TAP032, How to Write and Outline a Novel with Michaelbrent Collings

by Amelia D Hay | The Authorpreneur Podcast - Writing and Self Publishing Advice

Hello, Writers!

 

I hope you are all well and are staying safe.

 

Up until now, I’ve wanted the seasons of this podcast to be evergreen and act as a resource on writing a particular story element. My desire to create short evergreen episodes focused on a single topic is why this podcast tends to be free of interviews. However, throughout season three, I will share short interviews with other writers discussing how they write stories. In particular, I will try to interview as many writers who “pants” novels. But these interview episodes will be treated as bonus episodes and will not be the focus of the podcast season.

 

In light of that, in this bonus episode, I chat with Michaelbrent Collings on how he writes his fiction novels or how to outline a novel. However, before we dive into the interview, here is a brief introduction to Michaebrent Collings.

 

About Michaelbrent Collings

While he is best known for horror (and is one of the most successful indie horror authors in the world), Michaelbrent Collings has also written internationally-bestselling thriller, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, humour, young adult, and middle grade works, and romance.

 

In addition to being a bestselling novelist, Michaelbrent has also received critical acclaim: he is the only person who has ever been a finalist for a Bram Stoker Award, a Dragon Award, and a RONE Award, and he and his work have been reviewed and/or featured on everything from Publishers Weekly to Scream Magazine to NPR. An engaging and entertaining speaker, he is also a frequent guest at comic cons and on writing podcasts like Six Figure Authors, The Creative Penn, Writing Excuses, and others.

 

What to Expect From this Episode

In this episode, I chat with Michaelbrent about the following topics:

  • Where Michaelbrent gets ideas for his books.
  • How to know whether a horror novel is scary enough for the reader.
  • Characters in horror movies that are too stupid to live.
  • Transitioning from having that initial idea to getting to a place where you feel ready to write the first draft.
  • How much detail Michaelbrent includes when he outlines his novels.
  • The trick of becoming a professional author.
  • Tips on how to tackle writer’s block when you’re writing the first draft.
  • The trap most authors fall into when writing and measuring success.
  • Dealing with negative reviews.
  • Stores weighing low rating reviews over higher ratings.
  • Writing is quite emotionally taxing.
  • The value of a supportive partner or friends.

 

Transcript of the Interview with Michaelbrent Collings

Amelia:

Today, I want to chat with you about how you write. As per the introduction that you’ve just seen or listened to, depending on whether you’re watching the video or listening to the podcast, you’ve written quite a number of books in quite a few different genres, like fantasy, horror, science fiction, and you have a pen name, a romance pen name. Am I allowed to mention that?

 

Michaelbrent:

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. No, I’m not… The only reason I do it as a pen name is because I found out that I have the wrong genitalia for writing romance. There’s a large swath of people that just won’t even look at it with a man’s name.

 

Amelia:

It’s like mystery, really. I write under initials, because I think everyone else does it. And it is a male-dominated genre. There are a few exceptions to that, naturally.

 

Michaelbrent:

Yeah. You make concessions. It’s part of the business decision. My romance name is Angelica Hart.

 

Amelia:

Oh, that’s you. I have seen those books. I don’t read romance, but I have seen the books.

 

Michaelbrent:

Cycling through your Amazon?

 

Amelia:

Yeah. They recommend a lot of things to me. I think they’re pretty confused as to-

 

Michaelbrent:

Oh my gosh, I know.

 

Amelia:

Yeah. It’s like, “What does this girl read?”

 

Michaelbrent:

Yeah. My Facebook feed is like that. I’ve got all sorts of… Just due to my following, I have all sorts of people following me, and they’re like, ‘Look, he’s either a 45-year-old man interested in Viagra and an affair or a 14-year-old girl looking for Pokemon.’ I get such a weird range of ads and crap in my spam mail.

 

Amelia:

Yeah. I get that stuff, too. I get a lot of American political stuff in my email for some reason, and I’m not sure why.

 

Michaelbrent:

Because the world wants to depress you.

 

Amelia:

Okay. Yay.

 

Michaelbrent:

Yeah. I’m glad that we have the cutthroat, horrible world of publishing to retreat to when politics get too much.

 

Amelia:

Where do you get your ideas for your books?

