SPS-406: Turn Your Inner Darkness into Words – with Joanna Penn

Writing can often be emotionally charged or even therapeutic for those who write. But what does that emotionally charged writing say about you? And how can you navigate the emotions you find while writing? Friend of the show, Joanna Penn joins in on this episode to talk about shadow work!

Show Notes

  • Joanna’s magnum opus.
  • Why Joanna writes about shadows.
  • How to recognize your own shadows- and the emotions they bring.
  • Jame’s experience writing with shadows.
  • Other applications of this technique.

Resources mentioned in this episode:


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Turn Your Inner Darkness into Words - with Joanna Penn

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 James Blatch as they shine a 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. Yes, it is The Self-Publishing Show with me James Blatch

Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson. How was your week off, James?

James Blatch: My week off. Did I have a week off?

Mark Dawson: You were on the podcast. Were you? It was just me. Oh

James Blatch: Yes, my week off. Yeah, it didn't really feel like a week off. I know what you're saying. Yeah. When I was very impressed with your monologue, you were like Jay Leno back in the day.

Mark Dawson: One take, one take. That's what they

James Blatch: Called it. One take

Mark Dawson: One,

James Blatch: Dawson. It was good. Yeah. I listened to the whole thing and yeah, good discussion with yourself.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, I found I agreed with always everything I said. It was great.

James Blatch: Yeah. Yeah, it was nice. I think it's good light and shade for the podcast. Mix it up a little bit.

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: This is like a traditional episode though. It's very traditional actually, because our guest is one of our very first guests on the podcast.

Mark Dawson: That's right. Yes. Joanna Penn. You

James Blatch: Might've been first or second.

Mark Dawson: Not the first, because that was, who was that? Was it Pat? No, it wasn't Pat Den. Pat wasn't. It was, I can't remember now. It was about six years ago, so I don't remember things weeks ago.

James Blatch: We went through this recently ago, the 400th, listened to the 400th episode in the history of the podcast.

Mark Dawson: I saw Joanna, I was in Paris on Thursday and Friday for the first, an indie conference. The first one in France at least I'm aware of with Jupiter Fatton is a pen name.

James Blatch: Caroline. Yes, I know her well. We interviewed her.

Mark Dawson: We did, yeah. Really a couple of hundred, 150 to 200 people there. Well attended. Amazon was supporting it, so it had some fairly senior Amazonians from the French market, which was very nice to meet them. And then Joe was on, actually, I walked, I decided, I got there, flew in, decided I had Aban. I had now in the hotel that I thought, I'm going to go to the drinks, and it was about five miles away, so I thought I'll walk. Wow. So yeah, I walked five miles along the river, which was very nice. Nice. That's a nice walk. Although typical English and abroad, I was on the path, and they're not very well signpost that they're piled and also cycle lanes. And actually I was kind of walking on quite happily and someone walled me in the back. I think he just put his

James Blatch: Scro blur, something

Mark Dawson: Like that. I think he put his hand out and kind of walled me, which was fine. I was in the wrong space. He could have stopped, I suppose. But anyway, that was fine. I walked there, nice walk along the river and had drinks. And then the following day had a good session. Joe talked about ai, which is very interesting, really lots of things I didn't know that she's using. It's really fast moving as we've mentioned before. And then I, because I'm a lazy Git, didn't actually prepare anything. I was interviewed, which obviously is quite a lot easier than doing a presentation, but just chatted about things I've learned over the last 10 years in English. So thank you to everyone who persevered. I think most of them spoke English, not lazy like us. And yeah, then I flew back and what

James Blatch: Was the conference in English?

Mark Dawson: No, mostly in French I think, but obviously Joe was speaking in English. I spoke in English. Some questions were, there was a couple of people who translated questions and things. So I think not everyone spoke English, but probably most of them did. And I think the transcripts will be translated into French. So yeah, it was good. So it's definitely one if you're in France, and obviously I know now we have lots of French listeners because I was buttonholed by a couple of them, actually two people said that they're very grateful and pleased to meet me because they'd taken the course and we're full-time writers in French, which was

James Blatch: Fantastic. Obviously

Mark Dawson: Always a pleasure to meet people who are able to do that. So yeah, it's definitely, I think she's going to do it next year, so I would recommend it. If you can't get over to the UK Ferrara Conference, which we'll mention in a moment, then I would definitely recommend looking at the Paris Conference. It was really a great venue, very well put on. And who doesn't like Paris? It was actually was, it was like 25 degrees. It was really warm. So Joe and I had lunch on the Boulevard for a couple of hours, which was really nice to catch up with her. So yeah, generally really nice couple of days away and I would recommend it if you're thinking about your conferences for next year.

James Blatch: Yeah. Oh, that sounds good. Well, maybe I'll go. I went to Paris, as I mentioned on the podcast, did a bit of book research earlier in this year. It is a lovely city, Paris. I do. I hadn't been there for years actually, but it reminded me that it's not a compact city centre. I also, I went for a run in the morning and I ran from my hotel at the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower and back, and it was probably four and a half, five miles

A loop. And London's much more compact than that. Anyway. Good. Well that's excellent and well done to Jupiter and the team there. We should also say that Joe's coming up in a moment, so you can hear from her yourself. She's got a fantastic and very interesting new book. It's a very interesting conversation. I'll leave it at that. You're going to have that pleasure in a few moments, but we have something special to tell you, which is we are releasing tickets for our own conference, which is in the much more compact, equally nice. London next June, the 25th and 26th. That's Tuesday and Wednesday of that week, the 25th, 26th of June, 2024. There's a wait list, which we've told you about that will be converted to a ticket page at 4:00 PM on Tuesday. That's Tuesday the 17th. I think that's the 17th. Can you just double check that

Mark Dawson: He's got calendar nearby? Yes, I can. Tuesday the 17th. Yes, it is.

James Blatch: So 4:00 PM in the UK is 8:00 AM If you're in Los Angeles, 4, 3, 2, 1, 11:00 AM If you're in New York, that's

Mark Dawson: Almost certainly wrong, by the way.

