SPS-293: Don’t Give Up the Ghost(writing): Success Against All Odds – with Kathrin Hutson
Kathrin Hutson had a difficult start in life and a few run ins with the law. Help from those around her, who saw her potential, an incredibly strong work ethic, and a growing sense of belief in herself have all contributed to making her an international bestselling author and a successful and in-demand ghostwriter.
- On getting into, and then safely out of, a drug addiction
- The value of believing in ourselves
- How being a voracious reader contributes to being a ghostwriter
- The value pressure pays in getting things done
- Starting to write in the wee hours every day in order to be productive
- Exploring themes of redemption and how we’re not defined by our past
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-293: Don’t Give Up the Ghost(writing): Success Against All Odds - with Kathrin Hutson
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Kathrin Hutson: Trying to balance an addiction with two jobs and full-time school and nobody can do that. And if they can, they're about to not be able to do it anymore.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller, Mark Dawson, and first-time author James Blatch as they shine the light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It's The Self-Publishing Show on a Friday with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: I realise now that last week I said, "Tomorrow, I'm going to go and do this flight simulator with Dave Gledhill, the author." Now, a week later, I can't tell you what it was like because it's still tomorrow, happening tomorrow because of magic.
Mark Dawson: We're Blatching.
James Blatch: We're Blatching. We're batching, batch, Blatching. Two in a row, because Mark is off to Suffolk next week to enjoy some respite, hopefully.
Mark Dawson: Yes, I'm going for a little holiday. We have a little house in South Wales, so I'm quite looking forward to recharging the batteries for a bit. It's been quite busy recently, and I'm racing through the new Milton books, and getting to 70,000 words for the 20th one, which I'm keen to get it out there.
The last one ends on, not really a cliffhanger, but more of an open loop and quite an intriguing ending and readers appear to be reacting to it because I'm not advertising at the moment and I've already got 7,000 pre-orders for the next book.
James Blatch: Wow.
Mark Dawson: So, yeah, I want to get that out. I want to get it finished and then start thinking about how I'm going to be promoting it in terms the cover reveal and the things that we go into in the launch course I put together last year. Or this year, I don't know when it was. This year.
James Blatch: This year, I think, yeah. Yes.
Talking of courses, we have a call this afternoon, at least I'll be on the call this afternoon, with two authors who have cracked TikTok. Not from an advertising point of view, but from an organic point of view. They're romance authors. I'm going to say they're convinced TikTok is a good place to be, and a place where you can sell books much better than Instagram. They've moved off Instagram as a result of this.
And I'm going to say, it's not just them saying that they've got the hard facts to prove it. They're very well organised, very business-like and they've got the metrics and they're teaching it really well. So, we're going to have a discussion with them. We've got the podcast episode coming up, but I'm going to have a discussion with them about potentially doing some work with us, probably in the 101 course. I think this is a very exciting area. I love my TikTok but it's not really about the frivolous aspect that I enjoy. It's about using it for us to move our careers forward.
Mark Dawson: I do have TikTok on my phone, but it's not something I've spent that much time on. So, I could not be less qualified when it comes to telling people what to do with TikTok, so I'm definitely interested in that myself.
James Blatch: Yeah, so we'll see how that conversation goes later today and you and I are off to the football, the football that people hold and throw, that's shaped like an egg. That football.
Mark Dawson: Oh yes. Yeah, the American football. The Dolphins are playing in Tottenham in October. That's on my list of things to do today to see whether Mr. Dyer wants to go with us as well and we might treat ourselves to a nice seat for nice evening. And then hopefully going to see the Dolphins win. I think they're playing the New York Giants. Can't remember, but anyway, it's someone like that, so that'll be fun, looking forward to that.
James Blatch: I'll be breaking my NFL cherry.
Mark Dawson: Oh wow, it's a good time. Good way to do it. It'll be fun, we'll maybe even give you a second dose in Vegas.
James Blatch: Yeah, are the Dolphins any good this year? You said they did everything to sign this expensive quarterback last year, has he worked out?
Mark Dawson: Not expensive.
James Blatch: Not expensive, just very good.
Mark Dawson: No, he's a rookie.
James Blatch: Oh, in the draft.
Mark Dawson: In the draft, yeah he was picked up fifth overall. He played quite well last year. He's younger. So he's more experienced, he's got a years by experience underneath him and he was coming off a really bad injury so he had to recuperate from that. But the doctors were good last year and they're a dark horse this year, so they might actually be quite good. So we'll see.
James Blatch: I'm going to practise the lingo, I'm going to talk about tight ends and QBs. Have I've got that right?
Mark Dawson: You have, I'm actually reconsidering whether I want to go with you now.
