Jody Townsley Morse is a woman of many talents: beta reader, horse rehabilitator, creative writing program coordinator, freelancer, author, blogger and phrase florist. It should be no wonder then, that her many interests have also led her to be a multi-genre author. She’s written a little bit of everything from short stories to magazine articles and poetry. Lucky for us, she’s agreed to share her journey through the ups and downs of the writing world.
We love the term phrase florist, what inspired it? What does it mean to you?
Funny enough, a mentor commented once that my writing was too flowery. I should have taken this as an insult but, instead, I decided to make this part of my style and brand. The Phrase Florist was born. Plus, I’m an avid gardener—flowers represent growth, seeds of possibility, and the beauty of our world for me. These are concepts I hope to infuse my writing with and convey to readers.
There are many different arguments both for and against writing in multiple genres, why did you choose to go this route over focusing on one specific style? What do you find to be the hardest thing about being a multi-genre writer? What’s the best thing?
It’s a blessing and a curse to enjoy, and be decent at, writing in multiple genres. My muse is still young and wild; she has yet to be tamed or made to settle on one genre. Eventually, I might need to focus my efforts in order to build my readership or hone my craft. But for now, I’m having fun playing the genre field and I’ve met so many amazing writers from across the writing world. If I pinned myself to penning one genre, I might miss out on these connections.
You seem to have been involved with several writing communities, including Writespace Writing Center in Houston. Why do you feel like it is important to be part of a writing community?
I have a tattoo on my left, inner forearm that reads “Iunctus”—Latin for connected or adjoined. My why for writing is the same as my why for living: connection. So for me, being a part of a writing family (or a few of them) is crucial to my purpose and ideal way to live and write. I’m not the stereotypical author—introverted, hiding in a cabin, writing alone for months on end. My social butterfly wings haven’t been clipped by my decision to become a writer. In fact, they’re more brilliant and widespread than ever. These groups allow me to meet others with similar passions to mine and have undoubtedly helped propel my writing career thus far.
Writers often have to supplement their income as they work on their novels or work on getting published. And with beta reading and working as a virtual writer’s assistant, It looks like you’ve come up with some creative ways to do just that. Can you give us a few tips on how to get paid while you’re working towards getting published?
Be a slut. No, just teasing. Not a slut exactly, but be open. Open to writing in genres you didn’t initially set out to write in or doing work that’s writing-related. My first paid writing gigs were magazine articles for coffee table magazines and ghostwriting blog posts. The beauty of this: I was getting paid, padding my resume, and writing everyday. Win, win, win. As I found myself needing and wanting to focus my writing time on more creative writing projects, I sought another immediate revenue stream that would also stick to my win, win, win plan. Working as a VA for editors, publishers, and writers filled the bill, as does professional beta reading.
Establishing a goal for each writing year has also helped keep me focused but open. In 2015, my goal was “Get paid to write.” (No stipulation on genre.) Check. In 2016, “Have some of my creative writing published.” (No rules on paid or free.) Check. For 2017, “Publish at least one solo authored book.” (No set boundaries on how—self, small press, or big six.) I’ve got a poetry collection and novel one of a fantasy series in the hopper, getting close to publication. I’m sure I’ll check that one off, soon. Stay tuned.
As a professional beta reader, you’ve read a lot of different kinds and styles of writing, are there any mistakes that you see new authors making time and again?
Verbosity. If the story doesn’t need it, cut it. If the reader doesn’t need to know it, cut it. If it’s unnecessary exposition, cut it. My father, an editor and retired photojournalist, told me that ‘elegance is the key to great writing’. And I think Strunk and White back him on this point. (Or he echoed them—whichever sounds better.)
To me, the genius, the gift, isn’t in the initial writing but in the rewriting. That’s where the real magic happens. Sure, I love when I’m overtaken by imagination and almost effortlessly scrawl out a story, scene, or poem. But I equally love, or maybe a tinge more, the phase of molding that clay into something that will grab readers by their shirt collars and kiss them like they’ve never been kissed before, emblazoning my words in their memory and on their hearts. For most writers (including me), that means being willing to prune the rose bush.
