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Jeanette Grey

Of Course It Makes No Sense. Just Go With It.

You know that crazy person on TV (or maybe in your life) whose office/home/room/laboratory is an absolute disaster? You walk in and have to pause because the sheer chaos makes your skin crawl?

And yet, ask them for anything, and chances are that they can reach into that mess and pull it out in a minute or less?

It makes no sense. It’s inefficient. It shouldn’t work. But for them, it does. So you go with it.

That’s my writing process.

Not really, but that’s how it feels sometimes, especially when I try to explain it to hardcore plotters. I’m what I charitably refer to as a “plotser”. I start with a concept, usually an idea for a character or a snapshot vision in my head of a scene that speaks to me for some reason. I play with it in the back of my mind for a while. I do some quick plotting, typically referring to a simplified beat sheet to make sure I have a beginning, middle and end in mind. I try to get a basic sketch of my characters done. All told, my pre-writing adds up to maybe one page of hand-written scribbles.

And then I draft.

The upside of this method of working is that I have enough structure to write the book but enough flexibility that I get to discover my characters as I go. If there weren’t any surprises, I’d get terribly bored. For me, this keeps the writing process lively and fun.

The downside is that my characters often wait until awfully late in the game to reveal some key information that I would have really liked to have had earlier. This means I have to go back and sew things in. Usually, I pause at about the 20-25k mark to reevaluate. By then some gaping hole has probably revealed itself. I notice there’s not enough conflict or that one of my characters needs a better motivation or that I don’t have a plot after all. I’m not going to pretend it’s fun to go back and fix these things, but after I’ve done it, I’m usually clear to go with drafting the rest of the book. Once the manuscript is finished, I’ll likely have to add another element or two in revisions. All the back and forth and revising used to scare me when I first started, but at this point I’ve come to accept it as just how I work.

My process is a mess. It makes no sense. It’s inefficient chaos that makes more organized people cringe.

But it works. So I trust it. I trust myself.

Just go with it.


Calling It Quits

Recently, I did something that was incredibly difficult for me. I pulled the plug. I gave up. I walked away from something I’d put a lot of time and effort into.

That’s right. I trashed a work in progress.

To give you a little bit of background, I’m a (very, very) slightly reformed pantser who used to trash manuscripts all the time. I’d get excited about the premise for a project, pound out twenty thousand words or so, then realize there was no conflict and no point and get distracted by the next shiny idea dangling in front of my face.

That all changed a few years ago when I finally threw up my hands and recognized that I needed at least a liiiiitle bit of a plan in place before I started a project. Beginning to do some very basic outlining helped me ensure that a plot bunny had some depth to it—enough to get me to the end of it, at any rate.

The difference was immediate and dramatic. I started six projects and finished six projects. Everything was going great.

Then I had a kid.

My little bundle of joy is the light of my life, and for a few months there, she was also the destroyer of productivity and concentration. Desperate to get my writing career back on track in her wake, I started a new document. Something short and light. Something sexy and fun.

Something with no plan.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t go well. As will probably surprise absolutely no one, I pounded out about twenty thousand words and started to stall out. There wasn’t enough there there. The short, light, sexy, fun story wasn’t a great match for my brand.

In short, the project just wasn’t going anywhere.

The moment I realized this, naturally, I panicked. I’d been slogging away at this thing for a month, killing myself to try to write a few hundred words a day during my daughter’s naps and after her bedtime. This was blood, sweat and tears we were talking about here. And yet. I had to face facts. It wasn’t working out.

Resigning that manuscript to the dumpster pile was one of the harder things I’ve done in my writing career. I won’t say that it was a total loss. After a few months of self-imposed maternity leave, I probably needed to warm up a little before getting back up to speed with my writing, and working on a one-off project wasn’t a terrible way to get in the saddle again. Still, I’d been doing so well. I’d been staying focused. I’d been finishing things.

But in the end, I had to remember – there’s no point throwing good time after bad. I closed the file. I mourned.

And after a few days’ reflection, I went back to the drawing board, this time with a plot bunny I hope is a better fit for my brand, my voice, and my readers’ expectations. With characters that make a little more sense to me. Probably without as much of a plan as I should have, but with at least enough of one that I’m pretty sure I can make it to the top of the hill before my engine putters out.

When’s the last time you scrapped a manuscript? What made you decide to pull the plug? And in the end, looking back, do you think you made the right call?


