In this 10th episode of The Mindful Writer, I am joined by Saralyn Richard, author of award-winning mysteries and creative writing tutor.
Before I introduce you to Saralyn let me update you on my writing journey.
Since getting back from my research visit to the Yorkshire reservoir, I have been impatient to write this story about a sunken village. For the first time as a writer, I am experiencing flashes of scenes and dialogue playing out in my head when I am not writing. This story is like an insistent child nagging me to drop everything and give it my full attention. Unfortunately, that is not possible. I am preparing for the launch of The Forever Cruise on 1st December, submitting The Last Act to publishers, working with the Frinton Literary Festival Committee to deliver a programme of author events in October, and getting ready for my holiday next week! All exciting things – but each of them competing for my attention.
This week’s guest Saralyn Richard has great words of advice on how to keep focused and make the most of every opportunity. So, let me introduce you.
Saralyn Richard writes award-winning mysteries. In this episode she tells me:
- How after losing her home and all of her possessions in Hurricane Ike, she learnt to focus on what was good in her life.
- How to keep focused
- How to make the most of every opportunity
- And above all … to ‘Bloom where you are planted.’
Deborah: I’m delighted to welcome Saralyn Richard today – award winning author of the Detective Parrot mystery series and creative writing tutor. So, welcome Saralyn.
Saralyn: Thank you so much. It’s great to be with you today, Deborah.
Deborah: You’re speaking from Texas, and I am from Essex in the UK. So, it’s wonderful that we can be talking from across the globe.
Saralyn: And that we have universal experiences.
Deborah: Absolutely. I think writing really connects people. Writing and reading connect people in a really important, meaningful way. It’s wonderful. But we’ll get to that. You describe yourself Saralyn, as a people person, and you say the most rewarding parts of the writing journey are those that connects you to people. So, let’s talk about networking. Why is this important? And what difference has it made to you and your work?
Saralyn: Well, on the professional side, networking gives you exposure. And exposure is more valuable than anything, it’s more valuable than sales. It’s a way of introducing you to readers that you don’t know. And, and to writers that you don’t know, and to all the people that are in the publishing industry that you don’t know. So, networking is an introduction to a whole world that is brand new. It’s educational, because you learn from every single person that you meet. And it helps you collaborate. And if you think that you’re going to be a successful writer, in your office all by yourself, you’re sadly mistaken, because writing requires collaboration. But on every level, as you go through the writing process, there are people that you need to work with. And if you don’t have the networking to help you get to those people, then you know you’re closing doors for yourself.
Deborah: I think it might be difficult for people who are very shy, because there are some authors I’ve met on social media, who really aren’t comfortable with connecting with people for all sorts of reasons. Is there any advice or thoughts you could give to help people who find it difficult?
Saralyn: I would say, start slow. Don’t try to connect with 1000 people in your first year as a writer, try to connect with five people. And if five is overwhelming, then try to connect with two people. The connection can be soft. Also, you don’t have to go meet them in person. You can meet them on social media, or you can meet them through a friend, you know, so that the new person is a friend of a friend. But make it a goal for yourself to expand your reach. Maybe just one person at a time or two people at a time. And take it slow. And once you have those successful, new friends – I’m just going to call them friends. It’s easier to make more. It increases geometrically, because those two people will introduce you to maybe two more people each. And so you’ll pull in that way. I mean, a lot of the people that I have met have led me to book clubs, or they’ve led me to organisational meetings, or you know, places where I have met a dozen people or 50 people. And so, it just grows. If you’re shy just think of it as a little seed that you’re planting. And then that seed is going to flourish and it will grow and prosper for you.
Deborah: I love that analogy, because I think everything, we put out there is like sowing seeds. You never know what might take root or where. Because as you go out and you network, and you meet people, unexpected people working across different professions across the world, you don’t know how that’s going to turn into a potential opportunity. Things come back to us, don’t they from most unlikely places? You throw all those seeds out. You don’t know what will take root or where you just have to keep on giving.
Saralyn: Well, it’s like I’ve just met you. And how would we have ever met we are continents apart, and oceans apart? And we would never have met if you hadn’t been committed to networking. And I hadn’t been committed to networking.
Deborah: And other people that led us to each other. It was an author who had contacted me to be interviewed on my other show, Castaway books, who then asked me if I was interested in working with your wonderful Author Talk network – with authors to interview. I told her about my show. And then and the Author Talk network became involved through another one of my guests, Grace Salmon. So, one person leads to another person, leads to another person – and all the opportunities that grow from that. It’s wonderful. And across the world.
Excellent. Let’s just talk about readers and connecting with them as well. Because there’s something really special isn’t there about your work going out there and then getting the feedback from readers? I sometimes think that any work of art is incomplete – the process is incomplete, until you have that feedback loop. You kind of create your art together with the person receiving it.
