Balancing a writing career and everyday life - Authors A.I.

Alessandra Torre
May 7, 2024

In a recent Draft Friday, I was joined by bestselling thriller author Jeff Carson. We discussed how hard it is to maintain creativity amid the demands of a writing career and everyday life. Jeff shared details of his writing process and how he manages the various aspects of his life while pursuing his passion for writing.

Here are some key takeaways from my conversation with Jeff:

  • Understanding personal values: Jeff emphasized the importance of understanding one’s core values to effectively balance writing and life. He shared his experience with values assessments and aligning actions with personal values.
  • Planning ahead: Planning emerged as a crucial strategy for Jeff in managing his writing career alongside other life commitments. He discussed the benefits of planning ahead while acknowledging the need to strike a balance between meticulous planning and spontaneous creativity.
  • Daily routine and writing process: Jeff provided insights into his daily routine, including rituals like meditation and writing sprints. He leaves his home to write and walks in the park to clear his mind before diving into writing sessions.
  • Outlining and writing process: As an avid outliner, Jeff discussed his approach to outlining and the balance between sticking to the outline and allowing for spontaneity during the writing process. He shared his experiences with setting deadlines and managing the writing process effectively.
  • Marketing and self-publishing: Jeff delved into his approach to marketing and self-publishing, emphasizing the importance of finding a balance between writing and marketing efforts. He discussed his reliance on Amazon ads and the challenges of managing marketing alongside writing.
  • Deadlines and productivity: Jeff shared how he sets deadlines for completing drafts and the challenges and benefits associated with them.

It was a great discussion, one you won’t want to miss! Click below to watch our 30-minute recording and hear the questions we answered from the live audience. Keep scrolling if you’d prefer to read the transcript.

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Enjoy the show? Check out our upcoming and past First Draft Friday episodes.


Alessandra: Hello everybody, and welcome back to First Draft Friday. I am your host Alessandra Torre with Authors AI, and I am joined today by bestselling thriller author Jeff Carson, who’s going to be talking about juggling writing and life and all of the things that we deal with as writers. So, welcome, Jeff. It’s so great to have you. Do you want to introduce yourself to the audience?

Jeff: Yeah. My name’s Jeff Carson. I write the David Wolf mystery thriller series and another series that I just started, the Ali Falco series.

Alessandra: And just so we understand, are you a full-time writer? Do you have another job? And how many books do you typically write a year?

Jeff: I’m a full-time writer and for the last few years, I’ve typically written like one a year, and that’s something that I’m looking to up. so I’m like at two books a year right now. I’m pretty excited about that, but I want to be at like three.

Alessandra: So I didn’t know when you’re talking about juggling life and writing, yeah, I didn’t know if you have another job. If writing’s your full-time, but that’s what I mean.

Jeff: Yeah, yeah, exactly what I want to tell. And I think I can just launch into this because I mean, that question that we kind of came up with this topic before this and it was like, wow, it is a really good question, you know. How to juggle life and writing, especially if like a year, I only came out with one book. And I’m like, “Like, how do I juggle life and writing?”

Alessandra: I got more done when I had another job because then I really focused on when I had writing time. It is hard when you have kind of a whole day, so yeah, absolutely. Take us away.

Jeff: So I guess the first thing. I have been better lately. The first thing I like to figure out is like, what do I want to be juggling in the first place? You know, I think that’s the most important thing that I’ve learned in my life recently. My wife is a certified life coach. She became certified a few years ago, and during that time, there was all these people coming out of her class that needed hours, you know? So I would get these free coaching sessions from them. And now they kind of have thriving businesses, and I still use these people a lot. One of the first things they’ll do on a big session of four months coaching is they’ll do like a values assessment, it’s called. And you go in and there’s this list of 50 or a hundred words, and it’ll be like adventure, creativity, independence, stuff like that.

