My first year as a full-time author. Not quite as expected…

An old friend and I exchanged news on Messenger this week and she asked if I was still writing full-time. I replied last night that I was and it had been about a year. And then it struck me that it had been pretty much exactly a year and I might even have missed the anniversary. I had. So this is a bit of a belated post!

Tuesday – 8th June – was the one-year anniversary of me being a full-time author. What an amazing year it has been for my career as an author with so many wonderful goals achieved, but it has also been the most peculiar of years thanks to a global pandemic changing everyone’s lives.

This isn’t a blog post about goals achieved or about the strange world in which we live. Instead, it’s about how I’ve found writing full-time…

I thought I’d start this post by sharing an amazing cartoon my husband drew for me to represent frustrating days in my previous role as a distance learning HR Tutor. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job … most of the time. I don’t think there are many jobs that don’t have a few niggles but the ones in mine had become more frequent and increasingly challenging so the steam coming out the ears had become a regular thing!

So how has the first year been as a full-time author? Not quite what I expected. I say this not because I’m not ‘living the dream’ by doing exactly what I want to do, but because my approach to the freedom to write full-time hasn’t been what I expected and I find myself unexpectedly working more hours than I’ve ever worked.

I used to be able to write a book in 2-3 months squeezing my writing time into evenings and weekends around my demanding more-than-full-time day job. I ran evening webinars so I didn’t even have every evening free to write. I therefore assumed that, with full days available, I would get so much more writing done and at a quicker pace.

Wrong!

I have mastered the art of procrastination. I continually break from what I’m doing to:

  • Check my emails
  • Scroll through my social media feeds
  • Check my chart positions
  • See whether I have new reviews

The last two points are fair enough when it’s publication day or there’s a promotion on but it isn’t necessary several times every day outside that.

I don’t need to repeatedly check my emails and the scrolling through social media feeds is completely unnecessary, especially when the way I do it is so ineffective. I frequently find myself scrolling aimlessly, not resetting Facebook to ‘most recent’ so I am seeing posts I’ve already seen and I’m not interacting with any of them.

I dread to think how many hours I waste each day doing this. Yes, we are talking hours!

Linked to the above, I have absolutely no routine. I plonk myself down at my desk on a morning and am usually still there past 10pm. Argh! That’s not good.

When I had very little time to write, I used to just crack on with it. One hour to write? Okay, let’s do this!

Not so much now. With the whole day and week spread out before me, I don’t use it effectively. I spend ages staring into space. Sometimes I’m thinking about a plot point or piece of dialogue. Most of the time, I’m not. 

I get distracted doing little bits of research when I would previously have put ‘CHECK THIS’ in the middle of my manuscript (MS) and come back to it later to avoid disrupting my flow.

I used to use the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) approach of just getting the words on the page and editing them later but I’ve started editing as I go again or spending ages trying to think of the perfect words to use instead of getting the intention down on the page and perfecting the words later.

I think having so much time spread before me is the problem. At the back of my mind, I knew this could be an issue as a very good friend of mine had become a full-time author a couple of years earlier and she experienced the same issue. When you have very little time, you’re very focused with it. When you have loads of time, you waste it.

I need to be so much more focused with my writing time.

As you can probably guess from what I’ve said about how many hours I spend at my desk, I don’t have one of these. I can’t remember the last time I did.

Last summer, I wrote a week-long series of blog posts about imposter syndrome and it was quite a revelation for me pinpointing what had triggered mine. It went back to my early twenties and continued throughout my working life where I was bullied in the workplace and overlooked for promotion on several occasions.

We all know when we’re good at something or not (even though it’s very British to downplay our abilities) so I’m going to be very non-British and bold and declare that I was excellent at my job but I wasn’t good at playing the game. I didn’t network with the ‘right’ people. I didn’t ‘big myself up’ at work. I didn’t get involved in work politics. I didn’t stamp on others to get to where I wanted to be. I always hoped to progress on my own merits instead of because of who I knew. That strategy didn’t work! I therefore developed a workaholic approach, putting in way more effort and hours than were required in order to prove myself. And that approach became part of me and has never quite left me.