The Right Plot Bunny At The Right Time…

I’ve already written at some length about my weirdest plot bunny. So for this month’s theme, I’m going to focus instead on what has, thus far, been my most important plot bunny.

The beginning of 2014 found me at a pretty low point in my life. I was struggling with fertility issues, with the loneliness that follows an interstate move, and ultimately, with my career. I’d released a number of short books, but I wasn’t getting a lot of sales traction, and try as I might, I couldn’t seem to finish anything. This was compounded by my fixation on completing a full-length novel and my refusal to do anything that resembled plotting.

Finally, in what at the time felt like a Hail Mary pass, I scrapped everything and started one more manuscript—one I was determined to finish. I threw everything I loved at this project. Paris. Art. Museums. Sex. Sex toys. A dude who looked like Sebastian Stan. An art student grappling with her own self-worth, and perhaps more importantly, the worthiness of her ambitions to make it in a creative field. (No, there’s no deeper meaning there. Why do you ask??)

While actual plotting remained a hard limit, I took the time to at least map out the basics. I decided I didn’t care if it sold. It was all stuff I loved, and it was stuff I wanted to write about. Sure, I threw in a billionaire plot line, but that was incidental, at least in my mind.

Then I sat down. And I wrote.

I wrote and wrote and wrote. My usual stalling-out point of 25,000 words flew by, and then 50, and even 75. Finally, at 90,000 words, I typed The End, and for the first time in so long, I sat back in my chair and I felt good about what I had written.

Good enough that when, by a lucky confluence of events, the opportunity to get my work in front of an agent’s eyes came my way a few weeks later, I was ready. I sent it off. I signed with that agent. And before I knew it, I had a three book deal with a New York house. Seven Nights To Surrender hit shelves about a year later, making one of the greatest dreams of my life come true, and the third book in the series, Nine Kinds Of Naughty, comes out next month.

Many people will tell you to write the book of your heart, and that your passion will show in your work, propelling you to success beyond your wildest dreams. I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. But for me, pursuing my own passions in my writing was a key to achieving my goal of finishing a novel, and eventually, to reinvigorating my career. I hold on to that every time I hit a rough patch.

Sometimes, all it takes is the right plot bunny at the right time.


Putting Writing First

Hey there everybody! This is my first post coming to you from the other side of becoming a parent for the first time. I’m the happy mom to a healthy two and a half month old girl.

And you know what else? I’m still a writer.

2016-11-13-dc1Before my tiny one came along, I have to admit that I had my doubts and fears. Kids take time and energy, and I always felt like I was barely meeting my word count as it was. How would I ever manage to keep up once I had parental responsibilities?

The answer, some days, is that I don’t. Kiddo has a bad day—or worse, a terrible night? Yeah. The words might not flow. Hell, I might not even get a chance to open my laptop.

And even on the good days, it sure isn’t easy. There are too many things to do in a day, and my tiny human needs so much. Even when she isn’t desperately, angrily in need of something, the guilt I feel that I should be doing more—playing with her, reading to her, teaching her calculus (okay, fine, maybe not that one…yet) is intense. The house needs cleaning, food needs cooking, laundry needs doing. It’s so easy to let the time just slip through my fingers. As I see it, in our current phase of life, I basically get to pick one thing to get done in a day outside of basic baby, life and household maintenance.

So here’s my secret—my incredibly easy, nearly impossible secret: I choose writing. Any day it possibly can be, I make that my one thing I get done.

This means my husband may come home to a disaster of a house. It means we might be having takeout (again). It means I may have to put on my headphones and pretend I don’t hear my daughter crying while my husband does his best with her.

It means I may only get about half of my pre-baby daily word count in. And it means I may have to be okay with that.

But it also means I continue to make progress. I don’t lose sight of the one thing I was determined to keep up with even after becoming a mom.

Make fun of me all you will. Tell me I’m hopelessly naïve or that I’ll see just how impossible it is once the tiny human becomes a little less tiny. You might be right. But here’s what I’m telling myself right now:

I take care of my kid, myself and my family. But after that? No excuses.

I put writing first.


Let Books Be Our Happy Place

I’m usually much more eloquent than I’m going to be in this post, but the truth is, I don’t have much to say—not much that’s appropriate for a group blog, anyway. Instead, I’m just going to leave you with an assortment of diverse reads and hope if you’re one of the millions feeling hopeless, lost, devastated, angry, fearful, or distraught after the events of the past week, you’ll practice a bit of self care. Pick a book at random and get lost in another world for a while.



