Joshua Graham and I met on the Amazon Kindle Facebook page back when you could have a conversation there and not be deluged with author self-promotion. I was lucky to discover his book Beyond Justice, a legal thriller with a Christian theme that does a great job of delivering a message while still appealing to a broad audience. Joshua’s latest novel, DARKROOM, hit 3 bestseller lists on Amazon the night of its release.
I’m delighted to have him here today to share a great story about staying committed when things are tough.
COMMITTED, NOT INSPIRED
How to keep motivated when things aren’t going their best
You’ve had your glory days and they were good, but now, as the luster of the moment or season has faded, you’re back at the daily grind again. You know, that place where you were before that great victory, that award you won, that promotion, or whatever it was that sent your emotions into the stratosphere. If you’re a writer, you’re now staring at the nemesis of all writers: the blinking cursor on the blank screen, and wondering, how can I do this again? How can I get back to that place—that happy place, where I felt on top of the world?
Sometimes it feels like you can’t go on, when that feeling is gone. Like in that chorus of the song by The Righteous Brothers You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, those feelings are “gone, gone, gone.” Truth be told, those are times you just want to quit—can I get a witness?
Back in the mid 1980’s, when I first got accepted to Juilliard as a cello student, I was on top of the world. I felt like a big fish swimming where others only dreamed of getting accepted. Before that, I had practiced many hours every day, trying to catch up to other students who’d been studying since they were 4 years old. (I started taking cello lessons at 14, so by the time college came around, I was behind by about a decade.) But thanks to God’s grace, a great teacher, and practicing like mad for 6-8 hours a day for four years, I made it.
So, by the time I got into Juilliard, I thought I was pretty hot stuff.
Until I went to the practice rooms and heard all the wunderkinds practicing around me.
To say that I was in a state of shock and awe would be a gross understatement. These kids were amazing! Some of them were already giving concerts in all the major halls, had recording contracts with major labels, and subbing for greats like Itzhak Perlman. They deserved all that success because they were true geniuses.
But I began to suffer from an acute case of intimidation and discouragement. I feared going to those practice rooms with paper thin walls, because if I could hear three other musicians around me practicing, they could all hear me.
Practicing became a frightening experience. Performing was literally feeling the opposite of what they tell you to do to overcome stage fright: I felt like *I* was the one in my underwear before the audience. Finally, under the weight of it all, I told my teacher I felt like quitting.
What he said to me in response shaped my attitude for the rest of my life. He said [I’m paraphrasing a bit] “I can understand why you want to quit. And to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t think any less of you if you chose to do that. It’s a tough road and not for everyone. But it’s a lot like marriage. You see, when you first started playing the cello, you were merely infatuated. You didn’t have very high standards and you didn’t know better. You played because it was fun and it pleased you. But now, as you improve and your standards are raised and continue to be challenged to push you to the highest levels, it’s not as fun. It’s hard work, and even painful. But if you’re committed to the art you love, you’re not in it for what it gives you, but what you give to it. That’s what love is: giving, not taking.
“People get divorced when things get tough, when that “loving feeling” is gone. People quit when it’s not fun anymore, or it gets too challenging. But those who stick with it, those who work through it and work things out? Only they will experience a lasting joy that those who quit never will. There’s a high price to pay for it, but the rewards of staying true, and staying the course are incomparable.”
You know, I’m so glad my teacher didn’t say, “No, don’t quit. You’re too talented, what a waste that would be. All that hard work, all that time!” Deep down, I was a little hurt he didn’t try to talk me out of it, but that hurt lasted only a few seconds. Instead, he told it to me like it was. Count the cost, do it for the love, and be committed when it feels bad and when it isn’t giving you pleasure.
Now, flash-forward 26 years with me.
I recently began an exercise regime with an awesome former Marine drill instructor. I’d been feeling really out of shape and after many failed attempts at the gym, I had to do something for my health’s sake. A friend of mine from church had been a member of this exercise program and had lost about 50 pounds during the time he joined. So, my family and I decided we’d join too.
