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I Sing the Writing Electric:
An Interview with Michael La Ronn

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A real treat here, folks: the popular author of ninety books (and counting) and YouTube broadcaster Michael La Ronn generously took some time out from his beyond-busy schedule to answer a couple—well, a lot of questions. The man is so interesting it was difficult to stick to a short Q&A. This one's for newbie and seasoned writers alike. Enjoy!

I'd like to learn about your writing process. What inspires you to start a work, and how long does it take you?

My works are often inspired by a mishmash of ideas. For example, I once heard the lyrics to Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” (featuring Bruno Mars). There was a line about Bruno being so hot that he makes a dragon want to retire. I thought, “A story about an old dragon---that would be cool!” Then, I happened to be watching House of Cards on Netflix around the same time and thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I wrote a story about an old dragon who was one part Frank Underwood from House of Cards, one part Richard III, and one part Smaug from The Lord of the Rings?” And then, my series The Last Dragon Lord was born. All of my works begin with these types of idea mashups.

 

In terms of how long it takes me to write a book, I take as long as it takes. Every book makes its own demands.

Do you have a favourite length to work in e.g. short story, novella, novel?

I prefer novels because I like the challenge. Novels also give me the space to develop worlds and characters in ways I just can’t do with short stories. I love writing short stories, and they also hold a special place in my heart, but I like the intellectual rigor of writing a novel more.

 

Do you use pen and paper, computer, laptop, phone? Jeff VanderMeer once wrote me if he was trying to get the feel for, say, a noir character, he would write part of his draft on an old Remington typewriter.

Over the years, I’ve learned to write anywhere, at any time, using the methods that are available to me at the moment. When I’m at home in front of my desk, I write on my computer. When I’m walking my dog, I dictate my work into a voice recorder. When I’m sitting at the doctor’s office waiting to be seen, I write on my phone.

 

I use writing apps that allow me to sync between all my devices seamlessly so I can pick up where I left off. With a young family, frequent traveling, and a demanding job, I’ve had to learn to work this way out of necessity.

 

I said I would probably never write with pen and paper again--but never say never. I recently took a trip to Latin America, and the area I was in wasn’t terribly safe, so I didn’t take my phone or laptop. So I wrote part of a novel with a notebook and pen. I used a transcription program to transcribe my words into digital text when I returned home. Like I said, I’ve learned to write anywhere, any time, and with any method available to me.

Do you work alone or in coffee shops? In silence or to music? With a favourite sweater on—I'm thinking Edward Gorey's The Unstrung Harp—or using a special pen or other "lucky" token?

I prefer to work alone. Writing for me is as sacred as prayer and it’s best done alone. That said, sure, I like going to coffee shops now and again, but it’s an exception rather than a rule. (Plus, it’s a lot cheaper to stay home).

 

I can write in silence or with music. It just depends on what I’m writing. Some people don’t like to write to music with lyrics; lyrical music doesn’t bother me because I typically only listen to songs I know very well anyway. I tune out the lyrics.

 

I don’t have any other special rituals or objects for my writing. Writing is just something that I do—doesn’t matter where or when. It’s as natural as breathing for me, so I don’t need any help getting into the mood.

Do you keep a commonplace book, or rely on memory? Or perhaps use voice recordings to email to yourself? Or do you agree with whoever it was that said if an idea is good, you don't need to write it down?

I have kept a digital notebook since 2012. I started it in Evernote, but I have since migrated to Microsoft OneNote. Any time I have an idea, I write it down (or record a voice memo that I save in the notebook). I do this religiously.

 

I have amassed thousands and thousands of notes over the years. This is one of my antidotes to writer’s block. I like to leave my notes messy and unorganized so that when I review my notebook, I randomly encounter a mishmash of ideas. This helps to boost my creativity when my creative well runs dry.

Your love for humanity shines through your books and your videos. How do you keep the faith going through difficult times?

Writing and connecting with other writers is how I do that. I can’t tell you how many emails I have received over the years from people who have read my books and reached out to tell me that I made a significant impact on their lives. Just the other day, someone wrote me and told me that my writing books lifted them out of a dark depression. That keeps me going.

 

But most importantly, writing is how I discover myself. It teaches me who I am, what I believe, and how I want to live in the world. Through my characters and worlds, I’m really just exploring myself. So, the more I write, the more I learn about myself and my connection to this crazy world we live in.

Favourite movies/documentaries? TV shows?

This is such an impossible question, but I’ll list a few.

 

For books, my biggest inspiration is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It changed how I view the craft of writing. I dedicated my first book to Ray for making me see how beautiful the written word could be.

 

For other inspirations, the Final Fantasy JRPG video game series has been a constant wellspring of inspiration for me. I played these games as a kid, and they left such an impression on me. A team of unlikely friends fighting against evil and always saving the world in the end—that’s the exact definition of my fiction.

 

I’m also endlessly inspired by music. I began my creative career as a musician. I wanted to be a video game music composer. From music, I learned discipline, improvisation, and dogged determination. It made me a better writer.

How do you manage such a busy schedule that would kill most people? Also, I'm very interested to know more about your legal career; The Author Estate Handbook is now on my "To Read" list.

I’m extremely motivated. I had a near-death experience in 2012 that made me realize how important it is to follow your dreams. I write about it in my book Be a Writing Machine. I’ve also learned to write anywhere, which helps me stay productive.