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Paying It Forward

This year’s RWA National Convention in San Diego was one of my favorites I’ve attended for a lot of reasons. To my surprise, one of the highlights of the conference was also one of my biggest sources of stress leading up to it. Namely, teaching a workshop.

To be fair, this wasn’t my first time teaching a workshop. It wasn’t even my first time teaching this workshop. I’d given it for my local chapter and then for a small group at Chicago’s Spring Fling conference. And yet, giving it at Nationals?? That was a whole other ballgame.

It’s hard to believe I attended my first RWA only three years ago. At the time, I was still at the beginning of my career. Every workshop I went to, I sat in rapt attention, soaking up the wealth of knowledge being laid out for me. I was in awe of the people who stood at the front of those rooms, speaking so authoritatively about things I was only just learning. I won’t pretend to be so humble that I never imagined I might someday be up there, doing the same, but it seemed like something for a far-off, distant future. Surely, I could spend decades and still not know enough to be able to pretend to pass that knowledge on.

Funny how time passes.

In the intervening three years, I’ve been to a lot of workshops, both at conferences and at local chapter meetings. I’ve worked with three different editors and a half dozen critique partners, received lots of feedback from readers and reviewers, and spent hours talking with my peers about the intricacies of what we writers do. Basically, I’ve learned a lot.

And in the end, the thing I decided I knew enough about to pass it on to others was one of the things I used to be the weakest at: writing in deep point of view.

I believe it was fellow Bad Girl Tanya Michaels who first gave me the advice that it’s easiest to teach others about topics you once struggled with. If you’ve always been good at something, chances are it came to you naturally, and it’s going to be difficult if not impossible to put your understanding of the skill into words. By contrast, a skill it took hard work and patience to develop? You remember every hard-won inch of that slog. You already know how to explain it to someone else because you know how you wish someone else had explained it to you.

Me in front of the packed house for my Deep POV workshop at Nationals

Me in front of the packed house for my Deep POV workshop at Nationals

So it was that I found myself at the front of a packed auditorium, laying out the wisdom I had gained through years of practice and education to over a hundred people, many of whom were probably at the beginning stages of their careers, listening to me the way I had once listened to others. It was a heady feeling. Look how far I had come.

Look how much good I could do, helping others.

The romance-writing community has always been a special, amazing place, and a huge part of that is the sense of comradery and cooperation. The feeling that we’re all in this together—that one person’s success is not another’s failure, but an opportunity for all of us to learn and grow. Where else do best-selling authors take time out of their day to travel to chapters or present their wisdom and share their stories at conferences? What other genre has such a tradition of writers helping writers?

Paying forward the things I’ve learned from this community has been such an incredibly rewarding experience. I loved getting to share what I’ve learned. I loved the conversations I got to have with the people who came up to me after the workshop. I love feeling like I can give something back after everything this community has given me.

Have you ever thought of presenting a workshop? What topics would you want to teach?


Safe-Guarding Your Mental Health

This month, the Bad Girlz have been focusing on staying healthy in a crazy business. I’ve spoken at some length about how my pursuit of a career in writing has challenged my mental health. If you let it, this industry will drive you to the brink. While mental health is still a moving target for me a lot of the time, I’ve homed in on a few key places where I’ve been able to adjust my attitudes and behaviors that have made a real difference.