On the first day, after the rigors of military physical training, I felt like throwing up. Apparently, several before me had done that on their first day, so I didn’t feel so bad. What kept me going was the motivation of my peers and the instructor. One thing my instructor said that resonates with the words of my cello teacher two and a half decades ago is: “We’re committed, not inspired,” meaning, we show up, give it our all, and keep going, not because we feel like doing it, but because we have committed to doing what it takes to get results.
“Committed, not inspired” is what my cello teacher was getting me to understand back then, and what my Motivational Drill Instructor is reminding me of today. During those days when I don’t feel particularly excited about working out, writing, or anything else to which I’m committed, I remember this and I do what it takes, not because I feel like it, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Whatever it is that you’re committed to—your job, your family, your marriage, your art, your workouts– just remember that when you’re not feeling it, that’s when you dig in your heels and refuse to quit. Don’t go it alone. Get some other like-minded friends or even a coach, to keep you going and push through the pain. In the end, you will reap the fruit of commitment that you will never otherwise know. And that fruit is sweet.
Joshua Graham grew up in Brooklyn, NY where he lived for the better part of 30 years. He holds a Bachelor and Master’s Degree and went on to earn his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. During his time in Maryland, he taught as a professor at Shepherd College (WV), Western Maryland College, and Columbia Union College (MD).
Today he lives with his beautiful wife and children in Southern California. Several of Graham’s short fiction works have been published by Pocket Books and Dawn Treader Press.
Connect with Josh on:
I had the pleasure of sharing space with Tom Adair at Crime Fiction Collective, a great blog about the business of writing. I know a fair amount about guns, and still, several times, Tom’s posts taught me something about guns, ammunition, or shooting. I enjoyed his debut, The Scent of Fear, so much that I blurbed it for him. It’s a great book with a lot to teach writers about forensics. I highly recommend it.
Today Tom visits to talk about his method of beating writer’s block.
Please welcome Tom Adair!
Writer’s Block? Abandon the Linear Chronology
Most people are conditioned to think and act linearly. In the process of systems development you have to build upon what is already there if you hope to move forward. No one reads the even numbered book chapters first or begins a movie half-way through right? Doing things out of order just doesn’t seem normal. But when you find yourself staring at a blinking cursor and lacking direction, abandoning your linear thought process may be just what’s needed to move forward.
I approach writing in much the same way I reconstruct a major crime scene. I start by working with pieces. The only difference is that I can’t create the real life crime story; the evidence does that for me. Like writing, the process of crime scene reconstruction can frustrate the analyst, especially when they can’t seem to figure out how all the pieces fit together. You see, criminalists never have a complete picture to work with. We know the criminal arrives and we know he departs but what about all the little things in between?
This is where the process comes in. We call it Event Segment Analysis. Essentially we distill the events of the crime into single facts that are proven by the physical evidence and write that on a little post-it note. One may read window broken from outside, another may read victim’s shirt cut off, or table knocked over. At this point we don’t care about the order of the events we just want to identify those things that can be proven by the physical evidence. Those little post-it notes are like the scenes in a novel. They tell a little story within a much larger one.
When I plan a novel I have a definite beginning, definite ending, and a number of scenes planned in between. I don’t fill in many of the details until I’m writing that particular scene. I call that filling in the gaps and I’ll bet many of you do something similar. Often, I have no idea if a particular scene I want to create will end up in chapter ten or fifty-five. I just know I want it to fit in when the time is right. As I write, however, I naturally fall into a linear thought process. At first things go well; this scene leads into that one and then the next. Eventually though I hit a roadblock. I can’t see how one event is going to lead into the next and the creative process stops.
It is at times like these that I remember my approach to crime scene reconstruction. Sometimes it helps to look at things (scenes) out of order to get them to make sense. If you’re like me you have a number of scenes planned for you novel. Maybe two people fall in love, betray one another, and commit a murder or some other crime. So when I find myself blocked I just start writing a scene that I have planned for later in the novel. I don’t care if I can fit it together with another part, I just write.
