Category Archives: JT Ellison

6.27.14 – On Clichés

By JT Ellison

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I planned to write today, but the writing was going to take place in a snippet of time (exactly one hour) carved out of a very busy day. Even whilst on deadline, there are still things that must get done — doctor appointments and license plate renewals and sanity breaks in the form of lunches with friends and manicures — the flotsam and jetsam of our lives.

I have a strict rule about these kind of errands. I stack them all on a single day during the week so I’m not interrupting writing time to run out daily. That way, if I know I’m going to miss half a day on a Friday, I’ll load the rest of the day with as much as possible, and try to get a little work done in the down moments.

And sometimes, that even works. Road to hell, best laid plans… Insert all the cliches here.

I didn’t get any writing done, but I did write this blog, and think about my talk Sunday (see below) and caught up on social media, even though I sort of wish I hadn’t. But I also had a long talk with the BFF about her book, which got me to thinking I need to take some of my own advice, and so, this evening, I’ll be laying out a bit of the story-to-come in a more structured manner.

Do as I say, not as I do, right?

With that, I bid you adieu until next week. I have a working weekend ahead, and I’ll be speaking to the Nashville Writers MeetUp at the Green Hills Library Sunday afternoon from 3 – 4:15 p.m., if you’re hanging about and want to drop by. There will be enlightenment.

Via: JT Ellison


6.26.14 – On Moving Right Along

By JT Ellison

2043 today, moving right along. Still need a major day, but it’s coming. I need to use the principals behind the Rachel Aaron’s 10K a Day method, map a few things out and just go balls to the wall.

The fun of not outlining is things happen that you don’t expect, but it also means things go slower. Now that I’m over 1/3 of the way home, I can start looking at exactly what needs to happen to make the story sing, both in the earlier pages, and in what’s to come.

Tonight is Literary Libations, where Nashville’s Literati come to have a drink and see each other IRL – in real life. So I need to boogie so I can make it downtown in time. Hope to see some of you there!

One last thing: Jeff Abbott’s new book, INSIDE MAN, is releasing Tuesday, and there are several pre-order specials going on. You don’t want to miss this awesome thriller!


Go get you some thrilling goodness!

Via: JT Ellison


6.25.14 – On Manipulations

By JT Ellison

Diana Scharf

Okay, I admit it. I am a goal manipulator.

One of the big boons of Scrivener is being able to set word count goals, both daily and manuscript-wise. At the beginning of each project, I put in my deadline and my anticipated total word count, and it tells me exactly how many words a day I need to write to meet the goal.

Glorious! It saves me all sorts of time messing with spreadsheets and the like. Tracks everything, and at the end of the day, I simply pop the total into my master, annual word tracker spreadsheet and I’m done.

I normally shoot for an 80,000 word first draft, with the deadline set a month before the book is actually due, to give me enough time to do edits and allow my betas time to read before it’s submitted to my editor. I add words when editing, rather than subtracting, so the books usually end up in the 95-100,000 range.

The past few books, though, have been well over 110,000, with THE LOST KEY first draft coming in at a whopping 130,000. So I’m a bit off on my normal calculations.

I’m on an über-tight deadline for WHAT LIES BEHIND, so I initially popped in a projected 100,000 word draft for for a July 15 draft date. My goal was in the 1300 range for the first month. Then, as things weren’t working, the daily numbers grew – I needed more and more and more to meet the goal. Which means more pressure, and that’s not a good thing.

The closer I get to said draft date, the more I manipulate the numbers. Massage is probably a better term. Writing 5 days a week gives a different daily load than 6, or even 7, which is how a book generally progresses for me. The closer I am to deadline, the more I’m writing – toward the end, the last month, it’s 7 days a week, generally anywhere from 6-10 hours a day, whereas in the beginning, it’s a gentler pace, 1000 words a day in 2-3 hours writing time.

As you can see, momentum is everything for me.

Writing to a 90,000 word first draft also changes the daily outcomes, as does a 85,000 draft.

