Let's talk about living a creative life, AMA! Hi, I'm Marsha Blevins--I write fiction, design journals, and more.

Marsha Blevins
Sep 12, 2018

Hi Everyone! I published my first journal and am working on what I hope will be my debut novel. I recently took the bold step of leaving behind my "day job" to focus on living a creative life full time. I'm new and making mistakes, but learning so much! AMA about writing, creating journals, focusing on your craft, or any other creative topic!

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My site-Write the First Word

Buy my book: My Book Club Journal

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Many writers fear the unknown, which is the case with most if not all new books. What would you tell them after taking this bold step?
Sep 14, 2:34PM EDT0

Fantastic question. I would tell other writers that this is the scariest, craziest, insane thing I've ever done, but every single bit of it was worth it. I can't tell them to do or not to do the same thing.

I do feel that if you have a dream of doing something more than punching a time clock, make a plan and do it. Throw the word "someday" out of the plan and set hard dates. It's okay if that plan covers three or five or more years, but put a date down.

Sep 14, 4:25PM EDT0
When writing more than one project, how do you ensure you stay focused on completing one project? Do you set goals of when you would like the project completed to act as a guide?
Sep 14, 1:18PM EDT0

My background includes project management, so I'm used to dealing with multiple projects and deadlines. As a freelance writer, I prioritize paid projects first. If I've selected a job writing three 500 word blog posts, those are completed first. If I have multiple paying jobs, then I look at the deadlines to make sure I work on the one that is due soonest. After that, I work on personal projects like editing my novel and designing journals. On the individual projects, I set goals for those as well based on how much time I will have after allotting time for paid projects. For example, I may set a goal to edit 10 pages a day or a total of 30 pages for the week.

Sep 14, 4:20PM EDT0
What are the main disadvantages of being a full-time writer?
Sep 14, 12:12PM EDT0

The disadvantages of being a full-time writer? I touched on this in another reply, but the uncertainty related to income has been the toughest for me. Some writing jobs I take requires little time for me to complete, but usually pay less than larger, more time-consuming projects.  Some companies pay quickly; others don't.

Then for my self-published journal, My Book Club Journal, I made some choices to increase the distribution channels. The trade-off to this is that sales are reported monthly, then payment of any royalties take another 90 days.

Sep 14, 4:13PM EDT0
What is it like to be a full-time writer?
Sep 13, 11:49AM EDT0

Great question! I have found being a full-time writer comes with a lot of highs and lows. I love to write--doesn't matter what the topic or the type of writing. Starting new personal projects, like a new novel, is always exciting. I find that same excitement in helping others get the wording and content they want to express their vision as well. There are downsides. Being a full-time freelance writer comes with a certain amount of risk financially. For my entire adult life, I've always been able to say "I'll have X dollars on this specific date." So far, that is not the case for me with writing. I may earn $100 today, but not get another paid job in over a week.

It also takes a lot of self-discipline too. Thankfully, I worked from home for the past seven years with my "day job," and that helped. My family and pets know that if I'm at my desk, it is work time. I try to keep myself on somewhat of a schedule. However, now I have the latitude to break my up however I want or need.

Sep 14, 4:05PM EDT0
Do you ever use writing prompts? How do they help you in your writing?
Sep 13, 10:03AM EDT0

Yes, I do use writing prompts from time to time. They are great ways to jump-start the writing process. You can read more about some of my favorites here: Using the Best Creative Writing Prompts for You.

Sep 13, 10:22AM EDT0
Are you writing any more books or developing other projects you could share?
Sep 13, 6:05AM EDT0

Thank you for this question! Yes, I do have other projects in the works. I have a manuscript for a novel that I finished as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) a few years ago. I'm working on some re-writes for that and hope to start sending it to publishers and agents by the end of this year. I'm also working on a couple of new writing journals.

Sep 13, 9:59AM EDT0
Have you ever experienced the writer's block? How did you do to overcome it?
Sep 13, 3:20AM EDT0

Great question! Yes, I have experienced writer's block. There are a few things I try when I feel like I'm getting stuck:

  1. Change locations--Instead of writing in my office-studio, I will go to a local coffee shop, the park, my backyard, or some other place.
  2. Change projects--I usually have at least two different writing or writing-related projects underway. Switching to something else can help.
  3. Connect with a writing friend--I'm blessed to have a good circle of creative friends. If I'm really stuck, I reach out to one of them. If they are local, we might grab a coffee or go for a walk together. For those that aren't local, Skype or other online messaging services are great.
  4. Do something else entirely--This could be anything from taking a painting class to going to a movie or doing housework (YUCK!). Anything that lets you free your mind.