I find it very difficult to relax. I don’t like not being busy. I’m always doing something work-related and this isn’t good. This has exacerbated during the pandemic. Stuck at home? Might as well work then. So I did. Yet, as already stated, it hasn’t been time spent constructively.

Looking back, I have achieved a lot. In the year I’ve been a full-time author, I have:

  • Written three full-length novels, one of which required a complete re-write in edits
  • Completely re-written one of my backlist books as I wasn’t happy with the way it was written
  • Undertaken a full edit on another of my backlist

But I could have done more and … here’s the rub … in fewer hours if I hadn’t procrastinated, if I’d found a routine, and if I’d given myself a work life balance.

I think that the latter is one of the reasons why I procrastinate and don’t have a routine and it’s a vicious circle. I’m shattered because I don’t have any downtime so, when I do sit down at my desk, I can’t concentrate for long so I write a few hundred words and then get distracted. The words come more slowly because I’m tired but that means I need to sit at my desk longer to get the book written which means no work life balance which means I’m shattered so I procrastinate…

What can I do?

Only I can make the change. My husband challenged whether I should write fewer than four books a year to give me more time, but four books a year is absolutely do-able. The problem is that I don’t use the time effectively so it’s not the volume of work I need to change; it’s how I work.

I was fascinated by listening to a Facebook Live last week from fellow-Boldwood author Shari Low on the publication day of her latest novel, One Summer Sunrise. Shari talked about how quickly she writes her books and I was fascinated by it. She pretty much shuts herself off for a week or two and blitzes it. She doesn’t look at social media or go out. It’s a very intensive period with very long hours but the book gets written. Wow!

I wondered if she might put a huge amount of planning into it so that she knows exactly what she’s going to write but she’s a pantser, like me, just getting on with writing the idea she has. So this could work for me. If she’d planned first, that would be no good. I’m definitely not a planner with my writing.

I have started writing the fourth book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – and it’s going very slowly. This is partly because I have to do some research first and I’m struggling to find the detail I need so that’s holding me up, but it’s also because I’m procrastinating and because I have no routine. Next week isn’t a good week to try Shari’s approach as I am meeting up with my writing bestie, I have a hair appointment, and I have a cover reveal at the end of the week so need to be on social media. However, w/c 21st June is relatively clear in the diary so I’m going to come off social media for the week and see what happens if I try to blitz the book. Even if I could write half of it in a week, I’d be thrilled.

Every author is different and what works for one isn’t going to work for another but they say that the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. I’ve been doing the same thing for the past year and it’s not effective so it’s time to experiment with something a little different. I’ll let you know how I get on.

I hope this approach does work for me as I love the idea of an intensive fortnight to write a book and then time to do other things and be with my family outside of that. Of course, the process of writing the book doesn’t stop at that fortnight. There are still two rounds of edits, copy edits and proofreading stages but I think something radical is needed to stop me from working all these crazy hours.

Wish me luck!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I look back on an unusual May

I always think there’s something extra special about the start of a month being on a Monday – fresh week, fresh month, fresh start. Lovely.

And as we step into June, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on May because it’s been an unusual month with a few disappointments but, oh my goodness, what a delicious set of delights. Which is perhaps a little odd considering the whole of May was spent in a COVID-19 lockdown.

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Definitely not me celebrating my birthday                                               Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

 

DISAPPOINTMENT – I hate to start on a negative but the month started with a disappointment. I’m a May Day baby and I really didn’t respond well to a lockdown birthday and had a little strop about it which actually surprised me as I don’t really both much with my birthday. I tend not to work, I love gifts, and I like to go out for a meal with my husband and daughter to acknowledge the day. The fact that we couldn’t go out made me unhappy and my reaction was to ignore my birthday rather than have a half-hearted non-event. I made a ‘no gifts’ rule and sort of regretted that when the day arrived …. although I then broke it by ordering myself a stunning Lucy Pittaway print for my office. I can’t put it up yet because I can’t get it framed but it will make my heart sing when I can. And, actually, I might have ordered two. Well, there was 25% off and it would have been rude not to!