Right now, after several massages, I’m set for an 85,000 word draft, due to myself July 21, writing 7 days a week. If I do 2,000 words a day from now until then, I will finish with a week to edit, and a week to marinate. (Of course, there’s RWA to be planned for – and the 4th of July, spent with family this year. There goes my week to marinate.)

Still, 2,000 word a day is doable. Especially now that the story seems to be cooperating.

Also, something that’s taking a bit of pressure off, my editor is reading as we go, 100 pages at a time, so I’m circumventing the beta read process entirely in order to meet the deadline. Betas will get the book at the same time as my editor, something I’ve never done.

Confused yet? I’ll say this – planning is a big part of writing. You have to be able to organize yourself, know your limits, understand what you can, and can’t do. I read a superb article last week on why projects take longer than you plan, and it’s well worth a read. I always advise people to double the time they think it will take them to finish a project.

I’m just thankful I know myself and my habits well enough to be able to manipulate these figures with confidence that I’ll make it on time. I hope.

2419 today – and that’s not manipulated. Story is starting to shape up. Can I get a hallelujah?

Via: JT Ellison


6.23.14 – On Barbaric Yawps

By JT Ellison

Friday’s barbaric yawp seemed to terrify my Muse, who got in line and allowed me to find a thread, albeit a small one, and definitely not golden, into the story. Despite some sort of bug-like ickiness over the weekend, I managed a couple of thousand words, adding a new character, a prologue, and a few new scenes. I’m happier now.

It’s always fascinating to me how this works. I hit this wall writing nearly every books, though this time was worse than ever before. The only thing that works is opening up a vein and asking the universe for help. So thank you, everyone who sent good thoughts and vibes, because you helped me find a path.

Today I started fresh, from the beginning, editing the new stuff, added 800 words and got up to Chapter 14. There’s something resembling a book in here, but it’s going to take a week of truly concerted effort to find it. But I’m at 30K now, and building toward the end of act one, so we’ll see what happens.

Made soup, and did 5.5 miles on the bike. I’m trying very hard to up my cardio, and up my yoga. The more I move, the less stuck I seem to be. All that oxygen going to the right places, I guess.

In other news, I wanted to share this quick clip of Elizabeth Gilbert talking about the intimacy of social media.

It’s true – I’ve experienced the same thing. My Facebook page is a really fun place, for both me and hopefully everyone there. I love Twitter, always have, though I sometimes lurk more than I post. Having direct contact with readers, many of whom have become friends, is the coolest part of this gig.

And in the bittersweet news category – Kyle Mills will take over writing the Mitch Rapp novels for the late Vince Flynn.

I think Kyle is an excellent choice. He’s great writer, and will do the character and series justice. We do miss Vince, though. He was one of the good guys. If you haven’t read him, I can’t recommend him highly enough.

Via: JT Ellison


6.20.14 – On Blocked, Or Not Blocked? That is The Question

By JT Ellison

All right, that’s it. I quit. I am quite literally throwing up my hands. I am ready to toss this entire book.

Something’s wrong, and I don’t know what it is. I can’t seem to move forward. I don’t dare say it’s block, it’s only been a few days of sheer nothingness, and generally speaking, whenever this has happened in the past, it is a major signal, the universe screaming at me that there’s a problem with my story.

I’m not surprised, to be honest. This book (Sam #4) has been giving me fits from the beginning, when I tried to outline the story and got hopelessly off track. I’ve been trying to pull it all back since, redoing and redoing and rewriting and rewriting, but I’m stuck in the first 16 chapters, and the story will not move forward.

*deep breaths*

*more deep breaths*

I know every book has its own, bizarre, unique cycle. Some of them are easy to write, some are hard. The hard ones are usually the better books, but gee, how, this one. Sheesh.

For fun, I just went and snuck a look at my Monomythic structure. Apparently I am in the Test, Allies and Enemies stage of writing.

*now feeling lightheaded from all the breathing*

Okay. Clearly it’s time to go back to the beginning and see where I went wrong. Then, maybe, a Manhattan and a notebook, to figure out where I’m headed.

