Maggie James is a British author who lives in Bristol. She writes psychological suspense novels.
The first draft of her first novel, entitled His Kidnapper’s Shoes, was written whilst travelling in Bolivia. Maggie was inspired by an impending milestone birthday along with a healthy dose of annoyance at having procrastinated for so long in writing a novel. His Kidnapper’s Shoes was published in both paperback and e-book format in 2013, followed by her second novel, entitled Sister, Psychopath. Her third novel, Guilty Innocence, has now been published, and like her first two, features her home city of Bristol. She is currently editing her fourth novel, The Second Captive.
Before turning her hand to writing, Maggie worked mainly as an accountant, with a diversion into practising as a nutritional therapist. Diet and health remain high on her list of interests, along with travel. Accountancy does not, but then it never did. The urge to pack a bag and go off travelling is always lurking in the background! When not writing, going to the gym, practising yoga or travelling, Maggie can be found seeking new four-legged friends to pet; animals are a lifelong love!
A day in the life of a novelist, huh?
If you’re not an author yourself, how do you picture us? Perhaps you’re like a friend of mine who tells me I’m now retired. Presumably, she believes I spend my days shopping or lunching out, squeezing novel writing in between my many leisure activities. Or do you see us as tortured geniuses, burning the midnight oil whilst downing copious amounts of alcohol?
For me, neither cliché is true. I work longer hours as a writer than I ever did as an accountant. Books don’t write themselves. In addition, there’s little point in penning novels if nobody knows they exist, so marketing my titles is essential. As for late nights and alcohol – each to their own, but that’s not me at all. I get tipsy at the mere whiff of booze, so using it as a writing prop would be a big no-no – I’d end up asleep at my keyboard! Besides, my creative juices work best in the mornings, despite the fact I’m a night owl. Another cliché smashed…
So what does a typical working day entail for me? Well, I’m normally at my desk by seven thirty a.m. My mornings consist of one of three activities: planning, writing or editing, depending where I’m at with my current novel. Let me explain each part of the process.
Before I begin a novel, I always prepare a blueprint for it. Many writers dislike plotting in detail, but I prefer to map out each chapter – point of view, action, etc., first. Horses for courses, as they say, and I’ve found that diving in without a solid plan doesn’t work for me. Then I spend two to three months writing the novel, aiming for at least 2,000 words per day. This usually entails lots of shouting at my computer. For a novelist, I’m an appalling typist, despite hours spent trying to improve; my fingers have minds of their own and act accordingly. You’d think I’d realise that swearing at my monitor doesn’t help, but I still do it…
What about props? Many writers work listening to music, but not me. Sounds in my head, other than background noise, interfere with my creativity. Other than my thesaurus, always to hand when I write, I prefer to keep things simple. Just my computer and me.
Once I’ve finished the first draft, I put it aside for a month before tackling the revision process. That way I can ‘go cold’ on what I’ve written, enabling me to spot errors more easily. I prefer not to edit whilst I write, meaning my initial version is as rough as a badger’s arse, as we say in the UK! Fortunately, I enjoy editing, unlike many writers.
Whichever stage of the process I’m working on, my mornings are always intense; after a few hours, my brain is desperate for a rest! I usually wind up around lunchtime, ready to shift gear from creative to business mode.
Afternoons are when I do my promotion and other work-related tasks. As a former accountant, I knew nothing about marketing when I wrote my first novel, His Kidnapper’s Shoes. Believe me – I had to learn fast! To my surprise, marketing has proved very enjoyable. What do I do after lunch? The answer is – whatever I need to. I might plan future Kindle promotions, write my blog posts or engage with my readers on social media. Ah, Twitter and Google Plus! They’re wonderful when it comes to book marketing, but they can be a huge time sink, especially if I add Pinterest and Goodreads to the mix. I try to exert self-discipline, but it’s hard.
Once a fortnight, every other Friday afternoon, I hold a management meeting with myself. A friend initially laughed at the idea, but now she’s doing the same thing. Why? Because it works. Taking time to focus this way helps me decide what’s important. Here’s what I do. Every two weeks, I step back and check how my writing career is going, working through whatever’s on my agenda. For example, I might source potential book promotion sites or review how best to grow my email list. I’m not anal about this, though. I loathe checking page hits on my website or how many Twitter followers I’ve gained, so I don’t.
Food is a vital part of my fortnightly meetings. Anyone who knows me realises I’m passionate about all things gastronomic! At each meeting, therefore, I treat myself to something delicious from the local deli. I tell myself it fuels my brain so I can make great decisions. Sometimes, as an alternative, I enjoy a restaurant meal whilst planning my business. So my friend may have a point about me lunching out!
I rarely work in the evenings, preferring to ring-fence time after five o’clock for my personal life. The same goes for weekends. I like to give my brain a chance to rest and relax, although it’s not a hard and fast rule. Many aspects of what I do are so enjoyable that if I’m so-minded, I’ll put in extra hours. Hey, I’m the boss, so I make the rules, and break them when I choose!
So that’s my typical working day for you. I love being a novelist, and despite the fact I push myself hard, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Work for me used to entail an accountancy job, which, although I had lovely colleagues and clients, was simply a means to pay the bills. Once I’d slotted in other areas of my life such as socialising, household chores, etc., there was precious little time left for writing. Now it’s very different. My days are spent doing what I love, and I couldn’t be happier.