A glimpse into the writing process… an interview with Alex Franzen
Each month I delve into a “Real Life Story”… where I interview someone who inspires me.
I share their story with my readers, to help them take action on their goals or dreams (hooray!).
This month I was excited to interview one of my writing heroes!
Alexandra Franzen — writer, consultant and entrepreneur — produces some of the best email newsletters I’ve ever received.
I love her work, and her attitude to her business and life in general.
She doesn’t use social media (for her business or in her personal life) — and has proved that you can still have friends, run a successful business, and earn the money you want without Facebook or Twitter accounts etc.
(Who’d have thought?!)
Alex has just finished a new book — You’re Going to Survive — and I wanted to hear all about her writing process: how she started, what advice she would give… and would she do it all again?!
So… let’s dive in!
1. Had you always wanted to write a book like this, or was it a recent decision?
“You’re Going to Survive came from a very personal place. What happened is that my partner Brandon and I started a restaurant, and things were going pretty well, until (dun dun dunnnnnn) we got our first really negative Yelp review.
I read the review and, quite honestly, it sent me into an emotional spiral. I felt really scared about the future of our business. I thought, “Maybe we’ll never get any more customers! Maybe we’re doomed! Maybe all of our hard work is for nothing! It’s all over! Aaaahhhh!!!”
I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but that’s how I felt. Criticism can be really tough to stomach, especially when you’ve put your heart, soul, time, energy and money into a project that really matters to you.
After stewing and worrying and freaking out for several hours, I emailed several friends to get some support. I asked my friends, “Have you ever gone through something like this? What happened? What helped you to feel better?”
They responded with so much generosity. Every single person had a story to share — a story about criticism, rejection, discouragement, a terrible boss, a hysterical client… some kind of “Oh boy, I’ve totally been there…” moment.
Pretty quickly, I realized, “Whoa. I’m definitely not alone. Everyone goes through bumpy moments like this. It’s normal.”
And pretty shortly after that, I realized, “I think this needs to become a book. Because I think other people would love to hear these stories, too.”
So, that’s how You’re Going to Survive began.
Looking back, I’m grateful for that icky Yelp review because if that hadn’t happened, I probably never would have been inspired to put together this book!”
2. When you decided to write this book, what were the first things you did — the first steps you took? How can readers get started on something like this?
“First, I made an outline of what I wanted the book to include. Initially, I thought I wanted it to be focused on “criticism” (i.e., critical Yelp and Amazon reviews), but then I decided that was a little too narrow.
I decided to broaden the book to include stories about all kinds of stressful, discouraging experiences — bad reviews, sure, but also the stress of job-hunting, and how it feels to audition for a role and not get it; dealing with family members who don’t approve of your career path; or dealing with a PR scandal that might wreck your professional reputation. All kinds of difficult situations that can arise in our careers.
After that, I made an outline. I gave each chapter a different theme. I made a list of the people I wanted to interview: people who might be willing to contribute a true story — mostly close friends and colleagues.
Then I released the book as a self-published e-book. Nothing fancy. It was literally just a Word document. It wasn’t particularly long. Maybe 80 pages or so.
I clicked File > Print > Save As > PDF and boom! I had an e-book that I could share online.
Later, I created a book proposal and began submitting the proposal to literary agents and publishers to see if I could get a traditional “book deal” and do a bigger, expanded version of the book in hardcover or paperback.”
3. How long did it take you from initially deciding to write the book, to the end point?
“You know, I’m not exactly sure.
I reckon it was about four months to put together the initial e-book…
then a month to work on the book proposal…
then two months of pitching the proposal to agents and publishers (and getting rejected about 27 times before finding a publisher who said “Yes!”)
… and then about nine months between the time I signed the book contract and the time the book actually gets released in bookstores.
So, definitely over a year, all together.”
4. Are you glad you did it (and would you do it again)?!
“Absolutely. I’m proud of how the book turned out, and I’m excited to hold it in my hands!
I still haven’t gotten to see the paperback version yet. When that arrives in my mailbox, that will be a hugely exciting day! I’m sure I’ll cry!
And I’m excited to see how people respond to it.
I know that not everybody will love this book, of course, but I’m hoping that some readers will be uplifted and encouraged by the stories inside.
If this book can make some kind of positive ripple effect in the world, then all the effort is totally worth it.”
5. What would you say to someone who would like to do write a book, but doesn’t feel they have the necessary skills or experience?
“Number one: I would say, “Do you really want to write a book? Are you totally sure?”
Maybe you’d enjoy making a podcast, or hosting a workshop, or running a blog, or creating an online class, or writing an article for a magazine and feeling the thrill of seeing your name in print.
There are many ways to express yourself, and many different creative projects you could do.
Are you 100% sure you want to make a book? Maybe there’s something else that could be even more satisfying for you.
Number two: I would say, “Start small and keep it simple.”
You don’t necessarily have to write a 500-page novel:
- You could start with a 15-page “tiny book” that you self-publish and share with a few friends and loved ones.
- You could make a family cookbook.
- You could make a collection of love letters for your partner.
- You could write a book that’s just for your kids.
Start with something that feels fun, simple, doable, and realistic.
We often think we need to “go big” right away, but why not go small?
Tiny projects can often have a very, very big impact on people’s lives.’
6. Is there anything else you would say to readers as they move forward with their goals or dreams?
“To whoever is reading this, whatever you decide to create, I hope you enjoy the process and feel proud of yourself for pursuing such a meaningful goal.
You’re more creative and resilient than you might think.
Please keep marching forward.
One foot in front of the other.”
So there we have it! Words of wisdom from a successfully published author and entrepreneur.
I was so grateful to Alex for being one of my “Real Life Story” interviewees.
I loved hearing about her writing process, and how she made this book happen.
I hope you enjoyed the interview and it helps you with your goals or dreams.
PS: Alex has also created a Spotify playlist for the book — how cool is that?!
If you’ve achieved a big goal or dream and you’d like to share how you did it or what you learned, let me know — I would love to hear your story!
Claire O’Connor is an accountability coach for people who struggle to get things done. Through her program, blog, and newsletter, she’s here to help you move beyond overwhelm and start moving forward — while making it feel easy and stress-free. When she’s not coaching, she enjoys whiskey-bacon donuts and the occasional half-marathon. Get ready to start making progress at The Five Percent!