Putting Pen to Paper: In Conversation with Writer Susan Earlam

Image by  Alexander Ward

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
Philip Pullman

Writing can often feel like the hardest thing you can do, an insurmountable and trying process, with feelings of fatigue and frustration common to those whose chosen craft is the written word.

Working with our client Scrivener - the go-to app for writers of all kinds on a 6-part event series this past spring, we have encountered a number of authors and writers, including Jean Kwok, Kate Davies and Andrea Lawlor who have used the ‘digital writers shed’ to craft their own books, novels and memoirs. Typewriter. Ring-binder. Scrapbook. Scrivener has been pivotal to their writing process and helped them to bring together their thoughts, musings and untold stories.

Having also used Scrivener to craft her novel, we took half an hour out with Manchester-based writer Susan Earlam, to find out how she used the writing tool to write her book, why she chose writing as her vocation and how she really puts pen to paper.

What is the best and worst part of being an writer?
The best part is being my own boss. The worst part is being my own boss!

How do you overcome writer's block or deal with imposter syndrome?

With writer's block, it usually means I'm stuck on something. Rather than sit and ponder about it, I find it better to just start writing the next scene, or something completely different, like a blog post.

Imposter syndrome is something that grips me too. In the moments it occurs, sometimes admitting I feel that way helps, whether out loud or a quick text to a supportive friend. It's often the case that others are feeling the exact same way.

Also, I think the more you do something, the less you feel like an imposter... something special happens when you step out of your comfort zone and imposter syndrome is just a symptom of taking that action.

When did you first start using Scrivener?

I started with Scrivener in the summer of 2018. It was time to start the rewrite of my novel and I desperately needed help with the organisation of it.

Image taken by Susan Earlam

Image taken by Susan Earlam

What is the best thing about the app for your writing?

Definitely the organisational aspect. Having each scene as a file, then all the files (scenes) inside bigger folders (my chapters). The ability to move scenes around without scrolling through the whole manuscript, cutting and pasting, and potentially ruining stuff, is truly amazing.

Do you have any writing rituals that help you to keep you on track?

I love a good incense stick, when it's finished burning it means I can take a break. I also associate the smell now with writing so I've kind of trained myself to focus when I smell it. Of course, I drink a lot of tea too!

How has Scrivener help you keep to your deadlines?

At the moment I'm setting my own deadlines. If I didn't, the work wouldn't get done. So it's good to know its there and ready for me to pick up where I left off from the previous writing or editing session.

Leaf in Manchester

Leaf in Manchester

What would your advice be to anyone who wants to write their own book?

Do it!! I think everyone should try it because, aside from the actual end product, you learn so much about yourself along the way. Your willpower, your determination, dedication, when you are most creative, what dwells in your deepest imagination, and what you are most distracted by. I have a couple of blog posts that might help with this.

How do you unwind and reset after a writing stint?

My daughters really help with this, I work around them being at school so I know when my writing day is done. I also do a lot of reading and love sinking into the sofa later on with a film and my other half.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Everywhere. Really, anything. The news, a character in a book, dreams, stately homes and gardens, someone in front of my in the queue at the supermarket. Honestly, everything is up for inclusion... beware!

What do you think it takes to be a good writer?

Practice and dedication. Learning all the time. Reading widely.

How has the social media community of writers and authors helped you?

I find it's very supportive. It's inspiring to see other authors and their paths to publication, each one is as unique as they are. Which means there is no set or best, way to do it.

Where do you like to write most? Are there any spots in Manchester you can recommend?

I write best at home in my dining room. Having said that I will occasionally need a change of scenery and take a notebook wherever go. Sometimes I will hand write things whilst I'm out and about, perhaps snippets of someone's conversation or the way something smells. I do love Leaf on Portland Street, it's so spacious and the tea and cake are excellent. For more Inspiring places to write see here.

Image taken by Susan Earlam

Image taken by Susan Earlam

Do you ever listen to music when writing, or have a playlist to get you motivated to write?

Often silence is best for me, but I've found if I'm writing a dramatic scene or from a more evil character's point of view then a soundtrack does help with the mood. I usually will go for instrumental film scores, often a Christopher Nolan film soundtrack will be something I'll go back to.

Complete the sentence, writing is...
something I love and communication of imagination and hope.

Find out more about Susan at susanearlam.com and @susanearlam on social

Scrivener is the go-to app for writers of all kinds, used every day by best-selling novelists, screenwriters, non-fiction writers, students, academics, lawyers, journalists, translators and more. Scrivener won't tell you how to write - it simply provides everything you need to start writing and keep writing. To find out more head to their website.