Writing can be a lonely business. Sitting alone for several hours, just you and your words.
This is when a writing community or collaboration can be of real benefit.
In this episode, I chat with Niki Hardy from Hope Writers and the author of Breathe Again. How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart.
Niki talks to me about how she found the encouragement that she needed from Hope Writers. She believes that without their support, her book would never have been published.
In this episode we discuss:
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Niki: Yeah, we call it the hope*writer path and it was developed because what the founders had discovered was that many people were doing the right things but just in the wrong order. And although the writing path isn’t always a straight line, we actually depict it as a bit of a circle.
Introduction: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: Are you searching for a community of writers that you can work with, collaborate with, and learn from?
Hi, there. My name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast.
Writing can be a lonely profession. Usually, it’s you alone in a room with your words for half an hour or an hour or two every day. It can be difficult because you’ll write something and you ask yourself, “Is it any good? How do I get feedback? What will other people think of it?” These are some of the questions that went through my head when I first started writing by myself after a day job in my late 20s and I found a community in my late 20s by joining a creative writing group in the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin city centre and we met up once a week and workshopped each other’s stories.
Much later, I moved on to non-fiction and that’s what I focus on these days, but I’m still a big believer in the power of community and in the power of spending time with other writers because it’ll help you learn from your craft, it will help you validate your creative ideas, and, also, it’ll help combat the feelings of loneliness that can happen when you’re working on something big like a book for weeks or months on end.
Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to find a community today through the internet. You can collaborate with other writers without leaving your house, which has been great over the past year or two as we’re just coming out of lockdown here in Ireland.
One community that’s making a big impact is hope*writers, and in this week’s interview, I had an opportunity to catch up with Niki Hardy of hope*writers. She’s also the author of Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart, and in this week’s interview, she explains the six-step path that hope*writers is based on. This six-step path really resonated with me because I was able to spot different points on my writing journey and Niki explains how the path is circular so you could find yourself at the end of the path and then suddenly have to go back to the first step. So hang on to the latter half of the interview where Niki explains how the six-step path works.
Now, I also asked Niki all about community and what hope*writers offers, and whether it’s geared towards a particular type of writer or author. The good news is it doesn’t matter what your genre is or whether you write fiction or nonfiction. Hope*writers has a community and a network of other writers that you can collaborate with and learn from. We talked all about what members get from hope*writers when they join this community.
And if you’re interested in joining, you can use my affiliate link, it’s becomeawritertoday.com/hopewriters, and I’ll also include that link, becomeawritertoday.com/hopewriters, in the show notes. And even if you’re not quite ready to join the community, they have some free materials and an excellent quiz which will help you figure out what stage of the six-step path for writers you’re already on.
If you find this week’s interview helpful, please consider leaving a short review on iTunes or share the show with another writer on Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. And also, if you’ve got feedback about the show or you have suggestions for future guests, I’d love to hear from you. You can find me on Twitter, @bryanjcollins.
Now, let’s go over to this week’s interview with Niki Hardy of hope*writers.
Bryan: So, Niki, you are an author and you’re also coaching other writers on hope*writers. Before we get into how hope*writers can help listeners with their creative career, could you give a flavor for who you are?
Niki: Yeah. So, I’m a Brit living in the USA. We came out here about 15 years ago and, as you said, I’m an author and a speaker and podcaster who kind of fell into writing accidentally and kind of decided to help other people going through difficult times and wrote a very down-to-earth practical book to help them do that so that is what I now do and I’m now part of the hope*writers team as well.
Bryan: This is your book, Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart?
Niki: Yeah, that’s the one.
Bryan: How did you find the writing process for that book?
Niki: Well, I felt like I was completely lost at sea and, actually, that’s where hope*writers came in. Somebody told me about hope*writers and if it hadn’t been for hope*writers, I don’t think this book would have ever made it to a shelf at all, whether that be traditionally published or even self-published. I had no idea how to start, where to go.
Somebody said, “Oh, you know, you should start a blog,” and this was at the height of the blogging in the kind of about 2013, 2014, and I actually said, “What’s a blog?” I mean, I’m a zoologist, that’s what I did at university, so I had no idea which way was up in the publishing industry. So, hope*writers really helped me figure out the path that I needed to take.
