Shelly Muncaster is the woman behind the blog Keystrokes and Closed Doors, a gorgeous website where she talks about her writing journey and also shares tips with other writers. Her Instagram account of the same name, @keystrokesandcloseddoors, is also one of my all-time favourite #writersofinstagram accounts – you must absolutely check it out! The writers of Instagram are a wonderful group of authors who are all incredibly giving of their time and support of each other, and Shelly in particular is one of those kind, lovely people who’s always willing to share her knowledge and to help and encourage other writers out there. It’s no wonder then that her Instagram account is numbering 4000-plus followers and counting!
I love Shelly’s generosity, her honesty and her determination, and decided I just had to find out more about her. So what to do but invite her on The Salonniere’s Apartments and ask her a few questions about herself and her writing…
Hi, Shelly, and welcome to The Salonniere’s Apartments! Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hi Marilyn. Thanks for having me on your blog! Where to begin? I guess because we are talking about the writing side of my life, I will gravitate more towards that. I am a writer, reader, lover of tea and a foodie- but not the snobby kind of foodie- you’ll find me at any place with large plates of food for under $10.
I began writing stories when I was about ten years old and never really stopped. I would say that my “genre” is fantasy or paranormal fiction, but in general I write whatever comes to me. Until recent years, writing was just for me. My first drafts will always be a mystery to the outside world, because no one is ever allowed to read them.
It was only in late 2014 when I decided that writing is what I wanted to do as a career and I moved full throttle toward that goal. Right now, I am working as a freelance copywriter, with a part-time position at a digital marketing company and studying a double degree of law and finance (two professions I do not wish to enter!).
More later on your double degree, but first I want to talk about the fact that you’re a digital marketer and freelance copywriter. They both sound like great day jobs for a writer! How did you get started in the business?
It will probably sound bad, but I honestly fell into the positions. I was looking for work while I was at university and found a simple data entry position with the digital marketing company I work for now. I started like that and the position gradually morphed into website building and writing the copy for that. This occurred at a time when I did not know writing was what I wanted to do. My boss knew I could write and do it well, so offered me the position. The company itself began merely as a builder of websites, but then it became a fully-fledged digital marketing company and therefore my role became that as well. I grew with the business and now I manage the digital marketing department.
The freelancing is a recent addition to my repertoire and is coming along well. This business, like all business (despite what people tell you) is all about word of mouth.
I can imagine it’s not easy being a freelance copywriter, having to put yourself out there and seek clients all the time, not to mention be a pro at managing your time professionally! What’s your advice to budding content writers out there?
My advice to anyone is to do what makes you happy. Life is short, so do what you can to fill your soul with purpose. When you are happy, your family is happy and that is all you can ask for.
In relation to copywriting, it may sound like the same old advice, but it is true; you need to set aside time to work on freelancing and create a plan of attack. This business is just like any other. You need to do your research and develop a business plan.
To start off you need to consider:
- How much time did you want to dedicate to this? Full-time or part-time? If part-time, how many hours?
- What kind of copywriting will you be getting into? There are different types. What is your strength?
- How much will you charge? How do you justify your fees?
- Who will you contact? How will you contact them? How will you get them to want your services?
My advice is to start off part-time. You need to build up your portfolio and returning clients if you want to copywrite full-time.
As well as being a digital marketer, you’ve got a super cool creative writing Instagram account under your belt! I always look forward to seeing new posts from you! What are your top three tips for a successful social media account?
I’m glad you like my social feed! My Keystrokes and Closed Doors blog is my pride and joy. It keeps my creative heart focused and connects me with other awesome writers. I mean, it is how we met! It took a while to get where I am now, but there is still a long way to go. I am in this for the long haul.
In no particular order, my top three tips for a successful social account would be:
Honesty: I believe that the reason people follow you on social media is because you have something to offer them which is beyond anything tangible. You and your account have struck something in them that triggers their sense of belonging and interest. You need to be honest with what you post in order for people to identify with you and feel what they are seeing is real.
Consistency: In order to have a successful social media account you must post frequently. I don’t believe you have to do it the same time everyday or every other day, but do it you shall. The frequency of this depends on your industry. With creative writing, I find you don’t lose people if you post everyday. However, if you are selling a product, 2-3 times a week is best unless you are reposting other people using your product or making them artful instead of a ‘look at this bottle’ type of photograph.
Communication: This I feel may be the most important one. You must communicate with your followers. It does not matter how many followers you have. If they have asked a question, answer them, if they have paid you a compliment, answer them. I am not saying that every comment or emoji must be responded to. However, if someone has gone out of their way to communicate with you or has said something poignant, it is only right to do the same.
Not only are you a copywriter, you’re also doing a double degree and writing a novel in your spare time! How do you find the time to fit in all this?
Honestly, I don’t sleep. Writing, like any passion, demands sacrifices. I don’t like to sacrifice time with my loved ones or the other things in life I enjoy, such as watching my favorite movies or TV shows. Therefore, I give up sleep! Sometimes, I am furious that the human body needs to rest! Why can’t we run perpetually? There are so many things to do.
When I wake up I try to cram as much in as possible. I have a schedule that I try to stick to, but each semester it changes and during the holidays the timing is off, so I just give up. I have set days to do blog posts, for study and for going to classes, for working and each night I write from 11pm-1am.
You need to have a schedule or a routine to stick to, otherwise nothing will get done. I admit this year has been a bit more relaxed on the schedule, but life is full of fluctuations. I presume next year once I graduate it will be fast and furious once again.
I had to ask because I’m curious: your double degree is in finance and law, subjects that are very different to that of writing! Why did you choose to pursue degrees in these subjects?
