Those Magic Moments…

by JT Ellison

Don’t you love having epiphanies?

Those lightning bolt moments of awareness, enlightenment, insight that alters your consciousness, your actions, even the course of your life?

I’ve been on the road a lot over the past two months. Florida, New York, Florida again, Colorado (where I am now) and then to Florida once more, then on to St. Louis for Bouchercon. Six roundtrips in two months – for me, that’s a lot of on the road time. A lot of out of the groove, snatching time to write, long stretches without Internet access, and even, blessedly, some downtime. I have been writing the whole time, and I’ve also been sick. Those of you who saw me in New York got to witness that first hand, and now I’m catching another little summer chest cold. Ugh.

But along these crazy paths, I’ve gotten time to do some thinking. About my work, and my life. About what I want to be doing, and where I want things to go. And with that kind of Jack Handy deep thoughts come the epiphanies.

The first was along a darkened road in Florida. This one was so hand to forehead smackingly obvious that I felt like a true idiot when I figured it out.

I’ve been blogging for many years now. First weekly, then bi-monthly here, and also infrequently on my own blog, Tao of JT. I’m sure every blogger in the world who also writes novels has the same issue—you tend to think every moment spent away from your novel is a moment lost. But it’s something we need to do. Each and every moment in the real world can be mined for blog material. At least that’s my thinking. I’m always examining moments and situations and wondering, “How can I turn this into my Murderati blog?”

I went through this when I first joined Twitter. I started thinking in 140 character updates – how can I share this experience in 140 characters or less, make it relatable and also funny? Thankfully, I trained my mind away from that, because it’s just too easy to get lost in that kind of thinking.

Blogging, Twitter, Facebook – the sharing of information we find important, but the vast majorities of others don’t.

I’ve always viewed these extraneous activities are relatively unhealthy endeavors. Outside of blogging, which has taught me the discipline of deadlines and getting butt in chair to write, even if it is non-fiction.

My epiphany was thus: I’m a novelist, damn it. I shouldn’t be mining my moments for blog material. I need to be using those little vignettes in my fiction.

Ding. Dingdingdingdingdingdingding!

I think I knew this unconsciously, because so many of my vignettes do get poured into my fiction. But realizing I was thinking in terms of what to blog instead of what to write was revelatory for me. And of course, my first reaction was I must stop blogging.

We at Murderati have seen a rash of authors having this revelation lately. The more we focus on our fiction, the more books we can produce, and in the current environment, which is undeniably rough, the more good books you can write, the better off you are.

Since I’m prone to the drastics sometimes, I forced myself to take a step back, and talked myself off that particular ledge. At least for now. Instead, I have been working very hard to reprogram myself to think in terms of fiction instead of non-fiction. To separate what is story, and what is information. What is narrative, and what is insight.

The second epiphany was during the writing of a book I’m working on. I’ve always said writer’s block is your story’s way of telling you you’re going in the wrong direction. I hit a point in the story that just didn’t feel genuine. Something was very wrong. I started trying to talk it out – to Randy, to my parents. I’d just decided to go ahead and call my agent and get his take when it hit me. The part I was concerned about wasn’t the issue, it was 15,000 words earlier – an action the heroine takes that is … well… I don’t want to be too hard on myself, but the course of events was just plain STUPID. As in stoopid, stupid.

When I saw that, the path to the next act became very clear. Phew.

The third epiphany came early last week, when I sat down to a beautiful long clear writing day and got exactly jack shit done.

I was so mortified with myself that I figured I needed a public tongue-lashing. I wrote a blog and detailed all the things I had done instead of creating – and the responses gave me an interesting thought.

Sometimes, I need a little external motivation. I know people think I write fast, but as we’ve discussed, I am a bulimic writer – I gorge on words during marathon writing session instead of doing a good job of the daily grind. Take one look at my travel schedule and you see how that’s playing out for me. It’s cacophonous. My good habits have been broken. I need to reset, majorly.

I used to be able to do the daily grind. Before conferences and promotions and book tours – all the things that have to happen if you want to get your name out there.

I am a writer. My JOB is writing. So damn it, writing is what I’m going to do, even if I have to publicly report in what I’ve done that day to get myself back on track.

So if you’re interested in that daily grind, I’m writing it up on Tao of JT. I’m posting at 5pm each weekday, just a little snippet of what I’ve done that day – the good, the bad, the ugly. I of course have been feeling a little guilty about this – as I went into last week looking at ways to cut back my non-fiction writing, and instead seem to have quadrupled it. But I know myself, and I know what I need.