THIS is why I don’t outline, people. It screws everything up. I know one thing. If this isn’t conquered by Monday, it may be time to take drastic measures. I’ve only had to toss a story once before, and I don’t relish the thought. But part of being a writer is recognizing when your story has become untenable.

It’s gonna be a FUN weekend! Y’all have a good one.

6:37 p.m. – Ahem. A slightly sheepish update. I guess I needed to whine a bit, because in the intervening hour between writing the blog and now, 1100 words came spilling forth, with a brand new character and a new plot line that might actually have legs. So… thanks for letting me vent! Will update on Monday.

Via: JT Ellison


6.19.14 – On An Interview from SOKY Bookfest

By JT Ellison

I swear I am not as startled as I look in the stills. (Actually, I think that’s my Hermione, oh oh oh I know the answer to that question face.) Whilst at the Southern Kentucky Bookfest in April, I was interviewed by the lovely Barbara Deeb of PBS, and we talked about my political background, character building, and co-writing. Give it a listen.

It was a day of editing, plotting, and housework, yoga and a bike ride, reading and very little new writing. 360 net. I spent the afternoon making major adjustments to a plot thread that needs to disappear, which of course was laden throughout the first 100 pages in snips and snaps. I think I have them all out now, so tomorrow I can sally forth again. I may try for a 10K day tomorrow (or at least a 5K) to jump start things. Who’s in with me?

Via: JT Ellison


6.18.14 – On Being Busy and Introversion

By JT Ellison

BFF sent this great blog this morning about how our society has gotten so incredibly busy, and how to step away from that whirl-a-gig.

I read it, and couldn’t help but think – we introverts sometimes use our busy-ness as a shield to get out of doing things. Being “busy” is a socially acceptable way of saying no to things that exhaust us, of saying no without hurting feelings. Everyone understand busy. No one understands, or wants to hear the truth: going to that party will mentally exhaust me for several days, and I have a looming deadline which is making me feel all sorts of squicky, so I think I’d rather stay in and binge watch Orange is the New Black than hang out, but thanks.

Introverts recognize that spending 5 hours at a party is not only going to cut into our “me” time, it’s going to have a ripple effect through the rest of the week. A late night out can disrupt your sleep schedule, turning a regular workday into a slog. Conferences are the hardest — four days of being on, having fun, interacting with friends and fans can be devastating to the schedule and temperament of an introvert. Do we have fun? Absolutely! But are there consequences? Definitely.

I have to be careful what I say yes to. I can get easily distracted, and also, easily pulled out of my routine. I know myself well enough now to understand how my body works. Where I used to be wildly spontaneous, I’ve probably gone a bit too far in the opposite direction, needing tons of notice for events and the like, so I can store up sleep and do extra work beforehand to maintain my daily counts. Ridiculous, I know, but there it is.

Like many introverts, I have a core group of people I do things with, people who energize and entertain, rather than sap my energies. I’m lucky my DH is of a very similar temperament, and our best nights are ones spent alone together or with close friends.

We are busy, absolutely. Mind-numbingly so, sometimes. You can’t write two books a year and run your own business without putting in long, arduous hours. But sometimes I wonder if my knee-jerk reaction – I can’t do that, I’m so busy – isn’t a symptom of something more.

Part of my new year’s resolution was to spend more time with people in real life. I’ve done a good job of that this year. And the next time my inclination is to say I’m so busy, I’ll think about the words and make a decision – am I really, or am I simply being an introvert?

Food for thought, at least. To whit:

A mortifying 560 words today. I do know this: I really do need to learn how to say no to things. And that’s not being an introvert, that’s just protecting time.

Via: JT Ellison


6.17.14 – On Shitty First Drafts

By JT Ellison

This is one of my favorite quotes, because it is so very true. I know writers who are done with their work when they type The End, but for the vast majority of us, The End means the real work is just beginning.

Which is why I was reluctant to send pages north. Of course, yesterday I realized I needed to make changes to one of the chapters I’d sent. And so it goes – note to editor, changes made in manuscript, the damn autopsy chapter finally written, and the sudden realization that now, with this “tweak” — because it wasn’t as big of a change as I thought work wise — the book has altered tremendously, in ways I don’t even understand yet.

