Janna Maron – How to Finally Finish Your Book: 3 Shifts to Make it Happen
Nonfiction Authors Association Podcast | June 15, 2022
“When I say mindset, I’m talking about the way we speak to ourselves. So it’s always about self-talk. And in this case, I have a very metta mantra that I use. And that is this, the story I tell myself creates the reality that I experience.”
Janna Maron is a professional editor with nearly 20 years of experience helping writers to complete their projects and produce the best work possible. Her experience includes time as a magazine editor, college professor, agency or editorial director and Content Director for a popular Internet brand. She’s worked with authors on everything from self-published Amazon bestsellers to traditionally published New York Times bestsellers. She’s also the founding editor and publisher of under the gum tree, a literary arts magazine that publishes creative nonfiction and visual art. You can find out more about Janna at www.jannamarlies.com.
Find the video podcast, show notes, links, quotes, and podcast transcript below.
Live on June 15, 2022 at 10:00am PT
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In this episode…
- Three factors that may prevent us from finishing our book.
- Three shifts to finally finishing your book.
- Being intentional about your mindset.
- The best time to pay for a coach or developmental editor.
- How to embrace structure in your life and schedule.
- What belongs in the book from your blog.
- Discussing the spiritual journey of writing her book.
- Supporting women that are working on book projects.
Hello and welcome to the interview series for the Nonfiction Authors Association. Today’s session is with Janna Maron and we will be talking about how to finally finish your book, and 3 shifts to make it happen . I’m Carla King, your host, and I’m happy to have you with us today. This interview will last only 30 minutes and you can find recordings on our Nonfiction Authors Association website and social media platforms including YouTube.
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And now I’d like to introduce our guest.
Janna Maron is a professional editor with nearly 20 years of experience helping writers to complete their projects and produce the best work possible. Her experience includes time as a magazine editor, college professor, agency or editorial director and Content Director for a popular Internet brand. She’s worked with authors on everything from self-published Amazon bestsellers to traditionally published New York Times bestsellers. She’s also the founding editor and publisher of Under the Gum Tree, a literary arts magazine that publishes creative nonfiction and visual art. You can find out more about Janna at moretothestory.co.
Hi Janna, welcome to the podcast.
Janna: Thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.
Carla: Thank you. Yes. And okay, we’re talking about how to finally finish your book: three shifts to make it happen. And, you know, I’ve been there, we’ve all been there. We tinker with our books so much, rewrite chapter one 50 times, get caught up in copy editing and formatting our Word doc–probably you’re going to tell us not to do that, right? Perhaps we should start there. What are a few things that prevent us from finishing the work? Things we shouldn’t be doing–warning signs that we’re wasting time.
Janna: Yeah, I mean, those all are really good examples of things…that you rattled off. Things that we often find ourselves just kind of feeling like, ‘Oh, I’m working on my manuscript, but it’s not really true productive work, and moving it forward toward completion.’ So, there’s three things that I see frequently in the writers that I work with. And the first is, they often will look for something that they feel like is going to fix their manuscript or book project–feeling like if they just go to this one conference, or this one workshop, or work with this one author–they’re always looking for something external that’s going to solve whatever’s happening with their project. And really, what I found is that, the shifts that I teach–they’re internal. So they’re often like, ‘Let’s turn the gaze inward, and find out what’s going on mentally, maybe even spiritually, to find out what’s keeping us from getting our book done.’
Another thing is–writers often get hung up on structure. They want to know what the structure of their manuscript is going to be, and that is important. Yes, it’s absolutely important. But when I work with writers, I tell them, ‘Don’t focus on it so much. Don’t fixate on it, it will come. If you trust yourself, if you trust the process, the structure will reveal itself.’ And sometimes it’s the last thing that clicks. You have all of this material, and you have to spend time just kind of futzing around, and moving things around, and playing with the work, until it clicks. And a lot of the work that I do is really just helping writers learn to trust themselves, and the project, and the process, and their work, and let the structure kind of arise out of that.
And then the last thing I see is–we can’t believe everything we think about our work. And that’s a mindset piece. I know you’re going to ask me about that, too. So, I won’t say too much more about it. But we have to be intentional about that mindset, because often mental barriers are the biggest things that are just preventing us from getting the work done.
Carla: That’s right. And we hear that term bandied about a lot – the term mindset. And in this case, with our writing, it’s particularly difficult, I think, because it’s so personal. So, can you just explain what you mean by mindset here? And how do we turn it on, or turn it around?
