Here’s How Sonia Simone Writes

Image of The Writer Files Logo

All great writing starts with a few well-chosen words, a unique voice, and — according to my guest and colleague — a love for your audience.

Sonia Simone is a true original, a prolific author, educator, and speaker who has written countless well-chosen words for Copyblogger (I consulted a team of experts, and we literally couldn’t count them all).

As Senior Editor and Publisher of Copyblogger.com, Chief Marketing Officer of Copyblogger Media, and Head Educatrix over at Authority — a program designed to teach every aspect of creating an online presence that works for your business goals — she is a true authority on copywriting and producing the kind of content that builds a business.

When Seth Godin appeared in The Writer Files, he listed Sonia as one of his favorite authors. When I asked him to comment on Sonia’s appearance in this series, he asked me to quote him:

[Sonia Simone] doesn’t need a blurb, she’s got her writing!

Writing that connects with an audience speaks for itself.

In this installment of The Writer Files, Sonia shares with us the art of “non-writing,” her opinion of timers and deadlines, and a well-kept secret about writer’s block.

Join me as we flip through the file of Sonia Simone, writer …

About the writer …

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Sonia Simone and I delete email for a living. OK, I stole that joke from John Jantsch. Because we’re a small and fast-growing company, roles tend to evolve pretty quickly. At the moment I publish the Copyblogger blog (you’re reading it) and I do a lot of teaching on how to use content to build a stronger business.

What is your area of expertise as a writer or online publisher?

The thing I’ve found I’m best at is writing or recording content that builds a tighter relationship between a business and its customers. The tag line for my first copywriting business was “Remarkable customer relationships begin with remarkable communication,” and I still find that to hold true.

Where can we find your writing?

I’ve written a heck of a lot for Copyblogger, and I’m also creating a lot of educational content for MyCopyblogger (which is free) and Authority (which is a premium resource for content marketing pros). If you’re really gung ho, you can go check out my personal blog, Remarkable Communication. I don’t update it any more, but there’s some good stuff there.

The writer’s productivity …

How much time, per day, do you spend reading or doing research?

Three to four hours is fairly typical.

Before you begin to write, do you have any pre-game rituals or practices?

I like to spend as many hours as possible not-writing first. That’s a joke. Sort of. I do have my special Writing Tea, and I’d be lost without my timer. I also find I need to spend a lot of time walking or the words don’t get into my head properly.

What’s your best advice for overcoming procrastination?

Have deadlines you can’t miss.

What time of day is most productive for your writing?

I’m not one of nature’s early risers, but mid-morning is good. I also get a second wind in the evenings after dinner.

Do you generally adhere to a rigid or flexible writing system?

Everything about the way I write is constantly in flux.

How many hours a day do you spend actually writing (excluding email, social media etc.)?

About two hours.

Do you write every day?

I usually get a solid five days a week in.

The writer’s creativity …

Define creativity.

Just making something. It might be something crummy or awkward or not ready for prime time.

If you make something, you are creative.

Who are your favorite authors, online or off?

I’d like to be Malcolm Gladwell if I ever grow up. I’m very influenced by Seth Godin, which I know is a cliché but so what. Right now I’m reading a lot of fiction — Fred Vargas is incredible and I wish I had twenty more books of hers to read. I re-read Dorothy Sayers a lot. And I’m a closet Brandon Sanderson fan. Well, maybe not so closeted any more.

Popular writers who think carefully about language might be the common thread there.

Can you share a best-loved quote?

You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want. ~Zig Ziglar

I tell this to my child about five times a day, especially when I am trying to get him to finish his dinner.

Do you prefer a particular type of music (or silence) when you write?

I don’t do well with music, but ever since I read Lisa Barone’s Writer Files interview, I’ve been digging the rain sounds she linked to there.

How would you personally like to grow creatively as a writer?

I like to learn about new stuff and then teach it to someone else. Thus the Malcolm Gladwell aspiration.

Do you believe in “writer’s block”? If so, how do you avoid it?

Most of the best writers I know are semi-blocked most of the time. You avoid it by not being able to avoid it. When you have to work, the work gets done.

Who or what is your “Muse” at the moment (i.e. specific creative inspirations)?

Our community over at Authority. I spend a lot of time thinking about what they need and want — what would make them stupidly successful.

