E35 – Writing Prompts with Zack Jeffries?
In this episode, hosts Miss Catherine M.H. and V.E. Griffith talk with Zack Jeffries about his new book “Break Through to ‘The End'”, a book of prompts that isn’t like your traditional writing prompts, designed specifically for neurodivergent writers but useful for anyone who finds traditional prompts difficult!
Find Zack online!
Book: Break Through to “The End”
Tiktok: #zprompt or @jeffriesbooks
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman
Save the Cat: The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
The Revision Wizards are at https://www.revisionwizards.com
V.E. Griffith’s website: https://www.vegriffith.com
Miss Catherine M.H.’s website: https://www.scribes-pen.com
Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2396
V.E. Griffith 00:00:00
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m Ve Griffith, and I’m joined by my witchy co host, Ms. Catherine MH.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:06
This is episode 35, and this time, Zach Jeffries is joining us to talk about his new book, Break Through to “The End”, which is available now. He’s focused on helping the writing community with his book laid out for neurodivergent and ADHD writers. But enough for me. Let’s hear all about it from him.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:25
All right, so we’re excited to have a new guest today. If you would tell us, please, your name and your pronouns.
Zack Jeffries 00:00:31
Hi, I’m Zack Jeffries. My pronouns are he, him.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:34
Zack Jeffries 00:00:35
Thank you. I’m so excited to be here. I love the podcast. You guys do great stuff.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:39
Thank you very much. We really appreciate it. So tell us what brings you here today?
Zack Jeffries 00:00:44
Yeah, so I am an author of eight novels under two different pen names, and a little over a year ago, I started doing a project online of writing prompts for writers who didn’t like writing prompts. I’ve never enjoyed writing prompts. I got all kinds of anxiety from them and that kind of thing. And this project kind of took on a life of its own, and I found out that not only was I not the only one who didn’t like writing prompts, but very specifically, there was a community of neurodivergent authors that had some serious problems with writing prompts, that it was actually affecting their writing. And so we were doing these prompts on TikTok for a while, and people started commenting, when is this going to be a book? When are you going to make this a book? And it’s the first time that people asked for a book from me specifically. And so, yeah, it’s now coming out. It’s called Break Through to “The End”, coming out in October, just in time for Nanowrimo. And I’m just really excited for this to come to fruition. And the community has been so supportive and being able to be here and facilitate something that other writers needed and fixing a problem that other writers like myself had out there.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:02:05
Awesome. Yeah. I saw that you mentioned in your book that you weren’t really a big fan of the writing prompts because they didn’t always line up with your work in progress. So with that, your writing prompts, now, I see that you use them for crafting, for writing, for editing. They fall into a whole bunch of categories. You did that specifically because you hate that you can’t always use your prompts, right?
Zack Jeffries 00:02:34
Oh, yeah. I know a lot of writers that the one thing that we don’t need is more ideas. I have plenty of ideas. I have too many ideas than I will ever get to write to, and so I don’t need another story seed to spark my creativity. And then on top of that, if I have a book that I am really working on gaining my writing momentum and I really need to get past the 40,000 word benchmark or wherever I am on that. It gives me a lot of guilt to put a couple of hundred words toward this other thing that isn’t going to help me. And then there’s always the worry that I had that what if I fell in love with the story seat of the writing prompt and it just killed my writing momentum for my book, for my work in progress? What if next time I went back to it, it was even harder? Then it would do the opposite. The writing prompt is probably the most common writing exercise, and a lot of people use it to defeat the dreaded writer’s block or just to gain momentum or to spark creativity before a writing session. But oftentimes it can do the opposite. It can seize you up and make a writer hesitate.
V.E. Griffith 00:03:56
And the thing that I hate about writing prompts is the guilt that I feel when I don’t engage with them. It’s like I’ll buy a book of prompts or I’ll get on a mailing list or whatever happens, and then I won’t do the thing. And so in part because it doesn’t feel terribly useful to me to do them and I struggle, I personally struggle to first draft anyway. So it’s like, if I’m going to spend that time in that pain, I want to do it on my work in progress and not on something else.