James Blatch: He's got a lovely tight end that QB. There you go, that's the sort of sentence I'm going to put together.
Mark Dawson: Oh dear. Apologies to American fans of American football. I think fans generally.
James Blatch: I apologise to the world. We are now going to stop waffling because I've a fantastic interview today. I really thoroughly enjoyed this, really enjoyed it.
Kathrin Hutson, who is a prolific writer, she's done a brilliant job in getting a career to where it is. And she is fascinatingly, a very experienced ghost writer, which was the area I was most interested in talking to her about, a really interesting area. Comes in different forms and she works across those different forms. And we may even do some business together for one of our authors who's no longer with us and some ghostwriting needs to be done at some point in that series. But that's by the by, Kathrin has a great story, a great background and is a lovely person, here's Kathrin Hutson.
Kathrin Hutson, welcome to The Self Publishing Show.
Kathrin Hutson: Thank you so much James, I'm happy to be here.
James Blatch: There's a lot of colour in the shot.
Kathrin Hutson: Thank you.
James Blatch: Particularly if you're watching on YouTube, it's a striking, happy, vibrant colour, which I think is probably going to be you. I think you're going to be happy and vibrant, from reading your notes.
Kathrin Hutson: Well, thanks. We'll see what happens. I think you're right.
James Blatch: Oh, we will see. Don't feel pressured to be something else you're not. Okay, let's get into this. We're going to talk about quite a few things. I think you've got a good experience in an indie publisher. We'll talk a bit about the writing process.
I'm particular interested in the ghostwriting bit that you did, but why don't we start with your background, which is equally compelling.
Kathrin Hutson: Why, yes. Thank you. Well, I've been writing fiction since I was 10. I remember the day I started writing.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kathrin Hutson: That was always, always what I wanted to do. I majored in creative writing fiction at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Getting into their creative writing programme was my first real affirmation, confirmation that this was meant for me and what I was meant for and what I still wanted to do. My original goal was to go through eight years of college and get my PhD in creative writing, end up teaching it so I could work on my own books at the same time. That was my plan, actually.
James Blatch: Right, eight years is a long stretch to want to do-
Kathrin Hutson: Yes it is.
James Blatch: ... but I'm impressed that you had a plan that detailed.
Kathrin Hutson: Oh, thank you. Yes, it was quite detailed. I came out of the gate very, very well. Then I ran into my own personal snags. I struggled with heroin addiction, a year and a half after I started college, it got really bad and so all my plans were waylaid.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kathrin Hutson: I had to do some work on myself. I had to do a lot of work on myself.
James Blatch: If you don't mind me asking, because that's such an interesting thing that you went through and frightening thing, that people at university get into ecstasy, I suppose, and marijuana and stuff and most of my ... I didn't go to university, so I missed that bit, but all my friends did a bit of that, but it's not very often you hear people say heroin, which always feels to me like the scariest drug out there and the one that's in a different league from everything else.
How did you end up on heroin?
Kathrin Hutson: I was not with the best group of people at the time and none of these people were anyone I went to school with. So, it wasn't a part of college it had actually started right after I graduated high school. I just fell in with the wrong group of people who had it and I did admittedly slide down that slippery slope and tried to balance an addiction with two jobs and full-time school. Nobody can do that and if they can, they're about to not be able to do it anymore and I found that out.
It was not something that was available at school. Of course I would tell anyone going to college to just be aware and be careful.
James Blatch: How did you get yourself out of it? Some people don't really get out of it, do they?
Kathrin Hutson: Most people don't. I was very fortunate. I actually ran into a bit of legal trouble and was offered like a plea agreement, I suppose, to enter the drug court programme in Colorado, which is this phenomenal legal court system programme for first-time drug offenders. That was my crime, my charge of record, was felony possession. It was the two-year programme, very intensive.
I lived in a sobriety house. I went to a 12 step meetings more than I can count. I had to see a probation officer once a month and go to group therapy and I had court and I had random drug tests taken. It was a long road. It's definitely what saved my life.
I hadn't found people before that point in time who were so willing to step up for me specifically to help me get out of some pretty sticky situations that I had been in through my entire life. Just even seeing these strangers in the court system, the legal system, saying that they believed me and they saw my potential and my ability and they wanted to do whatever was in their power to help me get back on my feet was huge. That was what saved me. I think my first dose of self-worth.
James Blatch: Do you know what? That's really nice to hear that a government programme, a court programme talked so positively about. We don't often hear that, so that's great. We're really pleased that you did come through that, well done and no small measure, I'm sure from your own determination. And then at some point, you obviously have the writing bug since that day, that fateful day, age 10.
How were you able to get back into and what happened?
