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So-you-want-to-be-a-writer---Episode-20

Ep 20 Cashing in on Stephen King, writing to pen pals, how to kickstart your creativity and we chat to daddy blogger Reservoir Dad.

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In Episode 20 of So you want to be a writer, we chat about the writer spending Stephen King’s money, how you can make 50k a year without hitting the bestseller list, writing letters to strangers is making a comeback, Fiona McFarlane writes about her journey to being published, how to revive your creativity, Writer in Residence and daddy blogger Reservoir Dad, tracking your writing expenses, what you should charge for content marketing and more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here.

Show Notes
Writer whose book shares title with Stephen King novel rakes in royalties

How You Can Make $50,000 A Year Without Ever Hitting Bestseller List

Dear pen pal: how writing letters to strangers is making a comeback

The Night Guest: A miraculous and prosaic journey

Stephen King: On Writing

Getting off the hamster wheel and reviving creativity

Writer in Residence

Reservoir DadWhen Clint Greagen became a stay-at-home dad he turned to blogging to connect with the world – and stay sane. His Reservoir Dad blog won Best Australian Blog 2013 in the Personal and Parenting category. Clint lives in Reservoir with wife Tania, and sons Archie, 9, Lewis, 7, Tyson, 4, and Maki, 2. Clint quit his job to become a stay at home dad when oldest son Archie was two and recalls that some of his co-workers were bemused and there was even the odd occasion when his manliness was questioned.

Reservoir Dad website
Clint Greagen on Twitter
Random House on Twitter
Buy Clint’s book now

12 things I learned in my first year of blogging

Web Pick

Xpense Tracker

Working Writer’s Tip

What should you charge for content marketing?

Shout out

Thanks D.S. Bayne!

Your hosts

Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait
@valeriekhoo

Transcript

Valerie

Thanks for joining us today, Clint.

Clint
Thanks, Valerie. Thanks for having me.

Valerie
Tell us about your new book, Reservoir Dad. What’s it all about?

Clint
It’s a kind of memoir about my time from when I became a stay at home dad, although I go a bit further back into the past about my relationship with my wife, Tania, as well. It’s all the sort of craziness that happens on the domestic frontline and raising kids, with a lot of laughs and a few tears along the way. Also from the perspective as a male in this role, which is a little bit unusual this day and age.

Valerie
Tell us how many kids you have, and when did you start being a stay at home dad.

Clint
I’ve got four boys, Archie, Lewis, Tyson and Maki. Archie is the oldest, he’s nine and Maki is two, he’s the youngest. I became a stay at home dad seven years ago. Lewis was 18 months and Archie was two and Tania went back to work full time. I’d gone to part time work about six months before that. So I was getting my head around the whole idea and then we were straight into it, me at home with two boys.

Valerie
Why did you decide to write the book?

Clint
I was basically approached by Random House and they asked me if I would like to write a book. Of course I said ‘yes’ because I have been a writer my whole life. I started a blog about six months into being a stay at home dad, because I had written novels and short stories before that, and I had this idea that I couldn’t focus on a long term project when I was looking after the boys full time. So, I started this blog.

I just sort of stumbled across what a blog was, I think it was pretty new back then. I thought, “This will be a good way for me to keep my writing skills up and record some stuff about the family,” and that sort of stuff. Then it became, funnily enough, a long term project in itself. I really enjoyed and it was sort of like a personal thing for me as well. You know how you can become sort of ratty and isolated if you’re surrounded by people who don’t have language above five words, 24 hours a day. So it sort of became a thing for me, which really sort of kept me focused and was something that I could focus on at the end of the day, and then after all of that anyway.

Last year I won the Australian Writers’ Centre personal category, in the blog awards. From that Random House contacted me and said they had been reading my blog and were wondering if I was interested in writing a book, so I said, “I would love to.” That’s what I have been doing for the last year.

Valerie
Great. Just take some of the listeners back. When you first started writing the blog, so that would have been 6.5 years ago, or thereabouts, were you writing for readers? Were you writing for yourself? Were you writing for your family? Who was your audience at the time? Who did you think you were writing for?

