Jan 112014
 
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By Jan Graham

There’s an old saying my grandmother used to use: a change is as good as a holiday. I’m not so sure about the truth in that statement at the moment because I’m on a holiday vacation and trying to write. It’s not really working for me.

I’m not sure what it is; perhaps the change of location, not being at my desk where I’ve trained myself to sit for hours each day and work or maybe it’s just to quiet here, surrounded by the sounds of nature rather than inner-city horn honking and hustle and bustle. The thing is, I’ve always told myself it would be easier to write if I didn’t have the city’s background noise distracting me, which seems to be a fallacy as well.

My choice of destination seemed perfect. I’m staying in a lovely home in the picturesque Blue Mountains of Australia. It’s quiet and serene, and the only noise throughout the day is the chattering of native birds. I had viewed my time away as more of a writing retreat than the traditional sight-seeing getaway a person imagines a vacation to be—and after five days away, that’s not proving to be the case.

I keep telling myself that taking time out to relax and do nothing is a good thing. I mean, we can’t write continually, at some point we need a break or we burn out. I’ve noticed, though, that I feel guilty not writing. This thought has been weighing heavily on my mind and I’ve started to ask myself why? Anyone in a regular job gets holiday leave, and I know from experience that when I had what’s often referred to as the evil-day-job, I didn’t experience any angst while taking time off. I never worried about the work piling up on my desk or whether I should go back to the office because I had work to do. So why should it be any different now that I write full-time?

It amazed me how many authors in writers’ forums and facebook groups commented, over the Christmas/New Year break, that it was difficult to make time to write amid family celebrations, travel, even vacations from evil-day-jobs which had seemed so promising with their string of relatively uninterrupted days. The challenge of writing during what might otherwise be considered “break time” appears to be a widespread phenomenon in the world of authors.

So it’s time to share the lesson I appear to be learning while tucked away in my mountain retreat:

I need to be nice to myself. I need time out to just chill and do the things I enjoy, like sitting in a comfy chair and reading or lying on the couch listening to music or watching movies. I’ve been taking long walks, experiencing my new environment, going out and meeting new people as well as catching up with friends I haven’t seen for ages. I don’t do those things at home. I try to tell myself I do but, in fact, taking time out for me is a rare occurrence. I sit and write, I occasionally go and visit with friends, but my main objective is to stay at home and work. I refuse initiations to social activities with the excuse that I’m working. Thinking about it now, I work seven days a week, with little time to experience everything else life has to offer. Even if I’m not writing, I’m thinking about it. I’m plotting, I’m promoting my work or I’m blogging. Most of what I do at home involves my work.

I really have turned into a boring creature ☺

The search for balance is an ongoing theme in my blog posts—balance between work, social media and publicity, focused writing and exploratory writing. That’s all well and good, but I need to add “kindness to myself” into the mix. I’m confident that if I do, in the end, it will only make me a better writer. Here’s why:

Inspiration for my writing often comes from meeting new people. I don’t write books about the people I meet or know, but interacting with others helps me with character development and many other areas of my story telling. Socializing offers a perspective that’s different from my own—and when you have multiple characters in books, you need multiple perspectives. I write contemporary erotic romance, so staying in touch with what’s happening in the world, what people think about current issues and what’s trending in society all add to the authenticity of my work. By locking myself away, I’m doing a disservice to myself and to my readers.

Having said that, time alone to do the quiet, solitary things I enjoy also gives me a writing advantage. If I’ve taken time out to be alone for a while, I’m more relaxed when I go back to the keyboard to work. If I spend that time reading, for example, I get to see the construction of a story from another author’s perspective. We all have a different voice when we write, and there’s an advantage to reading work written in a voice other than your own—again, it’s a new perspective.