 

Michaelbrent:

It varies. I think, sometimes, there’s the beautiful dream where the muse comes out of heaven and encircles you in unicorn hugs, and this idea bursts into being full-blown. And that has happened once or twice. I remember really vividly, I woke up from a dream, and the whole story was there, and I just had to write it down. Most of the time, it’s a lot more low-key and a lot more drudgery. I think, sometimes, people think, ‘I’m going to be an author. I want to put my feet up on the porch and think author-ly thoughts, and I’ll do my two or three hard minutes of work every day, because ethics.’

 

Michaelbrent:

And in reality, it’s a lot of banal stuff. When I’m coming with an idea, I go, ‘Well, what genre am I going to write in? What interests me?’ If I’m writing horror, I’ll go, ‘Oh, it’s time for a paranormal, so how can I make an interesting ghost story?’ And I just pull out a pad, and I start brainstorming and asking questions of myself. That’s a large part of my process. It consists of, ‘Well, what would be scarier? Who would be most afraid of that? Where could I put that situation to maximise the emotion?’ It’s just a very craft-oriented, detail-oriented kind of thing. There’s nothing magic about it. It’s sitting there. My family knows not to talk to me during that stage because I don’t respond coherently. So much in my brain is taken up by mumbling questions. They’re like, ‘Dad, the house is on fire.’ And I’m like, ‘But what if it’s a zombie? What if it’s a zombie?’ They’re just like, ‘Oh, Dad’s in his little story fugue, so let’s leave him alone.’

 

Amelia:

How do you know if a book is scary enough, especially with the horror genre? Because I find, with my books… Not that my books are scary at all. They’re more murder mysteries. And I can’t tell if the murderer’s hard to figure out from page one, because I already know. How do you know whether something’s scary?

 

Michaelbrent:

Yeah. I think the murder mystery is a great example, because you do know, and you’re like, ‘I’m not going to surprise myself.’ Similarly, horror, I think it’s hard. There have been very few times where I got a shiver of something I was writing because it originated from me, so at least I knew what kind of creepy human it was coming from. With horror in particular, you can tell a story and have it be violent and gruesome and have it turn out be hilarious. Or you can tell a story about going to visit the jelly factory where they make strawberry jam and have it be a horrific experience. And lot of it’s just in the telling. If I’m in a comedy, I’ll say, ‘He flounced across the room,’ or, ‘He tripped across the room.’ If you’re in a horror story, you’re going to glide across the room, you’re going to move wraith-like across the room. A lot it is really just the choice of adjectives and verbs and things like that.

 

Michaelbrent:

Communicating a sense of dread through language is one of my favourites. I love H. P. Lovecraft, because if you read him, 99% of his stories, almost nothing happens. It’s just this feeling that he manages to create within you by his use of the perfect words at the perfect time. I think a lot of it is just getting a sense of horror vocabulary. Or if you’re operating in a mystery, that mysterious double-meaning vocabulary where you want the reader to read it ambiguously this way, and at the end, the inspector goes, ‘But what you didn’t understand.’ That’s just something that you get overtime. That’s part of the learning process. When you’ve done it for 10 years, it’s like speaking a foreign language, you become adept and fluent at it. You no longer have to learn that transition.

 

Amelia:

I’ve always wondered. I’m not a reader of the horror genre, because… I don’t know. I’m a bit too, I don’t know, scared to put the book in my cart. Especially with movies. Movies, I find frustrating, because they’re always too stupid to live. Of course, you’re going to go outside without a weapon.

 

Michaelbrent:

Oh my gosh. Yeah. Yeah. I totally agree. In fact, I went and saw A Quiet Place II, and on the one hand, I loved it, because it had some of the greatest suspense and just wonderful chills, and the scenes were great. Every moment that wasn’t scary, I was sitting there going, ‘Why did you all become so rampantly stupid between the last movie and this one? It happens the next day. You fell down the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down.’ I totally agree. That’s incredibly frustrating.

 

Michaelbrent:

I don’t mind it, honestly, if it’s internally consistent. If you have a stupid character making stupid choices, you don’t want that to be the main character, because they’re just hard to root for. You’re like, ‘Yeah, let the zombie kill him. This is a Darwinian error, so let’s fix that with this story.’ But I do hate inconsistently stupid people, where it’s like somebody really nails it until the bad guy shows up, and then they’re going to run out the door with no weapon right into so-and-so’s arms. Yeah. So frustrating and such a horror pitfall. It’s like the hero who can shoot perfectly until the bad guy’s in his sights or vice versa. And then it’s like, ‘I will hit every link in the chain-link fence, but I won’t make it through any of the holes.’

