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Pharmacy Residency Podcast

Jun 17, 2019

Would you like to find the time to make your living as a writer? Joanna Penn is one of my favorite authors in the world moving between fiction and non-fiction and she started in a corporate career and eventually moved into her own entrepreneurial space. I know you'll get a ton out of the interview. Make sure to visit her at

The courses I love you can find here:


Welcome to the pharmacy leaders podcast. Today I have Joanna Penn on who is a thriller author but also writes quite a bit of nonfiction and she's moved into writing a couple of courses that I think will help us quite a bit with especially productivity and opening up the time to start writing. I know many of you are looking at your exit loan interviews and monthly payments that you'll be making. And it’s always nice to have an extra income and being an author is one great way to earn that remotely. So, Joanna, welcome to the pharmacy leaders podcast.

Thanks so much for having me on Tony.

Let's just get started with a little bit of your background specific to nonfiction. I know you have JF Penn, which is fiction and Joanna Penn, that is nonfiction. But how did you get into teaching? You've got a degree from Oxford in theology. And how did that [writing career] come about?

I'm in my mid 40, so we all have a long career, but I was off to Oxford, I went into management consulting. I spent 13 years working in large corporates doing financial stuff, so I've had my corporate career, but it was never satisfying to me. I always felt like there was something missing. I felt like I was working a day job to earn money and it was just all going down the drain. It was just pointless. So I started writing, like when I looked at the lifestyle I wanted, I wanted a scalable income. I like earning a good living as I'm sure everybody listening does as well. So I was looking for a type of business where I could live the lifestyle I wanted. I'm an introvert, I like being on my own. So writing seemed like a good idea.

So I started a blog and a podcast back in 2008, a while ago. And that grew into writing books. And, that's basically what I've done now for the last 10 years. I left my job in 2011 and my business now I have is my nonfiction site, The Creative Penn with a double “n” and a podcast, the Creative Penn Podcast. And I also have a second podcast which looks towards the travel memoir side of things. So I really believe that writing can be part of your career, whatever you're in. So, pharmacy is a great example. You can make it a scalable form of income but [writing] fits in with the rest of your life.

Awesome. Well, let's make sure to talk about the other podcast at the end of these questions. Cause I'd also want to talk a little bit about that because I think memoir is actually maybe one of the more accessible ways to enter into being an author and kind of getting your feet wet. But let's first talk about you have a lot of followers and at first, maybe a people asked for your help and you said, oh, sure, I can help you, but now you have some tens of thousands of followers. How do you help that many with their productivity? So, if you could talk a little bit about how you kind of came to the course and deciding to put a video to paper as it were and kind of get the productivity for authors course off the ground.

This is one of many approaches and also a global business, I think this is really important. I knew I wanted a scalable business where my time was not connected with the amount of money I could make. So I wanted to create intellectual property that would earn me money over and over again. So books are one thing, courses are another. And nowadays it's much easier to do this stuff technically. I use a service called and highly recommend them if people want to do courses. And the great thing about doing an evergreen course, which means it's open all the time, anyone can join, is that people kind of randomly join whenever they hear about it. So, that just means it's available there. I can spend the time once creating the course and it will help people over and over again. So, this is a big tip for people. If you do want to do a course, make sure it is evergreen as much as possible, rather than time specific because that will mean you have to keep, rerecording it over and over again.

So like an evergreen tree and then evergreen content as well, something that's going to last through the ages. So rather than something that's maybe happening right now, it's, you pick a course based on the principles of something that's going to continue to be an issue. So productivity, time management, it's always going to be an issue.

Oh yeah. And, for example, I do have a video in there about the tools that I use, but it's not a how to use that tool because even something like Evernote has been around for a long time. They keep changing their functionality. So I think any kind of technical videos can really date quite quickly because people change that their stuff all the time.

