How Do Writers Measure Success,Part 1 by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

So, I’ve written a book. Or a few. How do I know I’m a success as a writer?

That would depend on how I measure success.

I could pick the most common measures – money and fame – but even that is a matter of personal definition.

Financial success is certainly one way to measure success. Money as the currency of success seems pretty self-explanatory.But how much money equals success? Does it have to be”Lottery Rich” (enough to never worry about money again)? Enough to quit my job and support myself? Enough to buy a house? Or does even a single sale do it for me?

Or maybe its recognition, like hitting the New York Times or USA Today’s Best Seller lists. Or winning an award of some kind.

Personally, I think a definition of success has more to do with what satisfies us than just a dollar amount.

They say that nothing succeeds like success, but I think it’s satisfaction that keeps us coming back and working hard. I work in a corporate world and I’ve seen companies spend a lot of money and time trying to figure out the key to keeping good employees. I’ve been asked to take my share of surveys that have been developed to try and zero in on what makes people want to stay a a particular job or company.

In these kinds of surveys, I’ve been asked to rate the factors like the following in order of importance for why I stay at my job or company: Salary, health benefits, geographical distance from home, manager, opportunity to grow, feeling like I have meaningful work, feeling enabled to make decisions, etc.

I’m also asked to rate the reasons I would leave, or have left, a job.

The answers are not as simple as you’d think. Over and over, the results of these surveys show that salary actually does not occupy the first position for why someone chooses to stay in a job. Actually, feeling recognized and empowered has that spot.

Also interesting – the number one reason people leave a job is their boss. A high salary doesn’t overcome the daily misery of working under a bad manager.

In other words, for people who work for a living- and work hard- money simply isn’t everything. It isn’t even the most important thing. In fact, if that is the measure of success, it simply isn’t enough.

Its something a little more wiggly and subjective. It’s a little more personal. It depends on what you really want.

So as a writer, I owe it to myself to sit down and seriously answer that question for myself;-

Why am I doing this? What do I really want?

I’ll talk more about that in a future post.

Stories From Under the Bed by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

I was recently asked, what do I want readers to come away with after they read my book?

Well, first of all, I’m thrilled readers read my books.

That is the point, isn’t it? To write words, stories, and put them out in a place where people can read them?

I know people who write entire books only to tuck them away in neat little coffins under their beds, never to show them to another living soul. While I greatly admire their ability to actually create and FINISH an entire book, (something I struggled with for a long time), I don’t fully understand this impulse to Never Show Another Soul.  Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of writing something down? Isn’t the written word meant to be read? If not, then why write it?

I mean, I do understand that some people have a very deep fear of being ridiculed for the work they have poured their soul into. Fear can be very powerful.

And I also understand that writing is a learning process for the writer, and there are some books that should probably stay under the bed as far as” prime time” is concerned.

But writing is a learning process, so eventually, these things must see the light of day and actually be read- by someone, at some point. (Showing it to other writers is sometimes a good place to start). That is the only way to know how good, or how bad, they really are. And to create the opportunity to actually become a better writer- to learn what you could have done better, then try it.

I’ve written stories since I was a child. I knew that someday, I’d write a book. I tucked that dream under my bed and it nearly died in its neat little coffin, buried under the weight of daily life ticking away in years. Luckily it revived and reminded me it was there. One thing about this dream, though. It was always to write a book so people would read it.

Maybe it’s more natural for me to take this view of writing because I have a performer gene. I have a bit of musical talent, for both singing and playing an instrument, which I’ve gone to some trouble to cultivate. So the idea of getting up in front of an audience and displaying (exposing) my talent (or lack thereof) is something I’ve always accepted as part of the “artistic talent” deal.

And writing is a lot like music. Music must be played, it must be heard. Writing is meant to be read. It’s part of the definition of the thing itself.

When someone reads the words I write, the words become more than arbitrary ink marks on white paper. A whole world, a whole reality, springs to life in the reader’s mind. Directly from mine.

Stephen King talks about this kind of amazing connection between the writer and the reader that completes the circuit of telling the story. Like a live wire, always waiting to make contact. The reader can experience this shared reality regardless of the distance of space and time between them and the writer. The words are the notes, music waiting to be played.  Written to be heard.

