Linda Sivertsen, BEAUTIFUL WRITERS: A Journey of Big Dreams and Messy Manuscripts—with Tricks of the Trade from Bestselling Authors

Linda Sivertsen, BEAUTIFUL WRITERS: A Journey of Big Dreams and Messy Manuscripts—with Tricks of the Trade from Bestselling Authors

Zibby speaks to Beautiful Writers Podcast host and New York Times bestselling author Linda Sivertsen about her new book Beautiful Writers: A Journey of Big Dreams and Messy Manuscripts–with Tricks of the Trade from Bestselling Authors. Linda describes the inspiration behind the book and her decision to weave her personal story with the advice of brilliant authors. She also talks about her stint in celebrity dog-walking, her tree-saving mission, the book ideas that came to her in dreams, the details of her busy life (it includes saving wild horses from slaughter!), and her advice for aspiring authors. Listen to Linda interview Zibby on her Beautiful Writers Podcast HERE.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Linda. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your book, Beautiful Writers: A Journey of Big Dreams and Messy Manuscripts–with Tricks of the Trade from Bestselling Authors.

Linda Sivertsen: Thank you, babe. It’s so good to be here. I adore you. I loved Bookends. You know how much I love Bookends.

Zibby: I had the best time on your podcast with Silvia. That was so much fun and a true highlight, honestly. It was so special.

Linda: For me too. I love that episode so much.

Zibby: Tell everybody about your book. When did you write it? Why did you write it? The whole thing.

Linda: Why did I write it? There are so many reasons why I think people write books. I’m on a mission. I’ve got all sorts of things, charitable things. The gist of it, Zibby, really, when I just go to the core of it, I feel like my life has been so dramatic and so up and down and so hard in so many ways and yet incredibly magical. When I remember that I’m magical, life flows so much better. I’ve been on a mission for my career to remind people of their magic. I think books, as I have discussed, are the best way in the world to be reminded of that. I just can’t wait to get to the page every day. I just love to write. I love to share stories that remind us of our potential and the beauty in the world.

Zibby: I love it. You did such a wonderful job of weaving in your own story with all of this advice. I like how you even laid it out. You have so much. You could’ve put it in the body of the story. That must have been a huge decision. Instead, you do blocks of quotes from literally every author under the sun, many of whom I’ve had on my podcast. It was nice to see all of these people again, but so many who I haven’t. You have Sabaa Tahir, who just won the National Book Award.

Linda: You were there, right?

Zibby: I was there. She was literally at the table next door sobbing. I was sobbing. Everybody at my table was crying. It was the most emotional —

Linda: — I was crying at home. I know. I was crying at home. She and I have become friends. I love podcasting because you get to know people. Then they become your buddies. You care about them. You love their work. I was sobbing too. That book, All My Rage, it was just beyond.

Zibby: Maybe talk a little bit about when you thought about sharing your story and including the writers, how you decided to structure it this way, how you decided which authors to bring in. Then I want you to share your own story with listeners because it’s so interesting.

Linda: So hard to figure out format. I felt like I was drowning carrying this book in a body bag around my ankles for years, just dragging her around. I could never ever stop thinking about her. She started out as a divorce memoir. When my husband of nineteen years bailed, I was so devastated that I couldn’t hold information in my mind. I have all these self-help buddies, leaders in the field, because I’ve been a self-help author and ghostwriter forever. They would call me, and they would give me the world’s best advice. Five minutes later, it was out of my brain. I started just writing down everything everybody told me. Then I thought, wow, a lot of people in my position, like probably a million people a year going through divorce, don’t have self-help people on speed dial. I thought, I wonder if what I’m going through could be valuable. I wrote a divorce memoir. My agent and I went to New York. She was there. I met her there. We met with publishers. Everybody was like, “You have all these struggling writing stories. They’re funny as hell, but why are they in the divorce memoir?” I’m like, “Because I’m trying to show how hard it is being married when you’re two creatives and you’re clawing your way to the middle.” Some of the publishers were like, “Why don’t you give us all of that in one book?” Then others were like, “Your husband’s so bad-boy cute. Can we look at him online?” I’m like, no.

