The Writer’s Life (Part 3) and a PSA

by JT Ellison

The Writer's Life (Part 1)

The Writer's Life (Part 2)

Merry Christmas!

I hope your day was lovely, and if you don't celebrate, you had a
good Hanukkah, or Festivus, or Boxing Day or Kwanzaa.

Now, for the PSA, aka BSP:


I got so caught up in my new "methods" that I neglected to share some rather important news. My third Taylor Jackson novel went on sale this past Tuesday, December 23. I feel like a right eegit for not sharing this news last week, so forgive me. I don't know what it says that I wasn't on top of this… it's the holidays, we're all preoccupied, I was way more worried about getting my edits turned in for EDGE OF BLACK, I'm a blithering idiot… whatever the cause, the fact remains. JUDAS KISS is available wherever fine books are sold. PW gave it a starred review, Romantic Times gave it 4 1/2 stars, it's a top pick at Romance Reader at Heart… and if that's not enough to convince you, it's only $6.99.

I'm doing a brief tour, and would love to see some of you out on the road.

Here endeth the PSA aka BSP.

Since I'm on vacation, at the beach (YAY!) I thought I'd wrap up the
series on my writing life with a discussion of tools and tips for
better organization, less stress and an all-around happier writer.

In a slight departure for David Allen's GTD, I decided to separate
out my creative and my business. Here's how I define it –Business is
online. Creative is what I physically write.

  • My first, and most important tool, is my laptop, a Sony Vaio. It's
    light, has a 14 inch screen and is my favorite laptop ever. You need to
    enjoy both where you create and and what you create on. One day I may
    move to a Mac (if they ever address the pesky backspace key issue.)
    Until then, I'm a Vaio girl.
  • The TO DO List – I got all excited about moving all of my day-to-day to do list and
    calendar online, then realized I was defeating the purpose. If my lists
    are online, then I have to be online to access them. I went back and
    forth on this – online or paper, online or paper? I decided to stick
    with the online versions – Remember the Milk for my to do list, Gmail
    for my mail and Google Calendar for my appointments. All three tie
    directly to each other and, more importantly, to my iPhone, and that's
    just so much easier than dragging
    around a day runner for me. My Google Reader goes to the iPhone too —
    literally an all-in-one stop gap. If I lost it, I'd be in serious
  • My
    – It's becoming a valuable tool for me. I can turn off the
    wireless on my laptop, turning it into a dedicated writing machine, and
    if I need a break or need to look something up, my iPhone is there. I
    can glance at my email, Facebook, Reader, stocks, etc., taking five
    minutes to gloss through everything. I find that I rarely surf on my
    phone, which makes it the perfect substitute for being online on my
    laptop, and limits the wasteful time.
  • Two email addresses – one
    for crap (online ordering and subscriptions to groups you don't follow
    closely) and one for business. Some people break it out by friends and
    business, but I find that the crap versus meaningful works best for me.
  • Google Readers for RSS Feeds – I've turned off my daily newsletters from the newspapers and
    other sites like Galley Cat, and use my Google reader to follow any
    news I need throughout the day. It's so handy, because it can tell you
    when something is new, and it's all in one place. I've become a big
    proponent of all in one place.
  • The Moleskine notebook  – I've
    never used a Moleskine before (sacrilege!) and I'm excited to have gotten one for
    Christmas. I find that my notes get littered with creative ideas, and
    my To Do Lists include titles, or my grocery lists and that latest
    phone call get into my book notebook. I hope to use the Moleskine to
    capture my creative thoughts – ideas on new books, snippets of dialogue
    or scene, book titles, new characters – those ideas that go on Post-it
    Notes, the scribbles in the middle of the night, the whole kit and
  • A Circa notebook for the book – because I don't want the
    distraction of all the notes in my Moleskine. The Circa is great because
    I can tear pages out, reorganize them into tabs, and have everything
    book related at my fingertips. Now that I know how to use it, it's
    working well for me.
  • Fancy pens and pencils – It was office supply Christmas, and hubby got me some fabulous Palomino pencils for me to edit with. Me loves. I also am always on the lookout for a great pen. I have a wonderful Mont Blanc that I got for graduation, but I'm always scared I'm going to lose it, so it's sitting in a nice safe spot upstairs in my office. I use it to sign contracts, write thank you notes, anything important. Which means I need another, one that I can tour with. I'm looking at a TrueWriter from Levenger, just a basic solid Good Pen that I won't freak out about if I lose.
  • Write in the morning, edit in the afternoon.
    That way, the next morning, I can do the edits and it launches me right
    back to the spot I need to be mentally to continue producing. Some
    writers like to stop mid-line, mid-paragraph or mid-thought and come
    back to it the next day. I'm more inclined to finish at a chapter break
    or a scene pause. That allows me to pick up a fresh thought when I come
    back to work.What I am going to try is reading the last few paragraphs
    of what I wrote that day right before I go to sleep, and see what my
    subconscious does with the downtime.

