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, bloggers, explorers, 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 Jerry Jenkins.
Jerry Jenkins is an author and writing mentor with over 40 years of experience and achievement in the craft. During his career, Jerry has authored more than 195 books with over 70 million copies sold worldwide. He is most well known for his bestselling Left Behind series, however he has had 21 of his titles reach the New York Times Best Sellers list, with 7 of them debuting at #1. Jerry’s passion for a good story has also led him to write nonfiction, including a few bestselling biographies of icons like Orel Hershiser and Nolan Ryan.
With so much success and experience in the craft of writing, Jerry is now an enthusiastic mentor to aspiring writers around the world and founder of the Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild. He coaches writers in both fiction and nonfiction and helps them sharpen their skills and stand out in today’s printing and digital publishing arenas.
His best advice to those who want to write bestsellers?
“Never make it your goal to write a bestseller,” he says. “Relentlessly pursue being the best writer you can be every day, telling that one meaningful story that lights you up. If you do that, you’re a success; your part is done. Every other factor — the market, the sales, the reviews — is truly out of your control.”
With a lifetime of writing experience and accolades to match, we decided to sit down with Jerry this week and learn a little more about how he finds the focus to write, publish, and mentor.
How did you know that you wanted to be an author and educator what were your first steps in making this your career? Essentially, how did you get to where you are today?
A great advantage to my career was knowing VERY early that I wanted to be a writer. I thought I would be a sportswriter and so talked my way in to a stringer role for the sports department of a local daily when I was 14. I was a big kid and they didn’t even know I was too young to drive. My mother waited in the parking lot for me, and when I got assigned to cover games, she had to drive me. And though the pay was pennies (actually, a dollar per column inch that survived the sports editor’s blue pencil), I can say I’ve been a professional writer since age 14. 🙂
The teaching aspect of my career came as a surprise because I was for so long a distracted and largely unsuccessful student. Invitations to lead workshops, teach classes, deliver keynotes, etc., came with my success and visibility as an author. I had no illusions about my teaching ability and simply shared what I had learned, so I have to say it’s more than gratifying to discover that writing students appreciate my approach and input. I’ve taught several semesters of graduate school journalism—always as the least educated person in the room. And I have more than 2,000 online writing students now.
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?
Once social media as a whole exploded and became so pervasive, it didn’t take long for me to realize that occasional breaks from writing turned into two- and three-hour digressions. Intending to just check email or Facebook, before I knew it I’d been clickbaited into checking out “The 10 Ugliest Actors of All Time” and then “Fifteen Undersea Creatures You Have to See to Believe.” Suddenly it was noon and I’d accomplished nothing.
How do you prioritize what gets your time and attention each day?
I’m a morning person (I rise before dawn), and the writing I do before noon is the best work I’ll do. So I start with the big stuff and save minutiae for the afternoon.
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?
That’s never been a problem for me. I love what I do and am motivated by deadlines. I love delivering on time.
How do you optimize your environment for productivity and focus? How do you incorporate Freedom into your schedule?
I have everything I need within arm’s reach, so I am without excuse.
I know Freedom has all kinds of benefits and techniques, but I use it solely for turning off social media when I need to be writing. It allows me to accommodate emergencies, of course, and I can even choose to leave internet research sites open while blocking ones that want to lure me into the kinds of distractions I mentioned above.
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?
I’m an inveterate procrastinator, believe it or not. So I have to work hard to keep my deadlines sacred. (I’m working on my 196th book, but it’s still a challenge every time. In fact, I schedule the inevitable delays right into my calendar.)
What projects are you currently most excited about?
My eldest son is a filmmaker who’s created a streaming TV series called The Chosen, scheduled to release later this year. I’m planning to novelize the episodes, so that’ll be a labor of love. And it’s really going to be something special.
What do you do outside of your work routine that helps you stay healthy and productive?
As a person of faith, I begin my day with Bible reading, devotional reading, and prayer. And as a person who has kept off a 150-pound weight loss for 16 years, I keep track of everything I eat and work out regularly.
Where are you currently based?
Black Forest, Colorado (northeast corner of Colorado Springs). It’s idyllic, and we’ve been here 20 years after 30 or so in the Chicago area.
To learn more about Jerry or his work, you can visit his site at JerryJenkins.com