Writing: Job or Business?

I was reading a thread a few weeks ago about writing, specifically about the need to write every day and the idea that if you didn’t, you weren’t serious about being published. One of the you-must-write-everyday proponents wrote, “I treat writing like my job and show up every day.” As I turned that thought over it occurred to me “Is writing my job or my business?”
Now, in case I have been unclear in the past,  I’m am firmly in the camp that recommends writing when you can, making use of whatever time you have to write. Working this way has seen me through four published books with another novel set to release in September. A job usually has set hours and an expectation of working a set time. As a small business owner, in addition to being an author, I can tell you that working on your business is a matter of finding/making time to do what needs to be done. Owning a business involves thinking and dreaming, strategic planning, cash flow management, and setting goals.

Just showing up every day and putting words on paper does nothing if you don’t have a plan for what to do with those words. If having your book traditionally published or indie publishing is your goal you have to have a plan, and then you must take advantage of every second you have to work your plan.
As someone with a day job, who is also a spouse, a parent, and a daughter with older parents and in-laws this is the only way I’ve been able to get any writing done with the goal of publication. I’ve researched publisher sites and calls for submission databases sitting on the couch while my kid with a fever dozed next to me. I’ve written in hospital waiting rooms while various family members were having surgery, and in medical offices and occupational therapy waiting rooms, and very late at night when the house is quiet, and I can’t sleep.
When my kids were little, I had exactly 2 hours and 45 minutes to write between when I dropped them off at pre-school and when I picked them up. I wrote like a fiend during that time, unless I need to grocery shop, or had to run some other errand that would have been incredibly stressful with three-year-old twins in tow. Writing every day does not make you a writer or indicate the level of your seriousness. The things that indicate a serious approach to publishing your work are writing, editing, submitting your work, finding ways to improve your craft, and working steadily towards what you want. Writing for publication is not just about writing, it is about learning your craft, striving to make the next book better than the last, and most of all it is about not listening to people say you have to do X, Y, or Z to be considered serious writer. You do you. Find your way. Don’t listen to people who insist there is only one way to do anything, even me.

Brenda Murphy writes short fiction and novels. She loves tattoos and sideshows and yes, those are her monkeys.  When she is not loitering at her local tea shop and writing, she wrangles two kids, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot.  She reviews books, blogs about life as a writer with ADHD and publishes photographs on her blog Writing While Distracted. You can find her on Facebook by clicking here.

 

Website: www.brendalmurphy.com

Books available at

Amazon

NineStar Press

Both Ends of the Whip

ONE  

Sum of the Whole 

Dominique and Other Stories

 

Guest Post: World Building with Jeffe Kennedy

It’s always a pleasure to “visit” Brenda here. If only we lived closer in real life!

But, since we can’t meet for coffee to chat, she’s asked me to talk a bit about how I do my world building. I can tell, because she referenced how I am the queen of spread sheets, that she’s imagining elaborate world building spreadsheets tucked away on my computer.

Really, it’s not so.

I mean, I *am* the queen of spreadsheets, so what I do keep track of is partly on spreadsheets, yes. The scary truth, however, is that I don’t do much detailed tracking of my worlds at all.

Most of it is in my head.

There’s a few reasons for this. The first and most relevant is that I believe time spent on world building tracking is time better spent writing. I know some writers, especially fantasy writers for some reason, spend HUGE amounts of time on building their worlds. They do tons of research and write thousands—sometimes hundreds of thousands—of words in world bibles. It’s fun for them, so great! But I know people who’ve spent YEARS working on their worlds. And don’t yet have a novel they’re happy with, if a completed one at all.

So, I begrudge that time, and I spend as little of it as possible on recording world-building details. That said, I know I’m lucky because I am able to keep a lot of it in my head. I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and an active daydreaming life, so my worlds are very real places to me, ones that I can mentally enter and wander around in.

A few things that I do when I need an answer to a world question.

Write

I write for discovery, which means that by the act of writing, I can enter the world and look around. If I need to know something I write about it.

