Tag Archives: Cat Rambo

@JasperTScott on Burnout and Productivity #amwriting

Today’s post features USA Today bestseller, Jasper T. Scott, who has agreed to talk with us about his approach to productivity, and how he deals with something that affects all professional authors: burnout.

First though, a little about Jasper. An indie, Jasper has written nineteen books that have sold over a million. Yes—you read that right. He has sold over a million books.

When you go back and read Jasper’s author blog, you will see that he has written his way through some of the roughest experiences life hands us. So, I asked him two questions, which he was kind enough to answer.

CJJ: Do you feel pressured to constantly produce new work?

JTS: Yes, I do feel pressured, but that’s because I am the sole provider for my family, and I have a responsibility to keep a relatively stable income. The only real way to do that as a writer is to keep churning out new books! But I consider myself fortunate because anyone else in a 9 to 5 will stop making money immediately if they stop working ;). Also, no one can fire me! Job security is unparalleled in this career.

CJJ: How do you deal with those dry spells we all have and still keep to your publishing schedule?

JTS: Dry spells… I had my first in 5 years at the start of this year. I was blocked and courting burnout after a hectic release schedule last year. So, I gave myself a break and took the pressure off. I still finished a book, but it was about 2 months later than it could have been.

More minor dry spells in the day to day are easily handled by pushing through, writing even when you think you can’t, even when you think you’re writing something that’s subpar. Usually it’s not as subpar as you think.

Another strategy is to take a break, do something unrelated and inspiration will strike when you are least expecting. Driving around doing errands, doing the dishes, going for a walk… those are all helpful activities when you’re stuck!

Jasper made two important points, reminders that really resonated with me. First, he reminded us that anyone who stops working stops earning money.

THAT is an important concept that productive authors seem inherently able to understand.

Second, he reminds us that dry spells are temporary, and everyone has them. He diverts himself and writes his way through them, and that is how I handle them too.

For me, blogging is something I can do, no matter how crazy my life gets, or how low on creative energy I am. For me, blogging is writing but it is having a conversation too. Because it’s like having a conversation, I can write blog posts when I can’t think of words to write on my works in progress.

I promise you—having two kids with epilepsy means I’ve blogged my way through everything from a kid having brain surgery to the same kid having a stint in the regional burn unit. That is what life handed us, and while we wish it were different, we’re used to it and know it could be so much worse.

It’s important to know that every author has a life outside their writing, and we each experience life’s triumphs and tragedies, some worse than others. The loss of a loved one, a terrible illness, a car accident, these kinds of days are life altering.

But just as in every other kind of job, we deal with days ruined by minor aggravations—telemarketers calling, the internet going down, bad weather, bad traffic—life hands us aggravating days. Maybe we aren’t as productive that day as we could have been, but working productively, whether working as a programmer, building houses, or writing books is a matter of discipline and ignoring the aggravations.

These rough patches affect us differently, but one thing writers have in common is the way we handle things. We lose ourselves in our work. We take that pain and confusion and subconsciously, we turn our emotions into a story that others will want to read.

Writers write.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Amazon has placed an added burden on all authors, not just indies. This is called Rapid Release Publishing, and what it means is, if you publish once  a month, Amazon’s algorithms will give you a better slot in the rankings. It can be a short story, a novella, or a novel—just something new every 30 days.

That is a tough schedule, even if you are mostly publishing short stories and novellas. Discipline and a strong work ethic are required, and while I personally do have those qualities, I’m not a good keyboard jockey, so I write slowly.

Even though I’m slow, I’m able to publish a new book every year because I always have three manuscripts in various stages of the production process. Most days, I will write between 1,000 and 2,000 new words every morning on the unfinished first-draft manuscript. At noon I take a break, and in the afternoon, I spend several hours revising one of the other manuscripts.

At this point, I have a manuscript that is completed and in the final stages. Julian Lackland, the final installment in the Billy’s Revenge series will be published by September. I also have an Alternate Arthurian novel that is nearly finished, and a contemporary fiction novel that is in the beginning stage. When I wake up and have nothing to say on those works in progress, I will work on one of several short stories, or plot a new short story to work on during NaNoWriMo if nothing else.