Kathrin Hutson: That was another four-year process of me rebuilding my life and deciding what kind of person I wanted to be, after already figuring out what kind of person I didn't want to be. It took a lot of self-love and self-forgiveness, which I think, whether or not any of us have been in a similar situation to mine, that fear of not being good enough for ourselves is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful limitations that we set on ourselves. It kept me from writing a single word of fiction for four years.
Everything I had wanted to do, I thought, and I wasn't sure if I was ever going to be able to get back into it, if I could ever allow myself to start writing again, if I deserved to start writing again, because I had, in my mind, tossed that aside to do more nefarious things.
I started diving a little back into dabbling, working on a book that I had started when I was in college. Then I got pregnant. I did meet my husband and get married along the way in those four years. It was actually knowing that I was about to become a mom, knowing how much time and energy and all the resources it takes to parent a brand new human. I was more, I think, acutely aware of how important it was to prioritise my first love, which was writing, and that if I didn't kick myself in the pants and get going again and make a commitment to make this part of my day, every single day, I was probably never going to write again as a mom either. For some reason, that was scarier and lit a fire under me more than anything else.
My daughter was born at the end of 2016 and I didn't write much, I worked on a few things here and there when I could for that first year, but January 1st, New Year's Day of 2018, I made a promise to myself that I would write a thousand words a day Monday through Friday, no matter what. I was getting up early, I was asking whoever was around at the time to watch my one-year-old for me for however long it took to get out those 1,000 words. Then I think I may have bumped it up to 1,500 in the first quarter of that year, but I ended up writing an entire trilogy in 2018, which is something I never, ever thought was possible just by breaking it down into those bite sized chunks of daily goals that was very doable and very sustainable.
Once I did that, I realised that there was a lot more I was probably capable of. I wasn't quite sure what that was at the time, but having had that personal fulfilment for myself of saying, "Okay, I'm going to make this a goal," as a stay-at-home mom, as a super, incredibly busy person caring for another person, how am I going to make this work? I better figure it out. It's actually been my mantra since then, just figure it out and it has worked well. So after that, I proved to myself that I could do something I thought was impossible. That's really when I started getting back into it. Then at the end of 2019, I also found ghostwriting, which I just fell into.
James Blatch: I definitely want to talk to you about that, but let's just circle back slowly.
The trilogy you wrote, was that dark fantasy?
Kathrin Hutson: Yes. Dark, epic fantasy. It's The Unclaimed Trilogy. I think more than anything else, that trilogy for me was having fun, making sure that I could do something again within a shortened timeline. In November of 2018, I also published Sleepwater Beat, which is the first book in the Blue Helix series. It's LGBTQ+ dystopian sci-fi. I had queried that book to traditional agents and nobody wanted it, so I have an impressive stack of rejection letters, but I had already published two books previously in 2015, which I had written in high school and they went through 11 years of revisions and wondering if it was worth it.
Then when I published Sleepwater Beat, it became an international bestseller in March of 2019. That was a really exciting realisation as well, that I could do this. I could keep going, it's not impossible to get yourself out there and put yourself out there as an author. I'm trying to think of timeline without diving into the ghostwriting part, that's just so ingrained.
James Blatch: Yeah, we're saving that bit.
Kathrin Hutson: Yeah, we'll save it for later.
James Blatch: A recurring theme with this lead-up phase is you having to believe in yourself, or having to take seriously that you are successful and talented and it seems a shame that you took so much convincing.
You had to convince yourself so much there, but you got there. That seemed like a journey in its own right.
Kathrin Hutson: It was, it definitely was. A big part of that journey and that struggle, and taking so much convincing is just where I come from, where I came from, my home life, the way I was raised. Everything from my childhood has blended into the path that I have walked to get here, the good and the bad. It was a lot of hard work to try and undo the things about my place in the world and what I was capable of offering to the point where I am now. Where it's like I'm convinced, it's fine, I don't need any more convincing.
James Blatch: You're doing well now. I'm looking at your books and your series on Amazon. I can see the numbers. It's a decent career for you now.
Kathrin Hutson: Yes, it is. It is and it's still going up. I still have a long way to go, I know, but it's better now than I could have ever imagined when I started writing again, that was about seven years ago, or even when I had my daughter and she's almost five. So, it's been an incredible journey and I'm most excited about the fact that it's not over yet.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay, so the ghostwriting, which is unusual area, and I don't think we've really covered it in any detail on the podcast before, so that's why I think I was interested in it.
Kathrin Hutson: Cool, yeah.
James Blatch: I think we all have our own ideas of what ghostwriting is, why don't you tell us what ghostwriting is?