Bryan: Writing is certainly tough when you’re starting out. It can be difficult to understand how to make a living. I struggled for quite a while as an unemployed journalist in Ireland, but how is hope*writers different to some of the other writing communities and courses that are available online today?
Niki: Well, I think you said it in the word “community.” It’s very much a community to help writers make progress and balance the art of writing with the business of publishing, because I think we often find resources that will help us with one or the other but not necessarily to balance the two and how we can write words that are going to empower and inspire the world while not destroying our own life in the process as we, you know, do all the Googling that we can in order to do that.
So, they build community, they have a path that you can kind of figure out where you are on that path and the next steps that you need to take because it can be completely overwhelming.
Bryan: Is it for fiction, non-fiction, or genre writers, or anything in particular?
Niki: All of the above. We have fiction writers, we have children’s books writers, we have non-fiction, we have people who are writing in publications, so it helps everybody.
Bryan: So, some of the low points that I’ve had were earning a living from writing, I thought it was impossible, maybe writing something and realizing it wasn’t very good, getting rejected by publications that I really wanted to work with. What type of problems do you find writers have when they look for a community like hope*writers?
Niki: Yeah, all of the above. You’re not alone and I think that is the thing that as soon as I joined hope*writers, oh, I don’t know, about five or six years ago, when it was first starting out, I found people like me, because writing can be quite a solitary existence but I found people who were all struggling with the same kind of questions as me, you know? I don’t know any other writers, it’s hard to go to a writing conference and even then, you know, it’s like drinking from a firehose, you know? I didn’t know where to start.
I felt like I was stuck in the loop of Googling and trying to do all the things but not knowing which ones were gonna move the needle and which ones I was meant to do next. There was time. How do I find the time? How do I balance my time? And like you say, how do I make an income? How do I make this pay for itself, if not, you know, and then all the feelings around money and feeling guilty about it. And then the confidence, you know? The good old imposter syndrome. Who do I think I am, you know? Do my words matter? And so having a community that helps talk about those things and teaches through those kind of things was just invaluable for me.
Bryan: Does the community involve webinars or does it involve networking with other writers or is there some other way that the materials are delivered?
Niki: Yeah, so we have a bit of everything, which is really great because it’s a completely online community and so people are accessing it from all over the world, with nearly 4,000 members now, and so each week, we interview an industry expert so an agent, another author, a marketing expert, a podcaster, something like that, and we are asking them all the questions that members want to ask. We even ask the members what they would want to ask this person.
We’ve had people like James Clear and Marion Roach Smith and all sorts of people, well-known people on there, so that’s happening weekly and it happens live in our Facebook group. But if, you know, you can’t make 2 PM Eastern on a Tuesday, it’s then put into our hope*writer library and we have, oh, I don’t know, upwards of 150 different teachings now all grouped by category, grouped by name.
So, that’s that core weekly teaching. We have the library that not only has all those Tuesday teachers in there but all sorts of other resources, the writing path, the writing stages, and other resources in there. And then, as you said, the community which is through the Facebook group, we have a big Facebook group where we share things but there are also ways to kind of shrink that community and get to connect and network and get feedback from other writers and find accountability, whatever it is you need. We call them hope*circles and those are peer-led. There’s also guided hope*circles that are led by guides and so there’s all sorts of different ways to help people make progress in their writing, whatever stage they might be at.
Bryan: With such a diverse audience, do you find the hope*circles are organized by the type of writer or the stage they’re at or is there some other way of doing it?
Niki: Again, all of the above. So if you’re like — actually, I’m really struggling to actually find time to write and you’re like, “I’d like a group of people who all wants to do the same thing as I do and find time to write,” you can start a hope*circle and just find five or six, two or three, ten, however many people, to meet with you and work towards that goal. There are — I joined a hope*circle when I first began and ours was about completing a book proposal by a certain date and we worked with each other on accountability and getting the next section written. We gave each other feedback on the actual proposals themselves and on the sample chapters. And we finished that group, each of us, with a book proposal and now quite a few of those proposals are books that are on the shelf. So, whatever it is that you’re struggling with, you can probably find a hope*circle that will help you do that, whether that’s, you know, finding illustrators for children’s books or character development for fiction, whatever it might be.
Bryan: Do the circles tend to work with each other for long?
