Created with Sketch.
The Creative Penn Podcast For Writers
54 minutes | 18 hours ago
A Techno-Optimist’s View Of The Creative Future For Authors. Joanna Penn On The Kindle Chronicles Podcast
It can be daunting to think about the future for authors and publishing when converging technologies are expanding into the realm of creativity, but there are many opportunities ahead — if you engage with the tools rather than run from them. In this interview, Len Edgerly interviews Joanna Penn about Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies on Authors and the Publishing Industry. This episode was first broadcast on the Kindle Chronicles Podcast on 19 December 2020, used with permission from Len Edgerly. Len Edgerly is a nonfiction author with degrees in business and poetry. He's also the host of the long-running Kindle Chronicles Podcast, where he's interviewed Jeff Bezos, Margaret Atwood, and Dean Koontz among many others. Joanna Penn writes non-fiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker. You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below. Show Notes Writing with Open-AI's GPT-3 and why ‘centaur-writers' might be the future Why authors and the publishing industry need to engage with this new technology You don't need to know HTML programming to use the internet to sell books — and you don't need to know the technical side of blockchain to understand how it could transform the industry How AI might be able to solve problems that are too big for humans, like health care and the environment How virtual reality could affect the bookselling business How the pandemic accelerated technological change You can find Len Edgerly at Kindle Chronicles and his podcast on your favorite podcast app. More on AI and the future of creativity here. You can also find my previous discussion with Len in episode 505 on Changes in the Publishing Industry Over the Last Decade. Transcript of Interview with Joanna Penn Len Edgerly: Hi, this is Len Edgerly. Welcome to the ‘Kindle Chronicles.' Today is Friday, December 18, 2020. I'm coming to you from Sanibel Island in Florida. As we approach the end of a year that has taxed the resilience of any optimist, techno or otherwise, I'm pleased to bring you a full length conversation with Joanna Penn, whose latest book about artificial intelligence, blockchain, and virtual worlds, I think is a terrific jumping-off point for thinking creatively about the future for authors, readers, and the world of publishing. Let's get right to it. Joanna Penn writes nonfiction for authors and, as J. F. Penn, she writes thrillers and dark fantasy. Her podcast, ‘The Creative Penn' is a weekly feast of useful information for authors and anyone interested in the written word or the future. In the middle of the night on November 28th, here in Sanibel, I saw that Joanna had released a new Kindle book, really a long essay in Kindle format. It's titled Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies on Authors and the Publishing Industry. I began reading it immediately and that was a problem for getting a good night's sleep that night because I take her view of technology in the future as being fresh, intelligent, and entertaining. I reached out to her for an interview and we spoke this Tuesday, December 15th this week connecting by Skype between here in Sanibel and her home in Bath, England. I began by asking why she wrote Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies on Authors and the Publishing Industry Joanna Penn: Like you, I'm into technology. I follow a lot of blogs. I've been reading ‘Wired' magazine for many years. I listen to a lot of tech podcasts, so I've been aware of it. And on my main podcast, ‘The Creative Penn' podcast, I share a few futurist topics in the introduction every couple of weeks just to keep people up to date on things. And then about 18 months ago, I did a big solo show, it was about an hour, on the 9 ways I thought publishing and authors would be disrupted by AI in the next decade. And since then, so that was July 2019, I've been like, ‘I really must do an update on this.' And then I think it was July 2020 or maybe May this year, as we record this, GPT-3 was released by OpenAI. And I must admit, I had a few moments of, oh, my goodness, this is such a fundamental thing. And then I took some time to process that. Len Edgerly: And let's say what GPT-3 is. Joanna Penn: There's a company called OpenAI and their essential goal is to create a general artificial intelligence which if people don't know, we're surrounded by narrow artificial intelligences which do specific things. But this is something that would apply in multiple domains more like a human, I guess, in different ways. GPT-2 is a transformer technology, essentially it ingests or we could say reads, a whole load of data, and in this case, it's written language data, and then it enables the natural language processing engine to output other text-based or language-based material. GPT-2 was, again, sort of 18 months ago and GPT-3 is 100 times more powerful, with millions times the amount of knowledge you or I could read in a lifetime. It doesn't just output sentences, it can output articles, but it can also write code, it can do poetry, it can do things that people didn't expect it to do and it's not plagiarized. So it's not like when you type into Google, ‘tell me how big Canterbury Cathedral is,' or you can get Wikipedia and you can't just copy that. What GPT-3 does is it comes up with something that is original. The other thing that happened this year is the first AI written article was gone to copyright under a Chinese court and I've been engaging with the World Intellectual Property Organization, the UK government, in writing submissions on artificial intelligence and copyright. More detail in my podcast episode on Writing in an Age of AI So to try and wrap the story up, basically, this year has been this tipping point in so many ways. The pandemic has accelerated it. I'm really worried that the authors and the publishing industry are not engaging in this. Literally, it has been impossible to get people interested in talking about this and even submitting to World Intellectual Property Organization. So in the end, we've just done this stuff, me and my friend, the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross. We've done these submissions ourselves despite asking a number of different organizations to be involved. I feel that it's a really important time in history and this is too important to leave technology to all the techie people. We have to get involved as artists, as creatives, as rights holders, as people whose livings depend on this in the future. To go even further, this was going to be a podcast episode but it turned into a lot bigger than just an episode and so I put it into a book. I'm really glad I did because it solidifies a moment in time, and I will do more of these things. But as you know, writing something down helps you turn your random thoughts into something more coherent. I hope you thought it was coherent. Len Edgerly: Oh, absolutely. I think that was part of the power of it, was the clarity of it. And I was also interested because I think it's about 60 pages, if they were on print pages. It's basically an essay, isn't it? It's an essay that you wrote and were able to distribute on the Kindle platform. Is that how you think of it? Joanna Penn: Well, it is here. Here's the print book. Len Edgerly: Oh, it is in print too. Good. Len Edgerly: Actually though, because of something I read in your book on my Kindle, I had to buy a hardcopy book of the ‘1 the Road'. Joanna Penn: I have that on my desk too. Len Edgerly: I said, ‘There's got to be an e-book version of this.' I was like, ‘Well, all right,' and the truck found me. Joanna Penn: I've got another one for you. This is ‘Pharmako-AI.' And for people listening, we're sharing, AI Centaur wrote a book. This one, ‘Pharmako-AI,' which is brand new, is actually written with GPT-3. Len Edgerly: Oh, really? Wow. Joanna Penn: The one you were holding, ‘1 the Road' is written by an earlier edition. Len Edgerly: And this is three years ago. I was amazed that something going this creatively into the whole space had happened in 2017. Joanna Penn: Exactly. And I think this is what happened as well. I don't know if you know but the UK has a conference called FutureBook, which is obviously meant to be a future conference. I attended that and was bashing my head against my Zoom screen because it felt like they were 10 years behind. Literally, I heard a publisher say, ‘This has not been done before. Simultaneous publishing in multiple countries at the same time.' And I'm like, ‘But I've been doing that myself since 2008,' or whatever it is. And then the same week, I went to the Wired Live conference online and heard Demis Hassabis from DeepMind. I heard people from virtual worlds conference, just so many things where I was like…I found it very hard to keep these two organizations in my head at the same time going, oh, my goodness, I'm in the middle of these. I love publishing, I love books, I'm an author, I desperately want us to move into this realm of possibility, how do I make people come along too? Len Edgerly: It reminds me of the reaction to ebooks, 10 years ago or however many…2007, the Kindle and the slowness with which the publishing industry reacted and actually, the resistance. There was a real effort to just stop this wave, like King Canute at the shore. It almost seems like this is a similar wave in terms of its impact. And if anything, the adoption rate is even slower than it was from e-books. You would have thought there would have been people at publishing companies who said, ‘Boy, if we had known then what we know now about e-books, we would have jumped on this thing. We wouldn't have let Amazon completely dominate the space.' Am I right that you're sensing there hasn't been a lesson learned like that in terms of the urgency of staying current with this technology on behalf of the book industry? Joanna Penn: Yes. But then I guess I also represent people who are independent creators and this is much bigger in the music industry and the film industry, independent filmmakers, independent musicians, now independent authors. I sell digitally globally, I sell direct, I sell e-books and audio and print and all these things, I do myself. And if you think it's much easier to be nimble when you're a one-person company than is a huge conglomerate whose business model has not been threatened until 2020. Because of course, publishers, their job, they make money by selling books to booksellers. They don't actually make money by selling books direct to readers (at least at the moment). And most of this technology, so digital technology, e-books, for example, enabled my living to happen. You and I as podcasters, we are enabled by technology and it gets rid of the middleman. We don't need a radio platform. We just do our thing, right? And the same with books. You can employ freelancers as I do, editors, book cover designers. What I see with this new wave and as you know a bit about blockchain, we can come back to it, it really does get rid of the middlemen and it's going to disintermediate a whole load more people in the supply chain, even things, like I do payments through Stripe and PayPal and things like that, even those companies are now looking at how they're going to use this type of blockchain and direct peer-to-peer sales because this is the way things are going to go. What I see with publishing is it is not a very technologically savvy industry and as you say, resistant, but physical books are not going away. You and I know that. We love physical books. But equally, I want to sell globally on every device, and I want to get paid for my knowledge and this is the only way I see doing it. Even payments in the publishing industry, it is so antiquated. How they manage, I don't know. And so many authors who do end up auditing these platforms find issues, of course, because they're so manual. What I'm seeing in this next wave is just an even better way for authors, for publishers, for everyone in the book-loving supply chain to expand the wealth. And as you know, I'm a techno-optimist, I think you are as well. And so I don't see this as a negative, I see this as a huge positive, but we do need to make some changes. Len Edgerly: That brings us to blockchain because as you say in your essay, in your book, the whole issue of copyright in this environment is potentially a huge bar to innovation with AI. First of all, I'd love to hear you explain what blockchain is because I've tried to explain it to my family and everything. And my dad is 93 and we've had some just really fun conversations where I'd say, “All right, imagine a theater and everybody has a laptop and somebody on the stage says, ‘I'm buying this from Joanna for $10' and all the laptops write it down and then it's distributed.” I've heard other attempts to do it. Do you have a way to visualize what blockchain is that would help somebody that isn't in our space understand the significance of it? Joanna Penn: Well, to be honest, what I do is just cut out the technical explanation because most people use the internet every day and they do not know how TCP/IP works! Len Edgerly: Good point. Joanna Penn: They don't need to. We use internet banking all the time. We order stuff on Amazon or we order groceries on our phone and they arrive. You don't have to understand how the internet works in order to use it. What I tend to say to people is remember how it was in the '90s or even the early 2000s when we weren't running everything on a mobile device or we weren't doing this, although Skype was probably one of the earlier adoptions, but remember when this wasn't normal, when you couldn't just do this for free over the internet. So what I say to people, because this is the big thing about blockchain, I think people confuse it with Bitcoin. So they go, ‘Oh, it's a scam,' and it's like, ‘No, no.' More on copyright law and blockchain technology here. Think about one of those terrible websites, Bitcoin has a lot of great things going for it, but people get confused whereas it's like, ‘Okay, Bitcoin is not the only blockchain technology.' Yes, it's part of it but what we're talking about is a fundamental redesign of an architecture around the platforms that we use to run creative business. What we're moving into in the next decade, as you probably know, this is being put in by governments, by banks, by the infrastructure that we run society. I think Estonia digital voting blockchain. Amazon has blockchain as a service on AWS. This is not new, but it's not mainstream yet. Most people won't get out their phone and use a blockchain app but that's what's coming. What I'm looking at now, and I think we're on a third or fourth iteration of what people are realizing this technology can be for. So yes, it can be for payments. I just say, ‘Think about PayPal on steroids with fewer fees,' would be one way. And then the second thing, this smart contract idea is what truly has set my mind aflame. At the moment, we register for what is a faintly ridiculous ISBN which has no functionality whatsoever. It's crazy. And if people say to me, ‘Joanna, can you prove that you have a copyright on your work?' I'm like, ‘Okay, well, here's a certificate that I got from some online place.' And I'm like, ‘How does this actually prove that this is my copyright?' And then for publishers they sign contracts. Everyone's relying on paper. A lot of the time, I say to authors, ‘What does your contract say?' And they won't know because they signed it a decade ago and no one can find it. The idea of smart contracts is we could decide, let's say, with this podcast, this is a piece of intellectual property that we both co-own because we're both co-producing it. And what we could do is say, ‘All right, we're going to attach a blockchain IP number to this piece of work and other people can use it in their models and train it with a British voice and an American voice and we could get a micropayment and we don't need to be involved. We just know that it will trigger, we'll get paid, it's awesome.' And so that's exciting. And then you think, ‘What else could it do?' It could enable, for example, management of entire intellectual property estates. One of the issues when people die is how do you manage all the disbursements or even while you're alive? What if I want to give 10% to charity for every sale? And if a sale is 0.5 cents all of these micropayments are what will go through. I'm getting excited but thinking about streaming, thinking about the models of payments that are happening now, we can't split like we used to. You cannot split an audiobook on Spotify into $1.99 or, you know, 99 cent payments, it's a tiny, tiny micropayment for seconds listened to or whatever it is. So we have to redesign all of this stuff for what is the architecture of the future and it has to be distributed and it has to be fair and it has to be transparent and we just don't have that right now. We have to trust that people are being honest. What this does, it has the potential to make everything a lot better. Obviously, we're going to have to migrate things onto blockchain architecture. But in my mind, this really could transform things. And for creators, for people like us who create stuff, this is very, very exciting but we have to say that it's not there yet but it's definitely coming because companies like Spotify, Facebook, Amazon, are having to solve this problem. And in fact, as we speak, this week, I think its the EU Digital Services Act or something, is going through. Len Edgerly: I saw that. Joanna Penn: Which means that these companies have to verify the background of the stuff that is uploaded, and so they need a technological solution. So what I would say is publishing wouldn't do this themselves, this will be forced upon publishing. This will be forced upon people slowly, based on the changes of the ecosystem that we use to manage everything we do. And that's the way it's going to work basically. Len Edgerly: When I think about the independent writer, the creator, where so much of the energy is coming from as opposed to how slow, naturally the larger organizations have to use. I think of when e-books first came out, Amazon released Kindle Direct Publishing the same day as announcing the first Kindle. And so in KDP, over time, it got easier and easier. If you had a little bit of technical savvy, you could put your book up on KDP and in 24 hours, it's on Amazon. And it was all sort of user-friendly. Do you picture as this rolls out in the next 10 years, there's some kind of a way for a person of average to maybe moderate tech-savvy to organize payments for an article they write on the blockchain? Or it's pretty opaque now to me. I've bought a couple of Bitcoin at a nice price, it's a nice investment over the last two years. Joanna Penn: Definitely. Len Edgerly: But it just gave me a migraine to try to think about actually going out on the blockchain to try to do that, so I just use Coinbase's, which is one of the exchanges. At some point, for it to really be of use to independent creators, it has to be a little more user-friendly than it seems to be right now, just to use the tool. Joanna Penn: Absolutely. And it will be I think the same. For example, I use Stripe and PayPal. If you want to buy an e-book or an audiobook directly from me, you can go to my Payhip store at payhip.com/thecreativepenn and you can choose to pay with PayPal or Stripe. Now you can use things that you understand so you're quite tech-savvy but someone can use their credit card. They don't even need a PayPal account. So you can use a credit card, you can use a PayPal account. But what happens is through the Stripe interface, the money will end up in my bank account within minutes, which is just marvelous, and most authors don't have that because they haven't set that up. Now, that's actually really easy to set up and I'm actually going to do a tutorial on how to do it next year. But what you have is all these companies, so yes, at heart, this is still a technological domain and I'm not a programmer. I'm not intending to go in and be programming anything on blockchain technology. But what I am is someone who's willing to try new apps. For example, this direct audio has only happened in the last couple of weeks. As I was about to press ‘publish' on that book, I got access to BookFunnel audio app, which enables me to sell direct and have people listen in an app on their phone. Now, that's the type of thing that's going to happen. Again, you don't need to know how to code HTML to use the internet and it will be the same with blockchain, it will be the same with a lot of these AI tools. You don't need to be a programmer already. What you do need is a trusted curator who will tell you, ‘Go to this website and do this,' and that's what I've been doing for the last decade anyway around the various sites. And to be fair, I actually think possibly Amazon KDP can be quite complicated. Certainly, something like Facebook advertising is terribly complicated. Len Edgerly: That's right. Joanna Penn: This will actually simplify things. So just coming back to AI rather than blockchain, I now use Amazon auto advertising for my books in German which were translated by AI, edited by a human, but I use automated AI algorithm advertising because I don't speak German. You just tell the Amazon ad what books to advertise, you tell it your budget, and it will go and optimize that without you having to do anything. What we're looking at, and again, this is the techno-optimism, what we want to do is use technology to optimize the things that we really don't want to do. I don't want to do my accounting, I want these tools to do it for me. I don't want to do my advertising, I hate advertising, but I know it's the thing that you have to do but I love that the algorithm will do it for me. I think that the AI tools, and blockchain technologies, will automate and make our lives easier so we can spend more time doing the things we enjoy which is creating Len Edgerly: I love the idea of a techno-optimist. I know some techno-pessimists, I think I might be married to one. Is there a dialogue between people that are as positive and optimistic about this, as you and I are, and someone who, either through fear or sometimes philosophical reasons that this is just the wrong path for humanity, is fighting it? Is there a healthy dialogue that can happen between people that are coming at this same reality of the technology from very different human perspectives? Joanna Penn: I think you have to find your common ground. Most people don't realize how much narrow AI is already in a lot of the things we use. For example, most people even if they're not that technical, if they're using the internet, they're using Google and Google, they own DeepMind now which is the company that came up with AlphaGo. And now, in fact, as we speak, this week, AlphaFold which came out of DeepMind solved the problem of protein folding which could revolutionize drug design. It seriously is one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in health in a very long time and this is an AI tool. What I would say is for people who feel pessimistic, then it's finding some common ground around what is important. The breakthroughs in healthcare because we have focused on it during the pandemic, have been incredible. And the money that's been poured into it, we will reap the benefits of this if we can stay alive long enough. That's what's exciting and I don't think there are many people who would say, ‘I don't want better health care.' The other thing I think about is the environment and certainly, Kevin Kelly has written about this. Have you read ‘Novacene' by James Lovelock? Len Edgerly: No. What's the title? Joanna Penn: Novacene by James Lovelock. James Lovelock came up with the Gaia hypothesis back in the '70s or something, an independent scientist, brilliant guy. He's over 100 now and his last book was like, ‘We are destroying the planet, humans deserve to die.' And this latest book, ‘Novacene,' he basically says that we are in such deep trouble, but the human brain cannot possibly solve these problems, but AI can. So this book is wonderful because you realize that what we're looking at is there are so many variables that we're looking at with the environment, with health. There are big issues that AI will help us solve in collaboration with humans pointing it in that direction. I focus on authors and publishing but that's my domain. But what I would say is that when people, it's the media as well, the media will focus on some negative thing. Like the self-driving cars, I think, something else this week, I think Uber have just pulled out of this. They're not going to go with the self-driving on their own company because one of their cars killed someone or killed the driver or something. But if you look at the tradeoffs with self-driving cars, the number of lives saved will be just dramatic and will change so many things. So we are going to have to face these tradeoffs. And again, copyright is an interesting thing because, and what I read in some of these submissions on intellectual property, I was reading between the lines that copyright 70 years after the death of the author is holding up the data being used in these models. If you hold up the progress, they are going to change the law and you are the ones who will lose. So that's why I suggest in the books, that we come up with some kind of data licensing for training these models so that we can have vibrant voices from all around the world in all different languages that will go into these models. I don't spend every day going, ‘Yay, AI is amazing,' but Kevin Kelly says it as well in the book, ‘The Inevitable,' which is just fantastic, he says, ‘51% of humans, the world, everything is good and if we can just keep it on the 51%, then we're going to be okay.' Len Edgerly: That's the definition of an optimist. Joanna Penn: Exactly. But the other thing is that people, you have to engage with it. If there is something you're scared of, then engage with it. For example, I do think there are massive problems with ethics. I do think there are problems with some companies making way too much money even though I use those companies myself to make money. But the only way I can change that is by being involved and engaging in the situation. I was pretty nervous about putting out this book because I don't have a PhD in AI. My degree is in theology but I have a vested interest in this working and I'm 45 years old. I expect to be doing this for at least another half of my life. So how can we do this to benefit the creators but also the readers, the consumers, and also, the models and the future of whatever this may be? Len Edgerly: There's real leverage if you get in at this point with understanding and concerns about, like you say, your segment, what matters. Let's talk about the third piece in the title, the VR. One of the ideas that fascinated me: You talk about a virtual reality bookstore and how that might happen. Sketch that scene. That sounds like a place I want to go to. Joanna Penn: It's funny because I wrote that in the future but back in 2015, when I first tried a Oculus headset. You put it on, if people don't know, you put it on and it does cover your head enough that your visual field is going to essentially think that you're in a real place. That's the idea of virtual reality. You are moving out of your physical space into a virtual space. And the technology has come on so much like the changes in optics are what now make this even better than it's ever been. And what we've seen this year again, the pandemic year, is an acceleration in the adoption of these technologies in business training, gaming has been around for a while, but this is moving into other spheres. There have been examples of musicians and various people running events in gaming platforms like Roblox, Fortnight, doing concerts, using these spaces that are essentially gaming platforms as virtual world spaces for events. And this is just awesome because it enables scale. You can have a million people at your online concert in Fortnight or Roblox which you can't do on Zoom and you can also monetize it in a very different way. So what I think about in terms of coming back to the bookstore, again, it's just such a tiny example, don't you think? We should be thinking much bigger for our domain. A physical bookstore within a virtual world. Most of us accept a certain tradeoff in terms of the data that people know about us for targeted advertising or offers. For example, Amazon, you and I both buy a lot of books from Amazon digitally and physically. They know our preferences very well. I also use Waterstones, and I use a loyalty card, so they know my preferences too. So let's say I go into Waterstones for want of being more specific. I go in my virtual headset, I go to the Waterstones site, I walk in and instead of it being like most bookstores, physical bookstores, there are only certain sections I want to visit. My husband likes war books, I don't, so I'm never going to shop in that section. So why is that whole section of the store or crafting, I'm not going to be knitting, or cozy mysteries, no, thank you. Most of a bookstore is not targeted at you, in a physical store. But if I walk into this virtual store, it knows my history, it knows what I like and I am going to spend so much money in there. Don't you reckon? There's going to be all these shelves, all these shelves and I'm like, ‘Oh.' And then as soon as I reach out, so you can reach out in the physical realm, you're going to touch something in the virtual realm and maybe, it will open up and I can read it, I can zoom in, maybe I could watch a video with the author. And then I'm like, ‘Yeah, I'll have that' and I'll swipe it into my shopping basket or whatever. And then it learns something about me and then it offers me more and then it offers me more. What you're in is a much more immersive retail space but also, this means if we met at a virtual conference, it just means the whole space can become a way to do better targeted marketing and better digital to physical retail. Now, again, you could see this as a negative thing but in terms of publishing and book sales, it's tremendously positive to think you cannot stock many books in a physical bookstore, even some of your really massive Barnes and Nobles, you just can't. So the only way to do it in a personalized, super-targeted way that still engages our visual cortex, you can even do haptics now, you can do smell, you can have the old books smell if you like. Even if you're a secondhand antiquarian bookstore, you could create your beautiful shelves like that. I just see it as a way, instead of the online shopping experience that we have now which is a 2D screen and you click and that 2D image appears in your home as a physical book, this would actually be a much more immersive experience and I think will drive many more book sales and much more purchasing than even the physical realm because you just can't find stuff. Len Edgerly: What my experience of VR experimenting is I'm amazed at how easy it is to trick my mind into believing that I'm in this space, I'm looking around 360 and whether it's a game or different things, and it's still pretty crude. It's a little blurry, at least to my eyesight, it's heavy, it makes me sweat when I wear it. But as you start thinking about it getting lighter and clearer and all of this, it already convinces most of my mind that my reality has changed. And if I think 5-10 years in the future, these kinds of experiences are just going to get so vivid. You'll really have to pinch yourself to figure out which world you're in. Joanna Penn: I'm an Apple shop generally and the Apple headset is rumored to be coming and the glasses end 2021-'22. So let's say by 2022, you've got whatever the first generation of Apple headset is and we both know that their strength is in design. And instead of it's a bit like you're wearing headphones that go over your head and I'm wearing these little earbuds. There'll be different designs of glasses and headsets that will change the experience. Already, the latest Facebook one, The Verge, Oculus Verge or something like that… Len Edgerly: Quest. Joanna Penn: Oculus Quest. Quest. Yes, is already self-contained. Len Edgerly: Yep, and it's lighter and it's quite nice. Joanna Penn: Yes, it's lighter. Even my phone and the book, these contact lenses, they're more AR, so augmented reality, but I wore contact lenses for 20 years and I can just stick stuff in my eyes. So I'm up for that because that's really interesting. But what I think we're going to see is these different experiences that people will have. I was listening to this guy speak at Wired, and I'm not a gamer, so I'm not someone who does a lot of this stuff anyway. But the way he was describing what's going to happen in virtual worlds is that it will be another economy, that people will do their jobs in virtual worlds. People now are sitting in Zoom and Slack from their various places that they might sit within their virtual world, office, or environment, that you and I, instead of meeting over Skype, might meet on some nice Florida beach and have a chat in our virtual space. I think that at the moment, again, most people's experience of this stuff is gaming. So it's ‘Ready Player One,' for example, the movie and its sci-fi things. But the reality is that this is moving into spaces that are around education, around workplaces. And the other thing that's brilliant, given some of the, especially in America, the race issues of this year, what is fascinating is that in a virtual space, you can control what you look like, what your skin color is, whether you're even a human at all and you can control your gender or how you display yourself. So what this guy was saying is these virtual worlds can break down the barriers that humans instinctively have wired into us around. If we're at a conference, we see someone, we judge them, by whatever we judge them. We can't help that. So much of it is deeply wired. But these virtual worlds will change that, and I love that. I think that's almost magical. Len Edgerly: It's very freeing. Joanna Penn: It is. Yes. Len Edgerly: You talked about your expectation that before 2030, you'll probably be giving a presentation in a virtual world. When you picture yourself in that setting talking about your work, will you be presenting differently because you're not at a book show or something that we're used to? How do you think it'd affect the creative act of communicating with people as a speaker? Joanna Penn: What I hope is that there will be some kind of help in the experience. Let's just assume it is an auditorium in a virtual space so I can see the avatars of people who are there. So it's just like a normal talk but in a virtual space. What I would like as a speaker is to be able to choose the settings. I don't want to see bubbles coming up from people's heads going, ‘She's terrible,' or ‘she's amazing.' That's not what I mean but I would like to know more about my audience. So when I normally speak, I will aim to get there early and I'll often walk around and I'll just say, ‘Hi, why are you here?' And I'll try and find some anecdotes and just to find out who's there. I would see that as a speaker, as an event organizer, you will be able to tailor your material so much more. I've spoken a lot on Zoom this year. It's pretty awful to be honest. Most people have their cameras off, for a start, or they've got some image or whatever. So it's not a nice experience. It's effective but I don't think it's nice as a speaker. What you want is the ability to get some feedback. So what you would hope in a VR space is that it's more like a physical space and that you can see people's reactions, perhaps find out more about them. I might have a setting that would say, ‘What genre do people write?' Let's say I'm doing a talk on how to write a novel. I want to see like maybe I can color code avatars… Len Edgerly: These are the romance readers. Joanna Penn: Yes, and there are the horror writers. And if I see that the room is mainly full of horror writers, I'm going to talk differently than if the room is full of romance writers. I'll tell you one of my biggest issues when I speak is how many books do people have? Because it is a very different talk that I give to an audience of writers who've all written over 10 books than an audience of people who've never even written a book. And what's surprising at most of these conferences is a lot of the people have never even written a book whereas the people who've written 10 books are not sitting in the audience. They're off writing books. So I often end up having to change what I'm talking about to kind of, not dumb it down but it's a different level. Len Edgerly: Make it more appropriate for them. Joanna Penn: Yes, make the material more appropriate. And as a speaker, that's your job, is to give the audience what they need, and you can only do that the more you know. And this is about augmented reality too, which I think is possibly even more exciting because I can see it working in my daily life. So if I wear my nice Apple glasses, with gorgeous frames, platinum frames or something, and I'm walking around the London Book Fair, for example. A lot of my audience support me financially, they've either bought my books or courses, they support my Patreon, I would love a little arrow that says, ‘Here is one of your patrons.' Len Edgerly: That would be genius. Joanna Penn: Not just be nice to that person but this person writes this and does that or let's say you're looking to license your work, this person has a publishing company out of India, go and talk to that person. Conferences are a right pain to kind of find the right people. Len Edgerly: Exchanging business cards and it'd be like speeding that whole process up. The other thing I can imagine, I'm experimenting with this Halo health band from Amazon. You could be getting a reading on the heart rate of your audience in any particular… Joanna Penn: What talk are you giving? Is this the romance conference?! Len Edgerly: As your enthusiasm for the future rises, I would expect the heart rate, the average heart rate, of the audience to go up a bit. Joanna Penn: Oh, I see, yes, what your point is. I totally get what you mean. It's actually interesting. So I'm wearing an Apple Watch and actually today in the UK, they just launched Apple Fitness, which integrates with the heart rate monitor on my watch. How cool is this? Len Edgerly: I know. Joanna Penn: This is totally integrating our health and you and I both love this stuff and I absolutely acknowledge that they are using my health data and I am happy for them to do that because I'm getting the benefits. And so this is where all of this stuff comes into play, is how much are we willing to share or ready to share in order for the benefits of what we will get by sharing? The bookshop example is a good one. I would much rather share more data about my purchases so that I am offered more books that I want to buy. And that's why Amazon does so well, because it keeps just emailing us with, ‘You want this and this and this.' ‘Yes, please.' I think that's a really interesting way but what we're talking about here, we've talked about loads of different domains of technology, they're not all the same thing but what they are is what they're calling converging technologies. And on the back of 5G, off the back of the pandemic, and adoption of digital for people who weren't adopting digital, they're all coming into play. Some people have said that this pandemic year has accelerated development that would have taken 5 to 10 years, down to a sort of 18-month timeframe. That's what's just incredible about the speed at which things are happening and like you said, I put this book out a couple of weeks ago and already a whole load of things have changed. For example, there's another chapter on audiobooks narrated by AI. Now Google Play, two days ago, started selling AI-narrated audiobooks. Today, and we talked about AI-assisted translation, Alexa can now do multiple language translation on the fly. So this is not 10 years' time, this really is starting to happen now. Len Edgerly: I was going to ask you, the pandemic, I can sort of understand why it's sped up the convergence and the rate of change but having set that speed, even if we get to the other side of the vaccine and we're approaching something like normal life, perhaps late next year or early 2022, would you expect the world to breathe a sigh of relief and go back to a slower rate of technological change? Does this become the new normal, thanks to the pandemic? Joanna Penn: I don't think it's going back in the box. A lot of things were already moving fast. GPT-3, for example, being 18 months after GPT-2, and I think about it as GPT-X which are the iterations ahead of us. But so for one thing, it has changed behavior in so many ways. For example, my mum who doesn't like doing video now has Zoom, ‘I'm going to Zoom so and so,' in her vocabulary. She got Netflix. She hadn't got Netflix before, so she got Netflix. She's 74, she's not into tech at all and she's started to adopt some of these things. Then you've got people who have resisted, like in publishing, people who've resisted e-books, like not you and me clearly, but people are like, ‘Oh, I really need to read something. I guess I should try this e-book thing or this audiobook thing.' Audiobook sales in some European countries have now overtaken e-book sales, which is just crazy and that's going to continue. What we're seeing is, and again, you're in America and I'm in the UK and these are quite digitally developed economies. I was reading about India, which is just fascinating, India went to more digital payments a couple of years ago. And in this pandemic, they have moved much more into online purchasing and things like credit cards, and stuff is starting to happen in these economies where it has not been really adopted so far. Or another country like France which is possibly the most protective of its physical bookstores and all that. France, Spain, Italy, we've seen a huge growth in digital purchasing this year because people have not been able to go to a bookstore. And so those people won't go back. Both you and I, once we adopted e-books, yes, we still read physical books, but a large chunk of that reading does not go back. I haven't read a physical newspaper for many years. I read three different newspapers on apps on my phone. I don't listen to the radio, I listen to podcasts. People's behavior is not going to go back. People aren't going to rush back to the office. I don't know about there, but people are saying here that, ‘I'd like to go back to the office but not five days a week.' So it might be three days a week, for example, or something like that but other people have moved. I hear Las Vegas, for example, even though the entertainment economy is pretty screwed at the moment, the housing market has gone nuts because people can now live there, and they can get to San Francisco reasonably easily. And then the other thing is that we've got companies like Google's DeepMind, we've got OpenAI, which now has licensed GPT-3 and its other stuff to Microsoft. What we're starting to see is changes that are going to change this underlying architecture and that is only going to continue. So as we mentioned, the Digital Services Act, I think it's called that, whatever it is, the EU one, Facebook has to solve this problem, Amazon has to solve this problem. And when those companies have to solve a problem, that's when these big changes just get pushed through regardless and then we have to jump on board. What may happen is you might find Instagram, every photo you upload is registered on the blockchain automatically because Facebook have to know where it came from and so it's registered to you as users. So this is an economy of trust. This will fix deep fakes, this will fix plagiarism and piracy and all these things. It's a huge thing but the convergence, I think, is what we need to consider. And like we talked about with how do you explain it to people, you just say, ‘Remember 1995,' or remember what it was like when you had one of those little Nokias that wasn't a smartphone and it was just a little Nokia, or before that when you didn't even have a cell phone and look at how so much of our world happens on the internet. What is the next internet? What is the next electricity? And that is going to be the blockchain, artificial intelligence. This is going to drive the next economy. And so retraining, being aware of what's going on, taking advantage, playing, I think the attitude of play is really important and I think optimism is important too. Some things will die. Die is an unfortunate word. For example, I was walking in Bath earlier. There's a big department store called Debenhams. I guess it's a bit like Macy's or something like that. It's gone bankrupt. It's a department store. Department stores are pretty much over. They're gone. That has finished. And they've been on our British High Street for over 100 years and they are gone and something else rises in its place. And that's where I feel we are, which is something is rising, and let's surf that change rather than drown in it. Len Edgerly: I love that image. You picked that up from Kevin Kelly and I don't think I'd seen it but when a wave comes, you can either surf it or drown in it. And it's all timing. I do bodysurfing in waves in Maine and the difference between jumping at the right time or being too late, too early, it's almost infinitesimal. Even as much as I've done it, I've never done anything like real surfing, but the moment you jump in, and it's probably each person has, well, if I'm going to use this metaphor, one person doesn't get to jump on a wave at a different time than another person. There's only one right time to jump on a wave and get the ride. Joanna Penn: Although I think perhaps it's more of a tide. The tide is coming in and it will lift the boats but also if you're kind of tied to the anchor of the old way… Len Edgerly: That's where you drown. Joanna Penn: …that's where you drown. And also, I think it can either be a pleasant experience and something that you can embrace, or you can resist it and get really wet and miserable. And I think that we have to have this attitude. Otherwise, as I said, things will be forced upon us. A lot of people are asking me at the moment, ‘So what can I do right now?' And I'm like, ‘Actually, there's not much you need to do right now.' What's happening is that that tide is slowly creeping in and what I'm doing is saying, ‘Look at what's coming,' and I'm going to try and navigate it and I will talk about it, because that's what I do. And I'll tell you what works, what doesn't work for me. Inevitably, I'm usually early. So if I say, it's going to be two years it will probably be five years. Len Edgerly: Yes, me too. Joanna Penn: Exactly. That's interesting with both you and I, but both you and I have also seen that podcasting that we've both been doing for like a decade is now huge. It's now gone nuts. So we were a decade, were we early? Yes, we were early but we if we hadn't have been early, we would not have the platforms that we have now and the listeners that we have now. So being early is sometimes good. But equally, I'm a businesswoman. I'm an artist and I'm a businesswoman, and I fully intend to make really good cash out of this next wave. I have a creative interest, I have a business interest, and I have a curious side like you. That's why I'm staying on top of this. I read the financial news all the time, I'm reading books about things. I feel like I need to take a next step with my own career and I need to share much more than I do currently and so that's the way I'm going. Who knows whether we'll be talking like this in a decade or in some virtual space. Len Edgerly: That's right. We get to choose which beach we want to meet on next time. This has been so much fun. I've been speaking with Joanna Penn, author of ‘Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies on Authors and the Publishing Industry.' Thanks very much, Joanna. Joanna Penn: Thanks for having me, Len. Len Edgerly: Before we go, I'd like to say how renewed I felt about technology in the future after my conversation with Joanna Penn this week. I love the idea that Apple may well be the one to lead the way in designing VR headsets or glasses that finally unlock the power of new virtual worlds and I love looking forward to what pioneering authors like Joanna will create in partnership with ever more powerful language machines like GPT-3. And who knows, maybe there will be an AI partner out there who will help me to take the podcast to a new level. I will also give up my efforts to explain how blockchain works after talking with Joanna and I'm instead going to look forward to simpler and easier ways for regular people to use and benefit from it. I highly recommend Joanna's ‘Creative Penn' podcast. It's released every Monday and it's a great mix of interviews, personal updates on her writing, and as she said, glimpses of the future that she includes I think every other week or so.The post A Techno-Optimist’s View Of The Creative Future For Authors. Joanna Penn On The Kindle Chronicles Podcast first appeared on The Creative Penn.
61 minutes | 5 days ago
Co-writing With Artificial Intelligence With Yudhanjaya Wijeratne
We all use tools as part of the writing process. Other books and internet resources for research, Scrivener for writing the first draft, and a computer for typing or dictating into, as well as editing tools like ProWritingAid. But what if you could use AI tools to help inspire the writing process? In this episode, science fiction author Yudhanjaya Wijeratne talks about how he used artificial intelligence to co-write his novel, The Salvage Crew. In the intro, I talk about how I've been playing with Inferkit using my own books to train the Natural Language Generation model. More on AI writing tools here. Google announced a model 6x bigger than GPT-3, and Eleuther.ai wants to create an open-source version. In publishing news, Amazon and the Big 5 publishers have been accused of colluding to fix ebook prices [The Guardian], and Amazon is being investigated for potentially anti-competitive behavior in its sale of ebooks [Wall St Journal]. I useful stuff, Mark Dawson's Ads for Authors course is open now and very useful if you want to get to grips with paid ads this year, one of the ways in which big tech definitely impacts authors! Plus, you can get 50% off my online courses during lockdown: www.TheCreativePenn.com/learn Use coupon: LOCKDOWN. Valid until the end of this UK lockdown! Today's show is sponsored by my patrons at Patreon.com/thecreativepenn. They pay for my time so I can think and research the future of creativity and then share it with you. If you find the show useful, please consider supporting for just a few dollars a month and get an extra monthly patron-only Q&A audio. Thank you! Yudhanjaya Wijeratne is the award-nominated author of science fiction novels including Numbercaste and The Inhuman Race, as well as a Senior Researcher on Data, Algorithms, and Policy for an Asian think tank based in Sri Lanka. His latest novel, The Salvage Crew, features humans working alongside an AI overseer and was written with the help of AI tools. You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below. Show Notes How code is less like math and more like art Co-writing a book with AI tools What does it mean for art if art can be automated and humans can't perceive the difference? Why the fear of machines taking over may be unfounded How working with AI made the writing process joyful and exciting How copyright might impact machine learning and ways around that. More in my solo episode on Copyright Law and Blockchain in an Age of AI How a financial model of authors sharing data might work Would traditional publishers potentially use the data they have in the copyrighted work they own and control to train specialist genre models? Why technology is too important to be left to the technologists and why we need to get involved in the conversation and design of the future You can find Yudhanjaya Widjeratne at www.yudhanjaya.com or twitter.com/yudhanjaya Transcript of Interview with Yudhanjaya Wijeratne Joanna: Yudhanjaya Wijeratne is the award-nominated author of science fiction novels including Numbercaste and The Inhuman Race, as well as a Senior Researcher on Data, Algorithms and Policy for an Asian think tank based in Sri Lanka. His latest novel, The Salvage Crew, features humans working alongside an AI overseer and was written with the help of AI tools. Welcome to the show, Yudha. Yudhanjaya: Thank you for having me on. Joanna: It's so exciting to talk to you. Let's just start by telling us a bit more about how you got into writing sci-fi novels alongside being a tech journalist, a data scientist, doing all these things. How does your artistic life weave into your technical side? Yudhanjaya: The writing came first, interestingly. I was always a writer first and foremost. I started out wanting to write video games. And just after school, in between working stints at retail, I was trying to build and write RPGs as a way of teaching myself the skills of both programming and also just sharpening my writing skills in general. So, the two went hand in hand because I never really saw a difference. If you consider Russell's whole line of reasoning that language is a way of denoting concepts and the relationships between them, there never seemed to be a difference between a language that we would speak or write and a programming language. It was just a matter of having the concept map in your head. So, I just built these two things up mutually. Joanna: I really like that you say programming is just another language, because I often feel that people who use words in the language they speak don't really understand that coding can be incredibly creative. My husband is a programmer and I've worked with a lot of programmers, so I understand it. For people who only see languages as writing in sentences, what do you think is the comparison in terms of beautiful code and beautiful language, versus functional things? Yudhanjaya: Well, firstly, there's as much variation, if not more, within programming languages as you would get in what we would consider to be beautiful and functional languages. For example, if you want something that's written like a haiku, and that's clean, and then perfect, and also at the same time a bit difficult for a beginner to understand, there's Ruby. If you want the English of programming language, then there's Python, which is general-purpose. It's designed to do everything, but not really optimized towards any particular thing. If we're talking about extremely precise definitions and tight, formal logic chains, then you have other languages. So, you have these different variations. And within that, you have all these styles, almost these dialects, and languages spin off each other all the time. And a lot of it does correspond to what we would think of as sentences. You have the line breaks. You have the clauses that tell the compiler that, ‘This is a self-contained unit of instructions. Let's move on to the next one.' When I was growing up, because of our education system instruction, for example, to get into university to do a computing degree, you had to had taken maths. And maths is this bunch of subjects, pure maths, applied maths, physics, chemistry. There's this whole bucket of subjects that you have to take that's considered necessary to build up the skills required to be in computing. I did maths. And then later, as I got into computing, I realized, well, actually, I would have been better served with an arts degree. I'd have been better served with a creative writing degree, because it's far more akin to writing an essay to the machine than it is to write rigorously-defined equations that perfectly terminate and balance each other across the equation marks. At least, that's how I view it. I understand that others would totally be different about this. Joanna: I totally get that. And I think it's almost really important to understand this idea of the art of code, and even if we don't need to code ourselves. As we get into our discussion, so I want to get into this book you've written, The Salvage Crew, which is a fantastic science fiction novel in its own right, but fascinating also because you co-created it with AI tools. Can you explain the process of creation in writing The Salvage Crew with AI tools? In reading your notes you said it was extraordinarily freeing to use these various tools. Take us through that. Yudhanjaya: What I did for The Salvage Crew was I've been sort of bashing my head against the idea of AI writing fiction. I've explored this in short stories, notably in a couple of anthologies where I've been looking at what happens to humans when you have Shakespeare 2.0 or whatever. And I've been approaching this problem from various angles and trying to look at it from a technical perspective of this is a pattern recognition problem, and how do we make this work. A lot of computer science seem to be to feed a neural network a collection of books, and then laugh as it managed to perfectly get the rules of, say, pronunciation and spelling and grammar, but managed to hilariously mangle up concepts of time, and thought and so on and so forth. And it's because these are extremely complex relations. When we tell stories, there are lots of extremely complex layers that we are looking at. And these layers have patterns that are patterns of punctuation, that are patterns of plot elements, that are patterns of character arcs, and so on. So, I started dialing down my ambition, and instead, looking particularly to the video games industry to have aspects of the world-building handled for me. It starts off as a combination of space opera and a colony survival situation, I would say. So, it takes place on a planet. The planet is generated by a very simple code structure that we call a Markov chain. The continents, the weather, all of that is generated. There's something else that handles weather sheets that tells me what the weather is like on each chapter and does so in a realistic way, so that it doesn't go from rain to thunderstorm or rain to thunderstorm to sunny to thunderstorm again, but rather rain, slightly more rain the next day, and then thunderstorms, and then slowly clearing up and so on. The characters are also generated this way. Some of the interactions in the plot, and some of the events of the plot itself, are basically… There's a bunch of programs that pop up and say, ‘Right. This happens. This happens.' Me, as an author, I look at those data points and go, ‘Right.' The thing that's responsible for the weather is telling me that it's snow. The thing that's responsible for generating random events is telling me that they're about to be attacked. And the character generator that's been triggered by the events have decided to give the attackers, at least one of the attackers, adaptive camouflage. So, adaptive camouflage in snow, they're going to be absolutely terrified, because they can't see where these things are coming from. I was able to spin that story, because it was not as much as AI really co-writing with me as someone constantly standing there, holding up a never-ending stream of ideas. And every time it ran out of ideas, it would just bring up another card and say, ‘Have you tried this? Cool. Have you tried this? How about we try this?' The combinations of these things just keep that process of generating stories and subplots throughout the whole book going. The book is about a machine poet, I used a retrained version of OpenAI's GPT-2, which made headlines, I think as I remember, when they released a couple of articles that they said were written by GPT-2. It's a very large model that's trained on a lot of data. It looked incredibly realistic. It had written an article about unicorns, in a very sober fashion. It was almost as if the BBC was reporting on the discovery of unicorns, incredibly sober reporting. Fake scientists have been referred in that small quotes and air-quotes are there are there. And I basically took that and modified it to make it generate poetry, because the main character is a machine poet, so I thought it would be nice to have a real machine poet actually powering the fake machine poet. Joanna: I love that. And I think what's so interesting is having read your process and you talking about it now, you actually took all these different tools, some that you designed, some that other people designed, and used them, as you say, for the character and the plot and the different things that come up, the planet and all of these different things. It's like you did loads of work beforehand to create these various tools that you then use to do the writing. And when I hear you speak now, it doesn't actually sound like the machine as such did much of the writing, more that you just took all these as inputs and then created something. But of course, you mentioned GPT-2. We're now, what, eighteen months on, and GPT-3 has been released. And presumably, GPT-4 will be coming, GPT-4 will come next year or the year after, whatever. Because you've got a three book deal on this. Will you do things differently next time? And how are the tools more powerful now? Yudhanjaya: You're definitely right. At some point, I was looking at that effort to automation curve and wondering, ‘Are there not easier ways of just writing this?' But I did this because I was curious to see if it could be done. This particular centaur chess format almost that, this model pushed by Garry Kasparov to see if it could be applied to writing. So, for me, it was just the thrill of finding out whether it could be done. As you said, GPT-3 is out. GPT-4 is on its way. I don't think I'll be pursuing that particular thing because technically, those transform architectures look like a dead end, because they are incredibly sophisticated, but as we understand the papers, as we look at the training costs, GPT-3, for example, is not something that can be easily trained or retrained without having millions of dollars or the hardware lying around. It seems increasingly an inefficient brute force method to take a transform architecture, throw so much data at it that eventually it starts doing very sophisticated pattern recognition and spitting things out that looks realistic. Where I'm going to go instead is actually, I've written a galaxy generator. And I have it generating planets, I generate stars. It does a distribution quite similar to what the Milky Way has, and then starts generating planets and assigns these planets to stars. And then it's self-generating civilizational artifacts and assigning these things to the space between them. It's visualized as a social network. So, I don't necessarily need to care about the actual distances between the stars. That's not strictly relevant for a story. But the links between, and the path that a random node might take from one end of the galaxy to the other, and the things they might see on the way, that is something that I'll be digging deeper into. Joanna: That sounds fascinating. I love that. It's very interesting you say that the transformer architecture might be more of a dead end, but, of course, more of these different tools are arising all the time. I don't want to say it's an ethical issue, but there's certainly an issue, and you say in your notes, What does it mean for art if art can be automated and humans can't perceive the difference? What do people say about that? Because I know some people are like, ‘Well, you didn't make all that stuff up out of your own mind, so, therefore, it can't be real,' for example. Or, ‘What is the value that you can assign to art created by a machine versus a human?' I know these are huge questions. What are some of the things that you've considered in this area? Yudhanjaya: That's a big one. I initially created this machine poet that I made out of retraining GPT-2. I initially put it up as an Instagram bot, and I let it generate Instagram poetry. I brought a basic Python script that would have them following hashtags while comment, liking and commenting on people's stuff, following them, and if they didn't follow back, they'd go and unfollow within three days. So, that bot was, I would say, generating stuff as good as, or superior to, most of what you see on #instapoetry, and it started building up a following of, a very small following on, but a following nonetheless of people who kept commenting, liking and saying, ‘Oh, my God, this is so meaningful.' Now, something like this could easily replicate your garden variety Insta poet. Could it generate another Tennyson's Ulysses? I don't think so. Could it do a T.S. Eliot? I, again, don't think so. I have in my head this loose graph, and there's a line there that is constantly moving. And on one side is stuff that can be easily replicated with very little effort, that can be automated. And people can't tell the difference. And those seem to be low energy, low effort activities. They are almost the small talk category of art, if you will. And then beyond that moving boundary is work that people have put serious thought into. And there is now this sharp divide of can it be automated and will people be able to tell? Most of the poetry for example in The Salvage Crew, people had no idea that it was generated this way, because it makes sense within the format and so on. Joanna: Poetry is a really good example, because we generally impose meaning on words, especially if they're less prescriptive, but generating plot and the arc of a story is something much more involved. And I guess it's also interesting, like you mentioned, the Garry Kasparov and the centaur chess idea. To me, these are tools, obviously, to you, these are tools, and thus it is not like… Let's use the word ‘cheating.' Some people would say it's like cheating to use some of these tools. And yet, of course, we use computers to write on and that could be considered cheating as such. Now, you said there that people didn't know that AI poetry was written by a machine. But what about your publisher? Because you've got a three-book deal for the novel and the sequels, and Nathan Fillion, of ‘Firefly' fame, who I love, performed the audiobook. So, clearly, this is not a problem with publishers. Does your publisher know that you co-created with AI? Do you think it's acceptable in other areas outside of sci-fi? Yudhanjaya: Ooh, good question. In response to the cheating thing, I would say right now it's a lot more effort than it is just writing the book. Right now, I'm doing it more or less because of my own curiosity. I would say that it's not just cheating, but rather inevitable, because in this space of humans and machine learning and AI, to use a term, it seems that we have tilted ourselves headfirst into narratives that pit one against the other. Whether it's Rossum's Universal Robots, or urban legends of Golems running wild or Frankenstein, and the hideous progeny, to Arnold Schwarzenegger being the Terminator, it's always this ‘machines will come to end the humanity' thing. However, what it's been like in reality is that we adapt. We tend to merge. Hybridity, in fact, is a far better thesis of working, people and the machine working together. And I think this is going to be essential. I think it's going to be part and parcel of our future in the same sense, as you mentioned, that we use computers now. That could be considered cheating to a medieval scholar, who has to produce his own parchment, dye it by hand, possibly survive a Viking raid to find the books that they need. And the ability to access all of humanity's knowledge in a few keystrokes would be incredible-feeling, compared to someone who had to go to the Delphic Oracle to get an answer. So, we tend to adapt. We tend to integrate this stuff. And I think this will happen. As for whether it will be acceptable outside science fiction, that I don't know. So, the line of thinking that this comes from is, I was looking at what happened in areas where AI has actually defeated the human, the best-performing human at the top of the field, by whatever criteria. I came across chess master Garry Kasparov in the latter part of the '90s getting beaten by IBM's Deep Blue. The headlines of those times, which I obviously don't recall, because I was a kid, but the headlines of those times were, ‘Man Defeated by Machine.' This is the end. Because here is the greatest chess master of all time who's just falling. And what Kasparov did next was rather interesting. He came back years later with a field called Advanced Chess, where he said, ‘Okay. We've done human versus human. We've done machine versus machine. Let's try human plus machine versus human plus machine.' And you found that it played to the natural strengths of both of these systems, really. Humans are really good at general-purpose thinking. We are good at wild plays. We are good at connecting cross-domain expertise. We're not necessarily good at memorizing large tables or figures. Whereas a chess engine is basically designed to have that depth and have all of these historic positions saved, and try to make a reasonable inferences as to how the battle is going to go on. So, centaur chess saw the young players, who would otherwise not be operating anywhere near grandmaster level, very amateur players, suddenly posting scores and plays that were equal if not higher than the best human or chess engine players. Grandmaster-level plays were being done by very young kids whose talent lay more in being able to talk to the chess engine than actually setting up a fantastic end game. I thought that that was actually quite beautiful, because in doing and performing this kind of hybridity, we let more people into the game. We let more people perform better. We can potentially have, in this, the case of writing this book, I find that it usually takes me about a year, a year and a half, to think about a book and outline and plan it and so on, so forth. This, once the programmed elements were in place, must have taken me three months. And it was three joyous months. I never had writer's block. It was always I would sit down, I would go, ‘Right? What are we doing today?' There's a bunch of things being poked at me and my mind could easily stitch a story out of it. I think there's potential there. Joanna: I know everyone's perking up at ‘three joyous months.' That sounds amazing. Yudhanjaya: Yes. Instead of hitting that wall at 50,000 or 60,000 words, where you don't know if this is good, you're trying to make the ends meet. You're trying to figure out whether the storyline will come together. This was just like me sitting down and going, ‘Right. We're going to have fun today.' Joanna: And that I think is the attitude. You've mentioned curiosity, you've mentioned fun, joyous. These are words that I want people to think of. I feel that many authors are scared. As you say, it's the media has been sort of the Terminator or whatever, but I want us to reframe this is as joyous and fun and co-creation with potentially these tools that will help us use our minds in really interesting ways. Were there things that came up that surprised you, and took you into a different realm than you would have done on your own? Yudhanjaya: Oh, yeah. Quite a lot of the plot elements of how they started essentially falling back and starting to keep a farm growing and how at some point, there are these giant…without spoiling, there are these giant mega beasts on the horizon and they're reverting to, like, medieval wood construction in an effort to keep themselves protected, because there's just not enough wood to go around. Those things were completely unexpected. Almost all the encounters, almost all the fights that they had were completely unexpected. I had in mind the main character, and I had in mind the character of the alien that they do eventually make first contact with. And I had that theory of mind set in place, and everything else was basically winging it. Joanna: It sounds really fun. What I'm seeing at the moment is that there are starting to be tools, assuming that most people listening are not programmers. I'm not a programmer. When do you think there are going to be more tools available for authors to use that build on top of many of the existing things that programmers are using and the things that are in beta. When do you think that the tools will be ready for non-programmers? Or are there any that are even ready now? Yudhanjaya: I think in terms of world-building, there's quite a few tools being built around niches. There's, for example, a fantasy town generator. There's going to be universe sandbox generators. And all of this stuff already exists, because procedural generation, the art of taking math and turning it into these incredibly large structures that we can then appropriate for world-building, that's been going on for a long time in game development. There are, all of these dungeon masters who run D&D games will probably be very familiar with a lot of the generators out there. The most sophisticated stuff, such as OpenAI, the reason I have to be cautious around this is that any of these AI tools, anything involving machine learning, requires a lot of data to be trained on, so that it can then start producing things like that. The problem comes with copyright. So, for example, I would love to have something that has been fed, let's say, a couple of hundred science fiction novels, just to be able to give it a sentence like Foucault's Pendulum, where they have this computer that… Joanna: Oh, I love that book. Yudhanjaya: Yeah. Where they have this computer that constantly keeps cranking out conspiracy theories and just tying everything together into a plot. I would love to be able to do that. But the problem is that data, if it's fiction, is somebody else's copyright. Joanna: I also see that as a problem. I really think that there needs to be a licensing model for licensing works in copyright to be used as training data for some of these things. Yudhanjaya: Yes. Absolutely. Joanna: How open are people to that kind of thing? Because copyright is amazing in many ways, but equally, the 70 years after the death of the author, that is holding up development of the things that you're talking about. And my fear is that governments, or that things will change around copyright in order to facilitate some things, and that we have to have a balance, so, some kind of licensing around data training models would help. What are your thoughts on copyright? Yudhanjaya: In policy, this is often referred to as the secondary use of data problem. Can you use data of any sort for purposes other than it was given to you for? If, for example, I go and buy a bunch of Scalzi books from the bookshop, having read and enjoyed them as I'm supposed to do, and that's implied in the social contract of buying books, can I then digitize it and feed his stuff into something that might eventually start to sound like him? GDPR, for example, requires that for any secondary use, the data subject or the data provider be notified, and explicit permission be attained. So, that actually favors creators more so than the researchers. I don't necessarily have a much better solution in mind other than to agree with you that the 70 years after death is too restrictive. Even as an author that just feels a bit too much. It's not like I can sit here and claim that every sentence I've written is 100% original. I am also a product of societies and what I've read, and therefore these words are also going to rely on constructs that I have observed in the world around me and reacted to. So it's not like I'm pulling language purely out of the ether. That is the state of things right now. On the other hand, I've seen a few AI co-writing tools that are based explicitly on GPT-3. And my question to each of these people is sometimes just reach out for testing. And I keep asking, ‘What's your data set? Is it in the public domain? If you say you've taken this many screenplays or this many novels, whose novels have you taken, and what permissions do you have to do that? Because there's the flip side of saying, ‘Okay. Fine. In the name of research, let's do this.' This is eventually what is simple and harmless and found research gets commercialized. Because of the nature of these technologies, I can retrain OpenAI GPT-2 on my home machine. It's a 6-core, 12-thread CPU, with a very powerful GPU and lots of RAM. That's fine. However, for me to retrain GPT-3, it would take me about $4 million worth of equipment. I read the GPT paper. And towards the end, they basically say, ‘There are these parts, these parts, and these parts where you're not really sure what happened, but the cost of retraining this is too high.' That's OpenAI saying the cost of retraining this to find out, to make our research a bit more rigorous, is too high. So, this is overwhelmingly going to privilege large corporations with lots of money in the bank, lots of hardware, and lots of highly paid researchers who can then do this kind of work to create a product that can be sold on a SaaS platform. So, the problem is, I feel like I'm one of those two-handed economists, like, on the other hand, on the other hand, but the problem of flipping the gate the other way is, you'll initially have a wave of early experimenters like me who are having fun with it, and then immediately you have [inaudible 00:32:11] Joanna: I see this happening right now. As you know, Microsoft has now licensed OpenAI's tools. Yudhanjaya: Oh, yeah. Joanna: So, obviously, Microsoft are going to turn this into their products. I think Azure is their AI software as a service. So, these things are going to be commercialized. And of course, as we know, the architecture transformer stuff could change to be something else, and could be cheaper in the future. I feel like we have to figure out copyright for an AI age before all this starts happening, because the thing is you've done this, you've produced a book that you've been paid for, and because you're ethical and you understand the copyright side of things, you've done it in an ethical way. Yudhanjaya: Yes. I'd like to note that I use people who've been dead since the fifth century. Joanna: Exactly. But equally, to me, there's a big problem of bias. So, if you only use works out of copyright, they are generally, you know, white, dead, Christian male… Yudhanjaya: Oh, yes, yes. Joanna: …western. Yudhanjaya: Absolutely. Joanna: And you're Sri Lankan, for a start. Yudhanjaya: Yes. Joanna: How many Sri Lankan published authors are in your dataset? Probably just you? Yudhanjaya: I've been through the Project Gutenberg corpus of poetry. And there is a very easy downloadable corpus there. What I ended up with, the initial generator that I built, was very heavy on Christian image. Themes of God kept randomly popping up in the middle. Joanna: You probably had a lot of Bible in there. Yudhanjaya: And there was William Blake, for example, and a lot of those. The corpus is overwhelmingly, as you say, biased towards the Anglosphere, towards white male authors in the Anglosphere, and even then towards the more religious angle of it, whatever was considered socially acceptable in those times. So, yes. We have tremendous problems in class balance in these kinds of datasets. And we absolutely do need to figure this out before crap hits the fan. Joanna: You and I are both authors. I'm an independent author. I own all my rights. I would love to license my corpus of work to whatever models, but I would also like to be recompensed for that. In my head, I have this idea that using possibly some kind of blockchain technology that would feed in my data would be tagged in some way, and then whatever is output from the other end, let's say someone produces books out of that corpus, that I would receive a micropayment for whatever percentage my work was part of that training data. Is that completely far-fetched? Yudhanjaya: Oh, no. Actually, that's very interesting, because that should be possible within the GDPR, which, I'm not a huge fan of GDPR. There are certain data colonialism problems that it's kicking off in the way it's being pushed out. However, in the current structure, there are these intermediaries that other data processes. For example, if you and I could license our books out to these data processes and they acquire the rights of many authors to put together a large corpora of data that then researchers or maybe even other authors can one click and download, and there's a subscription fee, a portion of which, according to our contribution in the corpus, goes to each author who pitches in. That is a perfect model. Joanna: That's the model I want to happen, because that, I see, as a way to enable this kind of creation, but also to pay the original creators. And then I was reading about synthetic data. So, let's say you and I put together a corpus together, ‘Yudha-Jo corpus,' and we can then actually create synthetic data from that that then could also be licensed on. Thus it would give a new form of income to creators, but still benefit people who want to train and use the models to create new things. Yudhanjaya: True. But synthetic data is a bit difficult with unstructured data. So, the think tank that I work at, we actually do a lot of synthetic data work. We use it generally on phone call records across millions of people, to reconstruct patterns of movement, economic activity, so that whatever funds are coming in for development can actually be channeled to where those things are needed, and where there is a need, for example, for better routes and better public transport. On the language side, because I work with flexible languages and publish large corpora in these languages, synthetic data is incredibly… GPT-2 and 3 are essentially synthetic data generators. They're incredibly difficult with unstructured data, unless you happen to have an insane amount of unstructured data, which has been OpenAI's thing so far. They just scrape all of Reddit for that first conversation. They basically scraped all of Reddit for the top-performing articles, and we followed those links through and we took that text. And I'm sitting there going, ‘Wow. Okay. That's a lot of copyright violations.' I don't even dare touch that corpus. Joanna: And that's the thing, but my concern really is that, again, you're an ethical person who knows this stuff. Most people playing around with a lot of these tools don't necessarily even understand copyright, let alone care about it. So, I think we definitely need to be engaged in this. I love what you're doing. I do have one last question because we're almost out of time. When we talk about ownership of data and ownership of books and copyright — the publishing industry actually owns the most data. For example, Penguin Random House, maybe with Simon & Schuster, you've got some really big corpuses there. Do you think as a thought experiment, would one of these mega publishers use that data? Because a lot of the times, the contracts that authors have signed are hand-over data for the life of copyright. Could that be used in the future, or do you think the publishing industry is just not that sophisticated? Yudhanjaya: I've got a fair bit of traditionally published work out. I've got a fair bit of indie work out. And everybody says, ‘Oh, tratditional publishers respond to this or this or this,' until they start seeing significant money, and then you start seeing eBook adoption. Then you start seeing print runs being reduced, higher royalties appearing on eBook, on eBooks and things going eBook and audio first, large amounts of money being pumped into this. I think at some point, when they realize that there is enough money, this level of analysis will be done. In fact, I'd be very surprised if there wasn't already. This is speculation from my part, but I can think of several dozen use cases right off the bat. If you wanted to know what the structure of a best seller is, you could potentially do topic modeling on… Say if you take the science fiction. Say you're paying Penguin Random House and you have science fiction and fantasy. Topic model your bestsellers, and then find books that match those. So, you're not just looking at the blurb, you're not just looking at how closely the title matches, but does the actual structure of words and themes represented and how they're put together inside the document itself, do they match? There's so much other stuff that can be done with this. Joanna: I think so. And, in fact, I wonder whether this will come out of China first. Whether they're ahead of the U.S. or not can be debated by different countries, but you and I are in the middle of those two countries. So, one could say that this could come out of China first. With AI translation, I don't even know if we're going to know what is created by an AI. Yudhanjaya: That's the thing. I'm looking at both regulatory environments, because both the U.S. and the China are very much alike, for all the narrative that they have against each other. They're both, to a certain extent, incredibly unregulated data economies. Now, China is passing through Data Protection Act, which I've read the draft of. It's pretty interesting. Actually, a lot more liberal than I imagined. But in the U.S., for example, you have a Clearview, which, basically, scraped YouTube for faces, and used that to build a facial recognition database for police. And they're claiming that it is within their first and second amendment rights to take data thus from YouTube. YouTube, of course, is kicking up a huge fuss and these people are saying, ‘No, it's in our rights.' And that is a completely unregulated environment. I have the feeling that this stuff will be coming out of the U.S. first. It's probably not going to come from the science fiction and fantasy authors if you're looking at books that are co-written and so on. It's not going to come out of the classical science fiction and fantasy authors that we know and follow. It's going to be someone with a programming background, probably in Silicon Valley, going, ‘Hey, I'm going to write a book.' So, a lot of the social contract around the process, the subtle unwritten rules and norms of being a part of a community of writers, are just not going to apply to them because they'll be looking at it completely from the outside and going, ‘How do I hack this process?' I've just done something like that. I've realized I'm just describing myself as a sociopath! Joanna: But you haven't. And circling right back to the beginning, you're an artist and a programmer and a technologist. And I think how I want to end this discussion, really, is to say that this is too important a thing to leave to only the technologists, and the artists and writers need to get involved in this, right? Yudhanjaya: Yes. Absolutely, yes. Joanna: We have to get involved or else we're going to wake up and we'll be out of the conversation. Yudhanjaya: Or worse. We're going to wake up and it's going to be crap. A lot of my frustration came from reading computer science papers that were published in these machine learning fora where they would feed increasingly sophisticated neural networks, say, the first seven Harry Potter books. And then you would get some output and they would discuss it and say, ‘Oh, yeah, the model loses attention after two paragraphs.' And the author part of me is screaming, ‘That's not how we work.' We think of characters, we think of world-building, we think of plot, we think of all of these things, the emotional arcs that the reader has to go through. We think of all of these layers. We don't process this as one giant chunk. I think it's critical for us to actually be involved in this because, otherwise, we will end up with stuff like GPT-2. Actually, GPT-2 and 3 are very good examples of what happens. We're bordering on the unethical. It's even sometimes unfeasible. It's clearly a technological breakthrough as well, so it is sitting in this awkward space of who really gets to use this. And what exactly is the greater good scenario here? Joanna: Absolutely. So, people who want to get involved should definitely check out your books and some of the things you've written. Tell people where they can find you and everything you do online. Yudhanjaya: You can find me on www.yudhanjaya.com or twitter.com/yudhanjaya or facebook.com/yudhanjaya. I use Twitter and Facebook quite a lot for different stuff. My Twitter is going to be language, futurism, policy, cats. And my Facebook is going to have, lean a lot more towards cats. It's going to be cats and whatever other interesting things I have to say come second to cat photos. Joanna: Thank you so much. That was so great to talk to you. Yudhanjaya: Thank you so much for having me. This was so much fun.The post Co-writing With Artificial Intelligence With Yudhanjaya Wijeratne first appeared on The Creative Penn.
59 minutes | 12 days ago
It’s Never Too Late. How To Achieve Your Goals At Any Age With Kate Champion
If you feel like it's too late to achieve your goals — whether that’s because of your age or your fear of technology or you’re late to the indie author world — or anything else, today's interview with Kate Champion will help you reboot your mindset for the year ahead. In the intro, thoughts on the COVID-19 and Book Publishing Report: Impacts and Insights for 2021; Top 10 Trends that every author needs to know for 2021 from Written Word Media; positive signs for translation from Ricardo Fayet at Reedsy (where you can also hire translators), plus my experience using AI translation tool Deepl for German translation. In useful stuff, Mark Dawson's Ads for Authors course is open, which I use and highly recommend; plus if you want to create an online course that sells, check out the free Teachable webinar with everything you need to know. PLUS, if you'd like to do one of my online courses for authors, you can get 50% off until the end of February 2021 (when hopefully, we are out of lockdown!). Just go to TheCreativePenn.com/learn and use coupon: LOCKDOWN Today's show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at www.draft2digital.com/penn Kate Champion is the author of Never Too Late and Starting Out or Starting Over, as well as a licensed mental health professional who works with anxiety, loss trauma, with a focus on sustainable wellness and overcoming limiting beliefs. You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below. Show Notes How writing can help with mental health issues Writing as marketing for a small business How our limiting beliefs don’t have to stop us from achieving goals The importance of discomfort for pushing your boundaries and comfort zone Finding mentors to inspire and guide you How life is a series of transitions You can find Kate Champion at KateChampionAuthor.com Transcript of Interview with Kate Champion Joanna: Kate Champion is the author of Never Too Late and Starting Out or Starting Over, as well as a licensed mental health professional who works with anxiety, loss trauma, with a focus on sustainable wellness and overcoming limiting beliefs. Welcome to the show, Kate. Kate: Hello, how are you today? Joanna: I am great. Start by telling us a bit more about you and how your writing fits alongside this day job that you love. Kate: Yes, of course. I am in my mid-50s. I am a licensed mental health professional and have been in practice for 15 plus years. And it's a career or something I love so much and it's just been a huge part of my journey. But within that journey, obviously, there's been lots of schooling and master's degrees and things like that, and then started out in community mental health, with people that have addictions, and also mental health concerns. And over the time I've written a lot through school, I've worked on theses, and I've had a couple of academic journal articles published. I've never really considered myself a writer, writer. But as my kind of career advanced I really was drawn to anxiety and helping people manage limiting beliefs and sustainable wellness. Those two parts began to emerge, or merge, and got to a stage about three years ago when I was really questioning my role in community mental health. Worked for a big local healthcare company, going up the ladder with regard to management positions on leadership, and yadda, yadda, yadda, but I just wasn't feeling it. And took that year to soul search and eventually my path switched to full-time private practice. And also, that's when the author piece came in and really trying to pull those threads then with regard to helping people with mental health, that mental health piece, but also the sustainable wellness. I consider myself an athlete. I'm out a lot of hiking, backpacking, running, I'm trying to be as well as I can be, which is good in times like this. So really being those two threads together. And that's when I had my ideas for my first book. Joanna: I've got two questions out of this before we get what's in the book. So first of all, mental health, we're recording this at the end of the pandemic year 2020, although this will go out in the New Year. But mental health has been a big challenge for a lot of people, during this time, for very understandable reasons on top of any other life situations that might be going on. What were your thoughts on using writing as an individual to actually help with mental health? Personally, when I feel whatever I'm feeling, I write, I have my journals, I journal things and I might read them later and be like, ‘I just don't even recognize that person.' But I was able to get that out from my head onto the page. That has always been a tool for me. I haven't necessarily had a therapist or anything, but I've always written. What are your thoughts on people who are struggling using writing to help? Kate: That is a great question. This year, I can't tell you, anybody who had any kind of underlying anything, the heat has really been cranked up with things like depression, anxiety, relationship struggles. So, if you are struggling out there, it's okay, everybody is struggling. I have also journaled a lot, not so much, I'm not a regular journaler, but I really do use the written word to process thoughts and feelings and transitions in life. Really getting those words on the page is very therapeutic. There are some studies, there's some research behind what we call Narrative Therapy, which is literally telling your stories through the written word, and then processing it through with somebody. And then really looking at it and picking out things, maybe the thinking errors or the limiting beliefs or trying to see things that you really resonate with. Just because we write something doesn't mean it's true. Just because we're having a thought doesn't mean it's a fact. It's a great way to reflect. And also I think what's really cool about kind of writing and journaling on a personal level to work through something is that you can look back. You can go back to two years ago, three years ago, four years ago. I go back to my master's degree journaling, and I see what I was writing then, where my head and heart were today, it's very different. It's a great way to also track growth. And I think it's hopeful, it brings hope. Joanna: Definitely. I went through a divorce. And those years, I'm like, ‘Oh, my goodness,' I'm so glad I've moved on from that level of pain at that point. But it's always when you write it down, you can revisit it later and it can help with your writing now, and as you say, recognizing these transition points. You mentioned there about moving into private practice. And that was the point when you decided to write a book. So, on a business level, because of course, a lot of people listening might be thinking about writing nonfiction. How do your books play a part in your practice? And whether that's content marketing, or blogging, or the books themselves? Can writing also be marketing for private practice? Kate: That's a great question. When I had this desire to write some kind of a book, I actually wanted to write a more of a clinical book really around anxiety, working through the limiting beliefs. More of a self-help that wasn't super clinical, but was good for the everyday kind of person, speaking the language of the everyday person. I've started a book about grief work, I've started a book about anxiety. I have like five books started already in that kind of genre, or with those threads. And honestly, I couldn't get through them. Because I didn't feel…this is going to be odd, I didn't really feel like I had the kind of clinical chops to really put my name out there and say, ‘Hey, I'm this expert on this or that.' Even though I've got over 10 years of practice, and blah, blah, blah. For me, this has been a journey that's evolved very naturally. My books now are very focused on sustainable wellness, overcoming limiting beliefs, and really getting out there as an individual, whether it's writing, or walking or hiking, or backpacking. Really shining the spotlight on people, regardless of age or ability, doing some really amazing things. And that is tied in with things like, okay, people struggle with motivation, and how can you help with that? We all have limiting beliefs, how can you work through those? So it's tying those two threads together. So the little sprinkler the mental health stuff along with just the everyday sustainable wellness. Those are the threads that are coming together right now. And it's been a blast, it really has. Joanna: I think that's great for people to hear as well. Because I also think sometimes it's not the thing that you should write, I mean, ‘you should,' write a book to support your practice, but that's not what is bringing you alive in terms of your writing. It's obviously a completely different thing for you, which is also something to recognize that that's encouraging to people. If the book you're trying to write is not working out very well, then write something else. You don't have to force yourself into writing the thing that you should write, you have to do the thing that makes you come alive. I think we've learned that in the pandemic year: Life is too short. Kate: Yes. And it's being intentional, it's part of that personal growth about, okay, it's waking up in the morning and dropping that question in this distance, like, ‘What do I really want to work on today? What do I really want to write? What do I really do I want to focus on? What do I really want to work on?' Allowing that to emerge and I'm fortunate enough to be able to do that. I know those grief and anxiety books will be written. But again, this is kind of where my heart is right now. And again, I wouldn't change it. Joanna: Absolutely. So let's talk about the book. Never Too Late is fantastic and it talks about, well, you can tell us what it's about. Many people come to writing later in life. You mentioned you're in your 50s, my mom started writing when she hit 70. And I get emails all the time from people saying, ‘Is it too late to start writing?' Whether it's writing or fitness or any of the things you talk about, how can you encourage people to get started, even if they feel it might be too late? Kate: I will say, if you have some kind of belief around it's too late, that's probably a belief that's limiting you. I would check under the hood and see what that's about. Because truthfully, we have this life and as long as we're alive and kicking and breathing we have the ability to do things, whatever it is. If it's athletics and you're just starting out, and it's a walk to the mailbox and back or around the block just start there. If it's a book you're trying to hatch, just sit your rear end down and try and just make some notes and brainstorm. And it just really is never too late. The only time it is too late is really when we're six feet under. In my heart of hearts believe that. If you look, there are so many incredible people at incredible ages doing some incredible things. And that is really what Never Too Late is about, it is shining the spotlight on some very ordinary inspirational people that are doing some incredible things later in life, in the 60s and 70s and 80s. We are limitless. And that's another book in the series, but we are limitless, and if you're struggling with that, then you might have some beliefs that you have to work through. Joanna: What are some of those beliefs? I'm thinking that one belief is a societal belief that we are useless after a certain age, retirement, plus things that we're almost told in our culture, but are changing, I think, these days. I remember both my grandparents died in their 70s of lung cancer, and they were old in their 70. But my mom is now is 73. And last year before the pandemic, she went on the Silk Road, she was traveling in Uzbekistan. And I didn't think of her as old. I wonder if it's this real cultural issue, with saying that people over a certain age have to behave in a certain way? Is that something that's deeply embedded? Kate: That is a great point. I do think we have a deep societal cultural stigma. That's really the word we're looking at here. We have some stigma around age and aging and ageism. Right now, and in the time that we're living in, I think a lot of the stigmas are beginning to be reduced. I think especially the baby boomer generation, I think they have done a lot to kind of say, ‘Okay, you know, we can reinvent, we can continue to innovate, we can continue to retire and have this second or third or fourth career.' And again, it comes back to these athletes that I've been working with and talking to. They do not get up in the morning and think, ‘I'm too old'. They just don't. They just don't, that's not part of their lexicon with regards to their thought process. They get up and they get their shoes on, they get out for that run, or that hike or whatever. I do feel like we have some conditioning to undo. But we can blame lots of things on culture. But ultimately, we're the people that are getting up every day, and being intentional about our lives. I think being mindful, maybe again, some reflective journaling around what do I really think about age? What has my culture taught me about age? And what do I like about that? And what can I change about that? So, it's really being reflective and mindful about these external constraints, I think, that are put on us often, unfortunately. Joanna: I think there's also a real internal issue. And this is not an age thing. I get emails all the time from younger people, people younger than me. I'm 45. And someone will email me and say, ‘I just don't know about numbers. I'm not very good with numbers. So I can't learn about how money works as an author.' Or, ‘I'm not very technical, so I can't do Amazon KDP, I just need someone to do it for me. Can you do it for me?' Or, ‘I don't know how to do this, can you do it for me?' It drives me a little bit nuts because, to me, it has to be a growth mindset. I didn't know any of this stuff either. You didn't know any of this stuff, we have to learn. And in fact, in this era of digital transformation, we all will have to reskill whatever our age over and over and over again. I feel like, are people scared of that? Or is it because they've been told that you have to stop learning at some point that when you leave school, you stop learning? Or what do you think of some of these internal issues? How can we embrace that growth mindset? Kate: That's another great question. What I see a lot is fear. I think it's fear of the unknown. I think it's a fear of not knowing. I think it's maybe fear of failure or fear of looking ‘stupid.' Is it insecurities about what if it's not good enough, or I have to be perfect? I think people come to the table with that, and that's absolutely fine. But again, I would honestly frame those in as limiting beliefs. You have maybe the fact that you might not be good with money. I would be focusing on, ‘Okay, so maybe that isn't your area of strength, but what is?' I'm going to use a personal example here, my areas of strength are I really like writing, I feel like I can put words on the page. I focus on the writing, I really actually struggled with spelling and grammar, I'm a little dyslexic. So that is an area where I know I struggle. So I have made sure that I built a little team that will help me with the editing. I also really struggled with the formatting, again, because I think it's that dyslexia, so I have a little person I go to, and he does my formatting for me. It's really this exercise of using your strengths, really focusing on those, finding out where your limits are, and then getting a little help with that if you can. And also, there's some things I've had to push myself on with regards to technology. When I started this, I had seven Facebook friends. I had no social media at all, by choice. And now, two years later, I've got Instagram, I've got Facebook, I've got Facebook groups. I've got over 1,000 people, likes or followers or whatever. And I really had to learn that skill. I think the cool thing about where we are now is you can learn anything, right? Your courses, for example, have really helped me with regard to learning about setting up the website; your website course has been really helpful. So I looked at that, I learned from that, and I kind of put that in practice. Just go out there do a Google search. And also I would say, whatever your expectations are, bring them down, get them smaller and smaller. And let's use that example of money. If you're not good with money go jump on and read a research article or an investment article. Start to get informed a little bit. Take five minutes a day, and just read or watch a video or jump onto YouTube. You'll be amazed how quickly you can develop some skill in a pretty short space of time. Joanna: I totally agree with you. I do have a list at Thecreativepenn.com/moneybooks. It's something I'm quite passionate about helping people learn that stuff because I think there are some things like, an example, you mentioned, formatting. Like, who cares if you outsource that, like literally, it's not a skill, that it is a useful skill, but it's not necessary at all. Whereas something like learning how to deal with money is a necessary life skill. And you can learn that stuff at any age. It's certainly not something that you can't learn later on. It's just another language. That and you mentioned there getting help with spelling. That's fantastic. I run all my books through ProWritingAid. And as you say, we have these tools that help us fill in the gaps. But you also mentioned then, you said about pushing yourself and you gave the example of social media. This to me is very important. I feel that people stay in their comfort zone. Now, of course, your book, Never too Late has a lot of stuff about physical comfort zones. I've done some ultra-marathons, you obviously do running and long walks and stuff. And there are some physical discomfort phases, and we push ourselves and it's about knowing when you're pushing yourself too much. But if you don't push yourself, you're never going to achieve something. How do people know where the line is between pushing themselves enough to achieve something and pushing themselves too much so that they fall apart? Kate: That's a great question. As you're talking I was thinking about some of my extended backpacking trips. I have a couple of trips where I probably pushed myself too much. When you come home, and you can hardly walk and get up after three days. That would be an example of pushing yourself too much. I don't know. I think everybody has their own personal limits, where they're comfortable versus uncomfortable. I actually think it's really important to be uncomfortable. Believe me, I like my creature comforts. But I also think there's value in pushing yourself so the body, the system, the brain starts to feel a little uncomfortable. For me, that would be this whole social media thing. I'm a pretty private person. I don't like all my business out there. So, for me, I had to do it. It was a no-brainer. If I wanted this thing to halfway succeed, I know I'm going to have to have some kind of social media presence in today's age. And I'm an independent author. So, if I don't put the book out there, no one's going to be going knocking on my door. I started small. I made a little plan. I know that you're working on Your Author Business Plan, so I made a little plan. And I took some very small baby steps. If you take little micro-steps, and little building blocks, like little Legos, right, so the first thing I would learn a little bit about websites and Facebook. And the second thing is like, ‘Okay, what is my audience? Who do I want to attract?' The third thing would be, ‘Okay, let's put some language together. And let's just put up a page, let's not even launch it, let's just put up a page with a couple of photos. And then let's sit with that and see how that feels.' So it's these constant little micro-steps with just checking in with the self. How am I doing with this? Am I comfortable with it? Is it just too much? Is it too little? It's really, again, it's getting inside you and figuring out kind of how the body is doing with this? And using yourself, your wise self as that guide. Again, that's a very different mindset. What a lot of people do is more internally driven than externally. So I don't know if I've made sense or not. But that's what I'm trying to communicate. Joanna: I think you're right about the baby steps. You and I have done some pretty long events, and multi-day walking, things like that. But that's not how you start, right? Kate: Right, a trip to the mailbox and back. Literally, in my book, I talk to people about motivation. Nobody expects you to get out there and run 100 miles or hike 100 miles or whatever. You don't start there. Nobody, even like the biggest people, again, ‘Most successful' people in the world. Nobody starts from A and just leaps to Z, right? But I think in our culture, we see, ‘Oh, this overnight person did this or that.' But that's actually false, right? That is a thinking error because nobody jumps from A to Z. There's every single letter in between, and you have to hit every single letter. So that is the mindset, that really is the mindset, baby steps, walk to the mailbox and back or look at a video or read that financial blog. It's these baby steps that will over time, you can build on, and will, over time, get you to your destination. Joanna: I like that you call yourself a ‘back of the pack' athlete, which I love. And I've actually learned a lot about comparisonitis before doing these physical events, like the last ultra-marathon I did. And it's so funny, because at some points in the journey, you're like, ‘Oh, I'm doing so well. And I'm walking really fast. And I pass all these people and I'm like, wow, I'm really good.' And then, 10 minutes later, you get overtaken by one of your runners who's sort of 85 and he's running past at triple the speed I could ever move at. And it's like, ‘Oh, right. Okay, so really comparing myself in a positive way or a negative way is completely useless because I can't win.' It's very, very unlikely that I'm going to win a race, a physical race. But I'm not racing against someone else. I'm doing it for myself. That kind of comparisonitis, is that damaging, or will it actually help us to try and be better? Kate: I cover that in my latest book, Starting Out or Starting Over, that's talking about comparison. I talk about the only person that you need to be comparing yourself with you. That thing of as your competition is the one that staring you in the mirror. It comes down to this ability to internally reflect and put your own rudder in the direction where you want it to go based on what your goals are, who you are, your means at the time. And also, again, your culture and beliefs and things like that. Really, just comparing yourself to you and what you're comfortable with is so, so, so important, so important, so important. Joanna: Give us an example of one of the people in the book Never Too Late that you particularly find inspiring. Kate: I think they're all inspiring because I just love it. I really resonated with the female long-distance endurance hiker. She is a 55-year-old woman who started hiking at 55. Now she's in her mid-60s. This woman has hiked and backpacked 1,000s and 1,000s and 1,000s of miles and she's done it all. She's done that Appalachian Trails. She's done a lot of the Florida to sea trail, she's done the PCT, she's done so many miles by herself. Just solo, she gets out there. She freeze-dries her own food. She's out there for months, literally, three or four months at a time hiking, and backpacking. A, she's amazing. She's slighter. She's smaller. She just has this incredible connection with nature and the universe and this quality around her but absolutely no fear, no limiting beliefs. She is just living her life, really, on her terms, in a kind of wonderfully, I want to say spiritual but, kind of a spiritual way. And I don't mean that in religion so much, but just in harmony, right? It's just wonderful. So, she's a huge inspiration for me. Joanna: It's really important as well to have what I would say, mentors. I do get a lot of emails. So people say, ‘Can you be my mentor?' Can I be their mentor, and I'm like, ‘I don't actually do that, as a person, but you go read my books and listen to my podcasts.' And I feel like that lady for you. I have mentors whose books I read, all my mentors are really from books, and from podcasts. There's an example there of someone in a physical situation and having mentors who have done things that we want to do is really important for this mindset shift. When I think about some of my ambitions, I know that if I look to someone who's already done it, then I know it's possible for someone like me, because as you said these are ordinary people, and everyone is ordinary actually. Kate: Right. Joanna: And we feel like, ‘Oh, but who am I? I'm nothing special.' But actually, we're all special, we're all ordinary, and the people who achieve these things are just putting things into practice. So I think that will probably be a tip. Find people who have done the things you want to achieve and then look at how they did it. That woman didn't set off on day one for months she did her training and put in her time and did a kilometer at a time and all that. So yeah, that would probably be something I would think. Kate: I agree entirely. And as you're talking, I'm thinking, ‘Well, let me give you some examples,' right. You, Joanna Penn, have been a huge mentor, unknowingly. This is the first time we've talked and connected. In the beginning of my author journey, I was a blank slate. I had to look and listen and I had about five people that I was kind of following and listening to and trying to find that person that made sense to me. The big ones, the ‘SPF' podcasts and things like that, ‘Six Figure Author,' those have all been great. But it's finding those two or three people that you really resonate with that makes sense to you. And honestly, I've had to cut some people out as well. In the beginning, this firehose of information coming at you, and I had to kind of quiet some of the voices because it was too much. It was too much static, too much about the money, too much about the comparison, too much about this, that, and the other. So I had to kind of quiet some of the voices and just allow, again, some of the voices and mentors that really resonated with me, and you have been one of those people. So, again, thank you for that. Joanna: Oh, I appreciate that. And you're exactly right about having to cut out people and really honing down who you want to listen to you. I think that it would be another tip for people, you do have to do that. And I know that sometimes people feel the need. For example, I don't listen to many podcasts on writing anymore because I started writing in 2006. And you go through these stages of what you need to learn, and what you need to listen to. I'm listening to different things now, I'm reading different things now than I was back in 2010, for example. And the same with our physical fitness, right? We're learning different things about, for example, I learned a very big lesson about changing my socks after my first 50k. When I did not change my socks enough, and now I changed my socks every 10 kilometers. There are things you have to learn on the journey that sometimes people have told you, and you just have to find out for yourself. Kate: I think that's a great point. We are all wonderfully individual. We are unique. You have to figure out what works for you, as an individual. I can tell you that I tend to be a morning writer, my energy's better in the morning. So I'm making sure that I have writing time in the morning. I've tried the writing everyday thing that…it does with my private practice, I have these two kinds of streams of income. That didn't work with me. So I consider myself a seasonal writer, I figured out, okay, I'm more of a seasonal writer because, in the summer, I want to be out like hiking and backpacking. But in the winter, it's like, ‘Okay, it's time to sit down and crank out that next book'. And so, it's just, again, it's taking this information, and it's discerning, right, you're kind of curating your own journey. So you got a firehose of information, you're beginning to discern kind of what's fits for you. Curate your own life and journey in a way that makes sense to you as an individual. I've got this big, wide funnel, tons of information and it's just boiling down, boiling down, boiling down to like, ‘Oh, okay, this actually makes sense to me as a human being, I can do this.' You can use that metaphor for anything, truthfully. Whether it's running or hiking, or backpacking, or writing or learning about finances, you can use that metaphor for everything. Joanna: Absolutely. Now, you talked a bit about discernment there. And right at the beginning, you said you went through a period of soul searching, and in Never Too Late, you say, ‘I see life as a series of natural transitions.' Now, I think this is another important point because writing fiction, for example, or writing your anxiety book, what might come along at some point, and we have these different transitions. So, how do we recognize when we're moving through a transition, and even if sometimes that means leaving behind something we love because we have to make space for what's new? How do you know when that transition is coming along? Kate: I think that's a really good question. So this whole thing, this whole framework around transition, I don't believe in crises so I often get people like, again, ‘In midlife crisis.' And one of the first things I'll say to those that, again, ‘I don't really think this is a midlife crisis. I actually think this is kind of a developmental transitional phase'. If you think about life, we think about, developmentally, there are a handful of pivotal transitional phases. So, we've got obviously that birth phase, we've got kind of college, high school into college, that age from about, I don't know, 16 to 25, that's another big transitional phase. We tend to have another transitional phase when we have children, if you choose to have children that could be another transitional phase in your life. And again, that 45-ish to 55-ish, right? That's generally when if you have children, they're heading out of the house. And hopefully, you're thinking about, ‘Okay, what's next for me,' right? Again, that is a transitional phase. And it's recognizing that your energy's changing, maybe your goals are shifting, maybe your interests are widening. And again, it's not really this crisis energy, there's nothing wrong. It's just who you are naturally, as a human being, we are creatures of change. Creativity is important, and lifelong learning is important. And those are the things that make us vibrant as humans. And that is recognizing and listening to that may be a transitional time is really important. And that was what's…it was exactly what's happening with me, just recognizing that 10 years in community mental health and all the benefits were nice. And I could have had the golden handshake. And it could have been wonderful. If I stayed for another 10 years, but I was recognizing that I was changing and my life was going through a transitional phase. And yes, it's scary. And yes, it takes some courage. And yes, I didn't know what was going to happen. But two years later, it's literally been a year since I went full-time private practice and Never Too Late came out in June. So in this last year, so much change has happened. I have to tell you, I am happier and healthier, and more vibrant for navigating that transitional phase. Don't be scared. Just don't be scared. It's okay. Joanna: We talked a bit about being uncomfortable. I do think these transitions are uncomfortable. And like you say, people feel, I guess that word crisis, I also don't like, but there's sort of uncomfortable feelings in that experience. It's funny, you mentioned 10 years because I think 10 years in any career if you're not changing things up, you're going to stagnate. I've certainly been talking about that on this show for a couple of years now, I feel like I'm stagnating a bit. But I feel like I've got my mojo back recently. Looking at the next decade of technological change, and how it's going to impact authors and publishing like, I'm reinvigorated. And I'm always going to write but it's like I always need that next mental challenge. And also a physical challenge, obviously, both of us physically challenge ourselves. But definitely, any change, any shift is going to be uncomfortable. And yet, as you've just said, once you break through that, you're in this new exciting phase of your life, but inevitably, there'll be some more changes now, right? Kate: I want to add to that, and let me add to that if I can. It's like the key is listening to our bodies and brains. Our bodies and brains will send us signals that maybe it's time for a transition. I'm not particularly prone to anxiety. But around the day job I was beginning to notice that I have a pit in the stomach and tightness in my chest. The increasing negative thinking around the work and my role. My body was giving me signals before I even really realized that, ‘Oh, this could be a transitional phase.' So, really, again, being dialed in and tuned in and your body will tell you. Your body will tell you when you're on the right track or not every time. Joanna: Absolutely. Tell people where they can find you and your books online. Kate: Yeah, so, katechampionauthor.com is the website. Everything is really available there, books on this, and resources there, there's coaching. If you want some more support with regards to the back of the pack stuff, I have a back of the pack athlete community. Again, you can find that on Facebook, and then I'm also on Instagram as well. Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Kate, that was brilliant. Kate: Thank you so much. I've really enjoyed our time and take care.The post It’s Never Too Late. How To Achieve Your Goals At Any Age With Kate Champion first appeared on The Creative Penn.
