Anne Janzer is an author, nonfiction coach, recovering marketer, and unabashed writing geek on a mission to help people make a positive impact with their writing. She has written 5 books, including The Writer’s Process and Get the Word Out: Write a Book That Makes a Difference.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
My mother taught voice lessons out of our home when I was growing up. She was frustrated by the lack of opportunities in the States for the young singers she taught. To address the problem, she started a regional opera theater, which she ran on a shoestring budget for many of my formative years. It was chaotic and crazy, and I learned a lot. Mostly, I learned that it’s possible to do things that seem unlikely or crazy if they’re meaningful to you.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I’d learned not to wait for inspiration or permission or a clear path, but to move ahead no matter what.
I spent years wanting to write a book but thinking that I lacked expertise or ideas or that I had to wait for the perfect book project to materialize. I didn’t realize that the idea would come when I started working on it. Now I’ve written five books in six years, and it’s been an incredible growth experience.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Prospective non-fiction authors are often told to “write a fat business card.” While it’s true that your book represents you in the world, this advice puts the focus in the wrong place—on you, the author, rather than the readers you serve. If you focus instead on serving your readers, everything about the writing and publishing process becomes clearer.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I have one of those personalities that tend to rebound quickly after setbacks, a sort of natural buoyancy for which I’m extremely grateful. But whenever I experience loss and sorrow, especially significant losses, I try to write my way through them, finding meaning or learning from crafting the narrative.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I approach writing and publishing books with a sense of curiosity and experimentation, without taking established wisdom as gospel. In a fast-changing industry like publishing, getting wedded to a single “right” way of doing things is a recipe for long-term pain. Figuring out my own path has been slower, but rewarding.
What is your morning routine?
After reading about the critical role of sleep in Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, I try to wake naturally every morning and maintain a consistent bedtime. I’m usually up between 7 and 7:30. I walk all the way across the hall to the home office, take a moment to admire the morning sky, and write in my online journal, making a rough plan for the day and zeroing in on the most important tasks for the day. Then I’ll start working on one of those essential items.
If I’m writing a book, I’ll work on that. Otherwise, I might write a blog post or prepare for a podcast interview. I’ll stop around 9 am for breakfast and tea, having already made inroads on the essential work of the day.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Directed freewriting—writing quickly and without judgment on a specific topic, entirely for myself. Writing is a physical manifestation of deep thought. It’s tough to make myself take 30 minutes to think deeply about a topic—too many other things will catch my attention. But I can easily commit to free-write on a topic for 30 minutes, and when I do that, things start happening in my head.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Efficiency and productivity aren’t about getting more done—they’re about getting the most important things done.
My father once told me “A mountain is just a series of hills,” as we stood at the top of a, particularly daunting ski run. The advice works for many things. Focus on a meaningful or significant project, then break it into small, component pieces, so you only have to look at the next step. I use this approach for everything I write, separating freewriting and brainstorming from outlining, drafting, revising, and polishing. It’s amazing what you can get done if you keep showing up and working on those long-term, meaningful projects.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman was my introduction to behavioral economics, which combines psychology and decision-making. Reading this book reconnected me with the psychological studies I’d found so fascinating as an undergraduate. It got me started on a cognitive science kick that has informed my books and research, as well as my own practices.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
This quote is a welcome reminder that things are never as simple as they may seem, and it’s wise to live with uncertainty.