Janna: Sure. When I say mindset, I’m talking about the way we speak to ourselves. So, it’s always about self-talk. And in this case, I have a very metta mantra that I use. And that is–’the story I tell myself creates the reality that I experience.’ And I got that from my therapist years ago. And it was–he was tickled to pieces because as a writer, he told me, ‘You understand how stories work, and you understand how to construct stories, you understand the power of stories.’ So, this is about being aware of the story that we’re telling ourselves about the story we’re writing. So, it’s very metta, like I said, and we can change that story. It’s something that I have learned how to do–where I just started treating my thoughts as sentences that I’m writing, and even just writing them down on the page, and then editing the sentences–literally crossing out words, changing words. So that, that story I’m telling myself turns into something that’s actually helpful and useful instead of, ‘Oh, this sucks. This is no good. I can’t do this. I don’t have the talent.’ You know, whatever is the story that we are telling ourselves about our work.
Carla: So were you saying that you’re actually writing down a story about yourself here? What does that look like?
Janna: Yeah, so as soon as I hear that kind of internal voice in my head, I–it doesn’t happen instantly, you know, this is an ongoing practice, and some days, I’m better at it than others–I’ll just think to myself, ‘Oh, I just told myself that I’m never going to figure this out. I’ve been working on this piece in my manuscript, and I just told myself, I’m never going to figure this out. So let me actually write that sentence down.’ And I write the words, ‘I’m never going to figure this out.’ And as an editor, I feel I have a little bit of an advantage, because I’ll even, like, use a little old school editor, cross out curly Q mark to replace a word like, ‘I will figure this out,’ or, ‘I will eventually figure this out.; You know, whatever it is that makes it feel like something I can own in the moment. Because sometimes, ‘I’m gonna figure this out,’ feels too, like, I’m not quite there yet. But I can edit it a little bit closer to home and say, ‘I haven’t figured it out yet, but I will.’ You know? Just kind of playing around with the words, just like we would in any piece of ‘real’ or ‘craft’ writing that we’re doing.
Carla: Got it. That’s interesting. Thank you for that example. And it really illustrates our internal dialogue and attending to that–the little voice about our abilities. And especially, you know, for nonfiction authors–about our own authority, right? Who are we to write this book? Whether it’s memoir, a business book, philosophy, whatever. So, turning that off is super important. I think we all know that. And that tool, again, about writing it down. That’s a great exercise. So that’s self-talk. Now, what about others? How important is the way we speak to others about our work?
Janna: Oh my gosh, it’s huge. Because often, you’re speaking to others about your work the same way, or even worse, than you’re talking to yourself. Because we’ll be in these conversations, describing our book project or whatever and say something like, ‘Well, I don’t. I don’t really know if anybody’s going to want to read this.’ Or, ‘I don’t really know how relevant it is.’ You know? I had a client last year who came to me with that– that was her story.’ I don’t really feel like this is very relevant.’ She was writing about consumer–the consumer culture–and a year of no buying with her family that she did. And she felt like, ‘Is it relevant now, given what we’ve been through with the pandemic and such?’ And really, what we worked on was, yeah, we worked on getting her manuscript done. But we also worked on–how is she speaking about her work? How is she seeing ways that it is relevant, that it does connect with readers who are different from…The other story that is common is, ’Well, there’s already hundreds of books out there on this topic, who’s going to want to read mine,’ right? Why should I write and finish this book, because there’s already however many books on the same topic? Well, we have to start to learn and understand that no one’s going to write about it the same way you are going to write about it. And there are things about you and your unique perspective and story that will connect with readers differently than all those other books. And really coming to terms with that and owning that. And being confident in that. And that client, who I was just talking about–she finished her manuscript with me, submitted it to a small press manuscript contest, won that contest, and now her book is published.
Carla: Excellent. Got it. So, she called in you as a pro. A lot of us struggle along all by yourselves for way too long. We do use writing groups, and critique partners, and beta readers, if we know how to find them. But when is it time to pay for a coach or developmental editor?
Janna: I think you can do it sooner than most people think or expect. I think there’s a lot of, kind of maybe general consensus around, ‘Oh, you have to have a complete manuscript to go and hire an editor, because you want to deliver them your complete manuscript.’ But the wonderful thing about a developmental editor, especially, is that– that word ‘developmental’, that means we are developing the book and the manuscript with you, including the idea and how to best frame it, what information to include. Especially if you have a manuscript where you feel like you’ve been stuck, or it’s not quite done, developmental editor can come in and say, ‘Oh, here’s where I see these gaps. Here’s where I see opportunities to expand, have you ever thought about including XYZ?, I really feel like that might be a missing component to what you’re working on.’
So, you don’t have to have a complete manuscript to work with a developmental editor. In fact, I’ve worked with several clients, before they’ve even started writing–they had the book concept. And they come to me. And one of the other benefits of a developmental editor is–you have a thought partner while you are writing your book. Someone who you can go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about this, how does that sound?’ And they can reflect back to you, and even expand on those ideas, and kind of give you some direction or guidance in how to go about framing that and shaping it.