Daydream

I’m a huge fan of “when you’re not writing you’re still writing.” I’m going to caveat that as when I’m not doing something like research, which occupies brain space. I mean while washing dishes, or cleaning house, or driving, or gardening, or even sleeping. I daydream about my worlds and that fills in fun details.

Ask My Assistant

This is my big cheat. I don’t want to spend my time recording details, but I’m perfectly happy to pay my assistant to do it! She keeps track of stuff. And if she doesn’t have it written down, she goes and looks it up in the books and comes back with an answer.

Ask My Readers

Sometimes I throw a question out to my readers via the private Facebook group we have (https://www.facebook.com/groups/JeffesCloset/), or sometimes on my public pages. I’ll do this when I’m looking for a nuance that’s not easy to look up, like if I ever gave the impression one character was another’s aunt or their cousin. I also ask my readers to name stuff if ideas aren’t coming to me. Their suggestions are always a kick.

Record Timelines

The one thing I *do* resort to spreadsheets for is calculating ages and timelines. Especially with The Twelve Kingdoms and The Uncharted realms books, I’m looking at about three generations now, and characters acting simultaneously in different parts of the world. I have to extract from what I’ve written and do the math from there. This feels very much like the conversations I have with my mother when we try to remember where we spent a family birthday celebration in 1996, and who was there. Only I can’t go back to the novels to piece that together!

But that last detail is revealing in that my imaginary worlds are as vivid—sometimes more so—than my memories of real life.

Sometimes I think they’re very much the same.

About Jeffe KennedyJ

effe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include novels, non-fiction, poetry, and short fiction. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her award-winning fantasy romance trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms hit the shelves starting in May 2014. Book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and was nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose received a Top Pick Gold and was nominated for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2014. The third book, The Talon of the Hawk, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015. Two more books followed in this world, beginning the spin-off series The Uncharted Realms. Book one in that series, The Pages of the Mind, has also been nominated for the RT Reviewer’s Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2016 and won RWA’s 2017 RITA® Award. The second book, The Edge of the Blade, released December 27, 2016, and is a PRISM finalist, along with The Pages of the Mind. The next in the series, The Shift of the Tide, will be out in August, 2017. A high fantasy trilogy taking place in The Twelve Kingdoms world is forthcoming from Rebel Base books in 2018.

She also introduced a new fantasy romance series, Sorcerous Moons, which includes Lonen’s War, Oria’s Gambit, The Tides of Bàra, and The Forests of Dru. She’s begun releasing a new contemporary erotic romance series, Missed Connections, which started with Last Dance and continues in With a Prince.

In 2019, St. Martins Press will release the first book, The Orchid Throne, in a new fantasy romance series, The Forgotten Empires. Her other works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion; an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera; and the erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, which includes Going Under, Under His Touch and Under Contract.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency.

http://jeffekennedy.com

https://www.facebook.com/Author.Jeffe.Kennedy

https://twitter.com/jeffekennedy

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1014374.Jeffe_Kennedy

 

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Invest in Yourself

This past month I signed a contract for my third novel. And as anxious as I was to start my forth, because starting a new project is the best way for me to deal with the stress/anxiety/freak-out of submitting a manuscript for review. I make it a point to take some time between novels to study my craft, either by attending a conference, taking an online class, reading books about the craft of writing, and/or reading widely in my genre.

Why? Because on one level, writing is about doing that, siting down and putting words on paper. Nothing can replace that practice. There is no way to “hack” becoming better at writing than by writing and practicing your craft. I’m at the journeyman point in my career, with a collection of short stories, two novels published and a contract signed on a third. I’m not a beginner. But I am not seasoned writer with twenty novels to my credit either. I was not an English or Journalism major and I don’t have a MFA, and I want to make it clear: none of the above degrees are necessary to write a novel.

But it is possible to improve your craft with out signing up for formal education. You can invest your time and money to learn new ways to communicate your ideas and entertain your readers. I’m a health professional and educator by training and am all about making plans to achieve your goals. In order to construct an educational plan for your writing career look at reviews of you work. What do readers complain about? And I’m referring to thoughtful reviews here, not troll-type reviews. What problems do your editors point out? Pacing? Structure? Plotting? Character development?

