“I’m a novelist, an award-winning poet and short story writer, a copywriter, and online writing tutor. I earned my living for many years as a freelance journalist and roving commissioning editor working at newspapers like the Guardian.
Some of the best moments in life come from those out-of-the-blue things you never expected to do. For me, these have included running a half-marathon, driving a Suzuki jeep halfway round Kenya while helping update the Rough Guide to Kenya, and writing a play about centenarians under the auspices of the Royal Court. I love watching films, especially early Hollywood, indie and art house; and collaborating creatively with others.
Self-employment is in the blood. I’ve done full-time jobs but always felt like my life would only start when they finished. That said, I’ve worked in scores of offices as a freelancer and contractor, and am proud to have earned my living as a self-employed writer and editor for 20+ years.
Starting a new business
But I never called what I did a ‘business’ until this year. I started 2014 with the idea that I wanted to create an online course about writing and happiness. I want to spread joy through my courses and my books, whether those are fiction or non-fiction. The idea became the Writing Romp course.
In the past, because writing imaginatively was where my heart lay, I used to come up against chronic self-doubt and a fearsome inner critic when writing fiction, which made the process painful. This didn’t happen when I wrote feature articles or did my copywriting for clients.
By persevering, trying different techniques and listening to myself, I found ways to conquer these demons. I now pass what I’ve learnt on to other, newer writers, helping them reach their goals more quickly than they would on their own. Some have no fear around writing while others are very blocked. I believe that fun, speed, excitement and sharing can get you past that inner censor. You’ve got to trick it, act like a kid and pull faces.
Another reason for creating the course was that I was keen to tip myself headlong into social media and online marketing, having hidden away from it – in the past, all my work came to me via word of mouth. Running an online course by hurling myself in at the deep end was a great way to get started.
I’m naturally a shy scribe but the pleasures of obscurity have their limits. I have to learn to market and self-promote or I won’t be read, I won’t make more money from my fiction, and that magical process of giving and receiving won’t take place, which will give me (hopefully) the enthusiasm to write more books. Unless I learn to sell myself, I won’t do more readings – I love doing readings; acting was my first love.
The 30-day online Writing Romp course
The first time I ran the Writing Romp course, I advertised in a couple of Facebook groups that I’d be running a free course to help people achieve a huge writing goal in a month. Within a couple of hours, 40 people signed up – gulp. I wrote the course as I went along between 12am and 2am after doing a full day’s work.
The fact that it’s run in a secret Facebook group liberated me to be completely myself and have heaps of fun. A zany spirit to the course emerged and an imaginary pet squirrel kept appearing on the page, so I allowed him to stay in. He’s become the course mascot.
People really loved this first (and subsequent) Romp. They wrote thousands of words. They planned out books and wrote blog pieces and edited projects (the course is suitable for all genres). Students voluntarily gave me amazing testimonials and asked to donate, while others gave me flowers.
At the end of the 30 days, I met up with people who’d done the course for dinner in London. This is still my favourite memory of the year. I’d just heard that I’d been short listed for a national poetry pamphlet prize, and then to feel that I’d helped all these people with their writing made me realise that a new door was opening that I should step through.
The online Writing Ramp Club
After that I created an online writing club. As with the course, I created something that I wish existed and would have helped me back in the day. The club is for graduates of the Writing Romp course and for more committed writers, again in any genre. The key elements are accountability and goal setting, giving and receiving critiques and a monthly tele-seminar. There’s lots more. For instance, for Christmas as a group we wrote a daft kids’ rhyming poem.
Club participants tell me that it’s an intimate, enthusiastic, safe and highly supportive environment. I feel so proud of them and what they’ve achieved. There have been many firsts: people have shared their writing with others for the first time, they’ve sent their writing out for the first time, they’ve been published for the first time. And soon someone who’s used the club to edit a project will publish her book for the first time.
You can perhaps guess that I’m a novelist from the fact that I focus on the through line but can’t resist a happy diversion. Ten years ago I was taken on by a wonderful literary agent from ICM Books (now part of Curtis Brown). She said she thought I was a short story writer becoming a novelist, which was a very clever way of saying, ‘Go away and write a novel’.
I’ve now finished one I’m happy with. The book is about two best female friends from London who take a sabbatical and buy their dream house on a beach, only to find a hand in the mud flats which grabs hold of them and won’t let go… It’s dark/alternative fiction with a whydunnit murder mystery, a love story, lots of magic, a possible ghost and a talking sheep.
In 2015 I’ll be looking for a new literary agent (my first agent sadly died). I would love to secure a book deal with a mainstream publisher to help get the novel out to as wide a readership as possible.
What’s happening in 2015?
This year, with the help of Judith and Club 100, I’d like to grow my mailing list for both my courses and my books. And I’d like to grow the Writing Ramp Club – I believe it could help so many people. I join Club 100 officially on 1 January and am looking forward to jumping in at the deep end. Already I can tell there’s an atmosphere of giving and receiving, which is incredibly inspiring, especially when you work by yourself a lot of the time.
Additionally, I’d like to spend more time writing my books underpinned by income from my club and courses. This means I can do more of what I’m passionate about and help more people, while doing fewer big, sometimes draining contracts. I’m not a writer who wants to stay stuck in her garrett: I’m always up for side projects, such as collaborations with visual artists or running a workshop on how to give a brilliant poetry reading, both of which I did this year.
Want to do my Writing Romp course?
The next 30-day Writing Romp starts on 15 January 2015. It’s a massive 60% off until midnight GMT on Sunday 11 January 2015. See JustinaHart.com/courses
The course works brilliantly for anyone who wants to achieve a big writing goal in a month, or who’s newish to writing or blocked in any way. Did I mention it’s a lot of fun?”
Find out more about Justina’s writing, her course and club at her website: JustinaHart.com
Follow her on Twitter: @justinahart_
Justina’s most seasonal book is Angels: millennial messengers, a Lottery-funded photographic book with essays about the resurgence of interest in angels.