Kathrin Hutson: As a ghostwriter, my job is to help my clients create their books and that comes in so many different forms. I have taken previously written, completed manuscripts from my clients and have rewritten it in their own words, and their own voice and style, and just cleaned it up, and added and taken away. I've had clients come to me with an idea for a story. Some of them are very, very, very detailed and came with PowerPoint presentations and everything. And some of them were just, "These are the messages I want to handle, this is the genre."
I think that is the most collaboration involved when it's brainstorming and outlining and working with these clients one-on-one to help them write the story and put it out there into the world as their story.
James Blatch: So you help them write it or do you write it as a ghostwriter?
Kathrin Hutson: I write it, yes.
James Blatch: Oh you write it.
Kathrin Hutson: I am the writer, but there's a lot of collaboration. It's not my book, it's not what I want. So, it's that ability to work with someone else whose ideas I'm working with. I like to look at it as that I'm channelling other people.
Two of my biggest clients right now are larger publishers, so I will take on projects where the books are published in very well-known names and at this point, I've been working with most of these clients actually for the last two years, two and a half. So, now at this point, they'll send me an idea, three to four pages of a series and I just get to run with it, which is really incredibly fun.
So of course, the other part of ghostwriting, being that my name is never on these books. I'm not acknowledged and I sign NDAs so I can't say what books I've written or who my clients are, but I absolutely love it. I think without having fallen into ghostwriting and having a reason, a deadline from someone else, and upcoming payments, that that was really what sparked my motivation and my ability to just keep pushing and pushing and pushing.
I remember the first contract just for one book that I had ever gotten when I first started ghostwriting. It was for an 80,000 word book and I had 30 days.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kathrin Hutson: I said, "Yeah, sure, absolutely. I'll do this." After I had conversation with the client and then I just couldn't believe that I'd actually agreed to do this. I'd never written a book in a month before. Now I write about two and a half, three books a month. But at that point in time, 80,000 words in 30 days just felt like I had just dug a hole for myself, but I did it, which was what I needed.
James Blatch: That's amazing. I think we can all think of one or two, I won't say any names in this conversation just in case they're your clients, but we can all think of one or two very well-known names, in some cases, the author is no longer with us, but their names still appear on books or they're just old and I understand, at that stage, you don't want to be necessarily writing all month but your name is a brand. I understand that type of ghostwriting, which it sounds like is a bit of what you do for the publishers.
Kathrin Hutson: Yes.
James Blatch: The other side of it. I mean, I had some dark days in the last 11 years trying to write my first novel. I can remember having drinks with somebody who said to me, "You should get a ghostwriter." It just felt like, obviously it wasn't what I wanted to do, but the fact that I had a manuscript and had tried to write this a few times.
Do people come to you in that state and say, "I can't write this. I'm not a writer." And then put out the book with their name on the cover, basically you've written it?
Kathrin Hutson: Yes, I do that as well. I've had clients come to me who have used previous ghostwriters and they want to see what I can do with the manuscript after that and so we dive in together. I have had clients come to me, looking for an editor only at first.
I did used to spend more of my time editing fiction manuscripts. That was my side hustle before my daughter was born and then I was ghostwriting and editing at the same time for a while. Then I had to stop editing. Really, I had to be perfectly honest with myself and with all my clients, all I want to do is write, that's really all I want to do and I'm doing that now.
James Blatch: How do you write ... We'll talk about your books more specifically in a minute, but I know from your description, you write fairly bloody, violent books and quite dark. You have your voice. We will have our voice as an author, which you find changes, develops over time. But in your case, you've got to write in somebody else's voice. I mean, presumably people with very different backgrounds, different genders, all the rest of it to you.
How do you do that?
Kathrin Hutson: I have been asked this question a lot and I wish I had a better answer. I would love to be able to tell other people how to do this. I can only guess and speculate really. I think, I read everything. So, in that regard, I've been able to over the years, absorb different voices, different styles, different genres. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I get bored very easily. I can't listen to one album all the way through, from start to finish. I can't read two books in the same genre back-to-back or write them back-to-back.
So, I'm always looking for pretty much the complete opposite of what I just consumed or produced. That as far as I can tell, is really the only thing that I think makes sense that has an effect on the way that I am able to just be a chameleon.
I wasn't sure that I could take on someone else's voice either, but I tried it and I tried it in urban fantasies first. I had never written urban fantasy before, let alone trying to write in someone else's voice and style. That first book taught me a lot about how to let go.
James Blatch: That's a reasonable description of how you do it, but I just want to explore this a bit more. Again, I'm not going to name any names.
Let's take a thriller writer in his 70s, been writing, stock James Bond, CIA-esque thrillers, all his life. Could you write his book?
Kathrin Hutson: Yes. I have written in that genre.
James Blatch: Romance, you could do sweet romance. Nobody kills anyone, no one.