Would you consider yourself someone who likes to “take risks?”

Absolutely not. I hate taking risks. I’m a worrier. But I do believe that taking small, managed risks outweighs the much greater risk of closing your eyes and hoping things work out the way they’re going.

What makes a writer great?

Tremendous love for the audience and the topic. What I call G.A.S. — giving a shit. You have to care a lot — about language, about your readers, and about what you write about.

The writer’s workflow …

What hardware or typewriter model are you presently using?

My trusty 13″ MacBook Air. This thing is the most perfect device for writers ever created. I love everything about it and will be very cranky if I ever have to switch to something else.

What software are you using for writing and general workflow?

I don’t really believe in software for writers. A simple text editor is useful — TextWrangler is a good one. Lacking that, a physical notebook and pen make a dandy substitute.

My workflow isn’t anything anyone would want to emulate, but I do find Evernote handy for keeping all of my miscellany corralled.

Do you have any tricks for staying focused?

A timer and a deadline work very nicely together.

Have you run into any serious challenges or obstacles to getting words onto the page?

My brain is the main one.

How do you stay organized (methods, systems, or “mad science”)?

Er, next question.

How do you relax at the end of a hard day?

I’m very passionate about my family. Spending time with my Big Guy and my Little Guy is very relaxing for me. I also like to lift heavy things to relax, but that works better at the beginning of the day.

A few questions just for the fun of it …

Who (or what) has been your greatest teacher?

The drive to support my family has given me reserves that I didn’t really think I had.

What’s your biggest aggravation or pet peeve at the moment (writing related or otherwise)?

The grossly misnamed “smart phone,” which has turned millions of reasonably intelligent people into zombies. This is why zombie fiction is so popular now, I think. The Walking Dead is basically a depiction of mobile-addicted idiots wandering around the grocery store.

Choose one author, living or dead, that you would like to have dinner with.

I find most writers aren’t terribly good company. I’d try for someone kind and wise with a killer ability to turn a phrase. Probably Mark Twain.

Do you have a motto, credo or general slogan that you live by?

Show up, pay attention, don’t lie.

What do you see as your greatest success in life?

My child.

If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go (cost or responsibilities are no object)?

Hm, I’m writing this from an apartment in Rome. How about one of those perfectly blissful little private villas in Bali?

What would you like to do more of in the coming year?

Teach. Fortunately, we’ve got a lot of that lined up, so I’m a lucky person.

Can you offer any advice to writers and content producers that you might offer yourself, if you could go back in time and “do it all over?”

Honestly, about 75% of what I write is exactly that — it’s my “Bill and Ted” advice to myself at a previous point in time. I don’t think I’d want to cross my own timeline, though — I like how things have worked out, and as tough as some of it was, I wouldn’t want to change where it all took me.

Please tell our readers where they can connect with you online.

Please come say hello on Google+ so I can be a better G+ citizen. I’m trying to make it a more regular habit, it just hasn’t quite stuck yet.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

You are amazing and you have something to say that the world needs to hear. Go work on that now.

And finally, the writer’s desk …

The revolution will be written, and written quite astutely, by an army of dedicated online publishers who “give a shit.”

In the words of Sonia herself:

Great content solves real problems and becomes a trusted resource.

Ms. Simone, thank you for the snapshot of your mysterious hideout!

And we have noted your David Ogilvy mug full of that (ahem) “Writing Tea.”

Image of Sonia Simone's Desk

And thank you for reading The Writer Files …

We have more Q&As on the way from writers who inspire us, and if you want to catch up on our past profiles, you can dig into the entire archive right here.

If you’ve already subscribed to Copyblogger via email or RSS, the next installment will be delivered to you just like the rest of our daily content.

If not, go ahead and subscribe right now so you don’t miss a thing.

Now swig some of that “Writing Tea” and get back to work! Seriously.

About the author

Kelton Reid


Kelton Reid is Director of Multimedia Production for Copyblogger Media, and an independent screenwriter and novelist. Get more from Kelton on Twitter and .

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Comments

  1. Interesting how much she writes..

    I was just reading yesterday, the Harry Potter author said if she only wrote when she felt like it she would only produce seven pages a year (or something like that.) Point being, you have to hone your craft with work!