It’s days like today I enjoy writing so much, when a story twists in on itself, when something unexpected happens. This is also why I don’t like outlining. I like to write shitty first drafts. I like to make mistakes, to realize I’ve given too much information, that it would be best to pull back, layer in what I know later. I can’t imagine doing it all right the first time.

1000 net today, plus finished the critique of a dear friend’s manuscript, and did a nice interview with a magazine here in town. Listened to a little Rachmaninoff, read some on A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES during my lunch break. Talked to BFF and was encouraged to get over myself and write the damn scene already. (Which I did, so there.) Off to see Malificent with the DH tonight, which means… popcorn for dinner!

Also, Catherine has a giveaway for 5 advanced reader copies of her new Savich and Sherlock book, POWER PLAY. It’s a stunner! Enter here.

Via: JT Ellison


6.16.14 – On The Business of Mondays

By JT Ellison

Ah, Monday.

I started with the best of intentions today, and ended up with exactly zero words on the WIP, because other pressing projects took precedence. I know, I know, NOTHING should take precedence over my writing, but sometimes, the business of writing does get in the way.

I am reading a manuscript for a friend, and I want to give her a tight turnaround. I talked about the secret project at length with another. Mum needs a bit of extra attention now that she’s home. There is an interview waiting in my inbox, a website reboot underway, and I tweaked the fonts on my own site today, trying to get it to look just so. Had two calls with NY, and of course, kittens…

The truth is, the business of being a writer can sometimes become overwhelming in its many forms. It would be lovely if we were simply sent off into the hinterlands to produce words of impact, but that rarely happens in the modern publishing world.

It’s not all bad. Sitting at my dining room table signing tip sheets this weekend, I had one of those utterly surreal, I never in my wildest imagination thought I’d be doing this moments. I do so love my job.

But … without a daily word count, the books don’t get written. So the good, the bad, the ugly about the business end doesn’t matter a whit if I don’t accomplish the other part. The creative part. Which, truth be told, is kicking my ass at the moment.

I sent the first 100 pages of Sam #4 to my editor Friday. I’m not waiting for her to get back to me, but am soldiering forth – and today ended up being a day of thinking, trying to decide how best to do so. I think I came up with something, so tomorrow, with my schedule cleared, I will attack the idea and see where it takes me.

Also, I promised a photo of my now completed office wall — I love the way it all came together, and there’s just enough room for a few more book covers…

Via: JT Ellison


6.13.14 – On Being Creatively Satisfied

By JT Ellison

The Winter of our Discontent

I’ve been wanting to write a long form piece on creative satisfaction, but since I haven’t gotten around to it, I’ll delve in here briefly. An interviewer asked Merlin Mann if he was creatively satisfied. I loved the question, and asked it of myself. The answer was a resounding no, for all the reasons I spoke about yesterday.

With deadlines and multiple series and rushing all the time, I still don’t feel like I’ve hit my stride, found the perfect character, the right story. I have too many books I want to write. And time, she is a ticking, you know? My creative biological clock has been on fire recently. I feel oddly like time is running out. I’ve hit middle age (not sure how the hell THAT happened) and while I feel twenty-seven, reality is, I’m not. I won’t be able to do this forever. And the amount of story in my head that needs to come out, well, everyone tells me I need to slow down, but if I do, I won’t get them all down.

It’s that lost eight years, when I quit writing entirely because of my boob of a teacher, coming back to haunt me. I’ve written fourteen novels in eleven years (ten in the past eight). So say I’d written a book a year during that lost time, and a book a year since, then I’d be at twenty-one now.

So I guess I’m only seven behind. Well. That changes things. By the end of 2016 or early 2017, I should be caught up to where I should be.

A relaxing thought.

Silly, huh?

200 words only today, but edited a large chuck and sent off the first 100 pages to my editor. Working this weekend, I’ll make up for it, I’m sure.