Zack Jeffries 00:04:30
Zack Jeffries 00:04:30
And there are people who are writing their first book that are engaging in communities that use traditional writing prompts. And I’m worried what I ran into when I was doing the same thing and I was in a writing group, I was like, oh, well, maybe I’m not a writer, then maybe my mind doesn’t work in the way that writers should work if I cannot do this most basic step that everyone else seemed so enthusiastic for. And you run into them with workshops, you run into them in master classes in the classroom setting and critique groups. They really are everywhere. And I’m worried that there are going to be people that are going to be just deterred from writing entirely with this almost impostor syndrome version of impostor syndrome that you get if you think, oh, I must not be a writer because I don’t do writing prompts.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:05:28
Yeah, I can feel that definitely. Because writing prompts, some of them just seem so out there that they make you pause. And I’m like, how does this even help you? I’m supposed to be able to write faster and I’m not. So I was looking at your prompts and you have a format to yours which is interesting because you don’t see that. How did you come up with this format?
Zack Jeffries 00:05:56
Well, the format is almost so most of the prompts were developed on TikTok. I had been writing them for myself and for a writing group, and I kept a running not spreadsheet, just a document full of them. Then I started doing them on TikTok. And you kind of have to do your videos in a certain format in order to get the views, you have to throw out a hook, you have to do a lot of repetition and things like that. So I found myself settling into a pretty common format, and anyone that has run into me on TikTok, I’m the writing prompt guy. I start all my videos with I’ve got a writing prompt for you, and I explain why I don’t like writing prompts. And then the format is simply an observation, either about reality or good books. Good books have this, reality is like this. And then trying to apply that there is a question which is almost always the same format of what if, in your current or next scene, your main or prospective character did this, observed this, tried this, and then after that there are a series of questions about how that could affect the scene, how that could affect the book, but specifically, how that could affect the story element. I have the book broken down into different story elements character arc, relationships, plot, world building, and theme. And I find, especially with revisions, I can kind of tell, I know what my opportunities for improvement are, what my weak spots are, and if I am going through my scenes with a certain story element in mind, I can use those prompts and read through the prompt and think about it. Usually it’s either a lens through which to see your scene, like something to focus on that exists in every scene, or it is a basic building block of that story element. Like plot is about conflict and tension and questions and relationships is about internal thoughts versus external interaction and things like that. So not every prompt works for absolutely every scene, but every prompt has something that is intrinsic to the element. So breaking it down into elements and then further breaking it down into an observation, a suggestion, and then questions about how it can affect what you’re working on.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:08:58
Awesome. Why TikTok? Out of all the places, why did you decide to try it on TikTok?
Zack Jeffries 00:09:07
I never really got super into Instagram. I liked what Twitter was for a while. That really gave me a writing community for a while. That’s where I found my editor. That was back in 2017. 2018?
V.E. Griffith 00:09:26
In the Twitter before times?
Zack Jeffries 00:09:28
Yes, in the good old days, before it became the abandoned amusement park. I really liked the communities on TikTok. I like the visual elements. I like the idea of speaking directly to people. I like the length of time specifically for these prompts, the length of time that I could record a video. And I like the fact that people could interact in the way that they could they could write literally in the comment section what they had written according to the prompt that went down there, or how they used it or how they’re applying it to whatever their work in progress. Or people would ditch the video or do a video response, talking about their reaction to it. I was on TikTok’s first, mostly for honestly, it was mostly for book recommendations because I was doing a genre switch and I switched to YA Urban Fantasy, which has a pretty strong community on TikTok. And then it was last year’s national Novel Writing Month. I had all of these prompt ideas that were already off to the side that I had in my computer. And just as a way to come up with content and find more authors to interact with, I started putting them out there, and they kind of organically gained their format, and then organically kind of put together this community.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:11:07
V.E. Griffith 00:11:08
As I went through them, I noticed that and I’m sorry I haven’t had time to read all of them, but I will. I’ve noticed that a lot of them specifically can be specifically focused on editing and on revision, as opposed to on first drafting. First drafting, of course they’ll be useful, but specifically they’ll be helpful with editing, I think. Was that intentional or part of your intent?