Indy author Cat Rambo has over 200 published works.

Cat is both prolific and disciplined. At a conference two years ago, she told me she sits down and writes 1000 new words every day before she does anything else. She was nominated for a Nebula award for her short story, Five Ways to fall in Love on Planet Porcelain.

To be nominated for awards like Cat Rambo, you must write every day.

To be as prolific as Lee French, you must write every day.

To sell over a million books like Jasper T. Scott, you must write every day.

The most productive authors I know write something new every day even when they suffer from a temporary lack of inspiration. If they can do this, we can too.


Jasper Scott is the USA Today best-selling author of 18 sci-fi novels with 16300+ total reviews on Amazon and an average of 4.4 stars out of 5.0.

With over a million books sold, Jasper’s work has been translated into various languages and published around the world. Join the author’s mailing list to get two FREE books:

 https://files.jaspertscott.com/mailinglist.html

Jasper writes fast-paced books with unexpected twists and flawed characters. His latest project is a series of unrelated standalone sci-fi novels; no sequels and no cliffhangers, with one novel currently published, and five more planned to the end of 2019. Previous works include four other best-selling series, among others, his breakout success—Dark Space, a 9-book-long, USA Today Best-selling epic with more than 12,000 reviews on Amazon.

Jasper was born and raised in Canada by South African parents, with a British cultural heritage on his mother’s side and German on his father’s, to which he has now added Latin culture with his wonderful wife. He now lives in an exotic locale with his wife, their two kids, and two chihuahuas.

For more information check out the author’s website at: https://www.jaspertscott.com/ 

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#amwriting: SW Washington Writers Conference, What I learned from @RobertDugoni

This last weekend I attended the Southwest Washington Writers Conference. I was also privileged to attend a class called Creating Plots for Page Turners, given by the keynote speaker, Robert Dugoni.

I say privileged, for this reason. Robert Dugoni is a bestselling author of thrillers, My Sister’s Grave being the book that caught my attention several years ago. Dugoni understands what makes a gripping story.

As I sat in the class, it became clear to me that attention to writing craft is integral to his work, but he also sees it from a slightly different angle. While he covered many things which I will discuss in my next blog post, several things pertain to recent posts of mine, regarding the first draft.

Bob asked a question I found intriguing: “What is your purpose as an author?” There were several different replies. He said, “Your characters must entertain the reader. Never stop entertaining.”

That was my thought, exactly. So how do we entertain our reader? What should we avoid?

One of the main pitfalls of the first draft is the info dump. These boring stretches of background info are mostly for you, the author, and are meant to set the scene in your mind. You know the rules, and don’t want them in the finished piece, but they slip into your work in insidious ways:

  1. Is the information you are about to dispense relevant to the character and his/her immediate need? Does it advance the story?
  2. Resist the urge to include character bios and random local history with the introduction of each new face or place—let that information come out only if needed. Dispense background info in small packets and only as needed.
  3. Resist the urge to explain every move, every thought your character has. This is probably the most annoying thing an author can do.
  4. Is a flashback a scene or a recollection? Recollections are boring info dumps. Scenes take the reader back in time and make them a part of a defining moment. Write scenes, not recollections.
  5. Opinions about the scene or the character, or anything—author intrusion is to be avoided.
  6. Don’t be lazy—show the story, even when it is simpler to tell it.

Points 3, 4, and 5 were concepts I consider in my own work, but never really thought about and hadn’t articulated them. They are critical and do bear mentioning here.

A question Dugoni asked was one I have often considered and discussed here. “What is a story?” The answers varied, but the one he wanted, and with which I agreed, is the story is the journey.

Frequently, stalled creativity is the result of the author having lost sight of the character’s journey, both the physical and the emotional journey.

Dugoni offered a solution for when that is the case: Ask yourself, “What is the character’s physical journey/quest?” You must ensure each character has a journey, a quest, but Dugoni adds third aspect–a dream. That idea that the journey/quest is also a dream that must be fulfilled resonated with me.