I write so people can read what I wrote. I write for you, the reader.

And the answer to the original question is I hope you, my reader, come away with a combination of what I put into my book when I wrote it and what you bring to the book when you read it. That you find something that rings emotionally true to you in the story. I hope it makes you smile and I hope it makes you want to read another one!

Where do I get my characters?

by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

I guarantee that if you ask one hundred writers this question, you will get one hundred different answers, all of them equally valid.

Here is mine.

Since writers write what they know, I’d have to say that my characters must come from what I know.  I know myself, and I know other people. So I think partly they come from inside of me, from who I am and what I feel, and partly they come from the experiences I’ve had with a lot of other people. People I’ve met, and people I’ve only seen. I carry around a whole database of memories, feelings, impressions and emotions that I don’t have to even think about. We all do, actually. Like it or not.

When I get a story idea, one of the first things I do is imagine my main character. I literally get a picture of them in my mind, maybe with just one or two physical characteristics- hair color, height, age.

I have a fuzzy idea of who they are, what kind of person. Are they bubbly and sweet? Reserved and observant? Booksmart or streetsmart? Spoiling for a fight? Not a lot of details, and I don’t plan them out, trying to figure out who they are.

Instead, I start writing them onto the page, putting them into a scene to see how they will react to it, I see their personality develop as I do this- but it is more like recognizing them as they reveal themselves, than making them into something.

I had this one heroine, early in a story development of a historical romance, who wore a hat in a scene. I first described the hat as a plain, brown hat. Very simple. I stopped in my literary tracks. I knew, without needing to examine why, that this heroine wouldn’t be caught dead in an ugly hat. I knew that about her, even though I’d never thought it through in any organized way.

Likely, I may base my character on someone I’ve known or seen. Like movies about dysfunctional families- we recognize all of those characters. We probably have some of those relatives. Heck, we may even be one of them.  We have all met certain “types” of people, that come with a basic sort of set of rules about how they interact with the world around them. These are fun frameworks to start with and explore, maybe even dig deeper into and blow up that careful façade the rest of the world sees.

Here’s where the internal component kicks in.  It’s kind of like Carl Jung’s theory of dream interpretation (sorry, psych major here): every person, every thing in your dream represents something of you. I think that is a little how I create emotional reality of my characters.

When I write my character into a situation, challenge them with difficult situations, new ideas, I stop and imagine how they feel. That’s the part that comes from inside. I have to feel that emotion with them, put that down on the page. Make them human. If I don’t, the reader won’t feel it, and they won’t care about what happens next for that character.  That part comes from me, for sure.

All in all, I try not to overthink it, and let it flow as organically as possible. When I have a story idea, there is already a perfect character for it. I just have to wait for them to show up.

How’d I get the idea for this book? By Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

So this is a little embarrassing.  The inspiration for my newest book, “Pirateless in the Caribbean,” was a ponytail. And it came from an ex-boyfriend who didn’t even have one.

He wasn’t an “ex” at the time, in 2013- he was quite current.

So, I was a couple of years out of a divorce and swimming along in the dating pool. I was taking a shot at couple-dom with a nice Jewish man I’d met. We circled each other warily when we weren’t giving into the excellent chemistry, trying to get a feel for all the places we might overlap comfortably while keeping an eye open for the land-mines on the borders of compromise.

Anyway, he was intrigued with my writing, not that he had any desire to write, but he had artistic creativity and he loved to brainstorm plot ideas. He was great fun to do this with, because he came at things from a completely different angle than I did.

In any case, I had shared with him my plan to write a series of stories about people who shared one common friend with a magical gift, and then each met the love of their life as a result. All the stories could be totally different from each other, in place and theme.

I don’t remember actually how he came up with the pirate idea, but as soon as he did, he declared the pirate must have a ponytail. And that was that. I don’t know what it was, maybe a wish-fulfillment fantasy of a man with thinning hair, but  he could not let that ponytail go.  I wasn’t even writing that story yet- I was still writing my first story and was immersed in swords and Historical European Martial Arts.