Jeff: Attributes of life, basically, you know family, and then just all these words. And so like, then there’s two columns next to them, and it’ll be like, value and action. So the first one you’re supposed to rate how you value that. So like for independence, for me personally, it’s like 10 out of 10. And you’re supposed to be kind of finicky with the tens, not just be using them all over the place, but that’s like a 10. That’s why I am a writer, self-published, all of it; it drives everything I’m doing. Okay, so then the action is like, how do you feel you’re acting on this? And I’ll put like a 10 on that one. Then you keep going. And then like, on creativity, it’ll be like, well, that’s 10 for me too. That’s a really huge one. Recently, on the last values assessment, I put a five on action. And it was just weird that I thought that way, you know?

Alessandra: I think a lot of us feel that way. It should be the most important thing, but it often gets to the bottom of the list.

Jeff: Right. Or like, what’s wrong with what you’re doing? Is there something else that needs to be added? And so, yeah, you got to figure that out. I mean, that’s the point is, you find these gaps where it’s like a 10 and a five or a 10 and a two or something like that. And then you begin talking with these coaches for months on end about all this stuff and break it down. And it’s good – which leads me to the next thing I think that helps me juggle writing and life is like planning ahead. I think I like to bring in some elements of how I write into how I live life, and I think the more I’m planning just a little bit ahead and expecting what’s going to happen is something that helps me, but also is an obvious downfall at points, you know, where I’m like, okay, I need to know everything that’s going on, or else I’m freaking out.

Alessandra: So, wait, let’s jump into that because I know you’re an outliner from past conversations we’ve had. So when you say you need to know everything that’s going on and you want to plan, are you specifically talking about plot creatively story-wise, or you’re talking about “this is when I need to have the first draft done, this is when, you know, I have a deadline with my editor.” What are you referring to when you’re talking about planning and knowing what comes up?

Jeff: I go through like little phases of life. I’m talking about everything. I read this book called Goals by Brian Tracy. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that, but it just talks about like how goals are very important to know where you’re going. And like, this book says, you’re supposed to write down the goals every single day, like, your 10 most important goals. You act like you’re in the present. So I write first draft of book number 17 by February 1st. That’s a literal goal coming out of my brain every day. And so, if I’m just slamming that in my brain every day, and I’m like, OK, that’s what I’m doing, now I know what I’m doing, I got to carve out a chunk of writing today.

And the point of that values assessment is, then I have all these other things that if I just decide to write that book by a certain amount of time or by a certain time, I can just overlook all these other things like exercise, whatever, spirituality, family, adventure. I felt there was a big gap in my life. And sometimes, you know, then I’ll go on a big trip somewhere and then I’ll be like, all right, I don’t want any more adventure. I just want to sit down and write. So it goes in phases. But then I’ve gone as far as planning the next day in advance. just sitting in my bed and writing down, okay, so I’m going to wake up and eat, and then I’m going to take the kids to school, and then I’m going to meditate, and then I’m going to go to the office, and then I’m going to write and do five writing sprints, and then I’m going to eat, and then I’m going to go, you know, and then I like do that and then just feel like the next day I just get up and execute. You know what I mean?

Alessandra: Absolutely. Can you take us through a day? Is that your typical day? Do you write in sprints? When you say you go to the office, is your office in your house or you actually leave and go somewhere?

Jeff: I leave and go here. This is the office of my childhood best friend. He had this extra room. And he was like, do you want to use this? And I was like, yeah. So I set this up as my office and I’ll come in. So yeah, I’ll wake up – don’t need to get into too much details, but…

Alessandra: Don’t go into too much detail.

Jeff: OK, and then I’ll take the kids to school. Yeah, I’ll meditate. If it’s good weather, I’ll take a walk. Like, I literally drive to this parking lot at the park, and then do the walk and then come here.

Alessandra: And are you thinking about your book during your walk or are you just enjoying the outside? I mean, is it a mental break or is it part of your creative process with your writing?

Jeff: I think it’s just a mental break and like get my…

Alessandra: Just like clearing.