Here are some thoughts on ways to address recurring problems in your manuscripts. Have a problem with pacing? Study screenplays, or take a screen-writing class. Issues with dialogue? Study stage plays, watch movies from the 30’s and 40’s when special effects were limited, and dialogue had to carry the story. Problems with plotting and structure? Read, read, read in your genre, take time to see how the novelist did what they did by making an outline of the novel. Flat characters, or poorly designed character arcs? Read biographies, ethnographies, and memoirs, connect lived experiences with human behavior and character arcs. Struggling with world building and setting? Study filmmaking and photo journalism to see how setting is as much a part of the story as the characters.

Writers conferences offer opportunities to learn about the craft of writing but not every one  has time, money, mental, and physical health required to attend a writing conference. If a writing conference is not on your list of things to do, take advantage of the many low stress, free, or low cost resources for writers. My number one recommendation for resources is the public library. Most libraries are free, or low cost, and once you are a member you can use interlibrary loans to get just about any book or movie you want. Many libraries have a way to provide digital loans, saving you time, and the hassle of remembering to return your books/films/music. If you live near a university or college, check out their library and their theater productions. Creative Live offers courses on screenwriting, (https://www.creativelive.com and no, not I’m not getting paid to recommend them, they often have sales on their courses, so it pays to sign up for their newsletter.

Indie Film Academy (http://www.indiefilmacademy.com) is free as is Ted Talks (https://www.ted.com/talks) for interviews and lectures about writing, inspiration, and living a creative life.

Take time to invest in yourself and your writing career. You and your career are worth the effort. 

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Guest Post: Jeffe Kennedy

Jeffe Kennedy is here and has been kind enough to answer a set of questions I asked her. She set to release the third in The Uncharted Realms series. I have a review of The Shift of the Tide that I will post next week. The cover is just as gorgeous as the writing inside. It is a very worthy addition to the series. 

Imagine Jeffe and I sitting together sharing a glass of wine and talking. If you know either of this, it will not be hard. 

Here’s JEFFE, 

It’s fun to be here, virtually visiting my friend, Brenda. We had a great time drinking a lot of free wine together at the Siren’s conference in Denver last fall.

Brenda asked me an interesting set of questions: Who do you write for? Who do you have in mind when you write a story? An audience? A specific person? Or yourself?

It’s something that newbie writers get asked a lot, but that I haven’t thought about in a while. I always found the question hugely aggravating back in the day. It seemed that two kinds of people asked it – writing teachers/critiquers and agents. Who is the audience for this book? They’d ask, in this earnest, quasi-helpful way. To my ear it sounded like the agents were saying, “Can you think of more than five people who would buy this?” and the teacher/critiquers were dancing around telling you that it was a hot mess that no one could possibly want to read.

Beyond the annoying subtext, I also hated the question because I never knew the answer. The first image that sprang to mind was always one of those street shots of commuter time in New York City with thousands of people walking up and down the sidewalks. I felt like I was supposed to freeze-frame that and circle likely faces.

Look! My audience! Out there… somewhere.

People were hung up on this question. Who are you writing for? Some advice-giving types would nod sagely and say you should have one special person that you tell your stories to. Kind of a combo soul-mate/muse. I love my husband and he’s great support, but he doesn’t read fiction. I’ve had a lot of first readers over the years. Usually several at once, which I guess makes me a polygamist, special reader-wise.

But I like how Brenda phrased this: Who do you have in mind when you write a story?

Because sometimes that happens. I hear enough from my readers that I know by now which ones will love certain aspects of a story. I write parts and smile, thinking of them wriggling in delight. Sometimes I put in a detail that I know will mean something to one person, and it’s a way of sending them a hug and a wink.

Still, for the most part, having anyone’s reaction in my head while I’m writing is a problem. I have a sign over my desk that says, “What would you write if you weren’t afraid?” I look at that when I find myself anticipating reactions to what I’m writing, good or bad. For me, that “afraid” means worrying about what other people will think. And that just gets in the way.

The best writing – and by that I mean, the kind that flows without pause, that seems to come to me from another place, not necessarily the best quality or most inspired, though they’re often the same – happens when I have no one in mind.

