by JT Ellison
I went to the beach last week. It was supposed to be a celebration, a reward for hard work. My trip was preceded by another one of those insane deadline weeks – coming off four days of travel for the South Carolina Book Festival, the fifth book, THE IMMORTALS, was nearly finished. I'm talking inches away from being submission ready. I was just going through one last tweaking revision based on my critique partner's comments when the page proofs of EDGE OF BLACK came in. Cue panic, and scrambling. What was supposed to be a leisurely revision became an all out push to make sure both books got their proper due.
In a feat worthy of David defeating Goliath, I managed. Hubby went another four days without leafy greens and I turned in both books with an unbelievable sigh of relief. Washed my hands of them. Sent them to the powers that be and let them worry about it. Because I NEEDED A VACATION.
Florida was sunny and warm. My flight was eventful, only because of my elderly seatmate who was tippling in the Bloody Marys. She skedaddled off the plane when we landed in Orlando, but she was continuing the flight on to Ft. Meyers so the flight attendants had to capture and reseat her before anyone else got off. Tipsy little old ladies = herding cats. Priceless.
The beach was welcoming, salty air and ocean breezes. Lovely, really. Deep breaths. Unwind.
I spent the first day there on the horn to
New York worrying about a section of EDGE that might have a copyright
issue, and another day dealing with a long-overdue project that needed
some TLC so I could get it off the ground, which of course involved 17
emails of back and forth discussion – all of which I attempted on the
iPhone whilst laying in the sun. Bikinis and iPhones don't mix unless
you're on Girls Gone Wild, which I certainly wasn't.
With the advent of laptops and iPhones, I know I have to go to
Herculean efforts to actually get away. So I tried. I really did try. I put the phone away (but I had to keep
checking to make sure the copyright issue was settled.) I turned the
laptop off (but I had to turn it back on because I had to read a book
for a blurb that was on it. Note to self – always, always insist on hard copies from here on out.)
Did I get a vacation? Well, sort of. I walked on the beach, read three books, played two rounds of golf, ate fish three times and had salads daily to fight off impending scurvy, went to the movies (WATCHMEN was very cool) and saw three more at home, and attended a dinner party with friends and fans. We watched the shuttle launch, and I have to tell you, there in nothing, NOTHING, cooler than a sonic boom that shakes the very earth. Humbling as hell. And of course, I engaged in that time-honored vacation tradition – Twitter.
That's a pretty full week, to be honest. Aren't you tired just thinking about it? Because I'm exhausted.
Here's the problem. The whole time – laying on the beach, teeing off, reading, relaxing – a little voice inside my head kept banging away. "You need to get back to work, JT. You have a book due in September. You know you'll have to do revisions on THE IMMORTALS in the middle of that, and plan a tour for EDGE. There's that cool standalone book you started that's suddenly gelling that needs your attention. You have to finish the project your promised for ITW. You need to do your newsletter, and… and… and…."
Damn voice. I'd like to strangle it, but that might hamper my efforts to be creative, and we can't have that.
I've learned that when the Muse is speaking, you kind of have to tell everyone and everything to shove off and get whatever she's saying out of your head and down on paper so you don't lose it. I'm a firm believer in all good ideas stick like glue in your mind, but I also know my brain well enough that I know if I don't write these brilliant gems down somewhere, they will eat at me.
In the middle of it all, while I was supposed to be relaxing, I formatted a new document and wrote the first line of book six, THE PRETENDER.
So much for vacation.
Remember a few months ago I started working a new system of organization into my daily writing life? It's working. My Moleskine is filling up with ideas. My inbox stays empty. My To Do list stays manageable. My deadlines are met, my daily word counts pile up. All good things. I feel very much in control of all these balls that I'm juggling. Sometimes, to be honest, I think too much in control. Therein lies the problem. I need to find a way to let it all go, stop worrying, thinking, plotting and planning, and just be. There's not enough of just being anymore. And I have a feeling I may not be the only one with this problem.
My question for you today – what advice can you give to help? Any great tips or ideas for turning it all off, for living in the moment? Because I'd love to hear some…
Wine of the Week: Of course found at the beach – Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel – EXCELLENT!
I feel you.
I think we all have to acknowledge that that kind of driven, obsessive, workaholic behavior is part of the job requirement – none of us would be here if that wasn’t part of our personality makeup.
The problem is, it doesn’t matter where you go. It’s the INSIDE you have to change.
Meditation is a lifesaver for learning to detach from racing and critical thoughts. It takes a long time of fairly consistent practice to get to a point that you’re able to remove yourself from the internal storm – so I really recommend taking a class that will guide you through techniques until you’re able to get there yourself.
It doesn’t mean you’re suddenly going to be completely balanced and at peace, but even just being able to step back SOMETIMES is such a relief, and it boosts creativity.
(WARNING – Typepad is eating comments again. Save before you post, just in case)
“I formatted a new document and wrote the first line…”I know that this is a very elementary question, but I shall ask it anyway: What program do you use for writing your novels? Obviously, I am new at this and have been using Word; but I am not sure it is the best. Thanks.
Considering what you managed to accomplish before you left, and what you dealt with while you were gone, I think you’re in the RIGHT amount of control. It clearly isn’t impeding your creativity if you were compelled to write the opening line of the book. Don’t worry needlessly. That voice won’t quit nagging you (or any of us) but we can choose how we listen to it. It’s all a balance.