Jeff: Yeah. And then in a perfect world, I’ll literally know what I’m about to write from the night before. And so I don’t even have to think about that. But that’s obviously never, not always the case. Sometimes I’m stuck. And so hopefully that just gets me primed and gets the blood flowing and feeling good. And then I come in here, BS with my friend for anywhere from five to 30 minutes, and then I write in sprints. That’s the best way for me to do it.

Alessandra: And did you ever write from your house? I mean, does it help to be in a different environment?

Jeff: Yeah, I think it helps me be in a different environment. I’ll do sprints until like noon, and then go eat at home, and then just be home for the rest of the day. I have a little office in my house too, so I’ll do that.

Alessandra: Yeah. I love the idea of you renting a room from your friend, because that seems like, I mean, it seems much easier entry level than getting office space in a building somewhere, but I also like the idea. It’s a simple concept, but for me, that’s what I’m looking at. Right now, at my house, I am not productive; there’s too many distractions. And I think the act of me getting out of my pajamas and getting dressed and getting in my car and driving somewhere would help me.

Jeff: It really does me. Yeah, for sure. Like, I have got to have that. It’s just like everything mental when I get in here, and sometimes, like, a lot of times nobody’s here too, so I’m like, okay, well I can’t BS, so let’s just go. And I’ll get lost in it, and then it’s time to go for lunch and stuff. I mean, hopefully I can get my writing done in the morning, that’s what I try to do, but sometimes it bleeds into the afternoon a little bit. But yeah, I always try to, with the juggling question, I want to add those other things I’m juggling, like the exercise and like other creativity, I’m slacking on that, I feel like, or I need to just lose that expectation, you know what I mean? And just be fine with just writing. I don’t know how. You said you feel like you’re lacking in creativity too. What do you mean by that?

Alessandra: Yeah, I think it’s because it’s one of those things that – and Becca Symes is a fantastic instructor if you ever have a chance to anyone watching or whatever has a chance. But she talks a lot about introverts and extroverts and for introverts, which so many writers are introverts, like just being in your job; if you have a normal job you go to where you’re interacting with people, like you are forced to be an extrovert kind of all day long. And by the time you get home and you have writing time, like you are zapped, like emotionally. So then you’re trying to often write from a creative empty well, because you just need to be able to decompress and come back to normal. And I feel like for me, I spend all day in meetings and different things, and it’s like, at the end of the day, it’s like, oh yeah, I got to get in like 2000 words today and

Jeff: Right.

Alessandra: I’m doing it in my chair, falling asleep at two in the morning, you know, because that’s when my house is quiet and I have a chance to get to it. And it’s like, this should be like priority one. This should be my number one priority, like you said. But for me, my ability – what was the second category in that chart? There’s like importance and then the action. My action is like a two.

Jeff: Right. And it should be 10. 10, yeah.

Alessandra: I love that. I love that you have insight into like the life coaching side of that. Are there any other things you’ve learned from that, that you’ve applied to your writing or to your work-life balance?

Jeff: Oh gosh, I don’t know. I mean, I think the values is so huge. It’s like the bedrock to everything, so that’s why I’m bringing it up. And then it’s just like, yeah, coming to grips with it. So for me, like my creativity, the reason why I think it’s a five is because I feel like I should be doing videos. And I don’t know where that came from, but I feel like, you know what I mean? And I don’t know why I keep thinking of that.

Alessandra: You would enjoy doing it?

Jeff: I would enjoy doing YouTube videos. I’ve done one, literally one video, and it was like so much fun. And like, I just remember, you know, just the editing. I’m just chuckling to myself coming up with stupid sound effects. And then I’m like, you know, I want to do more of that. Writing though, I mean, I write because it’s like, I don’t even think why I’m writing. It’s just like I have to write, you know what I mean? I don’t know.

Alessandra: Yeah, I understand a hundred percent. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would still write as much as I could. At that point, I would be able to write all the time.