And that's really it.

The picture below
is one of my favorite gifts received this year, from my wonderful
critique partner cum adopted sister JB Thompson. Isn't that great?

Christmas 2008 004

So, a twofold question today. Did you get anything for Christmas or Hannukah that you especially loved? And what are your favorite tools?

Wine of the Week: A gift from the Italian side of my familia, shared over Christmas dinner. This is one of the finest wines in the world, #6 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 of 2008: 2004 Pio Cesare Barolo

21 thoughts on “The Writer’s Life (Part 3) and a PSA

  1. J.D. Rhoades

    Books, books and more books…and I got Lynn “14” among other things, so I’m looking forward to borrowing that from her when she gets done with it. Also got some very nice ties. You may laugh, but I’ve never got ties before ad I’m really in need of some new ones. My favorite has an attractive pattern that you don’t realize until you get close is made up of tiny skulls and crossbones.

    Then there’s the Wii….

    As far as tools, I do love my Moleskine. Cheap, sturdy as iron, and the paper’s a joy to write on.

  2. Zoë Sharp

    Hi JT

    My Other Half gave me an iPod dock, so now we can listen to our entire CD collection as we scribble, without the battery in my iPod going flat. Terrific. I have a playlist just for writing music.

    But, when it comes to tools to write with, nothing beats a pad of lined paper and a pencil.

    And Dusty, be careful with that Wii. Our chiropractor says bizarre ‘Wii injuries’ are a growing percentage of his business!

  3. Lorraine Talbot

    Hi,I’m a pen lover and had a True Writer from Levenger once – may have just gotten a lemon, but it “died” young and had to be thrown out. Don’t have a Mont Blanc, way out of my $ range, but I too have a fav. that I use for “special” messages, etc.For every day writing, I have an inexpensive bright yellow Lamy. Have written with it for over a year, but nothing as long as a novel.Good luck.

  4. billie

    I went right to the Levinger site and plunked a plum colored Circa notebook into my shopping bag, only to find that it is back-ordered until Feb. 10th! I need it end of Jan.

    I’m heading off for a week w/o computer and thought having a nice notebook would be a good way to get a first draft done on a project I’ll be working on… but I get hung up on things like color. I refused to spend my morning writing time searching the internet, but now I’m going in search of one.:)

    My favorite Christmas gift isn’t even here yet – we’re putting wide plank wood floor in my tack room just as soon as I find the perfect recovered wood.

  5. Louise Ure

    My favorite Christmas gift was from a friend who realized that this year my penchant for volunteering for everything was getting in the way of my writing.

    Her gift: A voluminous sweatshirt with a stack of books on it, and the words “Can’t. I’m booked.”

  6. J.T. Ellison

    Louise, I NEED that!

    Billie, I went for the plum too, but I couldn’t wait, so I ended up with black. And it’s pretty : ) Try The Daily Planner for more notebooks – you may like the Clairfontaines.

