Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Find Your Book Midwife, Say “Yes” Before You’re Ready, Pitch to Build Platform, and Authentically Engage with Readers (interview with author Clarissa Moll)

December 16, 2021

For author Clarissa Moll, hiring a writing coach was like finding her book midwife, and she urges writers to seek that kind of intimate, knowledgeable support and input for their own writing and publishing journey.

In this interview, Clarissa shares her approach to writing, platform, and publishing, like:

  • make a list of 10 things whenever you’re stuck or developing an idea
  • say “Yes” before you’re ready
  • pitch publications as a core platform-building activity
  • authentically engage with readers—she’s committed to building connections and offering support

Listen to episode 242 and check out excerpts below. You’ll be inspired by her clear, sensible, inspiring personality and advice.

Clarissa Moll is an author and podcaster and the young widow of author Rob Moll. Clarissa’s writing has appeared in Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, RELEVANT, Modern Loss, Grief Digest, and more. Her debut book, Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Living with Grief and Thriving After Loss is forthcoming from Tyndale (2022).

Clarissa co-hosts Christianity Today’s “Surprised by Grief” podcast and hosts the weekly hope*writers podcast, The Writerly Life. She lives a joyful life with her four children and rescue pup and proudly calls both New England the Pacific Northwest home.

Interview Highlights

Enjoy these highlights from Clarissa’s interview.

Find Your Book Midwife

As folks in my life kept saying to me, “You should write a book!” I thought, I don’t even know where to start.

I mean, I can write a five-paragraph essay. I can write a thesis. But to write 55,000 words? It seemed like an elephant that was too big to swallow.

I knew that to do it well, in a way that was sustainable in my own life, I needed to make sure that I was having a meaningful life outside of my writing.

And I knew if I wanted to do this again—if I didn’t want to end at the finish line so exhausted that I said, “No more. This is it.”—I knew I needed some guidance.

And so I reached out to you.

I gave birth to my four babies with a midwife, and when you’re in that delivery room, that baby feels like the only one that’s ever been born. And isn’t it wonderful to have a midwife stand beside you, who’s seen hundreds of delivered, to say, “This is normal. You’re doing great!” To be able to offer that encouragement and guidance along the way.

And so I found in you my book midwife. You’re the person who helped me to make that journey from just a nebulous kind of idea to something that’s really concrete.

Make a List of 10 Things

One of the exercises that I have gone back to time and time again is one that we did together.

You encouraged me to write a list of 10 things. And if I struggled with making my list of 10, I had to write another 10.

When you’re out of ideas, just force yourself to put pen to paper. That’s where clarity is born.

It’s not born in the writer’s retreat over a long weekend or at a cabin by the lake. It’s born out of those very ordinary, disciplined kind of practices that you taught me.

Say “Yes” Before You’re Ready

Back in my acting days, I had an audition and the acting professor said, “Could you do an Irish accent for this audition?”

I said, “Oh, I don’t know how to do that. I’m sorry.” And nothing ever came of it.

A couple of weeks later, he came to me and said, “You know, I wanted to give you that role, but you said you couldn’t do it. Next time, say ‘I’ll learn how.'”

That kind of perspective has been really helpful for me, as I have said yes to things that are beyond whatever I have done before.

Had I podcasted before? No.

But when someone invited me to do the Christianity Today podcast, I said, “I’ll learn how. I’ll get the equipment. I’ll learn how to do the technology. I will do it.”

Check Your Heart

I’ve been trying to think about what other things I could do that relate to my writing.

Should I build in speaking more?

Should I be expanding podcasting?

Should I try to do some sort of retreat where I can be writing new materials that are actually more interactive?

Maybe group resources?

I’m trying to think beyond just book writing, and that’s exciting for me because honestly, I hadn’t thought about those things before.

I had just been thinking about this book baby and getting it born. And now as I entered this new stage—trying to think about how writing can be sustainable for me in the long haul—I’m thinking about diversifying in more ways than I ever did before.

I also hesitate, because I know that there’s some pressure to, once you publish a book, sort of build your writing empire. “Oh, it’s time to start a course!” Or it’s time to start this or that or the other thing.

