“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” –Jim Rohn
“No matter how old you are now, you are never too young or too old for success or going after what you want.” –Pablo
Last Friday I got to go hear J. A. Jance speak about her writing process. She comes to Southern Arizona, periodically, because she used to live about 20 minutes away from my home. The Joanna Brady series of mysteries take place in and around Bisbee, Arizona where Ms. Jance grew up. She includes the actual names of streets, towns and businesses in her books, which makes for fun reading.
Since I’m a new writer, and I’ve read some of her books, I was excited to hear what she had to say about her process.
One of the first things she shared with us was how she came to use J. A. Jance as her pen name. When she was about to publish her first book, her publisher suggested she use her initials to help generate more sales, because a mystery written by Judith Ann Jance didn’t have the same mystique as one written by J. A. Jance. She also quipped that because of her name, her books are on the shelf right next to P. D. James, another woman who writes mysteries. Mysteries are supposed to be the exclusive genre of men, you see. Hah! (I like P. D. James work too.) Writers do need to consider what name to use when they publish, so hearing about the reasons for the adoption of her pen name was interesting. Since I’m writing books about women, I don’t feel the need to use a pseudonym. It’s all a matter of name branding to match your genre.
The next thing she told us was about her process of writing. Recently, a writer friend of mine told me about three styles of writers, plotters, pantsers, and puzzlers. I was delighted to find out that J. A. Jance is a pantser. She crinkled her nose when describing her experience in middle school when her teacher tried to teach her how to create an outline. The experience was so abhorrent to her that she doesn’t use an outline for her books, or her talks. We all laughed at that. I felt oddly connected to her when she said she gets an idea for a book and just starts writing. Me too!
Then she told us about several personal experiences and how she used them in her J. P. Beaumont and Joanna Brady books. It’s funny how our brains store away fragments that for one reason or another stay with us in vivid detail. Personal experiences are a gold mine for a writer.There are so many things in my first novel that are inspired by my real life that it could almost be a memoir.
I could really relate to her story of attempting to enroll in a creative writing class when she attended the University of Arizona in the 60s. The instructor turned her away because as he said, “Only men can be writers”. I don’t know why he said that when some of the most famous and enduring books that survive today were written by women. Okay, they had to publish under men’s names at first, but that doesn’t alter the fact that, Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Bronté and George Eliot, who was a woman, all wrote classic novels that are still read and studied today. I could relate to her experience, since in the mid-70s, only a few years later, I faced discrimination because I was a woman in a “man’s” area of study. It’s nice to find that a New York Times best selling author and I have several things in common.
The thing that impressed me the most about her was her determination to become a writer against all odds. She never gave up writing, even after a bitter divorce from an alcoholic writer. Even though she had to work full-time to support herself and her children, she found time to write. Eventually, she got to quit her job and follow her bliss. She was willing to put in the effort to make her dream come true.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what J. A. Jance said on Friday, and comparing it to what I’ve learned writing my first novel. I think that choosing to make what you’re passionate about a priority every day, even if you only get to spend a relatively short amount of time on it, is the key to success. It’s the continued effort that builds the road, the house, the city, the business, the painting, or the book. Even if it takes a long time to do it, dedicated discipline eventually pays off. That’s what impressed me about J. A. Jance. She’s a disciplined writer, and that’s why she sells so many books.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014