Maybe that’s why I always hated that audience question. While I truly believe the cycle of art is completed when it reaches another person, I also think it’s best born and nurtured away from anyone else’s gaze. It’s like quantum physics – as soon as someone else’s consciousness touches the thing, it changes. There’s a time for that, and it can be an important part of the story’s eventual growth, but not during drafting.

So, Brenda, when I write, I try to have nothing and no one in mind. Not even myself.

About Jeffe Kennedy

Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include novels, non-fiction, poetry, and short fiction. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her award-winning fantasy romance trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms hit the shelves starting in May 2014. Book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and was nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose received a Top Pick Gold and was nominated for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2014. The third book, The Talon of the Hawk, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015. Two more books followed in this world, beginning the spin-off series The Uncharted Realms. Book one in that series, The Pages of the Mind, has also been nominated for the RT Reviewer’s Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2016 and is a finalist for RWA’s RITA Award. The second book, The Edge of the Blade, released December 27, 2016, and is a PRISM finalist, along with The Pages of the Mind. The next in the series, The Shift of the Tide, will be out in August, 2017. A high fantasy trilogy taking place in The Twelve Kingdoms world is forthcoming from Rebel Base books in 2018. She also introduced a new fantasy romance series, Sorcerous Moons, which includes Lonen’s War, Oria’s Gambit, The Tides of Bàra, and The Forests of Dru. She’s begun releasing a new contemporary erotic romance series, Missed Connections, which started with Last Dance and continues in With a Prince. In 2019, St. Martins Press will release the first book in a new fantasy romance series, Throne of Flowers. Her other works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion; an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera; and the erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, which includes Going Under, Under His Touch and Under Contract. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency.

http://jeffekennedy.com

https://www.facebook.com/Author.Jeffe.Kennedy

https://twitter.com/jeffekennedy

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1014374.Jeffe_Kennedy

 

 

 

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Block Scheduling, Pomodoro, and Word Counts, Oh my!

What do these things have to do with each other? As a someone who struggles with focus and attention issues, the first two things have resulted in consistent word counts. I know some folks are not as worried about word counts, fearing it stifles them, or leads to writer’s block and if that’s you, just look away. But if you are one of those people who need firm guidelines with wiggle room in place this is the post for you.

What is block scheduling? Blocking out a period of time to do whatever it is you need to do. It might an hour or two hours, or fifteen minutes. The important part of block scheduling is to make it consistent, this doesn’t mean every day, it could be every Saturday or Sunday, but when you block off the time, the time is ONLY to be spent writing. No social media, no marketing, no other distractions.

The second technique is Pomodoro, named after the tomato shaped kitchen timer. In Pomodoro, you set the timer for a period of time, usually 25 minutes and then for that time period you focus on just that project, in this case writing. The goal being to write as much as you can during the time period. No editing, no going back, just pushing forward to get words on paper. Why? Because you can’t edit a blank page and getting a load of word salad down that you can fix later is better than a blank page. Build the house, you can go back later and hang the curtains and decorate. You can use your phone timer but the temptation to check into social media or email can be strong. Use a cheap kitchen timer, or get a fancy one if you want. I use the timer on my watch, ‘cause I’m old school that way.

Word Counts, or as like to call them, the secret to getting projects done, are the number of words you need to get on paper to finish your project on time. I use Scrivener and it has a delightful feature that lets you put in your deadline for the first draft and days you will be writing and it will figure out how many words you need to write each session to meet your goal. I like many things about the program but this feature alone makes me love it. Before I used Scrivener, I did this on paper, and it worked, but I love that Scrivener lets me know when I meet my goal. Notice I said “First draft”, editing is a different animal, and I will address that in another post. This is about getting raw material down, so you have something to edit.

How do they work together?

  1. Block out your time to write. Treat it like an appointment. Honor your commitment to write.
  2. Use a timer. Set it for 25 minutes or more, no more than one hour.
  3. Start writing. Don’t look back, don’t do anything else, just write.
  4. When the time is up, get up, stretch, get a beverage or snack. Take 5-10 minutes. And then set the timer and get back to work. DO NOT CHECK EMAIL OR SOCIAL MEDIA. Keep your head in the game. Repeat until word count is achieved or your blocked time is up. If you are not meeting your word goals you may need to adjust them. Find a word count that YOU can meet consistently and will let you meet your deadline.