Kathrin Hutson: No, I know it's not very fun. So, okay admittedly, and I didn't cover this. Romance, sweet romance and probably historical Western romance where that's it, I can't do because no one dies, right?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Kathrin Hutson: It doesn't go dark and that is where my heart really is. I have recently just started a really big top secret, for now, project that is very, very, very dark, surprisingly it's steamy paranormal romance, which was not ever what I expected to be doing, but because I'm taking it to such very dark and psychologically twisted places, it's incredibly fun.
James Blatch: This sounds good.
Kathrin Hutson: Yeah, thank you. When I get to play with those things and bring my love of all the darkness and all the not so much angst, but just really a lot of torture, that's where my heart is. So yeah, I've written in every other genre, urban fantasy, epic fantasy, space opera, Lit RPG.
James Blatch: Wow, because that's quite specialist. I have no real clue.
I know what Lit RPG is but without reading a book. I can't envisage it, but that seems quite specialist to me.
Kathrin Hutson: It really is. I've had three different clients I've written Lit RPG with. I do tell them, I say, "I don't do numbers. I'm not a math person. I write. So, you're going to have to fill in all the stats and I'll just mark where they need to go." So yes, that worked out. I've done YA and academy. I've done nonfiction, I've done memoirs.
James Blatch: Because that's the other bit, I think a common area of ghostwriting that we're perhaps familiar with is the nonfiction memoirs, so the classic, motor racing driver would get somebody to write his autobiography or her autobiography. And financially this pays okay?
Kathrin Hutson: Yes.
James Blatch: Can you give us some ideas of how much if I want to do to write the next book, because I'm lazy, how much would it cost you to ... You'd have to read my first book, presumably-
Kathrin Hutson: Yes, yes and-
James Blatch: ... and then get into your head. I'm not going to force you to do this by the way just to be clear. When my next book comes out, everyone's going to say, "Do you know? I reckon Kathrin Hutson wrote that."
Kathrin Hutson: Look at that. It sounds just like you.
James Blatch: So what sort of price would you be quoting?
Kathrin Hutson: Within the $5,000 to $7,000 range is generally where the prices for me now fall per book. I have taken on $15,000 nonfiction project here and there. The nonfiction projects are rare. They're not where my heart is, but if it is on a topic that I feel like I can really dive into and align with, then absolutely I'll take it.
James Blatch: And if it's on the topic of receiving $15,000, you'd do it? That sounds like a reasonable topic too.
Kathrin Hutson: Yeah, yes.
James Blatch: I mean, any one of us who's working in freelance would be ...
Kathrin Hutson: This is what I'm doing, blah, blah, blah.
James Blatch: So somebody's paying that sort of money per book needs to be able to make ... I mean, I guess not everyone does it to make money out of their books.
Maybe they just want to have a novel to their name?
Kathrin Hutson: Yes. For the nonfiction books that are in that much higher price point, these are people who, most of them run their own businesses, they're entrepreneurs, and there is not a writing business. They're not publishing, they're not authors. So they're using a published book in their name, on their topic of expertise, to either give people a deeper insight into their life and their stories and their ideas, their own personal story, or to supplement marketing of their business.
So, I think for them, it's not a matter of how much money they are spending on a ghostwriter. As it is, they want to make sure that it's done a certain way.
James Blatch: Which is a bit different from someone with a fiction novel. I guess, for the publishers, if they've got a brand, if that author as a brand, and they've got a fairly guaranteed market for it, it is going to be worth them spending that sort of money on getting those novels written.
Kathrin Hutson: Yes. They keep coming in and building on this series of well ... you know?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Kathrin Hutson: So, yeah, so far for me and my clients, it has been very worth it for both of us.
James Blatch: I do read a couple of authors who I know are ghostwritten, so it'd be hilarious if I've read one of your books. I wouldn't know, because that's how good you are.
Kathrin Hutson: Oh, well, thank you. It would be hilarious. I guess maybe you'd have to ask them because they didn't sign an NDA.
James Blatch: Yeah. I don't meet those sort of people. So, that's really interesting to me. Obviously, you're good at it, there's no question about that, I can tell that and I guess you get booked up.
Is this something that you have to manage your time? Because I mean, two or three books a month is crazy work.
Kathrin Hutson: Yeah, it's a lot. I do have to manage my time very strictly. I work for myself, so I have wiggle room here and there. I can move things around if I need to, but on a day-to-day basis, my daily schedule is pretty regimented because I work the best under a structure and a bit of pressure. When I say a bit, I mean a lot of pressure, that's where I work best.
James Blatch: Lots, immense pressure. Take us through your working day, Kathrin.
