Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Intro and How to Finish Your Ms.

Welcome to Jennifer On Writing!

I hope to make this a teaching blog for aspiring and newly published authors, as well as a place for multi-published authors to share their experience.

I want to reach all writers in all genres, so please bookmark the page and feel free to forward the blog entries or the link to any aspiring authors you know. All I ask is that you credit the author who writes the post.

Next week I’ll post a guest blog by a brand new author, Farrah Rochon, whose first novel debuts in March.

This week let me kick things off by

1. Introducing myself and
2. Posting a short article about how to get the &()*) manuscript written.

1. Who are you and why are you doing this blog?

I sold my first novel in 2002 (got The Call). After that followed a whirlwind of sales: a contract for a mystery series at Berkley, another contract for romances at Dorchester, a contract for a mainstream historical novel, and then more contracts. In all, I’ve sold and written 23 books and six novellas. Six of these works are forthcoming in 2007; the rest have been published.

With all that crammed into five years, I’ve learned a lot very fast about the publishing business, marketing, readers, booksellers, and what people buy and don’t buy and why.

I am agented, have been since 2002, though this is my second agent. I’ve also learned a lot about agents, what they will and won’t do, and how a good agent can really help you (and a bad agent can hurt you).

If you want to know what books I’ve published see:,, and or look me up on Amazon or B&N.

2. Get It Done

I’m going to kick things off with something innocuous, but a problem area for many aspiring authors: How to get the darn ms. done.

You have an idea, you’re excited about it, it keeps you awake at night, you write notes on scrap paper at work and email yourself with thoughts about the book. And then you get a couple hours free time on the weekend and you try to start or continue working you’ve already done.

And you can’t.

Why not? What happened to the enthusiasm?

Thinking about writing, the burn of creativity, is a completely different thing from sitting down and typing sentences. Typing the sentences (400+ double-spaced pages of them) is Work.

It’s physical labor that stresses the joints and strains the eyes. It’s tiring, the words never come out right, and you face a million distractions.

I’ve written 23 books and 6 novellas. And still there are plenty of days I sit down and think, crap, I’m never going to get to page 200.

Here are some tricks I’ve learned to keep writing:

1. Don’t edit as you go along.

Your sentence isn’t going to be perfect the first time. Probably not even the second time. Just keep typing and don’t look.

My rule is No one gets to see my first draft. Not even my critique partner. It’s complete crud. I write the first draft without looking, then I go back through and fix it before I allow anyone to look at it. Get the story figured out first, then polish.

2. Set a fixed time and place to write.

Pick a time of day (early morning, late at night, lunch hour, whatever), and set aside that time to write. Once you get into the habit of always writing at that time, your brain will kick into writing gear (usually) when you sit down to start.

3. Get an Alpha Smart

An Alpha Smart ( is a writer’s dream. It’s a lightweight text-only computer in which you type (on a regular sized keyboard) your rough draft. It saves each keystroke automatically and then you upload what you’ve done into your computer.

Bonus, it’s very difficult to edit what you’ve written on it. You’re forced to stick to typing out your rough draft (see #1).

4. Set a word count goal, not a time goal.

If you set a goal of writing for two hours, you could sit and stare out the window for two hours and write one sentence. If you set a goal of 1000 words in your writing session, you sit on your butt until you have those 1000 words done.

A word goal is better than a page goal because pages vary depending on how much short dialogue you write vs. long description. 1000 words is always 1000 words.

5. Trick yourself

I’m sorry to say I have to do this often. Go out to a coffee house or library or someplace by yourself, taking alphasmart or your laptop without Internet access.

Do not allow yourself to leave that place or look at anything else (no newspapers or books) until you’ve written a set number of words. When writing my story becomes the only entertainment available, you do it.

6. No Internet!

The Internet is a fun place. Gobs of news, pictures, movies, entertainment, not to mention all those chat loops and blogs where you can express your brilliant opinions to the masses.

Very distracting for the writer.

I’m an Internet junkie. But for me, checking the Internet or my email takes me out of the story, and I lose my momentum. I’ve forced myself to not allow myself Internet or email until after I’ve reached a certain number of words.

7. Reward yourself for success

If you make your daily word count goal for a week or get past page 300, reward yourself with dinner out, or buying something you’ve always wanted, or just taking a day off! (Or, if you’re me, getting on the Internet.)


I know I have not addressed issues such as family and friends. But each person knows their own personal situation best. You need to decide how to ask your friends and family to understand that this is important to you.

I got published just by writing books and submitting them. I didn’t know anyone in the business, I had no connections, no networks, no breaks, and I wasn’t a celebrity or prominent political figure.

I just wrote and wrote and finally I sold a book. People gave me the “what makes you think you can be a writer?” looks, but I ignored them and kept on plugging.

It’s not an impossible dream. It’s reachable reality.


Sandra Schwab said...

I second what Jenn has said about the Alpha Smart -- it's a writer's dream! When you write on a normal computer or notebook, that white, empty page can be quite intimidating and you might let yourself get distracted by panicky thoughts like "Uh-oh, I've only written 1 1/2 pages by now." With the Alpha Smart that's not going to happen, allowing you to concentrate on the writing.