    Lorraine, thanks for the hint. I’ll look at the Lamy. I see mixed reports on the True Writers, but you know Levenger Customer Service will work with you if there’s a problem. They are truly wonderful.

    Zoe, enjoy that dock. So convenient! I agree, I love to write, actually write, on real paper.

    Dusty, you MUST wear that tie to the next con. I want one too!

  7. Leslie

    I’m contemplating the laptop dilemma… I need a new one and I’m torn, so any words of wisdom would be helpful!

    I loved the Macbook Pro that I had and wouldn’t want to go any heavier than that for travel since hauling the 15-inch Mac through airports gave my back conniptions.

    It is hard even for me, the queen of rationalizations, to justify the difference in cost between the Mac and the extremely cheap prices on PC laptops. I haven’t been able to do it even using the avoidance of Vista as a reason. Avoidance of viruses does seem a good rationalization candidate.

    I’ve thought about going smaller down to a 13 inch for increased portability, and even flirted with the tiny and light pc netbooks, but I live on the computer so much I’m wondering if seeing an even smaller portion of the page would be counterproductive.

    Any advice on laptop purchase from the more experienced traveling writers? Should I use my high usage rate to justify the Mac? Should I go tiny so I can take it more easily? Should I pay half the price for a PC? Inquiring minds wanna know 😉

    BTW, has anyone tried MobileMe from Apple? It syncs desktops, laptops, and iPhones so you can have everything everywhere, even when on the road and you realize you didn’t bring a critical file. As an added bonus, it provides an additional automatic offsite backup (great for those who neglect their backups). They say it can do PC, Mac or a combo of platforms!

  8. Leslie

    And great post JT,

    I share your love of office supplies and you’ve given me a lot of tools to obsess over 😉 as well as some solid process ideas!

  9. Allison Brennan

    I got a moleskin notebook once. Never used it. I’ve bought every type of pad, notebook, stick note size, binder, clipboard . . . and I’ve never been able to take notes consistently. I always MEAN to, and it lasts about a chapter or two . . . even when I’m editing and sit down with the PURPOSE of editing and the INTENTION of writing down key plot points and names and basic descriptions, when I’m done for the day I look at the notebook and realize I stopped taking notes at chapter three . . .

    I do, now, keep a timeline that I create during revisions. It’s usually really simple. If I can find my old one for SUDDEN DEATH, I’ll take a pic of it and post it . . . unless of course it has major plot revelations and secrets . . .

    I love my Mac. And like Leslie, would be very interested in MobileMe.

  10. J.T. Ellison

    Leslie, I am an ardent PC girl, simply because Macs don’t have a backspace key. I have the Sony Viao with Vista, and I haven’t had a moments problemw ith it. I think the big Vista bugaboos came from people and networks upgrading. If you start with it, it’s fine. My Viao has a 14 inch screen, which keeps it light and still allows for decent size. My husband has an Eee, and it’s cute, but not the workhorse you need.

    Also, you know you can deduct the laptop as a business expense. I may try a Mac next time, but I’m awfully in love with my Viao.

    Allison, I am the Queen of Intention. I’m curious to see how long all my little New Year’s resolutions last. I should try the timeline, that might be a help.

    But I must admit, I’ve really taken to my Moleskine. The romantic in me, I guess.

  11. billie

    Oh, I LOVE the Clairefontaines – used them a lot years back but my local source closed down. Thanks for reminding me that I can shop online for those! I would love to have some of those on my shelf up in the garret. I think having a stack of blank pads is a Good Thing.

    I am afraid I have now fallen in love with those Circa ones though – I have ordered a jade one with a purple pen. See what you’ve got started?! 🙂

  12. R.J. Mangahas

    Nice little wrap up here JT. I have several MoleSkins that have yet to be used, but I always have my Faber-Castelle 9000 3B drawing pencil when I edit or really need to work on a particular scene.

