Children’s author Josh Langley is a guru when it comes to how to be creative and let go of your fears. How do I know this? Well, he helped me.
I first met Josh Langley at the 2016 Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival, where we were both participating authors. Josh and I met at a dinner put on for the authors and, to be honest, I don’t even remember what we talked about, just how inspired it made me feel.
When I met Josh, and his partner Andy, I’d been invited to the festival as a poet. I talked at events about the suburban roots in my poetry, and read my work at a few different libraries. When I approached Josh for this blog post, I did so as a novelist. I’m currently editing the first draft of my novel, and I’ve let my inner critic do an awful lot of talking. Given Josh’s latest book is on overcoming fear and learning to be creative, it made sense to turn to him for some advice.
Josh has published six books and recently won the 2018 ABIA (Australian Book Industry Award) Small Publisher’s Children’s Book of the Year. He has two children’s books that I’m particularly keen on; Being You is Enough and It’s OK to feel the way you do. His seventh book, Find Your Creative Mojo: How to overcome fear, procrastination and self doubt to express your true self is due to come out in September/October.
How do you approach writing a new book? What do you do once you have an idea? How do get from idea to first draft?
It depends on the type of book. If it’s a children’s book, I open the template that I use for my kids books and start writing and add the coloured pages. I want the manuscript to look and feel like the finished book, so I can get into the groove. The first draft usually takes a few days, and then I go back and edit and edit and edit. After that, I leave it for a few weeks. Then I come back at it with fresh eyes and edit again. Once I’m happy with the wording, I get my partner to cast his eyes over it. Then I start doing the illustrations. Mind you, if I’m feeling lazy, I’ll send the wording off to the publisher to see if they’re happy with the direction. Then I’ll do the illustrations.
In regard to my non-fiction, I create a new folder on the computer and, within that, I make folders for each of the sections. I then throw notes into the folders, little idea starters, photos, and anything else that might be relevant. After that, I flesh out each chapter / section and then bring them all together in the manuscript form. I rarely start at the beginning. It’s sort of like a jigsaw puzzle. I don’t really know where it’s going, or what it’s going to be like, until I put all the parts together.
Do you have a writing routine?
No. If I’m on a deadline, I just make the time to write. Having said that, I’m a morning person, so that’s when I prefer to bang out the words. I’m not precious about where I write either, most of it is done at the kitchen table!
You do a lot of talks about your children’s books in schools. How much should writers be concerned with promoting and marketing their book and working to make sure their message is heard? Is this something they should be considering during the writing process, or something that comes after?
Writers should be making promotion of their work a priority from the outset. You have to be what someone coined ‘an authorpreneur’, even if you have a traditional publisher. Share works in progress with your readers. Let them see what the process of writing and creating a book is really like. Build your author platform and make yourself as accessible as possible. Long gone are the days of the hermit writer sitting in a weather beaten hut on the southern tip of Tasmania without any internet. Sure, it may be good for writing a book free of distractions, but nowdays you have to work in concert with your publisher to show that you’re as keen as they are to see your book succeed.
I hear a lot of writers say that they find it hard to ‘sell themselves’ and don’t like to talk themselves up. I have two things to say in regard to that. Firstly, you don’t ‘sell yourself’, you make connections with readers. Pretend that your potential readers are your friends and treat them as such. Get on social media and use the platforms that you enjoy (I use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). Get a website (I made my own using WordPress) and work them all like a boss! Get excited. You’re getting a book published, so be excited! Even if you’re a shy introvert, like me, and suffer ‘posting anxiety’, just remember the words of Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carnegie said to focus on the other person and make them feel important. That then takes the focus off you and onto them. It’s a win win.
How do you organise your drafts and research?
Haphazardly! I try and make research as much fun as possible, because it’s part of the process of bringing the book together. If it’s the kids book and I’m researching about resilience, then I factor that into process of writing the book by doing google searches, talking to educators and parents, and contacting different organisations. For my self help / memoir style of non-fiction, most of the research is lived experience and experimentation, so that’s fun to do.
Do you think it’s valuable for writers to hire an editor before submitting their manuscript to agents or publishers?
No. Mind you, if you have the cash to do it, then maybe it’s a good idea. I get fellow writers to look at my manuscripts and then, when I feel they’re ready, I submit.
Writing, like any creative field, is a tough business. Have you ever doubted yourself and, if so, how do you cope with those doubts and pick yourself back up?
Oh, hell yes! I doubt myself all the time. It’s part of the process of expressing yourself. It comes with the territory. I think we make self doubt seem bigger than what it is by trying to avoid it. We push it away and, in doing so, allow it to consume us. I’ve learnt to realise that doubt will always be there, but I don’t have to listen to the bullshit it says. Just let me get out what I need to. Then I can let the doubt have a look, and I can piss it. off.
What moment in your career stands out for you, if you could only pick one?
Without a doubt winning the 2018 ABIA Small Publisher’s Children’s Book of the Year. It wasn’t something I was aiming for, or even expecting, so it was the biggest, and best, surprise. I was purely focused on writing children’s books with my unique voice and illustrating style. Winning the award confirmed that what I want to say, and how want to say it, was no longer fringe stuff, it was moving toward mainstream. That’s what I want, as that’s how you get your message to the most number of kids and parents.
What would you say to someone who isn’t feeling creative or doesn’t think they can be creative?
In my book, Find Your Creative Mojo: How to overcome fear, procrastination and self doubt to express your true self, I get the reader to reframe creativity as self-expression. We all have a deep down need to say something, to express ourselves in some way, whether it’s through basket weaving, pottery, writing, drama or stand up comedy. I think, if anyone is quiet enough they can feel a gentle pulling or a nudging from somewhere deep inside. It’s our birthright to honour that feeling and help it find a way to come out and express itself. The best thing is, there are no rules on how you do it. Just start where you are, and see where it leads. Be curious about it.
About Josh Langley
After failing high school twice, Josh Langley went on to create a successful career as a nationally awarded radio creative writer spanning 20 years. He’s published 6 nonfiction books and gives talks at primary schools and festivals, and runs workshops. Josh’s second Children’s book, It’s Ok to Feel the Way You Do won the 2018 Australian Book Industry Awards Small Publisher’s Children’s Book of the Year. He also owns a creative agency with his partner and lives on 7 and a half acres in the South West of Western Australia with a bunch of neurotic chickens. His new book Find Your Creative Mojo: How to overcome fear, procrastination and self-doubt to express your true self is due for release in September 2018.