I've also recently picked up a copy of The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. In that book, she talks about Morning Pages, which is three pages of handwritten work every day, and the Artist Date, which is like my "do something else." I've found the book and Morning Pages to be very helpful in re-invigorating my creativity.

Sep 13, 9:56AM EDT0
What would you say is the biggest misconception about learning and understanding story structure?
Sep 12, 11:25PM EDT0

I think the biggest misconceptions about learning and understanding story structure is that story structure isn't just a beginning, middle, and end. Usually, our first exposure to story structure is the triangle diagram that says you start at point A, you have rising action to point B which is the climax, and then you wrap it up to get to point C which is the ending. That is a very one dimensional way of looking at stories. There are so many layers and points along those lines that need to be included to make a compelling story.

Sep 13, 9:46AM EDT0
In what ways does the layout of a work affect the message being imparted?
Sep 12, 3:24PM EDT1

The layout of a work is a way for the author or designer to tell, or suggest to, the reader what is important. Placement on the page, the use of space around a word or phrase, typeface, and so much more can give subtle clues as to what the creator feels should be noticed. For a writing journal like My Book Club Journal, the layout was a guide for the user. Each book the user records in the journal has a total of six pages. The first page captures the details about the book, including a character list, and the meeting details (like the place, date, and time). There are four generous pages for the user to write down his or her thoughts or questions. Then the final page allows room for the user to jot down notes from the actual discussion. This final page is the one I feel is the most unique. By adding this to the layout, I am suggesting that there are others in the group who may have an insight or opinion that is worth writing down too. Over time, the person using the journal could look back to see if there are certain people within the group they tend to agree or disagree with more often.

Sep 12, 3:44PM EDT0
What was your day job about? What reasons moved you to leave it?
Sep 12, 2:06PM EDT1

I was a customer service manager in a virtual call center. I managed a small team of six to eight managers who in turn led teams of up to 30 front line customer service agents. I have a strong background in leadership, coaching, and development. Odd as it may sound, I had this feeling that the company and I were growing in different directions. That made me feel like I needed to make some sort of change. I started to look within the company for another role that piqued my interest. When I took a hard look at what I wanted to do for the next three to five years, not to mention the next 20, 30, 40 years, the answer was clear: I want to write and be involved in the creative world. Then I had to admit that my age was also a factor. I'm in my early 40s, so not old, but not young either. I took a deep breath and jumped.

Sep 12, 3:30PM EDT0
How did the first time you saw your book for sale feel?
Sep 12, 11:42AM EDT1

The first time I logged into my author account and saw that I had made a sale, I cried. I have no idea who it was, or I would send them a thank you card. I started clapping and yelling "I sold one! I sold one!" through the house. I was pretty excited. :)

Sep 12, 3:14PM EDT0
How are your feeling after leaving your day job? Are you nervous or excited?
Sep 12, 5:23AM EDT1

Oh man--this is a fantastic question. This change has been pretty recent for me. Writing and doing other creative projects has always been a part of my life. It was that part that could be deprioritized for almost everything else. In the past 4-5 years, while still working my day job, I started insisting on time for writing before or after work and would only let emergency situations take that time away from me. I talked to my family and made sure they understood what I needed from them emotionally. Earlier this year, I started hearing that little voice in my head saying "it's now or never." I would find a hundred excused as to why I couldn't do this and the biggest of those was money. I and others would ask how are you going to pay your bills or buy groceries or what will you do if "something bad" happens. Now, yes, I'm terrified, nervous, happy, excited, scared, and more. I laugh. I cry. I panic. Then I eat chips and watch Netflix. No matter what, the bottom line is that I deserve this chance. I've worked hard for this chance. I will always be grateful that I tried--no matter what.

Sep 12, 3:12PM EDT0
What is the idea behind creating "My Book Club Journal"? How do you want readers to engage with this journal? What do you think would be a reader’s ideal experience with it?
Sep 11, 10:42PM EDT1

I'm the worst book club member ever. Seriously, you don't want me in your book club. I read too slow, or I get done so early I forget the details of the book. I was looking at my notes--sticky tabs and pieces of scrap paper stuffed inside a copy of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and I thought: there's gotta be a better way. I researched similar journals and started looking at what people loved and what people hated. Now that it is done, I hope that people will use the journal to help prepare their thoughts and discussion points for their book clubs. There are two places for lists: the books the club has read and the books the club wants to read. I also included enough space for the user to make notes on 12 different books--assuming the club meets once a month, that is a full year of books the user can look back at and reflect on if they want. Mostly, I hope that those who use my journal have fun and find it helpful.