Clint
My audience was, first of all, close family members, but also I was part of the Northern Dads Group, I had just started with them. I initially sort of brought the idea of the blog up with them as well, to say that maybe they’d like to contribute and it could be like something for the Northern Dads Group, so I was aware that the dads were also tuning in every week and checking out the blog, but no one else sort of picked up on it. It was just me. I became sort of more and more enamored with the blog idea. It was only after a little while when I started to notice a few little comments here and there and realized, “Far out man, this is connected to the world,” you know? I started to get an idea that I was writing for other people about a year into it or so.

Valerie
What were sort of the first signs that, “This is getting traction, this could be something else… this could be something more than just me journaling my thoughts.”?

Clint
I think it was just all of a sudden I started to get some comments from people overseas. Then I stumbled across this idea, there’s this parenting blog thing going on. There’s other people doing this, it’s like a community. So there’s a few back and forth emails and I started reading other people’s blogs and I think that was a great support for me back then as well, because I got to talk to other parents. When I did find things tough at times, really tough, the added thing about being a man and just a few of the little stereotypes you come across in your day to day life, so it was good having that there.

I think it was 2010 I started a tongue and cheek competition called the Mentally Sexy Dad Competition. I basically got some jocks made up with ‘Mentally Sexy’ written on back and Reservoir Dad on the front and asked people to take photos of their husbands wearing them doing housework and send them in. Believe it or not, because it was way of showcasing men who did the sort of non-stereotypical things to provide for their families, believe it or not it was really successful, it ended up being on the radio. Once that started happening, and I got over 100 entries of people actually taking photos wearing the underwear and women writing in saying, “This is my great husband, this is what he does for me…” and all of that sort of stuff. Then it sort of kicked off. I think that was probably why my blog sort of got that extra kick in popularity, because there was a lot of media around that as well.

Valerie
Sure. Just for listeners who don’t know, why are you called Reservoir Dad?

Clint
I live in Reservoir in Melbourne, but when I was thinking of a name for the blog, which took me all of about 30 seconds when I was starting on Blogspot, I thought,

Reservoir Dad, you know, people are going to make the assumption that’s got something to do with Reservoir Dogs, and I kind of like that as well…” Yeah, so that’s where it came from.

Valerie
What have been the biggest challenges for you in blogging?

Clint
Time is always a challenge, of course.

Valerie
Yeah.

Clint
But, I think because I love writing anyway and I have done it since I was a kid that I make time for it, because I know I’ll feel better. It’s kind of like exercising. If I miss a week of exercise it’s not until I do the exercise again that I think, “Oh god, I feel so much better about the world when I exercise,” it’s the same with writing. I think that in itself can cause problems, because sometimes you think, “I just haven’t got time to do it and I really want to,” so finding time and scheduling things and sometimes giving up sleep to fit it in, that’s been the biggest challenge.

The other thing would probably be getting used to have criticisms of things that you don’t think are really up for criticism. But, you deal with that on a daily. Again, other bloggers are a great support for that because they help you to see that it’s just a maybe an idiot.

Valerie
Sure. You mentioned that you certainly did when the parenting category of the Australian Writers’ Centre’s Best Australian Blog Awards, and that was last year. What did that award do for you?

Clint
Oh it was great confirmation, for one thing. I think the thing most writers want, even if they don’t admit it, is that they want some sort of validation that they’ve got a certain amount of skill. That’s what I think winning — I think I’d rather it been from the

Writers’ Centre than from any other sort of blog award, because the writing is a focus. That was just a really great feeling. It’s like getting a publication. It’s confirmation that you’re doing something right for the years that you’re putting in to it.

It hasn’t been said, but I think it’s the direct link from that to an author to write a book.

Yeah, it was just a great pat on the back and it’s sort of like, “Keep going, man, you can do it. You’re doing it right.” Validation that I’ve got something to offer.

Valerie
Yeah and it brought you to the attention of Random House. 

Tell us about the book writing process. You got approached, then what happened? Did you go, “Oh my god, what am I supposed to do now?” Or did you think, “OK, this is my plan, I’m going to write ‘x’ number of words per day for so many months.”? What was the actual plan and process of writing your book?

