Getting the Most Out of Your Creative Day

This post is part of an ongoing series for HBIC Nation, a community that helps creatives learn, grow, and dominate in their fields. Our motto is Dream. Do. Dominate. You can find out more by going to HBICnation.com or joining the HBIC Nation Facebook Group.

I recently transitioned from working a full-time day job and writing on contract for a publisher to writing full-time. I’ve been dreaming for years about making this jump. I figured I’d wake up, roll out of bed, and the words would just flow. If my fantasy was a formula, it would look like this:

All the time in the world + Writing full-time + Dream fulfilled = All the books in the land

Wasn’t I adorably naïve?

Instead of being the writer utopia I’d imagined, all of this uninterrupted time was daunting. In the past, my day job forced me to be extra disciplined and protective of my writing hours. I was getting stuff done before because, ironically, I had so little time in which to do it. It turns out that for me the formula looked like this:

No time + Deadlines + Stubborn determination = 4 books a year

Obviously, I was happy that I had one focus in my professional life instead of two, but without the structure of a demanding schedule I was feeling lost. I was too unstructured.

Fortunately, I have lots of creative around me who don’t work traditional day jobs. Instead, they create their own schedules that work at the pace of their own artistic flow and — this part is key — still get the work done.

I reached out and got a lot of great advice from women who’d made this jump before me, including from HBIC members Alexandra Haughton and Tamsen Parker. Then I took a step back to assess my own working habits and came up with these things that have been working for me.

Survey Your Week

I’m going to come right out and admit that I’m not great at future planning. At least not long, long-term future planning. However, what I am good at and find incredibly helpful is looking at the week ahead.

Every Sunday I sit down with my bullet journal and brain dump a list onto a piece of paper. I write down my appointments, important emails and calls, and every project that I know I need to get done next week.

Here’s a sample list of things I jotted down on my weekly to do list:

• Email London networking contact
• Finish The Taste of Temptation draft
• Make notes on Patreon
• Dinner with Maegan, Tuesday
• Agent/Editor lunch, Thursday
• Podcast interview, Friday
• Pick up dry cleaning
• Long run
• Cancel cable

See what I mean about brain dump?

One thing I don’t do is write down every little step to get those projects done. Finish The Taste of Temptation draft could look like this: finish hero realization scene, write grand gesture scene, write epilogue, finish transitional heroine scene you neglected to write because you got excited about other things. That, however, doesn’t help me see the big picture for the week. The nitty gritty details? Those are more likely to cloud up my view. Apparently I’m exactly who that seeing the forest through the trees adage is about

Make a Daily List and Make It Early

Once I’ve got a weekly list (which I make on Sunday nights), I get down to my big organizational tool: day-to-day task lists. The night before I start writing down everything I need to do the next day. Monday gets planned on Sunday night, Tuesday gets planned on Monday night, and so on. I do this because it helps me shut off my brain and keeps me from working 16 hour days. If there’s a to do list for tomorrow, those things can get done tomorrow.

This day-to-day list is where those nitty gritty tasks I avoid putting on my weekly list become helpful. They keep me on task and help break big projects down into actionable steps.

I’ve also found it to be helpful to sometimes write out a little schedule for myself like so:

7:45 a.m. — Shower, breakfast, morning pages
9 a.m. — Morning writing session
11:30 a.m. — Run errands, lunch
1 p.m. — Afternoon writing session
5 p.m. — Email catch-up
5:30 p.m. — Run

3 Daily Goals

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a lister. I put everything on lists, and that sometimes makes it hard to figure out what absolutely needs to get done and what can potentially get pushed to another day. Because of that, I like to highlight the three biggest things that must get done on a given day. I literally write a 1, 2, 3 next to them to mark that they’re my priorities, but you can use this prompt to help you organize:

Today I Will:
1)   ____________________

2)   ____________________

3)   ____________________

If those three tasks get done, the day’s a win for me. (Don’t we all need little wins for motivation?)

Make Time for Admin — And Keep It

Admin has been a huge pain point for me for a long time. The problem isn’t so much sending emails, writing blog posts, and social media. It’s getting myself to stop once I start. There’s always one more thing that I could be doing. One more newsletter draft. One more Facebook post. One more tweet. It’s enough to make an HBIC want to pull her hair out.

I’ve started to think about admin like I think about my writing time. I build out space in my week for it and I protect it fiercely. However, I’d say I go one step further when I work on admin during the predetermined time because I’m protecting the rest of my life from it creeping out and taking over everything.