James Blatch: I did double check that earlier. It is the case

And those tickets will go on sale as before. We are doing an early bird offer for the first month or so. So if you sign up early Bird for 175 pounds, you get full access to both days and the party, which is the cost for the conference without the party full price. And that will go up to 1 99 after 30 days. So you get 30 days to get your early bird tickets in. And that's a little bit shorter than we did last year because we did it to the end of the year, and then from the 1st of January it was full price. But honestly, we don't want to have to do logging in and doing a load of stuff on New Year's Day. So for that reason, it's going to be until the seventh, until mid-November. So the 17th of November. Yeah, we expect the tickets to go fast.

We probably won't sell out during the early bird period, but you never know. And yeah, we have a limited number of seats. We only sell 816 of the seats in the hall. We have to reserve some for our guests after that. So yeah, looking forward to it back at the South Bank Centre after some prevarication, but I think it's the right decision, at least for this year, and looking forward to hopefully a nice sunny week in June. So where do you go to buy your tickets? It's the same U R L that we gave out for the wait list. It'll just be switched over next Tuesday. So at the moment, it will show you a wait list, but it will be the same place to go. It's self-publishing live, all one word. And yeah, looking forward to that. Mark.

Mark Dawson: Yes, James, what?

James Blatch: We have a couple of Paton.

Mark Dawson: Oh, yes, we do. Supporters dimension. Hang on, talk amongst yourselves. I just finally find the correct window. Here we go. So yes, we've got two new patrons, patron supporters. So thank you very much to Nikki Urla and Trudy Nixon. Don't know where either of you're from, but it doesn't matter. We are very grateful for your support, and it does help us to put the show together because it isn't cheap to do this. And we could cut things like transcription stuff, but we don't really want to do that. We know people like to read the transcripts along rather than just listen to the podcast sometimes. So we will continue to do that as long as we can and people helping us, like Nikki and Trudy are very kind and we are very, very grateful. So thank you to both of you

James Blatch: After your solo effort. Last week was suggested that maybe they replace me with ai,

Mark Dawson: And then I think Dan Wood said that they don't have enough computing power for the Witt and Charm, which I,

James Blatch: But then I suggested maybe you already have.

Mark Dawson: Oh yeah, that's true. Yes. Very good.

James Blatch: Would you like me to cut myself

Mark Dawson: To prove that I No, no, let's not do you. Oh dear. Don't look at your watch. Like

James Blatch: On X Machiner

Mark Dawson: Or Yes, or Blade Runner. You could be a

James Blatch: Blade. Yes, I'm a replicant.

Mark Dawson: Yes. Okay, thank you. Right. Yes. Carry on.

James Blatch: Good. Okay. Well, should we get onto the interview? So it's Joe Penn, one of our favourite friends from the self-publishing community. We've both spent some time with Joe in person this year as well at your 50th in Salisbury, you in Paris, and always a breath of energised energy when you speak to Joe. So this is her new book, which is a very revealing book about you and me and her. So basically if you follow this, you will find out more about yourself. And it's very typical, Joe, I think, to really dig into the, I don't want to sound too pretentious about this, but kind of the essence of humanity of what we are and using that to make our books better, which is, as you'll hear developing the interview, all the more important now we can be up against AI written books, is to use our own humanity, our own emotion in our book. So the book is called Writing the Shadow. Turn Your Inner Darkness Into Words. There is a Kickstarter Live now you get the U R L during the interview. Here is Joanna Penn.

Speaker 1: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Joanna Penn, welcome back to The Self-Publishing Show. Do you know I interviews a lot of people and sometimes I get three, four people, I don't really know who they are and it's great learning all about them. But I've just interviewed Dave Cheson and I'm now interviewing you in the space of one afternoon, and you are both friends of the show. I almost said very old friends of the show, but that's not applied thing. So to anybody is it?

Joanna Penn: I think that's fine. We've both got our grey hair going on now, but no, it's great to be back on the show and I was thrilled to hear in your, was it your episode 400 quiz when I was born on the first few guests and Mark guessed it correctly, so that's good to know. He did. He

James Blatch: Did. You're an early adopter of the Self-publishing show. Yeah, no, it is great to have you back here. And we had a little get together in the summer and which are Mark Mark's 50th in an evening that was marked by alcohol and cold weather.

Joanna Penn: It was so cold. Yes indeed. Well, I don't remember being cold, but then I turned up several hours before you and managed to drink far more gin. And then I do remember thinking later, I think I'd had a few gins by the time I spoke to James. I think we got a nice picture, so maybe we can put it in the show notes.

James Blatch: I didn't. You look perfectly sober, but then that's a trick, isn't it? Good. Okay, look, let's talk about one thing you spoke to me about that evening, and that's the reason we're chatting today is this book. You've written a lot of books, you've written a lot of your fiction, you've written nonfiction, but this is the book you gave me the impression,

the kind of magnum opus. This is the one that's been going on in the background for some years, so you better tell us about it.

Joanna Penn: Yes. So the book is writing the Shadow and it's Turn Your Inner Darkness into Words. And as you mentioned, this is one of those books of my heart. And I guess coming back to middle aged and grey hairs, there are some books that we always want to write, but we put off and we put off because we don't feel that we're ready. And after I wrote Pilgrimage earlier this year, which was my first memoir, it really unblocked a lot of things for me. And I realised that I could be much more open and honest in my nonfiction about personal things and that people actually found that to be something that touched them. So writing the Shadow, I first, it's based on the principle of Carl Young's shadow. So the side of the personality that is unconscious, which means it's quite difficult to address, but that we repress or that we've basically been told is not appropriate.

And that doesn't mean it's evil or bad. The idea of the shadow, it's not just darkness, it's not death, it's not evil, it's things that we're told are not appropriate. And just to sort of start us off with one of my examples when I was a kid, and as writers, it's often stuff when we are young people, when we have ideas about things and then we're told by someone or society, a parent, a teacher, a friend, a sibling, some other things where we are like, that's not appropriate. So back in my school I was writing something, writing out a nightmare in an English class, and my teacher said, you can't write things like that. You are not allowed to write things like that. It's not appropriate. And this was in a literary English class, you can imagine the type in a school. And from that moment I stopped writing anything creative and it took, I think it was something like 23 years until I wrote my first novel.

