12 Tips I Use To Jumpstart My Writing (Even When I Don't Feel Like It)!

I'm going to share a dozen tips for writing that have been useful for me in getting my four (nearly five) books written in the last twenty months ... take them for what they're worth. I would argue (although not very hard, but that's just my way) that they're all worth a try, but you should certainly feel free to discard whatever doesn't work for you.

Absolute Silence ... nope
Contrary to what I thought when I began writing, I don't need monastic quiet in order to get words from my brain to the page ... I actually got some great writing done (a couple of times) in the middle of a busy/noisy/crowded ski lodge this winter. If other conditions are favorable, I can work around all manner of ambient noise ... in fact, a totally lack of other noise can be a distraction in itself.

Set a Scene Goal
Sometimes the blank page (or computer screen) leers up at me, and defeats me before I start. I get psyched out by the pressure of writing 1,500 or 2,500 words, and the solution is simple ... don't. I make a deal with myself to write a scene, an encounter, or a conversation between my characters. With the pressure off, I often find that I can keep the writing going after I meet the mini-goal, and if not, then I take advantage of one of the other tricks further down this list.

Get Comfy
A comfortable table and chair to write from is very important to me, and it should be to you as well. If the setup makes you sore or wiggly, you will not be able to share your best efforts with your readers. With the right table and chair combination, I will sometimes write for hours without noting the passage of time.

Good Light 
In a perfect world, I would always be able to write with natural morning light gently/indirectly filtered through trees from behind me, but I'll settle for no blinding glare or flashing distractors in my field of vision. It's often possible to change the lighting by moving your workspace by a few feet or simply rotating it slightly.

I like to get mildly hyped on coffee when I'm writing, and keep riding the caffeine-train as long as I can maintain the proper level (not enough to get jittery, not so little that I nap under the table). I also keep a glass of water at hand so that I don't dehydrate.

Round-Edged Music
I write best when there's music playing in the background that is soothing and interesting and without singing. My favorite is mellow Mozart, although when I'm working through tricky sequences/sections, I sometimes switch over to Bach's Goldberg Variations.

No Food
I write better, and longer, on an empty stomach ... or at least not a full one. I will generally eat some breakfast, let it settle, and then begin to work without eating until I'm done writing for the day. The smells and textures distract me. I also find that I subconsciously worry about gumming up my keyboard, and am over-careful. Those, in combination with the simple fact that eating uses at least one of my hands, work together to derail my creativity more than the food benefits me.

Having dogs is useful to me as a writer in a number of ways: they listen to my ideas without judging, a walk every once in a while is a great way (for all of us) to stretch and breathe, and watching them act/react/interact with themselves and the world around them is always interesting.

Paper and Pen
I keep a pad and pen handy for when ideas or questions occur to me, knowing that having written it down, I can forget it and get back to what I was working on. I also use the paper to map/outline characters or segments of stories.

It may sound silly, but I bribe myself with promised rewards for work completed ... an episode of "Archer" or bowl of ice-cream or something fun to read on my kindle is a great (semi-intrinsic) motivation to keep working. Having a treat to look forward to helps me get the words out of my brain and into my laptop.

I pardon myself (in advance) for writing crappy material every time I sit down to write. I never count on the first draft of anything being great, but sometimes I have to get from point 'D' to point 'F', and can feel that writing segment 'E' is going to be messy; I have learned to live with it, knowing that I'll be able to clean things up in the re-write; give yourself the same permission.

Targeted reading breaks
If I'm in a jam, and the words aren't coming, I'll often take a ten minute reading break with one of my teacher-authors (Lawrence Block, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, or whoever's writing I happen to be in love with at the moment). I use their writing as both break and tutorial, and more often than not can climb back out of the slump that I was in.

These tips aren't foolproof, but they generally help me get some writing done, even on those days when I think/feel that I'd prefer not to, or start out feeling as though I can't. I hope that one or more of them are of some use to you.




Page Versus Group on Facebook

Like many independent authors, I set up a Facebook Page as a matter of course early on in my self-publishing days. It seemed the businesslike way to gather and communicate with readers and potential readers ... everyone seemed to be doing it.

I loved seeing my number of fans grow, and quite quickly my tribe grew to number in the hundreds. I began to notice something though ... on some posts, especially those I most wanted my followers to see, only a small portion of my followers ever got to see them. 

As time went by, I could see patterns developing ... posts with pictures or just text went out to 20%-30% of my followers, and posts with links in them went out to 10% or less of my followers.

Facebook offered me the option to pay to 'boost' individual posts, an option I took a number of times ... still though, it bugged me.