 

Amelia:

How do you transition from having that initial idea, or as you said, the questions, to getting to a place where you feel ready to write the first draft?

 

Michaelbrent:

Again, that varies. Part of it is I write so many different genres. I’m sure you know. As you mentioned, you write mysteries. If you write a mystery, you know how it ends. You have to. And you work backwards from there, and you lay out all the red herrings and all the real clues, and then you figure out how you’re going to tell them. And I’ve written mysteries. That’s a very different process. Sometimes, I will just seat-of-the-pants it. I wrote a seven-book series called The Colony Saga, and it’s an end-of-the-world zombie apocalypse story, and I had some overarching goals that I wanted to achieve, but I hadn’t fully figured out where it was going until book five. That’s one way to do it.

 

A couple of books ago, my poor wife came home, and I had taken every single piece of furniture in our front room, pushed it to the sides, and the whole floor was covered in three-by-five cards because it was a very complicated story. In that case, I had to write out all of the different things that had to occur, because they’re happening in different timelines, and I had to lay them out in a way that made sense. It was just like, ‘Sorry, honey, I need 200 square feet. I’ll give this back to you day after tomorrow.’ The answer is it just really varies. It goes from super, duper outlined, all the way down to, ‘Well, here’s the first line. Let’s see where it takes us.’ And it just depends on the story and how zoomed in I am on the particular moments versus, ‘Here’s the beginning and here’s where I want to end up and let’s see where the characters take us.’

 

Amelia:

How much detail do you go into when you outline? I’m one of those crazy people who have this massive spreadsheet. I think this could be because I write murder mysteries because I have to know how the crime happened. I don’t just map out the major plot points. Every scene is accounted for. The only mistakes I make are mistakes that I’ve overlooked. I’ve made plot holes that I haven’t been able to see, because it’s been my thing, and I’ve read it 20 times. There are just things that I know that I forget, ‘Oh, the reader technically doesn’t know this.’

 

Michaelbrent:

Totally. Why didn’t everyone intuit that there’s a helicopter involved? I knew it. Well, for me, outlining, like I said, it depends. If I’m doing a mystery, yeah, 100%. Like you said, it’s going to be very granular, because you can’t afford to just go, ‘Well, hopefully, I’ll lay out the clues in a good way.’ My experience is, you either forget clues and the ending is nonsense, or you lay it out and the people reading it has figured it out by page seven, and neither of those is fun.

 

If I’m doing something different, my default is about a page-and-a-half outline. What I find with that is it keeps me from wandering off into the woods and getting lost, which we can all do. Authors’ minds are such Swiss cheese rabbit holes. They just go all over the place. That one-and-a-half pages or so will keep me focused, but it also allows me to enjoy the process. I don’t like feeling like I’m taking dictation from myself. Over-outlining for me gives me that sense that, ‘I already did this, and now I’m just doing it again, and it’s terrible because I don’t want to listen to me tell me what to do six months ago.’

 

I really like being that guy who… I’ll go to a restaurant or something and sit in the corner with my laptop, and everyone moves away because I’ve got my Unabomber coat and I haven’t shaved in a couple of days. And I start giggling maniacally because some character just said something delightful. It came from me, but it’s still a wonderful surprise. When I can, I like to do a light outline and give myself some breathing room. But again, like I said, this book was called The Forest, and it operates through multiple parallel timelines, and that was my 200-square-foot outline that my poor wife had to put up with. But that’s the exception. I don’t usually get that detailed.

 

Amelia:

Okay. I find that if I don’t have a detailed outline, I do feel crippled by it in a sense because I’ve already done the fun part, which is creating the story. It’s the brain-onto-the-page part that I struggle with. But if I don’t do that straight-jacket outline, I will screw up.

 

Michaelbrent:

Yeah. And that’s an important thing for people who are authors. I always tell folks, ‘If you stand up 100 successful authors against the wall and put a gun to their heads and say, “What’s the secret to success?”, you’re going to get 100 different answers.’ Some people need to have that really detailed outline, and some people need to not have anything on the page and just start and see where it goes. Part of the trick of becoming a professional, I think, is getting to know your process, because there are so many options and so many hybrid versions. I can outline the beginning and the end and play with the middle or vice versa. And over time, if you’re serious about it, part of the craft of it is learning, ‘Hey, I’m a “pantser.” Hey, I’m an outliner. I write mysteries, so like it or not, I’m going to do outlines, or I’m going to find a different genre.’ And that’s a really cool thing. I love the infinite mobility, the infinite possibility of the creative process. If we have a stick and some dirt to scratch words in, we can make magic happen, and I think that’s just so cool.