Then, consider the emotional journey. Why do these people continue in the face of great challenges? Is it love, anger, fear, duty, greed, honor, jealousy, or some deeper emotion that drives them?

Find that emotion, and you will find your character’s motivation.

Then ask yourself what happens if they don’t succeed? What are the consequences of failure?

  1. What is the public risk?
  2. What is the private risk?

Something important is at stake, or there is no story. Once you discover what it is and how it affects the characters’ emotions, the story will come together.

Classes like this are why I attend writer’s conferences. Robert Dugoni, Scott Driscoll, Cat Rambo—these people have the knowledge I need, and they are wonderful, accessible people who freely discuss all aspects of the craft in seminars, frequently at conferences I can afford and which are near me.

The companionship and support of other authors has been invaluable to me, and I have made every effort to repay their many kindnesses by supporting them in their endeavors. The friends I have made through this career are as dear to me as any I grew up with, and that circle widens with every conference I attend.

You may meet writers who are local to your area, and they will know of good writing groups near your home. They will also know about resources you can draw on, reference books you may not have heard of. If you are serious about the craft, you will seek out the company of other writers.

Find a conference in your area, and see what turns up. You may find yourself learning from a master.

Robert Dugoni’s most recent book, Close to Home launched Sept 5th and has garnered well over 65 customer reviews on Amazon in the first week alone and maintains a 4.5 star rating.

THE BLURB:

New York Times bestselling author Robert Dugoni’s acclaimed series continues as Tracy Crosswhite is thrown headlong into the path of a killer conspiracy.

While investigating the hit-and-run death of a young boy, Seattle homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite makes a startling discovery: the suspect is an active-duty serviceman at a local naval base. After a key piece of case evidence goes missing, he is cleared of charges in a military court. But Tracy knows she can’t turn her back on this kind of injustice.

When she uncovers the driver’s ties to a rash of recent heroin overdoses in the city, she realizes that this isn’t just a case of the military protecting its own. It runs much deeper than that, and the accused wasn’t acting alone. For Tracy, it’s all hitting very close to home.

As Tracy moves closer to uncovering the truth behind this insidious conspiracy, she’s putting herself in harm’s way. And the only people she can rely on to make it out alive might be those she can no longer trust.

*

Robert Dugoni is the critically acclaimed New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Best Selling Author of The Tracy Crosswhite series, My Sister’s Grave, Her Final Breath, In the Clearing, and The Trapped Girl. The Crosswhite Series has sold more than 2,000,000 books and My Sister’s Grave has been optioned for television series development. He is also the author of the best-selling David Sloane series, The Jury Master, Wrongful Death, Bodily Harm, Murder One, and The Conviction. He is also the author of the stand-alone novels The 7th Canon, a 2017 finalist for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for best novel, The Cyanide Canary, A Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and several short stories. Robert is the recipient of the Nancy Pearl Award for Fiction, and the Friends of Mystery, Spotted Owl Award for the best novel in the Pacific Northwest. He is a two time finalist for the International Thriller Writers award and the Mystery Writers of America Award for best novel. His David Sloane novels have twice been nominated for the Harper Lee Award for legal fiction. His books are sold worldwide in more than 25 countries and have been translated into more than two dozen languages including French, German, Italian and Spanish.

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#amwriting: sit down and write

This last weekend, I attended the 2017 PNWA Conference. I had the chance to connect with friends whom I rarely get to see in person elsewhere, and met many, many new friends.

I immersed myself into four days of seminars on writing craft, with the intention of kickstarting the rough draft of the one manuscript which has stalled for the last two months.

Let’s be clear—I always have three or four projects in various stages of completion, so I always have one novel in the first, rough draft. Usually, I have no difficulty getting my idea onto the paper but, as I have mentioned before, life sometimes throws us curve balls. When that happens, I have no trouble writing blog posts or making revisions on finished manuscripts as requested by my intrepid beta readers and editor. But it is then that completing whatever story is in the rough draft form becomes a struggle for me.