Saralyn: I also think that related to that, that a book is your book when you’re writing it. But once it’s out there and published, it’s no longer your book. That book belongs to the reader – to each one of the readers. So, what those readers see in the book is valid for them. And if a reader asks me, Well, what did you mean by this? I have to say, Well, what did you see in that? Because it’s for the reader to find his or her own insights. And the book is now theirs.
Deborah: Yes absolutely. I love it when readers come back – I’ve spoken to a number of book clubs now. Sometimes they come back with themes that I may not have picked up myself, or insights that I think, Oh yes, I hadn’t thought of that. It’s a two-way process, isn’t it?
Writers need to develop resilience, determination, and above all else, patience. And I have to admit that although I’m determined, and I’m pretty resilient, patience is my weakness. I want to see results. I’m hard on myself. I push myself. Waiting for the right thing to happen at the right time has been my mantra, because it’s not natural to me. It’s not my default position. What have you learned about yourself on the writing journey? And how have you developed a positive mindset?
Saralyn: Well, I have a lot of stories to tell. I’ve been collecting them for many, many years. I was an educator, and school administrator, and school improvement consultant. And that kept me so busy I couldn’t write. And it was a very frustrating. I was a frustrated writer, because I had always wanted to be a writer. And I didn’t have the time to do that until I gave up that other profession. I don’t have any regrets about that, because I was collecting stories all along and learning a lot about life and, and gathering these stories to tell. So now that I have the time – and I guess I had to practice patience, to get to that point where I have the time – I’m just so excited to be able to do what I’ve always wanted to do. So, every piece of writing is joyful for me. And mindful too. I bring years when I have thought about writing to the actual writing process. So, I’m happy to be able to practice the craft. I’m happy to be professional in my writing. And I just have fun with every single part of it.
As far as a positive mindset, I have learned to ignore those things that I can’t control. Like, if I get a bad review, I really have to let it just roll off my shoulders and not think about it, because I can’t control that. Why put my energy on something that is not, it’s not going to be a good use of my energy, it would be better for me to use my energy for something positive.
I also focus on using my time wisely and productively. Because I have all these stories, I don’t know how much time I have to tell them. And so, I really want to make sure that every writing year that I have, I really spend that improving my writing and bringing new stories to life.
Probably the third thing I have learned is that seeking answers and feedback from other people that I respect and trust is critical to good writing. You can’t write in a vacuum. People are going to see things in your writing that really kind of amaze you. And so, I have an alpha reader who is my husband. And then, I have a whole slew of beta readers who were in two different critique groups. I solicit input from them. And I really pay attention to what they see in the words, because readers will see the same things. So, I want to make sure that everything that comes out of my pen is what I intended. And I can’t do that alone. I have to depend on others for that feedback.
Probably the final thing would be I’ve learned how to avoid distractions. And I think that’s really critical in this day and age, with all the beeps and pings – phones ringing and text messages and advertisements and you know, one person screaming louder than the other trying to be heard. I think it’s really important for the writer to just go into the zone of the book and concentrate on that zone. And just block out all these other distractions. A distraction could be just something like a naysayer that oh, why do you spend so much time doing that? You’re never going to profit from it financially. And that might be true. But there are other reasons that you’re a writer besides just financial profit. And so, I just discard all of those things that might distract me from my purpose.
Deborah: Yes, silencing your inner critic, as well as all the outside noise and focusing in. Yes, I get that. Gosh, you brought up so many really helpful things I want to explore with you. Great words of wisdom, and lots of experience. The first one I wanted to think about was the bit about waiting and improving your craft. Because I think – especially new writers, now that we can publish independently – I think sometimes writers are so keen to get themselves published, or to find an agent, that they don’t wait and give themselves the time to flourish and blossom and become the writer that fulfils their potential. I always remember that in – I think it was the last adaptation of Little Women – Jo’s father says to her, ‘Your writing is your greatest gift. Don’t sell yourself short’. It’s when she was going to sell her stories to a magazine and she wasn’t developing the story that she could write.
And something else you said about letting go of the things you can’t control. I think if you haven’t got an agent, or you haven’t got a publishing contract – things aren’t moving as quickly and in the way you hope – trust the right thing will happen at the right time. Because you can’t control that. The universe, God, a greater higher power has a much better picture of the world and what’s there for you. So, all you can do is – do your best to produce the best work you can. When I look back, I very nearly got published with my very first novel, and it’s going back several years. Now, I’m so glad I didn’t, because if I had done, it wasn’t the best I could do. I have had years in which to get better, and I would have sold myself short. So, there is some wisdom in just waiting and being patient, don’t you think?
