Jeff Sullins – writer & beta-reader

What defines a writer?

This is an internal fight many of us battle daily. Many of us don’t feel we qualify, even though we write. I don’t have an answer, but I do know that each of us has value to contribute to the conversation. If you’d like to do an interview, contact me. It’s fun to talk to other writers and see what works, what doesn’t, and what everyone is doing!

Jeff Sullins works in the software industry in Colorado, daydreaming about blizzards and dragons. He’s growing old chasing after his two children, but perhaps the exercise does him good. A former musician, game designer, and programmer, he regularly makes plans and discards them. He’s been published in The Great Tome of Forgotten Relics Anthology and The Scarlet Leaf Review.


PK: One of the things that motivates me as a writer is sitting down and planning out my goals. What are your goals for the next six months? The next year?

JS: The next six months. Well, if I’m being honest I’ve failed to really lay down plans concretely enough that I could refer to them and even see if I am on track over a six month span. In a vague sense, I want to get out a couple more short stories in the next 6 months. I have several out there now looking for a publisher, and I need to grow that pool to meet my long term goals.
The next year, I think I would like to have 10-12 short stories published. Given the handful already published, and a total of 6 stories written, that’s probably an aggressive goal. If I were to buckle down and really write, I know I could meet the goal. But life seldom lends itself to that most productive writing time I’d need. I hit it from time to time, but never seem to stay there long.

PK: I think a lot of us can relate to the dipping in and out of writing productivity. I find it’s like going to the gym. I’ll have a good run (haha) and then something interrupts that schedule, and I flop around for a while until I can get back my groove.
There are a lot of worksheets and blog posts out there to help with this. Maybe I’ll do a collective reference post on this in the next month for others who might need a way to plan out their goals! Do you use a website like Duotrope or Submission Grinder to find possible markets?

JS: I use Submission Grinder, and I’ve been really happy with it.
PK:  I realize you are busy with a full-time job and a bunch of kids and a marriage. Robin Hobb once said that she used to write sitting next to the bathtub in the evenings – anywhere she could find the time. What have you found works for you?

JS: This question really highlights my biggest problem trying to be a writer. Where and when I write is completely variable and sporadic. Sometimes I will find that I can spend a couple of hours and make significant progress. Then it will be a week before I write another word.
I suppose looking back, I’ve done the most writing on the train I ride to work downtown. But, even that is not reliable. It’s not the best environment to begin with, and lately I’ve been bicycling to the train station and arrive sweaty and unready to write. If I had a great answer to this question, it would change a lot for me!
PK: Well, I can’t really judge you for biking to work; that’s fabulous! We live about 20 miles from town, all downhill. That’s great for going in, and impossible for coming home. If you hit upon the magic solution, you’ll need to let us know. We could all use it, I’m sure.
JS: If I find the magic solution I may share, or perhaps I’ll create a self-help book for writers that promises to have *the* magic answer. $9.99 on Amazon. Get yours today!
PK: You recently had a short story accepted by Empyreome. Tell us about how you came up with the idea for that story and anything you learned while writing it.
JS: There’s a certain amount of “don’t count your dragons before they hatch,” as the publication has not actually happened yet, but I am pleased to see it accepted at least.

It’s been so long since I began the Sand Gnome that I honestly don’t recall how the idea came to me. This piece is one that I started, stopped, started again, and gave up on. Then you, Julie, helped me revise it. I sent it out again and it was accepted. After that, I decided to return to writing with renewed hope. Did that sound sappy?
PK: Not at all! Sometimes another set of eyes makes all the difference. I think this is an important point. Many of us have partially finished ideas or stories that might take years of stubborn revisiting to bring to publication, or just the right critique partner.
Beta-reading is a skill in high demand. I’m always seeing requests for beta-readers and critique partners. What is your favorite part of reading other people’s drafts, and what is your least favorite part?
JS: I read a huge amount, which is perhaps ironic since I can’t seem to find the time to write. A lot of what I read is work from aspiring writers. I find I’m able to spot areas for improvement in others’ work more easily than in my own. Not sure why that is, but I seem to look at a story differently when I’m seeing it for the first time. My favorite thing is coming across a draft from someone with obvious talent, imagination, and whose writing ability surpasses my own. I’m not a great writer by any measure, but I like to think I can recognize great writing when I see it.
My least favorite part is finding myself in a draft that is below average. There is no nice way to say, “this is terrible, lacks even a basic understanding of writing.” In such cases, I exhaustively list issues until I either slog to the end or give up. Wow, that sounded horrible. I’m actually not horrible… or maybe I am.
PK:  Ooh, see? There’s an idea. Make a rule where you have to write 500 words before you can read each night! I know, sounds like torture, but maybe it would work?

I struggled with this when I first started at (a site to trade feedback). I learned a lot from their guidelines, though. The way to frame a response in kinder and less personal terms. When I first started, I tried to do line by line edits, but often this is exhausting.
Thanks for agreeing to take up this interview challenge. I hope by seeing how we’re all at different stages, it reinforces how we’re still all writers.

JS: Thanks Julie, it was fun to think about this stuff!

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