It was so crazy-making, Zibby. I was so frustrated. I put the memoir away, gave it back to the muse, to God, whatever. I was like, okay, I’m done. I’ve been so obsessed with this story for so long. F it. You take it. I am just going to go put my feet in the grass. I’m going to drink tea. I’m going to watch clouds. That’s what I did for six months. I swear to god, I was the happiest person I’ve ever been. Everyone got me back. My best friend was like, “You’re so much more present.” My son was like, “Mom, where have you been?” It was really, really nice. Then one day, I was reading Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. I was in bed. I’ll never forget. It was four AM. I was like, oh, if I thread the wisdom from these best-selling authors who I idolize from my podcast, if I thread in their wisdom when I’m telling the arc of my story — when I’m struggling to get an agent, how did Ann Patchett get an agent? How did Dani Shapiro get an agent? She has one of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard. She did everything wrong and got the biggest agent in the world. It was like, if I thread their little crazy-making faceplants amongst my faceplants and if I thread in their wisdom amongst my faceplants, maybe that could be really entertaining.

I started just plotting it out and putting it together. I fell in love with her. That’s a key for anybody writing. You guys, we know when something’s not right. I knew with the memoir. Right before I got on the plane, I read the whole thing the night before. I went, uh-oh, I don’t love her. I loved pieces of it, but I didn’t love the whole thing. I called Martha back. She had read it. She loved it. I was like, “Martha, it’s not ready. It’s not ready.” She goes, “Don’t go. Don’t go to the meetings.” I was like, “What do you mean don’t go?” She goes, “They won’t get you. You’re too woo-woo. Don’t do it.” It was so nice to see that she had a destiny after all. It was just a different format. I had to be patient. Sometimes books are squirrely mother f’ers. You know. You had the same thing with Bookends. It was iteration after iteration over same timeline, fifteen years, right? Ten, fifteen years.

Zibby: Basically, every chapter of yours that I was reading, I was like, oh, my gosh, me too. Oh, my gosh, me too.

Linda: Me too. I did the same thing with Bookends. I was like, we are soul sisters separated at birth.

Zibby: Talk about your jobs and the dog sitting and all the things starting out. I actually was referred — why was I even talking about this? I was like, I know the person who was dog sitting — oh, somebody else is writing a novel about a dog sitter. I was like, no, no, no, you have to read this.

Linda: Over the years, I’ve seen novels, nonfiction books, movies about dog walkers and dog sitters. I think it is just a really cool, weird career. I remember when Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts broke up. I’ve never told this story anywhere. They broke up. Entertainment Tonight and all those tabloid news shows were covering it every night like it was the Menendez murders. It was such a big deal. I took care of Jack and Dave, who were their border collies. I would go into the house. Julia’s no longer there. I’m there. Kiefer’s on set. I’m there. I’m so tempted to open their drawers and their cabinets. I’d walk in. There’d be piles of pictures. I’m so tempted to look at that stuff. You can’t do that. That’s so unethical. I think that’s why so many people write about it, because you’re living a reality show. I was watching Kiefer Sutherland. I was watching Kirk Douglas. I was watching these huge icons have really dramatic personal lives that you don’t see on TV. Sometimes they cry to you. They’re in their bathrobes. You’re coming to get Fido and take Fido out for a walk. These people are baring their soul to you. You’re like, huh, this is kind of creative. I loved being a dog walker. I never thought I was going to do anything else. I always wanted to be a writer as a kid. Never thought I was smart enough. I was the jock, fun girl. I didn’t party. I wasn’t a partier. I have high natural serotonin. I apologize to anyone who doesn’t because the few times I’ve been depressed in my life, it sucks. I just have always been kind of high on life. I was an athlete, not a student. I would come home and study. I would study ancient Egypt and astrology and all the stuff in my parents’ library. That’s the stuff I would study. I was in the bottom third of my graduating class in high school. That’s where yours and my story are like, .

Zibby: Okay, fine.