The other thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been away is that taking time out gives me a physical advantage. At home, even with a carefully selected ergonomic desk, chair, keyboard, you name it…I often collapse into bed at night with parts of my body aching, I’m always readjusting my position as the day progresses, trying to ease an ache in my neck or arm. Over the last five days, I haven’t been plagued with sore shoulder and neck muscles, or aching wrists from constantly tapping away at the keyboard. At home my eyes often feel dry and sore—but here, they aren’t; I’ve given them a break from staring at a screen all day. Dare I say it…my body feels relaxed.

I don’t believe in New Year resolutions but I do believe in setting goals to improve your life, no matter what time of year it is. So my goal for 2014 is a simple one: aim to achieve balance in all things—not just a balanced work life, but a balanced life.

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Nov 102013
 
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By Jan Graham

Procrastination, avoidance behavior and excuses: three things at which I, along with other authors I know, seem to excel. The fact is, when you write for a living the only person keeping you accountable for showing up at the computer each day is, well, you. There isn’t a boss, a time clock or colleagues waiting for you to arrive at work, there’s no management committee requesting an account of how you’ve spent your time or what you’ve produced in the last week, month or year. There’s just you and, if you’re a full time procrastinator and shirker of responsibility, probably an empty bank account.

I’ve recently had another book accepted for publication, but writing it posed all sorts of problems. After nearly twelve months of avoiding putting fingers to keyboard on that particular novel, I finally decided I needed to make myself accountable to someone else in order to get it done. Enter my best friend (I’ll call her ‘H’), teacher of more than twenty years, wearer of funny hats, lover of all books (not just the ones I write) and critic of my in-progress work.

H and I met for coffee, where we discussed what might be preventing me from working on this particular book. After psychologically dissecting me, we finally made a deal: I’d begin writing the elusive script and she’d keep me accountable for doing it. My target—one chapter every two days; my punishment for not producing the chapter without a plausible reason—a battering of emails, phone calls and texts from H demanding I live up to my word and fulfill our agreement. Luckily our friendship remained intact over the time it took to complete the manuscript. No, I didn’t always produce the chapter on time, sometimes for legit reasons like I can’t write a coherent sentence with a migraine. Other times with no legit reason, or the flimsy ones which H saw straight through and called me out on.

Being accountable to someone other than myself certainly worked in this instance; it allowed me to produce when I really didn’t want to, giving me the incentive and support to complete a task I found difficult for lots of reasons. So, if you’re having difficulty writing, finding a way to make yourself accountable may also work for you. If you’re lucky enough to have books already contracted to a publisher, then there’s your accountability right there. But if you’re like me, often writing with no idea where the manuscript will end up, then it’s time to be creative. No pun intended.

Find a way to make yourself accountable for the production of tangible work on a regular basis. Stop using excuses and get on with the job any way you can. Grab a friend to keep you on track like I did. Give yourself a goal to purchase or do something once you’ve finished a task, or ask your hubby or wife to say no sex until that book is finished (that would get me writing really fast ☺). Whatever you think will work for you, do it.

So, what do you do as incentive to write? Are you accountable to someone? If you have any ideas that keep you on track and stave off procrastination when you’re writing, I’d love to hear them. After all, a self-confessed procrastinator can never have too many ideas up her sleeve.

 

About the Author:

Jan Graham describes herself in many ways. She is a full time writer, friend, submissive, orphan, widow, aunt, and sometimes, a wild child. Despite any hiccups the universe may throw at her, she believes in experiencing everything life has to offer and being the best person she can be. Jan lives in Newcastle, Australia, where she spends her time writing erotic romance. Her writing falls under a variety of genres including BDSM, contemporary romance, romantic suspense and paranormal romance.

Jan has often been quoted as saying I am glad to finally give my characters, who swirl around my head on a constant basis, the opportunity to put themselves down on paper and I hope they entertain my readers as much as they amuse me.

Find out more about Jan Graham, browse her books and follow her social media links at www.jangraham.com.au.

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Sep 212013
 
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Does writer’s block actually exist?