Well, let's talk about something that you'd talked about actually last time in our podcast, which was as soon as you finally made the jump to a full-time entrepreneur, you were there at your home and that lasted not too long until you said, I have to go somewhere. And that you had to go to the coffee shop or you had to go somewhere to get work done. Can you talk first about the time and place for writing as it relates to the course?

It's funny cause I have that now, I've just moved house, but I still have the same thing. We are creatures of habit. You know, if we're in a specific place, we do certain things, we eat certain foods, we behave a certain way or when we were different people we do different things. So if you want to do something like creative writing, whether that's nonfiction or fiction or whatever you want to do that's different, that is creative. You can't do that in the same place that perhaps you do other things. So I am talking to you at a desk that I never write fiction at. I just can't, I go to a cafe where I do my first draft waiting for my fiction and nonfiction because my creative brain needs to be primed for something else rather than here.

I might do my accounts one minute, I might talk to you about marketing in another minute, I'm dealing with business stuff. So that's the one really important thing for people. Now, I would say though, if people listening are, like you say working as pharmacists and many people have written their first book while at work, so well I would suggest there is, you kind of hack it a bit and John Grisham, famous legal thriller author wrote his first novel while in his legal firm, but he would go out to his car and write on a yellow pad. So, if you want to write down ideas at work, maybe you have a different notebook in your pocket that you don't use for anything else. It's a brain hack of how do you tell your creative self that you are taking this seriously and that it's not just mish-mashed up with all the rest of the to-do list that we all have in daily life.

So now an author has a few ideas maybe that they’ve done at work or that they turned to in your car. Can you talk a little bit about technology? You mentioned dictation is one of the ways to do it. Some of the technology tools can allow you to get the words down and maybe get transcribed rather than sitting at a desk hoping the words come in the right order, organizing things like that.

So dictation is brilliant, especially if you commute in a car on your own. And I mean, lots of people sit in traffic. I don't know whether it's legal to actually dictate while you're moving, but there are ways that you can dictate on the move. I've certainly done it. Walking’s [good] if you want to combine some health that with dictation, I use a little handheld device, but there are lots of apps on the phone. Dragon Anywhere is one example and you don't have to dictate finished prose. I think that's really important. You don't have to come out with a perfect sentence and then dictate it. You can use it for ideas. You can use it for starting to get your creative juices flowing as such. Just some notes or whatever.

And then over time, you might turn that into much more. I certainly combined dictation with a sort of typing. I use Scribner, which is fantastic software, really good for organizing longer works. Maybe some of the listeners do medical journals or other things like that. So that really helps me as well. I think coming back to productivity as well, my biggest tip, if you want to do a book project, is to time block. So every, well not every morning, but I have time blocks for my JF Penn brand, say my fiction brand. I actually set aside time in my calendar for that brand. And then this time, this meeting with you, for example, is another block in my calendar. Say by time blocking and I'll plan my time blocks, you know, months in advance. I make sure that I achieve the goals I have set for each of my brands.

What about energy? I know this wasn't on the list of questions, but I know that many [pharmacists] come home from a 12 hour day, and there's an energy drain when you've kind of burned out. Sometimes introverts, when they spend too much time with extroverts or too much time at a meeting,  their energy actually goes down quite quickly. How do you recharge after a long day, if that's your only time to write if you can't write in the morning?

So, I spent five years building up my business and my first three books while doing a job where I worked in an open plan office with 400 people. I used to wonder why I would get such bad migraines, which disappeared when I left that environment. But, you said if people can't write in the morning, but I'm going to challenge that because I found that you're completely right. If you go to work 10, 11, 12 hours plus commute, whatever, in someone else's workplace doing a job that you're paid to do. If you come home, you don't have the energy left, you just don't say, I used to get up at five and right before work. So I would do 30 to 45 minutes before going to work. And then often I would on my commute I would listen to podcasts like this and I'd get ideas and things and in the evening and I would then maybe do some marketing staff or start building a website or start learning the things that you need to learn.