So, I definitely get two kinds of clients. The first is–they’ve been working on a manuscript for years and years and years by themselves, they feel stuck, they feel like they’re never going to finish. And then we come in there and come alongside them, do all the things that I was just describing about what it’s like to work with a developmental editor, but also just providing some structure around, ‘Okay, send me 30,000 words by this deadline.’ And you know you’re going to get intense feedback on that bulk of material. ‘Do some revision, send me another 30,000 words by this deadline.’ And by the end of it, we ideally have a complete draft. And then the second type of client I get is benefiting from that same structure but starting with little or no material generated.
Carla: Got it. Thank you. Okay, so we covered the three mindsets. I mean the three shifts? Why don’t you go over the three shifts.
Janna: Yeah, sure. So, the three shifts that I teach are to embrace structure. And structure, in this context, is not your book structure. Its structure for your life and your schedule. And a lot of creatives often will kind of cringe when they hear that word ‘structure’, because they want to engage in their creative process when they feel like it, or when they’re inspired. And the problem with that is, it’s reactionary, it’s not consistent, it’s not sustainable. So, you don’t see consistent progress unless you really are establishing a structure for yourself.
The second shift is to love your story. And that really does encompass that mindset stuff we were talking about. Because if you love your story, you wouldn’t talk about it probably the way that you typically talk about how nobody’s going to want to read it or care about it, right?
And then the third shift is to create a sanctuary. And when I teach this framework, it’s a pyramid, and it’s layered. And so the sanctuary stuff is really more top of the pyramid layers around creating some rituals, cultivating that creativity. So, you’re cross training your brain and engaging in other types of creative activities that are not just words and writing. And taking care of your wellness, so that you are in the best physical condition you can be to ‘perform,’ which is similar to athletes, but our performance is solitary, and mental when we’re engaging with words on the page. So that’s kind of a very high-level summary of my three shifts framework.
Carla: And I am thinking that your exercise about writing down and editing your intention, and talking to others–how to talk to others about your book–is part of that overall, bigger framework.
Janna: Yes, absolutely.
Carla: Yeah, I’d like to hear more about what you do. But before we dive into that, are there any other tips, little tips you might want to share with us?
Janna: So the main thing is–the work that I do with writers is all about helping them and supporting them in figuring out what works for them. Figure out what works for you, and learning to trust yourself and your process. There really isn’t any prescription for being successful, other than figuring out what works for you and trusting that, you know. We often hear like, ‘Oh, so and so writer does XYZ, so I have to do that.’ Or, you know, the common kind of myth is, if you don’t get up and write every day at 5am, first thing before the sun, you’re not a real writer, whatever. You know, I really think that’s kind of bullshit. Hope that’s okay for me to say. And we get ourselves kind of wrapped up in, ‘Oh, I should be doing this. I should be doing that.’ When it’s like, no, no, no, there are no shoulds here. Do what works for you. Trust yourself, trust your process.
Carla: Right. And I know, you’re also a magazine editor. So I just wanted to throw this in. How important is it for authors to start sharing their work in little pieces ahead of publication date? That’s not only a promotional tool, but it could also be a confidence building tool, do you think?
Janna: Sure, sure. I get this question a lot. And I really don’t have a preference, to be honest. Because, as far as I’m concerned, it goes back to what I was just saying about what works for you, and trust the process. I’m someone who hasn’t been able to manage both my book length manuscript and short form submitting to literary publications , or other types of magazine publications. Primarily because it takes a different kind of mental approach for me to work on short form versus long form. So, I had to choose what’s my priority, and my priority has been my book manuscript. And that’s kind of how I explain things to my clients too. Like, ‘If you feel like you can do both, then great, do both. But if not, make your book your priority. And don’t feel bad or guilty about not submitting and not publishing.’ Yes, it can be a way to kind of build your platform or get exposure or whatever–all those things. But you can finish your book manuscript, get it to a place where you’re happy with it, and then you can shift gears and prioritize maybe taking parts of the manuscript, shaping them, getting them ready for submitting to magazines for publishing,
Carla: And I know a lot of people also feel pressure to start a blog, and share their writing there. Especially nonfiction authors–possibly not memoir–but business authors, are kind of all about that. A lot of them are all about that, right? They’re building their business with a book. So, you know, I’ve known nonfiction authors to blog their book, right? And that’s how they get it out there–in little pieces. So that is a huge body of work that you might look at, as an editor and go, ‘Okay, what belongs in the book?’