“Efficient word choice, elegant story.” That’s one of my mottos and maybe my next tattoo.
Is there any advice you could offer our readers who are thinking about looking for a beta reader?
Sure, read my article 6 Tips for Finding Your Perfect Beta Readers, a piece I wrote for NaNoWriMo HQ earlier this year.
If you don’t have time to commit to the whole article, here’s the gist…
Know where to find your betas, know your reader avatar, ask for what you need, give a deadline, figure out how many you’ll need, and know when to use them. Beta readers can be a huge asset to your writing process but they need to be the right people, willing to answer the right questions, in a timely manner. Of equal importance, you as the writer, have to be willing to accept constructive criticism, know when to use these readers, and use their feedback effectively. You’re the alpha, find your betas!
You’re currently working on several projects, a YA novella titled Finding Yoshiko, a memoir titled, One in Paris, One in Prison, and the first novel in series called, Feathers of the Phoenix. That’s quite a workload. How do you juggle your projects? Do you have a writing routine that helps keep you focused?
To be perfectly honest, I’m still working the juggle struggle out. I tend to procrastinate in ways that push my career forward and support my growth as a writer, but I’m still procrastinating and shifting projects. Magazine editors approach me requesting pitches, blog columnists ask me to guest post, anthologies send me themes for their upcoming publications, etc. Sometimes I get distracted by these fantastic writing opportunities. So, I’m probably not the best advocate for this topic. Reference someone else for this issue now. Come back to me in a few years, when I’ve figured this out.
How do you find your courage? A lot of new writers are scared of putting themselves out there to be judged. So much so, that many of them never even take the first step. What advice would you give to them?
Don’t see it as being judged, don’t see your writing as an extension of yourself, and do something way scarier first. I had a twenty-five year career in the theater before I became a writer. Talk about being judged! Those audiences and casting agents are right in your face, right in front of you, staring into your eyes. If I can take being rejected on stage in an auditorium full of people, I can take getting a black and white, 2-D rejection letter.
My other superpower for courage is, as I mentioned before, knowing my why. My why is about connecting. Even if an editor hates my copy, a publisher rejects my piece or a reader gives me a bad review, I’ve succeeded in establishing a connection. Whether they like it or not! They read my work and that’s what matters. Some people might call this naive or frivolously optimistic. But I call it an altered view of success, one that makes my life and my writing career extraordinary and worth living.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?
Podcasts, geeking out, and teamwork,
I commute a lot! Living ninety minutes from Houston proper, I do a lot of freeway driving. I need those minutes to work for me, so I listen to podcasts like a junkie. Find writing/editing podcasts that inform and inspire you, then don’t miss an episode. Here are a few of my faves: Writership, The Book Editor Show, Write Now, SPP’s Eight Questions, The Creative Penn, The Writer’s Almanac, Grammar Girl, Helping Writers Become Authors, Creators Cast, The Writer’s Voice, and the Allusionist. (Did I mention I’m a podcast junkie?)
Don’t be afraid to geek out about your own writing. If you don’t, who will? Use inspirational totems on your desk, change your phone’s lock screen photo to the mock up of your novel’s cover, name your newly adopted kitten after your protagonist. Go wild! Commit to your vision and make the journey fun.
Find your guru posse. This is the team of people that will help get you to your goal. They might be editors, friends who care, craft mentors you admire, or the barista who always asks how the book’s coming along. These people might be the key to your success. Find them, love them, appreciate them, and use them for all of the glorious support they’re willing to give.
Thank Jody for the amazing interview! You’ve given us new insight into how to stay positive and stay working despite doubts or obstacles. Finding a good group of supportive people, geeking out over your own work, and keeping the “why” in mind as you continue to write are all things we should try to remember. If anyone is looking for a good beta reader, check her out! You can also find some of her work in the Writespace anthology In Medias Res: Stories from the In-Between.