 

Amelia:

That is one of the things I do like about writing and publishing. Technically, there’s no one way to do it. Some other careers like finance, there really is only one way, and it’s like that for a reason. Whereas with writing, you can do it your way, really. You don’t have to outline. You can pants. I have tried to pants, and what I realised I was doing, is I had an outline. It was like, ‘This chapter, I want this to happen.’ Technically, it’s still an outline. I can’t just flip open my laptop and just start writing. I don’t know. It’s just something-

 

Michaelbrent:

It’s not the way your brain works.

 

Amelia:

Yeah. Something in my brain’s broken. It would be far more convenient to be able to flip open a computer and write. So much easier.

 

Michaelbrent:

It would be. I have found that “pantsers,” their problem is they get to page 400 and realise the last 200 pages were a huge mistake. Each different version has its pluses and minuses. Some are really fun, but you’re going to end up with a lot of dead ends. And some are a little more workman-like, and it takes some of the fun out of it, but you get to the satisfying part, which is finishing the book because that’s the best part, is being able to write the end and take a sigh. It’s like, ‘Oh, I got that out of me. How nice.’ It’s like being violently ill. At a certain point, you’re just glad it’s over and sort of relieved.

 

Amelia:

You touched on this earlier, but what do you do when you’re writing the first draft and you’re either stuck, I get this thing where I become anxious about a scene that I know isn’t going to work, or you just don’t feel like writing? Usually, if you dig a bit deeper, there’s an actual reason. What do you do during those moments?

 

Michaelbrent:

That’s a great question, especially for new writers. There’s a point of every single book where I walk out of my office and I go into the house and I’m like, ‘This is the one. This is the one where they discover how much I suck. Not only do they realise this book is the worst, but they go back through all my old work and they’re like, “Oh, this is terrible,” and I have 100,000 people who want a refund.’ That is something that just doesn’t go away. There’s always that doubt that hits us. That said, that’s a psychological quirk. That’s not the work. That’s just a hurdle that writers go through. And part of that is because we’re working in a vacuum. The response is six months away. It’s like telling a joke and the punchline, and then six months from now, someone will laugh, hopefully. That would make jokes a lot less fun to tell. That’s a situational danger. That’s an occupational hazard.

 

That said, as far as story beats and stuff, I very rarely have trouble thinking of stuff. Part of that is just a mindset thing. I used to be an attorney. When I was writing a brief or researching a point of law for a client, I would sit there and stare at my computer, which was empty of words, and I would be thinking, ‘What’s the best way to argue this? What’s the argument I want to make?’ And I wasn’t actually writing a single darn thing. I still billed the client for that time, because I was working. I think a lot of writers get hung up on, ‘I’m not typing in this instant, so I must not be writing.’ That’s just not true. What most writers think of is, ‘Oh, I’m stuck.’ I’m just sitting there going, ‘Okay, I have a really interesting story question to deal with. How do I get my main character out of this hole that he’s been dropped into, a pit with poisonous spikes and stuff?’ Instead of going, ‘Oh, I have writer’s block,’ I’m just saying, ‘This is part of the fun. I get to spend significant time coming up with an answer.’

 

People think authors are geniuses, and they go, ‘Oh, you’re so smart. You thought of this amazing thing.’ And the secret, which I’m about to give away, is you spent six hours reading my book that I spend four months writing. I would hope that four months of me is smarter than six [hours] of you. Knowing that it takes a lot of the pressure off. I don’t have to think of the answer in the next two seconds. I don’t have to be typing. I’m still doing my job for the day. Just so happens that today’s job is answering a question. Sometimes, if I’m really stuck, hey, part of the writing day is I step back from the computer and I go watch a movie, or I used to before COVID and everything. Thankfully, I’ve got my vaccine, so I’m going back to the movies and stuff. I’ll go see a movie or I’ll read a book. I don’t sit there and go, ‘I’m not working today,’ because that’s part of working, is going to different sources to get inspiration.