Jeff: It’s like family. Yeah, of course I’m going to hug my kids and stuff, you know? Of course I’m going to write. Of course I’m going to take my kids to school or whatever. Anyway, I have noticed interestingly that the part of the book that I’m in, like the literal phase of the plot that I’m writing will reflect on my life. What I mean by that, is like the midpoint is like this, you know how it’s like the mirror moment. I don’t know, I think James Scott Bell talked about the mirror moment where the character will look in the mirror and wonder, can they do this? Can they keep on and do what they need to do to solve the problem of the book? And like, I’ll come home and my wife will just be like, you’re at the middle of the book, aren’t you? And I’m like, yeah. Because I’m just like, moping, wondering why I threw all these things, you know, these balls in the air, these plot balls, and I now I got to catch them all and figure out what the heck I’m going to do. And then like at the beginning of the book, I’ll be super excited and just, you know?

Alessandra: Yeah. Revved up and ready. I go through kind of a dip, a mental dip in the middle. We do have a few questions from listeners. One Facebook user said that they love to write in cafes. Their newest manuscript is being handwritten, so I can do that easily. I go to handwriting whenever I get mentally blocked, it’s much easier for me to write like by hand whenever I’m kind of stuck. But another person from Facebook said, do you plan out multiple books or one book at a time? And how long do you plan out for each story?

Jeff: I plan out one book at a time. And I’ve always wondered, should I be planning more books at a time? But I always do one book at a time.

Alessandra: So wait, your current series, how many books are in that series? Or how many books have you written so far in that series? And do you know how many there will be?

Jeff: 16 books in the main series. And I don’t know how many it’ll be. Yeah, I don’t plan on ending it.

Alessandra: Okay.

Jeff: I don’t know how far I’ll go. I know I want to branch out and do like another series so I don’t get into like the hundred zone. How long do you plan out for each story? That’s like a major thing, that’s like, I’ll plan and plan and plan and plan, and then at some point I’m like, okay, dude, just start writing. I equate it to. I used to play a lot of golf, like if you’re standing on the first tee, and or a tee of a golf hole and you look down and you’re like, okay, you plan out, but you can’t sit there and plan the whole time; you got to actually play the course, like but I get stuck in traffic.

Alessandra: But you stick to your outline pretty rigorously or do you let the character do their own thing?

Jeff: I’ve been pretty flippant with the outline lately. Like I just get the main plot points, you know, like the inciting incident, break into two, you know, point of no return thing. Like, there’s always a question of like, why is Wolf on this case? You know, why can’t he just pawn it off to another one of his detectives? You know, so there’s got to be a reason why. Then the midpoint and then, you know, so I just get those main points. They got to be pretty solid, but in the middle, I always doubt myself and I go, wait a minute, “There’s no way this could logically work out.” And then I’m back to trying to plan. It’s a good question, in other words. How long? I don’t know. There’s no answer.

Alessandra: He also would like to know. Yeah, Jeff also would like to know the answer to that question. Perfect. So is there any other main points you want to cover before we – and anyone watching, if you have any questions, don’t be shy, pop them in the comments and we’ll try to answer as many of them as we can in the next 10 minutes.

Jeff: Yeah, don’t be shy because I’m pretty much out of what I do. The bottom line is like, I think that the more I plan, the better I am. but at the same time it’s a downfall, you know, you got to back away from that planning, I feel like for me at some point and just dive in and just see what comes out. And it’s usually better than what I could have planned by far.

Alessandra: When you look at writing a book and creating a book, how much time do you spend in that outlining portion before versus the writing portion? Like, do you spend the bulk of your time planning out what you’re going to write and then the execution is quicker or -?

Jeff: I try to do like a few weeks of planning.

Alessandra: Okay.

Jeff: And then execute it at about four weeks or something like that, you know, for the first draft, and just spitting out that first draft no matter how bad it is and not allowing myself to edit.

