Writer's Notes

Multi-tasking: Judy Alter

Who answers your phone?

JudyAtWork (002)By Judy Alter

We don’t have secretaries any more. The women—and increasingly, men—who do that are now administrative assistants. But back in the day, I was a secretary and, if I do say so, a darn good one. You might even have called me an executive secretary, once a vaulted position. I left work every night with a clean desk—calls returned, letters answered, calendar up to date, and whatever brush fires came up, extinguished. Those habits have stayed with me in careers as a publisher and an author. Little things like only handle a piece of paper once and answer your own phone.

I learned my work ethic and methods from my father, for whom I worked in high school and college. He was efficient, wasted no time, and could not bear people who wasted his time. He always answered his own phone, but bitterly resented it when a secretary on the other end said, “Please hold for so-and-so.” Dad would fume that, “If a man wants to talk to me, he can dial his own phone.” (Yes, a bit sexist, but that was his generation, born late in the nineteenth century.)

If we don’t have secretaries, neither do have editors. I love the story of Thomas Wolfe dumping a manuscript of 1,114 pages on the desk of legendary editor Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s. Perkins spent months editing and restructuring the work that became the classic, Look Homeward, Angel. Alas, the days of such editors are gone too. We authors have to do all our own work.

And if you choose to go indie, as I have, you really have to do it all. I chose to publish independently for several reasons, prime among them that I didn’t want to waste the time it takes to find a new agent or publisher. I had books to publish. To me, multi-tasking means not wasting time as well as doing more than one thing at once. It doesn’t mean bringing my career screeching to a two-year halt, while I looked for a new agent or publisher. So now I’m an indie author, and I do everything—write, edit, proof, publish, and market. Of course, I have the help of appropriate people along the way.

For me it’s important to set the hours of my “office” time and use that time efficiently. Writing is still my priority. IF we don’t write the best book we can, all other efforts are futile. I try to write at the same time every day. When I’m on a roll with the work-in-progress, I save associated chores—writing blogs (mine and guest spots), social media, news releases, planning signings, etc. for the afternoon. But if my primary reader has my manuscript or it’s off to the editor, I have plenty of chores to use my time efficiently.

I do not try to write a second manuscript while the first is in progress, although many authors do. I cannot work on two pieces of fiction at once, because when I create the fictional world of a novel, I immerse myself in it, and I cannot be in two fictional worlds at once. I’ve tried, and it didn’t work for me.

I once knew an author who declined to judge a contest because he would be working on a novel and couldn’t be distracted. Then, I thought him a bit precious, but now I see his point. Even reading fiction pulls me into another world, when I want to stay firmly rooted in the world in the world I’m creating, be it Fort Worth’s Historic Fairmount District for the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, small-town Wheeler, in East Texas for the Blue Plate Café series, or the academic community of Oak Grove.

I work at my desk at home. I cannot write in libraries or coffee shops. It may be a character flaw in me that I get too distracted by my surroundings to write in a public setting. And I wouldn’t try to do publishing chores—I’d have to take a whole file cabinet with me.

Some people work well in coffee shops; others keep several works going at one time. For me, neither methods works. I think it’s important for multi-tasking to realize when you as an individual author can and cannot do. We could all waste a lot of time trying to do things that don’t fit our personal work style. Knowing yourself and your capabilities is a big part of multi-tasking. Doing five things at once just to prove you can may well be self-defeating.


Kindle ready coverAbout Pigface and the Perfect Dog

Susan Hogan thinks she’s about to meet her maker when she confronts a rifle-carrying man, who looks like a pig, in a grocery store. Jake investigates the body of a young college student, shot in the back and found in an empty pasture. Aunt Jenny showers love on the new puppy a young man from the grocery gave her but she has to get rid of that heavy collar.

Susan is associate professor of English at Oak Grove (Texas) University; her partner, Jake, is Chief of Campus Security. Aunt Jenny, the maiden lady who raised Jenny, came to Oak Grove to help Susan, who was accused of murdering a coed in The Perfect Coed, first book in the series How much help Jenny was is debatable, but she made a fast friend in Judge John Jackson and stayed in Oak Grove.

Trouble in Oak Grove begins with the open-carry protestors in the store and leads to a shooting, breaking and entering, threats and an attempted kidnapping, a clandestine trip to the woods late at night. Will Susan Hogan land in trouble…or the hospital…again? Will Susan and Jake survive this as a couple? Susan is still prickly but she learns some lessons about life, love, and herself in this second Oak Grove Mystery


JudyAtWork (002)About Judy Alter

Judy Alter is the author of seven books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, two books in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; and two in the Oak Grove Mysteries. Pigface and the Perfect Dog follows The Perfect Coed in this series of mysteries set on a university campus. Judy is no stranger to college campuses. She attended the University of Chicago, Truman State University in Missouri, and Texas Christian University. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of the university. The author of many books for both children and adults, primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries.

The single parent of four and the grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her perfect dog, Sophie. Follow her at (Amazon); her blog:; and Facebook:





By Thonie Hevron

Mysteries to keep you reading through the night.

10 replies on “Multi-tasking: Judy Alter”

I often think how nice it would be to have at least a helper who could do some of the mundane things. Great post. I only work on one book at a time, but I usually am promoting another book at the same time–it’s like switching gears in my head.

I also promote one while writing another, and sometimes the WIP gets shoved to the back burner. I think it’s inevitable. I also think it’s important not to let multi-tasking overwhelm you.

Thanks so much for hosting me, Thonie. I wish everyone multiple tasks to manage–how dull life would be without all these things to do.

Part of my point, and no, I’m not available as a secretary these days. Too busy multi-tasking!

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