Clint
It was fairly step by step, although a little bit complicated process. Random House, the editors there were, in particular Fiona Henderson, were really amazing and easy to approach. It was step by step saying — they said, “We’d like you to write a book about this period of your life.” They pretty much left it open to me, but there was back and forth, I’d say, “Hey, should I start back here?” Or, “Should I start here?” After a bit of back and forth we sort of picked a timeframe and I went through and just sort of mapped it out, I remembered all of the correct dates and I could just get some scenes in my head again. Then I started writing.

For the initial period of time I did try to put a word count on it, because I was assuming a book of about 100,000 words in a year. I sort of timed it out. Initially I’d say I tried to write 500 words a day, but I think I got distracted by the word count. So I’d wrote 15,000 words with that approach, sent it to Random House and a couple of editors there had a look at it and said, “Yeah, it’s not bad writing, but it’s not the voice we’re hearing on your blog, you know?” I looked back at it and showed somebody else and thought, “They’re right, this is not really me.” I think I just became so focused on word count almost like writing down scene by scene that I removed myself from it. It was the first time I felt like I had someone looking over my shoulder while I was writing, you know? I had to let go of that. 1,500 it took me to sort of shake that feeling off.

Valerie
Did you chuck out those 15,000 words?

Clint
Well, it’s up there on the computer —

Valerie
Well, yeah. But, then they didn’t end up in the book?

Clint
No, they’re not in the book. I’ll never use them. I’ve read back over them a couple of times and I just can’t believe how bland it was.

Valerie
Right. What did you do then to get your voice back?

Clint
I wrote to a friend of mine, Damien Young, down in, who’s a philosopher and writer in Melbourne. He’s written a couple of books and I just, like, tweeted him one night and said, “Man, since I’ve been writing this book I feel like I’ve lost it and I don’t feel like I’m going to get it back again.” He just wrote back very simply, “It’s about mood.” He had a similar problem with a book once and he went back and worked out how he could recreate that mood.

So I started doing things that I had always done, which was stick the headphones in and listen to some 80s classics and write when I’m really inspired, as well as not just at set times. I sort of chucked the plan out the door, that I had written, because I had never written with a plan before, and I just got stuck writing about what’s happening right now, as well as writing about things that you want to include in the book that happened a long time ago. I just feel like I, again, hit that rhythm.

There was a bit of back and forth with the editors too. So I’d write something and I’d think, “This is sounding better,” and I’d write it and they’d say, “Yes,” and give me some editorial suggestions.

Yeah, I feel like back there, but I think the thing about getting offered the opportunity to write a book, which is something that I’ve always wanted, a lifelong dream, once it was there it sort of petrified me a bit. I was like a frozen meerkat or something. It took me a bit. It was a great learning experience, because I know if I get the chance again — I can tell when that feeling’s coming. I think if I narrow it down it’s about getting rid of that idea that there’s someone over your head watching you as you write. Once I get rid of that and I lose time, you know when you’re writing and you’re having so much fun with it that all of a sudden you look up and there’s like 2.5 hours gone and you’ve written 2,000 words and you think, “God, how did that go so quick?” That’s another one that happens and that gives me a good indication that I’m writing with the voice inside my head and not with what I think someone else is saying.

Valerie
It’s being in that flow that makes it so amazing. When it’s hard work you’ve got to be asking yourself, “Is this actually meant to be this hard?”

Clint
The hard work should come later on, second, third and fourth draft, and that sort of stuff, I think.

Valerie
Tell us, did you write your book from scratch or did you go back to certain blog posts and rework them? A lot of bloggers think they can slap together some blog posts and end up with a book. Tell us what you did.

Clint
What I did was I gathered everything that I thought I had written well from the blog and I put it together in a large document and sent it to the editors at Random House. They went through, picked what they thought could be used and rewritten and basically said no to everything else. I ended up with a very small selection, and a few blog posts that needed some rewriting to put them into context. Because what they wanted, and I wanted, was a story, a beginning and an ending, with some consistency. While writing the blog I’d write about things, the most amazing thing that had happened that week, rather than every little thing. So there would be people coming to my website and they wouldn’t be able to certain things into context, so I wanted to give a whole story.

We selected a few blog posts that they said were just really, really great and they definitely wanted to include it, but even they needed rewriting. I’ve got an obsession with including what music I’ve listened to or how it’s influenced me during the day into every blog post almost, it gets a bit repetitive when you put it in a book and give it to someone. There had to be other ways to sort of create that mood that I’ve got to across sometimes just using examples of music and that sort of stuff.