  13. Leslie

    Tax deductible may be the ultimate rationalization, and it has been in the back of my mind, thanks for reminding me… now I may be in real trouble 😉

    The Viao laptops look very nice, and in such pretty shiny color choices! I’ll have to go look in person to get a feel for it. The weight looks to be just a couple ounces more than the 15″ Macbook Pro.

    I think I might get up to the price of a mac by the time I load it though 😉

    On the Mac delete key issue, are you looking for the “forward delete”, i.e., deleting the character to the right of where your cursor is positioned? I don’t typically do that, so it wasn’t a problem for me but I think Function + Delete will do that on a Mac.

    For those Levenger fans, and it sounds like there are a few here, make sure to sign up for their mailing list, I’m always getting discounts to tempt me… or maybe not if your resistance is low! I just got an email about 60% off…

  14. pari

    No big presents for us this year. And you know what? That’s fine. We kept it mellow and have really felt far less frazzled than before.

    I took each of the kids clothes shopping with an outside dollar limit and they got exactly what they wanted.

    Hubby and I took a lot of walks . . .

    Peaceful and happy.

    I don’t have any of the technology and am sure it’d make life easier, but I’m finding that I want to be less connected, less available . . . quieter in mind.

  15. J.T. Ellison

    Allison, yay!!! I hope you enjoy it, especially since your name’s on the cover…

    Pari, I love that. We vowed to have a small Christmas this year, and it’s been lovely. More focus on spending time with loved ones that big, flashy resents. Though I did get Rosetta Stone Italian, and I couldn’t be happier.

    Leslie, it’s the backspace, not delete, that I have issues with. I’m on the backspace button more than anything in my workday, so not having that would be a big issue for me. I think. Let us know if you get the Mac, I’ll be interested to see how it works.

    RJ, thanks, man. I am such a big fan of the good pencil.

    Billie, I almost got the Jade. I bet it’s gorgeous!!!

  16. Jeff Abbott

    You can backspace on a Mac. If you want to backspace and delete, it’s the Delete key. If you want to just move back without deleting, it’s the left arrow key.

    Congrats on your new system. I don’t use my iPhone quite as much as you do, you gave me some things to consider. And congrats on JUDAS KISS.

  17. Leslie

    JT,That would be a handy handy feature, but my PC Backspace key is a “delete previous character” or delete while backspacing. What key do you use to backspace without deleting?

    Hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t learn that until I decide on Mac vs. PC 😉

  18. Kristan

    I’m here via Jeff Abbott’s blog, and I have to say, I am SO reassured to read about your methods, because it sounds exactly like how I work now! Well, minus the iPhone, and sub a Macbook for the Vaio. (PS: FN + Del = Backspace, I’ve learned.)

    I’m a young writer, and it’s taken me about 6 months to come, more or less, to these methods through trial and error, but so far I think it’s going to work well. Maybe I’ll come back in a month (I’m doing my own version of NaNoWriMo in January) and let you know. 😉

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing your methods, and congrats on the new book!

  19. Leslie

    Hi Kristan,I think they’ve all moved on to the next post, so I’ll welcome you to the blog 😉 Good luck with your personal NaNoWriMo!

  20. J.T. Ellison

    Hey Leslie, and Kristan, and Jeff!

    So sorry about missing your posts.

    Kristan, I’ve been working at this for 4 years, so I’m very impressed you’ve arrived at this point after only 6 months. Regardless, get that daily word count in no matter what and you’ll be fine.

    Leslie, the backspace is what I use to remove what I’ve just written. I can’t get the hang of putting the cursor at the front of the word and deleting, whihc is what I’ve been doing when I borrow my friend’s Mac. Good news about the combo for backspace, but it’s still an extra step. Hmmm…

    Next computer I may make the switch, if only for the chance to try some more of the exciting time management and creative tools.

    And thanks, Jeff!!!!!


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