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