When the Career Mindset Makes Dreams Come True: An Interview with Debut Author, Jamie Raintree
If there is one resource that every aspiring author needs, it's a sense of community and a healthy dose of reach-out-and-touch-someone ... through the Internet. Thanks to blogs I follow, social media interaction, and good old fashioned email, I have begun making some incredible friendships simply by connecting online with authors I admire or want to learn from.
Jamie Raintree is one such person. I connected through email with this lovely lady, writer, and DEBUT AUTHOR -- whose book, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be coming out next year from the brand new Harlequin imprint, Graydon House -- and I feel like I've already known her forever.
I'm so excited to share her interview and her amazing insight and words of advice with you today. Be sure to sign up for her newsletter and visit her blog! (And if you haven't already, sign up for my newsletter for more interviews with authors, writing resources and inspiration, and news!)
Jamie, I first encountered you and your writing on the excellent writing blog I follow, Writers in the Storm. You wrote the post "The Career Mindset Comes Before the Writing Career," and I can't tell you how much that post resonated with me. Would you mind defining what you mean by "the career mindset" for those who may be unfamiliar with it?
Absolutely! I think when all writers start out, we have the mindset of an adventurer. Maybe we're bored with everyday life, or maybe we've felt the call to create but have been too afraid to do it. With the mind of an adventurer, we eventually find the courage to jump off the cliff and see what happens.
Once we jump and make it down safely, many writers fall into a hobbyist mindset. We enjoy the process of writing and we mostly do it for ourselves. At this point, it can be an escape or something we do to entertain ourselves.
Some writers stay in the hobbyist mindset forever and that is a beautiful place to be. Others might start to set their eye toward publication and so they jump into the student mindset as they learn everything they can about writing to improve their craft and create something they hope will catch the attention of an agent, editor, or readers. They want to be the best writer they can be and learning is the main objective.
Finally, a writer will reach the career mindset, in which they have confidence in their ability to write a good book and they are ready to become a professional. At this point, they are more focused on the business of being a writer, making money for their work, and getting their name out there. Ideally, they will eventually transcend even this mindset, and turn their writing career into a lifestyle.
What are some things that aspiring writers - or writers who are yet to be published - can do now to develop that career mindset, as well as prepare for when the agent call or a publishing contract finally comes?
This may be counter-intuitive, but I'm not going to say studying the craft or the industry, though that is part of it, of course. Actually, the biggest thing I see writers struggle with that keeps them from advancing in their writing careers is a lack of confidence. I know I struggled with the same thing for a long time and it kept me from moving forward as quickly as I wanted to. I was afraid to put myself out there and I was afraid to even get the agent call or publishing contract. There's so much responsibility and expectation inherent in succeeding and I didn't have enough confidence to believe I could handle it when the time came.
So first, build your confidence. For me, this translated to reading books on the subject, because I like to "Hermione Granger" anything that scares me. Also, add to your skill set so you feel capable of being a professional when the time comes. Knowledge is power. Most importantly, foster a writing habit that gives you assurance in your ability to produce. Knowing that no matter what gets thrown at you, you will be able to write through it, and continue to put your work out there is the ultimate confidence.
In addition to that, I say wedge yourself into the industry. Network. Join writing communities. Attend conferences. Send your work out. It's very hard to feel like a professional when you're working in a vacuum. The mere act of being in regular contact with people in the industry tethers you to the professional side of being a writer. It keeps you focused on your goals and doesn't make them feel like they are "on the other side" of some great divide.
Speaking of the publishing contract, you have a wonderful story about the journey you've been on to get your first novel published (with a bonus outcome - a two-book deal!). Tell us about your book. When did you start writing it? What trials did you experience along the way? When did you finally get the news that it would be published? And how did you not give up hope (something I think a lot of yet-to-be-published writers do)?