Zack Jeffries 00:11:33
That was something that also came out organically. Like as I was putting these out, people would say, I’m on my third revision pass and I couldn’t crack world building. This really helps with that. And that was kind of a light bulb moment for me because I had never heard of a writing prompt applied to revisions. But it made sense because I always wanted the prompts to be able to be used for your work in progress. And for the longest time, they kind of branched out from there. But at first it was specifically the lens, the window frame through which to view your scene. Because I always found that if a scene is especially difficult to get through, or if you’re dreading getting back to the laptop, or if you have some form of writer’s block, whatever that is to you, oftentimes we’re hyper focused on something. And I found that if I took my focus off of that thing, if I didn’t focus so much on how do I get the hero to the other side of the river? If I didn’t focus on what my main objective was as the writer in that scene. If I focused on describing the water or what the water reminded the hero of, then everything else could fall into place. Then my subconscious could kind of take over the details and fill it all out from there. The same thing happened with revisions, that you get hyper focused on the granular, on the prose, on the words on this sentence, that if you kind of just take a step back and say, oh, so how does the character’s idea of their super objective, of the objective, over the whole book? How is this scene a turning point from that, then certain things can fall into place and you can see how the scene fits together differently. And then you find a different flow, a different authorial objective in your approach.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:13:45
That’s pretty cool. I like it. I mean, looking through them and I like that you have little sections that go, hey, this could be used for blank, blank, blank, and blank prompts that’s helpful to go through. And then as I was looking through, I was like, oh, this could help me write, or OOH, this one would work really well for editing. So it did seem to flow nicely when I was reading through it.
Zack Jeffries 00:14:14
None of that is from my work. That is completely from the feedback that I got from amazing beta readers. I really leaned into the idea of this being for neurodivergent authors. I wanted to make it as accessible as possible. So that’s what I focused on when I was gathering beta readers, autistic writers, and specifically autistic writers and writers with ADHD. And originally my idea was I was going to write and I still want to do it one day, but I need to change my approach. I was going to write a series of prompts that went along with the structure of a plot so that if you did every single prompt at the end of it, you would have a book. I thought I could do that, and just immediately everyone was like, no, this is not working. My head is not wrapping around this right, I’m getting too focused on using each one of these. And so then I divided them up into story elements, which was really fun because each person kind of had a different reaction. Someone was like, I like the book, but it’s really one sided. The world building are the best prompts and the other prompts are okay. Then someone else would be like, they’re really good relationship prompts, but I feel like the other prompts aren’t up to snuff. And eventually we talked and sussed it out and it was whatever people felt like their weak spots were. That’s where they had the most discovery and ideas coming from. Reading it, I had reordered the whole thing and put it all together and sent it out to a couple of more folks, one of my critique partners, and she was like, oh, it’s great. Is there a way that in the ebook I could click between using a prompt that I really like for plot and then click at the bottom and then jump to use it for world building, then click at the bottom and jump to use it for character arc? And I was like, oh, I have no idea if I could do that. And I started doing that about two months ago. I’m almost finished. The ebook is going to have somewhere between three and 400 internal hyperlinks to pop between all of them. And while the idea that it can give you within the prompt is the same, the implications of what happens if you apply it are different. So you can take the same prompt, like, what does the ground feel like under the character’s feet and the way the character moves, the way the character reacts to that. That might be under character arc. But if I click see how to use this prompt for world building, then you jump over and say, did something happen in the context of the world to make the ground feel like that? Are the materials of flooring made from certain things because of the history or the placement within the world? And so I agree. I love how it flows. I feel like it makes me look very smart, but in no way, shape or form was that me. That’s all my fantastic beta readers who put me to task.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:17:41
I was going to say it flowed similar or it reminded me of the.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:17:45
Emotional thesaurus where
Zack Jeffries 00:17:45
that was the example they all gave me that was specifically the example that everyone wants. Everyone’s like, make this like the emotional thesaurus.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:17:57
Me being ADHD and dyslexic. It was a nice flow for me so I could look through and be like, oh, okay, cool. And then, yes, this is what I wanted to use. So it was nice to read through. So thank you.