Kathrin Hutson: All right. Well, I wake up at three o'clock every morning, including the weekends.
James Blatch: Are you serious, this isn't a joke?
Kathrin Hutson: I'm serious. It's not a joke.
James Blatch: Because your daughter's too old to be crying at that night now for that?
Kathrin Hutson: Right, she's not crying.
James Blatch: This is you voluntarily waking up at three o'clock in the morning?
Kathrin Hutson: Yep. I know, I'm a crazy person. Actually, the recommendation to do that was made to me by a fellow author whose daughter is, I think just a year older than mine. She was working a full-time job at the time. Actually, I introduced her to ghostwriting and she quit her job at the beginning of this year because she was ghostwriting full-time, which is fantastic. But she said, "Oh, I wake up at 3:30 in the morning to get some writing time in before my daughter wakes up." And I said the same thing to her, I was like, "Are you crazy? What's wrong with you?" And it stuck in my head for months and months and months until I finally decided to try it.
It was difficult to get used to at first, of course, waking up that late. I used to bartend and go to bed at three o'clock in the morning, it was completely reversed, but I've been waking up at 3:00 every morning for the last two and a half years. That is the most potent time of day for me to begin writing.
I wake up at 3:00, I start writing at 4:00. It happens between 4:00 and 9:30 or 10:00, until I have to take a longer break.
I write in usually 35 to 50 or 60 minutes sprints, depending on what I'm writing and how my physical body's feeling during the day. I set a timer for those 35, 45, 60 minutes sprints. When the timer goes off, I force myself to stand up, walk around my office, go get a drink, go to the bathroom, no matter where I am in the writing process. When five minutes or 10 minutes is up, I sit back down and do it again.
I take an hour break, three days a week to help my daughter get ready for school. My husband is a stay-at-home dad, so he handles everything else.
James Blatch: That's useful. I'm going to say that's more than useful, that's essential by the sounds of it.
Kathrin Hutson: It is. And I will always say that I would not be where I am right now in my career with any of my books, any of it, if it weren't for my husband. Literally, it's only possible because he's been on my team the entire time and has taken the responsibility of, I think, everything else in our lives so I can just write all day, which is fantastic.
I normally take a break 7:00 to 8:00 and then I sit back down again. Usually my intense writing sprints, series of sprints, lasts about four to five hours and I'll take a longer break. Then that's about three or three and a half sprinting sessions in a day.
I am finished for the day at between three o'clock and 4:30, depending on my word count quota for the day for whatever project I'm working on. I do some meditation. I work out in our basement and then I'm finished by the time my daughter comes home from school and that's my writing day is. It is just sitting down and grinding, but I don't really have to do anything else. I mean, there's a lot to do on the other side of ... with my own books that I have published. I do have a team helping me with marketing and ads and social media engagement and my newsletter. So that's gotten a lot easier now for me to just focus on the writing.
James Blatch: So what time do you go to bed?
Kathrin Hutson: Between 8:30 and 9:30.
James Blatch: Okay, so pretty early.
Kathrin Hutson: Yeah.
James Blatch: I'm quite pleased you said that and not, "I go to bed at midnight."
Kathrin Hutson: Yeah, no I get sleep. Oh my gosh, no, I could not do that. There was a couple months ago. I couldn't get to sleep. I was laying in bed for hours. It wasn't happening. I finally got to sleep at 10:30 and woke up wide awake, ready to go. Just like someone had just injected me with caffeine at two o'clock in the morning.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kathrin Hutson: And I wrote a whole day. It was very strange and I was dead afterwards, but no, I do get sleep. Sleep is very important.
James Blatch: It is, yeah. Well, that's fascinating. I used to ask this question routinely, but I've asking it, but I know people are interested in more than just writing habits, but how you actually write.
Do you sit at a normal desk, do you have a sit-stand desk? Do you have on as kneeler things, do you write on your bed with a laptop and what do you write in Word, Scrivener, et cetera?
Kathrin Hutson: When I started ghostwriting I still was using my laptop and I had to prop it up on a box and I got an external keyboard that I would prop on my lap. Then I did have a standing desk and one of those really fancy squishy mats that have all the bumps on them for your feet. I tried all kinds of things to help me adjust to writing for such long periods of time, broken up with sprints.
Then we moved to Colorado from Vermont, just a little over a year ago and I was able to invest in a desktop computer and a tower and I have a really, really fantastic ... It's actually a gaming computer. I do game on it sometimes, but I wanted something that would not let me down when I'm in the middle of writing like my laptop had been.
So I have dual monitors set up on my big giant desk. One of my screens is horizontal, like a normal screen. I think these are 42 inch. No, no, there's no way. I don't know numbers, numbers allude me. They're big.