The fourth epiphany came just this morning, as I was reading through my RSS feeds. It isn’t exactly a revelation to you that I try to follow a minimalist lifestyle. I am working on finding my inner zen, because the more serene I am, the more serene my surroundings, the better I work, and the happier my family is. This journey has been fraught with setbacks, but I finally feel like I’m making progress. This morning, I was re-reading “30 Lessons from 30 Years” by Joshua Millburn of The Minimalists, and his number 10 slapped me across the face.

10. Finding your passion is important. My passion is writing….

My passion is writing.

Ding. Again.

My passion is writing. Writing. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the manipulation of words to convey meaning, emotion and story is my passion.

I don’t need to feel guilty about blogging. That isn’t necessarily time away from writing. It IS writing. It’s all writing. Every time I put my fingers to the keyboard, I’m creating.

Duh.

Sometimes I feel so new to this game. I imagine my more experienced colleagues are reading this and laughing behind their hands at my naïveté. But hey, we all have to have our own realizations. No one can tell you exactly how to climb the mountains. They can just wave when they climb back down and tell you how exhilarating it is when you reach that zenith.

So, ‘Rati, tell me – Have you had any epiphanies lately?

 Wine of the Week: Layer Cake Primitivo Super yummy!!!

 

 

20 thoughts on “Those Magic Moments…

  1. Reine

    Hi JT,

    Your epiphany #4 . . . beautiful.

    My recent epiphany: I don't need to organize. I need a more minimalist thing going on– like get rid of the junk.

  2. Chuck

    Hi JT:

    You're more in-tune with yourself than I think you realize. I see it in your fiction; I see it here. It's lovely to connect the snippets from your fiction to the realities of your blogs, and you in person. Thanks for putting yourself out there for us.

    Funny you posted this today after I emailed you my big epiphany this week. The first part of my plan is complete. The second, as you know, is in progress.

    I went to Germany for the first week and a half of the month. I was stationed there in the Army and now make my best effort to go back every year. I cannot describe what going there does for me other than to say, quite cliched, it recharges my inspirational batteries. While there, we "made our way onto" a quite secure storage facility. NATO used to store nukes there. You wouldn't believe it. Thirty shuttered bunkers built into the side of a hill. Pillboxes. Miles of concrete trench. Sodium lights. Gun emplacements. I used to pull guard there when the folding Red Army (early nineties) was just miles away. Now it's empty.

    Other than the two headed snake I saw (another story entirely), what struck me the most was how intact we left the facility. The lead shields are still there. All the old, solid state security hardware is still there. The cameras. Gun racks. All of it.

    I wouldn't dare curse my new story, but needless to stay, an idea hatched. Thus far, it feels pretty genuine–especially since, five days in, I'm already over 10k words, and that's just from ninety minutes each morning.

    There's nothing like a divine inspiration. Be it for a book, a career change, or the shedding of a monkey on one's back.

    As always, thanks.

  3. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Oddly, one of my recent epiphanies is that I love the blogging, too. There was a time when I thought it was dragging me down, that it took a day or two away from my writing every other week. And then the blog writing began to fill a hole in my life – it became the place where I put some of my best thoughts. I had a paradigm shift. Now I love it. I look forward to writing my blogs, to testing myself, to seeing where I'll go next. And the process has made me more creative with my other ventures.

  4. PK the Bookeemonster

    I love having epiphanies. Add a note to your blogging one that we who visit Murderati don't need a blog … how do I say this … that is a perfect essay. I blog daily. By no means is there a theme, basically, I'm letting anyone who is stopping by that I'm still kicking and here is what I was thinking about or did that day or what I'm currently reading.
    Epiphanies this week:
    I need to take better care of myself as I've gotten cellulitis again in my leg. Bah.
    My current job truly is only a landing place and not a place to stay.
    I don't really like where I'm at in my life so I need plonk down sometime soon and do some figuring out.
    Summer colds suck.

  5. Dana King

    Have I had an epiphany lately? Depends on your definition of "lately." Late last winter it occurred to me part of why writing was kind of a grind was because I had bought into the traditional definition of success: agent, contract,, signings, etc. The more I knew about the post-writing aspects of being a writer, the less I liked the idea of doing them. I slipped down that slope until one day I completely fell off the edge and woke up with anew definition of what success means for me. Now I'm not going to get a traditional contract, and I'm not going to see my book in stores (except online), and I'm not going to make any money. I'll just write the books i want the best I can, and anyone who wants to read them can. (For a very reasonable charge.)

