Time-out

September 24, 2009 at 6:47 am 1 comment

Please help me welcome multi-published, award-winning author Jo Ann Ferguson with some words of wisdom to help us as we come to the end of our month-long writing marathon.

by Jo Ann Ferguson

joannefergusonDanielle Steel’s next release will probably be accompanied by a story and/or a photo of Ms Steel sitting in her laundry room and writing.  Impressed?  Not me.  I’ve been writing in the laundry room since this obsession took hold of me.  And I do it without a typewriter because my characters chat me up while I fold clothes!

Or perhaps you’ve read about the writer who does her best work while in a bubble bath.  I believe the article even included a picture of said author – either a brave or crazy woman!  I read it and shrugged.  Bathtub?  Big deal!  I do my some of my best writing in the shower!

Not only do I find myself working in odd places, but an in-depth, scientific survey of 2 or 3 friends revealed that many writers write in eccentric places.  Before you go rushing out to prove that we’re all wet for writing in a damp environment, look at the facts.

It’s easy to write all the time, and that’s not necessarily a good thing, especially for us workaholic, Type A personalities.  Burn-out is a big hole that’s hard to crawl back out of, but it’s easy to slip into.

Writing may be a solitary occupation, but it’s not a lonely one.  Those with families – especially with children – have discovered how many interruptions a single day can hold.  So we grasp for every second we can and write.  Even on the perfect day, when the kids are in school, the hubby at work, and the inbox empty, we’ve got characters and plots pulling at us from every direction.  Should this scene be in Chapter Two or Three?  Should it be in the book at all?  When is the heroine going to stop being a dolt and realize this man is perfect for her?  And where did that subplot go?  Or the first draft is done…now what?

Staring at the screen does no good.  The answers aren’t there.  Some writers keep going and struggle down a bunch of dead end paths before chancing on the correct road.  Not me.  I like to pretend I’m too efficient – I dislike the word lazy – to do all that useless work.

So what do I do?  I push the keys to save the document on the screen, get up, and do something totally radical.

I give myself a time-out from writing.

Not the time-out I used to give my kids.  A real time-out that helps refill the creative well.  It’s okay.  Really.  It’s okay to take some time off.  If a writer spends all her time on the fast-track, she – and her imagination – are going to get exhausted.  Other people take vacations.  I don’t mean working vacations where you do research at the same time.  I mean a real vacation.  My favorite place to go for a real vacation is Disney World.  That’s because, as one Imagineer put it, Disney provides all the imagination needed.  I can give my creative neurons time off while I ride rides, look at a zillion different versions of a mouse on sweatshirts, and just relax.

I like to let a manuscript sit for a couple of weeks to age.  Sort of like fine cheese.  After a couple of weeks, I scrape off the mold and craft a final draft.  During those two weeks, I read other people’s work.  No, I devour it.  Sometimes two or more books a day.  I need to get my characters’ voices out of my head and enjoy someone else’s efforts.  I watch movies – and try not to pick them apart for plot and character development.  I indulge my hobbies.  When was the last time I picked up my knitting or kneaded bread (although kneading bread is something I do in the midst of writing because it’s a good way to work different muscles and deal with writer’s frustration!)?

When I start getting testy with everything and everyone, I know it’s time to get back to writing, which centers me.  But if the two weeks (or whatever my scheduled time-out is) hasn’t passed, I deny myself the pleasure of returning to my characters.  I’m soon salivating to get back to work with ideas bursting from my skull like cerebral fireworks.  My subconscious has been working even as I’ve been watching Galaxy Quest for the zillionth time.  By the time I do sit down, the words flow again…and I’m energized with the excitement that brought me to writing in the first place – the need to tell a story.

That’s what works for me.  Whatever you do, learn to recognize the signals you need to give yourself time out away from your writing.  That’s the best way to avoid burn-out, and it may be the most important thing you can do as a writer.

Award-winning author Jo Ann Ferguson has a split writing personality. Jo Ann Ferguson launched the new Regency line at ImaJinn (where her traditional Regency Gentleman’s Master will be the next book in her popular Regency mysteries) and is also the author of best-selling historicals.  J.A. Ferguson writes paranormals for ImaJinn. Jocelyn Kelley’s next book is Sea Wraith, coming late this fall.  Jo Ann Brown novelized Thomas Kinkade’s The Christmas Cottage, a movie starring Peter O’Toole that was recently released on DVD, and now writes for Guideposts Books. Her 80+ titles are also published by Tudor, Ballantine, Zebra, Harper, Warner, and Thorndike. The books have been translated into almost a dozen languages and sold on every continent except Antarctica.

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Kick to the end The Happy Ending

1 Comment

  • 1. Teresa Bodwell  |  September 24, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    Thanks, Jo Ann. That’s such great advice!


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