It's about time blocking and what you're willing to give up and you can't give up that job at the beginning, so you have to give up some things. So I would go to bed earlier and get up earlier. And maybe you have kids as well as a job. It's hard. It's tough, you know, I feel for you. But, you just have to do that. Another little hack if you can't, I mean I know there's a lot of pharmacists listening, but if you can work from home sometimes, then I used to have two laptops going. One with things I had to do for my job, and the other one with stuff I was doing for building the business.

And of course, if you can work from home, that commuting time extra time you need to spend on that business. And probably my biggest tip here is you have to decide what you want and then you have to decide what you're going to do to get that. None of us have any more time than the other person. We all work on priorities. So, you have to find that time from somewhere. It was before Netflix, but we got rid of the TV for a couple of years. So another hack might reduce your TV by an hour a night or something like that. But there are ways that you can find the time.

You wrote The Healthy Writer. I want to talk a little bit about healthy productivity, but maybe it was in a podcast, maybe it was in that book, but I could've sworn that you had said that writing or someone had said that writing had made you healthier because you had gotten all those things that were in your brain onto the page about something that was bothering them. Can you talk a little bit about how writing is actually something that's maybe cathartic or healthy?

People ask how come I stay jolly and happy and your books are so dark? Like I write and it really is to like the darker side. The more psychologically healthy they are because you just put all your angles onto the page and if you write romance and happy things, you might find yourself needing another out there. So, writing, certainly psychologically healthy to write whatever. So maybe it's a goal about your life, you writing down goals can really help you achieve them or keeping journals. I've got nearly 40 journals sitting here behind me I've written over the years. When I got divorced, whenever it was 13, 14 years ago, I wrote two whole journals in a month or two and that person doesn't exist anymore. But I got it all out of me. So sometimes you can heal yourself through writing and then potentially heal other people. And in fact, my nonfiction books, I write what I need to learn and hope it helps other people say the successful author mindset has just a ton of my own angst in.

I did the math. If you sold 21 books on Amazon at $9.99, that would actually pay for the course. So it wouldn't take many sales, but can you talk about going wide versus just Amazon because Amazon makes things easier or their Kindle platform. But there’s a wide world out there. I talked to, and I'm going to pronounce it wrong, Rakuten Kobo. I put my books on there and I've just started to get sales. I just started to get some sales in Canada. So can you talk about how you don't have to limit yourself to your own country?

Oh yeah. I'm glad you asked this because I think the whole sort of publishing wide means that you're not exclusive to Amazon. So, we love Amazon. They're an amazing company. They do very well for authors, but they don't own the world. And I actually have a world map here in front of me. I'm in Bath, UK and Kobo were, you mentioned one of the lovely things on their dashboard. Is it world map with where people have bought your books. And I've sold books in 86 countries through Kobo, which is crazy. You know, like people in Namibia in Africa for example. I mean it's, it's crazy. And in fact podcasting to people in 215 countries who have listened to my podcast. So when you think about it, how can people in all these other countries where Amazon either does not have a presence at all but or is not allowed because they are, you know, American and some countries have an issue with American companies where if we're thinking about a business, and this is thing, I have a very long term mindset about my career as a, as a writer, if I want to sell everywhere for the rest of my life and 50 plus years after I die, I want my work to be everywhere.

And this is the other thing. You might help someone the other side of the world with your work. So, I make money from all these different places too. So why does a mindset, the technical side sure takes a bit of setting up, but it can be done. I'm sure you'll put a link in the show notes or something to you. I have a, a free ebook called successful self-publishing. Okay. Which explains all of that.


So, people can go check that out if they actually want to know how. But I think that mindset shift is the biggest thing. It's okay, I want my words to reach the world. And if someone finds me somehow on the Internet, I want them to be able to buy my book.

I know that there's a very intentional about titles and certainly, with the next course, you're just as intentional how to write nonfiction. Turn your knowledge into words. Can you talk first about the mindset shift because you don't talk about writing until module three? First, let's work on our mindset. Let's work on planning. Then we'll put pen to paper. And I think that's so important because every battle is won and lost before it's ever fought type of thing. Can you start by talking about mindset a little bit?