    It's not most people's definition of success, but it's working well for me. My first Kindle book will come out the week after next, and I have a couple more ready to go. I'm enjoying (most of) the process, and I can do it on my schedule.

    I wish I was as smart every day as I was that morning.

  6. Tammy Cravit

    My most recent epiphany has been both simple and profound: My spouse and I have long wanted to make our lives more mobile, to be able to spend more time RVIng and to take more trips. I've been hunting around for ways to make a living that are mobile. (Alex is a computer programmer, so she can work anywhere with power and Internet) Recently, the obvious realization smacked me across the head — duh, it's writing.

    I started down the road to writing as profession 8 years ago, freelancing for a local newspaper and pitching magazine articles, writing press releases and website copy while working on a (blessedly, and deservedly) never-published novel. And then I just gave up. Dumb, dumb, dumb. DUMB. My goal is still to write mystery novels, but why can't I do other kinds of writing as well? I enjoy it, it's portable, and I'm better at it than I was 8 years ago. Heck, I'm a better writer this week than I was last week, better today than yesterday. And I'll be better still next week, next month, a year from now.

    How to integrate my epiphany into my life is still a work in progress, but my epiphany was this: I am a writer, so I need to get off my butt and keep writing.I don't need to spend my energy figuring out what to do for work. I need to keep writing. That's my passion, and I'm an idiot for not seeing it sooner.

    Thank you so much for sharing your epiphanies. JT – they've helped me crystalize my own inchoate stuff, and I can't thank you enough for that. I am a writer. I love to write, I want to write, I NEED to write. All the rest is monkey mind. And I'll be following your progress on your blog, for sure, as well as blogging (and/or tweeting) my own.

  7. Louise Ure

    Man oh man, JT. If I wrote a 5 p.m. post to limn what I did during the day and why it did or did not succeed in adding pages … I'd probably lie even then, just not to disappoint and bore the readers. Good on you.

  8. JT Ellison

    Sarah – it is rather freeing, isn't it? Glad you found out before it was too late.

    Reine – thank you. I agree – the less we have, the less we need to keep straight.

    Cornelia – they sneak up on me when I'm least aware – I hope they sneak up on you soon.

    Chuck – we so need some tequila shots… ; ) Thanks for the kind words. And yes, big epiphanies are brilliant, and yours are spot on.

    Stephen, I did too. Thinking about quitting gives me hives. I've always fought so hard again my non-fiction, and I don't know why. I have to do what's right for me – and here I'm the one always preaching to find your own path.

    PK – you MUST be good to yourself. And you're right, it doesn't need to be earth-shattering. I think we put so much pressure on ourselves here to make a point, and sometimes, there's just no point to be made. Create on demand – man, we need a TV show… Feel better!

    Dana – good for you! The industry is changing so rapidly now that it's rather hard to break in, harder than it's ever been, I think. I'm glad you've found your path – and much luck with it! Be sure to tell us when the books are up and running!

    Tammy, I'm glad to be of service! I know exactly how you feel – we're like that too. Having the freedom to travel, to work from anywhere, is a happy by product of writing, for sure.

    Louise, it's keeping me a little more focused – but there are the days where nothing gets done, too. Sometimes, that's just fine ; )

  9. David Corbett

    Your post reminded me of an article in Sunday's NYT about the Elusive Big Idea: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/opinion/sunday/the-elusive-big-idea.html?pagewanted=all

    With the crush of information and the social networking we're doing, we're getting drowned in information but no one's generating really seminal ideas. We've created a very agitated surface with minimal depth. I feel it in myself and my work and the only way out is to get off the net. I use Freedom, turn things off for 2-4 hours, and settle in.

    I don't see blogging vs. fiction as the problem, since I'm also working on a non-fiction book and I teach. It's the same kind of energy. And I live in writerly solitude so nothing demands my attention other than my work. What I see as the problem is the inability to get down to the places where creativity germinates.

    If that's an epiphany, I guess I've been epiphanated.

    Take care, JT. Thanks for all you do.

  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I have to say I was scared or a minute there, reading this blog… but it was a happy ending. Yay!

