Interview with Karen Marston of Untamedwriting.com
Karen Marston is the creator of Untamedwriting.com. Her blog inspired me tremendously, and her individual take on writing commercially is refreshing in a desert of vacant online marketing strategy. I am truly joyful to interview her, so here we go…
1.) On your blog (untamedwriting.com) you sort of point-blank declare over and over again that marketability and personal dignity are not mutually exclusive to each other. You write from your own experience how a creative type can keep their soul and their bills paid. Was there a time when you tried to fit yourself and your work into the sterile little fit-for-mass-consumption box you were told you needed to fit into in the name of commercial success as a writer?
Karen: NEVER. I’ve always been a rebellious soul who’s done things her own way, so it never occurred to me that I should be trying to do things a certain way to be successful. Even my first ever freelance writing website (now defunct) had a lot of personality packed into a short space, and it helped me land some cool clients.
I think it helps that I don’t come from a corporate background. I was a barmaid before this, where sass and laughter are all part of the job, and that lent itself to the personality that seeped into my brand. Not ALL my clients liked this, though. I had a couple in the beginning who said things like ‘can you remove this bit, it has too much personality’ and ‘dull and boring will be fine’, if you can believe it. But around the same time, I also had new clients responding to my cold-email pitches saying that my voice was refreshing and that they’d love to hire me for that reason, so that helped reinforce the fact that I could make this work.
2.) Was there a catalyst that led up to the unapologetic sense of rebellion present in your blog or has that always been a natural part of your approach?
Karen: It is just who I am :) It may have gotten stronger over the years as I’ve grown my following and realised that, yeah, people like this and it works. I don’t think you have to be rebellious to build a strong brand, though. I think you just have to not be afraid to be who you are. So the unapologetic part is important.
3.) You seem like a good person to ask…what’s with the double-spaces after periods? Are we not doing those anymore? I was told we’re not doing those any more.
Karen: Good god, Donnie, this isn’t 1972. I have never done this. That’s something to do with typewriters, right?
4.) You are releasing a space adventure novel soon. How is it that coming along?
Karen: I am definitely not releasing this soon! I literally started writing it about three weeks ago. I’m about halfway through chapter 4 now, with a few other scenes from later in the book written here and there. I’ve got about 15,000 words total so far, as well as an absolute shitload of annoyingly contradictory notes.
So I need to finish the first draft, then go back over everything and smooth it over with the second draft (to make sure everything makes sense) before I think about having it beta read, then rewriting again, then professional editing … so um, no, I don’t anticipate this will be released for at least a year and probably more. Sorry!
5.) Could you say more about your lead character? What is her biggest weakness? Her biggest strength? Is she partly you?
Karen: I wanted to write a strong female lead who was rebellious and fun (responsible and serious is much more common), because I don’t think we see enough of that, so in that respect, yes, she is partly me. However, she’s much more of a lazy slob than me (ha!), and right now she has some serious issues with taking responsibility for anything.
Biggest strength? Hmm. She doesn’t overthink things. It sounds minor, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from working with lots of people on their businesses, it’s that women overthink the shit out of things and it prevents them from taking action or being as good as they could be.
6.) What have you learned so far in your first venture into novel writing?
Karen: The ideas come to you as you write (or walk! I have done a looooot of walking while thinking about my book). In the past I thought I wasn’t imaginative enough to write a novel, but now I know all you need is a concept and a couple of characters, and you can figure shit out from there. For me, it began with ‘I want to write a space adventure featuring badass female leads’, and then I figured out what the story should be. It’s changed and developed a lot since I began, too.
7.) On top of the book, what services are you still offering through untamedwriting.com?
Karen: Oh man, I’m currently in the process of shaking up Untamed Writing. Something quite a few people have asked me is whether I offer coaching, so that’s something I’m considering adding, with a focus on helping people to write better and to be more fully themselves in their businesses, though I guess it depends what people want my help with! My main service offering is writing website copy with personality for brands who don’t want to be generic and dull. I’m planning on sending out a survey to my readers soon to find out what they’d like from me.
8.) What’s a soulpreneur? Are you planning on making any amends to people like me who didn’t know that was a thing until reading your blog?
Karen: Haha. A soulpreneur is an entrepreneur who proclaims to run a ‘heart-centred’ business, usually. Ironically, I am fully on board with the concept, and you could argue it’s what I do myself, but the term soulpreneur just makes me cringe and think of shit like crystals and tarot cards, which is very much NOT me.
There are also mompreneurs, fempreneurs, etc. I think part of the reason I don’t like it is because it’s so often used by women, like women can’t just be regular entrepreneurs? We’re not that different from men. Seriously. Why do we need to be ‘fempreneurs’? Why do we need to make that distinction?
9.) In your space between working at the nursing home and a pub and writing copy professionally, was there a point you decided to go all-in so to speak with writing? Is there a specific time where you realized, ‘holy shit. I can actually make a living by writing’?
Karen: I think the first time it occurred to me that maybe I could be a freelance writer was when I was reading Eat Pray Love while backpacking in 2010. I think Liz Gilbert must’ve mentioned it somewhere. It wasn’t until another couple of years later that I actually did anything about it, though. I was feeling trapped in a shitty bar job, where I’d just been promoted and was getting paid 50p more per hour for the privilege of having the owner bitch and whine to me every three seconds. So inside the space of a week, I got my website set up and I found my first client. I quit a couple of months later, once I was making the same as I’d been earning in my bar job. (Not difficult, because as I said, it was shittily paid.)