Screenshot 2020-05-11 at 22.17.16DELIGHT – I worked in the day job on my birthday but I took the following week off – a much needed break after working some extremely long hours since the start of March. When I returned to the work as a home-based HR Tutor, it was to a big delight because I handed in my notice. I really enjoy my day job but to write full-time is a dream come true and, whilst I will not be matching the income from the day job, I will be doing what I love and finally have a work:life balance; something I haven’t had for well over five years. Six days and counting…

DISAPPOINTMENT – There’ve been a couple more disappointments. Like so many people, there were plans in place which had to be cancelled in May – a shopping and theatre trip to Leeds to see Sister Act with the munchkin and a family half-term holiday in Portugal.

IMG_7561DELIGHT – I’ve missed my fortnightly meet-ups with my very good friend and fellow-author, Sharon Booth, but we had a lovely virtual catch-up this month and it was so good to see her/speak to her. Last week, I also caught up with a really good friend who I met when I was on TSB’s graduate programme in the mid-90s. We haven’t seen each other since I had my daughter (who will be 14 in December) so it was great to see/speak to her online too although that’s a lot of years to try and catch up on! One of the things that has come out of lockdown for a lot of people is reacquainting with old friends and that’s definitely a delight.

 

DELIGHT – I’ve received lots more delights this month with readers getting in touch with me. I’ve had tweets, emails and messages on Facebook from readers thanking me for writing my books which they say have seen them through lockdown. Every single time I receive a message like that, it humbles and astonishes me. I’m so grateful that (a) my stories have helped provide escapism during these challenging times and (b) that they’ve thought highly enough of them to take the time to find me and contact me. How lovely is that? Thank you to everyone who has made contact in May or prior to that. It really is so kind and thoughtful of you.

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Image by Thanks for your Like • donations welcome from Pixabay

DELIGHT – And the month of May finished on an absolute delight. One of the things that many readers have been saying is that they’ve binge-read my entire back catalogue. My fabulous publishers, Boldwood Books, have re-released five of my books (two shorter ones were packaged together as one to make it a four-book series release) and I’ve signed a contract with them for my remaining four but, for now, those four are out there as indie releases. I can therefore log into the author information on Kindle and see how many eBooks have sold each day and how many pages have been read.

Prior to the re-release of the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series, I had a steady but not impressive number of pages read and eBooks sold. Nothing to make me particularly visible in the charts. Nothing to write home about. Nothing to make me feel I could ever do this full-time. But the re-release, the promotion on these books and the lockdown scenario have steadily boosted sales and pages read of all of my books. This morning, my Kindle stats told me that I had well over 1million pages read during May from readers borrowing my four indie books on Kindle Unlimited (Bear With Me and my three Christmas books). Eek! I have never come close to that before. I had a look back at the same month from last year and we’re talking just shy of 197k pages and that was for nine books, not four! And even if I just go back one month and look at April, pages read were 443k so they have more than doubled in one month and increased nearly six-fold in a year. Wow!

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For years, I’ve felt invisible. I’ve felt I was failing. I always believed in my ability to write but I just couldn’t seem to make an impact. And now it’s happened. I cannot thank my publishers, Boldwood, enough for helping get my name out there and to all the readers who have bought or borrowed my Boldwood and my indie releases. Because of you all, I will be a full-time author this time next week. If I didn’t have writer’s bottom, I’d be doing a happy dance round my office right now! I hope to make you proud with more time to write and therefore more uplifting stories to read.

I know that June is going to bring a couple more cancellation disappointments but hope it brings another box of delights too. Hope it also brings delights your way.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

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The one where I took a big step in building the tomorrow I’ve always dreamed of

Boldwood Books posted this meme on their Facebook site yesterday and it could not have been more appropriate for me because, yesterday, I grabbed my opportunity to build the tomorrow I want. Yesterday, I resigned from my day job!