    I have come to like blogging very much, too. I got out of my own slump by pushing some limits. Maybe I'm just waking up after a really long numbness.

  11. Reine

    PS: My other big epiphany came to me in divinity school when I realized that – um – not only did I have no idea what a theology was, I hadn't the foggiest of what an epiphany was. God. Talk about epiphanies.

  12. Alafair Burke

    I had an epiphany today that's leading to me to cut another thread out of my current book. It's painful to delete all that work, something I rarely do, but the epiphany was that simple would be better. Like taking off the extra jewelry. Was that CoCo Chanel?

    PS. I liked the Jack Handy reference.

  13. KDJames

    Every time I hear the word epiphany I remember the time my daughter (she was very young) ran into the room, so excited she was practically exploding with it, and said, "Mom, I just had an apostrophe!"

    No apostrophes for me lately, just some slow realizations that feel like major seismic shifts.

    I'm relived you've decided you love writing blog posts, JT. I was worried for a moment there too.

  14. Zoรซ Sharp

    Glad you're not leaving us, JT, and hope you get over your summer cold soon. I've had a nasty chest infection since last month – had to sleep sitting up in a chair for the past two weeks or I cough til I throw up. (TMI, I know)

    My epiphany recently has been in the generosity of comparative strangers. There are indeed times when they are simply friends whom we have not yet met. In my case, it was the writers of the Hardboiled Collective, formed by Jochem Vandersteen, who welcomed me into their midst with support and enthusiasm.

    And my first foray into indie e-publishing has been a revelation โ€“ the freedom and the satisfaction itโ€™s given me. Yes, itโ€™s been a lot of work, but itโ€™s rekindled (no pun intended) my desire to write, not dulled it.

  15. PD Martin

    You had me worried for a while there too, JT!!! Glad to see you've decided to stay with blogging. But I totally know what you mean. I know I HAVE to check my emails and spend a few minutes each day on Facebook. Yet I feel like I'm wasting precious moments! And I find I don't have any down time. When Grace is at pre-school, it's time for me to write! And I generally feel guilty if I don't do just that.

    This week I've also been sick with a cold and chest thing (must be going around Murderati…you, Zoe and me!) and after trying to write while Grace was at preschool and realising my mind just couldn't make sense of things, I actually sat down and watched TV for an hour and a half…during the day!!!!! Totally naughty, yet totally necessary. And in my defence (notice I have to defend) I've also been hit with jet lag pretty bad this week. I just didn't feel capable of writing (although my reflections on Paris seemed to flow okay).

    But the blogging thing, Facebook, emails…sometimes it's hard to see where it ends. Still, I think it's all part of being an author these days. It's almost like it's part of the job description. Plus I do really enjoy it even though it does 'take me away' from writing!

    Phillipa
    PS Interesting take on writers' block. I've never really experienced writers' block. I often put that down to the fact that I worked as a corporate writer to deadlines FIRST so I was used to self-discipline and just writing, no matter what. But maybe I've just been lucky enough to be writing the 'right' stories!

  16. Murderati

    Apologies! I ran out of steam last night before I came back to finish comments.

    David, I love that – agitated minimal depth. That's exactly what I'm trying to move away from.

    Alex, that's it exactly. Sometimes this is good for the soul. And worry not, I'd never spring something like that on you : )

    Reine – I wanted to go to Divinity School – nearly enrolled at Vanderbilt. Might have been the death of me.

    Alafair – killing the darlings is the worst, but that's when a story starts to sing. And darn it, people like me.

    Louis – we try!

    KD, that story cracked me up. When I was little we had a solid white tomcat show up the day the real Morris on TV died. I saw him on the deck and ran – wide-eyed – to my mom, yelling Morris is on the deck. He's been reconstituted!

    I will never live that down.

    Zoรซ, that's the best news I've heard all week – so glad you've recaptured the magic!

    PD, I feel that very same way when I turn on the tv during the day – or even open a book. Which is BAD. We really do need to allow ourselves time to refill the well. Feel better soon!

  17. Reggie Ridgway

    Epiphanies are elusive for me. I don't really get them I guess. My thoughts are too cluttered and my time gets eaten up somehow. I have divided drives. When writing I wish I were reading. When reading I am writing in my head. Cluttered. But love your work JT and others gathered here at this great blog The Murderati. Some good will come out of this. Just wait and see. Oops. Just had an epiphany I think.

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