 

If all else fails, I tell people, “Put in a helicopter,” by which I mean, ‘This guy’s in a pit. I can’t figure out how to get him out.’ And I’ll write, ‘And then the helicopter appeared with a rope.’ What I mean by that is I can have any nonsense thing happen right on that page, page 800 of the book, and all I have to do is then go back to page 400 and mention it, and now it makes sense. I just mention there’s a helicopter, and I thread that through a couple of times. Now, it’s not ludicrous. It’s an integral part of the story. I think if you give yourself a little credit for working, whether you’re typing or not, and if you allow yourself the breathing room to step back and go, “This is a fun question,” rather than, ‘Oh my gosh, I have writer’s block,’ it really turns it fun.

 

Amelia:

I think my anxiety about writing something I know is not going to work, stemmed in after I published my first book then went and sought out reviews. What I wish I knew before I did that was to not read them.

 

Michaelbrent:

Right.

 

Amelia:

Because when I submit my stuff to editors or beta readers, I’m asking for feedback, so when they tear me a new one, that doesn’t shock me. For some reason, I can’t handle an opinion on someone on Amazon or Goodreads. I find that that’s affected my writing. And also, this… How do I describe it? I have this very locked-in view of what writing is, and I think, like you said, fingers on the keyboard, and I don’t count research. Research, I have to do to write a scene to make it believable.

 

Michaelbrent:

Right. I think that’s a trap that a lot of authors fall into, and it’s partly because we talk about word count. As soon as you become an author, as soon as you… And I’m not even talking about someone who’s being paid on the regular. I’m talking about, ‘This is a part of my life, and I talk to other people who write that have to do it.’ And the question is always, ‘What are you writing? How much did you write today? What’s your word count?’ That becomes the litmus, and it’s a false litmus, because, like you say, you can’t write that scene.

 

I spent 45 minutes once researching what kind of bulb would go into a specific parking lot lamp, and it took up all of one sentence in the whole book. And I thought that was time well spent because I was creating a mood with a specific kind of light. I wanted to be able to describe it and have that verisimilitude for people who have ever gone into the yellow-lit parking lot that makes everybody look like they’ve got jaundice and tuberculosis. It was totally fine to do that, but a lot of authors, they do that, and they get to the end of their hour, and they’re like, ‘I only wrote that sentence.’ And they’re not concentrating on the fact that it is a bitching sentence that does everything they hoped it would do. They’re just like, ‘Oh, I only got 60 words or 20 words.’ Man, I’d rather have 20 words for that hour than 8,000 that nobody’s going to pay me for if they’re 20 good words.

 

But you’re right. It’s hard to get into that mindset, and it is hard to read reviews, especially… Now, I have in the 10s of thousands, and if somebody doesn’t like one of my books, I can go, ‘Well, most people think otherwise,’ and that’s helpful. But at the beginning, if someone’s like, ‘This person sucks, and I wish they’d never been born. Obviously, they are the product of a condom that should’ve been recalled.’ You’re like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ All of us writers suffer from low self-esteem. We do. Again, it’s something that you continue, and you get a little bit of perspective, and some of them are fabulous. I loved the one-star reviews that were like, ‘This was awful. It was so scary, I couldn’t finish it.’ I’m like, ‘That sounds like a good review to me.’

 

Amelia:

Yeah. If you write horror, that’s your dream review.

 

Michaelbrent:

Yeah. Yeah. I post those. I post some of the great ones. My favourite review of all time is three stars on Amazon, and the headline was, ‘It was okay.’ And the entirety of the review was, ‘There were a lot of words.’ And I was like, ‘That’s just magic. I think that’s hilarious.’ I think it’s my screensaver for one of my computers.

 

Amelia:

‘There were a lot of words.’ [Amelia laughs]

 

Michaelbrent:

Oh my gosh. [crosstalk].

 

Amelia:

It’s like, ‘Well, it wasn’t a comic.’

 

Michaelbrent:

Oh, it was fantastic. You do go, ‘Well, somebody else has a different opinion.’ Look, if you could sell a book to one person in 1,000, you would’ve sold seven million copies, eight million copies. But that also means 999 out of 1,000 people are ambiguous at best and despise your work at worst. That’s a mental mindset you have to be able to achieve if you’re going to keep going.

 

Amelia:

I ended up creating this creepy spreadsheet where I’ve actually monitored how many of what reviews I get, like five, four, the rest. And I’ve discovered that 60% of my people who read the book will actually like it, and there’s 40 who either find a flaw in it and will be critical, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and then there’s the other part of that 40%, which I think is 27%, will just hate it.