And I share a lot of these stories in the book, but essentially the whole idea of the book writing the shadow is we need to take the things that we have repressed and turn them into the basis of our creative work, which will make it more resonant for other humans. And in an age of ai, I know you've started talking about ai, we need to double down on being human, we need to show our flaws and we can also help heal ourselves and other people. So I guess it's a self-help book for writers, but it is also, I guess a psychology book, slightly memoir book. But yeah, I guess that's the sort of big idea.

James Blatch: I want to try and understand the concept a little bit better. So I mean, when you first started describing it, it made it sound like it could be almost like a horror story, like the Al Ego, the evil twin, the dark secret that someone has.

And I guess it could be that shadow, but it can also be something that could be positive in your life, just that you are not acknowledging, is that?

Joanna Penn: Yeah. So I'll give you a really classic one that I think you will possibly identify with too, which is, and you can identify these things. There's whole lots of ways you can identify them, but one of them is when you're triggered. So when you react in a way to something that other people would just not be that bothered about. So if I said to you, James, you are really lazy. You are a lazy man. I mean, I know how hard you work, right? Lazy is a trigger word for me if someone calls me. Did you feel like that? Did you feel like

James Blatch: I think I'm lazy.

Joanna Penn: You do think you're lazy or That's interesting. Okay, so that's not a

James Blatch: Trigger for you. However much I work, however hard I work, if I go to the cinema, I cannot relax in the cinema. I think I should be working. So there is a part of me that has that kind of,

Joanna Penn: You're not

James Blatch: Working hard enough.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I do.

James Blatch: It is

Joanna Penn: Triggering think that's part of it.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Joanna Penn: So it is triggering. So for me, this is a big one. And a lot of writers have said to me that they identify with this, which is so it's like, okay, but the good thing of this is it drives our business. It drives why we, right, because want to be, we like our work, we love our work, and yet the shadow side. So what you've got to think is the kind of continuum. If you essentially don't accept that side, you can end up burning out. And burnout is a huge issue in the writer community. You can judge other people. So your judgments about others also come up. So I definitely feel guilty about if I'm out somewhere and I see people having fun, I sometimes feel like, why are you doing that? You are being lazy, having fun, you should be working. And even saying it out loud, it seems ridiculous, but that's what drives me to overwork.

And so that's a shadow aspect that I need to acknowledge. And the whole point of realising these things is to, we're not banishing that side of ourself. What we want to do is stop it getting out of control. So we mentioned drinking before. There's this idea of if your shadow gets out of control, it will act out in the world. If you don't deal with it, it will come out in some way. You can only force it down for so long like a balloon underwater. If you keep trying to deny it exists, at some point it's going to pop out. And for me, back when I really hated my job, I used to implement accounts payable and companies and I was so miserable, but I just didn't know how to deal with it. I just wasn't acknowledging it. I liked the money. I was partying very, very hard basically all the time.

And I spent a lot of time feeling guilty for my behaviour and that was my shadow side acting out. And it was only when I could say, okay, do you know what? I really hate my job. I need to deal with it. That's when I was able to address the root cause of my behaviour and deal with that in a more healthy way. So again, we're not trying to get rid of things. What we're trying to do is incorporate them into our lives and our writing in order to move forward, healing ourselves, healing other people, but also making our writing a lot richer.

James Blatch: So the first thing we need to do, I guess, is identify our shadow.

Joanna Penn: Well, don't think of it as one thing. So it can be lots of different things. Another way to identify it. So this is a question I had for you. So it's quite hard. Think of it as something out the corner of your eye that sometimes you think, oh, maybe that's an issue for me. So the triggering is one way, if you're triggered by words or situations that other people think are normal, that there may be something under there. Another thing is to really look at the characters in your books, particularly the books of your heart. And this is what I wanted to ask you, because I mean everyone listening will probably know that you have family background in aviation and military and then a personal background in that. But your books. So what I was going to ask you, I think the question is what are the flaws and the wounds of your characters that run across multiple books? You've got two novels and a novella I think now.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Joanna Penn: So can you identify, because our character flaws and our character wounds, especially of the books of our heart, are often the ones that we might have. And I identified one in yours, so I wondered if you could think of anything. What is the character flaws of yours? Is it Red Brunson

James Blatch: And

Joanna Penn: Chris Milford?

James Blatch: Yeah, well Brian, I think they might be different. The two, the character flaws, I dunno if I'm a good enough writer to have brought out what I wanted to put in there as the character flaws, but the character flaw is kind of male repression, emotional male repression. That was the theme certainly of Book one. And all the men in my books have an underlying sort of foundational issue, started off as male repression. I think with Red Brunson there's a bit more of lack of confidence with him and trying to prove himself in that environment. Although funnily enough saying this out loud, I do think I went a bit too far in that book with that. But it's male oppression. That is my, and funny I didn't start off doing that, but it was when I spoke to my first development editor, she was the one who pointed out it was there and brought it out.

And then she asked me to write a kind of page about why I'd written the book. What was the question? The question was this was Jenny Nash, I'll submit to this. The question was why do you need to tell this story? And I loved my heart out writing out this page. It was a really emotional thing for me to do, but that was the key to me writing the book. So I knew at that point onwards that it was about being uncomfortable, exposing your emotions, being uncomfortable saying, I love you being told I love you. All the things that happened to a young middle class male brought up by a father who was in the armed forces whose father was served in the first World War. And I was the product of that. So I had thought about this and I guess that was my shadow. I dunno if that's what you saw in it or

Joanna Penn: Not. No, that is just brilliant. And have you shared the letter you wrote or the document you wrote? Have you shared that?

James Blatch: Not with anyone else but Jenny and me. Yeah.

Joanna Penn: I would love for you at some point, and I'm sure listeners would too, when you have enough distance from this whole thing, and this is another thing, it's much easier to see our issues and our shadow side in our early books before while we still are raw. So you were still a raw writer. And I see the same in my book Stone of Fire, there was so many things where I was like, oh my goodness, I just didn't see that at the time. I would love to challenge you in let's say five years time, that you would maybe release an edition of that book with that essay the

James Blatch: wow

Joanna Penn: Or something like that, or you would read it or you, because that is exactly right and people listening, this is so powerful that you did that. And your editor fact, that's a very good editor by the way.

James Blatch: Yes.

