“I Started Building Creative Muscle.”

Today I would like to share the story of how one writer found his path to create, publish, and share his novels. Everything about this journey is so inspiring to me.

The author is Julian Winters, and he and I recently chatted for my podcast. In the discussion, we touch upon:

  • How he took a huge risk to leave his job in order to pursue his writing goals, even before he had a publisher
  • The power an online community can have to support your writing
  • The responsibility an author has to get people interested in their writing
  • How one person can radically change your career for the better
  • Managing mental health and impostor’s syndrome
  • The value of social media, and it’s downsides

Julian Winters is the award winning author of contemporary young adult fiction. His books include The Summer of Everything, How To Be Remy Cameron, Running With Lions, and the upcoming Right Where I Left You.


Let’s dig in…

Finding Permission to Create

For Julian, his writing came from an extension of play in childhood. When he didn’t have action figures of characters he wanted, he made them out of paper. He says, “I had to create my own world in my bedroom, in order for me to fit in.” Years later when he entered high school, he went online and made a discover, “I was looking up my old favorite things, like Thundercats.” What he found was fanfiction, people who were writing their own stories in the Thundercats universe, and others. So Julian starting writing and sharing his own.

“It was my opportunity to live out scenarios for my own life that I wasn’t getting. A lot of happy ending stories, and a lot of I’m the hero. It gives you this confidence to be who you are. I loved that. In my earlier stuff, there were a lot of romance stories, because I didn’t see one for myself. It felt really good to get to write about these things, feel these things, and express them through words.”

Beyond being a creative outlet, he also described how welcoming this community of writers was: “They just see you as a person who takes them to another world, they look at you as this magical person. It feels like this is who I truly am, and they accept you.” He said that writing and sharing allowed him to become a part of something.

Finding His Writing Career

After finishing high school, he went to college, describing the experience this way: “I struggled. I went to class. I did the assignments. But I felt like my focus was gone. I hated every second of it, and I ended up leaving. I came back home and lived with my shame for a long time. I didn’t live my Zach Morris dreams from TV where I’m supposed to go through my four years of college and come out making it big.”

He got a job: “I would work super hard, and get to a manager or supervisor level position, and say ‘Oh, this is success, this is where I’m supposed to be, everyone wants to be the manager of whatever it is you are working at.’ But it requires so much focus and work, and so little personal time. I didn’t have time for writing. Even when I wasn’t on the job, in my brain I was. This started leading to some bad mental health.”

“I was an adult meandering through the world doing what I was supposed to do, instead of what I wanted to do.”

It had been years since he was active in the online fanfiction world, and had since stopped writing himself.

“Then I was on vacation, and I looked up fanfiction, and I thought, I remember this world. It unlocked something that I tucked away so deeply, that I didn’t even know it was still there in my brain, which is that creative feeling of ‘Oh I can do this. I can take all of these ideas in my head, and these visions of how I want my life to look, and apply it here to characters and story and worldbuilding.”

“I was working at FedEx in a management position, and I realized this is what I’m going to do on my weekends, and this is what I’m going to do before I go into work. I’m going to get back into things I want to write just for fun, not for any other reasons such as the likes or the clicks, but just to get that creative feeling that has been stopped up for so long, out. I had a carefree attitude about it, which was the best thing for me. It started building creative muscle. It helped me so much to realize that there are other things besides just trying to be the adult that impresses other adults.”

After awhile, he describes what happened next: “I went through another really dark mental health stage, where I had to take a [30 day] sabbatical from work. I hit a brick wall. I sat in bed for those first five days, crying. I can’t go to work, which is where I put all my focus and energy; I’m struggling with writing because I have this time, but I don’t know who I am anymore. It was a breakdown that first week, where I couldn’t do anything.”

His lifeline was the tight community he developed online. He had a friend who he met in the online fanfiction community who was a professional author, and Julian says, “She kept encouraging me to take my ideas and write something original. It took a year and a half of her constantly badgering me, which I’m so thankful she did. During that 30 days, she said, ‘I think it’s time we start this. I will help you through this.’ I had already felt I lost so much, I thought, what do I have left to lose. I sat down and started doing it, building my own worlds and characters from scratch. It reignited this creative bone inside of me. For most of the 30 days, I wrote and wrote and wrote. So then nights and weekends I was working on my own original stuff, not just fanfiction.”

“I totally believe in the power and impact that one person can have on your life. Everyone acts like you have to have an army behind you before you make that jump shot for your dreams, but it really just takes one person. Sometimes it’s within yourself, but you need to have permission to stop all of these other things that you are doing, and breathe and work through this. I got that, and it changed so much.”

Publishing and Sharing His Writing

As Julian worked on his novel, he says, “There was a lot of self doubt, which is why it took so long for me to finish my first book. There was the constant reminder of once you finish, then you have to do the work work of going out and finding someone to publish this. So I stalled myself to 90,000 words. Then I was like, enough now, there is no more story to tell.”

He talked about the moment he left a safe stable job in order to focus entirely on writing books. How stressful that was. “I was making this decision before I even submitted a book to a publisher. You are jumping out of a comfortable situation into shark infested waters, and you don’t even know how to swim yet! It took a few people who said, you can do this, who said, ‘Guess what? You can always go back to the job, or just go do something else.’ Leading up to it was a lot of anxiety.”

“It was very freeing to put myself in a situation where I have to pursue this dream. There is no more ignoring it. Now I have to do it, you are fully committed. Sometimes you have to put yourself in a situation where if this is what you really want, you have to go after it.”

Julian got an agent and then submitted his work to publishers. One day, he received an email from a publisher who offered him a contract to publish his book. This is what he did next:

“I drove 30 minutes to see my mom, and I stood in her job and cried in the middle of the floor, because it was finally happening. I had quit my job to finish writing the novel, I was broke, I was clueless as to what I was going to do if this didn’t work out, and it finally happened. These emotions flooded out of me.”

When the book was released, he said that a well-known author he had connected with online shared about his book, as did many others he met through online writing communities. The result: “It did beyond my expectations. It came out in 2018, and people are still picking it up for the first time and tagging me on social media.”

When I asked him about social media, he said, “I put in a conscious effort to always be present on social media, and to be accessible, and talk about the book. I made all these graphics to get people hyped up about it. I put in work to garner attention, but you never think those ideas will pay off. Or that they will pay of in a huge way, and they did. I’ve learned that people love visuals to go along with their literature. It was me putting in the effort, and not just saying that I’m going to let it happen. Being an author is not just putting the words into Word or Scrivener, it is about putting in the work to get people interested. It’s also being genuine, and being yourself online.”

“There is a constant up and down of social media. Am I doing this because I want people to know the real me? Or am I doing this because I want them to know the real me and like the real me. We quantify the likes and comments into whether we are worthy of these people’s attention. That can mess with our own acceptance of who we are.”

He talked about how releasing his second book was even more complicated, because he worried if it would do as well as the first: “I think that is the pressure of publishing. Once you have something that works out really well, then you want to maintain that. It is so much harder with every book, and every thing that you write. It feels like you constantly have to improve upon what you did, and you feel like you can’t ever really do it.”

Can you can listen to my entire conversation with Julian in the following places:

And you can find Julian here: