Janine Bolon: Hi. Welcome back to ‘The Writers Hour Creative Conversations’. I’m Janine Bolon and with us today is a wonderful author by the name of Trish Wilkinson. She is the co-author of ‘Brain Stages: How to Raise Smart, Confident Kids and Have Fun Doing it’. Trish is also the mother of two children. She taught elementary and middle school for more than 23 years and she’s a total science nerd so you see why we get along so well. She keeps up with the latest brain research because studies continually confirm her ‘Brain Stages Thrive Framework’. Trish developed effective, practical tools to raise her own children who suffered from attention, anxiety, and auditory processing challenges. She helped them become successful adults with these tools. She’s also given these tools to hundreds of other students with a solid academic, social, and emotional foundation through this process. She now coaches parents and facilitates life-challenging and changing workshops and courses not only for the children but for the parents, the principals, and the professionals to help these children thrive in our very complicated world that just seems to be getting more complicated by the day. It’s amazing what can happen when years of creativity and practical experience merge with thousands of hours of pouring over the latest brain research. Thank you so much for being with us today, Trish.
Trish Wilkinson: Oh, it’s so fun to be here and I like the little, you know, nuances that you added in there. That was great. That was really fun because you have a lot in common in this whole science thing, right?
Janine: Yeah, I was trained as an analytical biochemist so I studied the cell at the molecular level, you know, stuff you couldn’t even see for the most part. It’s one of those things that I homeschooled my four children because of the challenges that I saw that the public school system had in trying to integrate so many different philosophies and put in a one-size-fits-all. Now, most of the teachers that I have chatted with do not want that but a system is a system. And because you have testing results determining what’s going on in the school system. They want those test results to look good so they can get more students in. You can see where things get driven in a certain way. But we’re here not to talk about homeschooling or the actual educational process. Although we could spend an hour…
Trish: I know, right? Many many hours of [inaudible]
Janine: … just that alone. You and I can get caught up in that. But let’s talk instead about the actual writing of the book. So, it’s one thing to spend the hundreds to thousands of hours that you have poured over research but consolidating all that research, synthesizing it, and then helping other people integrate that into action plans… Come on, you wrote the book on the topic. Talk to us about that. What’s the story behind the story?
Trish: Oh my gosh, this is actually a great story. So, I had written this book proposal for a grade by grade guide through elementary school because it was actually my husband that said, “You know, Trish, we worked so hard and you, in particular, worked so hard to figure this out with our own children who have challenges. Wouldn’t it have been great if there was some kind of book that you could have just picked up off the shelf that said, ‘Okay, this is kind of where their brains are and how they’re developing. This is where they are, socially. Here’s all the stuff they have to learn and here are a whole bunch of games to play.’ right?” And so, he was the one who told me to write the book in the first place. So, I wrote this great book proposal. I took a class to do it. It took me several weeks, it was like a hundred pages longer, 85 pages or something like that. But, just primo that I had gotten all this feedback, fine-tuned it, sent it out to all these agents, and talked to all these independent publishers and basically, they said, “It’s a great idea, Trish but books by teachers like this don’t sell.” and that’s what I kept hearing over and over again. So, I put all of my notes into my garage and hadn’t touched them for 18 months. And then we decided to move from San Diego, California to Bend and I thought nothing’s happening with this book. I had put thousands of hours into putting all the research and all this stuff together and I thought, “You know what? I’m not going to use it anyway. I thought I was called to write this book. I guess not.” and I threw away all of my notes. And then not one month after we moved to Bend… I also coach other authors. I have several best-selling authors now. So, I was coaching an author and this independent publisher, who I had never heard of, calls me from Colorado and said, “Trish, you worked with one of my other authors. He told me what your background is. I have this Ph.D. who has done all of this brain research with kids and how they learn and how their brains develop” and long story short, she wanted to know if we could write a book together. So, I had just thrown away all of my notes. I mean, I just went through mourning for a bit because I had to redo a whole bunch of stuff. Then we’re getting this together. We’re going to write the whole book together and Jackie passes away. So, I have this Ph.D. working with me. So, I had all of her research and then I had to update the research because of the brain reset.
I was always a little bit of a science nerd but then I became so much more of a science nerd. And the thing that was very exciting about that whole process is I learned what happens in the brain and why all of the things I had learned, teaching all those kids and teaching all the grades at one point or another, why those things worked, what happens in the brain, why playing little games like Adam move, where you do a move and then another person does another move, what happens in the brain, and how that improves working memory and gets kids out of their anxiety, their emotion centers, and into the thinking center. But, you understand what I’m talking about? In the process of writing it, I learned so much about the process.
So what I want to say to writers is sometimes, we get so frustrated when we have to go back and we do something but in that learning process, sometimes, that completely recreates our writing. And the other thing that was really fun about brain stages is I thought I was being self-indulgent in writing these, they’re called real deal stories, true stories about people. They were our own family and friends of ours because the craziest stories are the most fun, right? And I’m a story writer. I mean, I’ve written a young adult fiction series that’s never actually been published, and someday, it should be and it probably will be but right now I’ve been focusing on all the parenting stuff.
But the point is, as I wrote all of these fiction stories that I thought were self-indulgent but the publisher loved them so much when I sent it back that she gave me like a week to write five more short stories. If you’re an author out there, you know how much time it takes to write a really strong short story. I mean, it’s not just, “Oh, just slip it in, write it down”, it’s finessing the words and making sure… And there’s a certain kind of story structure that you have to do in a really condensed way. I mean, short stories in some ways, I think, are more challenging to write than a novel because you have to get all of the elements into such a short amount of space. So, it’s such a crazy process but I really want to tell everybody whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction that the process is part of it and we have to look at it as part of the fun. You know, slapping it on and writing the rough draft for a lot of people is the most fun because you’re just slapping it on the paper and writing it and discovering it as it goes. But then when you go back and you’re doing the revision and fleshing it out so that readers can really see the scenes, play that movie in their minds, smell sights, sounds, and all that kind of stuff that we add and reveal about characters. I mean, for me, that’s the fun part. I like discovering this story and what the characters are telling me as I go but I also love fleshing out the scene so that they’re really vivid and visceral for people to experience.
Janine: It really engages all the senses that way. I’ve been told many times by readers that one of the things they like about a particular author is that they feel like they are teleported. They are transported into that world. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, it doesn’t matter but the storytelling is really the important part. So, talk to us a little bit about your system. So, here you have a publisher that’s like, “Yeah, wonderful. Love your short stories. We want 5 more. Oh, and you have a week.” or you know, whatever that timeframe is. So, talk to us a little bit about your systems for writing. How do you hit those deadlines? What is it that you do to write?
Trish: Well, I look at it as an artistic process and I always look at it as fun even when I don’t want to look at it as fun. Because when we’re doing things for work, sometimes, it takes a little bit of the fun out of it, right? So, I have these affirmations and things that I read for myself that remind me that I’m doing this for fun and that writing feeds my soul. It’s something that I feel compelled to do and that I enjoy doing.
I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. I used to play the guitar all the time and write songs, poems, and stories. I’ve always been a storyteller. I used to tell stories to kids on the block, right? They’d sit around and I would tell ghost stories and that kind of thing.
But my process is I always give myself a chance to sit down and brainstorm first and I block my time because if I don’t block my time, it doesn’t get done. Does that make sense? I think a lot of times we’re working, we’re doing this or that, whatever we’re doing, and if we don’t block our time and carve out a certain amount of time that we’re going to work on our writing, a lot of times that’s the first thing to go. So for me, I block it in my schedule and I use my cell phone all the time to set alarms for things so that I make my appointments but also so that I write and I give myself brainstorming time first before I ever start writing so I have a little bit of an idea of where I think I might want to go. It doesn’t mean that it’s not going to change but what it means is I have a little bit of a plan because I’m not an outliner per se. I know I have friends who are authors who outlined their books and that really works for some people but I have to have a certain amount of discovery but I found just being a [inaudible], just writing it all down, it means that it takes me twice as long to write a book. Whereas, if I just have this great thing… In fact, by Larry Brooks’ ‘Story Engineering’, it doesn’t sound exciting because he calls it ‘Story Engineering’ but he goes through this whole thing on what story structure should look like.
And I have these graphic organizers that one of his students created at some point. So, what I do is I give myself some brainstorming time. I have a full graphic organizer that has all the information on what goes in a story. And it’s the same for a short story or a full-length novel. And then I have a blank one. So, I just jot down notes and give myself some time to brainstorm, and then just write it all out, slap it down on the paper, don’t try to fix it, don’t try to finesse it, nothing, just get it down. And then once I get it down, I can flesh everything out and play with it and for me, that’s the most fun. And if things change, if the structure changes after I slap it down, oh well. Because nothing is set in stone, right? It’s a creative process but I find that it takes me so much less time and I’m so much more efficient if I just have those notes and some kind of structure down.
Janine: So, you’re not one of these writers that actually write every day. That’s the other thing. Are you more project-based or do you have to write every day?
Trish: I am more project-based and I didn’t use to be. I used to be a writer every day but now, I’m more project-based since I’m doing all this parenting stuff with ‘Brain Stages’. So, it came out depending on where you look on the internet because I have an independent publisher whom I love. But in some places, it says the book came out in November 2018. In other places, it says it came out in December 2018 which means that there were no pre-sales and we were going to talk about that, the whole publishing process. So, the answer to that question is I used to write every day. Now, I’m project-based because I have so much other writing I do. I have blog posts that are due every two weeks. I have emails on my email list once I wait. I have all of the… So, I’m writing constantly. I’m just not writing books right now.
Janine: And that was one of the things that I am grateful that you shared with us because when you first started off as a writer, before you have that first book, you’re writing almost every day. And that’s where a lot of that advice comes from. But at some point, there’s a place in your writing career where you get that first book out, and now, it’s all about taking care of your readership, letting them know that you’re still alive. And yes, you are working on the next book or you’re working on the next project or whatever that is and you’re inviting them and it’s like you say, you’re still writing every day but it doesn’t look the same. The writing focus shifts a little bit as you move into these other projects. So, with what you are doing with your writing, do you see yourself writing a second book?
Trish: Well, the publisher has actually talked to me about writing a book for middle school and another one for high school because there would be different focuses. And I don’t know when that is going to happen. I’m actually launching a course for parents right now. I mean, I’m just doing other things right now. So, my writing is in other areas because there’s so much to do to promote a book. And, you know, the publisher does a certain amount of Amazon ads or tweets every now and then or whatever. But really, the person who’s been responsible for promoting this book is me.
Janine: Correct. Excuse me for cutting in here. I have heard from every author whether they were published through a publishing house, whether it was an independent publisher, or they were self-published, that people always say that it was actually published through a publishing house. And I say, “Oh, so what was their marketing budget for that?”, and they’re like, “Not much like almost zero”, I mean, almost every author comes back with that. So, here you are working your guts out to get this book completed. And then you realize, “Oh, now it’s my job to market said book.” So, talk to us a little bit about that because you’ve been incredibly successful, you have managed to sell almost three thousand copies, that is nothing to sneeze at, lady.
Trish: Well, I feel like it should be more. I mean one of the clients that I helped write his memoir, he just hit a hundred fifty thousand so, I guess, maybe that’s why I feel like 3,000 is not as many as I would like. So, my publisher had a budget and there was also an agreement that I would pay for half of whatever she paid for but it also meant that she was doing all of it and deciding pretty much where the money went and whatever. I didn’t have any say in it. And now, I get statements back and she just tells me how much money she’s put into it and then half of my royalties come out. So, even though I’ve sold 3,000 books, I’ve probably averaged maybe 75 cents a book, not even like a regular traditional publisher. Now, since I got over 2,500 copies, I have a higher percentage that I make from the book so now I make like a dollar a copy.
Janine: But that’s actually right on track with what I have learned from other people that it used to be, since the dark ages of 2000-2004, if an author got 10 cents on a book, that was considered very good until you hit the 300-mark or 1000-bookmark, it depended on your contract. So, you’re actually doing very well. Now, I know it’s very easy for us to compare, right? Somebody else you know, they sell a hundred fifty thousand copies, you’re like, “Where’s my audience?”, but the thing is, you’ve got to build it so you’re learning to build. There’s so much of a learning curve in that. So, a lot of times, some of the advice I’ve heard has been, “Well, the second book sells more copies of the first book.” And that’s why I always ask these folks who finally get this book out. And you’re right, there’s a lot to the launch but that second book will help you sell so many more copies because now, they know they’re a multi-book author. So, that’s why I asked that.
So, talk to us a little bit about the writing community because you’ve mentioned you have a community of authors, where have they been the most helpful to you?
Trish: So, I live in Central Oregon and we have this thing called the Central Oregon Writers Guild and I’m the secretary on the board. And if anybody who’s listening out there is an author or writer who wants to be a published author, I would definitely recommend getting together. There are writing groups pretty much everywhere. Because if you can write with a community… Because it’s kind of a solitary thing that we do, right? And if you can connect with other authors, you’ll get feedback from people who have a little more of a clue. You can’t get decent feedback from your spouse or a sibling, or your mother, or whatever because they love you. They know you. And the other thing is when they’re reading things, they know you. And they may be filling in the blanks mentally because they know you so well. Whereas, if you have another author… So, that’s where I’ve gotten a lot of support from other authors. And “Hey, I’ve read this great book.”
In fact, a friend of mine was just telling me she read ‘Save the Cat! Writes a Novel’. I think that’s what it’s called. So, I’ve been using Larry Brooks’ ‘Story Engineering’ because I really liked the format but she said I’d also like ‘Save the Cat! Writes a Novel’. It used to be just ‘Save the Cat!’, which was about screenwriting. So, now, there’s a book that writes a novel. And she said, “I found both of those books really helpful”, and we’re both editors as well as writers. So, now, I’m going to check that out. In other words, when we have a writing community, we’re talking to people who understand what it means to get your tush in the chair.
Because a lot of times, we talk about writing and we think we’re writing all the time because there’s so much going on in our heads. But unless we get our rear ends in the chair and we block time to be writing whether it’s daily or so many days a week, it doesn’t even matter how much as long as we’re consistent, then our writing is never going to go anywhere. Whereas, when we connect with other writers, find out whatever the other writing groups are going on, there are other people to hold you accountable and you block time and they support you in that. It just makes it more fun, honestly.
Janine: I totally agree. And this has been Janine Bolon with Trish Wilkinson. She is a certified language development specialist, a credentialed teacher who has taught hundreds of students over her 23 years, mom of two, and now, she’s coaching parents and professionals on brain stages. Thank you so much for being with us and talking to us about your writing project and your writing process.
Trish: Well, thanks for having me. It was fun.
Janine: And this is Janine Bolon with ‘The Writers Hour Creative Conversations’. Please join us next Friday when we will have a new author, a new guest. And remember to keep that tush of yours in the chair while you reach for the stars in your writing. Have a great day.