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Jeff Kinney strategizes to avoid distractions

Jeff Kinney, author of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” has a small house next to his family’s home where he writes and also does karaoke with his neighbors. Photos by Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Kinney has the tools for drawing and writing. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Jeff Kinney began his two-dimensional empire in 2007, when the Plainville resident transformed his popular Web comic into “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,’’ a book that quickly became a phenomenon. Since then, world-weary, cartoon middle-schooler Greg Heffley has rested atop the pantheon of children’s book protagonists as well as bestseller lists. Kinney is at work on the eighth installment of his series, due in November.

KEEPING THE DAY JOB: I have a full-time job [video game designer], so there’s never a time when I can work on my books free and clear . . . [This month], I’ll work 13 to 17 hours a day, every day. Most of the time I work from home in my office, and I go into Boston once or maybe twice a week. I just got back from a business trip to New York. I was writing on the train, and I didn’t get much done because the guy behind me was clearing his throat for four hours.

MAILBAG: I work in the house next to where I live. We bought a smaller house that I use as my office and the place where my two employees work . . . We’ve got tens of thousands of letters from kids stored all over the house in places you would usually put dishes and other things like that.


“Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Jeff Kinney

WORK SONGS: My office doubles as a karaoke den for the neighborhood. There are strobe lights and Rock Band plastic guitars, a disco ball and a fog machine and some other things. I have a really long workday, and you might find me doing karaoke by myself late at night. My standby is “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi, but I think I’ve worn it out. There’s no passion left.

ON THE BIG SCREEN: I draft on the computer. I have a really giant screen that attaches to my laptop, and then I have a humongous digital drawing tablet called a Cintiq. It sits at all different angles, and it’s so big that it would take two people to move it.


JOKES FIRST: I write in reverse: Rather than come up with a narrative and write jokes for that narrative, I write jokes independently of the narrative, then I try to fit them in.

He also has the tools for singing.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

THE PROCESS: I have about 200 parenting magazines that I keep in my office, and I read through them and see whether they create any ideas for me or suggest any moments of comedy. Once I’ve got 350 ideas — what I know I need to write a quality book — I’ll take those ideas, and I’ll create an outline and start writing a narrative, which takes me about three weeks to a month. It’s very difficult for me. I sometimes work all day and all night and come up with no pages at all, and sometimes I’ll go on a tear and write 50 pages. It’s very uneven and very unpredictable, and I get very distracted when I’m trying to write.

FAIR AND BALANCED: Whenever I stop or come to an impasse, which is very often, I’ll surf the Web because it’s right there on my desktop. It’s impossible for me to resist. I go on liberal and conservative websites, like the Daily Beast and Drudge Report, CNN and USA Today, and ESPN. I don’t really wander off of those sites. I like to read different points of view before I form my own opinions.


BLANK SLATE: There’s nothing on the walls of my office. I try to work in a blank room because I tend to fixate on things hanging on the walls. I just bought a few magnets, those rock-shaped, really smooth ones. I got a handful of those, hoping that they would help me in the creative process, but they’re just another distraction.

Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached eugenia.williamson@gmail .com.