Conquer those writing fears! A chat with Margaret K Johnson

Author Margaret K Johnson (no relation) has dropped into the coffee shop today with some very valuable advice on how to stop negative thoughts getting in the way of our writing.

Q First things first, Margaret – how do you take your coffee?
A White with half a sugar please. Quite strong. Thanks!

Q You’ve just raised a subject that I know lots of writers will be familiar with but that perhaps they don’t talk about very often – how fear stops them writing. What sort of fears are we talking about and what effect can they have?

A I asked authors in various online forums about their writing fears, and had quite a lot of responses. When I analysed them, they seemed to fall into four main categories – Obstacles and Author Mind Set (so real barriers to writing (like dyslexia, childcare responsibilities etc) but also barriers that are really about the lack of self-confidence on the part of the author), Fear of Failure, Fear of what Others will Think, and a Lack of Knowledge about Writing or Publishing.

After I’d done this research, I actually developed a quiz with questions designed to help the respondent to see what main group their fears about writing lie in. It’s on my website – here’s the link if anyone’s interested in taking it.

Looking through the quiz statistics, two issues come out on top – How can I find the time to write? (42%) of respondents, and What if I find out I’m a bad writer? (44%). In my face-to-face fiction writing classes, these fears or barriers usually come out on top too. It can be difficult to carve some time in your life to follow your dreams, and because they are your dreams, the thought of them not working out is tough to contemplate.

Q I’m sure a lot of new and aspiring writers will identify straight away with those fears but are they common among more established writers too?

A Many of those who took part in my original research were published authors. To some degree, they were thinking back to how they felt when they first started to write, but I teach fiction writing to a wide range of students, and in my experience, there’s always something to feel fearful about!

It’s the same as with anything you really want – the thought of not achieving it is a painful prospect. And as your confidence grows, and your horizons expand, you just reach towards the next scary thing, whatever that is for you.

Q Have you yourself been held back by them at any time?

A I’m not sure if I’ve been held back by them, but I’ve definitely experienced fears, yes. For example, I used to worry that my ideas would dry up (Author Mind Set).

I’ve had a lot of readers for people learning to speak English published, and I worried about using up all my ‘best’ ideas for them, instead of keeping them for the women’s fiction I dreamt of writing.

But then I learnt to trust that, provided I gave it the space it needed, my creative well would keep replenishing itself, and I decided to give every book – whoever it was for – the very best of me. I’m very proud of my readers as a result.

I’ve also had to deal with the issue of unsupportive partners (Fear of What Others Might Think). Very happily, that’s no longer the case, but at the time, it had quite an impact on me. One boyfriend used to stand behind me as I typed and read out passages of my writing in a deeply sarcastic voice. Reader, I did not marry him!

Q What’s the one you find hardest to get on top of?

A I have definitely written despite lots of obstacles and fears, and I suppose the biggest one of all has always been How can I make enough money to live and also write? I’m sure lots of people reading this post could empathise with that one! It’s a constant balancing and juggling act.

Whenever I’ve tried to write something with a view to simply making money, or to try to jump on a current band wagon instead of following my heart, it just hasn’t really worked out – a bit like my decision to put my all into writing my language readers.

Q And you’ve created a 10 day video tutorial to help us get the better of these fears. Can you tell us a bit more about it? How long does each video last – and is there homework? (ie writing challenges) So it’s something people can easily fit into a busy work day?

A People who sign up to The 10-Day Fear Busting Challenge for Authors receive a daily email for ten days with a short video (no longer than about three minutes) covering a different writing fear each day.

The videos are designed to make you think about your own fears and how they might be affecting your writing life, and include an inspirational quote. I do make some suggestions for written work you might want to do, but I don’t do that every day. The aim is to inspire and motivate you.

Q What sort of reaction have you had to the course so far?

A I’ve only just completed making the series and telling people about it, but the feedback so far has been very positive, which is great!

Q Is it available to everyone or do you have to be invited to join?

A It’s available to everyone. The more the better!

Q Does it cost anything?

A No – The 10-Day Fear Busting Challenge for Authors is free.

Q It sounds great – how do we join?

A You can sign up here:

KJ: Thank you so much for telling us about the course. Hopefully it will give me some ideas next time that doubting voice creeps in – as it invariably will! All the best with the rest of the course – enjoy your coffee!

MJ: Thank you for having me here, Katy. And thanks too for the coffee. It was just the way I like it!