And I think that’s where I always check with my heart and ask myself:

Is that where your heart is?

Do you need to write a new lead magnet because you know that this is what drives traffic and you feel the pressure to perform or to keep doing something? Or is it that you feel like you have something valuable to share?

And so in that space, checking my heart is a really good practice. To say, “Am I trying to build an empire here, or am I still doing the thing that I love—and am I reaching people with words that matter?”

When I do that, I find that I can take a break to rest without feeling any guilt.

Pitch to Build Platform

[Question from Ann: What is the backbone of your platform? What is your core platform activity?]

I pitch and write.

And I love to do it.

I have a list on my phone where I keep article ideas. I usually get like an idea down and then start to get bullet points underneath it.

In fact, a lot of times when I’m driving, I’ll have my daughter help. “Hey, can you pull out my phone? I’ve got some ideas!”

And once I start to see stuff kind of globbing together around an idea, I think, “Oh, okay. It’s time to pitch that.” And I pitch it before I’ve written it, because that makes me have to write it if they say yes.

I like that external commitment. I like that there’s a little bit of pressure there.

And as soon as I have committed to writing it, I start trying to get the idea for the next one. Because I want to keep the momentum going.

Engage with Readers

I told my publisher that I was committed to being engaged with my audience. That said, I was married to a man who published books before social media was the gauge for what a platform should look like. And so I have kind of an old school attitude toward platform-building.

Use Vintage Methods to Engage with Readers

I’m going to call it vintage, though, because I liked that better than old school. But when Rob published both of his books, he engaged with readers.

That’s what he did. And it wasn’t through social media.

It was to speak.

It was through radio and other kinds of interviews.

He emailed people.

It had an intimacy that I think a lot of social media lacks today.

And so even though I am building my social media platform as best I can…I’ve determined that an engaged audience is always better than a big audience.

And so for me, the commitment has been not so much about numbers, but about engagement.

Respond to Every Reader Who Emails

For example, when I sent out my monthly email, I write back to every single person who replies to me. I’ve committed to that.

I write to every single person who sends me a direct message on Instagram.

I’ve committed to that because I think it’s important for people—particularly in the space in which I write—to know that they’re not alone…to know that someone has read what they’ve written and cared about their words and wants to respond to them.

Who’s to say that if I had a gigantic following, I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. But I’m grateful for the small enough following that I have to be able to relate intimately to my readers and listeners, because I think that’s where the beauty happens.

The Magic and Beauty of Live Interaction

I worked in theater before I ever was a writer, and the live experience was exciting. There was the clapping, the laughter—there was an energy in that room.

And when you’re writing, it’s kind of a solitary practice. You’re all alone in your office, writing, hoping as you send your words out into the world, that it makes a difference to anybody.

And I think by committing to that kind of regular engagement with people you get some of that energy that I used to feel onstage. And that’s where the real magic and beauty happens in writing.

All that we don’t like about social media and all of its shortcomings—there is that—it’s closer to an immediate feedback that I really appreciate.

Clarissa’s Writing Advice

Keeping going when life feels hard is really hard. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to keep writing—to keep thinking that writing is something essential in your life.

Writing Doesn’t Have to Be Expendable

When life gets hard—and life getting hard could be anything from pandemic stressors to job difficulties, and for me, it was losing a loved one, but—it doesn’t have to be that kind of loss for life to feel hard and for writing to feel expendable.

And so I think if I were to say anything to a writer, I would say: keep writing.

Even if it’s just a little bit.

Keep Writing (Even a Little Bit)

A couple of sentences in an Instagram post?

That counts as writing.

Jotting notes while you’re waiting for your kids to be picked up in the school pickup line?

That counts as writing.

There are so many things that can count as writing! A really beautiful letter written to a loved one? That counts as writing.

I keep saving letters that a friend of mine sends to me because they’re beautifully written. And I know that those words were intended for me.

That’s an art to that. It’s writing.

When life feels hard, writing doesn’t have to be expendable.

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