I started writing PERFECTLY UNDONE in 2010. It wasn't the first novel I'd written but it was the first novel that I wanted to pursue publication for, which I knew would be a completely new, and very demanding adventure. Up until then, I'd been writing with a hobbyist mindset and it was a steep learning curve. I had to learn how to edit, which is something I'd never before had the courage to do, so I spent many years studying the craft, rewriting, and sometimes throwing out whole drafts when I knew it could be better. People are always shocked to hear I did about seven full rewrites (sometimes from a clean slate) before I was happy enough with the book to start researching agents.
When I finally got to the point of sending it out to agents, it was the aforementioned lack of confidence that kept me from doing it. In fact, over the years, I think it's been the emotional struggles that have been the most debilitating, more so than the writing itself! When you're working on a project for so long, and feel like you're spinning your wheels, it's inevitable that you will get discouraged. For me, especially, I thrive on progress and sometimes I felt like I was moving backward more than forward. Luckily, I've always had a great support system and my dad finally gave me the kick in the pants I needed to start querying. He has always been my biggest inspiration.
Apparently, the Universe had just been waiting on me, because from the time I sent my first query letter to the time I signed with my agent was a mere three weeks! Talk about being thrown into the deep end! My agent and I edited for a year, though, before we started sending it out to publishers, and then it was another year before I finally connected with the right publisher for me. So even though my dreams were finally coming true, there was still a lot of work to do and a long way to go. But the day I got the phone call from my agent with the 2-book offer made all the hard work, all the waiting, all the tears worth it.
So yes, there were plenty of times when I felt sure it just wasn't going to happen for me, or when I felt like giving up. What kept me going, though, was having a clear vision of what I wanted for my future and the determination that I would make it happen one way or another. If my book hadn't ended up with a traditional publisher, I would have found a small press or self-published it. I love the saying, "Be the CEO of your life," and I live by that. If you want to have a writing career, don't expect anyone to hand it to you. And on the flip side, don't hand your dreams or your future over to anyone else either.
In our email correspondence about this piece, we talked a lot about vulnerability, being authentic, and making choices that "support the life" of a writer. You had some wonderful words of wisdom about what all writers - published, unpublished, just starting out, been at it for 40 years - should do. Would you mind resharing them here?
Of course! I've already spoken about confidence-building, which I think is the best thing you can do for your writing. When we feel confident in ourselves, it's easier to open ourselves up and be vulnerable, which is basically a job requirement for writers.
In the blog post you're mentioning, I discussed the struggle I have with living in a career mindset (specifically putting myself forward in the world as a professional when I didn't necessarily have the agent or publishing contract to back it up) and feeling like I was asserting myself as someone that I wasn't. The thing, though, is that I feel like that person on the inside, all external validation aside, and I build my life in a way that supports making that vision of myself a reality. And the more I do that, the more it comes to fruition.
As I mentioned in my email, I have gone "all in" as a career writer, building my day around my writing instead of trying to squeeze my writing in when everything else is done. I understand that most writers have families (as I also do) and many have day jobs (which I do not) but while we may not be able to control our external circumstances, we call always control our mindset. Maybe you can't write until the end of the day when the day job is done and the family is sleeping, but if you treat your writing time as when you are truly "clocking in," you can still live with a writing career mindset. Eventually, the more you do that, the more your writing life will expand, filling up all the cracks and crevices where your daydreams live.
The worst thing a writer can do for his or career is to deny that they are a writer, to other people or to themselves. If we deny what we are and what we want, how can the greater forces conspire to bring it to us? How can we believe that we are worthy of opportunities when they arise? We all suffer from "imposter syndrome" at one point or another, but when we are brave enough to move forward and be vulnerable anyway, that's when the magic happens. The only barriers we truly face in building a writing career, or in life, are the mental ones we create ourselves.
So create a vision for your life and career as a writer, and make it so vivid and compelling that it becomes bigger than your fear. Then, as much as your able to, make choices to get you moving in that direction right now, and every day.
Your website and blog are fantastic, full of tools and resources for writers, as well as encouraging posts and inspiration. What I've found is that your website is both a tool for the professional writer, but also a sign of your generosity, as you wrote and shared resources even while you were waiting for your own book to find a home. What are the top five links or blog posts a new reader or writer should visit to learn more about you and your work?