69 minutes | 19 days ago
How To Be A Healthy Writer In 2021 With Dr Euan Lawson
Let's make 2021 a healthy, creative year! In today's show, Dr. Euan Lawson talks about ways to improve your physical and mental health, and how it can impact your creativity in a positive way. In the introduction, some thoughts on the year ahead for authors and publishing, including continued expansion to the global, digital, mobile business model and more subscription options for ebooks and audiobooks [Episode 520 – Voice technologies, streaming and subscription audio], Smashwords 2021 predictions, consolidation in publishing and impact on paid ads, Writers Ink state of the industry. Expansion of audio as Amazon buys Wondery; regulation or possible break up of Big Tech (as discussed in episode 505), and by David Gaughran in his year-end newsletter, plus TechCrunch on European plans for digital rules; PLUS, a useful podcast on doing larger print runs through China on the Self-Publishing Show episode 259. My tutorial on how to set up your email list, and you can buy ebooks and audiobooks directly from me at Payhip.com/thecreativepenn. Today's show is sponsored by IngramSpark, who I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 39,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries and more. It's your content – do more with it through IngramSpark.com. Dr. Euan Lawson is a British medical doctor and a fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners. He is currently the Acting Editor of the British Journal of General Practice, as well as an educator. He’s the author of GP Wellbeing: Combatting Burnout in General Practice, and the co-author, with Joanna Penn, of The Healthy Writer: Reduce Your Pain, Improve Your Health, and Build a Writing Career for the Long-Term. You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below. Show Notes Common health issues that may crop up in a year like 2020 — depression, anxiety, loneliness and more How mental health issues can be magnified in stressful situations like a pandemic What Joanna and Euan have done to help lift their moods this year Giving ourselves permission to feel what we feel Balancing individual needs with the collective good Creating healthy work habits when working from home You can find Euan Lawson at euanlawson.com and on Twitter @euan_lawson Transcript of Interview with Euan Lawson Joanna: Welcome back to the show, Euan. Euan: It is an absolute pleasure to be back, Joanna. Lovely to be here. Joanna: You were last on the show at the end of 2017. So, goodness, that's three years now. Give us an update on what's happening with you and your writing life. How have things changed? Euan: Well, gosh, it's funny looking back at three years, I don't quite know where they've gone. It's obviously, been an odd period in the past 12 months. And I'm sure we'll come on to that in a minute. For me, personally, I guess what happened was the book got launched, The Healthy Writer just at the end of 2017, start of 2018, didn't it? Joanna: Mm-hmm. Euan: That was really exciting, really pleased with it really happy, planning to do lots more writing. And then I suppose the first thing that happened is, and this sounds terribly tragic, and I don't mean it to, is that in March, my wife got diagnosed with breast cancer. So that kind of just slightly tilted the direction of life a little bit for the rest of 2017, more or less. And certainly, my writing got more or less shelved in terms of any big plans, any way of getting things done. Though, I did actually start my podcast ‘Blokeology' at the same time as that more or less. I think that ran all through 2017. And so I cracked on with that. And it might have been slightly therapeutic, I suppose in terms of just pushing on with that side of things. But my writing, certainly, it didn't have quite the focus I might have liked it, I thought it was going to have when we launched the book, and we went out with that. And then in 2019, I think it's funny how when something like that happens, it does take a bit of recovering, and I was getting back into writing. And what I would say is in terms of my writing life is I've never stopped writing, I was, you know, still generating lots of words, fiction, nonfiction, medicine, lots of different things. But what I lacked a little bit was the focus in terms of turning it into an end product. But I don't look back with that with a huge amount of regret. I think and it's something we talked about in The Healthy Writer as well, that writing in itself is therapeutic, even if it never goes out to anybody. I also got very busy at work. My academic writing, which ironically, was something I thought I was leaving behind, has perhaps my writing and editing has expanded again, a lot more than I expected. And that takes us more or less up to the start of 2020 when clearly lots of other things have happened in the meantime. Joanna: And just tell us, is your wife okay now? Euan: Oh, yes, I should say. She's absolutely fine. She had a bit of surgery, a bit of radiotherapy, we didn't have to go through chemotherapy. So we're very lucky. I think the prognosis is very good. And like most cancer these days, although it's a terrible diagnosis to have, and it has a great impact on people. Actually, the vast majority of it remains treatable, curable, you should get it you can be treated and should go away never come back again. That's certainly the hope. I think that's where we are where my wife is now. So, that all looks very positive. Joanna: And obviously, your family's been through a difficult time and you've got kids. You've got three kids, right, as well? Euan: Yes, that's right. I have three teenagers now. Even since three years ago, I think they were all relatively sweet just kind of 10, 11-year-olds, who have now turned into these raging monsters of kind of… Joanna: Hormones! Euan: Exactly. So it's a very different household. They're still good kids. I think we're very fortunate in terms of how we interact with them and our family life. There are a few more moments of tension now perhaps than there used to be. Joanna: I think this is even a really good, I guess, lesson or learning for people straight away is that you had certain intentions around your writing life, and then life happened, your wife, your teenagers, and then obviously COVID. This is really important is that we can't always control well, most of the time, we can't control what's going on, so we have to adapt. Sometimes I hear from people who feel guilty for not writing when they're going through something personal, like what you've been through, or even just bringing up teenagers, even if you didn't have cancer and you didn't have a pandemic. There's still a lot to be done. That's really interesting to hear. Tell us a bit more. You learned about podcasting, you learned about self-publishing, certainly, when we co-wrote together. I kicked you a little bit around relaxing your writing style, and you definitely changed in that way. What are you doing now in terms of your job? You're doing content marketing for doctors, aren't you? Euan: You could definitely make that case. I still have an academic post at medical school and that's got very busy over the past year or two. One of the other roles I always had was as an editor of a medical journal. And just in the past few months, I've taken on the editor-in-chief role of that journal. And so it's a really interesting slightly different kind of job to the ones you might expect in medicine or even academia. We have this content, these research papers, these analysis articles, and then it is very much as you say, it's about content marketing. We have to try to go out there, find our readership, got to engage them, try to create community. We're always trying to create social media kind of interest and to add value to what we do. So there are incredible parallels. We have a podcast, so I host a podcast for that medical journal as well, where we talk about the research. So it's been interesting, all those things we did in terms of and have done, and people still do, in terms of independence, indie publishing, and self-publishing, and all that entrepreneurial side. It's been incredibly valuable for me, and I've taken it into that medical journal world. I'm trying to use it as much as I can because I think it is remarkable how few people know about some of the processes and the ways to go about this having incredible creative processes that can happen and the way to get out and find your tribe. Joanna: That's great to know. Sometimes people think, ‘Oh, it's only relevant in certain niches,' but you're doing podcasting and social media and writing and things for the academic and medical community. So it's definitely the lessons we learn, as you say, irrelevant in different industries. We're going to get into some health stuff. But we need to give a little disclaimer, don't we, first? Euan: Yes, it's important for me to say that I'm obviously, I say I'm a doctor, but for everyone listening, I'm not your doctor. And anything I think we talk about, it's really important that we emphasize that you shouldn't regard it as medical advice, specifically for yourself. If you've got any concerns, or you're thinking of making any changes, then do consult with your own healthcare professional, make sure you take advice particularly, well applies to everybody, but it's going to be even more important if you've got any other complex chronic conditions or anything else that could interfere as well. So do look after yourself, do the sensible thing, and speak to your appropriate person. Joanna: Brilliant. Okay. Well, let's get into it then, because we are recording this in the second week of December 2020. Here in the UK, we actually had the first person vaccinated yesterday from COVID. They're putting the really old people first in line. It was this 90-year-old woman, but it feels like the year, that there have been some crazy miraculous developments in terms of vaccines, and there's hope on the horizon. But obviously, we're not out of it. As we record this, we're not out of it yet. And when this goes out in January, we still won't be out of it. So the world has certainly changed. And we're going to come back to physical health. But I want to start with mental health. Let's start by talking about some of the common issues that people might have struggled with in order to normalize what is just inevitable in a year like this? Euan: 2020 certainly has been quite the year, hasn't it? Incredibly intense for everybody. I think the common things remain common mental health problems. And I think that's probably the most important thing to say that there's all this uncertainty, and I suspect people have had a slightly different experience as well, a lot of people have had a different experience. Some people have had a positive pandemic if you like, and some people have had a terrible, tragic, devastating pandemic. And it's all extremely unsettling. It's certainly not what we regard as normal life. I think particularly problems like anxiety and depression, which have been there, all along, are the kind of problems that have been, if you already suffer from, you'd be at a very high risk of them having worsened. If they were just there a little bit in the background, all that uncertainty and difficulty could easily have made them that bit much more difficult to cope with and to manage. So I would always have that anxiety and depression right up there as there are such common conditions, so much of it throughout the population, and they aren't new. COVID is a real magnifier in that regard. I think a lot of us on the medical side with regard COVID is just having magnified all of these kinds of, certainly, inequalities are very obviously, that have been they've had an effect there as well. But particularly any conditions that do exist, they've just kind of really amplified everything. Joanna: I definitely am not someone who has ever sought a diagnosis of either anxiety or depression. But I have glimpsed this year myself what some people might suffer more regularly and in that March period, the acute fear, almost anxiety, moves into fear and panic. I'll confess to buying a few more toilet rolls than usual and paracetamol in case of fever. And those types of things. I even got cash out the bank, which was useless in the end, because everyone stopped taking cash! But certainly, I feel like I had that acute sense of anxiety until we realized it was not the apocalypse. And then depression is really interesting too because I'm a very upbeat person, and normally, I can just go to sleep, and I wake up, and it's better, but I've definitely had some real periods during the lockdown — So certainly this last November one, which has been so dark — I'm just feeling like, really, what is the point? And feeling very negative about things, which has been a surprise for me. And I've realized that I definitely need to get out more. But I wanted to be honest about some of the things I've felt. Is there anything that you've been through personally, that you're happy to share as well? Euan: I'm always happy to share. I have to say I have been really fortunate. I think I noticed some anxiety, particularly at times, early on, and I was almost, I would weirdly lie in bed at night and almost have this sense of slight panic overcoming me. And that I thought I was going to start having a panic attack on a couple of occasions. That's the worst I've been in terms of anxiety. One of the advantages of my role is that we've been, and I don't like to use the B-word, busy, too much, but things have really lifted off a little bit on the medical side over the past year. So there's been quite a lot to occupy us, and that's a great help in terms of managing things, this kind of nature of this kind of problem. I think it'd be really common, depression, low mood is one of the things that people often think about depression. But actually one of the other ways that people can be affected by depression are things like they don't enjoy what they would normally enjoy doing. And the pandemic has been weird, and it stops people from doing the normal things they would like to do. But actually, depression is more about even if you'd get a chance to do them, you don't enjoy it anymore. And that kind of negative approach is very common as well, where you lose motivation. That's very common if your mood starts to get a bit low, and it starts to tilt towards depression as well. I would say that to some extent, these are what you might from the medical perspective, we might regard more as just kind of a normal process of adjustment. They're almost expected adjustment reactions to a very difficult set of circumstances. But they can easily, there's no kind of easy dividing line between something like that, and a clinical diagnosis of depression or anxiety. So we're all to a certain extent, going to experience some of them at some level. And the trick is to try to do things, of course, that help us manage those, and help us tilt us back. I think when people are really depressed, it's just, it's very, it's like a hole, it's extremely difficult to get out of, and by themselves, it's almost impossible to manage that. It's a very dark place. But if we can do something, those people in those circumstances, clearly we want to, as doctors, we want to see them, we want to try to help them, we want them to see the healthcare professionals. But if you're somebody who's maybe not quite at that, there's maybe still that possibility where you've got enough motivation, willingness and enthusiasm still to try to do the right things. There are ways you can tilt things in the right direction. The first thing I would ask is, when you are feeling like that, Joanna what kind of things did you do to feel a bit better? Joanna: I went on a really long walk. I went on my six-day pilgrimage walk, which really helped. And that was, I guess, more the frustration as well. I have a real thing about freedom and need to get away sometimes and I felt like I was being shut in this box. I'm in my house, and we've been shut in our boxes for so long. I was almost beating my head against the cage, like one of those animals who gets caged. And so obviously, that wasn't during lockdown but we were still in the sort of tiers here in the UK, but that long walk really helped and I walked myself into submission. That's what I wrote in my journal. That helped me and I would say that that's what I've done all through the pandemic is I've walked almost every day sometimes for an hour, sometimes four hours, five hours, nine hours. Exercise, certainly I know you do this too, but exercise really, really helps. Even today, it was getting really dark and we went downstairs and put all the lights on and had a dance, just some music can change the mood. I've also bought one of those Lumie lights that bring in more natural light for the dark periods. Nature and walking have really helped and music and light. What about you? Euan: Very similar. I think there's some good evidence, I do always talk about evidence, but I love being out in nature as well, and being outside really is one of the things that makes me feel right about the world very quickly. There's good evidence about nature, even now looking at it, there are some fairly fantastic studies. Even hospital rooms that have a view of the countryside might have some therapeutic benefit. So I think that I would always go the nature side. I think that physically active for me is always top of the list. I think the important thing there, and I do a bit of running. I've done more running in the past nine months than I've done in my whole life. But I think the interesting thing about that is I'm still not, overall, I think I'm in terms of being physically active, I suspect I'm still only at the level I was at pre-pandemic. I've only kept on a level because we are stuck in the house a bit more. I hope there's a bit more, we're not getting out and doing things, not walking around visiting people or just in the office or wherever it is. So actually, I think I'm just on an even keel in terms of my overall physical activity. But if I've had to step up my kind of running kind of activity in order to make that work. So that's the main thing for me, I think. One of the things I've been aware of as well that I had some difficulty, and perhaps this might be another slight effect on my mental health. Because, the other thing that people, if people do get a bit low or a bit unsettled, then concentration can be a real problem. And that's often why people who get a bit depressed feel that they've memories struggling. It's not because of any particular problem with their memory, other than the fact that they're not as attentive and they're not concentrating as well. You never take things in routine at the start in quite the same way. I haven't found reading as easy in the past nine months in many ways, which has been interesting. There have been points where I found it really difficult to sit down and concentrate on books in the ways that I have done for my whole life. But I have pushed through that a little bit because I know how good it is for me, I know how important it is for me to get lost in books, and to interact with nonfiction ones, and it sparks off my writing. So I've really made a big effort to keep on doing the things I love doing. Joanna: I have literally binged so many books! I'm a real horror reader, although, no pandemic books at all. Nothing about pandemic thrillers or anything, haven't read those, but lots of horror. Also, I think Netflix really has come of age during the pandemic and we've certainly watched quite a lot of stories, which is interesting. But I did also want to ask about loneliness because that is something that's really come up. At the beginning, everyone was doing Zoom and stuff, but then everyone got zoomed out, really. And we stopped talking so much to people. When we did The Healthy Writer we found that loneliness was actually a real common issue with writers, in general, let alone in a pandemic. Obviously, we can't say go out and meet people right now. What are some of the things that people can do there? Euan: For me, I think that perhaps the most important thing is to recognize and accept the fact that you're lonely. It's probably one of those that it's if you can manage to do that, that's incredibly important. We did write about this a bit in The Healthy Writer and I think it's one of these emerging topics in the past decade. And as we were saying earlier, it's one of those things that's been massively amplified by COVID and brought it into really stark relief that people who are on their own and actually just can't get out and see anybody at all. I think we've all become much more acutely aware of that. There isn't an easy answer while we're in the middle of the pandemic, I don't think but for me, perhaps it would be about recognizing the fact that you could be lonely. It's not a very easy thing to admit to oneself that that happens. And in terms of that, I think I would say I've definitely, even myself, I've got a lovely family life as people at home, I definitely have found myself at times, thinking that I have neglected my friendships and have become lonely at points in my life, even in the past 10 or 15 years. Accepting that we are lonely is really important. Then the next thing is about trying to find your people, I suppose whether it's re-engaging with those that you've lost contact with it, friends, colleagues, family, or whether it's about finding your tribe, whether it's other writers and engaging with them online. And in many ways, I suppose writers, although there is there will hopefully be emerging opportunities for conferences and other things in the very near future again, and there are some online options for that. Writing has always been a fundamentally slightly lonely business, I think we opened up the end of the chapter on this in The Healthy Writer with a quote from Isaac Asimov about writing being a lonely job. It's something that can really affect writers. And I think it's really important to be active in addressing it more than anything else. It's difficult to say, one thing you should do, but actually just really trying to establish healthy social connections is really important. It's easy to fall into a negative cycle with loneliness, that you become lonely and then you push people away as a consequence of that as well, and you become a little bit embittered and you become more isolated, and then that quickly becomes a vicious circle. So if you're falling into that, it's about trying to get to a point where you can recognize that what's happened to you and push back a little. Joanna: Absolutely. I've certainly been surprised. I'm very happy with my husband, and like you said you're happy at home. But even sometimes, we were not used to spending this much time with the people in our house. And sometimes it's like, I just want some other company. So all of these things are allowed. I think maybe that's it, like you have permission to feel however you feel, and it's then finding ways around that. And certainly, I'm looking forward to going to conferences. I wonder how long it will take before I wish I'm not going to conferences again after we go back. Doctors do the same, right? Go to conferences? Euan: Academic as well as being on the academic side to conferences. I've had some very bad experiences, going to conferences where I felt very lonely indeed. In a very small part, thousands of people around and having that completely lonely in a crowd experience. I'm hoping there will be a bit of a more of a blend, perhaps. Some of the online conferences, I know online experiences I've had have been very positive and a chance to engage with people in a different way that I wouldn't have had a chance to do before. So I'm quite positive about that angle of it. But I would quite like a bit of a blend. We're inherently social creatures, we're highly social, pro-social animals, humans, it's perhaps our defining characteristic as a species, more than anything else, we really need that engagement. And if you don't get it, it's bad for your health. And that has been a problem over the pandemic, but it's an issue that writers need to keep well and near the front of their mind at any time, I think. Joanna: Let's get into COVID-19 because obviously, there's physical health. This is where the physical and mental health collides. Because for our mental health, we need to see people, but for our physical health, we can't. So, for example, we've made the decision not to go to my Dad's for Christmas. [Note from Joanna: We recorded this before the UK government announced the Christmas restrictions, so no one was able to meet up outside their household anyway.] By the time this goes out, and the New Year it will be done. But because my nieces are little kids, and there's just a lot of kissing, and you can't stop little kids from just doing what little kids do, right? So we've decided we won't go and because it's so close now, as we said, the vaccine is coming. We've been taking vitamin D, we've both lost a bit of weight trying to do things to reduce our chances of a bad situation. Now, of course, there are lots of studies, but we're still very close to this. Do you have any comments or thoughts about reducing the chances of a bad case of COVID or at least trying to prevent the worst things from happening? Euan: I have to be extremely careful here with the evidence because it's a bit of an evidence-free zone a lot of this, where we haven't got good studies for a tremendous amount of it. There was a lot of concern in terms of how much your exposure was for the result in a bad case, and I'm not sure we understand the factors that result in you getting particularly badly affected and it's really difficult to know. Although it's been, everybody knows them and they've been trumpeted, we've all heard them ad nauseam over the past few months. I would fall back on the old fashioned stuff that the best case of COVID is not a case of COVID at all. And especially as we're getting towards the point where vaccines, and I've had my antibodies checked a few weeks ago, and I haven't had it, or at least I've got no antibodies. I'm very aware now, I've become even more super aware that you don't want to be the person that gets COVID just a few weeks before the vaccine comes. Joanna: Yes, me too! Euan: I've become even more acutely aware. I do think handwashing is a big thing. I know we've had it endlessly from politicians, and from public health people and everything. The virus has got these little phospholipids, like fatty layer around it, and just good old fashioned soap and water breaks it down, disrupts it, kills your virus, it's incredibly straightforward. Unfortunately, with the social distancing rules, and masks would seem to be affected as well. Again, the evidence isn't huge for these things. One of the difficulties with all of these things is that the evidence isn't huge at an individual level. But if you do it, so it's hard to sometimes to see the benefit to you as a person that actually, there is a small benefit and there's unquestionably, a really big benefit when the whole population does it. And that's when you really see all the value of those kinds of interventions. Joanna: I think this idea of public health interventions, I think it's why we've had so many issues in like the UK and the U.S. where it's more of an individualistic culture. Like me feeling I'm in a cage, and I'm bashing against the cage, that's just me feeling like that. But my behavior, as you say, it's how a ‘population' behaves. And the idea of public health. I've only really learned a lot about this year because of the pandemic, I've been reading a lot and trying to understand it. Because, as you say, it's at a much bigger level than the individual, that you have to kind of do these things. And we've seen some of the greatest successes in public health when it's been put into the whole population. That's what's so brilliant about public health and yet, that's what people are always raging against. Euan: There's long been this tension in public health, it's always been a problem that sometimes it's very hard to quantify the benefit for an individual or the individual feels, I just say they feel their freedom has been hampered. When you toss it up across the population, the effects can be quite remarkable and really beneficial, but that doesn't change its underlying antagonism between the two. Vitamin D is an interesting one. I'm glad you mentioned it, because I've been having a good look at the evidence around this a little bit recently. So full disclosure, I take a multivitamin as well, but I have only started taking that in the last month or two. And that's partly because I've turned vegetarian a couple of months ago, and decided it's not impossible to become deficient in some vitamins so I thought it was prudent. But I was particularly keen to make sure I got some vitamin D because vitamin D is a little bit harder to get if you don't eat meat. There's plenty of it in oily fish, in eggs, breakfast cereals, which have been fortified and things like that, and we definitely suffer for that in these northern latitudes. At this time of year, we get to this point in the year and normally they get a bit of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a really cool vitamin, because it's got this really weird mechanism that actually go in the sun, and then vitamin D gets produced in your skin, and which you then absorb, which is it's really bizarre and who knows how that kind of thing evolved. That's my first thing. I read the other day, and I don't know if this is true, that if you put mushrooms out in the