Zack Jeffries 00:18:09
Good. No, I’m super glad. I felt bad because I had that reaction from two different beta readers and I was like, I only got the paperback of The Emotion Thesaurus. I don’t know what the ebook looks like. And then I had to get the ebook and I was like, oh, this is going to be a lot of work, but I want it to be as accessible as possible. If these are the writers who benefit the most from it, then let’s meet them where they are and let’s get a book for them.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:18:40
Nice. Good. Thank you.
Zack Jeffries 00:18:42
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:18:44
So, for me, I am a pantser. I hate outlines. Outlines are the devil to me. I’m really glad your book isn’t a prompt for how to follow because I would never be able to do that in that order. Are you a pantser or do you prefer to outline and have everything set since I know that you did the prompts for it and it’s a very different thing to teach somebody else. Here’s how you write a story versus how you personally write a story. So I was just wondering where you fall.
Zack Jeffries 00:19:16
I always make the dad joke that I plots in my pants. I always started as a pantser, and I have attempted to do outlines and such, but I have a theater background and specifically playwriting and dissecting plays, and so structure comes extremely natural to me now. Like, it’s in my muscle memory. Two act, three act, five act. My favorite is the Fry tag triangle or Fray tag pyramid, it’s sometimes called. That’s always going to come automatically to me. And it’s funny because I am from that school of thought. And then later on I read Saves the Cat or the Hollywood Method. And reading those, I was like, oh, this is just another way of looking at five act Frytag triangle, those kind of things. So without writing something out, I am naturally very good at the shape of the plot. What I do have to do now, as I hopefully am improving, is I outline a lot of the internal arcs. I break down what the character’s overall arc, the change in the objective, and what changes them internally. I’ll break it down into five steps, usually, of how I can get the character from being this type to being this type, and what changes and what changes their mind, and what kind of active verbs I can use for all of those. So I still say I’m a pantser. I am two thirds of the way pantsing through a trilogy right now. It’s very exciting because I can’t wait to see how it ends. But once I have something, a direction, whether it’s a finishing climactic moment, or even just what I want the character relationships to get to, by the end, the structure, at least, plot wise, will fall into place for me.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:21:44
Nice. Yeah, the only thing I outline is my characters, and even then I’m like, yeah. I’ll figure out, though, it’ll probably change. They’ll tell me what they want eventually, and then I just sort of have an idea of the climax I would like to happen, maybe, and then we’ll see if it gets there. Usually does, and it changes, but that’s how I write. So the prompts, I think, are kind of cool.
Zack Jeffries 00:22:10
Do you wind up underwriting or overwriting?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:22:13
I am an overwriter.
Zack Jeffries 00:22:17
I think. That’s so weird. I remembered you saying that on here because I’m an underwriter, but I am also the same type of pantser.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:22:25
No, it’s fine. I tried for Nano to write Scandals Pen, which is my book, hopefully coming out soon. It’s with some betas now, and I wanted it to be 50,000 words. That was my goal because I started it for Nano. It came out to over 200,000, so I went just a little bit over,
Zack Jeffries 00:22:25
just a touch.