James Blatch: They're big screens.
Kathrin Hutson: They're big screens. I turn the monitor. That's on my right, catty corner horizontally because when I am writing, when I'm working on either ... actually anything, because I have what I'm writing right in front of me, and then on the horizontal monitor, I have the beats for whatever book I'm working on, or the outline, or a reference material, whether it's a series Bible that I've created or anything that I need right there, it saves so much time from clicking back and forth like I used to.
I can type with my eyes closed. I actually type 110 words per minute when I'm transcribing something or copying something, so I type very quickly and it's nice to have something I can look at without having to take my hands off the keyboard.
James Blatch: Wow. You're a machine in that sense.
Kathrin Hutson: Thank you, yeah. Yes, I'm a crazy person machine.
James Blatch: Well, I mean it in a complimentary way-
Kathrin Hutson: I know.
James Blatch: ... that you've worked out how to be as efficient as possible and get stuff done, which I wish I was like. I wish I had 5% of that, my books would be done so much more quickly.
How many words a day do you get done do you think?
Kathrin Hutson: Yes, I keep track of everything, which has allowed me to see where I'm going, where I've been. I average about 15,000 words a day.
James Blatch: Okay, wow. Makes my 800 look quite puny.
Kathrin Hutson: No.
James Blatch: It's very impressive. It's a fascinating glimpse into that world of ghostwriting. Let's talk a bit about your writing now. So you said your heart is dark. You didn't quite say it like that but what you said is that darkness-
Kathrin Hutson: My dark heart.
James Blatch: ... that violent end that people end up with.
What is it about that that fascinates you or attracts you? Or is this a deeply personal question, you don't have to feel compelled to answer it.
Kathrin Hutson: I think on the surface level, we love what we love, right?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Kathrin Hutson: I can't say that I love the darkness because I want my life to reflect that. I do not. I have a very light-filled, joyful, abundant life. And you can tell looking at me, I'm not a super broody, creepy person, but my tastes might be. I started reading Stephen King when I was 10. I started with It actually. After reading this gigantic book that 20% of went right over my head, but it scared me silly, I kept coming back for more. I wanted something that was more intense.
I think now that I'm talking about it, I think honestly, something that felt more real to me. My childhood was not butterflies and rainbows, not to say that anyone's is, and at the same time, mine was very difficult.
So, I think I always got angry when I was reading happy-go-lucky, floo-foo happy endings, everyone's great and it's fantastic because it just seemed so fake to me, it's not what I was raised to believe about the world. It's not what I was exposed to. So I wanted something that reflected more of my own experiences, where the characters are going through the same horrible rigours of their daily existence. But at least these ones I was reading about could do something about it, in my mind.
That's the first time I've actually dived that deep to pull out an answer to that question. Thank you James.
James Blatch: Well, it was a good answer. I think I mentioned this before, that someone said recently, and I really liked this. We misunderstand what escapism is. When we say people read this because they like to escape, it's escapism. What we really mean is it's not escaping, it's using books and stories to make sense of things and to help you manage your life.
Kathrin Hutson: Exactly.
James Blatch: I can understand how with your background, a saccharin, sweet romance is not really going to assist you in making sense of your life and moving forward. So, that's a really interesting answer and thank you for being open with us on that.
Kathrin Hutson: No, of course.
James Blatch: But ultimately, I suppose, even with these dark fantasies and dark stories, a lot of the themes are still redemption, are they not, and heroes and villains and stuff?
So regardless of the setting, there are some common humanity themes there, aren't there? Just people coping in different circumstances.
Kathrin Hutson: Absolutely. I do have some big, bad villains fighting the heroes. For the most part, I really prefer in my own books, morally grey characters where we're not sure, are they good, are they bad? What are they going to do? We don't know. I like to make them their own villain of their story. It is a reflection of my experiences with life. I was my own villain for very long time.
While I usually stay away from happy ever afters, I won't go towards the happily never afters, or the happily for now. There's always a thread of hope still there at the end. The theme that I am always trying to get across in my work, no matter what genre it is, is that the mistakes we make and the harm that we've caused to ourselves and others don't define who we are and they don't define what we're capable of in the future. It took me four years after I got clean to fully understand, and now I've made it part of my work, which has been just so cool. It's just so cool.
James Blatch: It's helped you, hasn't it, by the sounds of it? It's helped you exactly do what we just discussed there. Make sense of things or try to make sense things and try to plot and help yourself move forward.
Kathrin Hutson: Yeah, I think at this point, I just really love it. I get a kick out of writing fight scenes and making myself cry, when I'm killing someone in a book.
James Blatch: Who doesn't like doing that? Yes, just to clarify that. Well, who needs a therapist when you're a writer, right?