Linda: College, oh, my god, if I got class on time and if I paid attention, I did okay, especially in the environmental stuff. Environmental engineering, I got an A. Community psychology, I got an A. The rest, who knows? When I had a dream that told me that I was supposed to write all these books and gave me titles and format — basically, I just took dictation for six months. I was fired up. I was like, damn, hot damn, I guess I can do it. I still had to fight those internal bullies. I love those stories. I was determined.

Zibby: You literally had six books come to you in a dream.

Linda: Yeah. The crazy part is, as you know from the storyline on Beautiful Writers, as I’m struggling to get the first one done, I thought it’ll be on Oprah in six months. I, like every other newbie, is super grandiose and not at all realistic. All these other titles, I keep seeing other people release them. I had this really panicky urgency because I was so invested in the first one. I thought, is somebody going to get her too?

Zibby: Then what did you do? Pedal to the medal.

Linda: I was so driven by my mission. My mission was — I had this grandiose belief as a little kid. My mom was a tree-hugging environmentalist. She worked at Stanford. She was telling me about global warming when I was five. I’m old now, so people, I don’t think it’s fake. I was on this mission as a little kid. I was like, I’m going to help save trees. I’m going to be a tree hugger who doesn’t kill trees if I ever become a writer. Boy, that one’s hard to figure out. Wow, the thing you love the most in the world kills the thing you love most in the world. My last book, Generation Green, was on recycled paper. Then this one is on Forest Stewardship Council paper. That just makes my soul so happy. Because I was driven by a bigger mission — this is the overarching lesson, too, about the book. Whatever your mission is — you’re so connected to kids. You have so many great charitable things that you do. Whatever your mission is, find a way to connect it to your creativity. Then all the naysayers, all the rejection, all the BS that happens — because guess what? It happens for all of us. You just go, yeah, whatever. It’s like a tsetse fly. It just bounces off you. You’re willing, then, to do the work. You’re willing to study and become a beautiful writer when you’re not initially, when your grammar is all f’ed up.

Zibby: You were so hard on yourself, honestly, in this book. I feel like you continue to think this is so unlikely just because of school. You were so down on yourself for so long. Yet it didn’t matter. Ultimately, you just rose above. I wanted to be like, stop. Just stop. You’re being so mean to yourself.

Linda: That’s so funny. I thought I was really nice to myself. That’s an interesting — I’ll go back and look at it and go, hmm, I wonder what Zibby saw. I really felt like I was blindly walking in, so grandiose, to situations where I just — I do think you’re right. I definitely am self-deprecating. That’s for sure.

Zibby: Talk about your first book, Truly Charmed. Did I get that? I said it wrong.

Linda: Lives Charmed.

Zibby: Lives Charmed. Sorry. Talk about that, what that experience was like. Then I want to end up at your divorce.

Linda: It’s so fun. The first book that came to me in the dream — when they all landed, I was in the bottom of my closet scribbling with a flashlight. Didn’t want to wake up the family, who was right out there. I loved her initially because I got to interview people that I was already connected to through my dog walking business. The first person I interviewed was Paul Williams, who had won an Academy Award for A Star is Born, for “Evergreen” with Barbra Streisand. We were living at his house just before that. My son was actually born in his guest bedroom. Long story. I went to Paul. I said, “I’ve had this dream. I’m supposed to interview all these luminaries about how they succeeded, spiritually, mentally, environmentally. Can I interview you?” He’s like, “Sure.” Like you, as soon as I turned on that microphone, my whole world changed. I realized that we don’t ask our friends and loved ones often, the really, really important questions. Suddenly, this sparkling world opened up for me. My husband and I had lived at Paul’s house for two years. I thought I knew everything about him. He and I cried on the carpeted stairs for hours about past loves and all sorts of craziness. We were living there because he had just gotten over a drug and alcohol problem and had gone to rehab. We were taking care of his estate while he was gone. Then when he came back, he was like, “Guys, can you stay?” We’re like, “Sure.” At any rate, it just taught me that you got to ask the real questions and get deep with people. Everybody has a magical story. Everybody has so much to share. It just totally changed my life.

Zibby: Amazing. Can anybody be a writer? What do you think? Anybody who wants to write a book, can they write a book?