Sep 12, 2:59PM EDT0
What did you learn about yourself during the writing of your recent book?
Sep 11, 9:18PM EDT1

Great question! The biggest thing I learned, or re-learned rather, is that I love to try new things and experiment.  Going into this project, I knew a little bit about formatting things like novels for e-readers and print copies. However, since this book was meant for the user to write in, obviously e-book format was out. I did some research and realized if I was going to do this right, I had to learn several new things. Formatting and design are very different. I had to think about what was going on the page and how much room the user was going to have to write down their thoughts. It was such a rewarding challenge and a gentle reminder that learning is FUN!

Sep 12, 2:51PM EDT0
What are the differences in a reader's reaction when reading a journal versus a self-help book?
Sep 11, 8:04PM EDT1

I hope I interpreted this question correctly. I think a reader's reaction to any type of book depends on the reader's expectations when they decide to start that first page. When I start a self-help book, I do so because I feel there is some part of my life I want to improve and I'm looking for advice on how to do that or exercises I can do that will help me make the improvements. For journals, it depends on the type of journal. If it is a literary journal, I expect to read well-crafted, thought-provoking pieces of fiction. If the book is more like a memoir or diary, then I hope to learn about one person's unique insight into a certain period or during a particular event. In any case, my intent when starting the book is going to drive my reaction. I think that is true for a lot of other readers as well.

Sep 12, 2:42PM EDT0
Do you have a tried, tested and true writing process? If so what is it and how did you refine the process?
Sep 11, 11:39AM EDT1

Another great question! I don't feel like I have a tried and true process beyond committing to myself as an artist and sitting down each day to write. Sometimes the writing is nothing more than a stream of consciousness piece. Other times I may write an entire chapter or short story. Overall, I think a "writing process" works until it doesn't, and then you have to change it up. If I notice I'm not as productive as usual, either by my word count or items crossed off my to-do list, I make a few small changes. I'll go to the local coffee shop to write to get out of my house. I'll write in the evening instead of the morning. Something like that to give my brain a little creative jolt.

Sep 11, 7:16PM EDT0
What was the last piece of fiction writing you read that had a significant effect on you?
Sep 11, 11:32AM EDT1

The last piece of fiction writing that moved me was in one of Craig Johnson's Longmire Mystery books. The main character, Walt Longmire, is talking about a house--either his parents or Henry Standing Bear's boyhood home, I don't remember. Johnson uses the house to highlight the lifelong friendship between Walt and Henry. Using the changes the house has gone through to parallel the changes that Walt and Henry have been through. It was so beautifully written! Shamefully, I can't recall which book it is in, and I haven't been able to find it (I read on a Kindle and didn't highlight the passage).

Sep 12, 2:33PM EDT0
How young were you when you discovered the world of fiction writing? What are your early memories of reading fictions?
Sep 11, 11:24AM EDT1

I started reading at a very early age. I don't remember a time when I didn't have access to books. My mom and grandmother would read those Little Golden Books to me almost daily. Somewhere around age 12, I started sneaking to read my grandmother's historical romance books. Thankfully, they weren't very explicit, and I was still young enough to giggle when people kissed. Then I moved into things like vampire novels and ghost stories. Some of my favorite memories of reading and my grandmother were of snowy winters sitting in the kitchen eating popcorn and reading our books.

Sep 12, 2:24PM EDT0
What book are you currently reading? Why did you choose to read this particular book?
Sep 11, 10:43AM EDT1

I am currently reading The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. It is an advance reader copy (ARC) from the publisher. The book is a departure from what I would typically read. I asked for the ARC because the concept of a retelling of a classic story from another angle sounded interesting. I’m about two chapters into to story and not entirely sure how I feel about it yet.

Sep 12, 10:46AM EDT0
How have literary journals played a part in your writing career, and would you encourage all writers to read and write short fiction?
Sep 11, 8:51AM EDT1

Literary journals didn’t become a part of my writing or reading experience until college. I volunteered to be the fiction editor for my university’s lit magazine during my junior year. I volunteered because my friends were doing it-as young kids tend to do. Then the next year, my friend and I were co-editors in chief. I had a couple of short stories and some (really, really bad) poetry published in those two editions. After that, I continued to read works in other literary journals from time to time. I do think that all writers should write short stories regardless of whether the stories are published or not. I’ve found that short stories have several benefits to writers. It is a great way to see if a story idea has the momentum to get to the 60,000 or more words for a novel-length work. It can also help writers get down the backstory or other incidents that the writer needs to write, but that doesn’t necessarily have a place in the larger novel. The additional benefit of writing short stories is for the challenge of condensing a story into a few thousand words-it’s an exercise that makes word choice matter and can improve your writing skills.

Sep 12, 10:56AM EDT0
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