Thank you! I hope it is a benefit to other writers. When I was first starting to write, other writing blogs were so inspirational for me. Here are a few of my favorite posts:
Your website also has a link where people can contact you about book clubs for your debut novel. Talk about the career mindset! This is a detail I never would have thought to build into my website, and you make yourself doubly available to your readers by offering to meet them in person and via Skype for book club meetings. What other suggestions do you have for helping writers connect with potential readers?
I haven't reached that point in my career yet, though I'm very much looking forward to it, hence the book club link! It's never too early to start building a readership. So I don't have a lot of tips on this yet but I think having an online presence is always a great place to start. You want be available when readers come looking for you.
Also, I just got back from a writing conference and having a mailing list was all the buzz. I agree with this and have been building my newsletter list for years. That was a very nice incentive to my publisher!
Tell us what you would suggest for the writer who struggles with finding - and utilizing - time to write.
I would definitely have people check out my Time Blocking blog (listed above). This simple tool can help you organize your days and weeks in a way the supports your writing time. I also offer a Writing & Revision Tracker, which has been so helpful for me and hundreds of writers over the years in staying accountable and motivated. The spreadsheet helps you track your writing and revision progress for up to 8 projects, giving you daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly totals. It's like National Novel Writing Month all year long!
Additionally, to writers who are struggling to write regularly, I highly recommend that they block out the same time every day to write. When we write at the same time of day, it's easier to turn writing into a habit, in which we no longer have to force ourselves to the computer or take so much time to tap into the writing brain. Eventually, we train our brains to switch over as soon as writing time hits and it takes a lot of the battle out of BICFOK. Having a writing playlist is great for this too! Music has a magical way of pulling us into a different emotional state almost instantly. Create a playlist you can put on every day while you write. I do this, and halfway into the first song, I'm ready to go!
I love learning about other authors' writing processes. Tell us a bit about yours. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you sit down to write for a certain amount of time, words, hours each day? Do you have any rituals? And lastly, what do you do to refill the well?
I'm sort of in the middle between plotting and pantsing. As you know from my website and our conversations, I'm an organization-aholic! So plotting really calls to me. But if I over-plot, there's no discovery for me in the writing process, which deflates my desire to write the story. So typically, I plot out the major plot points on a big white board in my office so I know where my story is headed. It's like my road map. I'll also have a dozen or so scenes that have popped into my head, but I leave plenty of room for detours and new ideas along the way.
I'm not a big writing ritual person but I usually check Facebook (bad, I know!) and put on some music, as I mentioned. I also make sure to have plenty to drink, and usually a snack, so I don't have to get up. I write from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. every weekday while my oldest daughter is at school and my youngest daughter takes a nap. That's the quietest time in my day and while it's not a lot of time, it adds up!
I refill the well by hanging out with other writers. There's just nothing as motivating and exciting as hanging out with other people who really understand what you're trying to accomplish. My writing friends always have new ideas to offer and are my best support system. Sometimes, though, I also like to just check out of everything for a while, staying offline, forgetting about writing, and instead read or spend time with my family. I think it's important to regularly re-join the "real world" to get back into my body and my senses. Sometimes the worlds in our head can become too real and detach us from what's going on around us, which can be a blessing at times but a detriment at others.
Now, imagine you've had a fantastic day. The words are all down on paper, the posts are up, and you've finished everything else you wanted to as a writer, mother, wife, etc. What does Jamie Raintree have for dinner to end such a marvelous day?
Ha! We eat a lot of tacos in my house so that's probably what I'd be eating--usually as a salad for me. If I have my way, though, a good bowl of curry is heaven.
Jamie Raintree is an author and writing business teacher. She is also a mother of two, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. Her debut women's fiction novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be released in Fall 2017. Subscribe to her newsletter for more blogs, workshops, and book news. To find out more, visit her website or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.