Darynda Jones: Finding the Focus to Write for a Living

Darynda Jones: Finding the Focus to Write for a Living

At Freedom, we love our users – not just because they use our product, but because they’re cool – cool people working on cool stuff. Academy Award-nominated screenwriters, bestselling authors, editors, journalists, developers, illustrators, designers, academics, coaches, podcast hosts, comic book writersexplorers, and entrepreneurs – the Freedom community is packed with curious, creative, and passionate go-getters. We love to share their stories, advice, and process because how better to learn about productivity than from the productive?

Meet Darynda Jones.

Darynda Jones is a Freedom user and NY Times and USA Today bestselling author. She has published over 18 novels and her manuscript “First Grave on The Right,” won both a Golden Heart and RITA award.

She currently has two series with St. Martin’s Press including the Charley Davidson series of paranormal romantic thrillers and a young adult series called The Darklight Trilogy. Darynda also has a degree in Sign Language Interpreting and worked as an interpreter for many years before starting to write seriously again in 2002.

Currently, Darynda lives in the Land of Enchantment, also known as New Mexico, with her husband of almost 30 years and two beautiful sons, the Mighty, Mighty Jones Boys.

So this week, we sat down with Darynda to learn a little more about how she finds the focus to write in an age of distraction.


How did you know that you wanted to be a writer and what were your first steps in making this your career?

I began writing when I was five. I wasn’t a child prodigy or anything, but I did start conjuring stories and creating plays. Some were quite elaborate and involved the recruitment of several neighborhood kids to play the roles, but since I couldn’t write yet and most of them couldn’t read yet, the productions rarely went well. 

Once I learned to actually put pen to paper, I was fairly unstoppable. I wrote everything from plays to song lyrics to news stories. I just couldn’t stop. I started my first real manuscript in high school and my best friend told me I should become a writer. In all of those years, I’d never even considered becoming a writer. I thought you either had to be a genius or an alcoholic. I was neither, so I put the thought aside for many years. 

I graduated high school, got married, had the requisite 2.4 kids, and then decided to go back to college. I had to stop writing for the most part while at university, otherwise I wouldn’t finish my homework. But the minute I graduated (actually about a month later) the writing bug hit and it hit hard. I began writing again, this time toward publication. 

It took me seven years and three manuscripts to sell. I’d finaled in very prestigious contest and gained the attention of several agents. I did my research and queried a few. A week later, I had eight offers of representation. I signed with the incredible Alexandra Machinist who is now at ICM Partners, NY. 

I ended up winning the contest and about a week after that, we had offers from several houses, including one from the legendary Jennifer Enderlin at St. Martin’s Press. We sold to them two days later and the rest is history. Honestly, after so many decades of writing, that whole timeline, from the contest final to my first sale, was a whirlwind. It was surreal and emotional and everything wonderful. I’m so grateful for where I’m at. I never take anything for granted, especially those who are on my team.

At what point did you realize that tech was taking a toll on your productivity, time, and relationships? When did you know that you had to do something about it?

Pretty much when my second book was due. I was still working full-time, so I’d only suspected as much, but after I quit my day job and began writing full time, only to still miss my initial deadline, that’s when I realized that perhaps the internet isn’t so lovely a place after all. 

I didn’t do anything about it for a long time, however. It was only after I’d heard about Freedom that I realized there were tools out there to help me concentrate. For someone with serious ADHD, that was music to my ears. I think I started using apps to boost productivity around my fifth book. 

How do you prioritize what gets your time and attention each day?

I’ve learned that until I get the housekeeping out of the way, aka the email and messages and social media to-dos out of the way, I could not concentrate as well. So I do that first thing in the morning and into early afternoon. I often work late into the night, so I sleep too late to get much done in the mornings. After years of writing full time, I have learned to accept that I rarely even begin writing until five or six in the evening, if not later. That’s when everything quietens down and I can concentrate without feeling like I’m missing an important email or text. 