Kathrin Hutson: Oh, totally, yeah.
James Blatch: Writer's therapy.
Kathrin Hutson: We don't need any help at all.
James Blatch: Fascinating, really gripping talking to you. I've gone on to my third reel on my camera, which I don't normally do with interviews. Although we should say off-air, I did collect my eggs, didn't I in the middle of the interview?
Kathrin Hutson: Oh, I thought you said you cracked your eggs. I was like, "You did, really? I didn't see."
James Blatch: No, no, I haven't. No, hopefully they're safely on the table in there, but the egg man came. Not John Lennon's egg man, but the actual egg man came in the middle of the interview. I think we could go on talking about this, but we must draw it to a close and Kathrin, really lovely talking to you and hearing your story.
You're very honest and open person and I think I've learned a bit about the process that we all go through listening to you. Also just to say, you've obviously had a start in life that was not the ideal platform that everybody gets. It seems such a shame to me that it took so long for you to work out your own self-worth, but you are there now, right?
Do you do believe in yourself now? Or are you still on that journey?
Kathrin Hutson: I am here. I am here. I appreciate you sharing that. At the same time, I don't think it's a shame at all. I wouldn't be who I am or where I am without having gone through what I went through, and hopefully other people can take the same message. It doesn't matter what we've done, what's been done to us. What we wish were different, or even how much we believe in ourselves. It's all possible, it just may take a little more time, or not.
James Blatch: I guess we wouldn't be the same people if those things hadn't happened, so you're right to say that.
Kathrin Hutson: Absolutely not.
James Blatch: Kathrine, thank you so much.
Kathrin Hutson: Thank you for having me James, this was great.
James Blatch: There you go. I absolutely loved talking to Kathrin and found her very inspirational. That's fascinating, the ghostwriting. She has people who come to her who want to be an author, but don't want to write the book. Sounds like a quite cool thing, because having gone through the labour of writing books, and although we might also consider it a little bit cheating the system, but sometimes it's authors who have big names, big traditionally published authors who are brands themselves and she writes the books for the big traditional companies in some cases, obviously no names given out in that interview.
And finally, the ghostwriting I do understand a little bit more, which is nonfiction, which is in a business guru who uses a book as a calling card, but has no experience in writing a book and she interviews them, sits down, makes the notes and then writes the book for them. But she writes prolifically as somebody who gets up at three o'clock in the morning. I mean, she does go to bed between 8:00 and 9:00 but she gets up at three o'clock in the morning to a chunk of her writing before the world starts every day, which is quite something.
Mark Dawson: That's impressive, yeah. I certainly can't say I do that. Good for her.
James Blatch: Yeah, no, really good and one of my favourite interviews this year. I do occasionally get up at three o'clock in the morning, but this week it's been to deal with a puppy and it's not been pleasant, I can tell you. The puppy who eats everything and it eventually emerges one way or the other, usually in the middle of the night.
Mark Dawson: That's a lovely image, thank you.
James Blatch: I won't give you any more detail than that except to say it's why I'm looking quite tired. Right, that is it. So tomorrow definitely, I am going to go and do that flight SIM in a tornado in Lincolnshire and I shall tell you about it next time we record. You enjoy your weekend Suffolk, Mark.
Mark Dawson: I will do, yes. I'll be returning refreshed and probably a bit ... I don't know what the weather is going to be like but it's been pretty rubbish so far, so we'll just have to see.
James Blatch: I'm going to guess you won't have space in your car for your golf clubs?
Mark Dawson: No, definitely not, no. You've been in my car now so you know there's limited space in the Taycan for golf clubs, especially when we've got luggage coming as well. So no, I'll be leaving those behind.
James Blatch: You need a duplicate set don't you? To keep in Suffolk.
Mark Dawson: I probably do.
James Blatch: My wife is still talking about the acceleration demonstration you gave in your Porsche, where you stopped the car, on a deserted road, I should say. Pressed the accelerator, which is effectively an on/off switch in an electric car and we went nought to 60 in two point something seconds.
Mark Dawson: About three seconds, yeah.
James Blatch: If anyone's been on the Aerosmith ride at Disney, one of the Disney parks at Studios or-
Mark Dawson: Yeah, that's Universal.
James Blatch: No, it's not Universal, it's definitely Disney. I think it's Studios.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, Studios, yeah, that's right.
James Blatch: Disney Studios in Florida. If you've been on that Aerosmith ride where they have the sudden acceleration, it was like that. That's what it was like. It was incredible. Absolutely incredible.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it's fun.
James Blatch: You'll have to demonstrate it to my son at some point, he would love that. Okay, all right, that's it. That is it. So all that remains for me to say, is there's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me, goodbye.
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