It was quite amazing and hard to get my head around, just had to set my sight on doing one bit at a time. There was a lot of going back and saying, “This is important, but I haven’t talked about this event that is linked to it and will make it make sense way back at the start of the book.” So, I’d have to go back and write about that.

In the end I was happy that some of my favorite blog posts that I think are some of my best writing ever has made it in there.

Valerie
Once you got over that initial stumbling block of your first 15,000 words and you got back your voice, what then were some of your biggest challenges and how did you get over them? 

Clint
One of the biggest challenges was writing a book while also trying to maintain my blog. Both Random House and I wanted to keep my blog going, but the main thing is I have four children that I’m responsible for all day and a lot of the night. Fitting that in just became too hard. I actually didn’t write for the blog for about a 3-4 month period and just had to suck it up, I didn’t like doing that, but I found when I was trying to do both that the quality for both had dropped, the writing for the blog and the book wasn’t great. When I just focused on putting all my effort into the book it was much — it was still hard because I had that deadline looming, or several deadlines that they put in place, but it was much easier than trying to maintain the blog. It was hard to do that and I’m glad to be getting back into writing more regularly for the blog again. That was the biggest thing.

Valerie
Back onto your blog, you’re back onto it, a lot of people keep talking about monetising your blog and that sort of thing. Has that been one of your aims or have you been mainly writing for the sake of writing? What do you do in that space?

Clint
I’ve mainly been writing for the sake of writing, telling stories. I had no idea that money was an option, but then once I became aware it was I thought, “Why not do some things to try to bring some money in, so that great idea of being a paid writer might actually be achievable. I have done a lot of work in the last probably two years to try and earn an income through the blog with the dream of the kids all being at school four or five years from now and that’s my job, I get to write and earn money instead of having to go to the factories or something.

I have put some time into that. That was another thing that was weighing on my mind, because obviously, you know, I’ve got a blogging agent now, Creative Jack Management. And obviously the thing that they sell you to brands with is how many hits and how many unique visitors and all of that sort of stuff you get to your website every day or every month. If you stop writing for your blog they drop off considerably and you’re no longer really employable to even your agent.

I had to just weigh out the pros and cons, and the most important thing for me at that point was to write a book, to do that thing I’ve always wanted to do. I let my agent, Dana, know that was going to happen and that my stats were going to plummet and I might not be employable, I might not even get that level of readership back through the blog, there’s always that chance. I just had to make that tough decision, but I think the book is much better because of it and that’s the most important thing.

Valerie
I have no doubt that level of readership is coming back, especially now with the release of the book.

Tell us, what was your job prior to becoming a stay at home dad?

Clint
I was a youth support worker for ten years, specialising in housing. So, working with people between the ages of 15 and 25, sometimes younger. I worked in Warrnambool and in two organisations up here when I moved up to Melbourne. Yeah, it was ten years. Probably the last year I went to part time, Saint Joseph’s Youth Services and then transitioned over to being the stay at home parent.

Valerie
Wow, very different from writing.

Do tell us, you said that to get into the mood that you put your head phones in and blast out some 80s classics. If you had to pick your top three 80s classics to help you get into the mood for writing what would they be?

Clint
Oh god. I always suffer with this sort of stuff. Rick Astley gets me going straightaway.

Valerie
Oh my god!

Clint
I know, it’s terrible. But, a little bit of Rick Astley.

And, Nik Kershaw, I like Nik Kershaw. I know they’re terrible, but I remember listening to Nik Kershaw at home, when I was a kid and then climbing trees and throwing pinecones at cars. I think that sort of joy is still there when I put Nik on.

Valerie
Good Lord.

Clint
I saw him an interview the other day — oh my god. He’s turned into this weaselly old man and he seems to regret his musical past, which was a massive let down for me. But…

I know — terrible.

I listen to a lot of Culture Club, Boy George and the Culture Club — and Wham! which again, I used to listen to that in grade three all the time, holding a brush and singing to myself in the mirror. I went to a school dress up once in grade three dressed as Boy George, and there was another boy there who was dressed up as Boy George as well. He ended up getting a little bit beaten up. It’s sad. The only reason I didn’t was because he had a wig on and I went without the wig.