Alessandra: Stop as you go. Yeah. Elaine had a great question. She said, does your 

wife coach you?

Jeff: She will not coach me anymore. That’s a good question. But I can tell when she gets into the coach mode and I know I’m being coached. She knows that I know, but we just – and I’ll just keep like, yeah. And then, you know, but I feel like this, and she’d be like, “Oh, yeah, I agree, that would be very tough.” That’s not a normal thing she would say to me. Because if she’s not in coach mode, she’d be like, “Well, just do whatever. Why are you talking about this? Don’t do it.” I can tell when she gets into coach mode, but that’s one of the things I think that they learn is that they’re not supposed to coach their spouses, so she pawns me off onto other people, which is good too. I don’t know, I just like talking to other people in general. Like at some point because, you know, we’re writers, we just stare at our screens all the time. Or you don’t, you talk to a lot of people, but I don’t.

Alessandra: No I think – my husband has still not learned that when I talk about my plot issues, I don’t want any advice. Like, I don’t want advice or ideas. I just want to think through this. And it helps to do that aloud sometimes to have some, but he’s like, oh, the character could do this or that. And it’s like, whoa, whoa. I don’t want any, you’re not helping.

Jeff: He’s like, why are you talking to me?

Alessandra: I could not work with a co-writer. I just don’t think I could co-write for that same reason.

Jeff: Oh, I’m with you there. Yeah, I’ve thought about that deeply and I don’t think I can.

Alessandra: Another great question. This one’s from Suzanne on YouTube. How much time do you spend marketing your books and how does marketing – just to follow that up, how do you fit marketing in with writing as far as schedule and planning?

Jeff: Yeah, as far as marketing goes, like that’s another thing, like trying to figure out what I want to juggle I feel like. From the very beginning when I started writing, I’ve always been just kind of a little shy on Facebook and social media, like super shy, like not a little shy, I just don’t do it. So like people like in all these books were like, yeah, you’ve got to get a social media following. There’s no ifs, ands, or butts about it. And I remember just being like, “Hmm, I don’t know about that.” Like, I would go, you know, just pick apart the person who said that and be like, well, you know, that person’s not necessarily doing that well or just as good as this person. And then I try to go find their social media and I can’t find anything on social media.

And so I’m like, so why did this guy do good and this woman’s, you know, whatever. Or like, did Stephen King Facebook his way into writing? Well, I don’t think so, you know. Anyway, so my point is, I don’t market at all on social media, so I just do ads. Advertising is like, if you’re spending too much time on it, you’re usually just screwing everything up, so you kind of got to just let it run. And even now I’m trying to pawn it off onto someone else. I’m working with someone else right now so I can… because like my wife says, you know, do you want to be an ads guy or do you want to be a writer? And I’m like, yeah, I kind of want to be a writer. Good question.

Alessandra: And do you do Facebook and AMS or like what ad platform?

Jeff: I just do AMS. I’ve tried Facebook and I probably need to have someone else who’s not so reactive do it for me. like, you know what I mean? Because like, I’m very reactive. I’ll go in and I’m like, oh, that’s weird. And I’ll tinker with stuff and then just screw it up. It just all blows up and then I do more stuff. Yeah, it’s just the worst.

Alessandra: So would you say to return to Suzanne’s question, 20% of your time you spend marketing or do you think less or more?

Jeff: Like, I think probably less. Yeah, way less. I don’t even know. And that’s maybe like part of that like creativity gap that I’m feeling is like, maybe I need to connect with my readers more with social media and do those videos for that reason and stuff like that. I’m working on that.

Alessandra: Linda said that you mentioned self-publishing. How much time does that take up?

Jeff: Oh, like, as far as like the literal like execution of publishing the book, it’s not much time at all. It’s just, you know, I have a guy who does my covers. I write the blurb or description. I like to do all the – what do you call it, the creative for like the A+ pages and stuff like that. I like to tinker on Canva for that and stuff.