Niki: Some have been going a long time and some say, “I want to just work for the next six weeks. Who’s in?” and then the guided hope*circles are definitely for a fixed amount of time and they follow a fixed program and a fixed need that they meet, whether that is, you know, writing a book proposal, finding time to write, or something like that.
Bryan: Is the guided circle hosted by a hope*writers member or by a member of the circle itself?
Niki: By a hope*writers team member or somebody who has been through leading a hope*circle training.
Bryan: Yeah, it’s great to get that kind of guidance, especially when you’re at the start of your writing career. And hope*writers actually outlines six steps or six steps along the path that many writers are walking. I found this really resonated with me and I could recognize different points that I’ve reached over the years. Would you be able to describe what that looks like?
Niki: Yeah, we call it the hope*writer path and it was developed because what the founders had discovered was that many people were doing the right things but just in the wrong order. And although the writing path isn’t always a straight line, we actually depict it as a bit of a circle, we start with stage one, which is the writer, and in that stage, really, you’re just beginning to call yourself a writer and you’re focusing on, you know, maybe a daily writing routine and rhythm and calling yourself a writer and writing with confidence.
And then you move into stage two, which is the host and, really, the goal here is to identify your writing voice through practice and finding a community of readers who you want to serve and you meet them where they’re at through your writing. And then you might branch out into the entrepreneur and you’re regularly serving your reader, it’s time to grow your email list, craft an offering for your readers, and, you know, finally make some money online.
Then we go through the author, where it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have published a book but, you know, you’re refining your writing process, collaborating with others, publishing your work in one form or another. And then there’s the marketeer where you’ve written something more compelling and you’re learning to share your work more authentically, you’re networking with industry experts and to continue to grow your craft and marketing skills.
And then, finally, the essentialist, where, really, you’re delegating, you’re managing multiple streams of revenue, and you’re narrowing your focus a little bit. And, in hope*writers, there are different things to work on at different stages and the reason we say it’s not exactly a straight line, you know, I am a published author, I have a podcast, a summit, all these kinds of things so I’m a marketeer five or six, marketeer essentialist, but I still go back to having to work on a daily writing rhythm and growing my email list and my platform, those sorts of things. But it just helps us figure out — to lessen the overwhelm and figure out what is our next right step.
Bryan: I know during the lockdown, I felt like I had to go back to the first step to rebuild a writing routine. Do you find that many writers and authors have that experience where they go forwards and backwards in their creative career?
Niki: Most definitely, most definitely, and I think there are seasons where we might be more of — as Emily P. Freeman, who is one of the co-founders, says, you’re more of a maker than a manager and then so when you’re more in the making phase, you are creating, you’re writing, you’re being more creative and then there are other times when we’re in the management phase and we’re building more of the business side of it and the marketing and the platform, that kind of thing.
And so it’s good to go back to the basics sometimes and figure out, well, who is it that I’m serving and how am I doing that and finding rhythm and routine in my own writing?
Bryan: So, it sounds like hope*writers is about more than teaching people how to self-publish a book.
Niki: Oh, far more than that, yes. That’s probably 2 or 3 percent of it. There’s so much more.
Bryan: Yeah, yeah. No, it’s good to have different skills that you can learn all in one place. What would you say are the key opportunities that exist for writers today outside of self-publishing books?
Niki: Oh, gosh, I think there are so many opportunities. You know, the world is a completely different place now with the internet and it means we can find our people. We can find an audience that we want to serve.
So, you know, if you’re a left-handed Frisbee player, you can find left-handed Frisbee players out there, whatever it might be. And so there are a huge number of opportunities, whether that is traditionally publishing, self-publishing, different publications, magazines. We have a lot of podcasters who have started sharing their words on podcasts first to test out their ideas and things, doing online conferences, that kind of thing. So there are many different avenues.
Bryan: You mentioned blogging earlier on in the interview. Do you find many members decide to set up a blog or has that ship sailed?
Niki: Well, it’s interesting you say that. When we interview our Tuesday teachers, often that question gets asked by a stage one writer who’s like, “Do I need to start blogging? Is that something I need to do?” And I think, many times, our Tuesday teachers will write it’s not dead but, somehow, we need to be getting our words out there in front of readers and having content that is Google-able, that people are able to find when they are, you know, up late at night worried about something or they are trying to figure something out.