I think this book was actually really hard to write. I thought I was just going to write how to write nonfiction, just bash it out there. And when I started to get into it, I realized that I do not want any more books in the world that are just phoned in and we know you go to the bookstore, you go on Amazon, you'll see a ton of books that don't seem to be personal enough to help anyone. What I wanted to do is frame writing nonfiction. This is really important. Writing nonfiction can help you, it can help other people, it can change your life, it can change other people's lives. So the mindset side is very much getting over some of the fears that might get in your way.

When it comes to approaching any kind of writing, people want to connect. That is so important in the environment we live in now, which is so technological, you know, over the top. We want to connect with people. So put yourself your personal stories and your fear. You can put your fear in that. I mean, I talk about my fear of judgment. I still, I still have a fear of judgment. I want you to like me.

I am terrible at releasing a book and then I'm right on my dashboard hoping someone's going to buy it, you know, in the first five minutes to, to validate the book. I don't know. I, I just got to stop that. I've got to stop.

The mindset shift is a long-term mindset, right? I don't even check this stuff. I literally check my book sales once a year at tax time, which is now for me because I've got a long-term view, which is I want my books to be around for a long time. And most books, you know that you control if you're independent, you control the rights. They do sell over time, you're never going to get that week one bite. They worry about it.

Let's talk about planning a little bit. How do you start planning for the book? What does that really mean to plan a book?

I guess planning your time is really important. So just do the calculations. If you can write 500 words an hour or 1000 words an hour, how long will it take you to write the first draft? And you can just start with that. I like to set deadlines. I think they really help. A normal nonfiction book might be around 50 to 60,000 words. Say that might be 50 to 60 hours. Maybe that'll take you three months or six months. Always plan more time because everything takes longer than you think.

We were a good example of top-down, which is I am going to write a book and a course on how to write nonfiction. I'm just going to do that. And then I create a table of contents and then I put the material together and then I get it out there and I got this course out at the same time as the book, the same time as the audiobook, the same time as everything. It was very well organized.. With that. But another way is to kind of let it bubble up for your audience. So pharmacy, what are the top 10 questions that you get asked in the pharmacy? Maybe that you could turn that into a book.

So you planning your material. The other thing I've discovered with nonfiction, you see the successful author mindset book was never meant to be its own book. It was a part of a different book. And then I realized that it was turning into a much bigger animal. So I would suggest that that will come up for you. If you're writing nonfiction, you might look at what you've got, the material that you've got, the knowledge you've got, and you might decide to split off some of it into something else. So that those are some of the things that you'll find in the planning phase that will help you structure the book before you do the actual writing or, you know, just to be clear, you can just write stuff and organize it later.

Now, module three has perfectionism in it. And as pharmacists, obviously, we want to strive to be perfect in making sure the right medication goes to the right patient with the right instructions. But I know that there are many different ways to write. My way to write is to actually usually record and then edit, but I've heard over and over again, just get the book done and then get it edited. But so many people will do a paragraph and then tweak the paragraph and the next paragraph and then start going back to the first paragraph. Can you talk a little bit about overcoming perfectionism?

If you get the wrong dose for the wrong patient, you could kill someone. I'll get that right, but this is writing. There no correct answer. I mean there are obviously rules for grammar and all of that, but how you write your voice is going to be different from my voice if we wrote on the same topic. Perfectionism can hold you back. And the question I always ask about perfectionism is what does it hiding? So, do you actually have a fear of judgment, for example? There are ways to get around that. So if you really feel like your writing isn't good enough, well first of all, if you do get the book down, you need to self-edit it.