Linda: I give these writing retreats in Carmel. People will call me. They’ll say, I don’t know that I’m very good. I say, I don’t give a shit. I don’t care. I said, if you’re passionate, if you have a vision, we’ll find you a ghostwriter. We’ll find you an editor. Everybody needs help, myself included. I’m too close to my own stories. I have a mentor that I worship. She gives me the world’s best advice. Everybody needs help. It doesn’t matter if you can’t write a sentence. As long as you’ve got the passion, you’ve got the idea, yes, you can learn to get way better, way better, and fast if you’re committed. If you need help, it’s everywhere. Something like fifty to seventy-five percent of books are ghostwritten. I shouldn’t say that.

Zibby: That can’t be true.

Linda: I’m an ex-ghostwriter. Some people say the stats are higher.

Zibby: Really?

Linda: Yeah. The last time I checked, there were only five thousand professional ghostwriters. It’s why I quit. You end up getting so busy that you can’t breathe.

Zibby: I was a ghostwriter too, but I told you this. You already knew.

Linda: I know. Duh, because we’re separated at birth.

Zibby: Another thing. I know. So much. Anybody can write a book. All they have to do is take your class, have a little confidence.

Linda: I love helping people, but there’s a lot of ways to write a book. Google it. Just start.

Zibby: What is the biggest thing that gets in people’s way?

Linda: Oh, gosh. Fear. Fear that they’re not good enough. I have this motto that I live by. That is, if you have the ache, you have what it takes. I don’t care if you’re afraid. I’m afraid. Everybody’s afraid. I hate doing these interviews at first. Not once we’re on air. I love this. Getting me here, hate it. I have all sorts of fear, but it doesn’t matter because we’re all terrified, every single one of us. In the book when I was interviewing people, it was shocking to me. Cheryl Strayed, Nia Vardalos, everybody’s scared, Sabaa. Everybody is scared. You just get beyond that. You just put your ass in the chair.

Zibby: Amazing. Let’s go to the divorce piece of your life and what you had in the divorce memoir that did not make it into this book.

Linda: Oh, lord. Actually, you’re going to be in book two. This book is idea — actually, prior to idea. It’s to school or not to school or making a life before it pays to write and then idea to publication. That’s the scope of book one. Book two, which I’m about halfway through — I don’t know when I’ll release her because I like having a balanced life for a change. Book two is everything that follows publication, which is a humongous arc. That’s networking and PR and book two and teaching and all the things. You’re in that book. When I interview people now, I ask questions that really pertain to that. Of course, things like time management and fear and stuff will always be in the mix. The divorce is the second half. What can I tell you that isn’t in this book? It gets more dramatic. Book one, this book, ends with me publishing that book that you see me struggling, my first book, as a nobody living in the woods in nowheresville, to achieve. Book two, it’s just come out. Leeza Gibbons does a whole talk show on the book. It’s a big deal. CNN’s running things, but I’m working at Trader Joe’s. I’m scrubbing toilets. I’m coming out with my toilet cleaner, and a guy at Trader Joe’s goes, “Didn’t I just see you on CNN yesterday?” I’m like, “Yeah.” That’s how book two starts. It just gets a lot more dramatic. It’s still fantastically fun. I love writing this stuff. I love the chaos. As I said to somebody the other day, drama is not great for real life, but it’s wonderful for stories.

Zibby: Is this where you write, at your desk here, this beautiful background?

Linda: Yeah. I write everywhere. I could write in a barn. I can write outside. I definitely move. I’m like Mary Karr. She talks about this cute thing in the book about how she takes her computer fourteen hours in a day and just plops down all over the place. That’s me. I’m always plopping down, but this is my center, my hub.

Zibby: Do you read all the books by the authors who you interview? If so, ?

Linda: A hundred percent. That’s why you and I have, also, a very different — I only do one show a month, if that. Since I was on book deadline, I only did a couple a year. I was doing them every month for five years, six years. They take me fifty hours to produce. I count that as reading time. I read them. I read, sometimes, all their stuff. I watch everything I can. By the time we’re sitting together, I feel like I’m Nicole Kidman in The Hours. I’ve just spent 72,000 years getting into the headspace of you, Zibby. I’m playing you as an actress. When I interviewed you, I had spent forty hours on you. I’m obsessive. That’s how I edit books too. It’s horrible.