On Sundays I’ll go into my CoSchedule app — an expensive but worth-it-to-me content marketing tool — and set up my blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagrams for the week. If I have a newsletter I’ve got to send that week, I’ll make sure that’s ready to go and scheduled in MailChimp. I’ll fill up my Buffer with snazzy content from friends and make sure I’ve got some things ready to go if people I know have launches or book sales during the upcoming week.

Then, after all that is done, I close CoSchedule and walk away. Other than making sure that my content is going out into the world, I try not to open it again. I’ll jump on Facebook and Twitter from time to time, but that’s mostly for interaction and catching up on everyone’s news rather than promoting my content. The temptation to cut into writing is just too great. All of this content creation is supposed to serve the writing, not hinder it by taking excessive time and mental energy away from me.

I’m still learning my own best practices for working as a creative full time, and would love to hear what works for you whether you’re working on a side hustle or your art is your full time gig! Leave me a comment or shoot me an email at julia@juliakellywrites.com, and be sure to check out HBICnation.com.

#5forFriday: One Week in Hawaii Is Breaking Up! (And That Means You Save)

This is a special #5forFriday today because it isn’t every week I get to announce TWO deals for readers.

  1. My anthology ONE WEEK IN HAWAII is breaking up! What does that mean for you? A 99¢ book that gets you not just one but four sexy novellas just in time for summer beach read season. But remember, you’ve got just one week for the sale because after that the ebook comes down and you’ll only be able to get it via paperback.
  2. Speaking of great deals, my publisher has put together a bundle of 12 free reads including THE GOVERNESS WAS WICKED! It’s all in honor of a great site redesign for XOXO After Dark. Definitely check it out, and don’t miss this video the authors of Pocket shot for the big anniversary. I’m in there, big hair and all.
  3. My sister and her Scottish boyfriend are coming to NYC! In fact, mere hours after this post goes up, they’ll be on the ground (and probably jet lagged). My sister used to live four blocks from me in New York, so it’s been tough not having her around. Fortunately…
  4. …my moving to the U.K. going along about as well as I could hope. There are a million little things that need to be done before I get on a plane, but I’m crossing things off the very long to do list.
  5. Normally I’d round this out by saying I finished a draft of a book (true!) or turned in proofs (also true!) since my last #5forFriday, but really the best thing that’s happened to me all week has been seeing friends and getting together those last few times. Even though I’ll see many of them in a couple months — I literally just booked airfare to come back to the U.S. for my best friend’s bachelorette party in Austin AND RWA in Orlando — there’s something about celebrating seeing each other in the same city that makes all the difference.

Your First Look at a Second Chance Romance

Four years ago, I came back to New York from a conference buzzing with excitement over a new story I wanted to write. It was a sexy sports contemporary romance all centered around the NFL Draft. It would have a badass agent as the heroine squaring off against a charming and persistent sports reporter who’s fighting to save his job by scoring a big interview with her client. Even better, he’s a blast from her past — the guy who never noticed her in high school — but you can bet he’s paying attention now.

I sat down and started writing that very night.

Over the years the book changed as I grew as an author. I rewrote it a couple of times but kept coming back. Finally, it found a home with my publisher and got the love it deserves from a great editor. Now I can honestly say I can’t wait for you guys to read CHANGING THE PLAY, and as a little teaser here’s a look at the cover!

Rachel’s a powerful agent who will do anything to guard her clients (her client list is full of basketball and football players just like those guys standing behind her). She’s totally the type of woman to rock that suit and those shoes at work, and I love love love her!

Trust me, Nick doesn’t even know what he’s in for!

Here’s a bit more about Rachel and Nick’s story:

Rachel Pollard has never been a push-over. That’s why she’s a superstar in the world of sports management, making a name for herself with a shrewd eye for overlooked talent. She certainly isn’t taking any chances with her latest NFL draft prospect, Kevin Loder, who’s poised to shake up the league. But when Nick Ruben, a tenacious sports reporter who also happens to be the crush who ignored her all through high school, picks up the scent of a long-buried story, Rachel suddenly finds herself playing defense for the first time in years.

Nick usually doesn’t strike out with women, but his always-dependable charm isn’t getting him anywhere with Rachel or the interview he needs to save his job from his network’s impending layoffs. He knows he’s pressing hard, but she’s pushing back just as much—it’d almost be fun if his career wasn’t on the line. But after weeks of begging and finally striking a deal for an exclusive, Nick is surprised to realize he wants their relationship to be anything but professional. Now he has to figure out a way to save his job without hurting hers, and to make the girl he overlooked in high school believe he’s worth a shot at love.