sun, they also generate more vitamin D. And I need to look up the evidence for this. So I'm putting a big flag on that, that that needs to be checked. [UK NHS Vitamin D guidelines] I think vitamin D is a really weird one. But there's definitely lots of evidence that people are deficient in it or have less of it, and we know people have less of it in the winter months. It's worth pointing out that people in the Southern Mediterranean regions in Europe are also often deficient in vitamin D, probably for dietary reasons, rather than because not because of obviously, they've got plenty of sun. And people that cover themselves up, people are spending a lot of time that might be for cultural or religious reasons, any of those things, I think it's probably prudent to take vitamin D. And at the moment, I think it was a couple of weeks ago, the government's made vitamin D available to some of the people who are more vulnerable and fall into that category. So on balance, it is possible to take too much of it, but if you just stick to the standard dose, a vitamin tablet, if there's one thing you can do yourself, that might be something that's worth considering. Joanna: Obviously what's going to be interesting is the reams of health data that are going to emerge over the next couple of years. And we'll find out some things which are completely pointless and other things that we did for great. And so that's going to help with the next one because inevitably, there will be something else. In The Healthy Writer, we talked a lot about physical issues as it relates to working from home because, obviously, I've definitely had a lot of physical health issues in the past due to my posture, and various things about sitting at desks for too many hours, and we had eyestrain and back pain, and I had shoulder pain. And I think that this has probably exploded now because a whole lot more people are working from home for their day jobs, and they might not have the right desk set up, all of these different things. What are some of the common issues with working from home and some of the ways to combat them? Euan: We covered this, obviously, in a lot of detail in The Healthy Writer and I was reading back through and I was really happy with some of the advice we offered in there to be important. Joanna: Oh, good! Euan: I think I would always point people back towards it, there's a lot of information. I think the first thing is bad workstations perhaps is the most obvious disaster area, and that's going to be a back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, RSI types, Type 2 RSI is going on. There's all sorts of possibilities. And so that's really important. Joanna Penn standing desk podcast setup with Humbleworks desk topper I think it's difficult to go into absolute detail, but if you pay some attention to how your workstation is set up if you can, whether it's just about getting a chair height, and your desk height, and your monitor height, or your computer height, even sticking a laptop on a riser with an external keyboard, which you can usually get for just a few pounds or dollars, that is really worthwhile. Those kinds of changes can make a big difference, we probably can't run through them all now. The one tip I always have in my head that I remember, if I start to get sore back is I just put my feet on the floor. Because, if once you curl your feet up behind you in the chair, I find that really that leads me to a really slumped curled up bad posture. But actually just putting my feet on the floor makes an enormous difference to forcing me to sit up and engage my pelvis a little bit and straighten myself up. My laptop set up in a local cafe (in pre-pandemic times!) [From Joanna: I use a Nexstand laptop stand.] So that's one of the things I found incredibly useful. In terms of kind of ergonomics, that's one of the things I would always recommend, be very aware of laptops from ergonomics. They are instruments of torture, in that regard. And it's really worthwhile if you're going to be at home for any length of time, and you can manage to and you can afford it is to get yourself an external keyboard and a monitor, and a mouse just to make things a bit better. I think some of the other things I would suggest are about being careful to try to partition home and work life a little bit as well. That can make, I think that's really useful just in terms of, it's very easy just to pop down back down to the computer and answer a few more emails or just fiddle around with something and never really take a break from work. I have tried when I can to kind of set a limit and turn the computer off, close it down, go and do something else. There's one colleague I know who did this, used to be very careful about, though he worked at home, he would actually go out for a walk first thing in the morning, and he wasn't terribly far, but he regarded it as his morning commute, and then he would come back sit at his desk and then at the end of the day, he would do exactly the same, close everything down, go for a little walk, and that was his partition, that fixed line between home and work life. After that the main thing is I would just like try to take breaks. They're so important and get moving in those breaks, get yourself some physical activity. I just say jump downstairs, put some music on, jump around. But even standing up and walking around makes a huge difference. What I've started trying to do schedule meetings, so the last 25 minutes, or 50 or 55 minutes so there's always a gap and you're not back to backing meetings, which that relentless Zoom day where you just flick from one to the next is really exhausting. And so actually getting out of the chair, having a break. The Pomodoro method works really nicely for that as well. But getting some breaks and just getting yourself moving perhaps is one of the most useful things you can do. Joanna: We shared our work station setups in The Healthy Writer with some pictures and things. I'm standing up now is are you standing up? Euan: No, I'm sitting. I haven't really got a stand-up desk option at home. I have one in my office. Joanna: I'm standing up. I do all my interview standing up for health also, but also just to get some energy into my voice. And I also still have a Swiss ball from when I do sit and but since we did the book, I've made a few changes so one big thing a bit like taking breaks. The Apple Watch, I know some people might not be able to afford some kind of smart device, but I am very bad at the Pomodoro which is you set a timer and you only work 20 minutes and then take five minutes break, if people don't know. But what the Apple Watch does is vibrates on your wrist. I'm quite competitive even with myself. And if you miss you're standing and you're moving around, you don't get these rings. I've had it for just over a year now. It's been brilliant for me because I obey it far more than I obeyed any kind of other external devices. I like to see all my rings closed every day, which means I get a move goal, I get an exercise goal, and I get a standing goal. So you basically have to move around at least once an hour. I found that to be quite remarkable. These kinds of devices and wearables are becoming more common, aren't they? Euan: Yes, and I think anything that nudges you in the right direction, that's got it it's a win, isn't it? The Pomodoro works for me, I actually, find it I find like myself, I can get incredibly productive with the Pomodoro. And I really enjoy the actual pattern of working for a period and stopping for a few minutes, I get really into it. But any wearables and I think particularly Step Counters are a really good one as well, for any wearable and you don't even necessarily need to have a device for that you can some phones will just record your steps even in your pocket when they. You can get pedometers for pennies really, which do nothing else but measure your steps for very little. I think that can be incredibly useful as well. I'm always a little bit horrified when I am at home, that it's one of the reasons that force me out each day, is that my step count is just miserable if I don't make an effort, it's embarrassing. I'm just mortified if I look at it at lunchtime, and you've barely broken 1,000 I feel awful at that point. Joanna: I think especially with knowing in this pandemic time, I've done a variation of three different loops almost every day and I know that each one is between 10,000 and maybe 15,000 steps. So I know if I do one of those loops at least once a day, then it's going to get it in. But I know you're super active. And the other thing I've been doing since we last talked is I got into weight training. I did still have a lot of shoulder problems and saw a specialist. And it was basically postural from hunching over for so long for so many years, like 25 years, on a keyboard. My strong woman t-shirt and one of my kettle bells! Basically he said, “You just have to retrain your back muscles.” I'm like, “Oh, that's easy.” So I've been working with a personal trainer twice a week now basically, for and over the pandemic on Zoom. I've got kettlebells. And I turned into a weight lifter, which I'm actually really proud of. And I just love it. It really, makes me so happy. Even if I don't feel like it after I've lifted some weights and done all of that I just feel so much better. So I wanted to mention that. I'm a 45-year-old woman and doing weights is I think a very good thing, right? Euan: Yes, I think doing weights is much neglected and incredibly valuable. It was something that I really probably since we last spoke actually, I got introduced some weights as well. I've fallen off the wagon slightly at the moment with them. And I've been doing more running, but I went through a period of doing them as well. All your problems, Joanna, they're always postural, they're all seem to come back to postural yourself. It's fundamental problems so I can't think of anything better than weights it is actually the government guidance and how much activity you should do. They always include a bit about weights. People always noticed how many minutes it is per weekend, and I can't remember off the top my head now, you should do. But they always say you should do at least a couple of sort of strength-based sessions every week as well. And they are that almost always gets forgotten. And it is incredibly useful. It's more important as you get older as well because all of us lose a bit of muscle strength as we get older, it goes downhill. But it's almost entirely recoverable by training. You'll never be as strong as you were when you were 20. But then if you didn't do the exercise when you were 20 you've got every chance of being stronger when you're 40, 50, 60, 70 than you were when you were 20. So it's well worth it. And it's the kind of thing that actually if you can't get out for some reason, other lockdowns, and there are lots of ways to do bodyweight exercises too. You don't have to have weights and things. There are a ton of resources on the internet for bodyweight exercises if you can build the habit. Gosh, yeah, that's just gold. Joanna: I definitely feel the endorphins going as well afterwards. So it's good for mental health as well. I realized that some people might see that as a big hurdle like it sounds difficult. But again, as we talked about before, it's when you're driven by pain, you're basically willing to take a chance on things. And my shoulder has been playing out for years on and off and I've tried all kinds of things. And this is the thing that is making it stronger and gets rid of my pain. And obviously, my back pain really interestingly, my body shape has changed more. And my pain is reduced more by doing weights twice a week than it was with yoga. So I feel like yoga helped me with the sort of mental health and relaxation, but the strength training is really helped with managing my pain and changing my physical self. I feel like I've actually had quite a lot of physical education since we spoke last. Euan: There's a ton of benefits for the weight thing about weight training, as well as the single best, I think it's the single best intervention for injury prevention as well. And for almost any sport, is weight training. I'd have to double-check my evidence on that. I had a lot of trepidation about doing weights because I didn't know what I was doing. I was very anxious about it. I think that's something that's really put me off. It's getting over that initial hurdle is always very difficult with something new. But at the end of the day, and of course, when you start doing it, you always feel you're completely rubbish on it. You just can't do anything and you like it. So it can be quite hard not to get a bit demoralized. I do think it's one of those that benefits really, from that kind of micro habit kind of approach where you just try and do it's just trying to do a minimal amount. And try to learn what you're doing treat it as a skill. It's not about how strong you are, it's about learning the skill of how to lift weights properly, how to do bodyweight exercises properly. And if you think of it like that, that has helped me to actually make more of an effort to get into it, learn how to do stuff, and really take advantage of the enormous benefits from it. Joanna: And of course, now, tons of personal trainers now work on Zoom. And that's something that's changed a lot. I used to go into the gym. But then once we went on to Zoom, and then we just do it in my home now. So I haven't gone back to the gym. It's all just been from home. So that's a lot of things around health have changed in the pandemic, actually talking of the Apple Watch, Apple Fitness + is about to launch it. By the time this goes out, it will be launched. And I also like doing online classes and stuff. And the Apple Fitness will sync with your watch. So I'm pretty excited about that. I think we're going to see a revolution in health, I think out of the pandemic because so much money is being put into healthcare now. Euan: I think the consequences are going to be far-reaching. Remarkable period to live through. And we're way that we see all these things tilting in different directions. There's so much more scope to get involved in that kind of home-based exercise, side the things. I think that you're absolutely right the way training's an amazing thing to do. I'd encourage anyone to do it. And I think, interestingly, although, we're saying about the I think I do more weight training as men I don't have a stand-up desk anymore. But I haven't noticed any difference in my back pain at all, I probably had slightly less. And I think that's probably related to the fact I've been doing this before I fell off the wagon, and in terms of the weight training, it was doing an enormous amount of good. Joanna: Oh, that's great. Anything else that you'd like to mention from The Healthy Writer or anything else that people might feel useful? Euan: One thing that's been reported a lot in the media is about alcohol and so I'm very aware that that's something for people to pay close attention to. I've seen mixed messages though I've seen some people are clearly drinking a bit less and taking advantage of lockdown to get healthy. And the pandemic there was definitely some positive. I think other people who perhaps had more difficulties for whatever reason, perhaps their mental health has been struggling. Alcohol has been a problem as well. As somebody who spends all that clinical time looking after people who have terrible trouble with alcohol, I'm always very aware of it. I would just encourage people. It's one of those keeping a diary is perhaps always a good way to go with that. It's more writing anything you can write down. Writing is always the answer to everything, isn't it? I have diarized how much of writing how many weights you're doing write a nice journal, write it all down the beautiful pen and be a little bit careful with your alcohol. I think that's one to watch. Joanna: I think half the time, we did use to be kind like, ‘Well, it's Friday night, whatever, have a bottle of wine.' And now it always seems like you never know what day it is. It's like, ‘Oh, it's Tuesday, we'll have a bottle of wine because it feels like Friday.' Every day just feels the same. Obviously I always say on the podcast, I like a drink or two. But obviously, you work with people with addiction so there are gradations of these things. I guess the overall tip for people is to just come back into yourself and be mindful, is anything hurting? What's going on with your mental health, your physical health, and what can you do to make it better this year? Euan: That seems like a very nice summary. Use writing as a tool to help you with that. In many ways, it's the output that lots of people are after in terms of the books or the articles or blog posts or the content. But actually, it can be part of the process to help you as well. Joanna: Absolutely. So where can people find you and everything you do online? Euan: I think the best bet is, Joanna, just visit euanlawson.com. So that's euanlawson.com. and links there to Twitter, which I had left for two years, and I've come back to again, and the ‘Blokeology' podcast, anything I'm writing, newsletters, bits, and pieces. It's all there. Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Euan, and that was great. Euan: Thank you, Joanna.The post How To Be A Healthy Writer In 2021 With Dr Euan Lawson first appeared on The Creative Penn.
26 minutes | 22 days ago
Creative Business Goals For 2021 With Joanna Penn
I love the new year! As the calendar turns a new page, we get to start again. After a very strange 2020, it feels like hope is in the air, and I'm ready to embark on the next year of my author journey. Are you ready for a fantastic 2021? Here are my creative and business goals for the year ahead. Feel free to add yours in the comments and we can keep each other accountable. 2021: A Year of Expansion 2020 was a year of letting go in so many ways. It was an encounter with mortality and left its mark on many of us with decisions to change our work, our life, and our health; to make more of the precious time we have, and to stop doing those things that don't bring joy in some way, or at least take us a step in the direction we want to travel. I certainly evaluated my creative and business life and pared back a lot of it as part of my Author Business Plan. It was a year of contraction, of diminishing, in terms of our sense of control (or the illusion of it!) as well as our physical space and freedom to roam. I want my 2021 to be a year of expansion — creatively in terms of what I write, mentally in terms of the things I learn about, and physically, in terms of my health and where I travel (once we're out of the woods with the virus, of course.) I now have a mature author business and 2020 has proved the resilience of the global, digital, scalable business model. My multiple streams of income remain pretty stable if I keep producing books, podcasting, and marketing. But this year, in Sept 2021, I will hit my 10 year anniversary of going full-time as an author-entrepreneur, and if you're not growing, you're dying, as the old adage goes. I am not content to just write the next book, publish, market, and repeat. Of course, I will continue to serve this community with useful information about the various aspects of the author life as it is right now, but I also want to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible for authors. Here's how I intend to manage my expansive 2021. The Creative Penn Books and Podcast There are some books I want to write and publish early in 2021: How to Make a Living with Your Writing – Third Edition. Things have changed a lot since I put out the first edition in 2015, and the second in 2017, and this remains my bestselling non-fiction book, so that will be out by end of Q1. How to Write a Novel. I've been sitting on a draft of this for a while and many of you have emailed and asked for it, so expect this by the end of Q2. Thanks to your enthusiasm, The Creative Penn Podcast continues for another year! On the days when I wonder whether the show is still useful, I get emails and comments from many of you saying it is worth continuing, and my patrons at Patreon, in particular, keep me enthused. Thank you for your support of the show! I'll be sticking with the weekly format on Mondays as usual, and I will be adding in some inbetweenisodes on topics that I am investigating on the creative future (more detail below). Doubling down on selling direct I've been selling ebooks directly to readers for over a decade from various platforms, but now I have a proven platform with Payhip.com and BookFunnel for both ebooks and audiobooks, I'm going to streamline my direct sales process and better integrate it with my email list and autoresponders so I can drive more direct sales. I'm also going to release on my direct sales platform first before publishing to the stores to encourage direct sales. At the time of writing, you can only get Your Author Business Plan on audiobook from me directly. I'll be doing a tutorial on this so you can see how it works soon. You can also buy directly from me: Payhip.com/thecreativepenn and have ebooks and audiobooks delivered by BookFunnel. Successful Self-Publishing is free in both formats so you can see how it works as a reader/listener. J.F. Penn Thrillers and Dark Fantasy, and the Books and Travel Podcast In terms of my fiction, I'm intending to publish: Day of the Martyr, ARKANE 12, inspired by the relics of St Thomas a Becket (and my pilgrimage walk), by the end of Q2 One more fiction project, as yet to be determined Tree of Life in audiobook format, hopefully by end of Jan 2021 The Mapwalker trilogy boxset – ebook, print, and audiobook, Feb 2021 My Books and Travel Podcast now has 50 episodes, including a number of solo shows about my own book research and trips, as well as many of my photos. Check out my recent episode on This Too Shall Pass: Thoughts from the Pilgrims' Way. I love the show and every interview inspires wanderlust (and expansion!) in my soul. It's been particularly good during the pandemic year, and I absolutely intend to continue with it. Content marketing takes a long time to prove its worth, so you have to enjoy the journey and think long term about how people discover things slowly. Even though Books and Travel is not specifically monetized at the moment, I love it and it is evergreen marketing for my books, so that will continue in 2021. The Creative Future Everything listed above is ‘business as usual,' what I need to deliver in order to satisfy my existing community. But I don't just want to meet expectations — I want to exceed them. I've also been bored for a while now, with a feeling of stagnation in the status quo of the publishing industry. But I see things coming on the horizon that we need to prepare for, especially with the acceleration of digital transformation in the pandemic year. My (surprise!) little book at the end of 2020 on Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies for Authors and the Publishing Industry, covered a lot of what I've been thinking about for the last four years, and occasionally talked about on the futurist segment of the podcast. I'm going to continue this theme in 2021, but take it much further for my own career and (as always) share the journey with you. Back in October 2009, I posted a video on YouTube about why I loved my brand new international Kindle device so much. At 2:30 mins in, I talked about the fact that my ebooks were available on the device, published through a friend in the US, and I suggested that an improvement could be allowing authors outside the US to publish on the Kindle. Of course, that happened soon after, and just over a decade later, we have a thriving eco-system for international authors who publish with a global and digital-first view. We have useful tools and many wonderful companies who support our writing, publishing, and book marketing tasks. Check out episode 471 for an overview of 2009-2019, a decade of self-publishing with me and Orna Ross. The internet and digital business transformed opportunities for authors and publishing from 2010 to 2020, and further transformation is on the horizon. I want to be part of the inevitable shift in the next decade. My mind is teeming with ideas and I'm constantly reading books and listening to podcasts and going to online talks and generally immersing myself in it all. I want to write and speak and podcast about these topics, and I want to engage with businesses who are working on these new opportunities and become a part of the creative future. I know that most writers are not ready to engage with many of these things. Most are wrangling the latest book or figuring out how to use the existing ecosystem, and perhaps you are one of those who would rather I just focus on the basics. But there are so many voices in the self-publishing space now and many excellent resources you can learn from (start with the Self Publishing Advice blog, guidebooks, and podcasts from the Alliance of Independent Authors). I need to continue to differentiate myself so you continue to find value in what I share, but also, I need to follow my curiosity. Of course, I will continue to do podcast episodes on the writing craft (as I am still learning that too!), as well as publishing and book marketing topics, but I will also be doing more episodes on the possibilities of the creative future. You don't need to take action — yet — but you do need to be aware of the changes ahead. I'm also going to engage with these technologies myself in 2021 and start to implement them in my creative business. I intend to: Co-create a story/book with an AI natural language generation tool, like GPT-3 or similar Register copyright on a blockchain Sell an ebook or audiobook on a blockchain Earn cryptocurrency (Bitcoin or Ethereum) with my creative work Publish and sell an audiobook narrated by an AI voice Create a current state and future state architecture of the author business so we can see the path ahead (which is the kind of thing I used to create back in my day job as a business consultant years ago!) These might sound like futurist things, but I know how to do most of these already based on my research and I just need to put them into action. (There are also authors doing these things already, but they don't necessarily talk about it like I do!) They are unlikely to make any significant money, and they are not mainstream (yet), but this method of experimentation is how I started self-publishing in 2008 when ebooks were still downloadable PDFs, podcasting in 2009 when you had to download files and I still used a tape player adaptor in my car, and laid the foundation for the multi-six-figure creative business I have today. As ever, I'll share my lessons on the blog and the podcast, and I may also write and publish one or two small books on these topics, similar to the short one on Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Virtuals Worlds, but with more detail. I'm a writer, so I really only know what I think once I've written a book on a topic! I'm also going to keep learning and stay abreast of developments at the higher level. In 2020, Orna Ross, from the Alliance of Independent Authors, and I submitted to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the UK Government on the topic of Artificial Intelligence and Copyright Law. This technology is too important to be left to the technologists, and few authors and creatives want to get involved. I want to learn more so I can be effective at engaging with this area and become a bridge between technology, creatives, and commerce — and continue to campaign for the rights of creators as we move into an era of AI. I intend to keep focusing on the creative future so we can surf the changes ahead, rather than drown in them. I hope you will continue to join me on the journey. Health and Travel As I write this on the final day of 2020, there is positive news of the vaccine rollout, but there is also a fast-moving virus strain here in the UK and we are mostly back in lockdown. (The government is calling it ‘tiers' but it's basically lockdown!) I'm expecting it to be at least a full pandemic year — from March 2020 to March 2021, but I am really hoping to be back in the world in the second half of this year. I'm planning trips to Portugal and Japan, as well as some more ultra-marathons and another walking pilgrimage in the north of England. My plan is to work hard in the earlier months so I can have more time off later in the year for some much-needed travel, family catch-ups, and book research trips. My recent haul of travel books from Waterstones as I dream of escaping again! I'll be continuing with my twice-weekly weights and workout as well as my intermittent fasting lifestyle and my big walks, and I intend to be even fitter at 46 than I am at 45! Financial Goals My main goal will be to sustain The Creative Penn income at a steady level while freeing up time for my experiments with the creative future. I have a lot of study to do, books to read, and events I want to attend, but my existing multiple streams of income happily enable me to do this. It's certainly not ‘passive income,' by any means, but by simplifying business processes and focusing on what is core to my existing community — my books and my podcasts — I should be able to free up 30% of my time for a new direction while retaining my income at the same level. That's it from me! Let me know what your goals are for 2021 in the comments or tweet me @thecreativepenn. Let's keep each other accountable in the year ahead!The post Creative Business Goals For 2021 With Joanna Penn first appeared on The Creative Penn.