 

Michaelbrent:

Right. And 90% of them are professionally angry.

 

Amelia:

Professionally angry. [Amelia laughs]

 

Michaelbrent:

You could probably click those people’s Amazon profiles and find… Basically, the thread is, ‘I wish everyone was dead.’

 

Amelia:

Oh. But now that Amazon does this super fun thing where they can just put a one-star and not leave a review, for me, that’s annoying, because I’m like, ‘Well…’

 

Michaelbrent:

Yeah. The person that is least invested. Look, Amazon has its way of doing things, and they’re… I don’t know. Some people might not have heard of them, but they’re this little upstart company. They’re going to do great things. They’re obviously doing it right, so I can’t complain too much. I definitely don’t like the fact that they weigh bad reviews. Periodically, I have books that have 90% four and five-star reviews, and the top review listed is one star, because they’ve weighted it that way.

 

Amelia:

I thought just happened to me.

 

Michaelbrent:

Yeah. That drives me… Yeah. It’s not good. It’s like, ‘Yeah, someone at Amazon thinks I suck. That’s not cool.’ And again, that’s something you just have to be able to deal with. This is an emotionally taxing job. It is difficult. As a lawyer, I did not work nearly as hard as I do as a writer.

 

Amelia:

Really?

 

Michaelbrent:

Oh, yeah. I work regularly 10 to 16-hour days. That is my normal day. Part of that’s because, thankfully, I have a big following, and I’m answering fan mail, and I’m trying to maintain an online presence and all that stuff, and still write for a couple of hours a day. But part of it is it’s just a tough job. And if you want to do a good job of it, it takes an inordinate amount of time, and it takes real mental strength because you’re dealing with your own demons. There’s that part of every writer that’s like, ‘You suck. Just quit.’ And that’s an everyday thing. I don’t know any writer who’s just sitting there going like, ‘I’m amazing.’ We all struggle with that. And then on top of it, even if there are 1,000 people that like us, we see those three that are like, ‘You suck’ and you’re like, ‘Yeah, those are three that I’m going to let affect me.’ And that’s just human nature, and it affects everybody.

 

I have a really good friend, Joanna Penn, who does the Creative Penn podcast, which is fantastic. She and I were talking off the air about marketing things, and she just said, ‘You do a lot of Facebook stuff, and I just can’t do it, because then I have to interact with people.’ And that takes a lot out of her to interact that way. She’s marvellous at interacting with people, and an excellent podcast that I recommend to anybody, but that particular thing hurts her heart enough that she can’t do it. A lot of writing is like that. It’s difficult and it’s traumatic. Not only are you writing words that you hope people will like, in another room where you don’t at least have to see them, but then you have to walk out. Nowadays, you make yourself part of the product, which means you’re standing out there and not just saying, ‘Here, make fun of my book,’ but like, ‘Hey, now make fun of me, Michaelbrent personally.’ That takes something that is already difficult and makes it 1,000 times harder.

 

Amelia:

I have to admit, I haven’t had any hate directed towards me yet, but that day will come. It’s more they just didn’t like how the story ended. Spoiler alert, it’s not a happily ever after.

 

Michaelbrent:

Oh, right. Yeah. And that’s tremendously difficult. It is subjective. I don’t mind people giving it a one-star review. I really don’t. I do like people to recognise… Like the horror thing. If it was so scary you couldn’t finish, maybe it’s more than a one-star book because that was its purpose.

 

And I do get upset to this day when people say nasty things about my fans. I will see reviews periodically that are like, ‘Obviously, everybody that has given this a five-star rating is a moron.’ And I’m like, ‘That kind of sucks’ especially because there’s 1,000 of them. I didn’t wrap up 10,000 of my closest friends to put Goodreads reviews, and that’s upsetting. That’s actually, at this point, a lot more upsetting to me than seeing a review about Michaelbrent. That kills the reading. That kills the enjoyment of it. There’s enough toxicity in the world without readers who should have the most empathy. We exist in other people’s heads. And then to sit down and say, ‘But all of you people, for your opinion, you’re meaningless or valueless or morons,’ or whatever it is, that’s really sad. I definitely encourage any reader out there, if someone says, ‘Hey, this book’s awesome,’ and you disagree, you don’t have to jump on it and tell them why they’re stupid. It’s a different person, and I’m so grateful that we all like different things. That makes the world a really cool place. It would really stink if everybody was me.