If you preorder now, you get the book at it’s promotional $1.99 price. That’s down from $4.99! 

Amazon | Amazon UKiBooks | Kobo | Nook | Google Play | Books-A-Million

You can expect to meet Rachel and Nick on August 21, just in time for football season to kick off!

Welcome to HBIC Nation

A few months ago I spent the best weekend I’ve had in a long time with five of my fellow authors. We holed up in a house in the middle of the Virginia countryside surrounded by rolling hills and cows mooing in the distance. The six of us were there to reconnect, write, and recharge.

On the second to last day, after eating a huge picnic out under a tree on the unseasonably warm February weather, we stared talking about how being a part of this group of six had gotten us through the good and the bad in our careers. Personally, everything changed for me as a writer when I found a community that both supported and taught me, but that wasn’t unique. All of us had stories to share about what “finding our people” meant to us.

Sipping wine and soaking up the unexpected sun, we began to wonder about how to share that experience with other people. The more we talked, the more we realized that all six of us wanted to do the same thing: foster a community for creatives where they could find support, grow, and celebrate success. We didn’t just want to cater to writers but musicians, actors, designers, and others as well because we firmly believed that we can all learn from each other.

HBIC Nation was born on that February day. It’s a website, a Facebook group, but most importantly it’s a place for creatives to gather. An HBIC is a Head Bitch in Charge—because we know “bitches get stuff done”—and we welcome all HBICs who dream big, do the work, and dominate.

You can join HBIC Nation by going to our website, clicking on the “Citizenship” tab, and signing up. We’re also kicking off a supportive, inspiring Facebook group where we’ll start applying the principles of HBIC Nation right now. Expect to be challenged to think about your career, celebrate the HBICs who inspire you, and enjoy getting to know your fellow creatives!

We also have shirts for sale because who can launch an empire without a great logo for continuing inspiration? Use this link to get 15% off your purchase automatically until May 11. (No promo codes required.)

We hope you’ll join us, and we can’t wait to see how you’ll grow!

Cleaning Out My Life and Letting Go

Depositphotos/stokkete

I am surrounded by things. My things. Nearly everything in this apartment I sit in while writing this was bought by me or for me with the purpose of filling up my life and shaping my home. There are things for comfort (the sofa I sit on), utility (a litany of kitchen equipment), or amusement (my prodigious book collection). And while they’ve all served a purpose and helped define a chapter of my life, many of them now seem superfluous.

When I decided to move to London, my first thought was for the friends I would leave behind. My second was for the sheer volume of stuff that would have to be sold, donated, and junked. It was staggering and almost crippling though despite my living in a home that is likely smaller than most of the people reading this.

I’m proud to say that my 320-square-foot studio has suited me well, in part because after nearly nine years of New York apartment living I’ve become an expert a bringing things into my home that serve multiple functions. No storage opportunity is overlooked. No kitchen gadget can have just one purpose. (Note the ice cream maker that I want so desperately but have been loath to buy because of giving up precious kitchen storage space.)

I realize the privilege it is to have stuff. I’m a woman who, through working both as a writer and as a journalist, has been able to make a comfortable living for herself. Fretting about what to do with excess things is a privilege of people who can afford to have an excess of things. Clutter is very much a first world problem and, at the moment, it’s a problem I’m facing.

I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up when it was in vogue a couple years ago. Everyone I knew seemed to be Kondo-ing their lives, so I took a shot at it. I emptied my closets into the center of my room and sorted clothes, putting back only those things that I truly loved. (I did not hold every item and ask myself if it brought me joy and thank it for serving its purpose when I relegated it to the donation bin because that felt too woo woo for me, but if it works for you, more power to you.) I did the same exercise with my books, culling through things I loved and getting rid of things I knew I’d never read again.

However, despite this Kondo-inspired clean out a year ago I still found myself surrounded by things. I wasn’t brutal in my purging because I wasn’t going anywhere. My day job was solid and my mind was mostly occupied with writing books. I’ve also never found myself resentful of things. I’ve never felt the urge to seek out the freedom people write about in article urging us to eliminate material possessions and live out of one suitcase. As anyone who has perused my closet can tell, I derive too pleasure from clothes. I like being surrounded by books. There’s satisfaction in finding the exact right set of wine glasses to go in my cupboard with the perfect water glasses and champagne flutes which sit next to the Moscow Mule copper mugs. (Yes, I do own those. Yes, I do use them. I enjoy cocktails immensely.)

