Writing About Yourself: 5 Questions for Courtney Maum

We readers have to know what is at stake for your characters and have a little glimpse of their need and weakness from page one. Better yet? From paragraph one.” -Courtney Maum

Courtney Maum is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking publishing guide BEFORE AND AFTER THE BOOK DEAL and the memoir THE YEAR OF THE HORSES, chosen by The Today Show as the best read for mental health awareness. A writing coach and educator, Courtney’s mission is to help people hold on to the joy of art-making in a culture obsessed with turning artists into brands. You can sign up for her publishing tips newsletter and online masterclasses at CourtneyMaum.com.

On Saturday, October 22nd, Courtney Maum is teaching a class for the WLT called “From Query Letters to Artist Statements: Writing About Your Own Creative Work. In this class you’ll learn how to best market yourself as an artist and creator in a competitive market.

Here’s what Courtney had to share with us:

Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?

Courtney Maum: I write all different kinds of things: fiction and nonfiction and personal essays, mostly. I’m the author of 5 books: two novels, one historical novel, a memoir and a guidebook to publishing called BEFORE AND AFTER THE BOOK DEAL. Ever since I learned to read— and understood that there was someone making up those stories—I have wanted to be a writer. I had a super supportive English teacher during high school who introduced me to the world of publishing early by letting me know about contests and writers’ conferences for young people. I was off to the races at that point. I don’t have an MFA and I didn’t major in English back in college, but I have written to support myself ever since college graduation, working mostly as a copywriter and a corporate namer until I started publishing books. (But I still fall back on these skills to help pay the bills!)

Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?

CM: I’d say that I know when to throw in the towel and call it a day, and I also know when to tell myself “Stop being a baby; push through it. You’ll find a way to make this work.” In general, I’ve developed really good time management skills, which are essential, because so much of the promotional work I have to do to support my books could be considered writing, but it isn’t, and books don’t write themselves. I’ve learned to use “no” as an empowerment tool, and I don’t work on the weekends, which helps me avoid burnout.

Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

CM: When I was on book tour for my first book in 2014, I wrote an article for BuzzFeed about how the debut publishing experience isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be: that it is a blessing and a privilege, certainly, but it’s also really hard. This paved the way for the eventual publication of BEFORE AND AFTER THE BOOK DEAL, which effectively changed my life, or at least pushed my career in the direction that my heart wanted it to go toward, as a kind of “truth talker” in publishing, someone who truly wants writers to know what this dream is going to require of them mentally, physically, and financially. Other than that, book after book, I keep realizing that I actually do need a plot, regardless of what I’m writing. I wish that it weren’t so.

Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

CM: We readers have to know what is at stake for your characters and have a little glimpse of their need and weakness from page one. Better yet? From paragraph one. This is true for essays, for memoir, for full length novels, everything.

Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

CM: You will learn how to create distance between you and your material so that you can write and think about it as both an editor and a publicist. You’ll learn tips and secrets on how to stand out in an ultra competitive market, and you’ll learn how to share specifics about your work without ever feeling like you’re “giving the whole thing away.” My goal is for people to feel energized and up for the challenge when it comes to writing about their own writing, instead of downtrodden and overwhelmed.

Thanks, Courtney!

Click here to learn more about Courtney Maum’s upcoming class.



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