As I develop that scene, the characters, their dialog, something interesting happens; I get more creative. I realize that some of what I am writing at that moment may change but I don’t care. In fact, one of the most enjoyable parts of my writing process is developing characters and scenes I had never envisioned when I first outlined the story. They develop out of necessity. Pretty soon the gaps get shorter and the process of connecting the scenes gets easier.
So the next time you find yourself unable to figure out what comes next in your scene; divorce yourself from a linear chronology and restart your creative juices by working on another scene you had planned. As those scenes develop the gaps in your story will shrink and you’ll be well on your way to finishing the story.
Tom Adair is a retired senior criminalist and internationally recognized forensic scientist. His first novel The Scent of Fear was published in 2012. Tom demystifies forensics for crime writers at his blog forensics4fiction.
Please welcome my new friend Jillian Dodd to Getting Over the Hump Day. Many of you know Jillian from our MANday challenge this summer. For those of you who haven’t met Jillian yet, she’s a YA author who’s had tremendous success with her books That Boy and That Wedding.
Thanks to Jillian for giving us her advice on getting over the hump.
I love to write and never sit and stare at a blank screen waiting for the words to come. They usually flow right out of me. I’ve never had writer’s block, but I have had times where a scene or portion of a book just isn’t really working right. Sometimes I think we get so close to our writing that we need to step away. Even though it seems like I’m focusing on other things, my mind is still trying to work out a way. I usually try to motivate it to do so by doing the following:
1. Go for a drive. I roll the windows down, crank up the music, and drive with no where in mind to go.
2. Go for a walk.
3. Cook dinner.
5 Call my mom.
When I do things 1-4, I always have my phone handy. Many large chunks of my books are written on a notepad in my phone. I then email it to myself and load it into the manuscript I’m working on.
Number 5 is when I start talking it out. My mom reads all of my works in process, and she’s great at giving me the hard truth when something isn’t working. When Mom and I talk, we basically are brainstorming. Throwing out other ways that the story could go. Other ways the characters could react.
I’m also in a great writer’s group that has a very unique way of working. We help each other brainstorm and sometimes that’s what a writer really needs. Another perspective. Some wild ideas. Things that open my brain up and get it out of the tight focus that it’s been in. For some reason, that allows my mind to come up with the answers it’s been searching for.
What about you? What sorts of techniques do you use to get your mind ready for writing?
Jillian Dodd grew up in Nebraska, where she developed a love for storytelling, Husker football, and Midwestern boys.
She currently resides in Texas with her family.
Follow Jill on her website and blog,
Glitter, Bliss, and Perfect Chaos.
A portion of the proceeds from all Jillian’s books are donated to charity.
Please welcome Joe McCoubrey, an Irish journalist and now a full time thriller writer who I’ve met this past year. Joe shares some great ideas about getting down to work as well as his process for getting the ideas for his stories down. He’s a pantser and not a plotter (like me) but I can relate to rushing out of bed the way Joe describes.
How I get over ‘The Hump’ by Joe McCoubrey
We all hit a brick wall now and again with our writing.
I don’t know about you guys but at times like that I find it easier to look for something else to do, convince myself that I need a break, anything but stare at a blank screen.
It’s procrastination with a capital P and I’m ashamed of all the times I’ve succumbed to its charms.
I’ll let you into a little secret. After battling with it for several years I finally figured out what to do about it.
Let me first set the record straight. I’m not talking about the dreaded muse here! There’s no such thing! Don’t listen to those who perpetuate the myth about some sort of inspirational phantom who ‘visits’ the worthy and drips ideas into their psyche.
Waiting for some kind of divine assistance is a bit like believing in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or that Bill Clinton didn’t have relations with that woman!
We writers have an urge to write. At times it’s overwhelming, and on those occasions the words seem to flow. But is this caused by a muse? Do me a favour! The simple fact is that our urge to write is greatest when we develop our ideas for a plot, or a sub-plot. On those occasions we can’t ignore the demand to get the ideas down on paper.
