Search & Replace Episode S01E23: Shaunta Grimes

Despite her best efforts, novelist Shaunta Grimes admits she’s not a great employee – she just can’t enjoy working for someone else. It took her many interesting jobs that weren’t a good match before she created her own space. Her own community, Ninja Writers, allows her to write and teach writing. Find out how it feels to be able to make a successful career out of your childhood goals on this episode of Search and Replace. 

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[00:00:00] Announcer: Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialist at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode. 

[00:00:11] Joe Taylor, Jr: What if the path to your perfect job means helping other people find their perfect jobs? I'm Joe Taylor Jr. This is Search and Replace. 

Novelist Shaunta Grimes admits that she's not an ideal employee.

[00:00:28] Shaunta Grimes: I've just never enjoyed working for someone else. I've had lots of jobs and some of them were really interesting. I've been a teacher of almost every single kind that you can imagine. I was a drug court counselor for a long time, so I did therapy for addicts. And I owned a vintage clothing store for a while, which really wasn't working for someone else.

But I found a lot of jobs. I worked for my dad for a long time, he's a paralegal. And I just realized, pretty early on, that I like learning a new job. But once I know how to do it well, once I'm competent, I hate it and I start resenting it. Because what I really want to do is write. And so when it takes away- even a job that's writing, if it takes away from my own writing that I want to do. So I've been a newspaper reporter and I had the same experience. 

[00:01:18] Joe Taylor, Jr: Writing's not just something Shaunta started thinking about doing as an adult. She set her sights on a writing career early on. 

[00:01:26] Shaunta Grimes: I only have ever wanted to be a novelist my whole life. Since I was, when I was in the sixth grade there's an author named Tomie dePaola who came to my school and I made this connection.

I was a huge reader from very young and I just made this connection between books and the people who wrote them and the idea that this was a job I could have. And when I was 10 and I've never wanted to do anything else. 

[00:01:50] Joe Taylor, Jr: And yet, as it happens to many of us, life pops in and some of those dreams get put on hold for awhile. Shaunta says that critical moment in her life led her to start reconnecting with those childhood goals. 

[00:02:03] Shaunta Grimes: When I was in my very early twenties, I was married and I had a baby. And my marriage is falling apart and I was in a really bad place. And I went - there used to be a bookstore called Acres of Books. That was literally, like, acres of books. And I went in there and I found Wishcraft by Barber Sher. And you know that scene in the Never-ending Story where he walks into the bookstore and just finds like this magical book. It was like that for me. Yeah, I read it and it changed my whole life. 

I didn't have to be rich or I didn't have to be anything. I could just make a decision and do what I wanted to do with my life. And I could think about where I wanted my life to go and think about the gaps and think about how I could get there. 

So there's an exercise that she has in her book. And it's basically just taking some time to think about a day, five years from now, if your life was perfect. And what would the elements of it be? And then figuring out what you need to do to get there. And, I started doing that every year when I was in my early twenties. I turned 49 last month. So I've been doing it more than half my life. And I literally have exactly the life that I set out to make for myself. So it's pretty cool. 

[00:03:19] Joe Taylor, Jr: According to researchers at the United Nations, more than 2.2 million new book titles get published every year. And that's data from 2013. That doesn't account for the explosion in online publishing through Amazon or Apple. So Shaunta recognized she could chart a career path that could insulate herself from the economics of so much competition.

[00:03:44] Shaunta Grimes: About five years ago, I just decided. I was in a job that I hated, the worst one I've had so far ever. And it was misery. And I just said, I can't do this anymore. And I set out to figure out how I could create an income for myself that revolved around writing and that was just me doing what I wanted to do. And that turned into Ninja Writers.

So as much as I want to be a novelist, I also need to feed my kids and put a roof over my head. And so I kept trying to write in the cracks between all these day jobs that I really disliked. And I was resistant to the idea of being a teacher. It was my fallback, my plan B, and I didn't want to go be a classroom teacher. Because in my mind, I thought if I'm a classroom teacher, that means I've given up on writing. But I love teaching. I'm a natural teacher. It comes very naturally to me. I come from a family of teachers and I love doing it. 

And then in early 2015, I had this idea that - because there's a lot of classes out there that teach you like eight weeks to being a novelist or write a book in 30 days. And I thought now I can't do it that fast. And I think that there's value in slowing down and doing it slowly enough to learn how to do it. I decided I wanted to teach a class. It was a year long how to write a book this year. If you take the class and you do all the work, you will actually finish the class with a novel written. Called a Novel Idea. And I ended up earning $40,000, which was two years of my day jobs income. And I quit my job at the end of the school year. 

[00:05:20] Joe Taylor, Jr: In an industry that's known for competition, Shaunta built a business that thrives on helping emerging writers improve their practical skills and get their manuscripts in front of eager audiences. And Shaunta says the first to note that she's not just the leader of her community, she's an active participant. 

[00:05:38] Shaunta Grimes: I have somehow managed to create, no joke, the most amazing writing community ever. It's incredible. My students are writing their novels and they're getting published and it's just so incredible. It's amazing and super humbling. And it makes my own work, my own writing, better. It keeps me accountable. So this is my community as well. It's my writing community as well. 

So if I can't ask them to do something that I'm not willing to do myself. I produce more work than I would have. You have been published twice since I started Ninja Writers. I got an MFA after I started Ninja Writers. They make me work harder because I want to show them what they can do by showing them what I can do.

When really has been the most amazing thing of the last five years of Ninja Writers is that I've learned how to be a teacher without compromising being a writer. I'm teaching on my own terms. And it's a lot of fun. 

[00:06:41] Joe Taylor, Jr: That's Shaunta Grimes, novelist and founder of online writing community Ninja Writers. We've got links to all of Shaunta's projects over on our website at

Today's episode was produced by Nicole Hubbard with help from the entire Podcast Taxi team. I'm Joe Taylor, Jr.

[00:07:04] Announcer: This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production. Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns and Taylor, user experience specialists serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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