 

But most importantly, I do so much because I love this life. It’s the best time in the history of the world to be a writer, and I try to remind myself of that every day. If writers from previous generations came back to life and saw all the amazing things we have today—spellcheckers, digital writing apps, book formatting software, and the ability to self-publish and reach readers directly, to name a few—they would chastise us for being such babies about writer’s block.

 

I went to law school because I knew it would help me become better at the business side of writing—understanding contracts, copyright licensing, and so on. I obtained an abbreviated law degree that doesn’t qualify me to practice, but I still got to take key law school classes and spend a lot of time with law professors and practicing attorneys. I also got to take classes on copyright and employment law, which were invaluable to me as a writer. Plus, I persuaded my employer to pay for it!

 

The decision has already paid off dividends, and I’m glad to have done it. It was stressful, but it was well worth the sacrifice.

Plus you can always add lawyers or as we call them here, solicitors or, even higher up, barristers (KC, King's Counsel), as characters, without having to do loads of extra research!

 

What do you think of AI as used for writing?

I believe writers should use AI to become the best versions of themselves. I do not believe they should click a button to generate a novel. That’s what a lot of people are hoping for, but that takes the creativity out of the process, which is what readers prefer.

 

I prefer to think about AI as a running partner. It’s there for me when I need it. It can help me with writer’s block. It can help me eliminate typos. It can help me keep track of my story details. It can help me flesh out text I’ve already written. There are so many beautiful use cases with AI that can truly help us evolve as writers. We are too quick to label it as evil and we miss these use cases. But as we move into an age of AI, it will be important for us to remember why readers buy books in the first place—because of a great story. While AI may one day be capable of that, it’s not right now, and we should take advantage of that and “double down” on our humanity, as Joanna Penn often says.

Do you have any advice on overcoming writers' block and/or finding a way to believe in your abilities?

There are three root causes to writer’s block.

 

The first cause is fear. Fear is a biological response designed to protect you from harm. While writer’s block may feel like a life-threatening situation and the block is definitely valid, it’s not actually fear. It’s anxiety. When you understand that your brain is simply trying to play tricks on you because the biological response is a vestige from our prehistoric days, then you realize that the anxiety has no power over you.

 

The second cause is lack of creativity. If you keep a notebook and find ways to fill your creative well regularly, you can also avoid most serious cases of writer’s block that arise because your creative well has run dry.

 

The third cause is life circumstances. Life happens to all of us. Illness and death strike us and those we love. Issues arise at home that you need to take care of. You might go through a busy season at work. There’s no shortage of ways life can knock us down. When the writer’s block arrives in this case, it’s because your subconscious is telling you that you need to divert your resources to solve the immediate problem you’re dealing with. Deal with the problem and the writer’s block goes away.

 

Some problems like chronic illness are more permanent in nature, and at some point, you have to learn to write around the problem. Write on the days you feel good, even if that’s only a few days here and there. Everyone’s picture of “good” will look different, but the key is to write when you have the energy and not beat yourself up about how little time you have.

 

When it comes to belief in yourself, only you can do that. Belief in your abilities is a choice, even if you aren’t currently living up to what you want to be. I can give you all the advice in the world, but if you don’t choose to step into your potential, it won’t help.

 

Self-doubt is an epidemic in the writing community. By definition, we are sensitive people—it’s why we’re able to tell such great stories and move readers to laughter and tears. However, self-doubt is the dark side of that sensitivity. Self-doubt comes from trauma and internal wounds that we haven’t dealt with. Popular to contrary belief, having all that inside you doesn’t make you a better writer—it makes you more prone to self-doubt, which can ultimately sabotage everything you’re building in your writing career.

 

I recommend therapy to deal with self-doubt. There’s such a stigma around therapy, but it’s one of the best thing you can do for your writing. It’s the ultimate self-care and the strategies you learn in therapy can also help you with writer’s block, too.

Michael, thank you for your precious time and sharing such a treasure trove of life experience that writers across the spectrum, from newbies to seasoned old dragons (i.e. me) will enjoy and learn from. Wishing you and yours all health, happiness, and prosperity for the future.

Michael's fiction 

Michael's non-fiction

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Michael La Ronn

(also known as M.L. Ronn) has published 90 science fiction & fantasy novels and self-help books for writers.

 

His fiction includes the urban fantasy Good Necromancer series, the dark fantasy Last Dragon Lord series, and the futuristic science fiction Android X series. Currently, he writes primarily urban fantasy.

 

His nonfiction books for writers include the bestselling Be a Writing Machine, which teaches how to beat writer’s block forever, and The Pocket Guide to Pantsing, which explains how to write a novel without an outline (with confidence).

 

Michael also runs the award-winning YouTube channel “Author Level Up,” with over 40,000 subscribers and 2 million views. Writer’s Digest voted the channel one of the “Best Resources for Writers” in 2020.

 

Michael devoted himself to the writing life in 2012 after a near-death experience, writing 10 to 12 books per year despite working a demanding full-time job as an insurance executive, raising a family, and attending law school classes in the evenings. His productivity methods are so effective that his YouTube subscribers have accused him of being a cyborg in disguise (he pleads the fifth).

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Michael's YouTube channel

Author Level Up

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Ray Bradbury

On Writing

He's everywhere! Michael's Facebook page

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