For most authors the answer will be an emphatic yes, of course it does. For me…well, I’m not so sure it does. Now, having said that, I probably need to clarify what I mean by “writer’s block may not actually exist.” Yes, there have been times I haven’t written anything for months. There are also times I sit in front of my computer screen and stare at it, wondering what the next sentence should be and there are days when I throw my hands in the air because the words aren’t coming out the way I want them to. Do any of these things mean I’m blocked in some way, that my creativity or ability to write isn’t still hiding within me somewhere? No, it’s there and always will be because…I’m a writer.

I may procrastinate, I may not be in the mood to write, I may decide to do something else instead of writing—but when I choose to write, I can. I recently went through a tough experience and found it difficult to get back into the routine of writing. And yes, as boring and non-fanciful as that sounds, I firmly believe writing is a routine. As a result of my initial incident, and the lack of effective word count on the page day after day, month after month, I decided I must be suffering from writer’s block—so I set about discussing the topic with friends and other authors, as well as going online to research articles and ideas to overcome it. That raised more questions for me than I imagined it would. The final result of this research? I came to the conclusion that writers block is a fallacy, at least for me. It’s something we say to ourselves or others say to us during times of writing non-production. The non-writing times in our lives are more than likely a result of something else entirely, rather than a complete inability to write or being blocked for ideas.

I found a lot of really great quotes which I’ll share over the next few posts, but the one I want to share with you today, the one that made me jump out of my rut, was this one by author Warren Ellis:

“Writer’s block? I’ve heard of this. This is when a writer cannot write, yes? Then that person isn’t a writer anymore. I’m sorry, but the job is getting up in the fucking morning and writing for a living.” 

I looked at the quote, printed it out and stuck it on the wall near my desk. I decided Mr. Ellis would provide my motivation because lodged in his words is an underlying truth: I’m sorry, but the job is getting up in the fucking morning and writing for a living. Effectively, I’d taken almost a year off work to sit on my ass doing very little but wallowing in grief. That had to change.

…Which brings me back to writing as a routine. After so long, I was no longer in the practice of going to work. Before my husband’s passing I had a routine that I stuck to religiously: get out of bed, log on to social networks for a short period, answer messages, log out of everything by nine a.m. and work on writing for the rest of the day. It worked, and I was productive. The more I stuck to the routine, the more efficient at writing I became. I was determined to regain that momentum.

Now when I say I “worked on my writing for the rest of the day”, I don’t necessarily mean I spent the whole time writing a book; there are other activities I include in my work as a writer. I blogged, I plotted, I researched and a lot of the time I did actually put words on whichever pages I was working on at the time. The actual work of writing included things that stimulated my mind, fed my creativity and moved me closer to putting, or actually put, words on the page.

I knew I needed that routine back, or one similar to it, albeit a routine that now incorporated my new personal situation.  I can’t say it was easy and I can’t say I didn’t fall back into dark moments, but over the last six months I can honestly say I’m working again. I’m not suffering from any sort of writer’s block and I never actually was.

When I started to sort out my resources, I realized one thing: I had been working. I’d been doing some of the things mentioned above, including plotting quite a few new romances. I’d still been working at writing, just not as fluidly or consistently as before—and consistency is the key to most things.

So, each day I sat down at the computer and wrote. If I couldn’t get into the flow of one book, I’d move to something else entirely, or I’d start writing a scene or chapter from elsewhere in the story and then go back later and link the puzzle together. If I wrote 100 words or even less, that was good; if I wrote 2,000 words, that was great. The total didn’t really matter, as long as I was writing. If I read a chapter at a later date and decided I didn’t like what I’d produced, I’d discard or revise it—the point was, I’d still written it. Some parts of my latest book didn’t make the final draft that I recently submitted to my publisher, but that’s the way with most books and it didn’t matter, because…I am writing.

So, whether you want to overcome “writer’s block” or a “non-productive writing period”, the answer is simple:

Get up every day and just write.

 

—Jan Graham

 

Jan Graham is an author of erotic romance with eight titles to her credit, including the Sidney Cougar series and the Wylde Shore series, with more to come. You can find out more about Jan by visiting jangraham.com.au or jangraham.blogspot.com.

 

 

 

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