I second the recommendation of the Gnarly Head Zin.
Alex, meditation and yoga are definitely good escapes for me, and not surprisingly, I’ve been neglecting them. I will put it back in my schedule. I do know that if I wanted it all to stop, I’d stop. I don’t. I LOVE what I do. It’s the greatest, more fulfilling job in the world. I reconciled long ago that if I wanted this, it was going to need some real effort.
Jeff – that’s it – the choice is in how we listen. I should have mentioned that vacation included husband, two parents and a hyperactive min-pin too… Alone time would have been much different, I think. We’re planning another trip, and this time, I’m leaving the tools behind. Should be much more peaceful.
Sandy, it strikes me that answering your question would make an excellent blog topic, one sure to generate discussion because every author does it differently. So if you’re willing to wait a week for some details, I may put that together.
In the meantime, I do use Word 2007. Love it. I’m a PC and don’t know any other programs.
Face it, J.T., you’re not the kind of girl who’s ever going to be able to kick back and turn it off. You’re stuck being the creative, incredible, over-productive, always in control child we’ve come to know and love.
Sounds good to me. Again, thanks.
J.T.,My computer-free Thursdays are doing wonders for my creativity, attitude and ability to concentrate during the other days of the week.
I adore this and am even thinking of adding another work day to the mix.
It’s not that my brain is off or stopping the creative flow — it’s that I’m thinking different thoughts and the quiet is astounding.
Louise, coming from someone who just planned and executed a conference off the mainland in a recession – I humbly bow before your organizational expertise.
Great, Sandy. I’ll put it together.
Pari, I gave up Facebook for Lent except on Fridays and Tuesday. I’ve enjoyed that so much that I may make it permanent. I did implement a month of Sundays with no internet while I was finishing the book, and enjoyed the peace. I may look at restrictions like that again too. So stupid that we have to place these restrictions on ourselves…
I only have one way to slow down and live in the moment, and I’m afraid it might not be feasible for you. When I’ve got a lot on my plate and my mind is running amok, I go out to the ranch where my horses are stabled. I turn my mare out in the arena and watch her run – this drains her energy as well as mine. Then we stand together for awhile. I stroke her neck. Sometimes she holds my sweatshirt in her mouth. It’s pure “now”.
Then I can return to the madness and try to create cosmos out of chaos.
Gayle, that sounds lovely… but you’re right, not feasible. Not for the reason you’d think, either – I’m desperately allergic to horses. I love them, used to ride. Funny thing, just as I started asking my parents to buy me my own jumper, I started wheezing and sneezing in the barns. That was the end of my horse dreams.
Maybe I could harness Jade and let her out in the grass in the backyard. That might be amusing…
I’ll have to agree with Alex on the meditation thing. It really can work wonders and help you relax. But it seems like you can never really turn off the voice in your head, just ignore it for so long.
By the way, you seem to be knowledgeable in wine. What would go well with a nice lemon pepper salmon and Italian salad?
RJ, try a good Southestern Australian Cab- Shiraz. A great cheap alternative is Penfold’s Rawsons Ranch. If you’re a white wine aficionado, I’d go with a crisp Pinot Grigio. Santa Margarita is good.
I turn my computer off! My situation is a bit different since I work from home, not on fiction, but on those cookbooks. But even though I’m paid like a 9-5 employee, I find myself working all the time unless the computer is off, not sleep, off. I figure if it takes that much more effort to wait the extra couple of seconds it takes to get going, then I’m more likely to leave it alone and not spend hours hunched in front of it. Course I don’t have a laptop or an iphone so it’s a little easier for me to stay away from it.
JT, I’m late chiming in but second the meditation and yoga.
My problem now is that I am so much in the moment I often don’t know what day it is! So remember that the key is balance and it doesn’t have to be “balance” in the big picture – just in the one hour you’re in. If you keep balancing that way the big picture will take care of itself.
I am going to have a glass of wine in honor of your new first line and title!!
JT,You, relax. Just be.
Right. And during all that Just be-ing, your Muse would be shacking up with some other writer (or at least you’d drive yourself nuts worrying that it MIGHT happen, wouldn’t you!)
Okay, just kidding. In all seriousness, I wish you all the best with this, and can sadly give only one piece of advice. Try a good stand-up comedy club. It’s a few hours when, if the comic is good (research first, nothing like a shitty comic), you’re too busy laughing and hurting from being out of breath and still unable to stop laughing to wory about anything else.
I’d recommend John Pinette or Jeff Dunham. My head still hurts just thinking about those two, and I last saw one of them a year ago.
God bless, JT, and best of luck with it!
Karma was obviously reading Murderati today, because I haven’t been able to log into Typepad for hours… actually had a lovely break this afternoon.
Jake, I LOVE Dunham. He’s a riot.
Billie, that’s fabulous advice. I’m going to go back to my Italian lessons too.
Becky, before the advent of my laptop and the iPhone, I didn’t have this issue. I think it’s quite possible to be too accessible.
Buona sera, Murderati!
>>>I’ve learned that when the Muse is speaking, you kind of have to tell everyone and everything to shove off and get whatever she’s saying out of your head and down on paper so you don’t lose it
OK, this is a 20-minute TED Talks video that I think could really change your life.
Elizabeth Gilbert: A new way to think about creativityhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA
Really. Sit back and watch.