 

Amelia:

I’m not agreeing with you, by the way. I realised I was nodding. I was like, ‘Oh my God, that looks so bad.’

 

Michaelbrent:

She’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, that would be the worst if everything was Michaelbrent.’ I forgive you.

 

Amelia:

Sorry. I do think the same thing about me, though. I do realise that I am quite quirky or, as the kids in grade one said, weird. Something I’ve been told my entire life, and I’m used to hearing it, but I do see what you mean. If everyone were like us, it would be pretty boring.

 

Michaelbrent:

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Amelia:

I do like the point you made that writing is quite emotionally taxing, because when you get into writing, you don’t realise what you’re really getting into, and it creeps up on you. And then you realise, after you finished your first book, it’s actually quite a lot. I have to give myself a lot of mental health breaks and time off because I can’t just keep writing and writing and writing. It’s really difficult.

 

Michaelbrent:

Oh, it’s devastating. Look, I wrote the Colony Saga I was talking about. The point I wanted to make in that book, the thing I wanted to do, the fun of it was to write a zombie story where everybody in it is nice, because most zombie stories, three episodes in, you’re going, ‘You know what? The zombies should kill all of them,’ because they are moral sinkholes. They’re just all out for themselves. There’s the good guy and the rapey guy next door, but by the end of season one, the good guy is more of a rapey guy than the rapey guy.

 

Michaelbrent:

I was writing this story, and I decided to base the main characters on my family because I was thinking, personally, in the apocalypse, I think most of my neighbours would help each other. We wouldn’t be trying to murder each other. And I had to write a scene in which one of the kids died, and it was based on one of my kids. Of course, this kid was not in a zombie apocalypse. He didn’t die like that. But I had to think, ‘If my son were in this situation, he would do this thing. He would do this heroic thing, and here’s how it would end.’ I came home that day. I write out of the house. I’m either in my office, which is a separate building, or I am at McDonald’s or something because they have free WiFi and Diet Coke refills.

 

Amelia:

Oh, I never thought of that.

 

Michaelbrent:

Oh. Look, as a writer, you can either have a caffeine addiction or an alcohol addiction. Those are your two choices. I came home, and I could not communicate with my wife beyond to say, ‘I killed our son today.’ And she knew. Look, we’ve been married long enough, and she’s along with me on the ride. Oh my gosh. I got so lucky with her. That’s the one thing I will say any writer needs, is a support system, and my wife is just an angel. Coming home, though, I’m like, ‘This happened.’ She knew what I was saying. I wrote a scene where this character died, modelled on my son. And even in a fictional sense as it was, it was so hard. I literally was not able to communicate with anyone for three or four hours. That is not the only time it’s happened. People are like, ‘You’re sort of the god of this whole universe,’ but every god story I’ve ever read involves a lot of pain on the part of the deity, and certainly no different with writers. We go through these mental travails right along with our characters, and it’s certainly cumulative over the course of a book or a series.

 

Amelia:

Yeah. I definitely agree with that. But I write at home, so my husband has now realised exactly how crazy I am because I’ll walk around. He must think that I’m autistic because I will walk around. It’s almost like a stim. If I’m stuck, I will walk around, because, for some reason, the movement helps. We’re in a two-bedroom flat, so there’s only so much space that I have.

 

Michaelbrent:

Yeah. Well, it’s the same thing with me. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a two-bedroom or a full house. When I’m really thinking, I’ll walk around in little circles. And it happens in random places, which is the worst part. I could set up camp right in front of the family television, and it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re watching a movie. Nope, guess not. That’s over because Dad’s doing his circle-and-mumble thing.’ Honestly, that’s kind of fun. But it is weird for families. It’s got to be. It took years for my wife to understand. She would come out with a question, or she’ll text me. It took years and years for her to understand that when she did that, it wasn’t a momentary interruption. I had to start a ball rolling, so her two-second text put me back an hour and a half, where I was just trying to get back into whatever rhythm I had achieved.

 

It is an alien situation for our caregivers, and they are caregivers. My wife will walk out. She’s like, ‘Did you eat? Did you go to the bathroom? Have you put on pants today?’ She’s got to be so tired of having a fifth infant, basically. But it’s a weird universe that we live in, and it’s very hard to understand. If you’re not a writer, it’s hard for you to understand why me staring at the wall and doing my ASMR imitation, that’s super hard work, and I’m not just being lazy. That is digging mental ditches, and it is heavy-duty lifting. That is a really hard thing for non-writers, non-creatives to wrap their heads around.

