in the day after that. And it has been the best decision that I’ve ever made. And yeah, it was super risky, but I’ve learned about myself that my intentions are always off, and my intuition is always on, for me. Like it’s not always the most monetarily easy thing to do, but it is on, for me.
So my goal, I think, in this book was to help people learn how to develop that level of trust. Because for those of us who are intuitive, that’s where the magic is. That’s where our happiest moments are going to be. It’s where our success is going to be. Not listening to your intuition is the riskiest thing you can ever do if you are intuitive because it’s the only thing that’s going to lead you where you need to go.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Becca. That was great.
Becca: It was so great to be here. And honestly, thank you for asking me. I love this show, and I love your style of interview. It’s such an honor to be here.
The post Intuitive Writing And Book Marketing With Becca Syme first appeared on The Creative Penn.
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Author: Joanna Penn