Eight Questions: Interview With Garrett Robinson

Garrett Headshot SizedGarrett Robinson is an indie filmmaker, writer, and YouTuber who came onto our radar as a caller back in the first year of The Self-Publishing Podcast. He’s also been a great part of what you see here at Sterling & Stone, creating a lot of the videos you’ve seen, including the Fiction Unboxed stuff and the Nuts & Bolts series, in addition to formatting our print books.

His most recent book is the Nightblade series. Read Episode 1 for free. Or get the full volume, episodes 1-8 here.  (P.S. It is on sale today only for .99!)

You can find him on Twitter here: @GarrettAuthor

What is your daily creative routine like?

My day never starts without at least two cups of coffee. I take a while to get going in the morning, so I use that time to plan out my day. I sit down and plan my day out hour-by-hour. The plan I make is a lot like my story beats—I might not stick exactly to it, but it gives me guidelines and reminds me what I should be doing.

I try to always get at least two hours of writing in first thing in the day. If I put it off until later in the day, I have a tendency not to get around to it. I write in hour-long spurts (hehe—spurts) with thirty-minute breaks in between. If I can manage it, I’ll get in four writing hours this way (with the breaks in between, that adds up to about six hours of time).

More often, though, I’ll peel off onto some other project. I have my YouTube videos, my filmmaking, and sometimes freelance book editing or other freelance work. Sometimes I’ll get an idea for a new blog post or some tweak I can make on my online presence, and spend the rest of the day doing that. If you think Sean Platt loves to dive off after shinies, I’m ten times worse. And I don’t have the clear long-term direction, either. That’s why it’s so important to me to get my writing done first thing in the day, before I get distracted.

What does your creative space look like? What are some of the must-have devices and apps that make up your creative toolbox for writing and your YouTube and movie work?

My desk is in the middle of my room, where it takes up more space but looks better in YouTube videos. The desk is an antique, a gift from my parents when they were trying to clear out space in their house. I’ll probably never get rid of it—at least I don’t plan to.

To my left is my microphone, on a stand that lets it swing in easily for my YouTube vlogs or webcam video broadcasts, and on the other side of the desk is my bookshelf. I only have one bookshelf right now, but it’s overfull and I desperately need another one.

My camera is behind me and to the left. In order to make my YouTube videos, I simply turn around and speak into the camera. It keeps my two main art forms separate in my mind. When I’m facing one way, I’m on camera, I’m being my YouTuber personality. When I’m facing the other way, I’m a writer, and my mind is focused on creating the next story.

In a way this is similar to people who keep two computers—one disconnected from the Internet and ONLY used for writing, the other for personal use and business use and everything else they use a computer for. By creating a physical distinction between the two tools, you make it easy to mentally shift from one type of production to the other. My camera/computer arrangement works the same way.

On the left wall of my room is my couch. I have to have a couch in my office. Sometimes I need to rest. Sometimes I need to take a break and watch some YouTube videos (just like a writer must read, a YouTuber MUST watch other YouTubers). But if I only had my work chair in my office, I would be tempted to leave it all the time. Even though I sometimes nap on my couch, keeping it nearby is actually good for my productivity.

You were an indie filmmaker before writing stories. What are some of the key differences in how you approach storytelling in the two mediums?

What’s funny is that one of the most common reviews across my books is that they “read cinematically.” To some extent, I probably don’t approach writing differently enough to my filmmaking. I spend very little time in my books ruminating on what my characters are thinking, and a lot more time describing what they’re doing, trying to let their actions spell out their emotional state.

For that reason my books are a little less thoughtful than, say, a Collective Inkwell or Realm & Sands book. BUT, when people read them, they often see the scene playing out before them in their mind. I want to create that effect on them; it’s less important to me for them to be in my character’s head, and more important for me to imagine the story as a film or television show. I want to create a desire within them to see my books on the small or large screen—because one day that’s exactly what I’m going to give them.

What sorts of habits or routines do you have in place to manage writing, movie making, and your YouTube channel?

Not enough routine, that’s for damn sure!

I am constantly trying to improve my time management. Distraction is a major problem. A new project always appeals more to me than a project I’m in the middle of, and for that reason I’m certainly no model of efficiency or productivity.

Oddly, though, people still see me as very productive. I’m lucky that I can write quite quickly and know video very well. That means that while I’m bad at managing my writing time, and my YouTube time, when I do work on writing and YouTube, I get them done very quickly.

One of my main problems is accountability. I always, always work best when someone else is there to nudge me along. I’ve long had the goal of being able to afford a part-time assistant, whose main job would be keeping track of my ongoing projects and making sure I’m working on what I need to be working on. I try to substitute with automated reminders, a Google calendar, and so on, but since the motivation to follow them comes from within, this remains my biggest struggle as a creative individual.

What are some of your biggest creative challenges and how do you overcome them?

I never have problems coming up with new ideas, or figuring out their execution. My biggest challenge is commitment and follow-through. Right now, I want to just sit down and write the next four books in my Nightblade series. But I have other commitments to friends, family, and online friends and connections. I allow myself to get dragged off onto other things, and so my creative work suffers.

That being said, I try to always be honest with my audience about what I’m doing and what I’m going through in terms of time conflict. My audience is awesome, and very understanding, and I receive constant messages not to overtax myself, to take care of what I need to take care of, and just keep producing things as quickly as I can.

Rather than make me complacent, this usually spurs me on to be more productive and manage myself better. Because I love how understanding my audience is, and that makes me want to be a better creator for them—to give them what they want, because they are after all the most valuable people in my creative life.

NightBladeWho are some of your strongest influences?

Science-fiction and fantasy are my world. Those are my genres. I’m not generally interested in anything that doesn’t have either lasers or swords. Whether it’s books or films, video games or topics of conversation, if it’s not speculative, I’ll become bored quickly.