So, let’s talk about getting past that mysterious thing some people call writer’s block, the horrible nightmare that is only a temporary lull in the creative process. This is when you hear those voices mocking you, “you claim to be a writer but you haven’t written a new word in days.” (Or weeks, or months.)

First, you must understand that this is not a permanent, career killing disability. It is a fleeting, dry period where the project you want to work on is not moving forward. But other writing can and should happen!

My recommendation is to sit down and write your way through it—don’t abuse yourself over whatever project you have that is stalled. Clear your mind of those little mental voices of doom and guilt because they are the carrion birds whose songs of despair lure you along the path to failure.

Focus on writing something completely unrelated instead.

In a seminar I attended this last weekend, taught by the award-winning sci fi/fantasy author and current SFWA president, Cat Rambo, she admitted that rather than beat herself up for a momentary lapse of creativity, she works her way through the rough patches with timed stream-of-consciousness writing sessions. She does this every day and shoots for 2000 new words a day, whether they are good words or not.

The way I interpreted her comments, she does this in the NaNoWriMo style, where you set a timer and write whatever nonsense comes into your head for a certain length of time and do not stop writing for any reason whatsoever until the timer goes off.

Cat’s advice? If all you can do when you sit down for that timed writing session is to write “I can’t think of anything” repeatedly, just write that. She said (and she is right) that after a few minutes of that sort of boredom, your creative mind will rebel, your subconscious mind will take over and push you in new directions. When I do this, I usually end up with some of my best ideas embedded in those long strings of rambling words.

Those nuggets of good writing and ideas are straw I can spin into gold.

My personal advice is to not set absurdly unrealistic goals for your work. Target goals are good, but in my opinion, setting too a high wordcount for new words on your rough draft each day is a good way to set yourself up to fail, as you can’t sustain it. I find that when I am involved in NaNoWriMo, which is a different kind of writing, I can put down 2000 to 4000 words each morning–but that kind of output is not sustainable over more than just the month of November. My usual output is 1000 to 2000 new words per writing session.

Consider setting your minimum goal of writing for at least one fifteen-minute increment per day, working straight with no stopping.  Repeat the fifteen-minute sessions as many times as you like each day, if you are really fired and inspired to write.

I am a fulltime author, but even when I was holding down three part-time jobs, I still managed to write every evening. When my children were still at home, I wrote when they were doing homework, or I wrote after they went to bed. I made my time to write by choosing to only watch the TV shows that meant the most to me and ditching the rest. That meant that most evenings I had at least one hour (but sometimes two or three) of good writing time after dinner was done and the kitchen was clean.

I understand if you are emotionally invested in some TV shows, but you must choose to make time to write—choose your entertainment wisely and don’t waste what could be writing time on shows you don’t absolutely love.

So, what about multiple projects? I find that having multiple projects in the works is good for me, as switching from one to another allows me to rest my writing mind. I am fortunate, in that writing is my full-time career.  Because it is my job, I always have three or four projects going, so I do have a certain, inviolable time of the day that I will work no matter what. On Sundays, I write all the blog posts I might need for that week, both for this blog and for several other websites where I have a regular column.

I need to keep regular office hours to be productive, so the morning hours of 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. are divided like this:

6:00 to 8:00, I work on adding new words to the current rough draft.

8:00 to 9:00, if I don’t have a writing group to attend, I handle my social media stuff—a nasty but necessary task that is part of the job if you don’t have a personal PR person but hope to connect with both readers and other writers.

I don’t have a PR person.

9:00-10:00, (again if I don’t have a writing group) I take a break from writing and make a stab at cleaning my house.

10:00 – 12:00 I do revisions on other projects as my editors ask for them or I edit for clients.

I always take a break at noon and either take a walk or sit on my back porch and just watch the world go by.

In the afternoon, I make maps or do other support work that may be required for one or another of my projects, depending which is firing my mind most intensely, or if I have a client’s manuscript to edit I will go back to that.

I’m no different than any other writer—I do have times when the well of creativity runs dry. But I have the support of other authors, and I have the mental tools I need to pull me out of those rocky spots. I hope this post offers you some idea of how to jumpstart your creativity, and remember–I am always here to talk you off the ledge.

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