Alessandra: What about editing? You said you kind of write all the way through and don’t let yourself edit as you write your first draft? How much time do you spend in, in editing? Do you do three or four rounds? Is it just one round of an edit? Is it months?

Jeff: Yeah, it’s usually like three, it’s like a month or two. I’m trying to keep it to like a month, month and a half now, and that’s me going through it like three times and then somebody else going through it twice. First time for line editing, and then second time for just, you know, where are the commas, the double, hes, you know, stuff like that.

Alessandra: And back on Facebook, someone said, do you set yourself a deadline to be done? And I know you said you were writing like every day January or February 1st or something, but can we talk through kind of your deadlines? Do you have a deadline for first draft, a deadline for edits? Do you already know when you’re going to be publishing these books? Are they up on pre-order? How tight is your timeframe and how much is it planned out?

Jeff: That’s another good, great question. I set myself a deadline to be done. The last two books I’ve done pre-orders and after this last pre-order, just the feeling I had throughout writing this book and if I got stuck in the plot and I felt this ax over my head with the pre-order, I was just like, I’m never doing this again. I was like so angry at myself. And so, I’m not doing that next time. I’m not going to do it unless like, so what I’ll do is, I’ll set myself a deadline for like a month ahead, just really go for that deadline and if it pushes out, it pushes out, whatever and then get to it. And then as soon as I’m done with that first draft, and maybe I read through it once and I realize, OK, it’s not ridiculous, you know, there’s no glaring plot errors, then I can put a pre-order date on it. And that really helps me get through that editing process with other people too. Like saying like, Hey, this is the deadline, you know, for you too. And it’s maybe not fair to them, but I’m usually giving way too little time I feel like, to my editors, but it helps really get the process out and that’s what I do at the end.

Alessandra: And that makes perfect sense. I’ve had publisher deadlines and pre-order deadlines hanging over me and it’s like a weight off your shoulders once they’re gone. But other authors, they need that, and that was another thing I learned. There’s a certain type of author and so, you’re either this type or you’re not where you need the deadline. And actually I’ve found that I am like that in terms of, if I don’t have a deadline, it’ll take me a year to write a book. And I hate having a deadline and I hate that pressure, but it’s the only… I’ll take my dear sweet time and then two weeks before the deadline, I’m a crazy person for the next two weeks

Jeff: And you get it done.

Alessandra: But then it’s done, yeah.

Jeff: Yeah. So that is the big main question that I’ll be thinking about while I go through this next book is like, am I that person? Is that why I’ve gotten two books out last year?

Alessandra: Yeah.

Jeff: Three, basically books out last year. So yeah, I need to think about that.

Alessandra: As I yeah. I hate myself when it’s happening and I’m stressed out and wild, but it like you said, otherwise I have a self-published book that I have no deadline on and it’s in the back drawer. I’m here, I’m in 18 months right now without pushing it. They can be good and bad. It looks like we are out of time, so thank you all so much for joining us today. Thank you for your fantastic questions. Thank you Jeff, for this great content. It’s been so great to have you. And if someone’s interested in reading your books, what books should they start with and where can they find that book?

Jeff: My first book was called Forum Deceit and it’s at Amazon. And you could start with that, with the David Wolf series. And if you can get through that, then you can get through the whole thing.

Alessandra: Yeah, absolutely. I do want to say a Facebook user just said, I guess I need to quit my day job so I can spend more time writing and hearing about having nothing left creatively. And I will say the suggestion on the class that I took was, if you are that type of person where at the end of the day you’re just like emotionally zapped, maybe then instead of trying to write every day, write just on the weekends or on your off days, and then write in kind of four to six hour blocks time, longer blocks of time, you know, but when you do have that kind of creative energy.

Jeff: And that’s what I did for my first six books.

Alessandra: Visit, to learn more about Jeff and his work Foreign Deceit. So thank you all. We’ll be back in two weeks with another first draft Friday.


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