Hannah’s Notes On Karen Karbo’s Presentation Passions Into Paychecks: Make a Living without A Brand

Karen Karbo – author of, most recently, How Georgia Became O’Keefe – came to the Northwest Authors Series for the month of January. As a current resident of Portland, Oregon, she has written review articles for Outside, Elle, Vogue, Esquire, Redbook, MORE, Self, Sports Illustrated for Women, The New Republic, The Oregonian, The New York Times, and many more. Her lack of a set specialty has been an advantage for her as she writes about everything from basketball to swimming with sharks to a flying trapeze school.

In this week’s presentation, Karbo discussed how to be a write without a specialty. Here were a few of her main points:

Although marketing is important, you have to create your own original story first.

Not having a specialty allows you to commit to something new after each project, you can find something that you are enthusiastic about at that moment, not something that you necessarily have to commit to for your whole writing career. For Karbo, she has to be excited about something to write about it, and when it is new it adds to the excitement.

If you are a novelist, you don’t have to do any research, which can be good, but it is also good to be in the real world too.

Write about something that you can connect to, something that you have an emotional reaction to. Be open to where you might intersect with an idea.

We have allowed the market to dictate what we do, but we must follow our instinct and write what we want to write.

We then started an exercise in which we wrote down a list of what interested us, what we are drawn to. Karbo said that this doesn’t necessarily mean something we love, but more of something that we can’t stop thinking about. Even if you are a good writer you still have to know what is unique to you; this makes your writing new and exciting. The best way to do this, as suggested by Karbo, is to flip through a big newspaper and read anything that interests you. Pay attention to what you finish, what you did you only read half of? What captured your interest and for how long? As you do this, you may find that themes emerge.

Theme’s from the audience:

  • Overcoming obstacles.
  • Everyday heroes.
  • Discovering the unknown.
  • Surviving against the odds.
  • Childhood memories.
  • Justice vs. Retribution.

Karbo left us with one final, motivational piece of advice for all the writers in audience: YOU are your platform.

Here’s a link to Karbo’s online platform.


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