What do I mean by developing ideas?
Well, unless you’re a storyboard plotter who maps out every scene and every twist and turn before starting on paragraph 1 of chapter 1, there will be times, and lots of them, when you will struggle over how to keep the story flowing, making sure you create just the right amount of continuity, linkage and pace for the reader. It’s at these times you will experience the hump.
Incidentally, I’m not a big advocate of storyboarding. I’ve tried writing both ways and can honestly say that after a minimum of original outlining I find ad-libbing my way through the story creates a far better flow. I love not quite knowing what I’ll end up doing with a particular character or scene, and oftentimes it helps my own writing enjoyment. But maybe that’s just me.
However, I’ve digressed. I get over the continuity hurdle by taking time out to imagine the next scene. I usually do this at night prior to going to sleep by forcing myself into a dream scene of what my characters are getting up to. I’ve gotten so good at it that it becomes vivid, so much so that I’ve often jumped out of bed and rushed to the keyboard to knock out a few paragraphs to remind me where to start my next session.
I kid you not! It works so well that I’ve also found myself replaying scenes already written and deciding they need re-touching because a new idea or a missing link has become apparent.
The motivation to write is another matter altogether. I try to set aside time every day for writing but it’s not always possible to be so disciplined. The enthusiasm is bound to wane from time to time and I’ve been known to stay away for days on end. One period of inaction lasted six weeks!
The thing that drives me out of the ruts like these is reading the works of other authors. Someone once said you can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader, and how right he/she was. I’m a devourer of books. It was my love of reading that got me into writing, and it’s what still sustains me. Reading great authors and marvelling at their skills in telling diverse stories in individualistic styles is a tremendous motivation to want to get back to my own writing.
As writers we can dream up the kind of characters who rise at 7am, do a 10-mile run, grab a shower and a light breakfast, and be settled in front of their computers ready for a solid 8-hour shift progressing their latest novel by 10,000 words a day. Heck, we can even see them knocking out a new masterpiece every six weeks or so.
Thankfully, they exist only in our imaginations! The reality for writers has much less glamor and a lot more drudge.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire those with the discipline and fortitude to set regular hours, but it’s not my cup of tea. I try to pencil in certain days and times for my writing. But if things get in the way, I don’t get flustered about it – I know there will be other times when I’ll probably more than make up for ‘lost’ output by putting in a good marathon session.
I suppose, on balance, I prefer the scattered approach of letting the ideas form in my head, and then rushing (relatively speaking) to the laptop to try to get them down.
What I found to my cost is that it is wrong to draw up a seat in front of the laptop and prepare to write, without having previously formed reasonable thoughts and ideas.
Writer’s block? No, just a case of being mentally unprepared to bring ideas to life. It leads to frustration, annoyance, and eventually anger. I determined a long time ago not to go down that road.
If I have one last piece of advice to offer, it is this. When you do encounter a brick wall don’t walk away. There’s a lot you could be doing while you wait to get your ideas back into shape. The best activity has got be to editing and proofing what you’ve already written. This is a chore that simply has to be done over and over again so why not tackle it when you have the time?
If nothing else it will ‘clean up’ the work already done but, more importantly, it will remind you that the stuff you’ve written so far is not half bad! It will probably also put you back in touch with your story and your characters, thereby leading to a renewed burst of ideas and enthusiasm to go forward.
There are many, many ways to get over the hump. I’ve outlined a few of mine but I’m betting others have different, more effective methods for dealing with the roadblocks.
All you can do is find what works for you.
Joe McCoubrey is a former Irish newspaper editor who is now a full-time action thriller writer. In the early seventies he was working in the Civil Service based at Stormont, the seat of the Northern Ireland Government, and watched behind the scenes as some of the country’s most momentous events unfolded. These were the early dark days of the ‘troubles’ – events that reverberated around the world, and somehow served to push him towards his real passion of writing. He became a newspaperman, started his own media business, and took a front row seat as history was played out in Ireland.
