Recently, I was lucky enough to be able to do a Q&A with Australian journalist, author and media consultant Sarah Wilson, who has inspired more than 400,000 people ditch sugar from their lives.
Sarah started her IQS (I Quit Sugar) journey after becoming increasingly unwell as a result of what she famously once referred to as the ‘clusterf*ck’ of a frenetic lifestyle coupled with an undiagnosed autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis). Being the practical, forward-momentum style gal that she is, she went ahead and independently published the first IQS book (no imprint), just to get all the recipes in one convenient place for her readers. Of which there are many.
Here are a few juicy snippets of the Q&A, and you can head over to The Woolf to read the full text.
From the outside looking in, you tick a lot of ‘success’ boxes: New York Times bestseller, a gazillion followers on your various social media channels … you’ve interviewed the Dalai Lama, Australian Prime Ministers, Gwyneth Paltrow … How do you measure success in your life, and has it changed over the years?
I won’t pretend that some of those ’highlights’ have certainly instilled me with some incredible satisfaction and also confidence. However, some of the big bombastic milestones were achieved during a time in which I felt very much out of alignment and so I almost dismiss them. When I do something and I feel in alignment, then I feel I’ve succeeded. There’s an Ayurvedic word—dharma—which describes both what you do and also your destined contribution to life. When the
two are aligned you’re in your dharma. This is success.
from a young age … I was going to be someone who shared important ideas
Your writing has a very distinctive ‘voice’ and tone—which is sort of like the Holy Grail for writers (of any ilk). When did you first realise you were good at communicating ideas? And was it a long process to find your own particular voice?
My Mum says that from a young age (8) I told her I was going to be someone who shared important ideas. For a long time I thought I’d be the first Prime Minister of Australia. I’m certainly glad that didn’t transpire! I think I developed my voice during my tortured teens. I used to write letters to a good friend at highschool (we’d swap them at lunch) and a few years back we gave each other each other’s letters to read. I realised my voice hasn’t changed at all. One discovery that I came across via blogging was that my voice is most authentic when I ‘dig down’. When I really submerge into the present moment and feel what I write. I often find this is when I’m in an discordant place—like on a plane, or in a doctor’s waiting room. And it happens best when I’m slightly melancholy, premenstrual and when I handwrite.
The Hachette/Amazon debacle in June this year has thrown the issue of DRM (digital rights management) in the book publishing world into relief, as ‘traditional’ publishers come to grips with the immense power Amazon has as a distributor and also as a publisher in its own right. (Cory Doctorow’s overview in The Guardian here.) You now have a publishing partner for your IQS books, but how important is it for you to sell your books directly from your website (as you have been doing since the beginning)?
I think I kind of answer this above. And actually, it’s my philosophy for media in general—if you have a strong, researched, authentic message, the best idea is to distribute via as many outlets as possible. You can’t just write an article and get paid to have it published in one outlet. Nor can you simply write a book and expect it to sell on its own. You’ll never earn enough to eat. Which means placing all your eggs in one publisher/outlet basket doesn’t work. You have to spin a whole bunch of plates at once. And it’s best if you do it yourself because traditional media hasn’t really caught up to this.
You—and many other lifestyle/happiness and thought leaders—talk a lot about the importance of daily habits. One of the big challenges facing writers of longer projects (fiction or non fiction) is how to ‘go the distance’: i.e. reach that daily word-count, plus pump out regular content for marketing purposes, while staying physically and mentally on your game. Given that you are prolific—blogging, writing columns, engaging with people via social media, and of course writing books—do you have specific routines or habits that you incorporate into your daily life to address this ‘screen-based’ part of your job? Do you have set writing times?
Yes! I have a morning routine. I’ve written about this a lot on my website. As well as in my books. A sturdy start to the day provides the right tone and pivot point. I also am quite diligent about creating my own boundaries—I turn off email to get creative work done, I set aside every Thursday for reading and researching (dense cerebral stuff). When I have a big project, I go away on a Think Week to nut out things.
my team spends 60% of the week working on content that we give for free
You give a great deal to your readers and followers in terms of written advice, information and engagement, and yet there are many writers who refuse to supply content unless it’s paid for (here’s Jane Friedman’s overview of just one example). Over the years, how have you as a professional navigated the fiscal versus social economies when it comes to investing your time and energy? And what role do you think digital media has played in (re)defining the value and roles of content?
The dynamics of online are about giving stuff for free. I’m a firm believer in this and I’ve discussed before how Seth Godin taught me this lesson. When you work online (indeed, Godin says this applies to anyone creating), you give for free first. Once you have a tribe, you can then charge for aspects of what you do. I do this. I wrote a blog (unpaid) for three years before having a revenue stream. Today, my team spends 60% of the week working on content that we give for free. This is how online works, and to a certain extent writers need to realise this. Of course, it is different when your only wares are posts. But my point would be that all creatives have to think about new ways to monetise, after giving.
I provide a lot of free content and have never asked to be paid for my contributions on blogs. I’ve always known this is how it works—I give out my information to build an audience.
More of this interview over on The Woolf.