Darynda Jones books

How do you stay focused and motivated on a daily basis? Do you have a routine, ritual,  or process that helps to get into a productive flow?

Once I get through the daily necessities and I can focus on writing, motivation comes easier. Focus is still an issue, so I do use apps like Freedom. I start by setting the time on Freedom, usually for three hours. Then I use either an app that has coffee shop sounds or a thunderstorm, or I put on a soundtrack. Nothing with words as they are a definite distraction. I have learned that I can actually focus longer with background noise of some kind.

How do you optimize your environment for productivity and focus? How do you incorporate Freedom into your schedule?

I try to have everything I’ll need within arm’s reach so I won’t have a reason to get up for a drink of water or a pen. I write in a recliner with a lap desk, so getting up and down is a bit of a production. I usually have both coffee and water by my side, pens, paper, sticky notes, etc. Then I just set Freedom and get down to brass tacks. 

What is the most difficult or challenging aspect about your work or working process? Do you have any strategies that you use to help overcome these challenges?

Again, I have a rather serious case of ADHD, so every little bit helps. I have learned that, besides using apps like Freedom and making sure I have background noise going at all time, chewing gum is like magic. It sounds ridiculous, I know! But chewing gum helps me stay focused way longer than without it. 

I learned the trick while working for the public schools. One of the special needs teachers let her students chew gum despite school policy. She swore it helped them focus. I admit, I didn’t believe her at the time. I thought for sure the students had somehow fooled her. But in desperation, I decided to give it a shot. Two hours later I’d written 2500 words without even stopping to check my phone or get up for this or that. I was floored at how well it helped and now I recommend it to anyone who needs a little help focusing. I beg them to try it before they knock it. As crazy as it sounds, it really works. 

What resources or tools do you use daily and have found most beneficial to your working process?

I pretty much do everything writing-wise on my laptop, though sticky notes do come in handy. I write in Word. I’m a huge outliner, but I outline in Word as well despite the plethora of writing programs out there. I’ve tried a couple, but I have my process down and messing with it only delays the project. 

As for the sticky notes, new ideas crop up every few minutes for me, some pertaining to my WIP and some not so much. I quickly jot them down so I can get back to the project at hand. 

If I’m not avoiding my phone like it’s covered in a lethal zombie virus, I also make voice memos of longer ideas. Again, it gets the idea down so I can get back to work. 

What projects are you currently most excited about?

At the moment, I’m working on the second in a new series I have coming out called the Sunshine Vicram Series. It’s about the newly-elected sheriff of a quirky small town in New Mexico, who also happens to be the single mom of a teen daughter. I pitched it as The Gilmore Girls meets Fargo. I am having a blast with this series. The first book, A Bad Day for Sunshine, drops April 2020, and so far the reviews have been outstanding. That helps with the excitement, I admit. 

What do you do outside of your work routine that helps you stay healthy and productive?

I may receive hate mail for this, but I will forever be a proponent of a low-carb lifestyle. It’s healthy, sure, but more than anything it helps the brain. Oddly enough, it’s hard to write when your brain doesn’t work well. I went vegan for a year thinking it would help my ADHD. Yeah. No. Never again. It was worse. So much worse. And I ate healthy! I was not a junk-food vegan. So, let the hate mail commence, but low carb is where it’s at. (Oh, how I wish that rhymed.) 

I’m so fortunate that I don’t have any issues with sleep. I’m out about thirty seconds after my head hits that pillow and I stay out until my alarm, aka the demon spawn, wakes me. 

As for exercise, I think walking is just about the best thing you can do for your mind and body. It clears my head and keeps me strong. Doesn’t get better than that. 

Where are you currently based?

I live in New Mexico, and I can assure you there is a reason it’s called the Land of Enchantment. It has a stark kind of beauty that is haunting and hypnotizing. And the food! Don’t even get me started on the food. I personally invite each and every one of your readers to come for a visit. We would love to have you.  


To learn more about Darynda or her work, you can visit her site at Darynda.com