Facebook was asking me to pay to communicate with people who had expressed an interest in communicating with me on their (already ad-supported) social media network. If I refused to pay for the privilege, they throttled my posts back so that it reached 5%-10% of my followers.

I decided the other day that I had had enough of FB's greed and manipulation, so I pad to boost one final post ... announcing that I was migrating my communications on FB from the page to a group.

A group would seem to have significant advantages over the page for the purpose of communicating with readers and hopefully reaching new readers ... I hope so, and will report back with updates as to how things are working out.




March is Officially My Best Sales Month Ever!

There are still two weeks left in the month of March, and it is already by far my best month of sales for me as a writer!

I ran a number of promotions involving some targeted giveaways and price cuts, in combination with ads placed with various online ebook promotion outfits.

I'll post with final numbers at the end of the month, but the totals as of today are:
  • almost 6,000 copies of my two novellas delivered (for free) into the hands of potential readers/reviewers (some of who have already read and reviewed these shorter works, and moved onto the novels)
  • 50 copies of my novellas, "Mickey Slips" and "Bound for Home" purchased
  • over 400 copies of my new novel "Caretakers" purchased
  • over 500 copies of my first novel "Here Be Monsters" purchased
  • a couple dozen new reviews on Amazon and GoodReads for my books
I'm also (reasonably) hard at work on the next Tyler Cunningham novella, which should be out in the next month or so, and enjoying reading an interesting variety of books.





Two plates in the dishwasher after dinner, not three,
Bedtime with no forehead to kiss, no song to sing.

Grown-up talk at dinner,
Reading a book until I'm ready to put it down,
Television after dark with the volume loud as we want.

Something - someone - is missing ... and missed.

No hugs from my mini-me,
No quiet, "I love you Dad" when I pad quietly past his door before dawn.

Not grown, but growing, 
and the 14th of many ties/restrictions/bonds between us has been severed.
(I somehow overlooked the first 13 ... bad luck for me)

My Ben ... I miss him.

Jamie, 3/14


Spring Break!

Not mine ... my son's actually, but I took the day off anyway to do some skiing with him at Whiteface Mountain. We got here when the lifts opened, and skied for a while before a friend of his arrived.

They're way better than me, so after a pity-run together, I sent them on their way, and after a few additional runs, I de-booted and found a nice spot in the lodge to write. We met for lunch, and they've been out on the slopes for the last few hours while I've been writing.

I'm still pretty new to writing in such a public and crowded and noisy place, but I'm getting better at it (as opposed to my usual writing sessions, which find me cloistered in the woods, shushing the occasional bid or squirrel).

I gained some ground in the next Tyler Cunningham novella, which should be out sometime in the beginning of April if things keep moving along as they have been.

I signed up for the July 2014 Camp NaNoWriMo, setting a goal of 75k, and soft-committing to a title and synopsis of the next book.

I was able to do some research for the next novel, and reach out to a couple of SME's I will need to consult with if I hope to avoid looking like a muttonhead (which I try to do when possible).

I organized some ideas and notes that I have for the serial fiction project I'm going to start soon, hopefully in April.

I'm in the second day of a giveaway of a pair of Tyler Cunningham novellas, "Mickey Slips" and "Bound for Home" ... so far, I've given a bit more than 4,000 free copies of these novellas (I'm hoping this will generate some reviews, as well as people coming back willing to pay for the novels).

It seems to also be driving people to my Amazon page, because I've sold a couple of dozen copies of "Here Be Monsters" and "Caretakers" ... hooray for unanticipated benefits of seemingly stupid things indie authors do.

Thanks for checking in!



Update: How I'm keeping busy these days?

I've been doing a fair amount of both reading and writing since the publication of "Caretakers" at the beginning of January.

I set a reading goal of 24 books for 2014, and I'm already about halfway there. I've been reading a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and am enjoying the exploration of writer's I've ever read before.

I've been giving myself permission to write more poetry since January 1st ... I'm not a poet, but enjoy the outlet and freedom it offers me.

I've also been working on the next Tyler Cunningham novella, tentatively titled, "Dogfight", which has been an interesting mix of research and mapwork and planning and writing. It is set in the months after the action of "Caretakers" takes place, and looks at the current state, as well as the origins, of, Tyler's relationship with Dorothy. At the rate I'm going, I anticipate it being 25,000 to 30,000 words long, and hopefully ready for market by early April.