38 minutes | 23 days ago
Creative Business Review Of 2020 And Lessons Learned From A Pandemic Year With Joanna Penn
Every year, I set creative, financial and health goals and share them on the blog and the podcast. It helps keep me accountable and focused, although, inevitably things change over the year — this year, things changed across the whole world in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic and we all had to pivot to a new way of living, let alone a new way of creating. In this episode, I round up my year in creative business and also reflect on my lessons learned from this very strange year. Here are the things I'm celebrating and you're welcome to leave your thoughts and accomplishments in the comments. Surviving the pandemic (so far!) I decided to make this the first thing on my list and if you're reading/listening to this, then you can also celebrate this milestone! It's been a hell of a year, that's for sure. My (super-fit) cousin got COVID early and ended up in a coma for five weeks. (He's now well on the way to recovery.) I had a conversation with my Mum about whether ventilation was something she wanted, or might not even have the choice to receive. One of my best friends was badly ill (she recovered), another was trapped in Peru, unable to get home. (She made it back). I wrote about the importance of home in difficult times, and the challenges of having a multi-cultural family with loved ones all over the globe at a time when travel is impossible (or ill-advised). I considered what I would be angry about if I died right now and what I really want out of the next half of my life. I thought deeply about how I want to spend the short, precious years we have in this life, and what I no longer wanted to do. I shared some of that on the podcast and some of it remains locked in my journals in the emotional angst of a rollercoaster year. Walking along the canal keeps me sane … There have been moments of fear, panic, and anxiety, as well as grief, sadness, and depression. Plus, a heavy dose of boredom, frustration, anger, and pretty much everything else on the emotional spectrum. Sometimes in the same day as the news cycle amped up everything to the max. One big lesson learned is to avoid the news as much as possible — although of course, we all want to stay informed. I haven't watched TV news for years but I found myself reading multiple newspapers on my phone every day — definitely doomscrolling! Unsurprisingly, I found peace of mind when walking the canal, out in nature away from screens. I tackled my fernweh (longing for far-off places) by going for a six-day pilgrimage in October, walking the Pilgrims' Way from Southwark in London to Canterbury Cathedral. In the early days of the pandemic, I went through a creative ‘freeze' when I wondered if I would be able to write again. Talking to Mark McGuinness about creating in difficult times (episode 484) helped unlock me and I ended up having the most creative year ever in terms of my written (and spoken) output. It's amazing what you can do when everything gets canceled and the only thing to do is work! I felt deeply grateful for the simple things I take for granted and really want back in my life: Spending time with my family and cuddling my little nieces — since I am the eldest of five siblings, we have only been able to catch up once this year in the summer between lockdowns Going out for drinks in a crowded bar with friends, or dinner in a busy restaurant, or live music or theatre — without wearing a mask or sanitizing Visiting a museum, art gallery, or any other cultural place anytime I like, in pretty much any European city I like, at short notice Travel!!! Even conferences where I can hang out with other people. I never thought I would miss other people this much, but I do! Writing in my local cafe, busy with people going about their lives with no thought of disease Longer walks are even better for mental health! Thriving in the pandemic: The global, digital, scalable business model comes of age Many news articles are reporting that this pandemic year has accelerated digital transformation in almost every sector. A McKinsey report even notes that “Businesses that once mapped digital strategy in one- to three-year phases must now scale their initiatives in a matter of days or weeks.” The ramifications of this will continue to ripple out in the years to come, but for those of us who have been working online for a decade, it was business as usual. I designed my creative business to be digital-first, location-independent, global, and scalable back in 2008, but the business model has truly come of age in 2020. While physical businesses have struggled, digital businesses have thrived and from anecdotal evidence across the independent author community, it has been a very good year for many and certainly has been so for me. Many book lovers moved to ebooks and digital audiobooks when they couldn't get print — and those who love print bought more of their books online. I attended the FutureBook online conference in November 2020, and many of the traditional publishers noted that they were pivoting some of their business to the model that indie authors have been running for over a decade. My most significant business assets are my intellectual property rights, my email list, podcast, and my website — all of which I own and control, and once again, they have proved their worth. I can send out an email and make money. As I increasingly sell ebooks and digital audiobooks direct to customers through Payhip.com/thecreativepenn, I can also have that money in my bank account in a few hours, rather than days or months or even years, as many authors experience. This has been a great comfort, especially during the early days of the pandemic when I wondered whether my income was about to drop off a cliff. It didn't, but this year has proved that direct sales is a critical part of my author eco-system. My main goal for 2020 was ‘Operation Evergreen,' a long-term perspective that focused on embedding practices to sustain and grow my mature author business. I have definitely doubled down on that and increasingly let go of the things that will not last. Digital-first is a resilient strategy and the pandemic has proved its worth. Multiple streams of income from intellectual property assets that you own and control is a great way to ride out the ups and downs. Of course, there will now be more competition online as all those who shunned it will now be arriving on the scene! So, how can you design your author business to be more resilient for the future? The Creative Penn non-fiction for authors A big part of my ‘Operation Evergreen' goal was to focus on building more intellectual property assets — while also overhauling my existing platform. I've written and published 3 non-fiction books. Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting, and Voice Technologies. Published in ebook, paperback, hardback, large print, and self-narrated audiobook editions Your Author Business Plan: Take Your Author Career to the Next Level. Published in ebook, paperback, hardback, large print, and self-narrated audiobook editions Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies on Authors and the Publishing Industry. Published in ebook, paperback, and coming soon in audio. The last two were unexpected and both written in the second UK lockdown in November after my pilgrimage. I reflect on why that time off was so important in my personal episode on Books and Travel. I did have a goal to “Finish the content audit, simplification, and redesign of TheCreativePenn.com.” I decided against a redesign but I did spend a lot of time archiving content, and I no longer accept guest posts. I'm not doing webinars any more either, and I'm barely on social media anymore. My focus has been to keep simplifying and only creating things that only I can create and that my community finds useful — which is basically my books and my podcast. It's been another year of The Creative Penn Podcast! Including landmark episode 500, Writing and Business Lessons from 500 episodes, and 11 years of The Creative Penn Podcast. The show has now surpassed 5.1 million downloads across 223 countries. Thank you for listening and a special thank you to my Patrons for supporting the show, and to Kobo Writing Life, Draft2Digital, Ingram Spark, Findaway Voices, and Pro Writing Aid for continuing to sponsor the show. I developed some new mini-courses for Authors: Multiple Streams of Income, Turn What You Know Into An Online Course, Co-writing a Book, and Your Author Business Plan. Professional speaking I spoke at the Self Publishing Show Live, March 2020, just a few days before the first lockdown. All other events got canceled, but I did speak at a LOT of online summits over the summer until I got ‘zoomed out' like so many others! Surprisingly, it is just as tiring to present on zoom as it is in person, without the benefit of travel and in-person networking. I generally say no to these now unless there is a significant audience or payment or it's a topic I want to speak on (like AI and the future of publishing). Joanna Penn keynote on Multiple Streams of Income at Self Publishing Show Live, March 2020 J.F. Penn Thrillers and Dark Fantasy I've also written two novels and completed the Mapwalker trilogy for audio. Mapwalker fantasy trilogy by J.F.Penn Map of the Impossible, Mapwalker #3. Published in ebook, paperback, hardback, large print, and audiobook editions. Tree of Life, ARKANE #11. Published in ebook, paperback, hardback, large print. Audiobook currently in production. The Mapwalker Trilogy completed in audiobook editions, narrated by Charlie Sanderson. Published through FindawayVoices, currently filtering through the various audio eco-systems. Available to buy direct from me, delivered by Bookfunnel audio at Payhip.com/thecreativepenn Rebranded my Brooke and Daniel thrillers with new covers and new metadata Covers by (the wonderful) JD Smith Design In April 2020, I decided to reboot my fiction income after discussing it with (the wonderful) Michaelbrent Collings. I was able to 10x my monthly J.F. Penn fiction revenue with a combination of Amazon Ads, Facebook Ads, and BookBub Ads as well as email blasts and other marketing — but I hated spending time on it and resented every minute, so I stopped a few months later. The revenue dropped, but life is too short to do things that make you miserable — another lesson from the pandemic! I’d go back to my day job if I wanted to do that! What would it look like if this was easy? My author business is about giving me the freedom to choose what I create and how I spend my time. I love researching and writing fiction, and I am very proud of the books I create. I also love content marketing (see below section on Books and Travel!) but I really hate the time spent on paid ads. So I considered what would make it easy and sustainable for me. J.F. Penn with Tree of Life, an ARKANE thriller #11 I've had Stone of Fire, ARKANE thriller #1 as permafree for 6 years now and it continues to bring people into that series (now 11 books) and it's easy to promote with Freebooksy and BookBub Ads. I decided to do something similar for Map of Shadows and Desecration, which each have a trilogy at the moment. I put them both at 99c/99p and now all I do is run BookBub Ads (see David Gaughran's BookBub Ads Expert and my interview with him here), and use Freebooksy/Bargainbooksy on those first in series books. I also apply for Kobo Writing Life promotions every 3 weeks and email my list every couple of weeks with specials. This is a very low maintenance schedule and I don't need to do daily or even weekly monitoring, so I can relax and get on with creating which is what I love best! Books and Travel Clearly, it was not a great year for travel! But I managed to do a few things to keep my wanderlust at bay. (You can always follow my travels on Instagram @jfpennauthor) Bilbao and San Sebastian research trip, Feb 2020, just before the pandemic arrived 50km Chiltern Way Ultra-Marathon (in a day) 6 Day solo walking The Pilgrims' Way (Southwark, London to Canterbury, Kent). Here's the day by day route with pictures, and here's my personal podcast: This Too Shall Pass. I also recorded and published my Books and Travel Podcast every two weeks with interviews from Namibia to Iceland, from Mumbai to the vineyards of France, and many more, which helped me travel virtually at least! I also did several solo shows: Druids, Freemasons, and Frankenstein: The Darker Side of Bath, England; as well as one on The Importance of Home in Difficult Times, Walk Your Own Race (from the 50k walk), and my personal experience on the Pilgrims' Way. I love doing this podcast and as it enters the third year of production, I have lots more to share personally as well as many more interviews on the way. You can subscribe to Books and Travel on your favorite podcast app, and find all the links here. Health One of my goals for 2020 was, “in my 45th year, I intend to be in the best physical shape of my life,” and on my wall, I have an affirmation, “Fit at 45 for 2020!” I have indeed achieved this and I'm pretty thrilled about it! I started out well, working out twice a week with my personal trainer in the gym. When the pandemic hit, I had a few wobbly months of over-indulgence to cope with the stress (like many people!), but then I pulled myself together. I'm healthier now than I have been in a long time, thanks to a few things. Twice weekly weight training and workout with my personal trainer, Dan. I've recounted my various stories of pain and physical issues in The Healthy Writer, and after some acute shoulder problems in September 2019, I started working with Dan for shoulder rehab and postural change to correct decades of deskwork. Before we had to leave the gym in March, I dead-lifted a personal best weight of 80kg. Then we went to zoom or social distancing in person in between lockdowns. I love my workouts and I consider them fundamental to my physical and mental health. Woohoo! Deadlifted 80kgs – just before turning 45! #pb #strongwoman Very pleased with myself! — Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) March 10, 2020 Walking (almost) every day. During the two lockdowns (so far), I've walked pretty much every day, generally for 8-10 km a day, but often for 15-20km, plus some longer walks including a 50km ultra-marathon in a day, and a 6-day pilgrimage. Walking has been critical for my mental health and I've shared lots of pictures from my canal wanderings on Instagram @jfpennauthor this year. Walking the Pilgrims' Way, October 2020 Time off. I did have a goal of ‘Schedule more time off. Block out time in the calendar for rest and holiday for its own sake, not just book research or work conferences and speaking.' In a way, the pandemic has changed our idea of what ‘time off' is. By staying home, I have actually worked more hours than ever before, but equally, I have walked more and had time to think. I've slept a lot and certainly been able to prioritize my health and fitness. Intermittent fasting (IF). I‘m not a doctor and this is not health advice. Please do your own investigation and see a professional about your health. This is just my opinion and experience. IF has probably been the most transformative thing for my body shape. Like many people, I've spent much of my adult life worrying about my weight and yo-yo-ing up and down at various stages, trying to give up types of food, trying fad diets, and generally failing miserably to stop the pounds creeping on. I enjoy my food and I love a drink or two (or three) with friends, so I was never going to stay on any kind of restrictive regime for long. But after much reading and investigation, I started intermittent fasting on 25 July 2020, and after 5 months, I am down two dress sizes and feeling great, as well as being able to do my ultras with very little inflammation. Jonathan started a few weeks after me and has also dropped several sizes as well as reducing gut issues. We love this way of eating and feel fantastic on it. We mainly have a 20:4 regime, eating between 4/5 pm – 8 pm every day, sometimes with a longer window, 16:8, when we feel especially hungry. IF is mainly about ‘when' you eat, as opposed to ‘what' you eat. Eating, body size, and weight are emotional subjects — but they are also fundamental to our health. If you're interested in delving more deeply into this, check out these books and podcasts: Fast, Feast, Repeat – Gin Stephens Delay, Don't Deny – Gin Stephens (the original, more chatty version) The Laidback Guide to Intermittent Fasting – Kayla Cox The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss – Dr. Jason Fung Intermittent Fasting Stories Podcast with Gin Stephens and guests. I love this show and binged the whole backlist in August as I learned how IF works. It's very encouraging if you've spent a lot of your life struggling with body issues. Please don't ask me any specific questions about IF. It's a personal journey, so please go down the rabbit hole of research for yourself. For me, it's no longer a ‘diet,' it's a lifestyle and I intend to continue eating this way. As Gin Stephens says, “People come to IF for the weight loss, and stay for the health benefits.” Business and finances As in the above section, Thriving in the pandemic, the digital-first business model came of age in 2020 and my business is a lot more profitable than in 2019. I've made more revenue and have also spent less on things like travel and research trips — which I intend to remedy next year! I've saved and invested more, and given away more, and will pay more tax — which is great because we're going to have to pay for all this somehow! We also had time to think about where the business is going. Things are so smooth now that business as usual doesn't take much to run and I am very happy being an independent creative with no need to grow the business in size. I don't want employees. I don't want to publish other people. In short, this business is pretty boring unless you're the one doing the creating! Work is not just about money, it's also about meaning. So in August 2020, Jonathan left The Creative Penn Limited to go back into the pharmaceutical industry as a Senior Statistician and programmer. Let's face it, pharma needs all the help it can get right now! He is still a company Director but I am now the sole employee. It's great to see him loving his career and stepping into new things. Given that the business has been our sole income for the last five years, it's definitely lifted the pressure I have felt around bringing in money. I am still an ambitious creative with goals around financial independence, but it's good to have another stream of income. My main financial goal was to: Consistently invest in ISA (like a US IRA) and SIPP (superannuation/pension/401K) monthly and increase monthly payments in 2020 by at least 10%. With little to spend on, we more than exceeded this goal and certainly intend to keep investing at this higher level next year. “Embrace curiosity about the future of creativity.” This was one of my goals for 2020, and I have certainly done that, reporting on the changes in exponential technologies in my futurist segment on the podcast every few weeks, and producing a small book in December 2020, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Emerging Technologies on Authors and the Publishing Industry, that encapsulates a lot of my thoughts on this fast-moving topic. I am really proud of this, especially as it hit #1 in the AI category on Amazon.com, the first time I have written a more technical book. It also marks a new phase for me as I focus on making sure we can surf the technological changes that are fast approaching. More on that in my 2021 goals tomorrow! As every year, there are things I did not achieve — licensing my works in translation, and a book on How to Write a Novel are the biggest. But hey, plans change and I am far happier with my year than I expected. Despite the trials of the pandemic, I am ever optimistic about the years ahead and there is hope in the air as the vaccines are rolled out around the world. Yes, I want some of my old life back (travel, in particular!), but I also intend to learn from this year and focus on what really matters. How did you do in 2020? Please share what you achieved in terms of your goals for the year in the comments.The post Creative Business Review Of 2020 And Lessons Learned From A Pandemic Year With Joanna Penn first appeared on The Creative Penn.
48 minutes | a month ago
Tips For Your Author Business Plan With Joanna Penn
You are an author. You turn ideas into reality in the shape of a book. You turn the thoughts in your head into valuable intellectual property assets. You understand how powerful the written word can be. Now it's time to use your words to create a business plan to take your writing career to the next level — whatever that means for your situation. In this episode, I share some chapters from my new book, Your Author Business Plan, available now. In the intro, Bob Dylan sold his song catalogue for $300 million [The Guardian] and thoughts on how streaming is impacting revenues [Financial Times]; Spotify and blockchain [Musically]; Daniel Ek interview [Tim Ferriss Podcast]; China's AI audiobook narration in the author's voice [BBC]; Tiktok's owner Bytedance launches an app with AI-narrated audiobooks [RadiiChina]. Google’s next Android update will expand audiobook availability on Google Play Books by auto-generating AI narrations for books that don’t offer an audio version [Techcrunch]. It's already available for public domain books. [Google Play Books]. Plus, Orna Ross and I talk about our Mistakes, Failures and Setbacks on the author journey [Ask ALLi podcast]. Your Author Business Plan: Take Your Author Career to the Next Level is out now in ebook, paperback, large print, and companion workbook editions. Plus, you can get the audiobook directly from me, and available in the other stores in January. You can get 50% off any of my audiobooks and ebooks if you buy direct from me – Payhip.com/thecreativepenn – coupon: DEC20 Here's how to apply the coupon correctly if you're unsure. Plus, I have made Successful Self-Publishing free as an ebook and an audiobook so you can give the Bookfunnel audiobook app a try for free. It could be a gamechanger for selling audio direct. On this episode, I share two chapters from my [human-narrated!] audiobook, which starts at 26 mins if you want to jump straight to it. What is a business plan? Business summary and big picture goals Marketing Strategy. Author eco-system Here are the chapters of the audiobook featured in the episode. You can find links to Your Author Business Plan in all formats here and at the bottom of the page. What is a business plan? [6:22 mins] A ‘business plan’ might seem like a dry, soulless document — the complete opposite to the creative words that you pour onto the page for your books. But think again. Business is creative Look around you. People working in some kind of business created much of what you see. Business creates jobs and meaningful work. It fuels income and enables money to flow between people. It turns ideas into reality. If you can reframe business as creative, then you can also reframe your business plan that way. You are actively shaping your future writing career, and what could be more creative than that! If you can articulate what you want, you can turn it into reality You might think you know what you want to achieve and how to do that, but when you try to write it down, you may well discover that your thought process is fuzzy and you haven’t quite worked out what you want to say. That happens with our books, and will likely happen with your business plan, but the very act of writing it down will help make it clearer. You’ll discover where you’re being over-ambitious, or over-complicating things, or trying to do too much based on the time you have. You’ll also find aspects that will challenge you and help you face the fears that are part of every creative life. You’ll also consider the reasons behind what you want. So often we plow ahead into busy tasks and getting things done without ensuring that our actions will lead us to an endpoint we want to pursue. Writing your plan down will also help you to turn it into reality, because you will have to articulate what you want to achieve. As you go through this book, don’t just answer the questions in your head. Write them down and turn your plan into words. You might be surprised by what you find. A business plan has a high-level strategic focus Your business plan will have a section on the books you’re going to write, but it won’t detail how you will actually write them. It will have a section on publishing, but it won’t include the steps for how to publish a book. Your plan should be high-level. Think of yourself physically rising high above and looking down on your author business as it is now and where you want it to be in the future. You can’t see all the detail from high up, but you can see more strategically than if you’re down in the weeds. A business plan is more than a goal … or a dream I have a dream to see at least one of my novels turned into TV or film. This is a pretty common dream for fiction authors! A dream is something that you would love to achieve, but there are so many things out of your control that even if you do everything ‘right,’ it still may not happen. You can dream of being a brand name author like JK Rowling or Stephen King or Yuval Noah Harari, but there is no guarantee that you can achieve it. A goal is something that could be achieved if you take consistent action toward it for the long term I have a goal to become an award-winning author, recognized by my peers for the quality of my craft. At the time of writing this book, I am award-nominated. I made the final five for the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Ebook Original in 2017. I sat in the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City, on the edge of my seat as my name was read out as a finalist. I didn’t win, but I keep taking steps toward this goal. I focus on improving my craft, and I write the best thrillers I can. I work with professional editors and continue to submit my books to awards. I cannot include “Win an ITW award” on my business plan, because it is ultimately out of my control, but I can include, “Write the next thriller” or “Invest in a craft course to learn more about endings,” or, “Allocate $X for editorial feedback.” Of course, if I achieve the goal of award-winning author, I may well take a step closer to my dream of seeing my novel turned into a film or TV series. These steps compound over time as we improve the craft and the business. Make sure your business plan includes practical steps toward your goals rather than dreams that are out of your control. A business plan can be in any format You’re not going to present this to a bank manager. You're not pitching for funding and you don’t need to justify anything to anybody. You don’t have to share this with your significant other, your writing group or the internet. This is for you, so your business plan can be whatever you want it to be. You can draw it with colored pens or make a collage, or you can use a spreadsheet. You can hand-write it in a journal, or you can type it into a document. You can use the downloadable template included with the book or you can use the Companion Workbook available in print. Whatever works for you. A business plan is a living document You're not going to make one business plan for the rest of your life. Whatever you think you want, it will inevitably change as your writing career progresses, the market shifts, and your life develops. Start where you are and expect it to change. Make sure you date your plan and keep the historical versions. It's always interesting to look back and wonder, “why did I want to do that?” Inevitably, something will make sense to you at the time, but later on, you might change your mind so it’s good to keep track of your reasons why. Questions: What is a business plan? Why do you want to create one for your author business? Why will you spend time on this? Chapter 1.2 Business Summary and Big Picture Goals [8 mins] In this section, you will summarize your author business in a succinct way. This helps to frame the entire business plan. Some people might call this a mission statement, but you might prefer to consider it as a direction or a guiding principle. Even though this is a short section in the plan, it’s similar to a book description in that it can be the hardest part. You might need to write a lot of words before you truly articulate what you want, so give it a go and then circle back once you’ve completed the other sections, as your answers later may inform this part. Before you write your business summary, you need to consider some big questions. What is your ‘why’? Why do you want an author business, anyway? Why is writing more than just a hobby for you? (Since no one ever does a business plan for their hobby!) If you want to “make some money,” consider the reason behind that. Personally, my author business is about giving me the freedom to choose what I create, how I spend my time, where I live, and where I travel now and into the future. It means I am truly independent. I want income to fund my creative lifestyle now and also fund my investments for the future so I can keep on creating for the long term. I also have a deep need to be useful, as many people do, and the non-fiction side of my business fulfills that need and helps my community. What is your core life value? This is a huge question but if you can articulate this, it will guide so much of what you do, in both your creative business and your life. It might also help you to understand why you might be unhappy and unsatisfied in other areas. Examples of values include family, loyalty, faith, honesty, sustainability, and optimism. You can find lists of values online if you’re struggling. Of course, we all have multiple values, never just one. List as many as you think apply to you and then spend some time moving them up and down. Be honest about what is the most important in your hierarchy. It will help you to decide the direction of your business. Freedom is my highest value, with the associated aspect of independence, and this shapes many of the decisions I make in business and also in my personal life. Before doing something, I ask, “Will this give me more freedom or less? Will this help fuel my independence or will it leave me trapped in the future?” You might have used this values list in creating characters if you write fiction. It’s an incredibly powerful tool because values shape behavior and actions, which all have consequences. A positive value can also become a fatal flaw, and believe me, I know this well! For example, if you take freedom and independence too far, you might never collaborate or work with other people, you might never enter a long-term relationship, or ask for help if you need it. It’s obvious how this value has shaped my business plan over the last decade, but yours will probably be different. For example, a business plan based on the core value of Family might favor income streams that don’t require being away from home; or a core value of Status might focus on pitching a prestigious agent or aiming for a literary prize. Only you can decide what’s most important. Who do you serve? A business makes money by selling customers what they want to buy. This might seem obvious, but many authors don’t think about readers until they have finished a book and want to market it. If you think about this upfront, it will help you with your business plan, but of course, I know from experience that my creative muse does not want to be put into a box! If you know your target market already, brilliant! Include that in this section. If you’re not quite sure, then we’ll go into more detail in chapter 1.4 Comparison authors and reader avatar, which is mainly focused on books, but the principles also apply if you’re offering services, courses, or other products. What will you say “no” to? At the beginning of your author career, you will probably say “yes” to everything and try all kinds of creative projects and marketing techniques. That’s a great way to start, especially if you’re a multi-passionate creator, as I am. But as you go through your author journey, tasks will proliferate and expand and you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the things you decided to start: Multiple series of books in different genres, different marketing channels with various audiences, and so on. At some point, you have to start saying no. If you create boundaries with your high-level business plan, it will help you to say no to the things that aren’t important for your overall life value and goals. For example, I went down the rabbit hole of screenwriting for a few years. I've written a couple of screenplays. I've been to conferences and paid for courses. I've interviewed screenwriters on my podcast. Screenwriting is an incredible skill, and it’s helped my writing craft in terms of story structure, but being a screenwriter is a completely different career and it’s not something I want to focus on. When I’m tempted to work on a screenplay, I look at my “no” list and get back to writing another book. Create your business summary Now it’s time to write a succinct summary that encapsulates your business. You might have several, for example, by author brand, as the purpose might be different. Here are mine as examples. The Creative Penn empowers authors with the knowledge they need to choose their creative future. Books and courses by Joanna Penn, as well as The Creative Penn Podcast, provide information and inspiration on how to write, publish, and market books, and make a living as a writer. J.F. Penn provides escape and entertainment for lovers of thriller and dark fantasy through books, associated media, and the Books and Travel Podcast. Both summaries reflect my core value of freedom, and they include my target market as well as my main products. They also underpin my financial and creative goals. In order to facilitate freedom and independence, my primary business goal is to create multiple-six-figure revenue streams from different aspects of the business so it’s resilient against market changes. I also have a goal to win an award where peers judge my creative work, and that can only be achieved by writing more books, the heart of both brands. I know it’s a difficult task, but as with a book description, start by writing a rough draft and hone it down until you’re happy — with the knowledge that you can change it later! Questions: What is your why? Why do you want an author business, anyway? What is your core life value? Or your top three, if you’re struggling with one. How are you currently living this value? How could you move closer to it? Who do you serve? Who is your target market? What will you say “no” to? What is your business summary, by author brand if applicable? Chapter 3.1 Marketing Strategy. Author eco-system [6:20 mins] You cannot publish a book and just expect it to sell. That’s not the reality of life in the 2020s. There are so many millions of books and a multitude of other options through podcasts, TV, film, gaming, and music that you need to draw attention to your work somehow. Marketing is the act of promoting your books, products, or services and although many authors resist it, marketing is an integral part of the writing life and therefore critical for your business plan. There are lots of different ways to market your books and build your author platform, which I cover extensively in How to Market a Book, but in this section, try to rise above the detail of tactics and consider a high-level view of your author ecosystem. What is an ecosystem and why do you need one? An ecosystem is basically a network, and in this context, it’s all the things that work together for your brand. This is sometimes called your author platform and includes all the ways that you can reach your readers. If you build an ecosystem for your books, it will become much easier to manage marketing and sales over time because it will all work together in the background as you continue to write and increase your body of work. You can add in short-term advertising to the mix, but a robust ecosystem can underpin your career over the long-term. My non-fiction ecosystem for Joanna Penn The central hub is my website, TheCreativePenn.com. For more than a decade, I’ve created articles, videos and my podcast as marketing content that bring people to the site. 99% of the content is free and the business model is based on a percentage of those people buying something or clicking on an affiliate link at some point. My email sign-up offer, the free Author Blueprint, provides me with a steady stream of new contacts, essential for an online business, and I have an autoresponder series leading people into more useful content. I’ve used this same call to action for over a decade, but I update the material every six months to ensure it remains relevant. I have books, courses, tutorials, and tools that provide value to my community, all linked from the website and within the emails and content that I produce. I own and control my intellectual property assets, and I pay for premium hosting, so I own and control my website. But of course, your ecosystem has to be more than just your own website. You need to take advantage of the opportunities to reach customers with your books and marketing content on other sites. The most common examples are: Publishing sites like Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Google, Draft2Digital, Ingram Spark, Findaway Voices, and more. These sites ensure that my books are available in every format, in every country. Podcasting platforms like Apple, Google, Spotify, Amazon, and more to reach listeners Video platforms like YouTube and Facebook Live Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and others Advertising platforms like Facebook Ads, BookBub, and Amazon Marketing Think of these as ‘outposts,’ places where you can reach customers but that you do not own or control. Over the years, these platforms have changed their terms and conditions and authors have had to adapt. For example, both Amazon and Facebook have shifted from organic reach to ‘pay for play’ in the last few years in terms of advertising. These sites are part of the author ecosystem, but the goal should always be to drive people back to your main site and sign up to your email list so you can control the relationship over time. My fiction ecosystem for J.F. Penn The central hub is my website, www.JFPenn.com, which has pages for each of my books with links to the various stores and how to buy direct, as well as an email sign-up for my free ebook offer at www.JFPenn.com/free I have an email autoresponder series that introduces readers to my books and after a period of time, includes an offer to be part of my Pennfriends team for Advanced Review Copies of my new books. I include some content on the site, like videos from my research, but my main content marketing activity is my Books and Travel Podcast, which has a call to action for my free thriller. I use the same outposts as non-fiction, with the publishing sites being the primary focus for book sales. Design an ecosystem for the long term If you’re just starting out, it's hard to imagine creating such an ecosystem, but if you think about it strategically early on, you can build something that will last. If you’re further into the author journey, then consider what your ecosystem looks like right now. Start with where you are and consider what you want your ecosystem to look like in five or ten years’ time, and take action toward that. Questions: What does your author ecosystem look like now? What do you currently own and control? If you carry on as you are for the next five years, or ten years, what will your ecosystem look like? What do you need to change to ensure it works for you over the long term? Available now in ebook, paperback, large print, and workbook editions. You can also buy the audiobook directly from me now, and it will be on the various audio platforms in early 2021. Buy ebook direct from me! Buy Audiobook Directly From Me The post Tips For Your Author Business Plan With Joanna Penn first appeared on The Creative Penn.