Keys to success: Remember you don’t have to block schedule all at once. Maybe you only have thirty minutes in the morning, and thirty minutes in the afternoon to write. My point is when it is time to write, write. Don’t do anything else.

  1. You can set the timer for less than twenty-five minutes, do what works for you.
  2. When you set your word count goals and deadlines make sure you are realistic. If you are someone who averages 250 words a day on a good day, don’t think you will suddenly be generating 1000 words a day or more. Use a calendar or planner or if you have Scrivener set up your project target dates. I use Scrivener and am also a big fan of spreadsheets (thank you Jeffe Kennedy) and use my planner every day, but you do you.

This works for me, it might not work for you. If you have been struggling to get a book/shorts story/screen play/ written give this a chance. Don’t quit.

 

 

 

Recover and Reset

I had planned on taking a break from novel writing over the Summer. I had home projects planned. I had visions of spending lots of time at the pool, hiking, and gardening and hanging out with my kids. I had planned on some promotion and marketing of my novel, Sum of the Whole,  set to release on June 19th

But then my mom had some serious health issues, and then this happened:

 My kiddo tumbled off the pirate ship. Surgery, two pins and one hot pink cast later I needed to change my ideas about summer.  Heartrending? Yes. Stressful? Yes. Overwhelming? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. Anxiety level off the charts? Yes. So I did the thing I always do when I don’t know what thing I should do next, and want some imaginary control over my life. I wrote.

 I wrote an outline while my mom was in the hospital.

The day after my daughter got home from the hospital I started writing my next novel.

I’ve left the deadline the original one that I set when I had planned out my summer and work projects. I don’t expect to finish writing it this summer, but when I sit down in the Fall when the kids go back to school I will be a bit ahead of schedule. It also gives me a sense of accomplishing something on those days I feel stuck.

My advice when life veers off the expected trajectory, take time to recover and reset.  Do the thing that grounds you, the thing that makes the rest of the world fall away even if it is just for an hour. Do that. And remember this:

“Nature never hurries, yet everything is accomplished.” Lao Tzu 

 

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Write when you can: Fighting the tyranny of the you-must-write-every-day edict.

This post is in response to many articles/books/ lectures that suggest that a writer who does not write every day is not serious. You can probably guess from the title what camp I fall into. I notice a glaring consistency among the you-must-write-every-day-or-you-are- not-a- serious writer crowd.

Most are people who do not seem to realize that everyone has to find a method of work that works with your life, your learning style and physical/mental abilities, and your responsibilities. Many are published authors whose day job is writing, and for them I understand that feeding your family is important and words=money. For anyone trying to become published, that kind of all or nothing advice is unhelpful, and discouraging. 

I have family/work/business obligations. I don’t write every day. In fact sometimes I plan on not writing. Why? Because LIFE is messy, unpredictable, fantastic, and wondrous. I also believe that for me filling the well is what lets me come back to the page ready to write. Am I serious about my writing? You tell me. I have had a collection of short stories and two novels contracted in the last year. I plan on submitting two more novels this year. I am serious and consider myself a professional.  I understand what my productivity level/ability is for producing a manuscript that I am comfortable submitting to my publisher. Could I produce more? Maybe, but this is what is right for me, right now. I don’t believe that taking time off is unproductive. Many great writers did not write every day unless they were working on a project, so don’t let anyone tell you that writing every day is the only way to become a published writer.

I’m taking the summer off to enjoy time with my kids, travel, blog a bit, and think. That is how I work, I need space between creative projects to think and plan my work. I get annoyed when authors discourage people from writing by making arbitrary rules. Find what works for you and do it. Trust your process and try as many different ways of work as you can until you find what works for you. If you need someone to give you permission to not write everyday this is it. Do it your way and trust yourself to find what works for you.