An interesting side-effect of the amount of reading and writing that I've been doing is that it seems to prime my creative pump, resulting in numerous other projects clamoring for attention and time. 
  • Another novella, this one exploring the tenuous and often uncomfortable relationship between Frank and Tyler when a prominent politician's visit to sleepy Saranac Lake is the setting for a terror attack.
  • The next novel, which involves a murder that everyone views as open and shut, except for Meg (an acquaintance of Tyler's who works for the school system as a counselor). The investigation puts Tyler and Co. at risk ... and challenges his worldview, as well as his image of how he fits into the world.
  • I've finally figured out how to write the serial fiction I was tempted by last spring and summer; it turns out that a storyline and protagonist I've been playing around with for a while will fit into the framework perfectly.
  • A short story that would likely dovetail into the collection of the novellas that I plan on releasing this summer in print (for people who like holding an actual book in their hands) ... Tyler takes a quick trip down to New York City to deal with some ghosts from his old life while helping an acquaintance work through a problem in an unexpected way.

Thanks for reading and enjoying and writing reviews!



The Mug

It came in the mail nine (ish) years ago,
like a bill or a jacket from Lands End;
basically unwanted, but necessary ... something people do.

"My Daddy is the Greatest Daddy in the World!"
pressure and a constant reminder of something I couldn't be ...
couldn't do.

I quickly forgot the words (had to squint this morning to make them out),
but kept grabbing the mug for my morning cup of possible.

I kept, keep, coming back for the faces, our faces,
the love, the hope, the trust ...
his, mine, ours.

The days and years, some good, some great, some less so,
have dimmed the image on the mug;
I can still see it perfectly each time I pick it up though.

My thumb, my lip, the dishwasher, maybe even ambient light ...
all of these things are stealing the picture from my mug
(but won't ... can't steal it from my mind).

My current plan is to live forever (it's working so far),
and I envision a perfectly blank, white, mug
1000 years from today, from this morning.

I will still see a happy and trusting boy,
a loving, scared, hopeful father ...
and remember.

Every second with Ben,
good time, bad times,
laughing, crying, shouting, whispering in the dark,
camping, sick days, homework, watching movies, bloody knees, paddling.

It's all there, on the mug ... even if you can't see it.


Switching sides

She came home yesterday, 
like once I came home: sore, tired, scared, needing ....

I can hear her in the other room, sleeping, breathing, dreaming, 
making noises that I try to file as happy or hurt.

A lifetime (my lifetime) of shielding and loving and nurturing,
at what cost to her dreams and wants and wishes.

Food, messes, laundry, worries about the dog,
all of it flipped on end ... in the end.

I'm angry ... at her frailty or fragility or looming mortality,
(don't know which ... maybe all, maybe more)
how dare she be so strong for so long, and only now be ... human.

I want my mommy, need her,
but now, somehow, she needs me.


Author & Protagonist Interview!

with Jamie Sheffield and Tyler Cunningham

Recently I asked readers to send in questions to me and/or Tyler, for an interview on my blog with us … grab a cup of coffee or an ice-cold Canadian Coke (whichever you prefer), and dig into the results:

Q: Is Barry going to show up occasionally in future stories? I enjoyed him in "Caretakers."

Tyler: I think that Barry will continue to live back in the lizard bits of my brain for some time to come … if not indefinitely. I hear him speaking/muttering with some frequency, but had not seen him since the summer … until recent events appeared to call him out of retirement for a few brief face-to-face discussions (which diminished in frequency once things began to resolve).

Jamie: I hope so. He was supposed to be a blip on the radar in the last book, “Caretakers”, but took on a larger role as writing progressed. I find him to be an interesting character in his own right, as well as being an unusual part of Tyler’s make-up.

Q: Tyler's take on politics in general, any use for it? 

Tyler: Mickey Schwarz used to sing snippets of songs as commentary on current events when I was a child, and one that I remember (I remember all of them, of course, but this one in particular) him using in the context of politics with some frequency was “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, and numerous other quotes from what I found was a song by The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” … politics are something that happen outside of me (and human individuals in general), and my voting (which behavior I don’t engage in, by the way) would have as much influence on them as choosing a TV station to watch the weather forecast does on the weather.

Q: Jamie, in what ways does Tyler surprise you? Do you ever worry about what the future may hold for him?

Jamie: Tyler surprises me constantly. I often think that I know what he’s going to do in a given situation (having worked out outlines well in advance), only to be surprised with what he actually does, once the writing begins to flow.

Q: Does he fear being known? or is fear not part of his psychological make up? If not, then why leave NYC post 9/11, too sad?

Tyler: Fear isn’t the issue so much as anticipated rejection. All of my life, the more people get to know me, the less they trust me (and the more they fear me). It is far easier to try and fly below the human world’s radar than to try and appear normal or constantly explain who/what I am to people. Manhattan is/was the site of multiple and ongoing failures in my youth … failures to establish and/or maintain normal relationships with my human peers. I feel fear, as every sentient being does … albeit more as an avoidance response to stimulus likely to lead to negative outcomes than being scared in a more traditional ‘human’ sense. I left Manhattan after 9/11 because nearly every reason (save Mickey) for staying in such a densely populated area was gone. I could/have/will continue my education and life outside of Manhattan more easily than within it.