Joanna Penn: But okay, so let's go back to it. So this emotional male repression or a fear of sharing emotion, we can often find our shadow in what we're afraid of or what we're ashamed of, what we feel guilty about. And obviously it's very difficult to talk about this in public to all the people this is going out to, because mostly we're not going to say aloud what those things are. But it's brilliant that you've done that. So basically the fear of sharing emotion, that's what you address

James Blatch: yes

Joanna Penn: What you did there. And this is kind of the whole premise of the whole book is if you can do that, if you can address what was in your shadow and you bring it out into the open, you are able to talk about this. It's no longer in your shadow. So now you've addressed that in your life, you can move forward. So have you felt that you have been able to express emotion better since you wrote that book?

James Blatch: Yeah, I didn't know it was a problem for me. Even though looking back, I know when I was about 19, 20, 21, I had a girlfriend for four years and she told me about this and she said to me, I don't want you to end up like your dad. And I was shocked by that comment. So that's why the only reason I remember it, I felt the sense of injustice. What does she mean? What's wrong with my dad? And it took me decades to work out what she meant, that I didn't really engage in argument. I didn't want to have the argument with her about stuff. So I just wasn't comfortable at all with any of that stuff. I think probably writing that book, going through that process was the biggest single step forward for me. It's been a slow, I hate to use the J word, but it's been a slow journey out of that period to where I am now, which is a much better, I'm still there, Joe, with me. I still fight it a bit. But I think the book process was a bit like a period of therapy for me, but there was a bit of a breakthrough.

Joanna Penn: That's brilliant. You've just said that's the whole premise of the book basically is that we can, and I guess the whole point is finding the gold in the shadow and the gold in the shadow can be that you feel healed around that process or you've at least started the process of learning how to be a better person, which we're all about self-development. Sometimes that can be something that actually involves other people. And this obviously has made your relationships better because now you are able to talk in a different way. But it can also be, since this is a business podcast and a creative podcast, the gold can be how people relate to your book. So the example I like to give is Colleen Hoover, so obviously Author of the World at the Moment in original in The Superstar and Colleen Hoover's, it ends with Us. I dunno if you've read any of

James Blatch: I haven't. No. I read a few of those big sellers at the time, but mainly Lucy two to see what was going on. But I haven't read a coho, although I do know what the premises of it starts with End very. The one ends with us, they're very,

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I mean they're very dark and it ends with us is about basically her parents' relationship. It's a novel, but readers love it. Readers absolutely love it. And I feel like we've been scared to put enough of ourselves in our books. And the whole point is that the way we are moving forward, and I'm pro ai, absolutely pro ai, but what I can see with AI is that it's pretty much, it can write the average book, it's going to be able to write the average book very quickly. So the average book is not good enough. You can't write a functionally average book. And I mean that's pretty good. Most of us don't write a functionally average book for a while. We have to learn the skills, but what we need to do in terms of turning our shadow into gold is connecting with other humans. Now in writing the shadow, I talk about some of my issues. For example, my first divorce, my divorce from my first husband, I'm happily married for

James Blatch: Second's, a news news to your second husband. There's another, yeah,

Joanna Penn: Obviously I talk about my creative journey and how I was almost, I guess blocked for many decades over what people told me I could and couldn't do. So for some people listening, I was talking to someone earlier who said, yeah, I've got all these books I haven't ever published any. And the reasons she was talking around why she hasn't published were all about fear of judgement and fear of not getting it right, that an agent wouldn't like it, that a publisher wouldn't like it, that the readers wouldn't like it. And it all kind of stemmed from originally being told that what she was writing wasn't the right thing, which I think many of us have heard. So yeah, I think it's just an interesting process to make our books much more personal, whether it's fiction or nonfiction, and it's a tough process.

James Blatch: And that was Jenny's thing when she said she wanted the book to be great, not good. So that's why she asked me to why I needed to write the book. And once she'd identified that that's what she wanted me, she wanted that to be in the d n A of every sentence, every paragraph, and every chapter in the book. And that was brilliant. So that's a

Joanna Penn: Sort of thematic elements that we come back to. So one of mine is religion. I was a teenage convert into the evangelical church and later was very disillusioned with that and still and spend my life sort of wrestling with religious knowledge and background and education and lack of actual religious faith, even though I consider myself spiritual. And I wrote about this in pilgrimage and also in writing the shadow. So religion is a huge thing. There'll be people listening where religion is one of the biggest issues that they maybe have yet to deal with. Family is another one. My original story that I wrote stemmed from a nightmare about choosing between the two halves of my family. My parents divorced when I was little, so I had to choose between my mom and my brother being killed or my dad and my sister being killed. It was a nightmare of 11 year old.

James Blatch: So good choice type.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, exactly. And because I obviously felt that I had to choose. And in my fiction, I very much write about lover family, saving sisters in particular and write a lot about father daughter. So there are these things that mean a lot to us that sometimes we hide and exactly what you were talking about, which is we need to double down on that

James Blatch: In

Joanna Penn: Order to connect human to human.

James Blatch: And in some ways, from a writing point of view, you don't want it to be completely solved. That can take away, and we have this with bands, don't we, they their best music when they're struggling and feeling the sense of injustice that the man, everyone gets chosen record labels and five years after two huge hit albums, they're struggling to write songs because they've got nothing to struggle for anymore.

