Meet R.E.M. Verberg: “I live in Utrecht, The Netherlands, with my partner Dirk, and our two pet rats.
For the past fifteen years I’ve worked as a (bilingual) writing coach and copywriter, while writing fiction on the side. Perfectionism and a ‘highbrow’ education — a degree in Prose/Poetry from the Utrecht School of the Arts — held me back from pursuing a career as an author. Writing was something just for me. When I started exploring genre fiction, in a different language, I finally truly found my voice.
Meanwhile, I coached many (sometimes published) authors, ran two businesses, and learned to find balance with a chronic illness. Over the past few years I’ve started to direct more and more professional energy towards my own work, and now I’m excited to share it with the world!”
Thank you for sharing your insights! Here’s the interview:
Tell us about your book(s). What influenced you to write it/them? (No detail is too small.)
My book is actually an ongoing audio series! It’s a novella-length fantasy story I’m writing and recording in separate episodes, together with my awesome editor Louisa Mitchell and narrator Diana Moore.
The Raven’s Toll consists of 12–15 episodes, and you can listen to it for free on my podcast, Far-Fetched Stories. It’s about an ancient being forced to dwell in a world he once nearly destroyed; the deadly power he has sworn never to use again; and the events that will lead either to his salvation or his doom.
When I started querying my first manuscript (The Book Of Regret) I found myself looking for a way to get in touch with people more directly, instead of just waiting for my book to — hopefully, one day — be published. Audio stories seemed like an interesting way to do that, so I tested the waters by creating a few short ones. That was so much fun I decided to expand the concept into a series, focusing on a character from and taking place in the world of my novel. I hope the series is both entertaining to listen to as a standalone, and can introduce people to my fantasy universe.
How did you come to writing? What was the moment you knew writing was what you wanted to do?
That’s a whole story, but the gist of it is I attended the School of Writing (Utrecht School of the Arts), a long time ago. Even before that, I always thought I’d be a writer, at least if my teenage diaries are to be believed. Once I’d finished art school, however, I was fairly certain I didn’t have what it took. I felt I wasn’t literary enough and didn’t have enough opinions on the intricacies of modern-day society.
Since I was really good at commercial writing and critiquing other people’s work, I became a copywriter and writing coach. I still wrote books on the side, but they were just for me. For some reason, I could only get over my self-doubt by writing strictly for the love of it. As long as I did that, my confidence kept growing. Then, a few years ago and after three ‘practice novels’, I finally decided to follow my heart and write a fantasy book.
I can’t really explain what happened next; it was like something finally clicked for me. I think writing fantasy freed my from that expectation my work had to be super ‘literary’. And that gave me the courage to say ‘I’m going to take this seriously’. Now I publish audio stories, have a game plan, and rearranged my life in order to make ample room for my writing. I don’t know where it will take me, but I know it’s what I’m supposed to do.
What is it about writing that excites you?
My stories nearly always start out as what’s best described as a composition of emotions. Like a painting I can almost, but not quite, see. Catching a glimpse of one of those paintings, or compositions, is really exciting: it’s something I know I can translate into a form that’s tangible for others. So that process feels incredible — even though it’s really hard. After the initial flare of inspiration, I have to translate that glimpse I caught into a situation, actions, consequences, characters who face all kinds of challenges, etc etc. Sometimes it almost feels impossible, and it definitely never comes out the way I initially thought it would. But it’s still fun to try — it feels necessary to try. I don’t think I could live without trying.
What is your writing process or practice like? Do you have any regular rhythms or writing habits?
I have a chronic illness, so I’m actually pretty boring when it comes to my writing practice. I work part-time in an artisanal soap workshop, so most mornings I spend there. When I get home, I usually take a walk and mull over my thoughts and ideas; then I change into my ‘house clothes’ (we all have ’em) and write in bed. I love listening to film scores, particularly by Carter Burwell. And I have one rule I never break: if it’s a writing day, I have to write 300 words. It’s a small number, but I have to make it. That really helps keep me consistent, particularly because I don’t always have the energy to write for longer periods of time.
Tell us about how you juggle and/or balance writing with the rest of your life? What are the struggles and the joys?
That’s a great question. I always knew writing would be more than a hobby for me, in the sense that I’d like to have an audience eventually, but the money aspect is less clear-cut. I’m not somebody who has a very commercial take on my craft, or writes to the market. Not that I have anything against that — it’s just not what I prefer to do. So that means I’ll probably always need a part-time job in order to make an income. It used to be copywriting, but over the last few years I’ve transferred to doing PR and communication for that soap workshop I mentioned earlier.
It sounds like an idyllic work environment, and to be honest, it is. My colleagues are amazing! Plus, when I get home, it’s very easy for me to turn my work ‘off’ and switch to writing. The downside is that I have a lower income now, but I’ve never really cared about having a lot of money. All in all, I think it’s a balancing act. You just have to find what works for you, and I that looks different for everybody.
In terms of publication, what are some of the biggest challenges you face? How have you worked to overcome rejection, failure, and self-doubt?
In hindsight, those nearly ten years of writing ‘just for me’ were definitely a way to become more secure in my craft and my passion, without any external pressure. I needed that time. When I was younger, I was really susceptible to how ‘the world’ saw me, and early success or failure would have influenced my writing too much. Now, I feel like I have a strong enough grasp on myself and my work to be able to showcase it and be secure in it, no matter the outcome. Not to mention all that practice has made me a way better writer!
It’s a cliche, but in the end it comes down to that inner drive to write. As long as you have that, as well as a willingness to better yourself and be critical of your own work, you’ll get something out of your writing. Be it a professional career, or a sense of fulfillment — but something will happen.
And now some lighter questions…
How do you celebrate successes? What does success look like to you?
What success means to me has changed over the years. It used to be writing things that were exciting in my own eyes. Now, all of a sudden, there’s the outside world to take into account, so that brings its own sense of success. Recently, a complete stranger on a fantasy forum told me that episode 1 of The Raven’s Toll had blown them away, and that they couldn’t wait for episode 2. That was so unreal to me. I think that’s what success looks like, now: to get someone else invested in this strange world I created in my head.
Who are some of your favorite writers and your favorite books of all time?
Impossible question, but if you shipped me off to a deserted island right now and I could only take three books, I’d take Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
What are your favorite writing resources (books, websites, podcasts, etc.)? Links please (if available).
To be honest, these days my favorite resources are a writing group I’m part of, plus the in-depth convos with my editor and writer friends. The two writing books that helped me the most over the years, were On Writing by Stephen King and Story by Robert McKee.
What is your favorite writing snack?
Dates and apples (that sounds super healthy, but I save the potato chips for afterwards).
What is the last TV show you binged?
Season two of Sex Education, and before that, The Witcher. So much fun.
Where can we find your work? (Links to books, websites, etc.)
Listen to the First Episode of Raven’s Toll here.
If you want to get in touch with me, you can find all my info and socials on my website, too!
— Find me at —