All of my preciousness about my things changed when I decided to move. I’m now in the midst of the third or fourth round of clothing purges. I’m selling the majority of my wardrobe on Poshmark and ThredUp to see what I can get money for and what will be donated. Old technology has gone off to Decluttr as well as DVDs because I can’t remember the last time I turned my BluRay player on. Some of my furniture and barware will go to my best friend who has already claimed it. The rest of my furniture will be sold in a Craigslist fire sale or placed out on the curb to be scavenged, a time-honored tradition NYC tradition. Bags and bags of books have already been taken to my local library’s used bookstore for donation, and I still have many bags to go. (The people there are starting to recognize me.) Friends are also getting surprise boxes of books sent via media mail to fill up their shelves.

It’s not as though I’ll be traveling to London with nothing. A box of winter things is already winding it way there. Research books (some difficult to replace as they’re out of print) are going via M-bags, a form of international shipping I didn’t even know existed before this move. My sister and her boyfriend will be in New York the week before I leave by happy coincidence and will take a pair of suitcases back with them. I, a woman who travels light and hates to check luggage, will attempt not to break out in hives at the idea of checking a second pair of suitcases when I board my one-way flight.

When I arrive in London, I’ll still have things, but they’ll be highly curated — the best parts of who I’ve been in New York through my 20s and who I want to be in London.

#5forFriday: Moving, Hotly Anticipated Books, and Scrivener

It’s been a busy week! Here are the top 5 things I’ve loved, learned, and listened to:

  1. OMG I’m moving to London! I talked about the decision to move out of NYC in a post earlier this week, and while I’m thrilled I also still can’t believe it. (But I’m sure it’ll start feeling real once I bring the suitcases out and empty my apartment.)
  2. I got to speak to Sarah Aswell from SheKnows about my top 10 most-anticipated romance novels for the rest of 2017.
  3. This M. O’Keefe book is free right now and you better believe I grabbed a copy.
  4. On this month’s First Draught we talked about Scrivener (i.e. the writing and organizational software that makes it possible for me to write several books at once). Here’s a link to the podcast.
  5. This song by Odessa is giving me life this week:

Heroines, Choosing Happiness, and Why I’m Moving From NYC to London)

Depositphotos/stokkete

In a month, I’m going to be uprooting my life in New York City and moving to the United Kingdom.

I will do this to be living closer than a plane ride away from my parents for the first time in my adult life.

I will do this because my sister and her boyfriend will be only an hour away and I want my lady movie watching buddy back.

I will do this for adventure and a promise I made to myself a long time ago to do something that scares me to death every decade or so.

I will do this despite the fact that I’ll leave behind friends and a life I’ve cultivated in weird, wonderful New York for nearly nine years.

I will do this without the security of a day job, giving me the chance for the first time in my author life to write full time for a little while.

I am excited and eager and trepidatious.

What I am not is uncertain about my choice.

My mother often tells me with a laugh that I’m just like my father. We mull over something as important as a life change or as simple as a new gadget for months, researching and weighing pros and cons. We learn everything we can about whatever it is that’s caught our imagination. Recently this has led me to become a casual expert on:

  1. Running clothes and training guides (This obsession started a year ago and has not let up, leading me to be somewhat angry with my runner friends who didn’t warn me that my laundry would soon be all running clothes and one morning a weekend would be devoted to long runs, often done in the cold and rain because you need those miles in the bank)
  2. Social media and content marketing programs like CoSchedule (Welcome to the sexy behind-the-scenes world of being a working author)
  3. External audio recorders (Podcasting)
  4. Shipping books internationally (My extensive research library is moving to London which is…a challenge)

My father and I will read, collect information, and take notes until one day we’re ready. Like a flip being switched, we make our decision and rarely look back. It’s as though steeping ourselves in all of that information has infused us with the ability to say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I want.”

It would make sense that this brand of seemingly contradictory dragged out decisiveness appeals to me. It’s similar to the way that heroines in romance novels come to the realization that they are both in love and deserving of it.

The heroine spends the entire story getting to know the hero by talking to and interacting with him (or he does with him in M/M or she does with her in F/F). She might meet family or friends, see him on the job, or watch him at play. Often without realizing it, she’s gathering information about the sort of partner he’ll be letting that process in her subconscious until she’s ready to choose.

All at once she knows. He’s the one. It’s Elizabeth realizing Darcy has saved her sister. Cher announcing “I love Josh” in front of the fountain in Beverly Hills. It’s in the ah-ha moment we spend the entire movie or book waiting for.