Q: Did Tyler show signs of these detecting skills when he was still living with his parents? Will there be any backstory about his upbringing?

Jamie: Tyler has always had an eye for details that other miss, or process differently. I anticipate another novella involving Mickey, and a few others from the childhood educational collective, that will bring Tyler back to NYC, and likely involve an expansion of the backstory surrounding his childhood.

Q: Will he respond to a heartfelt hug from a friend, ie: Mickey, or the girl/friend (Dorothy) from the Shelter? 

Tyler: I permit/tolerate hugs and handshakes and shoulder-pats when necessary … when it is easier to do so, than to avoid them. A select few people who feel that they are close to me (Mickey, Meg, Dorothy, Maurice) will on occasion initiate physical contact … out of politeness/respect for their feelings, I respond appropriately (albeit as briefly and minimally as is possible to avoid encouraging future/increased physical contact insofar as I am able).

Q: Does Tyler ever venture into NYC, and if so, how does he respond to its energy?

Jamie: Tyler has been down to NYC twice since he left, late in 2001, both times to visit with Mickey and his family. He has mixed feelings about the city, as it is ripe with learning opportunities for him, offers a curious form of privacy that is lacking in a small town like Saranac Lake, but mapping the ever-changing physical and social environment is a daunting challenge that he, so far, chooses not to engage in. Again, I see a novella in the near future that involves a trip down to NYC to delve a bit into that part of his past, along with trying to help secure the future for some of those people he knew pre-9/11.

Q: Can a person live forever hugless, will Tyler learn emotional attachment at some point?

Jamie: Tyler has formed numerous emotional attachments in his new life up in the Adirondacks; they’re just different than the attachments that other people form. In his way, he cares about Hope and Mickey and Dorothy, and the others in his immediate circle. I believe that he will continue to grow and change, as we all do, as he moves through his life; but don’t see him evolving into a person with emotions like (most of) the rest of us have.

Q: What will Tyler do with the dog when he's winter camping? Does Jamie winter camp with his dogs?

Tyler: Hope normally goes to stay with Dorothy when I go camping in the cold months … especially if it is below 20 degrees. Her joints hurt more in the cold (also, she doesn’t enjoy plowing her short body through the snow).

Jamie: My dogs, Miles and Puck, do not go winter camping with me. I’ve tried it, but they won’t join me in my hammock, and without a tent to act as a barrier between us and the rest of the woods, they are too nervous and stimulated to sleep, so they stay home with Gail when I go winter camping.

Q: Would Tyler ever watch television, and if so, what shows intrigue him and why? 

Tyler: I watch movies and television shows, but not 'regular' television (I can’t abide commercials). I find that I watch science fiction and mystery themed shows/movies more than anything else … I like the science as well as the procedures/solutions in these stories. Dorothy and Meg and Frank watch a much more broad range of shows/movies than I otherwise would … I consider it a fair exchange for food and their tolerance of me (and am able to replay books/movies I prefer in the theater of my brain if what they’re showing is boring). My biggest issue with the visual presentation of stories is (and has always been) that it happens so slowly … I am able to read much faster than actors can talk/move, and it is easier to skim in a book than with Netflix.

Q: How did you get so sexy?

Jamie: Superior genetics, treating my body like a temple, and my own irresistible brand of interpretive dance!


I call him Puck

He came to live with me a bit more than a year ago,
Bentley is what the shelter said his previous family called him.

He didn't/doesn't feel like a Bentley ... to me;
I call him Puck, and he seems to like the name well enough.

"What's in a name?" the saying goes ...
his feet would smell like popcorn whatever I called him.

He could be Butch or Mike or Clay or Vegemite,
and still be as good (as bad) as when I call him Puck.

Did his mother name him, in the whelping box?
Nibbly, Tiny, Blaze, Bristle-kisses, Milton?

Does Miles (our other rescue 'lab') have a name he uses,
when they speak during the long days while I'm away at work?

Persons and puppies and pencils all have names;
identifiers we use to differentiate them from others of their kind ...
does this naming make them special, or steal something from them?

something private

My heart loves Puck and Ben and Gail and and bacon
and paddling through the river at the bottom of Floodwood,
but never speaks (or knows) their names.

I call him Puck so the world knows who I'm talking about, 
but he and I know each other by the way we feel and smile and glow, 
one in the other's presence ... and that's enough.