 

Amelia:

I’m sort of lucky in the sense that my husband has… He’s done a PhD, and he’s had to defend his thesis. He actually does… How do I explain what he does? Well, he does coding. By nature, it’s creative. I think he sort of understands that staring at the wall for 20 minutes is technically work.

 

Michaelbrent:

Yeah. Yeah. Like I say, you need that support. The number-one indicator of success is someone willing to put up with you and keep you from throwing yourself off a ledge on a bad day.

 

Amelia:

Yeah. My husband has definitely had to do that for me. I think he believes in my work more than I do, and it’s nice to have that, actually.

 

Michaelbrent:

Yeah. That is a blessing. Look, there are days where we want to give up. And if you’re a new writer and you’re having one of those days, they go on. They’re always going to be there. I think the difference between being a successful writer and being functionally unemployed is mostly a matter of attitude. I still go through this, and I make good money, and I’ve sold lots of books and been up for awards and all that good stuff, and there’s still days where I’m like, ‘Gosh, I wish I had a job as a checker because at least I would feel like a normal human being.’ And plus, writers have… As a rule, we have the dental benefits of a crack whore. There are all sorts of things that we also have to put up with. We wish we could be normal people sometimes, and it definitely is important to have somebody there to say on your down days, ‘Look, you’re not normal. You are quirky,’ the word you used was quirky, ‘but how cool is that? You made a universe out of that quirkiness, and you’ve made a profession and a vocation out of your need to look at things strangely.’

 

Amelia:

Yep. And the last question. If you could go back in time and give that version of yourself that was about to write his first book three pieces of advice, what would you say to yourself?

 

Michaelbrent:

The first piece would be, ‘Are you sure you really want to do this?’ Writing is a very jealous mistress, and it really does start taking over more and more of your life. My wife, the poor lady, married this stable lawyer, and three years into our marriage, she realised the writing thing was actually a real thing. She realised she had really married a closet nutcase. I’m not saying I would say, ‘Don’t do it,’ but definitely, I’d say, ‘Be real aware of what you’re getting into.’

 

Michaelbrent:

The second thing I would tell myself is to write. I’m glad I did that. I’ve had a large output, and it’s because I believe that you can never have too many people telling you, ‘Just write, write, write.’ Especially in today’s universe, a lot of writers are concerned about marketing, and they should be, but they forget you have to have a quality product to market. They get involved in building up an Insta following and then discover they don’t have enough behind it to maintain it. The second thing would be to write.

 

Michaelbrent:

And the third thing would probably be, ‘Bring your wife more flowers, because she…’ Sincerely, if you find that person who is willing to put up with your crazy and willing to love you enough to not only put up with you but also to say, ‘You’re acting like an idiot today. Go out to the office and stop moping.’ Or on the flip side, ‘Today, honey, you need to go and watch a movie. That will help you.’ And if you can find that person who loves you enough to be kind and to be brutal when necessary, treat that person like the universe, because they really are.

 

Amelia:

Yeah. I definitely agree. Thank you for coming on my podcast, Michaelbrent. This has been a great conversation, and I can’t wait to edit it and listen to it back. It sounds super crazy, by the way. If you don’t have a podcast, you’ll never get why.

 

Michaelbrent:

So much work goes into it. Anybody who is watching the Authorpreneur Podcast, just know that this woman is doing a labour of love for you because it is. There’s so much work behind it. I’m astounded by the job that you guys do.

 

Amelia:

Yeah. It’s fun. It’s a nice break from writing, even though I’m talking about writing.

 

Michaelbrent:

This is as far as we can get. It’s an addiction.

 

Concluding Thoughts

Thank you for listening or watching this episode of the Authorpreneur Podcast, where I spoke with Michaelbrent Collings about how he writes his fiction which is included in the season on how to outline a novel. I hope you were able to get something from this interview that you can apply to your own writing life, or even you discovered something that you really need to change about your own mindset around the pre-writing phase. Let me know in the comments section below one thing you got from this interview.

 

Once again, thank you for listening, and I’ll see you in the next show.

 

Happy reading and writing, everybody.

 

With love,

Amelia xx

 

Amelia Hay
Amelia Hay

I’m Amelia. I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Missing, the first book in the James Lalonde series. On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process. Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.

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