He hounded me about that ponytail for most of the five months we dated and I kept it in my closet of intriguing ideas, thinking that a modern day story about a pirate might call for a Caribbean vacation setting.  It was a good idea, a better one than the relationship as it turned out.

A few months after we broke up, a country song came on the radio that sparked that little ponytail into the full-fledged plot of my next story. Dierks Bentley’s “Drunk on a Plane” was just the ticket – my heroine was going on a deluxe Caribbean vacation she did not want to take- no way, no how.

I set the ideas on “simmer” while I finished my other work in progress, letting a plot evolve that would put my unwilling character in a first class seat to meet the love of her life- a pirate.

I have no problem at all thanking my ex-Mr happily-for-now for the great idea. As another story-teller once reminded us, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Dig in and enjoy.

I think it worked out rather well, but you can judge for yourself when “Pirateless in the Caribbean” goes up for sale on June 17th on Amazon and many other places ebooks are sold (you can pre-order on May 1st).

Where do I get my ideas? by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

“Where do you get your ideas?”

People ask me this all the time. They ask it with a look in their eye that tells me they are a little afraid of my answer. It is the same worry I see in someone’s eye when I tell them my degree is in Psychology.

They worry that the jig may be up. They worry that if writers really write what they know, then I am writing what I know.

And I know them.

There just may be that chance that their lives – warts and all – could show up on my pages for all the world to see.

Everybody can just relax. I am not plagiarizing your life (as tempting as it might be. After all, truth is often stranger than fiction). I couldn’t get all the details right if I wanted to; my memory is not that good.

However, as I mentioned in a previous post about “Where” my stories take shape for the first time (in my head, or as they are spilled onto the page), I rely on a deep pool of past experiences, especially those that are emotionally charged, to bring to life whatever story I am currently telling.

Which still doesn’t answer the question- where do I get my ideas?

I have to say that I have never thought of myself as a creative person. Ideas, especially original ideas, have always seemed hard to come by. But I am beginning to think that the only thing that has ever limited my creativity has been my own lack of faith in it. Because not too long ago, I decided I would come up with an idea for a book. Do something different than I’d ever done. Go in a new direction. And you know what I did?

I thought about it. I thought about what kinds of books I enjoy reading so much that I can’t wait for the next one to come out? What books do I come back to again and again?

Guess what? I had an idea. I had such a good idea, that it brought a whole bunch of other ideas with it. And they aren’t bad. I don’t know exactly what happened, but somewhere I found my confidence, and now every time I reach for an idea, I find one. Or two, or three. It is so much fun.

You’ll see. But you’ll have to buy the book.

Where do writers “write?”

Jill Jaynes

I’d like to talk about this in terms of writing process, as in “Where is the story created- in my head, or on the page?”

Do I think up sentences and clever things for my characters to say, and save them up to dump onto the page later? I know some people who do. Does the writing take place in my head long before I set words to page? How much of the writing is planned and how much is spontaneous? Where does the story take shape- in my head or on paper, and how much of a shape must it have before I set it to words?

Not as simple as you thought, is it?

My husband, (a recent addition in my life- for which I am daily grateful) is not an avid fiction reader, nor a reader of Romance (at least he wasn’t before meeting me -more on that in future blogs I’m sure), but he has confessed to being somewhat disillusioned, or rather dispossessed of certain assumptions he’d held about how writers actually produced books. “I thought they just sat down and wrote it, beginning to end, the same way that I read it,” he confessed. “I never knew there was so much uncertainty in the process.”

I have to insert the disclaimer here that THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO WRITE. Every writer has their own process and all of them are right. “Right” is what works for you, whoever you are.