Other people—even the hero—might try to move our heroine onto another path, but she’s certain. She’s chosen the love of the hero, just as she’s chosen her own happiness.

This may I’ll be choosing my own happiness as well as family and adventure. I plan to share bits and pieces of my move and subsequent settling in to the city I write about—even if the timeline is about 200 years off—and I hope you’ll take the journey with me here as well on Instagram and Facebook.

#5forFriday: New Covers and Spring Days

It’s been a bit since I’ve done a #5forFriday post because I’ve been off writing all of the books for you guys (seriously, I’ve written like 40,000 words in the last 10 days). In honor of getting over the hump of book 2 in the Matchmaker of Edinburgh series, I’m bringing #5forFriday back. Here we go!

1) I got to reveal the beautiful cover for my upcoming Scottish historical romance, The Look of Love, this week. If you missed it, here are all of the details, plus this is the cover. 😍

2) Last Sunday was the first hot day of the spring here in NYC, so I headed to Washington Square Park with Laura von Holt and her friend and business partner Luke. True to New York, there was a flash rainstorm, and we wound up having to run for cover under a twee blanket along with the tipsy picnickers next to us who kept yelling “Save the vodka!” and “Auntie Em! Auntie Em!”

3) I’ve been reading down my TBR pile and last week I blew through Adriana Anders’ Under Her Skin. It was wonderful, and I highly recommend it with the caution that if you’ve got triggers for partner abuse you might want to proceed with caution. Look for a longer post about what I’ve been reading coming soon.

4) Now that I’ve finished all of the Great British Bake Off, I asked Facebook for recommendations for a new low drama/high entertainment show to watch while cooking and got a LOT of responses back. You guys have plenty to say about TV shows (especially British ones). Looks like I have a lot of show watching to do.

5) This is my second week of being a full-time writer, at least for the time being, and I’m continually amazed by the wonderful support of friends reaching out. It’s an odd thing to go from working a day job and being a writer to just focusing on fiction. The way you structure your entire day changes, and what you feel like you should be doing vs. what you actually should be doing also shift. The people checking in on me to offer support and make sure I’m doing things like taking lunch breaks has been really touching.

COVER REVEAL: Book 1 in a Sexy New Scottish Romance Series

If you’ve been reading my newsletter or my website for awhile now, you know I’ve been hinting at the new Scotland-set historical series I’ve been writing. Well, the first book in the Matchmaker of Edinburgh series is now available for preorder, and it has a gorgeous cover!

Amazon | Amazon UK | iBooks | Kobo | Nook | Google Play

Isn’t she beautiful!? The cover designer did an amazing job with this one, and I couldn’t be happier!

I loved writing this heroine who is a fiercely independent sculptor who’s near ruination lands her in a marriage of convenience with her best friend.

Here’s a closer look:

An accomplished sculptor with secret ambitions, Ina Duncan has managed to avoid marriage for years until an accidental encounter at a party leaves her near ruin and in need of a husband. Fast. Determined to find a willing husband for Ina, Edinburgh’s most powerful matchmaker, Moira Sullivan, quickly realizes that the solution to Ina’s problem might be right in front of her.

Ina’s best friend, Gavin Barrett, has a secret no one knows: he’s loved her for years. As the second son of a baronet, however, he knows he has little chance with his brilliant, beautiful friend. All that changes when Moira convinces Ina to propose a marriage of convenience to Gavin to save her from ruin. Ina only wants two things from him in return: a vow she can continue to sculpt and a promise they’ll remain in Edinburgh.

After a rocky start, happiness—and maybe passion—seems on the horizon for the newlyweds until a twist of fate bestows the title of Sir Barrett on Gavin and forces him to assume responsibilities he’s never wanted. Forced to mold herself into the perfect baronet’s wife, Ina must choose between her dreams and the man she’s learning to love.

This book is slated to come out on October 9, and you can preorder it now so you don’t miss it’s big release day! Just click on one of the links below.

Amazon | Amazon UK | iBooks | Kobo | Nook | Google Play

Meet Me in Boston!

Boston-area romance readers, you’re in for a treat! The New England Chapter of RWA is putting on a book signing from 6 to 8 p.m. this Friday at the Burlington, Mass. Marriott. The line-up is incredible with big-name authors from all genres of romance, and I’ll be in the thick of it signing books and giving away downloads of The Governess Was Wicked!  

I love meeting readers, and this is one of the few events I’ll be doing this year that doesn’t require a conference registration fee to attend. Please stop by and say hi!