Zack Jeffries 00:22:51
Hey, you have a lot of material to work with. You can cut away what you need. What is it? Like Michelangelo says, there’s a great sculpture under there. You just have to trim the excess.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:23:05
Yeah, I think it was, like, 230,000 before I gave it to VE to edit, and I gave it to him about, like, 190. And then we’ve cut, like, another 30 off of it. It’s slowly getting there, so people are like, You’ve cut off, like, 50,000 words already. I’m like, yeah, it sounds about right.
Zack Jeffries 00:23:28
Nice. Were you super proud when you got to that 190? Be like, Here it is, this svelte, taut, really tight story. It’s like, all right, we’re going to trim off another 30. Another 30,000?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:23:42
Yeah, we cut out pretty much like the first 15 chapters. So I was like, oh, okay. So I have two sets of betas, some who are reading the full piece and then some who are starting at chapter 14 to see does the book make sense if we cut all of that out, or are you super lost and confused in the beginning? So I’m waiting for their feedback to see which version.
Zack Jeffries 00:24:09
I feel that’s Common is either starting too early or I’ll cut ahead and cut that first scene, or I will condense and kind of mash up the first three scenes and take the emotional beats I want out of some of them and put it into something that’s just active and packed with some more questions for the reader.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:24:32
Yeah, I think that’s probably where it will go, is that I’ll get some who are like, this was too much, and some who are like, if I just had a little bit more in the beginning, I would have been fine. So I’m thinking that’s the feedback I’m going to get, but they still have to read a ton of it. So I’m waiting.
V.E. Griffith 00:24:52
So what did we miss that is important in the work that you’ve done?
Zack Jeffries 00:24:58
Well, I’ll be honest, I’m very proud of this book and a lot of work went into this book. And time wise, outside of that first book that I tried to write 18 times, this has been the most time that I have put into a single book. But you don’t have to buy it. You can go on TikTok and search #zprompt. Every single one of these is on there. They’re not going to be organized or met to specific story elements, but if you just want to give yourself a way to hear a prompt a day or every time you sit down for a writing session, then just search #zprompt on TikTok. I’m @jeffriesbooks on there and you can find them. I have them. If you’re a part of my newsletter, I end every single one of my newsletters with one of these prompts. If you go to Jeffriesbooks.com, you can sign up and every other week you will get a newsletter with a little bit of free fiction and updates with what’s going on with me. And at the bottom, you get a prompt. So I want to meet you where you are, whoever you are out there. If you are listening to this, you have taken some sort of step towards writing a book. It is a daunting process. It is difficult. I think you can do it. I think you can do it, and I believe in you. It is impossible to bake a cake if all you have is a hammer and nails and wood. You need the right materials and you need the right tools, and they’re not going to be the right tools for everybody. There are people out there that can drum on buckets with sticks, and they’re the greatest drummers in the world. There are other people that need deluxe pearl drum sets. A big part of your writing journey is going to be finding the tools that are right for you, finding the process that is right for you, finding the materials that are right for you. That’s one of the reasons why I really like this podcast, is it’s not a Our Way or the highway. It’s not a singular approach. It’s discovering what different writers do, what works for different people. Oftentimes, if you’re out there doing your Clifton strengths, you can find it according to your strengths listening to this podcast. So please don’t give up. And please understand that a really big part of what you have to do to find your voice to finish that book is find the tools and materials right for you and you can do it. It’s going to be frustrating. It can be isolating, it can be tough. But I believe in you, and I think you can do it.
V.E. Griffith 00:27:51
Well, based on the release date that you gave us, this episode is going to come out after that. So what’s your book called and where can we find it?
Zack Jeffries 00:28:01
Break Through to “The End”. And we are going to put that out wherever fine books are sold. You are going to be able to get the ebook from wherever you like to buy your ebooks. And as far as paperback, if you really want to tear into it and dog ear and put notes in the margin and crack the spine and all those fantastic things, please find your local mom and pop owned bookstore down the street. Order it from them. It’s through Ingram Sparks, which means they can get it usually within the week. If you’re in the continental United States, you can also order it from your library. But yeah, wherever you like to get books, you can get this book.