Anyone who knows my work or my YouTube channel knows I’m a huge fan of Tolkien, and he will always be my biggest influence as an author and creator. Ender’s Game was also tremendously influential in my life, along with Star Wars. Although, to be fair, I have a complicated love affair with both of those science fiction works because of their creators, who can be some pretty problematic individuals.

At the same time I try very hard to branch off and find less well-known sources of entertainment. I love mainstream—Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Star Trek—they’re all brilliant. But I think people who only know the mainstream, have a tendency to just parrot the mainstream in their own art. Probably my favorite less-well-known fantasy is the Riddle-Master trilogy by McKillip, and my favorite less-well-known sci-fi book is Expendable by James Alan Gardener.

What is the best creative advice you’ve every received? 

“Ready, fire, aim.” Many people spend so long planning creative projects that they never do anything. Whether that’s wannabe-screenwriters in Los Angeles, or aspiring online authors who create a blog, a twitter, a podcast, but never actually publish their damn book.

I understand where they’re coming from in one respect. I have an epic fantasy series and a galaxy-spanning sci-fi space opera series that I will not write until I feel I’m at a new, higher level of artistic ability. But in the meantime, you’ve got to do something. You might say that my entire writing career up to this point has been practice, training, a ways and means of improving myself until I’m ready to create the big worlds I want to be known for one day.

How do you strike an ideal balance between work/creativity and family life? 

This is another hard one. Balance is always a tricky issue for me. Working out a schedule helps, but I still don’t feel like I spend enough time with my wife and three kids. I try to give myself at least two hours every day of exclusive time with my kids, but that doesn’t always happen, and my wife and I both work so hard that we, too, rarely get alone time.

I’m in an odd situation. To many aspiring authors, I seem to have “made it.” I write, and I make films and video for a living. I have to do some work external to that, but I am a full-time self-published author. This is “the dream” to many people.

At the same time, I’m not comfortable. That discomfort is probably a good thing. It keeps me from getting too relaxed, too lazy. That being said, I think that if I were comfortable enough to devote more attention to consistency and a reliable schedule, my work would be better for it.

Truthfully, I have nothing to complain about. I’m doing what so many people dream of doing, and every month those Amazon and YouTube checks get a little bigger, eating up a little larger chunk of the pie chart of my minimum required income. When they take up the whole thing, I will breathe a sigh of relief and make sure to devote more time to my family. When they are large enough that my wife no longer has to work, I will consider myself truly successful not only as a creator, but as a husband and father.

If you could write in any world other than your own, what fictional world would you want to do it in (this can be writing or movies or both)?

Tolkien.

Always Tolkien.

I would love to explore parts of Middle-Earth that we heard about, but never saw explicitly. I think the recent video game Shadow of Mordor did this exceptionally well, and that’s my new golden standard for story-telling in someone else’s world. Some people claim it violated all of the principle themes of Tolkien’s work. They’re right, but I don’t see that as the crime they claim it is. Instead the game acknowledges that while Tolkien’s view of morality was all well and good, it couldn’t possibly exist for everyone. There must always be that blade in the dark, the agent who does use Sauron’s own power against him, and who cannot ever truly win, but who can stem the tide long enough for the forces of true good to secure the Enemy’s eventual defeat.

That’s an incredibly powerful story, and one I would have loved to be a part of. Maybe in the future, I’ll be able to make my own little contribution to the world of Middle-Earth.

What’s next for you?

The Nightblade series is my bread and butter right now. Within two months it absolutely shattered the sales of my other popular series, the Realm Keepers books. So right now, it just makes the most sense for me to focus on Nightblade.

When I’m a little ahead of schedule, however, I have more Realm Keepers books to write, another space opera story to begin, and my series Hit Girls and my co-written series The Ninjabread Man to wrap up.

I’m also in talks with a producer right now to shoot a low-budget feature film based on Touch, the first book I ever wrote. If that takes off, I should be shooting in spring of 2015. And there are other, super-secret film projects in the works as well. It will be a very exciting time for the next two years.

What do you want your legacy to be? 

So many great filmmakers and authors are known for one great work—often a series—which defines their body of creative endeavors. My goal (and this sounds a bit pretentious to even say) is to be renowned for at least two. I do not want to create one immensely popular book or film and have that be “my thing” for my whole life. I don’t want to taper off. When on some far off day they lay my body down, I want there to be a knock-down, drag-out argument about which work was my best. I’m relatively certain it won’t be anything I’ve done yet, and I’m excited to see what it will one day be.

CHECK OUT MORE INTERVIEWS WITH ARTISTS IN OUR 8 QUESTIONS ARCHIVE.

About David Wright

Dave is the co-founder of Collective Inkwell, in which he and Sean Platt re-invented serial fiction. Hailing from the quaint town of [REDACTED], Dave's renown for putting children in jeopardy (in his fiction, anyway) has made him world famous.

Comments

  1. Nice, Garrett. You’re obviously a talented, charismatic guy and I’ve enjoyed many of your videos. You’ve helped me with your Scrivener vids. Best of luck with all your ventures. I think I’ll go buy one of your books…

  2. Can’t seem to find Morgan Page on youtube. The name brings up all kinds of music people who have the same name, even when I put in Morgan Page Loves. Do you have a direct link?
    Thanks.

  3. Awesome, Garrett 🙂

    Just bought Nightblade.

    I love your thoughts re: different workspaces for different tasks. I don’t really have that option at the moment (my workspace is kind of all over the house), but I’ve thought about doing something similar with scent.

    P.S. Thank you for introducing me to vlogbrothers. I think it was you. If not, I’m giving you credit anyway

    P.P.S. I notice you didn’t mention working on an Engine World book. Is that no longer in the plan?

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