Joanna Penn: You say that, you say that, but you know how it is. Life isn't onion or whatever it is that you have to peel off. There's

James Blatch: Always some of the struggles

Joanna Penn: You have to peel off the layers and sort of circling back again, one of the things that I think I mentioned to you at the party, one of the things that the last few years I've been going through sort of menopause process, which is a far bigger upheaval than I expected. And in fact, I didn't even recognise that my symptoms were related to this because I didn't see myself as an older woman. And it was like I'd pushed the idea of ageing into the shadow. I couldn't even recognise that I was older and therefore this might be the answer to the problem

In denial. And it's crazy. So I feel like midlife and many people listening will either be in midlife or over midlife or approaching it. And it's something that I didn't expect to bring what it did. I guess the other thing I talk about is, well, finding the gold is sort of the gift after the pain. And this is not an easy process, but equally, once we go through one challenge, there's another one that is the process of life. We're always learning new things. And also just coming back to the original metaphor of the book. So I dunno if you've heard of Plato's Chariot, do you know Plato's chariot

James Blatch: Maybe rings a vague bell, but I might recognise it on you.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, Plato's obviously ancient Greek philosopher. And the idea is there's a chariot with two horses. There's a dark horse and a white horse, and then the charioteer drives the chariot. Now if the dark horse, which we can say is the shadow and the white horse, which is your conscious self, if they're running together, then you are going to be flying along. You're going to really do really well. But if one is stronger than the other, you could either head off a cliff with the dark horse or the white horse. I think of myself, Joanna Penn is quite a white horse personality, stay within the lines, stay within acceptable things then. But what that can do is just keep you within the lines, and that means you won't be able to create what you want to the most. And so in this process of discovering this side of us, this shadow side, the things that we've pushed down, the things we've hidden from other people, they bring a richness to our work that allows these horses to run in tandem. And I feel even just writing this book, and this is another sort of creative thing I find, is that with writing a particular book, it releases one block and then you're off. And then of course there's another one. But this I say at the end of the book, I'm going to let my dark horse run. The projects that I have for the next 15 years of my career are completely different to the projects I've had for the last 15 years of my

James Blatch: Career because of this process you've been through.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, writing this book is almost the culmination of understanding the creative path I've been on so far and looking forward to the next 15 years. So as this year as we are recording this in 2023, this is my 15th year, I started the creative pen December, 2008. So this is my 15th year and I'm ready to change angle in terms of what I want to do with my next 15 years and whatever people are writing. So whatever book you are writing listeners, it will bring new challenges for you and also a vision of the way forward. And I feel like until I wrote this book, I could not understand why I felt so hemmed in. I've been feeling hemmed in by the way the indie author business has become something that it wasn't, and now I'm ready to move onwards and through that into something new. So again, the idea is that by writing these stories that are really in your heart, you release something and can move into the next step.

James Blatch: Can you give us a hint of what these next projects are? Was this all secret? Oh

Joanna Penn: Yeah, yeah, sure. And it's more that I'm going to lean more into JF Penn. So JF Penn as JF Penn. I've written lots of fiction, but I feel like this may be my last craft book. I mean, never say never, but Joanna Penn, this is my sort of feels like a finale for Joanna Penn. I haven't actually said that out loud, but it feels like I will do other nonfiction. But as JF Penn, I've also really shifted my business. Firstly, just coming back to ai, I love ai, so I'm using a lot more AI in my creative process, not necessarily the actual words, but a lot more in my creative process. I am moving to publishing differently. So this book is Kickstarter and then Shopify and sort of treating Amazon like any other platform like Cobo, like Apple, whatever. So shifting that way. So I feel like I've changed my creative process, my publishing process, and also my marketing process in that I'm focusing much more on the true fans and stopping obsessing about the big load of other people out there, assuming that I will attract those people over time. Obviously I'm still using things like paid ads and stuff like that, but it's almost a change of focus

James Blatch: As

Joanna Penn: Opposed to ditching everything. I mean, again, like at midlife we have this, should I just ditch everything and start again, but I decided not to do that, so

James Blatch: We're not going to do what Jerry Seinfeld in had a funeral for Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian after he finished his last standup tour, although he's now of course back on standup, but he actually did have a

Joanna Penn: Funeral.

James Blatch: I think it was a gag, but

Joanna Penn: Yeah, exactly. So Joan,

James Blatch: A pen?

Joanna Penn: No,

James Blatch: Joan, A pen won't be late to rest.

Joanna Penn: No, no. And I'll still be podcasting. It's just that my focus. So for example, one of my next projects I want to do is I want to do a photo book of gothic cathedrals to go along with the gothic cathedral mystery series, which I want to write and a whole load of other things. So just doing things differently than the way I've been done before. And as I said, I feel like this book has released me from a lot of the expectations and things around stuff that I'd been holding in. And there's a lot of confessional in the book.

James Blatch: So that last line that will be off-putting for some people listening to this because this dark side of us, this shadow

Is a personal thing and I've come a long way to be able to share stuff like that. And I do think I'm still, in fact, I just spent a fantastic week with my close friends and with a little retreat after nnc. And I did find myself, I was thinking about the way I interacted afterwards thinking I'm very happy to share surface stuff. I overshare state of my life finances company. And I think that's deliberately to keep the deeper stuff not talked about. Cause if you feel the silence with that stuff, no one's going to ask you how do you feel about it? And I think I'm still me. So it's quite to this moment, nerve wracking or uncomfortable is a better word of the idea of sharing that. And if I was going to write a nonfiction, but people listen to this saying, well, I'm not going to put any of that stuff out into the world, but putting it into a fiction novel, we shouldn't be scared of that because the average reader is simply going to enjoy the story and get something from their own life from it. They're not going to be thinking, oh, this person's got some dark history in their past, I think.

Joanna Penn: No, exactly. Exactly. And I should say a couple of things around this. One, protect yourself. So look after yourself if this is something deeper meaningful. Like I said, it's been the last three years I've really been working through a lot of this stuff. You've obviously been working through your stuff for longer and we can talk about it because of that. But if someone listening, if you need therapy, if you need help, please seek out help. This is not a therapy book, this is a writing book also protects other people. I think what we're not talking about is blaming others. So we're not writing revenge, a revenge thriller that is, or revenge memoir, which can be something that people think is something to do.

James Blatch: Sounds fun.

Joanna Penn: But I think the point of this shadow process in Jungian psychology is it's about you. It's not about that person. They have their own story. It's not about blame, it's about dealing with it and moving forward. So this is much more self-helpy based in psychology, I should say. I have two degrees in psychology

James Blatch: And we perhaps should underline that. This can be, some people listen will be identifying serious trauma, which is in their background. This is not going to be, we're not really talking about that. Although I suppose that could in a way, no,

Joanna Penn: Basically I'm not talking about that because that's not in my experience.

James Blatch: But

Joanna Penn: It could be something that comes up for sure. This is meant to be a, I guess a starting process. And as ever, there are lots of questions in the book that will help you think about things, but I think we all love learning. We all love to understand more about ourselves and about our characters. But like you said, you can use this book entirely for your characters.

