Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for August: (8/3) Dianne Freeman (8/10) Daryl Wood Gerber (8/17) E. B. Davis's Review of Granite Oath, James M. Jackson's new novel (8/24) Rose Kerr (8/31) V. M. Burns.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Career Development for Authors

The rule of thumb I used for myself in my first career was to spend on average at least twenty percent worktime in maintaining and improving my knowledge and skills. If you average a fifty-hour workweek, that means ten hours of developmental time. Note: I am not talking about paid time working. Much of career development time is extra, unpaid.

While we are in school, almost all our time is spent learning. (We won’t discuss how efficiently that time was spent.) As entry-level whatevers, our employer invests considerable time and energy making sure we learn the job, or learn to do it better, or learn the skills for the next level job. The further we progress, the more likely we need to take over this work ourselves.

If we are entrepreneurs, we are responsible for our own development.

When I started learning to write, I attended conferences and workshops to teach me the craft. I devoured books on writing. I spent substantially more than one-fifth of my time learning to write better. In short, I invested heavily in my new career.

Flash forward a decade plus. I have three books traditionally published and one more accepted for publication. Draws on my time include not only writing and revising the next books, but the time sink of sales and promotion. This past autumn I took time to reflect on the current state of my writing career. It did not take long for me to realize I had not been investing in my continuing education.

I started carving out time for craft writing books and exercises, but I felt that was not sufficient to bring my writing to the next level. I need a deeper understanding of my writing strengths and deficiencies; I need to learn specifically how to modify my writing. That, I decided, would require a multiple-day intensive workshop to immerse myself in making a transformation.

I contacted a number of writer friends who I knew (well, believed) shared my understanding about my need for intensive intervention as a road to improvement. Two seminars kept popping up: Bob Duggoni’s Novel Writing Intensive with Steven James, and Donald Maass’s Writingthe Breakout Novel. Because of course dates, only Writing the Breakout Novel fit my schedule. I’ll be attending in Hood River, OR the week of April 6, 2015.

I have submitted the pre-workshop assignments, including my goal for the week and a self-assessment of my strengths and weaknesses.

My goal is “to gain specific understanding of what I need to change in order to propel my writing to the next level.”

I listed five strengths:

     (1) I am willing to work hard.

     (2) I listen carefully to constructive criticism, ponder its value relative to what I am trying to accomplish, and change to reflect new understanding.

     (3) I have moved past the stage where seeing my name on a book cover is my goal.

     (4) I am comfortable with my voice.

     (5) I am reasonably intelligent.

And fessed up to four weaknesses (It’s better to have at least one more strength than weakness, don’t you think?

     (1) I do not actually know my writing strengths and weaknesses.

     (2) Writing synopses.

     (3) The ephemera of writing-related activities (blogs, blurbs, lectures, etc.) can distract me from the writing/rewriting.

     (4) I use a larger vocabulary than some of my readers prefer.

I’ll report on my learnings in future blogs, but in the meantime, my questions for readers of this blog are (1) Do you agree with my assessment of how much time we each should spend on development activities? (2) What are your plans for 2015? (3) Those of you who know my writing, what do you think I do well or could improve?

~ Jim


E. B. Davis said...

The more I write, the better I know my writing, and yet, I still don't see it as others do. When questioning authors for interviews, I'm often surprised by their answers about their characters. Sometimes the authors hadn't seen some aspect of their characters that I see. I wonder how I can evaluate another author's work and be blind about my own. Interviewing and understanding that accomplished authors have the same blinders concerning their work makes me feel better.

I'm always trying to better my work, Jim. I plateau, then bring my work up a notch, plateau again, forming a cycle. Getting involved with classes and seminars when you know you've plateaued is commendable and an investment in your future as a writer. I try to "listen in" to Guppy classes since I arrange them, but often I'm so involved in administration, I don't do the homework, which doesn't increase my skill.

I'm signed up at a Savvy Author class as we speak. I've yet to attend class because I'm on the road and administering a Guppy class.

Jim Jackson said...

EB -- Authors create from our experiences. Some of that creation is deliberate, and that portion an author recognizes in her work. Our subconscious is equally involved in the creation process, which we often do not recognize in our own work.

Readers approach characters with their own experiential lens. Consequently a reader will often see as obvious what a writer's subconscious helped create, even though that part is not easily seen by the creator.

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, it is hard to see our own strengths and weaknesses. I agree we create from our experiences. My main character lost her only child ten years before my first book starts. I lost a child, not an only child, but I was able to bring realism to what she suffers. Many people have said they like my characters, that they live for them. I think it's my age and also my curiosity about others that helps me create characters.

I also think a life long love of reading has helped my writing. I heard a woman conducting a workshop once, who admitted she'd never read a mystery or much of anything until she decided to write a book.

My biggest detriment is a dislike of promotion. Except for my blog - which doesn't deal a lot with writing - and belonging to the Guppies, I don't do much else to promote my books.

Shari Randall said...

I hope you'll share what you learn from the Writing the Breakout Novel conference - that's one I have heard much about.
Right now I am still learning to sail my ship - watching you more experienced sailors and learning from you. Goal for this year is query, query, query! And that means working on the dreaded synopsis and query letter.

Jim Jackson said...

Good luck on that synopsis -- as you read, I can't write them. The Guppies have an excellent class on synopses and such that helped, but....

I'll be sure to write about the week with Donald Maass and company.

KM Rockwood said...

I think we're all continually learning. My writing critique group is a big help--on an on-going basis, they point out both the good and the needs-improvement in my work.

One problem I find with organized classes is that often the instructor will identify what works for him/her, and then insist everyone should operate in the same way. I've found a few things that really don't work for me, and trying to superimpose them on my writing is not helpful.

We all see things in one another's work we can't see in our own. That's one of the reasons why it's so helpful to have people who are willing to give honest, supportive feedback.

E.B.'s right; the more we write, the better we know our writing, including strengths and weaknesses.

One of my critique group took two classes from Donald Maas. The report was that one was wonderful, and the other probably equally as good, but despite having a different title, etc, was much the same thing.

Kara Cerise said...

What an amazing opportunity, Jim. I hope to read about your experience.

Currently, I'm taking an online class on Coursera about historical fiction. I appreciate online courses because they are convenient and I have access to instructors out of my area. But, there's nothing like face-to-face interaction.