Have you ever tried writing while music is playing in the background? I've found that music helps me to immerse myself into the story. I usually use only one specific CD per book (for my upcoming May release, a gothic historical set in the Black Forest, it was, strangely enough, John Denver *g*)

Self-doubts are perfectly normal. With each and every book I've written so far, I always reached a stage where I thought, "Gosh, this is crap. This is worse than anything written by dinosaurs! The story will bore people to tears! Whaaaaaaaaaa!" Some people call this the mid-book blues. In my case, it never happens in the middle of the book -- it happens in Chapter 3. *g* The important thing is not to let yourself be dragged down by self-doubt. Continue writing. You can always edit later on.

Chocolate and cookies also help. :)

Colleen Thompson said...

Great post, Jennifer.

The Alphasmart doesn't work well for me because I have this tendency to work all over the manuscript at once and edit (a lot) as I go. It's not the fastest way to work, but it's worked for me.

You're right about the Internet. It's far too tempting and distracting. I'm about to head off to the library to work, where I'll have fewer distractions... hopefully.

Stop by my writing site, too. It's at

Kayla Janz said...

You have some great tips listed. I don't have the AlphaSmart but I do carry my laptop or sticky notes with me wherever I go.
I have a set writing time. Every evening when I get home from work. I've written 3 books this way and am currently immersed in #4 as I type.
This is a great tool. I for one can't wait for future posts.
Kayla Janz

Michele said...

I'm glad I saw your "invite" on RBL!

I'm baaaad at #1.
Can't do Alpha I use paper and I try to go to the library . My kids know that I"m in the bedroom, even with the door locked -that means nothing to them. Writing to knocking and pounding is EVER so distracting, hence the library.

Yep, email is bad but so is Spider Solataire, or any Solataire. Sucks the brain cells right out.

I get stuck on the sands from a boulder.

I worry more about how many lines on a page makes a page and how many paragraphs makes a chapter and when does a break make a chapter? Too big? Too small?
It diverts me easily ... see, I have ADD ... the ultimate challenge to write - can't let go of the small stuff to get on with the big stuff.

I'm trying. I've gotten the farthest I've ever gone .. 10,000 words.
I was pretty happy about that until I started playing with your rule #1. I saw myself right off the bat as not only breaking it but wallowing in its quicksand.

Thanks for the highlight!

Anonymous said...


Thanks millions for doing this. I just found your Blog this morning and I intend to tune in each week - actually every day (to see what comments there might be).

I have been letting everything get in the way of my writing, even though writing is what I've wanted to do all my life. The problem I encounter is getting myself into the chair to write. Once I begin to write, I'm off and running. I plan and plan and plan to write, but always find an excuse when the planned time has arrived. Some sort of ennui sets in and it is as if there is some nebulous and invisible barrier (I think it is great and deeply ingrained fear)keeping me from the chair. I do like your idea of doing word count rather than time or chapter or pages. Most of all I like your idea of a daily time set aside to begin writing. I do have an Alpha Smart and have used it in a library with much success. What you say about it keeping one from editing is absolutely correct.

Again, thanks much for this Blog. I know it is going to help me.


Yasamin said...

geez this is great motivation. my pal and i were just talking about why its so difficult to sit our butts down and write about what we are always talkin about.

good stuff. as soon as i have a free moment, i'll link you. ;)

Jennifer Ashley said...

AH: I hear you about that ennui. Sometimes it's tough to fight. It is partly fear (of both success and failure), partly motivation oriented. I fully admit it's much easier for me to write when I *have* to, when someone else says "I need this by 3/31." That makes it more like a project with a due date, which drives me to finish.

One thing contests can be good for (as well as getting your work in front of agents/editors), is driving you to write to a deadline. They require your synopsis or chapter by a certain date. Some might argue that only motivates you to write a chapter or synopsis, LOL, but you never know when that editor judge will request your full ms. So target the date the winners will be announced to finish the full ms. If the editor requests it, you're right there with it. If she/he doesn't, you have a full ms. to shop or work with.

Just more thoughts. Thanks everyone for responding. Keep it coming--these are good things to know!!

Sandy Schwab said...

which drives me to finish

And me to utter panic. *g*

Gerri Russell said...


Thank you so much for doing this blog! What a treasure.

I set a daily page goal of no less than four pages. Four seems do-able and yet often I buzz right by on to page 5, 6, 7 before I realize it. The most important thing is just progress forward.

Thanks for sharing,


Vijaya Schartz said...

When I started writing, I didn't have the alphasmart, and I still had a day job, so I commuted everyday. I found it helpful to use a small hand held recorder, because ideas came to me while driving. As I was a transcriptionist, at the end of the day, I would insert the tape in my transcription machine and type all the ideas, dialogue lines, and other brainstorming ideas or narrative I had dictated earlier. It worked for me, getting me started on my chapter or my scene as soon as I sat at the computer. I wrote four novels this way. It worked for me.

Vijaya Schartz
Award-winning Sci-fi and romance with a kick

Kimber An said...

Very cool idea. Thanks for starting this up!

sixy said...

Thanks for doing this Jennifer. I'm inching my way back into writing. First is to reestablish a daily writing time. My Alphasmart drowned from a leaky roof last year. An editor said send in my ms. when completed. I'll get it out and brave the unknown and will definitely keep coming back here for more. Thanks again, Penny

Jen said...

Love this blog post! Great beginning for a blog of advice on writing!

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, I have a question about writing Romance. Is there a general template? For example, I know there needs to be a Black Moment just before the end, but is there a general pattern to follow such as Chapter 1 "this happens", Chapter 2 "this happens" and so on?