James Blatch: Yes. So

Joanna Penn: If you're like, do you know what? I want to make characters deeper, I've got a whole section on deepening your characters and flaws and wounds and all of that kind of thing that you can use. You don't have to look at it at all as about yourself if you want to, but it will make it deeper. So one of the biggest criticisms of books and characters is wooden characters or they're not three dimensional enough. So instead of having a hero or heroine who is all perfect, you need to give them flaws. You need to give them backstory. You need to give them reasons to escape that like you did with your book there. But yes, protecting yourself, protecting others, of course you can write under a pseudonym. A lot of people do write under a pseudonym to kind of get something out in a different way. You don't have to tell anyone you're writing anything. This can just be for your own journaling. We're not saying you actually have to publish any of this. And in fact, as part of the Kickstarter, I'm doing the shadow sessions, which are going to be online guided writing sessions. So if people want to come and investigate that kind of thing, then yeah, come along, bring some tissues.

James Blatch: Well, I mean there are examples of people in our community who have used that trauma aspect of it. So I'm thinking of James Roone who talks very openly about this. I bumped into him and his wife Miranda in nnc. James served in the intelligence service in the Gulf War and has come away from it damaged. And he's open about that. He's coming up with P T S D and I've had conversations with him. He's struggled to get through his writing. He was put onto as a therapy to deal with that. And it's been the most fantastic way of him keeping under control and understanding it. And part of me thinks, but don't you need to train professional, shouldn't be on a sofa. And maybe you do, but actually all the trained professionals really going to do is to get you to self examine and understand. So when you are putting into a book all these character flaws and the deep sort of repression or whatever it is in that character, that is a brilliant way and cheaper frankly, than going through a series of, and I think just as beneficial as going through professional services. Sometimes

Joanna Penn: Yes, and obviously it depends on the individual, but for example, going back to my divorce, it was a surprise. My husband just left. And so I had a lot of shadow aspects of that. What's wrong with me? Am I too ugly, too bad a wife, not attractive? And all the things that come up when these things happen. And I wrote, so I have journals and journals you can kind of see behind me all my journals down there.

I have a lot of journals I've been writing for a very long time and I wrote journal after journal and it's so repetitive. I found this for some of the sort of mental health depression things. It's very repetitive because it's the same thing, but that's how you feel. And yet when I read my journals of that time, I don't even recognise that person now years later. And I've never even written any of that into a novel or anything. But even the acts of putting it on the page took it out of my head and maybe dissolved it into the pages and did heal me. I didn't have any therapy around that, but that did kind of heal that. So yes, we can definitely put stuff into our books as Colleen Hoover, as you have, as I have. But we can also just keep that for ourselves.

And it's definitely a process. But I guess another thing we could talk about is things like the shadow in publishing because there are, again, if we think about the words fear and shame and guilt, things come up so embarrassment or shame, people still ask me, don't you feel the stigma of self-publishing? I remember 15 years ago the word stigma being used. And when someone asks me that, I try and be understanding because that's not my stigma. I'm not feeling that. But they clearly are. They're feeling like there's something to be ashamed of. And the reason they're feeling that is because of the boundaries that society has put around publishing. And so there might be people listening who are embarrassed or ashamed and maybe haven't told people. The other thing that this comes up around that's just be honest about it, is success. So there's a comparison between people who look like they're doing really well, people who are not doing well.

There's a lot of dark side around ego and money in both the indie author community and the traditional publishing community. There's people who might launch a book, and I know a lot of traditionally published authors who the book comes out, no one even knows about it. They don't even know how to do marketing. And again, for indies, a book comes out, nothing happens. And so where we can also tap into where these things are is around, or for example, fear. Fear of judgement , fear of people knowing who you are, fear of nothing happening. There's a lot of fear and all these different feelings. So I want people to try and tap into that as well. Anger ranting. If you find yourself ranting about something, then it's possible that there's some kind of trigger. So a good one for this show and what we've both heard is, oh, that person's doing well because they advertise

James Blatch: And

Joanna Penn: There's an issue around money that that person paid for success. That person's book is therefore lesser than a work that is not selling well, but is clearly worth more because that person hasn't paid for marketing. So there's a lot of shadow hangups around money and marketing and all that. You are nodding, so you know what I mean. What are some other things that you think might have come up in these areas?

James Blatch: I mean, that's interesting. The whole stigma still, which is a thing. And I think the only time, if they're young, I consider myself young 56, but if they're kind of my age or younger in their forties and their friends, I have no hesitation at all. Not only putting them right on this subject, but evangelising this. But when I meet older people, like my parents' generation, some are great and good, have done great things in their lives, and they're so excited that I'm published and I can't bring myself to tell them

Joanna Penn: Because

James Blatch: I think they will immediately be a, oh, right, sorry, we thought you were published properly, properly published. Properly published. And I don't want to ruin it for them. And so I've had that

Joanna Penn: Recently. Wait, is that about them or is that about you? Is it fear of judgement of them seeing you as lesser,

James Blatch: I'm a

Joanna Penn: People, you are therefore lesser.

James Blatch: I'm a people pleaser, so I don't want to disappoint them. I think is probably the primary where some people, I stand alongside some people who are the opposite of me and they're quite punchy with it saying, well, no, no, no, I'm go in all in on that. Whereas I'll think, well, what do they want to hear? What does that person want? I'm a big person during conversation, what does this person want to hear? I'll say that.

Joanna Penn: That's interesting. So that to me signifies fear of judgement because you want to say something that the other person will be happy with. This is where we had kind of reframing things. So when you say I'm a people pleaser, I'm also a people pleaser, and I talk in the book actually about the various, you can name them these personas that you have, and I call mine the needy one. The needy one wants you to like me, the needy one wants you to love me, wants you to my books. The needy one is really there for Joan, Joanna Penn. It's like, please think I am a good person and all of this. And that can be good, but it can also be quite damaging because we hide what we really think and we repress that. So I think that's quite an interesting thing. What are some of the other things that come up do you think, for indies around fear? Fear of things or

James Blatch: I think there's also, you talked in our early interviews, you taught me about defining success, which means different things to different people. So I think that is still an issue. And I think a lot of people don't really know what success looks like for them. I think that's an issue in this sense. So they might think it's financial return, but when they do become successful, it turns out it's not really that.

