Becoming a Healthy Writer: My Interview With Joanna Penn

Often, writers and artists talk about how to get better at their craft, publish their work, and engage an audience. They look for tricks and trends and shortcuts and “best practices.” 

Yet, in working with creative professionals over the years, I have found that there is a topic which can undermine all of their other efforts: neglecting their health. Not just physical health, but mental health, including stress, anxiety, loneliness, and sleep. 

Today’s guest, author Joanna Penn, is here to talk about her new book, The Heathy Writer, which she co-wrote with Dr. Euan Lawson. In our chat, we dig deep into ways that writers can improve their health, and Joanna is incredibly honest in sharing her own story. Click ‘play’ above or below to hear the podcast.

You can find The Healthy Writer here.

And you can find Joanna here.


How to Mastermind

This podcast episode digs into why I feel you should join or create a mastermind group, and my tips on how to get the most value out of it.

I review different types of mastermind groups, how they can help you find more success as a creative professional, and best practices for collaborating with others.

I also dig into the specifics of how I run my own mastermind group, which is now open for enrollment. They begin on January 1, 2018. I have three, one for each topic:

  1. Craft Your Creative Roadmap
  2. Build Your Creative Power Habits
  3. Find Your First 10 Super Fans

Register here:


“I gave myself permission” – an interview with children’s book author Stacy McAnulty

Stacy McAnultyIf you wondered about the reality of what it takes to find true success with your craft, I beg of you to listen to my interview with children’s book author Stacy McAnulty.

She published 6 books this year, and 6 books in 2016. The road to that success? Dramatically longer and more involved that even I had ever considered.

Her journey (and our interview) began with her saying “I gave myself permission” to write. This was more than 15 years ago, when she wrote her first book one-handed, without punctuation or capitalization, because she wrote while breastfeeding her first child using her other hand.

Our interview ends with these words:

“I am still rejected all the time. It never stops being a part of the job. Rejections expand. Now I get rejected from conferences, schools, and bookstore visits, [in addition to publishers.] There is a lot more rejection that “Woo-hoo!” moments. But you have to ask, and you have to try.”

The story in between that start and that ending is just astounding.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

You can find Stacy at

Stop Following Others. Be More Like Yourself. An Interview With Will Ackerman

I want you to imagine something. That you take the unique creative vision that is inside of you, and you pursue it. You obsessively go “all in” with it.

You stop following the advice of the gurus out there, and you double down on honing your craft and sharing it with others.

After awhile, people notice. In a big way. Then, in a couple short years, you are so successful that you are earning tens of millions of dollars a year because of what you create.

That is what happened to a hero of mine, and he and I had the chance to chat for an hour this week. When I asked him about the journey from playing his guitar in an alcove in college, to earning all that money, this was his description of what happened:

“If you begin something that is inspired entirely by heart. You are not chasing something that is indicated in the current market to be viable. Because of the love of it, you are willing to do something whether it has economic potential or not. That it is something you love. In so doing, you end up being a unique thing, that happens to hit the world between the eyes.”

Can you imagine this? Not following trends, not constantly checking social media, not worrying about gaining followers, but instead: following your heart. Focusing on your craft. Becoming MORE LIKE YOURSELF, and less like others.

The person I spoke with is Will Ackerman. You likely haven’t heard of him, but he looms large in my life. This is why:

  • He is a guitarist who has recorded GORGEOUS music. I’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to his albums. Have a listen.
  • He founded a music label, Windham Hill Records that released dozens and dozens of albums of beautiful music, often instrumentals.
  • He pretty much discovered George Winston, the A-MAZ-ING pianist. And Michael Hedges. And so many others. I mean, without Will, the world would truly have missed out on some of the most beautiful music ever recorded.

That is the “what” of Will Ackerman. But the “how” is what fascinates me. How on earth did he do this? In my hour-long interview with Will, I was kind of blown away by his message. Will took me through each step of his career with incredible honesty. What he shared is so instructive for any writer or artist who hope to share their work with the world. 

Will also opened up about something very important: coping with depression, and how he found his way through it. For Will, who had spent a decade helming a label which was earning tens of millions of dollars a year, his solution was simple: remember who you are. He sold the label, bought about 1,000 acres of wilderness in Vermont, and went back to his first love: building. He said to me, “I easily spend 20x more time with a chainsaw in my hand, than I do with a guitar.”

Today, he produces about 15-20 albums for others in his studio, and he recently played Carnegie Hall with a new group he formed called Flow.

