Wednesday, April 8, 2009

As the Writers Juggle...Episode #7 - Jessica Burkhart

Hi, welcome to another episode of "As the Writers Juggle," in which we ask writers to share their tips on the writing life. While many of our previous guests have written about juggling full- or part-time jobs with their writing careers, this week's guest, Jessica Burkhart, jumped into her full-time writing career right out of college--a brave move indeed! Now 22, she says she started freelancing at 14 to feed her lip gloss addiction. (And if you know how well fiction-writing pays, you'll know that earning enough to buy lip gloss is pretty impressive!) Her first two middle grade novels, TAKE THE REINS and CHASING BLUE (CANTERWOOD CREST), are available now and are the first installments in a series of eight. Visit Jess online at her Website or the Canterwood Crest series Website .

Q: When did you decide to take the plunge? Was there a deciding moment that convinced you it was time to strike out as a full-time writer?

Jessica: I went right from college to writing full-time. I'd wavered between being a full-time writer and going to grad school, but ultimately decided to take the big step and be a full-time writer. The intense pub schedule that I'm on with books coming out bi-monthly would have made it a little difficult to juggle both. :)

Q: A book every two months--now that's impressive, especially to someone like me who writes excrutiatingly slowly. What hurdles have you had to overcome?

Jessica: Since I got the book deal, I've had to deal with a few negative comments about my age. I've had a couple of people say that I haven't worked hard enough or long enough to "earn" a book deal. They have the misconception that I sat down, wrote a book and got an agent in a week. Um, no! I freelanced for five years before I wrote Take the Reins. My rejection pile is ENORMOUS and that doesn't even count the e-mailed rejections or editors who never responded. It didn't happen overnight. Trust me.

Q: (Looking at own rejection pile...) Oh, I trust you on that--been there, done that (though at a much, much older and more decrepit point in my life...)!

Tell us a little about your writing routine. You must be pretty disciplined to work under such tight deadlines.

Jessica: When I'm working on a draft, I try to hit at least 2000 words a day. When that's done, I can move onto something else, but I must hit that goal. So, if I want to play around on the Internet and work, it'll take me that much longer to meet my word count. The mind games of, "Oooh! When I reach my word count, I'm technically done for the day" works well for me and it keeps me from procrastinating too much. On my best days, I can average 3500-4000 words a day. I usually write seven to eight hours a day when I'm in crazy-draft mode to meet my deadline.

Q: That's something like 15 pages a day. I'm impressed! And then you have to go out and sell those books, too. About how many hours a week do you spend on book promotion?

Jessica: Wow. I honestly don't even know. If I had to ballpark it, maybe 12-16 hours a week. I count blogging, vlogging, doing interviews, visiting local stores, responding to e-mail, seeking horse blogs, etc. I try to keep up a steady stream of promotion and not do everything in a week and then disappear.

Q: Okay, so what's the secret to staying so organized? Can you describe an average day for us?

Jessica: Okay!

Average day:
6:30-7am-Up and I stumble to my laptop and turn it on. I check Facebook, read e-mails and browse LiveJournal. I start typing by eight and work until The View comes on. That's my cue to get away from the desk, move around and have that second cup of coffee and/or soda depending on the day.

I take a break for lunch and catch up on blogs.
After lunch, it's back to writing, editing, checking copyedits or doing promo.

I take my next break around 3pm and shut down my now overheated laptop. I usually watch General Hospital (hello, it's awesome!), look at my calendar, make a list of things to do and work on editing any printed drafts that I have.

I'm back on my computer at four (with Oprah on in the background) and work 'til dinner. I'll take a couple of hours to chill and read or go outside.

After that, I keep going until ten or eleven depending on where I am with my deadline. If I'm being super-obsessed with work, I'll take printed pages to bed and work on them 'til midnight.
If I'm feeling good about my pace, I'll read until eleven-thirty or so and then pass out.

Q: Yeah, I'd pass out, too--that's a pretty full day! But it's good to see that you schedule regular breaks. Do you have a favorite time or place for writing?

Jessica: I do my best writing in early afternoon. I'm too fuzzy in the morning, so I really get going around 10am. I love writing in my room, but I get sleepy on my bed. So, I'm usually in the living room--either on the floor or on the couch.

Q: How do you keep from losing your momentum?

Jessica: It's just in me not to stop. I want to be a writer for the rest of my life and I'm only just getting started. I use the goals and dreams I have for myself to propel my writing. It motivates me to sit at my desk for hours.

Q: Do you ever get blocked? What do you do to get unstuck?

Jessica: I've never had writer's block (thankfully!), but I have had times when I've been too excited or distracted with something going on in my life that I just can't write. So, I don't try to force it. I take a day off to address whatever is going on with me and then I'm back at it. I don't want to waste all day sitting at my laptop if I just can't work.

Q: Is there anything that comes between you and your writing?

Jessica: I don't have kids or another job, so I write full-time. Perhaps the biggest hang up is dealing with family drama and I'm slowly learning how to pull back from that.

Q: Ah, family drama! I don't think any of us can escape that.

What helps motivate you and keep you on track? Are you self-motivated or do you need outside naggers to help?

Jessica: No naggers necessary! *grin* I've always been pretty good with motivating myself. I love being my own boss and I don't need someone telling me to write.. And I've said before that a couple of people from NYC would show up at my doorstep and threaten to take away my favorite thing-my lip gloss collection--if I didn't meet my deadline. So that keeps me typing away! ;)

Q: (Filing note to self on Jessica's lip-gloss addiction for possible blackmail use at a later date...)

How do you deal with distractions?

Jessica: E-mail is definitely my biggest distraction. Instead of refreshing my inbox every five minutes, I log into MSN and read the new message alerts as they come in. When I do that, I can either choose to go read the new email or ignore it and check later. That seems to work for me.

Q: You sound pretty driven. Do you feel you have enough time for non-writing hobbies or activities?

Jessica: I do have enough time, but I'm being a neurotic workaholic writer and I'm not giving myself much time for outside hobbies. I will soon, but right now I'm trying to focus fully on my career. I'm just getting started and I want to do the best job I can.

Q: What advice would you give to others struggling with writing and time management issues?

Jessica: Treat your writing as a job and not a hobby. Make it that important and encourage your family/friends to realize how serious you are about writing. Whatever it takes to make time to write, do it.

Hmmmm....that might be a tough one for me, since I have a hard time treating my JOB like a JOB, never mind my writing ;) (Only kidding, boss, agent & publisher!!)

Thanks so much Jessica. Oh, and about that lip gloss addiction? Check out Lip Balm Anonymous. They even have a 12-step program. And I don't think they're joking...

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