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Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Importance of Self-Discipline by Kathy Herman

Kathy Herman is the bestselling author of thirteen novels, including the Baxter series, Poor Mrs. Rigsby, and the Seaport Suspense novels. Her thought-provoking stories are ordinary enough to be believable, and extraordinary enough to stick with the reader long after the cover is closed. Kathy and her husband, Paul, live in East Texas and have three grown children and five grandchildren. They enjoy world travel, deep sea fishing, and bird watching—sometimes incorporating all three into one big adventure!

I believe the ongoing success of any novelist lies as much in self-discipline as it does in storytelling. Even the most talented novelist won’t dazzle the publisher for long if he or she doesn’t make the deadlines, especially since so much of the publisher’s marketing strategy is planned around the book’s release date.

In the six-and-a-half years I’ve been writing professionally, the most difficult challenge for me has been meeting deadlines. And after thirteen published novels to my credit, I guess you could say I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines, which are at the same time motivational and stressful. Suffice it say there’s an abundance of adrenaline at my house when I’m racing to meet a deadline, which is much of the time since my series deadlines overlap.

I had to learn early on that the key to meeting deadlines is self-discipline. And, for me, that discipline starts with a mindset that time is valuable and should be budgeted. I know it takes me about four months to write a book. And every minute I waste today will cost me tomorrow. It’s so easy to get lazy when I have months to write a book and perhaps a year and a half to write a series. But each novel starts with a single sentence and builds slowly over time. There are days when the words flow freely, and days (sometimes weeks) when I feel as though I have to siphon them. It’s all part of the process. It’s important to keep writing, regardless of which scenario I’m faced with.

Though I work at home, I set my schedule as if I were working in a business office. I begin working as soon as my husband leaves for work around 9:00 and write until 6:00 p.m. I let my answering machine take my calls so I stay focused on the story with as few interruptions as possible. I didn’t start this practice overnight. It took a while to get into the habit. But once I got serious about adhering to a schedule, I found that friends and family began to respect my working hours.

I’ve rarely finished a book ahead of schedule, but I’ve also never missed a deadline. Only by disciplining myself to wisely spend my time over the long haul have I been able to keep up the pace of producing two new releases each year. And during those dry spells when creativity and words don’t seem to gel, I stay with it, stealing a look over my shoulder at the thirteen framed book covers on my shelves and remembering that each of my stories came together a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter at a time.

The Grand Scheme, book three (and the finale) in the Phantom Hollow series, seemed to
flow off my fingertips, largely due to the momentum already created by the first two books in the series. I was so in love with the characters and the town of Jacob’s Ear that the story, practically from the onset, seemed to take on a life of its own.

What I enjoy most about writing is encountering the element of surprise, especially when my characters say or do things I would never have anticipated that really add to the story. The Grand Scheme was chock full of surprises. It’s my favorite to date, and (by my standards) my best work.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Kathy, this was a great reminder. You're right. It IS so easy to get lazy thinking you have all the time in the world.


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