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I’ve always needed to fit writing around a full-time day job which has not been easy. Over the years, I’ve held some very demanding roles where I’ve barely written because extremely long hours and/or business travel has prevented it. And it didn’t really matter at first because, when I was writing my debut novel, it felt a more like a hobby. Could I learn how to write a book? Could I get to the end? Would it be readable? I never actually thought beyond that but, once I’d joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) and received positive feedback from readers on the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS), I began to imagine that there could be something beyond a finished manuscript loitering on my computer.

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Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay 

And there was.

Five years ago, I became a home-based HR Tutor.

Five years ago, my first book was published.

Five years ago, it was no longer a hobby.

Five years ago, I dreamed that I would one day be able to write full-time.

And five years later, it’s happening. Or at least it will be when I’ve served my four weeks’ notice.

And then I’m going to lie on a chaise while a scantily-clad Adonis drops grapes into my mouth while dictating my amazing new novels to a harassed secretary. Oh, wait, have I stolen a Little Britain sketch there?

What I’ll actually be doing is writing but I’ll be able to do it every day. And I’ll be able to do it during the day instead of late on evenings or across weekends like I’ve had to since I started writing. Which means I may actually have some time to spend with my immediate (household) family, extended family (post lockdown) and actually find time to exercise the lard off my rather enormous writer’s bottom!

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

I am so very grateful to the brilliant Boldwood Books and particularly my editor, Nia. Without my publishing deal with them, my dream would have remained just a dream. Their passion and enthusiasm has taken me from ticking over in the charts with a small number of sales each week to being an international bestseller who has sold 30,000 books (eBook, paperback or audio) through them since my first release in September last year. Wow!

I can’t help but smile at the words ‘international bestseller’ because, in my mind, that conjures up the likes of J K Rowling, Dan Brown, Catherine Cookson, Jackie Collins and Stephen King (picking from a mix of genres here). It’s not me! However, you are officially classed as a ‘bestseller’ if you get into the Top 100 on the Amazon charts and I’ve managed that:

Screenshot 2020-05-11 at 02.20.52The Secret to Happiness – #9 in Canada

The Secret to Happiness – #20 in Australia

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – #20 in the UK

Eeeeeekkkkkk!!!!!!!!

Leaving my day job is scary. I’m walking away from a decent monthly income. I’m leaving behind a career choice I made when I was eighteen (a loooong time ago!) My income from writing will be a small fraction of what I earn normally but that drop in income will be worth it for the joy of being able to spend time every day ‘making stuff up’ and finally getting a work:life balance.

To anyone with a dream like mine, keep holding onto it. It might not come to fruition quickly or easily. I’ve certainly had my fair share of rejection, disappointment, self-doubt, and more disappointment along the way. About eighteen months ago, I felt so down about things that I even wondered whether to give up completely. But I couldn’t not write. It’s part of who I am and I’d be lost without it. So I took a deep breath, tried not to cry too much about the many days with zero sales and the low chart positions despite the great reviews and keep believing that, one day, it would happen to me.

And it has.

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

Roll on Friday 5th June – my very last day. Each webinar run, each assignment marked, and each query answered will take me a step closer to living my dream.

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Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay 

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and believed in me along the way, especially my amazing husband, Mark, and our daughter, Ashleigh, who have always accepted that I have two full-time jobs and not a lot of time.

Thanks to my mum – my biggest supporter who tells everyone she meets about her daughter, the author.

Thanks to all those who have ever beta read my work (in alphabetical order) – Clare, Liz, Debbie, Jo, Mum, Nicola, Sharon, Sue and Susan with an extra huge shout-out to Sharon who has been my shoulder to cry on, my champion and an inspiration. Can’t wait to meet up and eat (lots of) cake when we’re through the other side. Yes, I know that defeats the bottom-reducing plan but needs must!

And, of course, a huge thanks to so many amazing bloggers and readers, some of whom have been around since the start, through my indie years, and are still with me now and others who’ve just recently discovered my work and have been so lovely and supportive.

Every single one of you have made my dream come true and I can’t thank you enough.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

If you want to read my uplifting stories of love and friendship set on the stunning North Yorkshire Coast, or find out more:

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