    ~ darlene :)

  2. That’s quite a desk, Sonia. ;) Great interview. One of my favs so far.

  3. Great interview!

    Is the writing desk in the picture located in the U.S. or Rome?

    One advantage of being a writer is that you can write/work from anywhere in the world. I wouldn’t mind writing from a flat in Edinburgh, Scotland or an apartment in Paris, France. Berlin, London, Barcelona, Sydney, and a few other places would work too. :)

    • That’s my desk at home. Love the actual physical desk, although truth be told I don’t see the surface very often. :)

      Yes — that’s what I love about the macbook air, it’s light enough that I can have my complete office (including recording “studio”) everywhere I go.

  4. Love the interview! How fun. Sonia is so real and relatable. Thank you. :)

  5. So, today I have seen a desk more battered than mine, even if less cluttered, and read words from one of my favorite authors. Thank you very much for both!

  6. I so love this series and I have to admit I’ve been wondering about how Sonia gets it done.

    It’s also interesting to see how different things work for different people.

    The “have a deadline” comment was spot on for me as was the G.A.S., it really shows up in ones writing.

  7. I confess to feeling about Ms. Simone the way I did about Duran Duran’s John Taylor circa 1984 (Think The Reflex and you’re there – I think he had pink hair too at one point). Total fandom, total love and when I read “You are amazing and you have something to say that the world needs to hear. Go work on that now.” I said ‘Aye!’ and felt slightly twinkly around the eyes.

    I’m with Seth on this one.

  8. My goodness, I said almost the exact same thing about smart-phone zombies the other day! One of the reasons I’m happy to stick with my “dumb” phone.

    • It drives me insane. Between the phone-zombie drivers and the phone-zombie pedestrians, it’s truly a miracle the population hasn’t been decimated.

      • Very brave thing to say Sonia – most non-writers (who prob won’t see this) would get huffy fast if they heard you mocking them and their toy.

        Great cultural analysis!

  9. Love the quote about creativity. People often complicate the term and wait for that prime time to launch something – say a blog post. When you create something its creativity – wow makes me feel really proud.

    Love your desk Sonia :) Do you use both the PC and the Air for work?

    I’m a bit surprised to know that you only write two hours a day! Brilliant!

    • The prep takes a lot more time than the word-put-togethering part.

      I rarely use the PC but I do sometimes hook the air up to that nice big monitor.

  10. great interview, warm and clever, just like Sonia’s writing

  11. Thanks for pulling away the curtain. Good reminder for all of us that writing is a craft and crafts take work, dedication, and practice.

  12. Great interview, Kelton. One of your best ever!

    Wow Sonia! You’ve made me feel so much better about my own “desk” which doubles as a recording studio console (and is more often than not an iPad with way too many fingerprints all over it from writing.)

    Worth the price of admission just for the Zig Ziglar quote.

    I wonder if you could share your secrets for applying his words to your son. It’s absolutely not working in my house.

    I’m really digging your efforts inside the Authority community. You are filled to the brim with G.A.S.

  13. Your desk makes me feel much better about my work desk in the studio.

  14. The world is better with Sonia Simone in it. That is all.

    ((That and we should attach kettlebells to those zombies’ iPhones – at least they’d have to work for it a bit.))

  15. thanks for being personal and reminding me that good writing comes from a place of service.

  16. Awesome interview! You’re a wicked writer Sonia because you G.A.S!

    Btw…how’s Rome? I gotta check it out.

  17. The Walking Dead bit was really funny. Wish More people answered interview questions like this. Thanks for such a soothing read. It was simply fun.

  18. Loved this interview with Sonia. I love all of the Copyblogger writers, but Sonia is my favorite. And I am glad to see that someone has a messier desk than me.

    My only question is: What kind of ‘writer’s tea’ are you drinking?

  19. By the way … THANK YOU FOR THAT HENRY ROLLINS ARTICLE. Oh my. Favorite new article.

  20. Several great insights here (of course), but the ones I really like are GAS and the one at the end about great content.

    There are those out there who teach both plagiarism and lazy, throw some words together call it an ebook methods. It makes me angry every time I see that because attitudes like that hurt both the reader and the writer.

    If you don’t care enough about your writing or your reader to create something good and useful, then I think you should put down your pen or step away from the keyboard until you do. And if you never do, then writing is not for you. Do something where caring or having talent makes no difference.