Joanna Penn: It's not

James Blatch: That. And you can probably go through your whole indie career and not really know when you're going to consider yourself successful. Whereas other people probably easily successful and don't really care about that, but are really counting on those emails they get from somebody saying, you changed my life. And I know that means huge amounts to some people. So I think understanding what success is an issue is a kind of shadow issue that people don't really talk about or properly examine

Joanna Penn: Or as you say. So you might think your definition of success is money because society and your family and our culture says that it's money, but actually it's trying to examine what is below that. So I do have a whole chapter on money because it's such a big deal. There's so many triggers around money. For example, when I was at primary school, my mom was on benefits. We lived in the attic of someone's house, so we didn't even have our own place. And I had hand-me-down clothes and I remember going to school and the girl said, you're wearing my dress. And I was like, no, I'm not. I'm not wearing your dress. And then somehow she got hold of it and looked in the back and my mom hadn't taken her name tag

James Blatch: Out

Joanna Penn: And her name was in the dress and I still remember her name. I won't say it out loud, but it's like that moment. And I can still feel like the shame of being poor. So I think, and I'm saying that out loud to people, I know there's nothing wrong with being poor,

James Blatch: But

Joanna Penn: For me the shame was I'm too poor. My mom can't afford a dress, let alone a room or whatever. And so that really drove me early on. I never wanted to feel that again. So I went to the opposite extreme. I earned really good money, but I didn't keep it. I spent it trying to look wealthier than I was, but then I had to, and that's one of the problems is we go from extreme to extreme and where we need to look is that chariot, think of the chariot, we need to go in the middle. So eventually I learned more about money and got to a more happy medium. But when we think about what drives some of these things, that's where we can find elements of shadow. So that memory of being ashamed of wearing hand-me-down clothes is what drives some of that behaviour. So that's what I want people to think about and that hopefully that everyone can see that in their mind. And that's the kind of detail that you can bring to your writing.

James Blatch: When you talked just now about the person who said, well, they're having success because they've got money, because they've advertised. I often think, and I think I'm right on this, that a lot of the time when someone says a comment like that, it's because they are always going to put barriers in front of their success.

So they always find a reason. Oh yeah, mark Dawson's successful because he's got all that money. Well, hang on, on Mark Dawson was doing the same job I was doing, spending most of his money on train journeys at the time. He became rich writing. So it was the other way around. And there's other examples. They'll find a reason why so-and-so has been successful or they were there in the early days. So I'll never be able to do that. And I think, well, okay, if I'm being cynical about it before this interview, I would've just written them off saying, you are never going to be successful because always going to find a reason why it's not going to happen to you. But I wonder if using your process that person needs to examine, well, why do they come up with these things? Is it their lack of confidence? Is it they don't have self-belief?

Joanna Penn: Is

James Blatch: That their shadow? That if they can address that, that could genuinely help them if they start to mantra or whatever you come out with to say, I can be successful

Joanna Penn: And I don't actually have the affirmation process. It's a lot more about writing myself. But yeah, I mean I think in that situation it can also be, for example, we're both British. My dad as a classic paid up member of the Labour Party and has this sort of all Tory are bad type of thing. And anything to do with money and business is therefore bad

James Blatch: Because that's evil. Evil corporations. Yeah,

Joanna Penn: Evil corporations. And I'm like, dad, do you realise I run my own business?

James Blatch: I have a limited company. Yeah, I'm an entrepreneur.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I pay corporation tax. You can't just put everyone in the same thing. And so I had to break out of some of my background of political thought in order to become successful in business, I had to reeducate myself in other things. And again, I use, in the book, I have a whole list of words like capitalism and billionaire, how do you feel when you think about billionaires? Some people get really angry about things, clearly not the billionaire romance lot.

And there'll be people who are both anti-money but also want money. So money is a really interesting area where we can look at both our personal experience, also our family experience, and also our culture. So America is kind of crazy around the American dream of making the money, but it's also can be quite opposite and the other way. So we all have these polarised situations. But again, coming back to the person who resists that, is it because they're actually just anti-money in general? And it may be that the radical left-wing idea that you don't have to do any kind of business and still be successful. But yeah, even just the words we're saying are probably triggering a whole load of people

James Blatch: Here. Well, communism in its purest form, which might work on a small farm

Joanna Penn: With

James Blatch: 12, have

Joanna Penn: Everyone should have the same, yeah,

James Blatch: Struggles a bit as soon as it gets outside of that. I do think there's an injustice. Injustice is, I was reminded about this the other day that when my kids are grown, so my daughter turned 20, my oldest turned 20 a couple of days ago and went through some old moments, but the things that they cling onto are the moments of injustice. So when they're seven years old and they counted the number of presents that their brother got, that's the memory that's still there. So injustice buns really brightly in us, and I think that does drive some of that political stance that people take. The angry stance, there's a guy is, I dunno if this is the right time or wrong time to mention him, but Russell Brand is this a big comedian being an actor in the states. So lots of sex allegations against him, very serious.

All going through investigations are ongoing. So not really about that. Although the most common thing people said when they all came out into the public, because no one's hugely surprised that those allegations ended up on his doorstep but I think he's gone down this injustice angry route over the last few. At some point, his Hollywood career was never going to work. He was never going to, he had very high expectations because he's been very successful, but he's never reached those limits. And he's become, I mean, if you followed him over the last couple of years, he's gone down some very dark conspiratorial rabbit holes and there's that burning sense of injustice driving him. And I think that drives a lot of people. And it can be a very negative thing, but is that something you can use?