V.E. Griffith 00:28:46
Well, that’s fantastic. All right, well, thank you so much for coming on. We really appreciate it.
Zack Jeffries 00:28:52
I had a lot of fun. I love this podcast. And if you’re listening to this, please take the time to subscribe and give them all the stars. And if you have friends in your critique group or a writing buddy or anything like that, make sure that they know about it, too, because I think writers at any level can find some nuggets of wisdom and things that they can add to their process from this podcast.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:19
All right, thank you.
V.E. Griffith 00:29:21
Well, thank you very much.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:22
V.E. Griffith 00:29:23
We’ll see you next time.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:25
Thank you so much for joining us. For today’s episode, you can find every episode on your favorite podcast player and on YouTube. For transcripts, please visit our email@example.com. They go live the same day as our episodes.
V.E. Griffith 00:29:39
If you’d like to reach out to us separately, you can find me at vegriffith.com, Miss Catherine Mh at scribes-pen.com.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:47
V.E. Griffith 00:29:51
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:53
What if I say no?
V.E. Griffith 00:29:56
It’ll kick you out.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:29:59
Sorry, there must be I know I’m just being annoying, but there must have been a delay. Sorry. Okay, go ahead.
V.E. Griffith 00:30:13
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m V. E. Griffith. And I’m joined by my witchy co host, Ms. Catherine MH.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:30:21
This is episode 35, and this time we’re talking to Zack Jeffrey. No. What is it? Did I have it?
V.E. Griffith 00:30:30
Yes. You had it, Zack.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:30:32
Jeffries I don’t know why I do this to myself. I’m seeing the Jeff and all I can think is Elkins Edkins.
V.E. Griffith 00:30:44
Okay, anyway, whatever.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:30:48
All right, do you want to start all the way over again, or do you want me to start over again? Okay. Zach. Jeff. Er ease. Nope. Okay, go ahead.
V.E. Griffith 00:31:08
Does that help?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:31:11
Yeah, that does.
V.E. Griffith 00:31:17
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m Ve Griffith, and I’m joined by my witchy co host, Ms. Catherine MH.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:31:25
This is episode 35, and there’s a plane flying over, which is so loud. So loud. Oh, my God. And I know my mic picks up these because I’ve seen it on the little other thing. We’re good. Go. Or do you want me to just do mine?
V.E. Griffith 00:31:45
No, I’ll do it again. It’s fine. Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m Ve Griffith, and I’m joined by my witchy co host, Ms. Catherine MH.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:31:57
This is episode 35, and this time we’re talking with Zack Jeffries. I don’t know why.
V.E. Griffith 00:32:10
This is not a difficult name, hon.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:32:13
It’s not. That’s the worst part. My brain is like no, man, his name’s so rough. So rough.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:32:21
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:32:29
Wait. Maybe if I put the hat on, the hat will make it all better.
V.E. Griffith 00:32:33
There we go.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:32:37
Except there’s another plane, so you have to pause. Look, man, it’s this time of the day. Okay? You wanted to record earlier. I don’t know if you can hear it. Sounds like it circles and flips out. This is what I get for living next to a private airport. Okay, go.
V.E. Griffith 00:33:08
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m Ve Griffith, and I’m joined by my witchy co host, Ms. Catherine MH.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:33:15
This is episode 35, and this time we’re talking with Zack Jeffrey. I’m not saying it. We’re talking with Zack. Zack Jeffrey. All right, put it back to normal. Not over here.
V.E. Griffith 00:33:41
Do you want to switch him?
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:33:43
No, I can do this. That it’s. Let’s try that. Maybe if it’s closer, it can read it better.
V.E. Griffith 00:34:26
For those listening, she’s reordered the words a little bit. Okay.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:34:33
Apparently, I can say neurodivergent perfectly fine, but I can’t say Jeffries.
V.E. Griffith 00:34:43
Okay, there we go.