  • Know yourself before you agree to a deadline. Whether it’s a self-imposed deadline or an external one, consider it carefully before you commit. Further, if it is a publisher deadline, remember that a lot of things will happen that are beyond your control. It may take time to get a synopsis approved, or a major set of developmental edits will always show up at the worst possible time. Make sure to budget in time to deal with these unexpected developments. In the end, it’s really all about knowing yourself and your process. You know how many words a day you can comfortably write. You know how long it takes you to get a draft in presentable shape. You know how much downtime you need between projects. And perhaps most importantly, you know how you respond to deadlines – while they motivate some people to write faster, they make some anxious people like me creatively shut down. Maybe you can speed up some to meet a deadline, but don’t budget in miracles, or you’ll be paying for it in stress.
  • Take breaks. One of the beautiful things about doing what you love for a job is that you love what you do. But that doesn’t preclude you from getting burned out or just plain needing some downtime here and there. Writing is hard work. Take vacations. Schedule in regular days off. Keep yourself to a schedule, but don’t let yourself miss out on things you enjoy in life, or you’ll start to resent the thing that used to bring you joy, and that’s just not tenable for a sustainable, long-term career.
  • Have other sources of accomplishment in your life. No matter how much you enjoy writing, it is slow, often intangible work. Take pride in it. But putting all your sense of accomplishment for your day in your writing is a recipe for personal crisis. Knit something or cook or do something pretty with your bullet journal, or whatever else it is you do that makes you happy and allows you to feel like you have been productive today. It’ll make all the difference in the world – especially on those days when you decide you have to delete an entire chapter of your manuscript or end up not being able to write anything salvageable for a week.
  • Recognize what you can and cannot control. Watching your sales numbers or wrestling with your publisher about marketing or waiting to hear back about a query or even just trying to get a freaking Facebook ad approved can leave even the most mentally healthy author feeling helpless. Take a deep breath. Keep fighting. But remember that there are some things that are beyond your control, and obsessing too much about any of them means putting your happiness in the hands of someone else. At the end of the day, your attitudes and your actions are the only things you can directly affect. When the world seems like too much, and everything seems hopeless, focus on the aspects of your career that are yours to control, and the best you can, strive to find your happiness in them.

What about you? How do you hold on to your sanity in an industry that sometimes seems dedicated to stripping it away?





When Your Escape Becomes Your Cage

I love writing. I love reading. They are the things that have sustained me for pretty much my entire life. In my darkest periods, they were my escape, and there have been a couple of times when they were probably the only things keeping me sane.

When you love something that much, all you want to do is more of it. And so I wrote and I wrote and I read and I read, and eventually, two years ago, I hit my ultimate goal. I signed a contract for a multi-book, traditionally published series.

I’d made it. My dream was now my life.

But what I didn’t see coming at the time was that, in its own way, it had also become my cage.

Don’t get me wrong—writing and reading are still my passion. But over the course of those two years, the thing I turned to as an escape from the pressures of real life slowly became my real life. Between deadlines and sales figures and marketing, the stress of it slowly began to crush me, to the point where I finally started therapy for an anxiety condition that had been generally manageable for decades, but which had suddenly reached a point where it was controlling me and making me miserable.

One of the first questions my new therapist asked me was, “So what do you do for fun?”

And all I could do was blink at her. It was the scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier where Sam Wilson asks Steve Rogers, “What makes you happy?” and Steve gives the saddest little smile in the world and admits, “I don’t know.”

As my writing career became a bigger and bigger source of stress, the writing itself remained enjoyable, but it stopped serving as an escape. It came with a huge amount of baggage, reminding me at every turn of the pressures and fears lying in wait.

It took time and a lot of soul searching. But I eventually had to accept that while writing could remain a wonderful, important, fulfilling, enjoyable part of my life, it couldn’t continue to be my entire life. Not if I wanted to hold on to any shred of perspective or sanity.

So. In the past six months, while dodging deadlines and continuing to work my butt off at my writing, I’ve been putting real effort into trying to figure out what else is important to me and what else I enjoy. Some of it I’m less than proud of. Binge watching multiple seasons of Supernatural isn’t the peak of mental health. But at the same time, it was the escape I was so sorely lacking in my life, and while it can get out of hand, a little couch potato behavior can sometimes be a good thing for a mind that can’t seem to let go and relax.

Some of my other efforts have been better. My husband and I have been spending more quality time, going for walks and playing games. I’ve gotten back into some creative endeavors, including knitting, sewing, adult coloring, and even a little bit of drawing. Making something tangible with my own two hands has been particularly satisfying, especially in the publishing world where so much progress is intangible and everything is a matter of waiting.

While the time away from work has come with its own anxieties, overall it’s been worth it. I come back to my writer life with better perspective and more energy. And less crippling fear of failing at what I love. That kind of helps, too.

All in all, it’s a work in progress.

Has anyone else made the transition from doing something for fun to doing it for work? How have you coped? What fun things have you brought into your life to help take its place?


If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em – or How I Learned To Embrace The Beat Sheet

Hi. My name is Jeanette. And for the first three years of my writing career, I was a die-hard pantser.