That being said, it is a fact widely acknowledged that writers come in two stripes- Plotters and Pantsters.
Plotters are considered to live almost exclusively in the left side of their brains, compelled to spend hours deciding and detailing the plot of their story and characters, usually using outlines and other “pre-writing” tools long before they ever set story-word “one” to the page. They cannot begin until they know how the story begins, middles and ends.
Pantsters, or those who write “By the Seat of Their Pants,” live in the right sides of their brains, and prefer to just begin writing their story, much as my husband’s imaginary writer works, beginning to end, without knowing much about it at all except for the beginning that begs to be put to paper. They have no idea what is going to happen next when they start, let alone what will happen at the end. (An astonishing number of mystery authors have confessed to working this way). Some of them claim to even lose interest in the story once they figure out what the ending is.

I like to think I live on a continuum between the two, closer to the Plotter end of things. Here is what I need to start a story:
1) I need a spark- usually the serendipitous convergence of two or more previously unrelated ideas.
2) I like to have a clear idea of my total story, at least a starting framework of beginning, middle and end that may change as I get further down the road. I will usually write a simple outline.
3) I like to know basically who my characters are- what they want, why they want it and what is standing in their way (why don’t they have it now?) and what is the conflict between them?(This is Romance, after all). I will usually write this down. I will play with some names for my characters- they usually jump out at me, clear and obvious, for this character in this story.

Now, those parts actually involve a lot of creativity. I’m creating a world and people in it. Takes a little imagination, I’d say.

Once I have that, I can pretty much start putting words to the page.

I’ll start writing a scene. I know where the scene starts and what must happen by the end of it.

And this is the part that is a little bit magical.

I usually have no idea how this is going to go. I don’t know what my characters are going to say or how they are going to respond to each other. There is no rehearsal, I don’t give them their lines. They walk onto the page and off they go- hopefully headed off in the direction I intended.

I don’t save up clever things for them to say that I think of while I’m driving in the car. I don’t make lists of really cool words I want to make sure and use. I don’t write practice conversations between my characters that don’t have anything to do with my story. I don’t “pre-write” in that way.

What I do, is rely on a surprisingly deep well of past experiences, people, emotions, smells, tastes and sounds that inhabits the border of my consciousness. Stephen King calls it “the boys in the basement.” It’s really the subconscious, storing up all that seemingly useless clutter you’ll never forget, especially the emotionally charged stuff. Whatever I need, it’s somehow right there when I reach for it. Kind of amazing, really.

Writing, when it’s really good, is like watching a movie play in my head, but more intense because I am submerged not only in the scene but in the character and their emotions. When I’m writing, it’s hard to say exactly where I am. I think my body is sitting where I left it, but I’m long gone, the vacancy sign hung around my neck. If it goes well, I will have written something that reproduces that experience for the reader.

I recently spent an afternoon writing a scene in which my characters are caught in a violent island storm. When I finished, I emerged, blinking, from my writing coma to find myself in the middle of a beautiful Tuscon afternoon with cactus waving at me from the other side of my hotel window.

Mission accomplished.

Jill Jaynes

Romance and Writing What I Know- Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

A wise and wonderful Romance author, Maggie Osbourne, once said that as writers “we write the stories we are compelled to tell.” She said that most writers who look back over the books they have written will find all their stories are built on the same theme, and they often don’t even realize it. These can be themes like- second chance at love; forgiveness and redemption; healing family relationships. The list goes on.

This is because it is human nature to try to work out that kernel of a problem whose solution eludes us, or is so central to our lives it has shaped us into the people we are.

So, lucky me, as writer I have a perfect outlet for working these things out. In writing, we call it passion. I write the story that is in my heart.

Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” and this is more essential for Romance authors than authors of almost any other genre.

I know I am only telling a story about fictional people, but you, my Romance reader, are along for the emotional journey. And if I’m going to provide a true, honest emotional journey that you can identify with, see yourself in, then I have to start with me.

I have to bare my soul (maybe more than a little) and share my emotional reality. When I embrace the emotion as I write the scene, feel the feelings with the character and put that bravely onto the page, I know that I can evoke these same feelings in the person reading it. If I side-step the emotion, if I’m not honest about it, you, dear reader, will not buy in. You won’t care about my character and their struggle- after all why should you, since I clearly don’t?

It takes guts to “bleed on the page,” but really, that’s what I’m here for. I love stories filled with emotion and heart, and if it means I need to start with mine, then I will take that other excellent writing advice and write what I know.