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I mean, any of these things, again, I think when nuance is lost, that's when the problem occurs. So I was thinking of you with your military background and war. Obviously we've got war with Ukraine and war at the moment is a hugely political thing. But the problem is when people go, it's either this or

James Blatch: This,

Joanna Penn: And where we have to look is the nuance. And we can explore that in our books. You don't have to be fully, war is evil. I'm a pacifist to, everyone should fight for their country. There's plenty of views in between. And Russell brand's interesting. I've been thinking about this, but also I've got a chapter on the collective shadow, which are the things out of our individual control that appear in our societies almost manifested as a collective. And I was thinking about, it's almost like the way we fetishize famous people and celebrity means we let them indulge in these things. Like there's the Jimmy Savill movie coming out soon and obviously Weinstein and this behaviour that is allowed because

James Blatch: So's weird, it's our fault. I know you're saying. Well,

Joanna Penn: I think the collective shadow is fascinating because it really is a sort of manifestation. But the message of the book is you can't say, well I'm just going to blame my society. It's about self-development. This is a self-help book. It's like, look, you start with yourself. You start by examining your own behaviour. So where do I judge people? This is a big question. Who do I judge? And when you feel that judgement , where does that come from? Because judgement is a very human thing. But for example, I was a ThrillerFest. I know you've been to ThrillerFest and I remember one of the very pro gun lobby sharing his opinion with me and with the way he was dressed and his accent, I judged him based on a whole load of things. And I out a lot about him later where I thought, do you know what? I judged that guy really wrongly based on some polarising things. But then I got to know him. And I feel like that's also important

James Blatch: Is

Joanna Penn: That we seek nuance in ourselves,

James Blatch: In our

Joanna Penn: Characters.

James Blatch: There's arguably less nuance in public discourse now than there ever has been in history thanks to social media and so on. And it's one of the great losses, I think from the public discourse about politics is that entrenched. It's probably even more polarised in the states than it is in the uk, but it is not far off. It's not happy close to be.

Joanna Penn: I want us to address that in the indie community. Obviously I've had a lot of hate around AI stuff. A lot of people I know are getting a lot of hate around it in the same way that I got a tonne of hate back in the day around self-publishing. And in the same way you see kind of militant indies having a go, authors who choose to traditionally publish, we need to stop being so polarised in all of these issues and consider the nuance. And I think if that's the message I can get across with this and also

James Blatch: That would be successful.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, exactly. Becoming a better person, a better writer. These are all the things we want to be. Right.

James Blatch: Do we have a need to be tribal? Is that what this is? We like our tribes and we become entrenched. Oh, that's

Joanna Penn: Never going to change. No,

James Blatch: No,

Joanna Penn: That is never going to change. But I think the point is to be interested, to be curious. I feel this way. Why do I feel this way?

James Blatch: And empathetic. You are chatting to that guy and this is a brilliant thing and a brilliant thing in life is when you're talking to somebody, even if they are saying everything that triggers you,

The very best thing you can do for you and your understanding is to put yourself in their shoes for five minutes. So why does life look like that to them? So they're saying, I'm a communist and you are evil for using money and you are shallow. They're saying all these things. You should be thinking, what does life look like? How did you get to this point? Because that's a much better way and kinder way. Well forget kindness. It is kind, but that's irrelevant here. What's relevant is it'll get you to a better position of talking to them and understanding it. But that's almost part of nuance, isn't it? Empathy seems to be ebbing away as well at the moment.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, yeah. I would definitely say being more curious about why we feel certain ways is probably what it comes down to. But at the end of the day, this is a writing show. We are writers, we're business people and this is at heart about craft, it's about money, it's about business. So yeah, I'm still interested in becoming a better writer and making more money as a creative. So yeah, I'm releasing this on Kickstarter in between the 9th of October and the 25th of October, 2023. It's called Writing the Shadow. People can find [email protected] slash book and then that will redirect to wherever else it's sold after that. Since we're on video, I have to show you the, can you see the That's

James Blatch: Fantastic. Yeah, I saw it earlier. You sent me the grab. It is brilliant.

Joanna Penn: There's a ribbon. So this is going to be my first gold foil book

James Blatch: Is a ribbon. This a book vault special.

Joanna Penn: This is a book vault special. So only the Kickstarter will have the gold foil, but I'm pretty excited about that. So this is another thing for my sort of future is beautiful books, beautiful physical products, is what I want to move into. I'll still do all the digital stuff, but I want to make beautiful products.

James Blatch: Yes,

Joanna Penn: Especially beautiful.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Lots to think about, but I hope people will find the book useful.

James Blatch: Well, I've had a brilliant conversation, Joe, as ever with, we talked for nearly an hour about this. It has flown past and I think I'm now very curious about this book. Totally good. So hopefully that's the way this has come over to people and they've heard a lot of stuff from us.

Joanna Penn: Well thanks so much for having me, James.

James Blatch: You're welcome. Just a quick reminder in case I forget when I'm back handling this with Mark of the link where people can get to the Kickstarter and afterwards get to where it's for sale.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, so it's the creative book.

James Blatch: Perfect. Thanks Joe.

Joanna Penn: Thank you.

Speaker 1: This Is the self-publishing show. There's never been a better time to be a writer. Here you go. You've you in touch with your inner shadow. Mark. What is your inner shadow?

Mark Dawson: What is it? Goodness. I dunno, that's an interesting question to land.

James Blatch: I dunno if you've done the interview, whether you would've talked about your past and your inner demons as much as I did in that interview. But it was quite an interesting, it's got therapy session for me.

Mark Dawson: Oh my god, I haven't heard this. Yeah, listened. Sounds interesting.

James Blatch: It's revealing.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, I know Jo's been working on this book for years. So yeah, and doing really well with the last Kickstarter she ran was a big success and quite funny. I remember she told me she was worried she wouldn't hit her kind of very modest goal and she did that within about five minutes. So I don't have any doubt that she'll smash this one as well. So yeah, we look forward to probably might when I listen to you rather than read. So I look forward to her getting that audiobook out.

James Blatch: Yeah, indeed. Okay. Right. I think that's it. Just a reminder that you can buy, excuse me, tickets to the Self-Publishing Show 2024 in London from the 17th of October, 4:00 PM uk, which is 11:00 AM in New York and 8:00 AM in Los Angeles. If you go to self-publishing live, can't wait to see you there. That's it for me. Thank you to the team in the background who helped put this together. And thank you Mark. And to our guest this week, Joe Penn. All that remains me to say is it's a goodbye from him

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

Speaker 1: Get show Notes, the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at self-publishing Join our thriving Facebook group at self-publishing Support the [email protected] slash self-publishing show. And join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author. Publishing is changing. So get your words into the world and join the revolution with the Self-Publishing Show.

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