Valerie
I would not have picked those if I had to guess.

Clint
I’ve got some more disco type stuff, which is what gets me going, but when I’m writing sort of hyped up blog posts — an example of what it’s like to get the kids out of bed and get on the road, when I’m writing that puts me right back in the mood.

Most of the time when we get in the car and I’m driving the kids around — I’ve got this thing on the website which I’m working on called Fanging It Friday, which is basically me recording myself singing in the Tarago without the kids there, because music has always been like that for me. When it’s hectic crazy and I’m losing my mind and can’t find socks and the kids are saying, “I don’t care,” and shrugging their shoulders at me, not eating their food. Once we get in the car, we’re all there together, Gold 104 or something from my iPhone comes up and you turn it up full bore, I don’t know we’re just back in the swing of it again. It’s good fun.

Valerie
Tell us, what now? The book is out.

Clint
Yeah.

Valerie
What now? What are you working on now?

Clint
I’m working on writing more consistently for the blog again, but I’ve had several other opportunities to write for magazines, online magazines and offline magazines. I’m doing that as well and trying to fit it all in. I just got another offer today, actually. I might get more sort of paid opportunities. That’s ideally what I would love to do. I would like to have the blog, not worry about that for income, and be able to write regularly for magazines and the book, hopefully, to earn income.

Valerie
Fantastic. What’s your advice to listeners who are thinking, “Should I be persisting with this blogging thing? I really do want to write a book one day. Will it ever happen?” What’s your advice to them?

Clint
My advice is just never give in. If you’re passionate about it and you love it, you just don’t know when things are going to turn around. I mean if you had told me this was going to happen 18 months ago I would have gone, “Yes, you’re mad.” But, never give in.

One thing I think about writing, that thing we talked about earlier, is to forget someone is looking over your shoulder. I read a lot of — I don’t want to give out advice like this, because I might sound like an asshole, but there’s a lot of blogs that sound the same. I think the thing that I got picked up for to write a book was not so much what I was writing about, but the voice that I was writing with. It took me a long time, I think it was only blogging, because I’ve written five novels and a crap load of short stories, I think it was only when I started blogging I thought, “Hey, I’m writing with the voice inside my head.” I’ve heard all the things, you know, “Find your voice…” all of that sort of stuff, but I had never really got it. I think blogging was the thing that helped me find that voice.

It’s about locking yourself away, getting those things you love the most, writing about the things that really get you going. I never think, “OK, how can I write something to get more hits to my blog — never, ever do it. I always write about something that might be going from one thing into the next at home, and I think, “God, that’s got to be funny, I’ve got to write about that.” “Gee, that really hurt my feelings,” or, “I’m feeling very emotional about this, I really want to write about it.” I never think I’m going to write for stats. I think if you do that you’re going to sound just like pretty much everybody else.

Write about what’s going on in life, because no one — someone showed me this great quote the other day, I don’t even remember because it was very long. But, it basically said there’s no one else in the world who has your experience, it’s you that sees the things the way you do. We can all write about the exact same thing but give such an amazingly different story, a different approach.

Valerie
Wonderful raw, but very simple advice on how to find your voice.

Kerri Sackville, who was a judge in the Best Australian Blogs competition summed it up, and this quote is actually on the cover of your book, which I love, she says, “If David Sedaris had got married and had kids he would have been Reservoir Dad, fall on the floor funny, sharp, witty and just a little bit sexy.” We just think that the book is awesome. I have no doubt it’s going to be a huge hit. I can’t wait to see your next book, Clint. Hopefully that’s in the works as well.

Clint
The big hope for me is that the book is successful and I get a chance to write another one. One of the first meetings I had with Random House just recently and I met everyone at Random House — they were all fantastic. I basically said, “How many copies need to be sold so I get a chance to write another book?”

Valerie
Great question.

Clint
So, that’s fingers crossed.

Valerie
I have no doubt that the second book is going to happen.

On that note thank you so much for your time today, Clint. We wish you the best. It’s absolutely awesome; everyone should get this book because Clint’s writing is fantastic.

Thank you for your time today, Clint. Check out his blog Reservoir Dad.

Jul 9, 2014 Podcasts Australian Writers' Centre Team

Written by Australian Writers' Centre Team

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