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Finding A Way

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So earlier this week a friend shared an article on Facebook that I’m not going to link to here because I don’t want to send any traffic to the article. I generally try to keep my blog posts positive and the article in question was one of the most pathetic excuse filled articles about writing I have ever read. The author was whining because she thought publishing one book that people raved about would mean she could quit her day job and just be a WRITER.  Yep the “W” word in all caps. In other words she believed her own press. She stopped writing when the offers did not come pouring in and she managed to give herself a big old case of writers’s block and in case you are unclear about my opinion, this is my post on writer’s block.

I have a book that will be released on Monday and you know what I’ve been doing while I was waiting for the book to be published? Writing. While I was doing all the things you need to do when you have a book coming out, i.e. revisions, edits, plans for publicity, etc., I have been writing.

Why? Because I know that writer’s write. Even on days when I can not sit down at my computer because of day job/ kids/ other obligations I write in my notebook. I make story notes on scraps of paper, or collect photos of places that inspire stories, or write blog posts like this one. And that is my point. You can’t stop writing and wait for things to happen, you have to keep going.

When you coach T-Ball one of the things you have to work on is getting kids to run after they hit the ball instead of standing there watching to see where the ball is going. Writing one book and not having plans for the next project is like standing at home plate waiting to see what happened to the ball you hit.

So in case you are struggling with my sports analogy or if  you publish a book to critical acclaim and you think that is enough, here is the advice the woman should have gotten.

KEEP WRITING

because you are a writer and writers write. We write when we are sad, overwhelmed, overworked, anxious, happy, frisky, exhausted, hungry, frustrated, angry, sick, or convinced that no one but our Aunt Edna will ever read our work. We write because we are writers and writers write. Don’t quit. Find a way to write and do it.

 

Women’s Voices- Interview with Jeffe Kennedy

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You may have noticed that I have been on a Fantasy, with a capital F reading spree over the summer. I reviewed the first book in this series,  Lonen’s War in this post.   I confess to not usually being a fan of the slow burn type of romance, but Jeffe Kennedy has done the most amazing job of making it worth the wait. This book contains hands down one of the most scorching sex scenes I have ever read. If you have not started the series pick Lonen’s War and start from the beginning, although this book can stand alone, it will be infinitely better if you read the series in order.

If you are a fan of Jeffe Kennedy’s you may have wondered as I have at times: How the hell do you keep up with all of your projects? Blog posts, two series, short stories, interviews, teaching, etc.

Jeffe was kind enough to take the time to answer this, and other questions I had about her organization system and work process. If you can’t get enough of Jeffe after this post head over to https://sffseven.blogspot.com/ for more of her witty, engaging and informative posts.

  1. As a writer who is involved in many literary projects (book series, blog posts, short story anthologies, etc.) what is your system of organization? How do you go about managing multiple deadlines and stages of production?

JEFFE: You know the short answer to this, right? Spreadsheets! As the Spreadsheet Queen, I have an Excel workbook that’s called “Progress Count.” The name is a little deceptive because it contains so much more than that. That’s how it started, though – as a single sheet where I tracked my daily wordcounts – and that’s how I know where to find it.

In there I have a spreadsheet for every “live” project, from a fragments all the way through galley proof stage. I track daily, weekly, monthly and annual wordcounts, and I have worksheets for my priority list and commitments. The Commitments worksheet has Gantt Charts that help me visualize overlapping projects – like teaching online classes while also drafting a book, for example – and to monitor spacing of release dates. The Priority List worksheet shows which projects are in my court, which are in someone else’s court (e.g., with my editor, on submission, etc.), and which are still glimmers of ideas. I have a fairly complex system of interconnecting dates where I estimate how long a phase of a project will take, highlighting fixed deadlines, and that shows me what I need to focus on next.

Finally I have a separated workbook that houses my ongoing To Do List. My assistant tracks promo efforts – like when interviews like this are expected! – and I space them out so I do one per day. 

  1. You have generously shared your beat sheet spread sheets with word counts on the blog The SFF Seven How did those evolve?

