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

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

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

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


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 make it all happen!

Did you miss Part 1 of the interview? Check it out here!

What advice would you offer less experienced writers – especially in regard to staying productive, motivated, and focused?

First, to respect your work and respect your time. Whether you have fifteen minutes a day or fifteen hours, you must test things to find your perfect time to write, to touch your story, to think about it. Give yourself mental space for this—you can’t have your email open, and Twitter, and Facebook, and be trying to write. In a perfect world, you’d have a separate computer just for writing, not connected to the Internet. Since that isn’t as realistic as it once was, you need something to separate your writing time from your business time. That’s why I use Freedom—it’s a signal, a proverbial knock on my brain’s door that says, Hey, it’s time to go to work now. I turn it on and know I can’t access all the things, and it allows me to settle into my work and focus.

I also use or Rainy Mood to set a nice background hum. I’m a private worker; I don’t like cafés (I get lost building stories around the strangers I see), so the background of a brain wave or thunderstorm really sets the mood. I am a fan of deep work, which is why I suggest finding that time of day that allows you to create. You control it, not the muse.

However you do it, respect that time, nurture it, help it work for you. If you don’t respect your time, no one around you will either.

I also love metrics. I use a combination method, we call it the Stars and Bars: one part Excel spreadsheet, where I can track my time and annual word counts, and one part monthly planner with a star system—every 500 words gets a silver star, travel days are marked in red stars, green means I’m editing… it’s a fun visual reminder of what’s happening project-wise. I do an annual review every year that breaks down my non-fiction and fiction writing, plus social media and other metrics. I’m a little obsessed.

But the very best advice I can give is read. Everything. In and out of your genre. If I’m not reading, I’m not creating.

“However you do it, respect that time, nurture it, help it work for you. If you don’t respect your time, no one around you will either.”

What excites you most about your industry?

People are reading at unprecedented levels because there is a delivery mechanism to fit every lifestyle. Authors have so many choices now, whether to go traditional, go indie, sell direct to readers, partner with distributors—it’s much more business oriented than it used to be, which is both a blessing and a curse. I think there is a story for every reader now, too, which gives so many authors the chance to reach new readers. We’re all working together to get books into the hands of as many people as possible, and it’s a glorious time to be a writer.

What project are you currently most excited about? 

Ten years ago, I wrote a novel that landed me an agent but didn’t sell. I put it in a drawer, wrote the next book, which did sell, and was on my way. A friend wanted me to have a story in an anthology last year, and I was short on time, so I pulled the old novel out, thinking I’d strip it down to a couple of short stories. But when I read it, I realized it wasn’t half bad. So I rewrote it, bulked it up, fixed a few glaring issues, and my publisher loved it. FIELD OF GRAVES is the prequel to two of my series, Taylor Jackson and Samantha Owens, and it comes out June 14. I couldn’t be more excited about this book, allowing the readers to see where it all began. This one means the world to me. It truly got me my start, in every way.

J.T. Ellison Field of Graves

What are your biggest distractors/what’s on your Freedom block list?

The usuals: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Gmail, Lifehacker, and most of the news networks. I leave ABC out in case there’s something major that happens or I need some historical research. It’s too easy to see a link, then another, then another…. I (try to) set regular times to work on social media, and that’s most often in the morning and right after I shut down for the day. It’s not unusual for me to book 4–5 hours on a Freedom session, and now that I have it on my iPad and iPhone, too, I can truly cut myself off from the distractions.

How do you find your work-life balance?

I’ve always been blessed with a husband who truly believes in the creative process. He’s always been supportive of my alone time to work. We don’t have kids, and as I tell my friends who write and have families, that makes a difference. I work too much, absolutely. As my husband says, we have a huge advantage: We get to choose which 60 hours a week we work. My office is in my head, so there’s really no escaping it after a long day. Plus, I’m a voracious reader, so I go straight from writing books to reading books. I do make an effort to actually see my friends in person, and golf, and discover new wines. But I’m really most happy when my fingers are flying over a keyboard. It’s just in my blood.

To learn more about J.T. Ellison or any of her books – visit her website at