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NYT Best-Selling Author J.T. Ellison on Her Latest Thriller, Afternoon Productivity, and Favorite Tools

J.T. Ellison: Productivity Advice, Work-life Balance, and A Million Books in Print

NYT Best-Selling Author J.T. Ellison on Her Latest Thriller, Afternoon Productivity, and Favorite Tools

J.T. Ellison

Meet J.T. Ellison.

Known for her dark psychological thrillers, J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling author of fifteen critically acclaimed novels, including WHAT LIES BEHINDWHEN SHADOWS FALL, and ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS. She is also the coauthor of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter.

With over a million books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages. Her latest thriller, FIELD OF GRAVES,  is set to release this June 14, and has already received rave reviews – (read the first chapter – here!)

With over 30 novels and short stories written and published, we figured we’d let her tell you how she finds the time and focus to do it all!

Also make sure you stay tuned for Part 2 later this week!

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

I have always written, and thought I would make a career of it, but my thesis advisor senior year of college told me I wasn’t good enough to be published, so I quit. It wasn’t until I moved to Nashville and suffered a series of bizarre indignities (I’m like a bad country song—moved out of town, lost my job, cat died, ruptured a disk in my back) that I was set back on the path. I discovered John Sandford while I was recuperating from back surgery, and the writing bug bit me again, hard. I wrote a terrible novella, sent it all over New York, got rejected by every house before realizing my novella wasn’t really a novel. Oops. I then set about doing it the right way. I learned everything I could about the industry, started blogging and placing short stories, landed an awesome agent, and then disaster struck—the book he took out on submission didn’t sell. I had to fight back a lot of demons from my early years when that happened. But all’s well that ends well. I wrote another book, it sold right away, and the first one that was turned down (“Field of Graves”) is actually coming out June 14 as a prequel to the series. Full circle, a decade in the making.

Field of Graves

What is the biggest mistake you have learned from as a writer?

How many column inches do we have? I’ve made many mistakes, writing-wise, career-wise. It’s how we grow and learn, isn’t it? Career-wise, I’ve done my fair share of putting my foot in my mouth. I can be rather blunt, and I generally say what I think, and sometimes that’s not the most politically expedient way to get ahead. What I have learned is—if you’re a decent, kind person, nothing is truly fatal. I’ve never been one to miss deadlines—that will absolutely end your career in its tracks. I’ve seen it happen time and again, and it’s always heartbreaking.

Writing-wise, in my first series, I didn’t realize I was writing a series and had to dig myself out from under some serious constraints—a lead character who had no real family, no real flaws, and a job that meant she couldn’t go traipsing off to Italy for no reason. I had to teach myself how to write out of that box, and it was hard. Doable, obviously, but hard. For the second and third series, I made sure the characters had a lot more room to grow and change. Now that I’m transitioning to write different types of stories, I know how to set up a world that has all kinds of loopholes.

When/where are you most/least productive, and how does this shape your daily working routine?

I’m a bit of a night owl, so my best creative time is later in the afternoon rather than first thing in the morning. As such, I do business in the morning and do creative work in the afternoon. I’ve tried to shift this, but nothing I do works. I’m simply not a morning person. So I build my days around long afternoons. I also don’t make appointments or commitments outside the house on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays, so I can reserve those days for serious, uninterrupted deep work. I work best at home, but I can write pretty much anywhere. Airplanes are my favorite, actually. Even though planes have Wi-Fi now, I prefer to stay unconnected. Maybe it’s the thin air, but I get some of my best work done at 35,000 feet.

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

I’ve always been an early adopter, so I have a tendency to try a lot of things, but in the past few years I’ve settled down with only a few specific writing tools: Scrivener, Freedom, Evernote, Wunderlist, and a Habana notebook. I live in Wunderlist and Scrivener—those two are open 24/7. I have all my research in Evernote, and I like to take notes, plan, and otherwise work from the Habana. That’s the topline.

The one constant from the past 6 years has always been Freedom. When I’m writing, Freedom is on. Period. That way, I have no excuse for not getting the work done. I’ve written nearly all my novels this way, over 1,000,000 words of story. I need the enforced focus; I don’t even pretend to be noble about wasting time online. I go down the rabbit hole doing research and checking numbers and talking to fans. It’s bad, and Freedom reins me in.

“When I’m writing, Freedom is on. Period. That way, I have no excuse for not getting the work done. I’ve written nearly all my novels this way, over 1,000,000 words of story. ”

What are you hoping to accomplish in 2016?

This is the year I try to fill my personal and professional wells. I bumped up my word count estimates this year, so I’m trying to write three full novels plus a short story, get ahead of the publishing game a bit. I also want to take a vacation—a real, live, don’t-work-at-all vacation. I co-host a literary television show, A Word on Words, in Nashville, so I’m gearing up for the second season of that. I have two original books releasing, and there’s touring and all the fun stuff attendant to that. So the real answer is—keep my head down, create a ton of stuff, and continue enjoying the ride.

If you’d like to learn more about J.T. Ellison or any of her books, click here.