More about Margaret
Margaret K Johnson is an award-winning author and experienced adult education tutor. She writes women’s fiction, fiction for people learning to speak English and non-fiction. Her books have been published by Cambridge University Press, Cengage Learning, Crooked Cat Publishing, Omnific Publishing, and Earthy Works Publishing. Her novella Kilimanjaro recently won an Extensive Reading Foundation Gold Award.
In 2014, Margaret founded WriteUP Courses – creative writing courses with a confidence-building element. Since then, she has helped many students to embark on their writing dreams, or to use writing for therapeutic purposes.

Margaret lives in Norwich, East Anglia, with partner and her bouncy son and dog, and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.

Her books can be found on Amazon, where she has an author page.

Taming Tom Jones by [Johnson, Margaret K]







Launch day tomorrow!

Product DetailsProduct Details

I’m very excited to have two author visits during my online book launch tomorrow. Fellow Crooked Cat writer Angela Wren whose detective story is set in a French village and Tessa Harris who wrote the Thomas Silkstone anatomist series will be here to talk about their writing.

It will be fascinating to hear from two crime writers whose books are so different. I’ll be asking where they got the inspiration from for their novels, how they researched their books and how they plotted the story. Anyone who comes to the event will be able to ask them questions and be in with a chance of winning one of their books.

In addition, there will be extracts and background snippets from my novel on release day, discussions and quiz questions for small prizes.

But those who aren’t on Facebook won’t miss out on the interviews – I look forward to publishing them on this blog afterwards.

More author interviews coming soon!

5 days to go…

It’s five days until the launch of my novel!

Launch Party – Friday 15th July 

Please drop in to my online launch event on the Facebook event page to help me celebrate, and learn more about the book. To get to it click on this link

The ebook costs £1.99.

You don’t need to own a Kindle to read it. If you haven’t already got the Kindle app, you can download it for free from Amazon and read the book on your ipad, phone, Mac or PC – or online via the Kindle cloud reader.

Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings will be released for sale on Friday but you can pre-order now on

What’s the story about?

It’s 1931. Nothing much has gone right for Jack since he graduated from Cambridge last year. His career has failed to take off, his fiancee’s ditched him for someone with better prospects – and now he’s received an invitation to their wedding. He dreads going to the wedding alone, surrounded by high-achieving friends. So when he meets a beautiful girl who offers to accompany him he jumps at the chance. But by accepting her invitation he finds himself drawn into a world of intrigue and murder.

Jack’s captivated by Giselle who seems to embody everything he wants in life but he gradually starts to question if she is all she seems. When she disappears from a train carriage just after telling him a chilling secret, he’s tormented by guilt and fear for her safety – but his desperate hunt soon reveals how little he really knew about her.

More details to come on Friday – see you there!



Holding an online launch party

Join me on Friday 15th July for the online launch of Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings

With a week to go until the release of my novel I’m feeling nervous but excited!

I’ve never held an online event before although I’ve been to a few as a guest. I’ve been doing some research and have been asking more experienced authors for their advice.

Until last year I’d never even heard of online launches but having been to several I think they’re a really good idea.

Of course most authors love the idea of a traditional launch in an exciting venue and there’s no reason why you can’t have that too but these days even big-name publishers  expect their authors to pay for it themselves.

It’s a big outlay, there is a limit to the number of people you can invite, and how far they are prepared to travel. And when you consider the price of an ebook the maths doesn’t really add up.

An online launch helps you reach people from further afield, perhaps the other side of the world. Guests can drop in throughout the day and can attend from the comfort of their office/home so it really doesn’t interfere with their day.

The launches I’ve been to have been very different from each other but each has been suited to the book and that seems to be the key. It’s a new concept and there are no hard and fast rules.

The main purposes of a launch are:

  • to thank people who have supported you in producing the book
  • to increase awareness of your book
  • to sell books.

Most importantly, guests need to know how to ‘get to’ to the launch (it’s the event page) and what to do. I’ve told them they can just drop in and say hello or they can stay longer and join in. There will be a link for them to buy the book and they will be asked to help spread the word but most of all I hope they have fun.

They will also probably need reminding that it’s on.

I’m putting together a schedule so that throughout the day there will be posts about the novel and characters and some extracts. And I will invite guests to travel back in time with me to the 1930s with music, pictures, fun questions and discussions.

Because my novel is a crime story I’ve been thinking of having some murder mystery scenarios and asking people to vote on who the murderer is.


I will also have a couple of guest authors drop in to talk about their crime writing and there will be a draw for small prizes.

As this is my first time and it’s fair to say I’m no techno whiz I’m having to learn a few things from scratch but I’m looking forward to letting you know how I get on in my next post.

Do you have any suggestions? Please leave a comment.




This is an extract from a Q&A interview I’ve just published on smashwords. I’ve discovered I’m more comfortable asking questions than answering them! Can you think of any other questions that would be useful here?