So for example, this morning I spent a couple of hours self-editing my next novel and I self-edit a number of rounds before it goes to my editor. Say once you've reorganized, done some rewriting, then you can hire an editor to then help you. So you get to the perfectionism later. But just to acknowledge also you will probably never pick up a book and not find at least one typo in it or an error at somewhere where people are human. But definitely hire hiring professionals can really help. But I personally, I'm of the type who writes the first draft completely, then I print out the whole book. So I've been editing this morning on a printout a and then I typed my changes back into Scrivener. So that's the other thing I said earlier. You don't write a perfect sentence first time, uh, you get it down and you shape it later, especially with nonfiction actually, because often you will restructure the book much later on.

How to make a living with your writing, for example, sells. It's one of my top selling books, but maybe someone listening is really happy in their pharmacy career and doesn't want to meet her living with their writing. Maybe they just want to write your book. So that would be my answer. And this is also a tip. If you do want to write a book or make a course, always think what is the problem? What is the customer's problem? What is the reader's problem? And that is a way to title your book or your course, um, because that will help them identify, uh, what they're looking for.

There are no rules, but the reader has to see themselves in your title. They have to know that they want that book. I've got an example in the course how to cook easy gluten free dinners for kids in 15 minutes. That is a very specific title and maybe you have lots of smaller books like that, but that is very clear on who that's for. And it's better to be specific then go with something very, very wide because your target market won't know what it is. So we're kind of moving into marketing right there

The Google search would end up being how to, how to cook a gluten free meal for my children. But then the title of the book would probably be how to cook a gluten free meal for your children because people don't want to read about your children. So anyway, it just becomes this kind of, you know, grammatical traps... But tell me about this new podcast. Tell me about memoirs and travel. You've already got so much going on. I can't imagine taking on a second podcast.

I hit 10 years in my business, which is one of those moments and you start looking at your life. And I've written 28 books by now and was ready for another challenge. I really was. And I'm not turning off any of the other stuff. I still do the creative Penn podcast every week, but I wanted to start looking at some of the stuff behind my fiction. So my thrillers and my dark fantasy books, they're all based on my travels. So I've traveled a lot lived a lot of places around the world. And I, when I write my thrillers, they're about the places I've traveled to. So I wanted to start using my research in my marketing in a way. And also I really love podcasting.

So I get to interview people about books and travel. I’m writing more books, doing more podcasting and that's what I love to do. That's, that's how I enjoy doing my life basically.

So with this new podcast though, are you taking video or are you taking pictures? Is your research more than just the writing or looking it up?

So, with books and travel, I am focusing on audio and images. So you'll write for every podcast and also id I'm doing articles. So I just did one on 13 places to visit in New Zealand. I lived in New Zealand for seven years. I've written about New Zealand, but that includes some of my pictures from living in New Zealand. And I'm actually getting back to Oxford this weekend to take some pictures for that episode. So this is another key. You can't do everything. And I have decided to go with audio plus images for that brand. I do have a YouTube channel for my brand, The Creative Penn. So very much choosing the things that you want to do is super important. And that again comes back to productivity because half of it is saying no to things. So I'm trying to be super careful with this one, not to kill myself with work. So I have more time for reading books and traveling.

Well, I've asked you a number of questions or do you have anything you want to add before we sign off.

I would just really encourage you, the listener to just try some writing, you know, maybe you're annoyed with yourself because it's something you've always wanted to do. And I would just challenge you to start writing whatever that is. If it's a journal if it's a book you've always wanted to write, if it's a memoir, if it's a, a helpful book that you can use to grow your business or grow your personal brand, there is no excuse in this world. You can make the time and get that book out there. So, I really hope you do.

Okay. And then what is the best way for our listener to reach you on your nonfiction side?

Yeah, so you go to Penn with a double n and you can get the free author blueprint there. You can just sign up for that and also listen to the podcast, The Creative Penn Podcast.

If you're interested in writing. If you have a question, then tweet me at The Creative Penn with a double n. That's always the best way to get me. And, of course, if you enjoy traveling, check out Books and Travel.

Okay. Joanna, thanks so much for being in the pharmacy leaders podcast.

Thanks so much for having me, Tony.