And so, a blog is a great place to house that. But so is a podcast. So are other avenues. So, it’s definitely not dead but it’s not limited to that anymore, I would say.
Bryan: Are many of your members' podcasting as well?
Niki: An increasing number, yes. One of our Tuesday teachers coming up is actually a podcast coach so, yeah —
Bryan: And do they follow interview formats like this episode or are they reading from their latest scripts or doing something else?
Niki: Oh, no. So, on the Tuesday Teachings that we host live, and I’m one of the host team, and we come up with conversations that we feel are what our members need to know from that particular Tuesday teacher.
So we’ll be asking, in this case, you know, do you have to have a podcast, how do you start it, different avenues, all the things, and then before the teaching, we ask in our Facebook group, “This is gonna be the teacher, what would you like to ask them?” and then, of course, people can be asking questions live as well and we put those questions to the Tuesday teacher so it’s very member-driven.
Bryan: Okay, interesting. So, I was reading an article in The Guardian recently about Salman Rushdie. The Guardian’s a British newspaper for those who are listening in the US. But, basically, he’s launching his latest novel on Substack as a newsletter and he’s going to ask people to subscribe to get the next chapter and he’ll publish it, I think, weekly. So, it feels like newsletters is becoming more and more popular. Do you think it’s maybe an untapped opportunity for some types of writers?
Niki: I think it could be. I think it could be. I’ve heard of that. Isn’t that how Martian got published? The one that became a film with Matt Damon —
Bryan: Andy Weir’s book, yeah.
Niki: Yes. So — but in terms of paid subscriptions, I think it is definitely a way to go and definitely a way to keep the lights on in your business and I think there are pros and cons to doing that and I know some writers who have that as an addition so they have their weekly, monthly newsletter and then there is an additional content, you know, for a small fee, whether that is through Substack or Patreon or something like that.
Bryan: Okay, okay. So, if I was struggling to find time to write and also to work on my business and also to promote, say, my last book, what would you say to me? Should I approach it where I just write for one part of the year and market it another part of the year or is there another approach that you recommend?
Niki: I think what we would say at hope*writers is it’s possible to balance them and if we wait for the book to be finished and we haven’t done any talking to our readers, we haven’t done any social media, any email conversations with our readers, we won’t have an audience who are ready and excited to read our books.
So they do need to go hand in hand and that’s why hope*writers has been so great helping people like myself and the other members balance the art of writing and the business of publishing. And so, they really do go hand in hand. And we talk in hope*writers about “chunk time” and “crack time.” So, chunk time is the kind of three or four hours you can get away, you can get, you know, maybe a day away or, you know, get a babysitter, whatever it might look like, and you can turn all notifications off and you can get in the zone and it’s more deeper work.
But then there is crack time, where you’re maybe waiting for the kids after school or you have 20 minutes before you’ve gotta go out, whatever it might be, and that’s when you can do smaller pieces of work or send an email or something like that. So, we talk about working in the cracks and the chunks and different types of writing, different types of the business of publishing take different levels of headspace, right brain, left brain, and you can fit those into those different cracks and chunks.
Bryan: I guess it depends on what’s happening in your personal life and at home and at work. Many writers, perhaps they’re working on their novel and they’re working a full-time job as well to pay the bills.
Niki: Yeah. Many are, you know? As writers, we make choices, you know? Are we going to come back from work and flop in front of the TV and watch whatever is streaming on Netflix or are we going to, you know, spend an hour and write some words?
And, you know, we often talk about the cumulative effect of just, you know, even if you wrote a page a day, you know, that’s a book a year. So, it’s quite amazing how it can add up.
Bryan: Yeah, and you can write a page, I guess, unless it’s literary fiction, you can write a page in about 15 or 30 minutes which isn’t a huge chunk to take out of your day, even if you are busy with other demands. So, I know hope*writers offers some courses as well alongside the community for a perfect writing day, email growth, and a couple of other courses as well. Are there any themes that your members have for their perfect writing day?
Niki: Ooh, gosh, I think it varies person to person but there’s definitely a theme of planning it, setting time aside, you know? I think a lot comes from the planning, what you want to do, where you’re going to do it, and who’s going to walk the dog, feed the kids, whatever else it might be, take the day off work. So, when you say theme, do you mean theme of what they’re going to achieve, what they want to do in that time?