Interview with Katharine Johnson

What is your writing process?
Like many busy parents juggling writing with family life can sometimes be a challenge. I’ve got used to making the most of small pockets of time – thinking through ideas while walking the dog and hoping I can remember them for later. I wrote much of my last novel in a cafe during my children’s after-school dance lessons. In the past I’ve been very disciplined and not allowed myself to write fiction during working hours but now the lines are blurring a little.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes – I wrote my first book when I was nine. It was a collection of stories about a naughty chimp, complete with illustrations in Bic biro.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first book I read on my own was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when I was about six – and yes it had a very powerful effect. I was always an impressionable child and had to keep checking the back of my wardrobe just in case it really did lead to another world!
How do you approach cover design?
It’s a new experience for me – a joy but also daunting. My publisher gave me a selection of styles to choose from. If I’d been given a totally free choice I probably still wouldn’t have made up my mind. I always thought I would go for a photographic cover but after taking advice from people with more commercial experience I went for an abstract design as pictures of people are so subjective.
What are your five favorite books, and why?

Very hard to narrow it down, partly because I’m usually in love with the book I’ve just read. But consistently in my top five would be

The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald – beautiful language
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier – brilliantly plotted
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh – I love the conflict
The End of the Affair, Graham Greene – I love the narrative voice
So Many Ways to Begin, Jon Mcgregor – I love the way this man writes

What is your e-reading device of choice?
Describe your desk
Oh dear, must I? It’s usually a mess which makes me best suited to working at home. I have no idea how things end up here. Right now, apart from my overflowing in-tray, coffee cup, notebook, two novels and two how-to books on writing, I see my husband’s childhood teddy bear, half a model plane belonging to my son, two pairs of glasses (mine), and a lion cub key ring I don’t even recognise.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Bristol and went to school in the city centre. We spent lunch times hanging around the docks, looking round exhibitions in the Arnolfini and the Watershed or browsing the stalls at St Nicholas’ market. Our school was in the middle of a housing estate and I spent a lot of lesson time looking out of the window, observing life in the surrounding flats. I suppose that curiosity about other people’s lives has influenced my writing so it wasn’t all time wasted.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a novel about a villa in Italy and the secrets it holds. But I flit between that one and another about a group of housemates in their first job who make a grisly discovery in the basement.
Who are your favorite authors?
I never say no to a book by Barbara Vine or Patricia Highsmith. I also really like most books by Ian McEwan and anything by Roald Dahl.

Choosing a cover

One of the most exciting aspects of having a book published is choosing the front cover – but it’s such an important decision. Unless you’re a really famous name your book will be judged by its cover. And you only have a few seconds to grab people’s attention.

The cover has to

  • capture the story.
  • make a connection with your target market.

Until I had to choose a design for my novel I hadn’t thought very much about artwork. I know what covers attract me and what ones put me off but that still leaves a bewildering choice.

Do you want a photographic image? An illustration? An abstract design? There is so much to think about, from the image to the font to the colours used.

One thing that strikes me is that it’s as much about the reader’s emotional response as about the information given.

How much input you have in the cover design can vary. Your publisher might commission a designer/photographer or you might be given a selection of covers to choose from.

Being given a choice can be fantastic – but it can also be daunting. Unless you have a strong design/publishing background, it would be unwise to ignore the advice of someone who has. Their choice will probably be more commercial which will be better for your sales.

If you feel strongly, however, discuss it with your publisher. A friend of mine had a gorgeous illustration done for her first historical novel.There was just one problem – having spent months researching her story to make sure all the details were right she was dismayed that the picture was wrong for the era in which the story was set. She voiced her concerns to her publishers and had it altered.

In the end I went for an abstract design (from GoOnWrite) for my novel because I wanted it to be intriguing. The story contains letters and a journal so I felt it fitted with this ink storm. What do you think of the design? Would it encourage you to read the blurb? Please let me know.



10 Openings that made me buy the book

Sometimes you know from the first page or even paragraph that you’re going to love a book. These are some of my favourite beginnings.

  1. Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again. – Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
  2. Marley was dead, to begin with. – A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  3. Ten days after the war ended my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. – The Blind Assassin, Margaret Attwood.
  4. The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. – The Secret History, Donna Tartt.
  5. If you really want to hear about it the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like…and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. – The Catcher In the Rye, JD Salinger
  6. Hale knew before he had been in Brighton three hours that they meant to murder him. – Brighton Rock, Graham Greene.
  7. It was the day my grandmother exploded. – the Crow Road, Iain Banks
  8. Isabel Dalhousie saw the young man fall from the edge of the upper circle, from the gods.
  9. There was nobody there to meet him. – The Outcast, Sadie Jones
  10. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.- The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Which opening lines have made you determined to read a book?