    Thanks for fighting the good fight, Sonia!

  21. Loved this interview. And I totally agree with the comments about smart phones turning legions of people of all ages into the walking dead.

    And I agree with Seth, you are one of my favorite authors as well.

    Write on.

  22. Thank you! This series is always such an inspiration and the desk pictures are the best. The open Amazon box cracked me up. As a procrastinator, I agree, there is nothing like a deadline to make it happen. Thanks Sonia!

  23. Hello Sonia, Just wanted to thank you guys here at Copyblogger for doing a great job.

    You guys and ladies, have inspired so many of us to venture out and reach for your goals online.

    I personally want to thank you and the team and Brian G, for all your help with my new blogs and websites. I could not have done it with our StudioPress.

    Have a wonderful day my friend and I wish you much success. RobG

  24. Sonia, thanks for your honesty.

    It took me time to realized that life can be more fulfilling when you take action in the direction of your passion. Now, I do G. A. S. about my thoughts, words and my audience.

    Afterall, all true experts care. Thanks for caring!

  25. Great interview!

    I have slowly started to implement the timer technique to improve productivity and I like it a lot. There’s something about just looking at the time ticking that makes me actually get stuff done.

    Jake

  26. Archan Mehta :

    I enjoyed reading the interview of Sonia Simone.

    I have had the pleasure of reading her work: the interview was long overdue.

    It is interesting to note how she keeps a regular schedule: she is disciplined about her work.

    Her zen-like attitude is straight out of Leo’s book. Keep up the good work.

  27. Sonia is one my favourite writers on the web, so it’s no surprise that I really enjoyed this interview. Loved the Zig Ziglar quote and the personal credo, too.

    Thanks for posting it!

    Now I’ve got to go. My “writing tea” (Australian afternoon) is waiting for me…

    Cheers,
    Olle

    P.S. I agree with Demian – that Iron article was truly remarkable!

  28. Thanks for these fascinating insights into how another great writer works – I’m thoroughly enjoying this series of interviews.

    Like some other commenters, I’m so relieved to see an untidy desk at last – there’s hope for us all! Also delighted to discover someone else who thinks smartphones are a curse.

    Loved reading this interview, but a bit frustrated you didn’t ask Sonia for more detail about how she uses that timer – length of working blocks and breaks etc.

    Many thanks, Sonia, for your no-nonsense answers to some great questions,

    Sue

    • The amount of time on the timer varies. If I’m having a bad brain day, it’s 20 minutes, then I set it for 5 minutes and get up and do jumping jacks or run around the house, then 20 more minutes of writing time, and I’ll cycle through that until my draft is done. When I’m a little saner and my focus is better, the chunks are either 35 or 45 minutes. When I do 45 minute sessions, my break will be 10 minutes, and again, I try to do something physical.

      I don’t need a timer to edit, just to write draft. Editing for me is like dessert, and I don’t have to do any special rituals to get to it.

  29. Great article! I enjoy your work, Kelton.

    Sonia, thank you for your candor and generosity in sharing some of the insights into your writing process.

    I know what you mean about deleting emails. I’m getting ruthless. I’m also leaving my phone in the other room for stretches.

    With a whole new week ahead of me, I will look for opportunities to apply some of your nuggets of wisdom in my own routine.

    Thanks again!

  30. Great article Kelton! I enjoy your writing.

    Sonia, thank you for you sharing your writing process. I find your style very fascinating.
    Awesome interviews!

  31. Great tag line, and great interview! Thanks very much for your insight.

  32. Great interview, loved reading it. The desk reminds me of my desk :)

  33. Hi Simone,
    I have been reading your articles a while now and believe me you changed the way I write, don’t get surprised yes you are my mentor, keep writing the content marketing tips :)
    Karan

  34. Really inspiring words with a amazing flow of thoughts.

    It’s day I’m going through CoppyBlogger for two hours straight reading and a big thank you for creating the Authority for people who want to build a thriving blog and be more effective content marketers.

    Bali has a been my favorite holiday destination, especially the Kuta beach!!

    reading this words Gave me some insights of how to brand a person using a great content and how to optimize personal online profiles.

    Thanks Sonia for the great share :)