JEFFE: When I was shopping my first novel – and was unsuccessful for a number of years – I cast about for techniques to tighten the plot structure. I hit upon the Three-Act Structure, using the percentages you reference in those beat sheets. It made sense to me as a way to understand the “bones” of my story – and to adjust the pacing – AND it fit nicely into my Progress Count spreadsheets! I use those percentages and beats to track the growth of a story as I write it, which also helps me to predict how much longer it will take me to finish. For example, once I’ve finished Act I (all the stakes are set and the Act I climax is complete), then I know I have 75% of the story still to write. It’s a very reliable predictor for me.

When I went to write a serial novel – and set up the worksheet for that – I played with the percentages to figure both the individual section pacing and where it intersected with the overall pacing. I did a blog post on that and a local RWA chapter asked me to come teach that, which led me to play with applying the formula to a trilogy also. 

  1. Do you envision a series when you start writing or start with one novel and see where it takes you?

JEFFE: I pretty much envision the series, but in a general way. The best analogy is that the whole series feels like planning a cross-country road trip. I know I’m starting in Seattle and that I want to end up in the Florida Keys. Or someplace like that. Then I start “driving” and see how far I get. Things change along the way – I might pick up hitchhikers or get stuck for a while in St. Louis. Sometimes I finish a “trilogy” and I realize I’d like to leave the Keys and take a ship to the Virgin Islands.

  1. You have referred to yourself as a gardener, building a trellis for your story to grow on versus a pantser or plotter. How did you arrive at your current system for writing organization? Do you consistently use the same system of organization?

JEFFE: I touched on this a bit above. As a writer I tend to operate intuitively. The stories feel like they flow from elsewhere and I like it that way. I’m fairly superstitious about messing with my process, too. So, yes, I consistently use this system, which has grown organically over the last twenty or so years of writing. If I find a way to tweak that system, I’ll try it out – there’s always room to grow and improve – but I’m a big believer in a writer learning her own process and owning that.

  1. If you had one thing you could say to the new/beginning/young writer what would that be?

JEFFE: It’s not popular advice, but I stand by it: Build a Consistent Writing Habit. For most people, that means writing every day, probably at the same time every day. I spent years fighting this because I simply could not fit it into my life. Finally I started getting up at 4am and writing for two hours before work in the morning. And I was *so* not a morning person! But it was the only time I could carve out to write consistently at the same time, every day. After years now, I have a consistent writing habit. I don’t necessarily have to start at the exact same time, I can take weekends off, etc. But that’s because writing is a habit for me now. I feel weird if I’m not getting the work done, instead of that awful endless cycles of procrastination and dread that consumes us before we build that habit.

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Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.

Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review was nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose was nominated for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2014 and the third book, The Talon of the Hawk, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015. Two more books will follow in this world, beginning with The Pages of the Mind May 2016. A fifth series, the erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, started with Going Under, and was followed by Under His Touch and Under Contract.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary.


 

 

The Deep End of the Pool

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My kids have been swimming in this pool since they were twelve months old.  The first time we came to visit their grandparents we would all take turns with them in the water. We used tiny life jacket and floats to help them learn to navigate the pool.  Back home we spent hours at the YMCA pool with swim classes and family swim time. Beside the fact that I think that everyone should know how to swim as a matter of personal safety,  I wanted my kids to be comfortable in the water. Notice I said comfortable not cocky. I wanted them to respect the process of swimming and to understand that not everything in life can be “hacked”.

Work, practice, and more work are the keys to getting better and experiencing success at anything. And work means that, doing the thing you want to be better at, swimming, cooking, writing, whatever,  not reading about it, or talking about the thing. You have to do the thing. Short cuts are for road trips, not skills. There is no substitute for time and practice.

 I am constantly amazed by the people I meet who expect overnight success as a writer. Writing, just like swimming requires time and commitment and overcoming your fear. Submitting a  short story, or poem, or novel, or play, or whatever it is that you write is like jumping into the deep end of the pool.  

 Don’t expect the first time you submit your work to go smoothly.  You will freak out and stew and worry before you press the send button or drop the package in the mail.  You will most likely be rejected and flail and struggle to get to yourself to submit again. Don’t quit, be fearless, jump in with both feet, honor the process of learning and practice.  

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Do the work, hit the send button, then get back to work so you can jump again.