So what the hell am I doing writing a blog post about embracing beat sheets?

Back at the beginning of my writer life, I found a lot of the joy of writing came from discovering my characters and my story along the way. I’d begin a book with the barest of sketches for my characters, some vague sense of how the story would begin and where it would all fall apart, and that was pretty much it. When I was writing short and novellas, it worked really well for me.

And then I decided to get serious and try writing full length novels.

It…did not go well. Two of my three first books that crossed the 70k mark have never seen the light of day, and those are just the ones I actually managed to finish. In 2012, I had a whole series of disasters where I wrote the first 25k words or so of a manuscript and then abandoned it. There just wasn’t enough there to drive the story – nowhere to go after the first kiss or—let’s be honest—the first fuck. My stories needed more structure. More conflict. Just more to keep them going past that opening act.

So in 2013, attending my first RWA National conference, I made a point of going to every plotting workshop on the schedule. Plotting intimidated me on a basic level. I loved the improvisation of pantsing. I loved the freedom. Would getting everything figured out ahead of time kill the magic?

In the end, what probably most effectively changed my process was a workshop on Save The Cat.

For those who aren’t familiar, Save The Cat is one of many beat sheets, or lists of major plot points that tend to happen in most successful stories. It has its origin in screenwriting, and as the presenter made clear, you can see its structure in a huge range of different popular movies, from Harry Potter to Legally Blonde to Midnight In Paris. How could this singular structure lead to such a wide variety of films?

Because it doesn’t dictate the story itself. It just keeps it moving along. It helps give the story resonance.

It helps make sure you have that more to drive a story along to its satisfying conclusion.

The first novel I plotted using a beat sheet from the get go was the one I eventually sold on. Did it kill the magic? Not at all.

Now, to be clear, I was not slavish in following every single note of the beat sheet. I approached the setup of the novel much the way I always had in the past. But before I set any words to paper, I looked ahead and used the beat sheet as an informal checklist to make sure I had turning points in mind. To ensure there was enough conflict driving the plot to get us to those turning points. To look ahead at the story’s end to make sure it would satisfy the questions set out on page one.

To my surprise and delight, this sort of flexible story structure still left me with plenty room for discovery and improvisation. I still learn things about the characters on page two hundred that I could never have foreseen before page one. But I fit the things I learn along the way into a well-rounded story that has enough there there to see it through to the end.

If you’ve never tried plotting with a beat sheet, I’d consider looking into it. See if it fits into your process. I never would have expected it to be a good fit for mine, but it’s now a tried and tested tool, helping me continue to write fresh stories.

And to feel confident I’ll actually finish them.


Confessions of a Closet Romance Reader

Hi. My name is Jeanette. And I’m a closet romance addict.

Now, that may seem like a pretty strange confession to make, considering how many romances I’ve published – not to mention how many I’ve read. But for a very long time, it was true.

You see, I’m the child of two engineers. My father never read fiction at all, and my mother’s tastes ran the gamut from hard science fiction to…hard science. (I’m not kidding. She read textbooks for fun.) In my household, girly things were worthy of ridicule. Nonsense was rarely tolerated.

And romance? That was the most non-sensical thing of all.

I internalized the values my parents instilled in me pretty hard. While I read basically anything I could get my hands on, I concentrated on genres my mother would have approved of, and when I ventured beyond them, I at least tried to read things of literary merit, which I judged very, very harshly.

My denial game was strong. And yet, looking back, it’s easy to see the hints of where my tastes actually lay.

I may have been a literary snob, but I remember clearly sitting in my grandmother’s house reading Gone With The Wind and rereading the scene where Ashley and Scarlett kissed over and over.

I remember my heart fluttering during Ethan and Mattie’s one night of being able to brush hands and enjoy quiet time together in Ethan Frome.

I remember reading Ender’s Game and desecrating the book by underlining the part where Ender said he hated himself.

I remember moments of impossible forbidden passion. I remember isolated, flawed characters who need desperately to be cared for and treated with kindness and love.

You put those together and you have every great romance ever written.

It took me many years to put together my attraction to stories about characters and relationships. It also took me setting aside a lot of my pre-conceived notions about the relative values of different genres and interests. I still struggle sometimes with some pretty serious internalized misogyny. But from an early age, it’s been clear that my heart cries out for romance.

And in the end, the heart wants what it wants. I only wish I’d listened to mine earlier.


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