Saralyn: Well, rushing, doesn’t produce well in anything. Even if you rush to get dressed, you’re not going to look your very best. If you rush to get somewhere you may not actually get there faster. So, taking your time, having patience, knowing that every time that you practice, you’re getting better and better. All of those are very wise things for the new writer.
Deborah: The other thing is you were saying about limited time. You and I perhaps got into writing more toward once we’d finished our fulltime careers. I too used to be a consultant in health and social care, and that was about improving services. And I was in regulation. So, I had a similar sort of role to you. I was writing work and I wanted to write my creative writing. But coming to this as you retire, or in the later years, I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling about how many years have I got to produce this work and a feeling of impatience, that time could be limited. And that drives you a bit as well, doesn’t it?
Saralyn: It does. But the most important thing, I think, is to make the best of, of whatever stage you’re in. And that’s what I tried to do – just make the best of every day, every writing day, every promotional day. Whatever I’m doing that day, I try to make it the best.
Deborah: That’s really good advice. Give 100% to what you’re doing that day. And just because you’re a certain age doesn’t mean to say you’ve got less time than somebody any other age. We have no idea what the future holds.
How do you cope with rejection and disappointment?
Saralyn: Oh, I’m going to divert for a minute to a life experience that I had with a hurricane. I live in hurricane country. The city I live in is an island in on the Gulf Coast of Texas. And occasionally we have severe hurricanes with damage. In 2008, Hurricane Ike destroyed my house, and all of my possessions, everything. It was a traumatic event. And I learned at that time, a very important life lesson, which was not to dwell on what I have lost but to focus on what I still have – what is good in my life. So, every time I missed something like, Oh, I really miss my piano. I just cancelled that thought. And I was like, I really cherish my dogs. You know, I just concentrated on what I really do have that I do appreciate. And I do that same thing. With everything that happens to me in life. It’s a coping strategy, but it’s a good one. It helps me get over the really bad times and the very big losses. And it helps me find gladness and joy about something that I do have or something that I have gained. So, I really just don’t think about rejection and disappointment. I just push it over to the side. And I replace that thought with something that I’m grateful for.
Deborah: That’s amazing. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose everything. It’s been on my mind very much with events going on in the world at the moment – with Ukraine. Putting myself in the place of those people that have had to walk away from everything. And you did the same with a hurricane in. It’s heartbreaking. So, to have come through that, your emotional resilience and courage to find a positive way to look at it – that is incredible. So, I admire you very much for that.
Saralyn: Thank you. But it’s not really something that is to be admired as much as it’s just a life skill. And everybody can be grateful. I mean, gratitude is really helpful. In every situation, even if you’re not feeling down or disappointed. Gratitude is a great way to live your life.
Deborah: I agree. I do – every day, I think about all the things I’m grateful for. Because I do have a very blessed life. I’m very, very lucky. So, you’ve given many great words of wisdom, which will all be in the show notes, I always. But I always end with the key things from each interview, because there’s so much that’s shared, but have you any words of wisdom or a favourite mantra to leave us with or a quote you’d like to share?
Saralyn: Well, my favourite all time quote is something that I think is going to resonate with you. Because you’ve been using similar metaphors throughout this talk. And that is to bloom where you are planted. So many times, in my life, I’ve been planted in some situations that were not pleasant, or were difficult, challenging. But if you focus on blooming, where you’re planted, then it changes your whole attitude, it changes your whole perspective. And I think it makes you a better person, in this case, a better writer. Because, okay, my publisher is not one of the big five publishers, but I can bloom where I’m planted, and be the best author that I can with the publisher that I have. And I’m totally grateful for the publisher that I have. So that’s, that’s my mantra.
Deborah: It’s a beautiful mantra and a wonderful one to finish on. You’re quite right. It absolutely resonates with me. Thank you so much, Saralyn. It was a joy talking to you.
Saralyn: Thanks, Deborah.
Saralyn has invited you to join her my monthly newsletter for special opportunities, fun content, and ways to connect. Subscribe at http://saralynrichard.com.
This is the last episode in season one of The Mindful Writer. What a season it has been! I have been lifted up, inspired, and motivated by the words of wisdom from my incredible guests. When I had the idea for this podcast I did not know where I would find my guests but I am learning when we are on the right track miraculous things happen.
Don’t worry this is not the end of The Mindful Writer. Season two begins on 5th October with playwright Jack Canfora. In the mean-time, I will be enjoying our first holiday abroad since the pandemic – a France and Spain cruise. I should not say I will because one thing the pandemic has taught us is that things do not always go according to our plan. So, God willing!
Until we meet again look after your beautiful self, and trust the journey.
You can find all episodes of The Mindful Writer podcast here: https://themindfulwriter.buzzsprout.com
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