Zibby: It’s not horrible. It’s amazing. It’s wonderful. That’s probably why it was my favorite podcast ever.

Linda: That’s sweet. That means a lot.

Zibby: What are you reading now? What are you loving? What are you reading not to prep, but just for fun?

Linda: Growing Joy, so sweet. It’s about plants and how they help you evolve. I have three books on my bedside. Actually, this is one. I didn’t think I was going to want to get into this one.

Zibby: Nicholas Sparks, Dreamland.

Linda: I’m hooked. I’m halfway in. I’m hooked. Those are the only two I can remember right now. Although, I have a stack by my bed, an absolute stack. Always. Just like you. It’s ridiculous. The hardest part of my job is that — it’s probably the same with you, I’m guessing — is that I can’t read all the things I want to read.

Zibby: Yeah, not enough time. Tell me about your crazy, busy life when you’re not writing and podcasting and prepping and all that.

Linda: Listen to this. I knew that you and I were going to be speaking at eight AM, my time. I’m in Scottsdale. I woke up at five because my husband has been on a horse trip, so I knew he was rolling in around six with a couple of the horses. I wanted to be like, “Hi,” and connect with my husband. I haven’t seen him in a week. I was super excited. I got up at five. Instead of showering and getting ready to see my husband and maybe prepping for you and all that, I had to go to the online auction for saving wild horses here in Arizona, had to bid on that, had to call London and try to get money to save these fourteen mares and babies — #AlpineWildHorses, everybody — that are being rounded up here in Arizona. Some of them are going to kill-buyers for meat in Mexico, which is really lovely. This is a herd of wild horses I’ve watched for a couple of years out in the wild in the most gorgeous place you can imagine. It is catastrophic. That is what I spend most of my time on, is saving wild horses from slaughter. Then I’ll do another podcast today. Then I have three clients that I’m taking to agents, so I’m getting their stuff prepped and ready. I have family coming in tonight. It’s all the fixings for Thanksgiving. It’s a mad, crazy life.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, wow. Good for you.

Linda: I just painted the garage for my husband to surprise him for his birthday.

Zibby: That’s so sweet. I’m going to be in Scottsdale, by the way, in May, May 8th to 10th, I think, for the Mom 2.0 conference. You should totally be a part of that.

Linda: Okay, whatever. I’m in. Sign me up. I don’t know about it, but I’m there. If you want to come ride, we’ll go out in the forest across the street and just be wranglers.

Zibby: No, thanks, but I would love to see you anyway. Maybe not wrangling.

Linda: No, not wrangling.

Zibby: I rode for a little bit when I was girl, but then I got so allergic to horses and hay and dirt and dust and everything related that I would just sneeze the whole time.

Linda: I was too. I found a lady in Los Angeles. In one session, she cured my horse allergy. I’ll tell you about that later. We should put that in the show notes.

Zibby: Seriously.

Linda: It was magical.

Zibby: I’m also allergic to my dog, but I don’t let that stop me.

Linda: I hear you.

Zibby: Linda, thank you. This book is so helpful. It’s so wonderful. I know we always talk about, oh, authors get rejected, but the stories here were so concrete and career-affirming, life-affirming. All the different parts of the business that the authors talk about and you talk about and all the motivation that you weave in so nicely, it’s a really fantastic package. Beautiful Writers, love it.

Linda: Thank you, Zibby. I adore you. I adore everything you’re up to. I’m so happy to be in your orbit.

Zibby: Thank you. You too. Have a great day. Have fun with your husband.

Linda: Thanks. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.

Linda Sivertsen, BEAUTIFUL WRITERS: A Journey of Big Dreams and Messy Manuscripts—with Tricks of the Trade from Bestselling Authors

BEAUTIFUL WRITERS: A Journey of Big Dreams and Messy Manuscripts—with Tricks of the Trade from Bestselling Authors by Linda Sivertsen

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