You can listen to my interview with Will here:

You can find Will at


Distracted by Art: My Interview with Artist Marc Johns

This week I asked a group of writers and artists about their biggest distractions — the thing keeping them from working on their craft. I called these distractions “cave trolls” because they stand between the artist and their creative vision. Again and again, I heard about the distraction of the internet, and of how hard it can be to focus one’s attention when life is so busy.

So today, I want to talk about distraction. But I want to share an inspiring example of one person who is able to:

  1. Manage distraction.
  2. While also earning a full-time living as an artist.

That person is Marc Johns, who creates “whimsical drawings filled with dry wit and humor.” Here are some of Marc’s drawings:

Marc Johns art

Oh, and this is Marc:

Now, I want to repeat something: Marc earns a full-time living for him and his family (wife and kids) through these drawings. That’s amazing, right?! Maybe you are thinking that he is one those people where this is “easy.” Unfortunately for Marc, it isn’t easy. He and I had a long conversation where we dig into this.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

In our conversation, he told me that:

  • He tries to have a weekly work process, but it always gets derailed by family or other opportunities.
  • He feels he is lousy at marketing.
  • He goes through dry spells in terms of sales.
  • He works from home and he says, “To be honest, it’s not ideal.” He doesn’t have the space or privacy that he needs.
  • He doesn’t think much about marketing, just sharing.
  • He can rarely tell what will work in terms of an illustation that will resonate with people. He shares different things, and he is sometimes shocked to see what people love. His conclusion: “I don’t know if you can have a strategy; you just have to be open to trying things. You don’t get to decide what works or doesn’t, they do.”

What Marc shares here is the reality of what it means to be a creative professional.

So, with all of this, how does Marc magically manage distractions? You are going to love this. It is a tool that all of us have access to. It is not only affordable, it is free. It’s called:

Not having a smartphone.

You can do this too! Walk to your trash can, put your smart phone in it, and walk away. Goodbye distraction!

Marc has never owned a smartphone. When I interviewed him, it was actually awhile back, and since then I see he joined Instagram, which REQUIRES a smartphone, or so I thought. I emailed him asking if he finally got one — he replied that he hadn’t. Instead, he bought an iPod Touch that allows him to use Instagram. He is diligent about turning off notifications.

So for Marc’s work, how does not having a smartphone benefit him?

Instead of being distracted by email or social media or texting, Marc says he is “distracted by art.” When he goes to a library or coffee shop, he doesn’t bring a smartphone and doesn’t bring a computer. He brings sketchbooks. Not only does he say that it focuses him on his drawings, but it also makes him more receptive to possible ideas throughout his day.

I understand what he means. Yesterday I was walking out of a restaurant, and the woman walking in walked in looking at her smartphone. The people on line were looking at their smartphones. The people eating were looking at their smartphone.

What Marc is doing is experiencing his day in a way that allows him to capture interesting new ideas. Being present in the world around him creates “space” in his mind to be receptive to ideas that will become art.

Now, is the smartphone the only thing that distracts people? Nope. But I find that it does come up a lot with the creative professionals I speak to. It also makes a larger point: distraction can be within your control, but it may require you to make polarizing decisions.

For instance: I don’t travel. Period. Travel stresses me out, distracts me, and quite frankly, I like being home with my family every single day. So I have a rule: no travel. But that has also effected my career in a profound way. I love public speaking, but can’t actively pursue that as a part of my career because I won’t travel to Portland or Austin or Charleston or many other wonderful places. Likewise, I can’t really take on many corporate clients because they would want a fair amount of in-person meetings with me. Again, travel and being away from family would be a core part of that. I choose not to do it, and over the last 7 years, that has cost me a ton of potential revenue and opportunity. But… that same decision has removed distraction and given me clarity to double-down on my creative work.

In my conversation with Marc, he shared his process for marketing his work and engaging in social media. If I had to whittle it down to one phrase, it would be this: be a human being. What Marc does:

  • He posts regularly on social media: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • He answers questions on social media. He likes engagement and conversation, because it is about meaning.
  • He pays attention to the art that people respond to, and brings that back into his new work.

So instead of viewing social media as a distraction, he uses it as a way to develop his art and connect with his fans.

One more thing: I have to include this wonderful quote from Marc about how all of this is possible for him:

“My wife is one of my secret weapons. I couldn’t do any of this without her.”

You can find Marc in the following places:

For your work, what distractions — what “cave trolls” — stand in your way?