10.) Are your stories of being fired funny, and would you like to elaborate?
Karen: Well, let me tell you, Donnie, and you can decide. The first time I got fired, it was for having a lock-in at a pub I worked at and giving away tons of free beer. I was supposed to post the keys through the letterbox of the manager, who lived close by, once I’d finished locking up. So naturally when I didn’t turn up … there was a tap on the window and everybody went dead silent. Then, because we were drunk, some idiot just HAD to have a look. And then I did the whole ‘you can’t fire me, I quit’ thing, if I recall rightly.
The second time was less dramatic and interesting. I’d returned to an old job after being away in the US for the summer, and when I returned everything had changed, including the staff, and I HATED it. And it was very obvious I hated it. And the owner was like, ‘this isn’t quite right, is it?’ And that was the end of that.
11.) How did the idea behind Untamed Writing come about?
Karen: I spent some time thinking about my core values and what I loved. I am rebellious and I love nature, so Untamed just seemed perfect. Still does, really. I can’t believe how beautifully the brand has come together. I started off with a pretty ugly website. It was plain and the shade of green was all wrong and my logo had a swirl in it, which I’m guessing you know just isn’t really me.
But then I got my brother to take some photos for me (he’s a fantastic photographer and you can see his stuff here: https://www.instagram.com/42zx/) and they turned out to be exactly what I wanted, capturing the rebellious side of me while I was hanging out in the woods. Later, I got a logo designed by my friend Harrison and, god, I still can’t get over how great it is. I love it and it just completes the brand.
12.) You write about this industry that has been formed, composed of online gurus eager to show the would-be entrepreneur the way to marketing success. There are so many people who would love nothing more than to break out of their 9–5 routines and do something they love. Along come the tutorials on search engine optimization, social media networking, how-to’s and commandments on how to draw in maximum sales in minimal time. What would you say to the aspiring writer who wants to be true to themselves/their voice but is too afraid to break from the ‘tried-and-true’, ‘safe’ path to marketing success? Man, that was a wordy question!
Karen: This is never an easy one to answer, because I think it’s most people’s instinct to play it safe. Actually it IS an easy one to answer — but taking action on my answer is hard if it’s not something that comes naturally to you. Here’s what I think — you have to learn to listen to yourself and to take action on what feels right to you. Don’t second-guess yourself. Just try stuff that makes sense in your brain and see if it works. For people who aren’t natural risk-takers, it might be best to do this while you still have the security of a job.
Also this I guess — what’s the point of doing this if you’re not going to allow yourself to be truly you? Because that’s why we do it, right? So we can just be ourselves in life. Why is that so fucking hard?
13.) You play video games. I play a zombie game on my phone a lot. Probably too much. Because of this unproductive distraction, am I going to fail as a writer and live a miserable and unfulfilled life, forced to face the horror of my dreams and ambitions staring hungrily at me with their huge pupil-ed vacancy on my deathbed?
Karen: I literally spent 60 hours playing Final Fantasy XV a couple of weeks ago, so no. Although I do think having a separation between work and play helps massively, and this is something I struggle with myself sometimes.
14.) I know you love to surround yourself with nature (me too!…fist bump). Is there anything else you do to maintain a functional state of mental health?
Karen: I journal. I don’t do it every day, or even particularly often, but sometimes I just need a good journalling session when there’s too much going on in my brain that I can’t figure it out coherently without putting it to paper (or screen).
Also, socialise sometimes? I can handle looong periods of time alone, which is good because I work alone and live alone, but I do try to hang out with other people at least once a week.
I think my walks are probably the best thing for my mental health, though. I walk for 1–2 hours almost every day, listening to music and thinking things over (usually whatever creative project I’m entrenched in). Oh actually, you know what? WORK ON A CREATIVE PROJECT YOU ENJOY. Life is just better when you’re using your brain to do something worthwhile that you think is fun.
15.) Sometimes I hate writing. What’s your least favorite part about writing?
Karen: Research. Bam, next question.
16.) What kind of music are we listening to as of late?
Karen: Depending on whether I want chilled or energetic, either this or this:
(Yes, I am a geek. I almost exclusively listen to anime/video game soundtracks. I do like other music, but somehow it doesn’t often get a look in these days.)
17.) Finally, if you could have a chat with any person living or dead, who would it be? Actually, I’m going to add to that…if you could punch any person currently living in the face, who would it be and why?
Karen: I would have a chat with my dad. I’d catch him up on everything that’s happened since he’s been gone. Tell him I moved to Edinburgh, and so did Mum, and I started a business and it’s going really well, and Chris is still in Grantham and he’s a dad himself now, and you would just adore little Luna.
I don’t have a strong urge to punch people, but if I did … idk, Nigel Farage seems like a good choice. Except I wouldn’t want to get his germs on my fist, so I’m not sure.
18.) How much time do you spend in an average week writing?
Karen: THIS VARIES SO MUCH. I have no idea what the answer is. Sometimes I will spend all day writing and other days I won’t write a thing. I don’t think I have an average, but if I’m working on something I’m excited about I can spend days doing nothing but writing (and walking, of course). BUT IT’S NOT ALWAYS LIKE THAT, lest you feel bad about yourself. Sometimes I also don’t write anything at all for days.
I would like to thank Karen once more for doing the interview. Sell Your Stuff, Not Your Soul A guide to writing sleaze-free sales pages to sell your products, courses and services online. is a PDF guide offered through her blog that I’d recommend any aspiring writer to check out.
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Originally published at donaldhuffman.com.