18 minutes | 2 months ago
Voice Technologies, Streaming And Subscription Audio In A Time Of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The audiobook market is currently held back by availability and cost of titles, as well as preference for narrators with different voices. The subscription model and AI voice narration will solve these issues — but we need audio rights licensing reform to make it happen. In this solo show: Streaming and subscription models AI voices will narrate mass-market audio content with human narrators producing artisan audio experiences Audio licensing will expand for different levels of listener experience Authors and publishers will sell directly from their own platforms to superfans who want to support creators This is the second in my AI episodes based on my new book, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies On Authors and the Publishing Industry. Check out previous episodes and resources on AI at www.TheCreativePenn.com/future The written word is still the primary focus for authors and publishing, but in the last few years, there has been significant growth in audiobook revenue and the use of podcasting for book marketing. A Deloitte paper on audiobooks and podcasting, The Ears Have It, noted that, “at current growth rates, audiobook revenues are on a trajectory to pass e-books by 2023 or so”. It’s an exciting time to be in audio, and there are some societal trends and technological shifts that will grow the market and expand possibilities even further. Streaming and subscription models “Possession is not as important as it once was. Accessing is more important than ever.” Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future The subscription model for content is great value for consumers. They can watch unlimited movies and TV on Netflix and listen to unlimited music on Spotify, both of which are tailored to individual preferences. They can read on Kindle Unlimited, and there are many more examples of this kind of subscription. It is a mainstream business model and already an option for audio in many markets with Storytel, Scribd and others, even though it has yet to pervade the significant audiobook markets of the US and UK. It will only expand in the years to come. Publishing has slowly followed the trajectory of the music industry in terms of digital transformation. TechCrunch reported in September 2020 that revenue for recorded music has increased during 2020 owing to the growth in streaming under the pandemic. Paid subscriptions like Spotify and Apple Music are up 24% year-on-year, and “streaming now makes up 85% of all [music] revenue in the U.S.,” with physical sales at 7% and digital downloads at 6%. The 2020s will bring many more technological options as listeners continue to embrace unlimited subscription models. They can try more varied audio with no risk, and they’re more likely to try it on a platform where they already listen to music and podcasts. Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, wrote on their company blog in February 2019, “over time, more than 20% of all Spotify listening will be non-music content … Things change fast but the path ahead for Spotify is clear — we want to become the world’s leading audio platform.” Many in the English-speaking audiobook publishing world are wary of the subscription model, but it can bring opportunity. At the UK FutureBook conference (online) in November 2020, there were several sessions from European audiobook publishers. Highlights include: • Some audiobook publishers are gaining 30% of additional revenue from streaming. New audiences don’t necessarily overlap with a la carte purchases, so the audiobook market is expanding as a whole. • More than 60% of audiobook subscription revenue comes from the backlist, bringing new life to older books. • Fiction sales in audiobook overtook ebook sales in Sweden in early 2020, and fiction publishing is now partially driven by what will perform well in audio • The arrival of Storytel in Spain tripled the audiobook market, with a growth of 300 percent, and 91 percent of publisher’s audiobook revenue is subscription. In the subscription business model, revenue will drop per individual audiobook, even as listenership and the overall market continues to grow. The cost of audiobook production has to come down to make this viable. Michele Cobb, from the Audio Publishers Association, pointed out at FutureBook, “The availability of titles is the biggest driver of audiobook growth”. It’s clear that we need more audio, cheaper audio, and multiple narrators in multiple languages producing audio as fast as possible to take advantage of this growth. But if we embrace the subscription model, how can we afford to create the bulk of audio needed to expand the market rapidly? AI voices will narrate mass-market audio content with human narrators producing artisan audio experiences At FutureBook, the CEO of Zebralution, a German company that facilitates distribution to streaming services, said, “There will always be room for narrators who can add value, but people are used to interacting with AI in terms of Siri and Alexa. AI [voices] will become so good that it will be hard to tell the difference. There’s no way this is not going to happen.” AI voice technology is improving rapidly. Check out the demo voices at ReplicaStudios.com for some examples of AI voice actors for gaming. Descript.com offers their OverDub functionality, which lets you create a text-to-speech model of your voice with very little training, as well as stock voices that can be used in creative projects. I’ve created my own Voice Double with their technology. It’s not good enough (yet) for me to retire from narrating my own non-fiction, but it has some emotional intonation, and with the development of new audio editing tools, this technology is not far off the mainstream. Cost of production is one aspect that will drive AI voice creation, but it’s also about consumer desire. At FutureBook 2020, in a presentation on the Nielsen Audiobook Consumer Survey, it was noted that the main barriers to audio include listeners being put off by cost and lack of titles available, but also by narration. This might be a technically poor performance or production, but more usually, it’s the ‘wrong’ voice for the book in the reader's mind, or just a matter of personal taste. I listen to a lot of business and technology books, but often the voice is an American male and sometimes this puts me off enough to stop listening. I would prefer a British female with an accent similar to my own because that’s the voice I hear in my head. I want the narrator to fade away so I can focus on the content. Consumers are used to changing the voice of their devices. Siri on my phone is British female, although I could change the voice to a different accent and gender if I wanted to. You can change the voice on your Google Maps navigation to an incredible range of options, and you can also change Alexa to speak in different accents, or even as Samuel L. Jackson if you like. As a consumer, I want an audio app that allows me to change the voice of the narrator for any audiobook I choose. That will only be possible with AI voices. Audio purists are resistant to AI voices, claiming that only human actors can perform an audiobook, but this attitude prevents the creation of audiobooks for every written work, in multiple languages, at the speed at which consumers want audio. This resistance is preventing the growth of the market, but hopefully, that will change in the next decade as they realize the market can encompass all options. Audio licensing rights will expand for different levels of listener experience The current licensing model for audiobook rights is to license one audiobook product per language and sometimes by territory, depending on the licensing. But audiobook rights licensing needs to diversify to take account of AI. At the mass-market level, an AI-narrated, cheap edition will satisfy many listeners for the majority of books. For example, I mainly listen to non-fiction business and technology audiobooks at 1.5x speed. I just want the information. I don’t need a nuanced performance. A friend of mine, a busy professional mum, who can only consume by listening while doing other things, lamented the fact that she can’t get everything she wants in audio. I explained the costs involved, and she said she didn’t care so much about the narrator, she just needed a way to listen. AI-narration would clearly solve this consumer problem. The next level is the human-performed edition where art and linguistic talent matter, which reflects most audiobooks available now, with professional actors and narrators performing the work. I currently narrate my own non-fiction and, given the emergence of the AI-narrated option, I’d expect to charge more for the human touch, selling direct to my audience to sidestep the cheaper subscription models. The premium edition remains the dramatized version with a full professional cast and musical score, the ultimate audio experience at a premium price. This stratification of audio rights would drive growth in the audiobook market and expand revenue streams. If all books were available in audio format in all countries and all languages, it would benefit the industry financially, and it could also educate, entertain, and inspire so many more listeners. Books can change lives, so we must invest in making sure the sum of human knowledge and experience is available in audio. This will be achieved with AI voices performing audio, AI translation to produce more books in more languages, and AI-assisted distribution, sales, and marketing tools to reach more people across the globe. Authors and publishers will sell directly from their own platforms to superfans who want to support creators Consumers want streaming and subscription audio for the majority of their listening, but they also care about supporting the artists they love. The rise of crowdfunding platforms and patronage has enabled many artists to produce the audio work their fans enjoy and are happy to pay for. Just check out Kickstarter and Patreon for audiobooks and podcasts, and you will find a world of creation away from the big vendors. This book started out as a podcast episode supported by my Patrons on Patreon, whose financial contribution allows me the time to think about these bigger issues. They could just listen for free every week, but they give a few dollars/pounds/euros a month to support the show because they find value in it. Thank you, Patrons! I’ve been selling my ebooks and audiobooks directly for years, and the options for direct audio have increased in 2020 with the rollout of Authors Direct from FindawayVoices.com, the recent addition of BookFunnel for Audio, as well as marketing options through BookBub’s Chirp app. Hopefully, these will expand internationally over time. If we make the most of technological change, we can create different audio products for different markets, and expand a thriving economic model for authors, rights-holders, narrators, and the audiobook industry. It truly is the most exciting time to be in audio! *** I hope you’re inspired by the possibilities of the next decade. Please do leave your comments or questions here on the episode. If you work in these areas and would like to connect, or if you have new ideas that might empower authors and propel our industry forward, please reach out. I’ll also be speaking professionally and consulting in this area, so if you have business opportunities, I’d love to talk. Contact me here. You can now get the ebook on all the usual stores and that covers a lot more ground. Coming soon in print and audiobook. I’ll be back with another solo show covering copyright law, blockchain for smart contracts, and micro-payments. Happy writing, and I’ll see you next time. The post Voice Technologies, Streaming And Subscription Audio In A Time Of Artificial Intelligence (AI) first appeared on The Creative Penn.
15 minutes | 2 months ago
Copyright Law And Blockchain For Authors And Publishers In An Age Of Artificial Intelligence
Should copyright be attributed to original literary and artistic works autonomously generated by AI? How will creators of original material be compensated when their works are used to train natural language generation models? Intellectual property reform in the age of AI is inevitable, and we need our voices to be heard. In this solo show: How copyright in the age of AI is being discussed amongst governments and global organizations Why copyright needs to be international How Blockchain technology could be used to facilitate intellectual property management Why we must allow the licensing of works in copyright for machine learning in order to combat bias and prejudice How licensing could work in a new model This is the second in my AI episodes based on my new book, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies On Authors and the Publishing Industry. Check out previous episodes and resources on AI at www.TheCreativePenn.com/future *** In January 2020, a Chinese court ruled that an AI-written article would be protected by copyright. “The article’s articulation and expression had a ‘certain originality’ and met the legal requirements to be classed as a written work — thus it qualified for copyright protection.” [Venture Beat] At this stage, there are more questions than answers in the realm of AI and copyright law. During 2020, I’ve worked with Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, to prepare submissions for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and for the UK Government on artificial intelligence and copyright. Some questions under discussion include: • Should copyright be attributed to original literary and artistic works that are autonomously generated by AI or should a human creator be required? • Should the use of the data subsisting in copyright works without authorization for machine learning constitute an infringement of copyright? • If the use of the data subsisting in copyright works without authorization for machine learning is considered to constitute an infringement of copyright, what would be the impact on the development of AI and on the free flow of data to improve innovation in AI? As you can imagine, we’ve had a challenge wrapping our creative brains around this area, but it is critically important for authors and the publishing industry. Intellectual property reform in the age of AI is inevitable, and we need our voices to be heard. Most author organizations and publishers have shown little interest in submissions like this, but assuming it will all work out for the best is not enough. If creative voices are not in the room when these issues are discussed, then stronger voices will dominate — and these may not benefit creators and rights-holders. Wherever you are in the world, consider investigating what your government is doing around AI and intellectual property, and get involved. This whole domain is in flux and I am not a copyright lawyer, so the following are merely ideas for consideration and further discussion. Copyright needs to be international because the digital world is global Different jurisdictions make no sense for copyright law since technology spans borders and we publish globally with a few clicks. This is easy to write but incredibly difficult to manage, which is why the overhaul of copyright for the age of AI is likely to be the time it happens because it’s the first truly pervasive global shift in technology. Blockchain technology should be used for intellectual property management, from creation to licensing, through distribution, payment, and estate management Many of these technical subjects take a while to get used to, but when the penny drops, the clouds part and you can truly see the potential. I now believe that Blockchain is possibly the most transformational aspect of converging technologies for authors. Orna Ross, author, and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, published an article and a positioning paper outlining the potential of Blockchain for Authors back in 2017. She noted that, “Blockchain not only seamlessly allows direct payments from reader to author but allows income from sales to be effortlessly split at the point of transaction between the author and anyone else involved in the making of the book, including services and booksellers. Blockchain could allow, therefore, for the evolution of an author-centric business model where creative and commercial value is automatically recognised, registered and compensated and where the author’s smart wallet becomes the first point of payment for everyone, and the financial and informational node for their work. Author smart wallets would become the economic expression of creator’s copyright.” At Frankfurt Book Fair in 2019, the co-founders of Content Blockchain, presented “a decentralized, global, digital infrastructure for the creative community to discover, register, navigate, offer, sell and license digital media content and otherwise exchange value over the network.” Their International Standard Content Code (ISCC) is comparable to traditional identifiers like the ISBN. The same session at Frankfurt featured Bookchain.ca, “an online platform built on blockchain, that allows authors and publishers to configure the security, traceability, attribution, and distribution settings (including lending and reselling) of their ebooks and sell them through our catalogue, while protecting and securing the ebooks against theft and piracy.” Blockchain technology could be used in a truly global, digital, scalable way and transform how intellectual property works. It is perhaps the only way of tracking IP and compensating creators in the fast-moving age of AI. Creative works in copyright must be used in machine learning models to prevent bias and increase diversity in Natural Language Generation In the wake of the George Floyd murder and the race activism of mid-2020, many in publishing emphasized the need for diversity in the industry, both in the type of books published and in the people employed who act as gatekeepers and curators. Changes are ongoing, but with the advance of technology, this diversity also needs to be reflected in AI machine learning models. Currently, only works out of copyright are used to train algorithms (at least officially) and these tend to be predominantly written by dead, white, male, wealthy, Christian, western, and English-language authors. There is nothing wrong with this literature, or this group of people, but they do not represent the diversity of the world and they are out of date in terms of writing style. Models trained on outdated, biased data will generate outdated, biased writing that will perpetuate existing prejudice. By withholding works in copyright, the industry could prevent the “development of AI and the free flow of data needed to improve innovation,” the wording of the UK Government’s request for submission on the topic. It is clearly the priority of governments and the tech industry to advance innovation, and we need our work to be part of AI development so we can shape this possible future. If we don’t actively participate, it could be forced upon us by changes in copyright law. But if we allow such models to use our work, how will authors and rights-holders be compensated? Creative works in copyright should be licensed for machine learning, and the original creators compensated with either a one-off license fee or a micro-payment facilitated by Blockchain smart contracts “It’s rarely obvious what our data can do, or, when fed into a clever algorithm, just how valuable it can be. Nor, in turn, how cheaply we were bought.” Hannah Fry, Hello World: How Algorithms Will Define Our Future and Why We Should Learn To Live With It There seems to be no existing license for use of books within copyright for training Natural Language Generation algorithms, but this could be a lucrative way to monetize IP for creators and rights-holders. We certainly need to value our data more than we do currently. For example, I might include all my J.F. Penn novels and short stories into a dataset, JFPennData2020. A company with an AI Natural Language Generation model could license my dataset for machine learning for a one-off payment, or, preferably, an agreed micro-payment from downstream products. This could be based on the number of words used in the dataset. If my words contributed 1% of the model, I would receive 1% micro-payment of the books or products generated downstream, tracked by Blockchain technology and automatically distributed. Or, because I can’t generate enough words by myself, I could join together with a group of authors who own and control their IP to create a bigger dataset, for example, IndieThrillerWriters2020. We might even use that to create synthetic data which increases our joint licensing potential with more datasets. We develop a smart contract between us that controls the percentage paid to each author based on words contributed, and we license that work to machine learning models. The micro-payments would be split automatically, and the process is transparent to all. Traditional publishers and other rights-holders could use a similar model, increasing the ongoing value of intellectual property assets. This kind of process would ensure that copyright does not prevent the development of artificial intelligence, that machine learning models are trained on diverse works, and original creators can continue to be rewarded throughout the publishing supply chain from original products to all kinds of possible derivative works. It could significantly expand the earning potential for creators and rights-holders. The use of smart contracts in licensing could also transform estate management. If you include heirs and successors into a smart contract, those micro-payments would be distributed on the death of the author, cutting out manual administration. They could also be used while the author is alive to distribute to family members and/or charities, and to reward the ecosystem of editors, cover designers and other professionals involved in creating a finished asset, encouraging further collaboration within the industry. * * * These possibilities represent an entirely new business model for authors and the publishing industry, and of course, there is a long way to go before Blockchain technologies emerge into the mainstream. But as computer scientist, Alan Kay said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Creating and licensing copyright is the basis of our industry. We need to take an active role to invent its future. *** I hope you’re inspired by the possibilities of the next decade. Please do leave your comments or questions here on the episode. If you work in these areas and would like to connect, or if you have new ideas that might empower authors and propel our industry forward, please reach out. I’ll also be speaking professionally and consulting in this area, so if you have business opportunities, I’d love to talk. Contact me here. You can now get the ebook on all the usual stores and that covers a lot more ground. Coming soon in print and audiobook. I’ll be back with another solo show covering copyright law, blockchain for smart contracts, and micro-payments. Happy writing, and I’ll see you next time. The post Copyright Law And Blockchain For Authors And Publishers In An Age Of Artificial Intelligence first appeared on The Creative Penn.
39 minutes | 2 months ago
Writing In An Age Of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
In this solo episode, I discuss the impact of converging technologies, Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Generation (NLG) tools like GPT-3, and more on writing, authors, and the publishing industry. My last AI show was in July 2019, 9 Ways That Artificial Intelligence (AI) Will Disrupt Authors and Publishing in the Next 10 Years, and although I’ve […] The post Writing In An Age Of Artificial Intelligence (AI) first appeared on The Creative Penn.
76 minutes | 2 months ago
Business Mindset And Pivoting Your Author Career With Holly Worton
How can you prevent self-doubt and fear from blocking your creative expression? What if you've built an audience for your books, but then you want to change direction? I discuss these issues and more with Holly Worton. In the intro, Draft2Digital introduce payment splitting; Long-term and ‘wide' thinking with Sarah Painter on the 6 Figure […] The post Business Mindset And Pivoting Your Author Career With Holly Worton first appeared on The Creative Penn.
62 minutes | 2 months ago
YouTube For Authors And Multiple Streams Of Income With Meg LaTorre
How can you use video to attract readers to your books — and create multiple streams of income? Meg La Torre gives some tips for video marketing. In the intro, ACX emails the community apologizing for an incredibly slow production process; but doesn't address the serious issue of returns [Susan May Writer]; ALLi revokes ACX […] The post YouTube For Authors And Multiple Streams Of Income With Meg LaTorre first appeared on The Creative Penn.
64 minutes | 2 months ago
Networking For Authors With Daniel Parsons
How do you build a network of author friends and peers over the long-term? How can you overcome anxiety about online or in-person events in order to network more effectively? Daniel Parsons and I share tips on networking online and also for physical events post-pandemic. In the intro, new Series management tools from Amazon KDP; […] The post Networking For Authors With Daniel Parsons first appeared on The Creative Penn.
64 minutes | 3 months ago
How To Write And Market Books Across Multiple Genres With Wendy H Jones
How do you successfully write and market in multiple genres if you're a multi-passionate creator? How do you manage a hybrid career across traditional and independent publishing? Wendy H. Jones talks about her varied writing career and her tips for book marketing. In the intro, The HotSheet reports from Frankfurt Book Fair with positive […] The post How To Write And Market Books Across Multiple Genres With Wendy H Jones first appeared on The Creative Penn.
68 minutes | 3 months ago
Writing In The Dark. Horror Writing Tips With Tim Waggoner
How do you write your darkness without drowning in it? How do you write an original horror story while still respecting the tropes of the genre? Why are horror writers the nicest people around?! Tim Waggoner gives some craft tips for writing horror, as well as thoughts on the current publishing and TV/film environment. In […] The post Writing In The Dark. Horror Writing Tips With Tim Waggoner first appeared on The Creative Penn.
53 minutes | 3 months ago
Building A Creative Business Brand With Pamela Wilson
How do you build a creative business that you love — and makes you money? Pamela Wilson talks about her non-fiction business model, how to choose a niche, plus how to pivot your brand over time. In the intro, I talk about my pilgrimage walk and how we all need to weigh up risks […] The post Building A Creative Business Brand With Pamela Wilson first appeared on The Creative Penn.
57 minutes | 3 months ago
Mental Models For Writers And The Empowered Indie Author With Michael LaRonn
Writing is absolutely about the practical step of getting words on the page — but your mindset can make the difference between success and failure, as well as how much you enjoy the author journey. In this interview, Michael La Ronn outlines mental models for writers, facing our fears to break through to creative success, […] The post Mental Models For Writers And The Empowered Indie Author With Michael LaRonn first appeared on The Creative Penn.
68 minutes | 4 months ago
Outlining Your Novel And Filling The Creative Well With K.M. Weiland
How can you use an outline to improve your book before you start the first draft? How can you use it to play with your creative ideas without feeling hemmed in by the process? In this interview, KM Weiland talks about how to outline your novel as well as thoughts on writer's block, filling the […] The post Outlining Your Novel And Filling The Creative Well With K.M. Weiland first appeared on The Creative Penn.
67 minutes | 4 months ago
Starting From Zero And Success With BookBub Ads With David Gaughran
When you've been self-publishing over a decade, it's easy to see how things have changed for indie authors and where the opportunities lie for publishing and marketing our books. In this wide-ranging interview, David Gaughran discusses the shifts in the industry, starting from zero, book marketing tips, and more. In the intro, Audible launches […] The post Starting From Zero And Success With BookBub Ads With David Gaughran first appeared on The Creative Penn.
56 minutes | 4 months ago
Audiobook Narration, Production And Marketing Tips With Derek Doepker
Audiobooks are one of the fastest-growing segments in publishing and the expansion of podcasts onto every major platform means there are more ways to market to audio-first consumers (which increasingly includes me!) In this episode, Derek Doepker gives some tips on why audiobooks are so important as a format, self-narration, working with a narrator, plus, […] The post Audiobook Narration, Production And Marketing Tips With Derek Doepker first appeared on The Creative Penn.
Terms of Service
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
© Stitcher 2020