Janna: Right, and I have done that for clients in the past, where we start with a ton of blog content. Not all of it is necessarily relevant for books. Sometimes what happens is–we can use…the book itself ends up being comprised of maybe like, two thirds of content from the blog, but then there is still some material that needs to be generated new and fresh for the book. I think that’s a good practice regardless. Because especially if you have an audience that’s been following you and reading everything on your blog, and then they get your book, and they’re like, ‘Oh, there’s nothing new in here?’ You do want to have something that’s a little fresh and new for readers in a book.
Carla: That’s true. And I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, I don’t want to read the whole blog anyway. It’s backwards. It’s all messed up.’ So, you know, putting it in book form is nice for them, especially if they really like the author, and they can really help them. Um, yeah, I’m kind of a blogger. So, I like that idea. But it’s travel. And I think business bloggers are helped, too. What would you say for memoirists?
Janna: About the blogging question?
Carla: About sharing ahead of time. Yeah. Yeah. I know, that’s a tough question. Because there are several kinds of memoir. I mean, mine are adventure travel memoirs, which are a little easier than something like a healing memoir. But there are also business memoirs and career memoirs, too.
Janna: Yeah. Or kind of like–hybrid prescriptive personal story combination, where they’re using their personal story as a teaching tool, or a way to show readers, ‘Here’s what I did, and here’s how you can do it too,’ kind of thing. So, for memoir, I think it can work similarly, where, even if you’re not ready to, or comfortable sharing your personal story that you’re writing about for the book, maybe there are lessons, or takeaways, or kind of like how-to’s that you’ve learned and developed out of your personal experience that can be the thing that you share publicly. And still save the personal, in depth, maybe more intense story for the book. Does that answer the question?
Carla: Yes, it does. Thank you. And I suppose that is when somebody would call you and go, ‘Janna helped me figure out what I should share,’ and, ‘What belongs in my healing memoir?’ Any book. So, why don’t you just tell us about your book and your services, and how you help authors. And remind us also how to find you online.
Janna: Sure, sure. Thank you for asking about my book. It’s still in the works, but it is called–the working title is,–So I Married an Atheist. It’s a memoir. It’s my journey of being raised as an Evangelical Christian and marrying an atheist, which is a big no, no in the Christian culture. And along the way, I ended up being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. So, there’s some, you know, just addressing the spiritual journey and the emotional traumas of indoctrination that can happen in a culture like evangelicalism. So that’s my book in progress.
And then the work that I do is supporting women working on book projects to get their manuscripts complete. So I do focus on getting the manuscripts complete. And then once that’s complete, there is additional support for helping them figure out next steps–whatever they want to do to pursue publishing. That’s with my company More To The Story. And our main offering there is a 12-month program, which is a combination of coaching and editing. And we’ve had clients, like I said, with my client example, who finished her book, submitted to a contest, won the contest, and now her book is published. I’ve also had clients sign with agents, and then several others winning or placing as finalists in manuscript contests. So that’s really exciting for us. All the information about that is online at moretothestory.co. And then, with Under the Gum Tree–you mentioned the magazine in my intro, thank you for mentioning that as well–we publish creative nonfiction and visual art quarterly, and we are open for submissions. So, learning about how to do that is at underthegumtree.com.
Carla: Well, I know so many people who are gonna be thrilled, and you’re gonna get a bunch of influx of stories. And art especially, too. So thank you for that. And your book sounds fascinating. I’m sorry about the MS. But this is the thing that we need to share. I mean, it’s such a compelling topic. We want to know how that turns out.
Janna: I am in remission, and it’s been 10 years–almost exactly 10 years–since my diagnosis. So, I am managing it, it is in remission. But I include that in the little kind of synopsis of the book when I talk about it, because I do believe that emotional trauma can manifest physically in the body. And that’s part of what I explore in my book.
Carla: Wow, great. What a multifaceted podcast interview here. I really appreciate you being on for us, and thanks for being our guest today.
Oh, thank you, Carla. It’s been so wonderful.
And thank you to our listeners for joining us today and every week. For a list of guests and topics just check our schedule on the site, use your favorite search engine, or better yet, sign up for our mailing list at NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.com.
Quotes from our guest…
“When I say mindset, I’m talking about the way we speak to ourselves. So it’s always about self-talk. And in this case, I have a very meta mantra that I use. And that is this, the story I tell myself creates the reality that I experience.”
“We have to start to learn and understand that no one’s going to write about it the same way you are going to write about it. And there are things about you and your unique perspective and story that will connect with readers differently than all those other books. And really coming to terms with that and owning that. And being confident in that.”
“The wonderful thing about a developmental editor especially is that that word developmental, that means we are developing the book and the manuscript with you, including the idea and how to best frame it, what information to include.”
“I do believe that emotional trauma can manifest physically in the body.”
“There really isn’t any prescription for being successful, other than figuring out what works for you and trusting that, you know, we often hear like, oh, so and so writer does XYZ, so I have to do that.”
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