Jim Heskett is the author of the new book The Juggling Author: How To Write Four Books a Year While Balancing Family, Friends, and a Full-Time Job. He fell in love with writing at the age of fourteen thanks to a copy of Stephen King’s The Shining. Poetry became his first outlet for teen angst, then later some screenplays, and eventually, short fiction and long fiction (12 novels to date); he also writes in the video game industry.
Jim started writing poetry to woo women. In his 20s, he wrote screenplays because he wanted to tell stories. For a while, he thought he wanted to break into Hollywood. After he realized what a difficult proposition that would be, he changed course and decided to try to become a traditionally published novelist. He abandoned that plan when he realized how much easier it would be to publish as a indie author.
Jim has been publishing his own books for about two years now. For him, the greatest benefit of indie publishing is the ability to control everything from content to packaging. He also likes the control he has over when he publishes his work.
In 2016, Jim published 325,000 words while working a 40 hour per week day job and helping to raise his child, who was 1 1/2 at the beginning of that year.
To manage this heavy load, he developed a method for writing, editing, and publishing a book in under three months. Because he’s a father with a full-time day job, he has only one to two hours a day he can focus on his publishing business. He relies heavily on deadlines and benchmarks to help him be his most productive.
Jim’s Method For Writing Stories Quickly
Jim writes his book in three drafts. The first draft functions as an outline and is written completely in creative voice without any editing. This is where he makes the story up. He doesn’t make any effort to differentiate between the characters other than by giving them different names. In this draft, he keeps most character details in his head. The first draft is usually about half the size of the finished manuscript.
The second draft is usually the longest part of the process for Jim. This is where he’ll go back and make the outline more like the story he really wants to tell. In the second draft, he makes sure to differentiate the characters, making them unique and memorable. He’ll try to make sure the story doesn’t have any plot holes. Basically, he makes the best minimum viable product he can so that he can send it to beta readers.
After he finishes his second draft, Jim makes contact with beta readers. He finds these beta readers using social media. Jim is a big believer in using social media to be social. So he’ll contact potential beta readers and ask them if they are interested in helping him with his project.
If he’s built enough space in his schedule, he’ll often let the project rest for a month between second draft and third draft. This allows him to “get fresh eyes on it” when he returns to the product later. During that month, Jim writes the first draft of another project. That month is also when beta readers are reading the book.
After the beta readers return their feedback, he’ll write a third draft. When that’s done to his liking, the final thing he does before sending it to an editor is to have his computer read the book back to him. He uses a Mac, which can read his books back to him using built-in text-to-speech software. He has it set at the slowest speed he can stand, so he’s forced to pay attention to every word on the page. After he fixes any errors or awkward phrases, he sends it to a copy editor (Jim doesn’t use a developmental editor).
While the editor is working on this project, Jim’s working on writing another project.
Tracking for Productivity
Jim tracks his writing sessions over time. He’ll start a timer and then write for a specific, limited amount of time. When he’s done with that session, he makes note of:
- How long it was.
- How many words he typed and how many words per minute he typed.
- What time of day he’s working.
He keeps track of his averages over time so that he can observe patterns and figure out when he’s most productive.
Jim relies heavily on deadlines and benchmarks in his work. He knows what he wants his final outcome to be and then works backwards from where he wants to be to where he is now. Thinking about timing in advance allows you to save time because you can contact people such as editors and cover designers who will help you get your book to a professional quality.
For Jim, deadlines are motivational. If he doesn’t have a deadline and there’s no urgency to get any part of the project done, then it doesn’t get done. Deadlines are like checkpoints for him. They allow him to celebrate when he’s met them. And they also indicate when he’s off track, letting him see if he hasn’t done what he set out to do.
For some people, deadlines just add stress to a situation. But Jim is most productive when he makes use of them to motivate him.
Timing is Everything
Jim generally has some time in the morning right before work, some time to write during his lunch hour, and some time to write after he puts his son to bed in the evening. One thing he does to make the most of his time is to read the beat for the next scene that he’s going to write before he ends his writing session. Then he thinks about that next scene while he’s working on other things. He develops a plan for the scene before he sits down to write it during his next writing session.
Jim writes 365 days a year because he doesn’t feel like he needs a break.
He suggests that if you’re going to take a break from your writing, you should make a plan about when you’re going to return to it. Put it on your calendar. Make a commitment, because if you leave the date undefined, there’s a chance you may never come back at all.
Writer’s Block and the Myth of the Muse
Jim doesn’t believe in writer’s block. His advice for people who think they have writer’s block is that they may not be writing in the right genre and/or they haven’t found a story that speaks to them yet.
The flip side of the writer’s block coin involves the people who write when they feel inspired, then go back and read over their work afterwards and find that it’s no good and insist they’re going to start over. In Jim’s experience, that’s something that stops a lot of writers from finishing work.
The important thing to remember is that first drafts aren’t supposed to be good. You write the first draft to get it out of your head, and then you go back and fix it later.
Jim believes the muse is a story writers tell themselves that gets in the way of their own creativity.
Plotting Versus Pantsing
Jim used to be a very heavy plotter. Now he falls somewhere in the middle. He writes loose beats that give him an idea of where he wants the story to go, and he allows himself to discover what happens in between the beats.
Many people say they can’t find the joy in writing unless they are pantsing. Jim understands that, because pantsing is more fun. But he warns against pantsing if you’re a new author and want to build an inventory of products quickly.
“Wanderers aren’t known for being prompt. If you want to write quickly, find the joy in outlining.”
Another important thing to realize when you write an outline is that things may change as you’re writing the draft. When that happens, it’s important not to edit the draft but instead rework your outline to incorporate what happened when you were writing the draft. This allows your creative voice to take control.
Links and Resources Mentioned in the Interview
The Juggling Author: How To Write Four Books a Year While Balancing Family, Friends, and a Full-Time Job — Jim’s nonfiction book about his writing process.
http://www.thejugglingauthor.com/ — the website for Jim’s nonfiction book, The Juggling Author.
http://www.jimheskett.com/books — Jim’s author website
Deep Work by Cal Newport — a book on how to be your most productive
2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron — a book that gives you techniques about how to write faster using outlines
Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker — another book on how to use outlines to greatly increase your writing speed.
Natural Reader— a text-to-speech program for windows and Mac with a free version that reads Word documents, PDFs, and webpages
Vellum — vellum is Jim’s is go-to software for formatting e-books