Actually, I didn’t put much thought into it. I was initially supposed to go into the Navy as an officer. I was accepted into both the military and the military university to study business, but at the last minute before applications to universities closed they said my asthma level was too high. Which is funny because it is quite dormant.
I chose law and finance because I was disheartened and I didn’t know what else would be a good profession. I had a week to choose before applications closed. At the time, I never thought writing was a career, and I figured being an archaeologist or a historian (my other loves) would leave me destitute. What I didn’t know was that law and finance would leave my soul destitute.
From the beginning of my studies I found that I was infinitely bored, and despite my good marks and capacity for the work, it never stirred me. I worked in law for about three years moving from field to field, thinking ‘this time it would be different’, but it never was. It was because of these soul-sucking experiences that I discovered that writing is where my heart was.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced so far in your writing career and how did you manage to overcome it?
Finding freelancing work is hard. You have to put yourself out there and sell yourself. I am good with people and I can chat up a storm, but I get self-conscious when I try to advertise myself to others. I find it alien and uncomfortable.
Other than that, I have not found anything else that I have found too difficult.
Tell us a little about the book you’re currently working on. I love that you’re a fantasy writer too!
How would I know what it’s about? I haven’t finished writing it yet. Does a writer ever really know what it is about until it is done? In any event, I will attempt to write a poorly written synopsis (as the story is at the moment):
I have two main characters, a man, Killian and a woman, Ilithiya, in their early twenties. She is a princess of mixed race (I love ethnic MCs), she is a bit of a prodigal daughter who ran away to the army when her family told her to stay put. She had not been home for eight years. The man is a wanderer, picking up jobs wherever he can in order to survive. An accident brings them together and in each other they find understanding in each other’s loneliness.
The main reason for Killian’s loneliness is that he comes of a race of creatures so long thought extinct that humans had forgotten they had ever existed, even in myth. All had forgotten, bar one family of hunters who had murdered Killian’s mother. The head of the family is one of the most well-guarded men in the country and Killian, not a professional killer, will most likely die if he tried to assassinate him. Ilithiya, finding out Killian’s secret agrees to help him.
Killian’s conscience gets the better of him and he calls it off, because he is no professional killer. Meanwhile, Ilithiya discovers that a disease unlike any other is sweeping the nation. Is it a powerful and indiscriminate disease or is there strategy behind it? They discover other powers are at play, turning them into unwitting pawns in an ancient play for power that started thousands of years before. No matter who becomes the victor, it would have lethal consequences for Ilithiya, her family, her country and the entire fate of the human race.
Your story sounds amazing! I’m already loving the sound of Ilithiya – and her gorgeous name! I hope you’ll finish your story soon because I really want to read it! In the meantime, what’s a regular day like for you?
In a word, busy. I believe you either go hard, or go home. You work hard and then you play hard. By “play” I mean, sit in front of the TV and watch all of Orange is the New Black, GoT, Outlander, Misfits (seasons 1-3), Downton, Arrow, Orphan Black, Pretty Little Liars and countless movies in my PJs.
Everyday is different; there is always something to do – work, uni, sport, writing, blogging or studying. I try to make time for leisure when I can. But sometimes I may go for at least a month or more without doing anything really fun (except write) during assignments or exam season, which are always three weeks or so apart and altogether spanning eight weeks or so. Students have no life. My law degree takes up most of my time, but the business degree is easy.
It may sound hard, and it is sometimes, but it is not always like this. I do make time for friends and doing the things that I like. During the hectic times, they must be scheduled in, in order for me not to miss it. Other times, like right now, during uni holidays, it is the opposite and leisure is the main goal.
Have you got any particular writing habits?
They fluctuate as to how I am feeling, but of late, I like to light a candle to add to the ambience or when I am feeling silly, I put on this awesome horned flower crown I have. I think anything to trick the mind into writing is good no matter how odd it is.
There are two writing habits of mine that are a must, and I can’t seem to write any other way. I always:
- write while in my bed
- at 11pm-1pm.
That is the magical combination for me. I don’t know why, but I don’t feel comfortable any other way. Plus, no one can be there. I am a private writer. I close the doors and tap away at the keys (which is how I came up with my blog name).
I totally love writing in bed too, and I love that you have a horned flower crown you wear when you are writing! How great is that!
Now to the final question – who/what are some of your biggest writing inspirations?
I have two authors who inspire my writing. They inspire my genre and in what I strive to achieve with my novels.
These amazing writers are Anne Rice, author of the Vampire Chronicles and Robert Jordan, author of The Wheel of Time. Both of these writers are very different, yet in essence the same. Anne writes paranormal fiction and was the author that got me into reading. Her characters are insanely real and utterly believable. I have read her novel The Vampire Lestat about five times and each time, I discover something new about him and her world. There is a subtle undertone of sensuality that laces each page, you don’t really see it but it is there. I love that and I don’t know how she does it!
As you can tell, I love Anne for her characters and the realism that is portrayed in such a fictional world. Conversely, my love for Robert Jordan stems from the mammoth nature of The Wheel of Time series. Everything. Interconnects. Absolutely every element in the thirteen book series. You won’t know it in book one, but that one insignificant sentence tucked away in that one insignificant chapter may change the world as you know it in book five. Everything is subtle, well thought out and his use of point of views is fabulous. The method in his novels is nothing short of divination.
Thank you so much, Shelly, for taking the time out to chat with me on The Salonniere’s Apartments!
I really enjoyed these questions! Thank you so much for having me on the blog. Xoxox, Shelly.