Bryan: When you think of your members or former students who have created, you know, a good writing day, is there anything they’re doing that people who haven’t quite got there yet could learn from? Is there any approach that they’re following?
Niki: Well, like I said, I think planning is a huge one. And putting it in the diary or, as they say here in America, on the calendar. And so it’s kind of it’s ring-fenced, it’s protected and you’ve talked to the people who are close to you and they know that your work matters to you, they value your work and they’re going to support you in taking that time away and you have planned where you’re gonna go and what you’re going to do.
And I think those are the key things, because I know the number of times that I’m like, “Oh, I’m gonna take a writing day on Friday,” and I don’t, you know, put it in the diary and I don’t stop other appointments or things coming up and, suddenly, you know, it’s gone from five or six hours alone to half an hour, you know, as I’m rushing out the door.
Bryan: Yeah, I’m a big believer in the power of small daily wins. If you try to take a full writing day and it doesn’t happen, it could be another week before you do it again, whereas if you write for 30 minutes, like we were saying a few minutes ago, every day, you can accomplish a lot more. The other course that resonated with me is about email growth. As great as Amazon ads and Facebook ads are for selling books and building, you know, your creative business, email is probably, well, for me, anyway, one of the best ways to do it.
Are there any tips or strategies that members are following that’s helping them grow their email list that are specific to writers and creatives?
Niki: One of the things we encourage people to do is have some sort of lead magnet or freebie that really speaks to maybe the pain or the concern or the worry that their readers are dealing with. So, it might be a checklist, it might be a little mini eBook, PDF, or something like that. And then, on the website, on the author’s website, they have a little form where it says, you know, “Are you struggling with chaos after the kids get home from school?
Well, download my after-school checklist for, you know, peaceful and calm, you know, after-school witching hour kind of thing.” And so, if they are writing to mums of school-aged kids, that is gonna be really beneficial and so they would be able to give the reader the free resource, they’ll be able to email it to them, they get their email address, and then they’ll be able to serve them on an ongoing basis with more tips and get to know them kind of things as they go on. So, some sort of lead magnet is definitely a great way to do it.
Bryan: Yeah, that’s what I use. I put a call to action for the lead magnet in front of books as well and also on my website. I find that works quite good. So, if somebody’s listening to this, Niki, and they’re interested in joining hope*writers or learning more about the community, where should they go?
Niki: They should go to your link because you have a special hope*writers link.
Bryan: I do. I have an affiliate link for the launch that’s taking place at the time I’m recording this interview so I’ll include that in the show notes for our listeners.
Niki: Yes, and then they’ll be able to find out more about the core offerings, the weekly teaching, the library full of all those Tuesday Teachings and other resources and courses in there. They’ll be able to find out about the community and the Facebook group. And then the bonuses that they will get once they join, which is the guided hope*circle.
They can also be part of the hope*writer member directory so they can find other writers who may be writing their same genre or write on the same topic. And then they’ll also get the hope*writers Writerly Progress Planner as well to help them plan out that progress they want to make.
Bryan: Oh, interesting. What’s in the planner?
Niki: The planner is really fantastic, actually. It’s almost new, we had it for the last launch, but it’s a landscape-shaped planner that can sit on our desk and there’s everything from spaces to take notes for your Tuesday teachers, set your goal, write about, you know, who your reader is and their core needs so it’s right there in front of you and then there is a way to plan out your next 90 days’ worth of progress that you want to make and have it right there in front of you every day and so it’s been invaluable for so many of our members.
Bryan: Yeah, I was talking to another author recently and she was explaining 90 days is the ideal amount of time for planning because it’s long enough to get something done but not so far away that you procrastinate and put it off.
Niki: Exactly. We even have a course called The 90-Day Direction Course and that really helps us, you know, just plan out the next 90 days. Let’s not get overwhelmed with the year, maybe that 90 days is a section of what you want to achieve in a year but setting tangible goals that are achievable and planning out small steps to make them happen really is invaluable.
Bryan: Thanks, Niki.
Niki: You’re welcome.
Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know, for just a couple of dollars a month, you could become a Patreon for the show? Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books and discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.