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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Writer's Workout: A Q and A with Author Christina Katz



When I started freelancing more than 15 years ago, there were no blogs to help point me in the right direction. I relied on books like Writer's Market to learn about how to pitch and publish my writing. Since then, I've read dozens of books on freelancing and writing (and written a few of my own), so I was excited to do a Q and A with well-known writing instructor and coach, Christina Katz. She recently published a new book, The Writer's Workout: 366 Tips, Tasks & Techniques from your Writing Career Coach, which you'll learn more about below 

So, what’s The Writer’s Workout all about?

The Writer’s Workout contains 366 ideas—one idea per day—intended to encourage writers into prosperous action. It reviews critical skills for every writer such as improving craft, learning to sell work, how and when to specialize, ways to keep learning and growing, self-promotion from the basics through advanced topics, and how to balance traditional publication with self-publication.

What makes The Writer’s Workout different from your first two books?

Like all my books, The Writer’s Workout is a mashup of various types of writing instruction. However this book contains a distillation of my experience, my students’ collective experiences over the past decade, and the universal experience of being a writer across the ages in the form of what I hope are 366 timeless quotes. This is my third book and it differs from my first two books quite a bit in focus, objective, and format.

How is The Writer’s Workout different from other writing books already out there?

One thing that makes The Writer’s Workout unique is that the rise and fall of the how-to curve is set against the backdrop of the seasons of the year. The seasonal backdrop helped me deliver advice for writers on four levels: beginner, intermediate, seasoned pro, and veteran—each paralleling a season: spring, summer, fall, or winter. The result, I hope, is one idea every day that will help writers find and maintain literary momentum all year long in these highly distracted times.

Some people say these are tough times for writers. Others say there are opportunities around every corner. What do you say?

I say we are living in a gig economy, where professionals are stringing freelance jobs together into creative careers. We’re all doing the best we can, finding and maintaining our momentum. Not only can The Writer’s Workout assist folks who are just getting started supplementing their income with writing, it can help people who have already been writing professionally recognize that there are more opportunities to build income streams writing than any of us have realized. And then it’s just a matter of choosing the goals that will best suit your goals.

How did you come to write The Writer’s Workout?

Prior to landing the deal for this book, I was offered the opportunity to write a different book about how to be an organized writer—a topic that, unfortunately, did not feel like a good fit for the way I work.

I recommended a former student for the job and started asking myself, if not that book, then what book did I want to write? Jane Friedman, then publisher at Writer’s Digest, and I sat down in an airport restaurant after the Writer’s Digest conference in January 2010, and brainstormed the idea that evolved into The Writer’s Workout. Basically, I wanted to encapsulate everything that I’d learned from working closely with writers over ten years. Two years and many thousands of words later, here it is.

I understand your book is almost 400-pages long, yet you offer classes on writing “short stuff” and “micro-publishing.” How do you reconcile this apparent double standard?

You have to look at it this way: the book is 366 short pieces collected and placed in an order that creates a longer movement. That’s exactly how I was taught to write fiction in graduate school. This write short before you write long school-of-thought is also how I teach writers to draft and polish publishable work. We start short and then extend the jumps until, next thing you know, the writer is writing long pieces like features, e-books and even books. How? By pulling together shorter pieces to create longer pieces.

You have been called a “gentle taskmaster” by your students. What does this mean and why would writers need this kind of help?

A coach is a person who trains others to perform better. Every writer needs a kick in the pants now and then. This book has plenty of boots in the caboose and also acknowledges the challenging times we’re living in. Reading this book is like having a personal coach for your writing career, who holds you accountable to your potential, every day of the year. Get this book if you would like to have your own personal coach without the massive expense of paying for one. You’ll be your own best writing coach by the time the book is done.

Our workdays are constantly disrupted these days. What do you say to the writer who has trouble focusing and following through?

I never hear students in my training groups complaining about dramas or distractions in their lives. If something upsets their focus, it’s a major life disturbance like a trip to the emergency room, a spouse’s job loss, or a death in the family. That’s life calling, not a distraction.

Our attention can be hijacked by one hundred and one meaningless distractions per minute. I say turn up the focus and the distractions will fall away. Drama and distraction are not necessary for self-expression but they sure can impede it. I say keep the drama on the page. You can get hooked on making grounded creative progress just as you can get hooked on chasing every distraction and fanning the flames of every potential drama.

Any final comments you would like to make in closing?

At the end of the day, it does not matter if you are self-published or traditionally published, blogging or not blogging, a book-sniffer or a digital diva, a social media maven or a social media deer-in-the-headlights—what matters is that you cultivate the creativity that wants to be expressed. That’s your job. Go do it!

***Thanks to Christina for her info-packed, practical book. If you've read it, please comment and me know what you think of it!