His short action story Death By Licence has just been published by Master Koda Select Publishing. His debut full-length thriller Someone Has To Pay will soon be released. A second full-length actioner is at the editing stages, and work has started on an Irish crime thriller.
Joe McCoubrey has lived all his life in the beautiful Irish town of Downpatrick, made famous by its association with the national Patron Saint, St. Patrick.
You can visit him at: http://joemccoubrey.com/
Please welcome Vincent Zandri to Get Over The Hump Day.
If pressure makes diamonds Vincent Zandri is certainly a gem. When I first shared the spotlight with Vincent on Blog Talk Radio, he was welcoming and generous. He was as supportive as any indie author without a hint that he was outselling Stephen King. He has a kindness and peace that only come after overcoming great obstacles.
Today he shares a very personal and inspirational story. Enjoy!
Surviving the Slump
By Vincent Zandri
The year was 2005 and I was at my wick’s end.
What had started out as a stellar literary career of writing crime novels for a Random House imprint to the tune of 200K a pop in advance money, went south due to a corporate merger. I had published two books that were going nowhere and, at the same time, gotten involved in a ghost writing project that, while sending me around the world on a fact finding mission on the client’s dime, nearly drove me towards a nervous breakdown when it came time for the actual writing. Imagine writing for someone who is constantly telling you, “You can’t write that piece of dialogue. My friend George Bush won’t like it.” That’s the kind of vice tightening madness I was up against.
I was broke from a protracted divorce, without a home I could call my own, no money in the bank, considerable debt, no book contracts, no work, nothing. I had recently remarried and it was not going well. Instead of being a good and decent husband, I spent most of my nights staying up until the wee hours, stressing, plotting, but mostly just feeling sorry for myself. Things got so bad, my wife asked me to move out. I loved her more than any woman in the world. And because I loved her, I did what she asked of me. I moved out.
A couple of months later I woke on a cold Christmas morning. The kids were already up, but I decided I didn’t want to have a Christmas that year. So I stayed in bed until everyone had opened their gifts. When I finally emerged from my bedroom sometime that late afternoon, I went immediately to the refrigerator and cracked open a beer. I also lit up a cigarette. I stood there at the sink, staring at the beer and the blue smoke rising up from the cigarette. I knew I had reached a pivotal moment in my life. I could either slide down that slippery slope towards certain protracted death. Or, I could somehow make the effort to get my life back together.
I’m not sure what came over me at that very moment in time, but I put out the cigarette and dumped the beer. I apologized to my family over missing Christmas and then I put on my running clothes and went for a long jog on that cold December afternoon.
The next day I went back to work. Since it was going to be a while until I could manage another book contract, I went back to the beginning, so to speak. I went back to the same kind of freelance journalism and freelance writing that had originally sustained me back when I was just starting out. It took some time, but I eventually scored gigs with some global publications. I worked so hard at it day in and day out, that within the year I was working for RT, Russia’s English speaking 24 hour global satellite news network. I found myself writing news pieces, professional blogs and photographing in places like West Africa, Moscow, Italy, Paris and other destinations. I also secured some much needed bread and butter work with some trade journals that specialized in architecture, building, and design. Suddenly, I was paying my rent and putting some money away. I’d even managed to pay up most of my debt. Not bad considering when I moved out of my house my wife loaned me fifty bucks in order to start a checking account.
I wasn’t only writing journalism at the time. I was also stealing an hour or so a day to work on the new novel that would become Moonlight Falls. To my surprise, an agent willingly took it on, and while I was still more or less blackballed by the majors for having not earned out my original $250K advance, she secured a contract with a small publisher. I couldn’t have been happier. I was not only back as a professional writer and journalist, I had a new book coming out.
I was so encouraged by my humble but serious success that I started taking even more time out to write fiction. That next year I wrote The Remains, The Concrete Pearl, and then Moonlight Rises. Those got picked up by one of the hottest indie publishers in the business. In the meantime, my agent managed to re-acquire the rights to my Random House books, The Innocent and Godchild. My new publisher agreed to republish them also. By the fourth year of my career rebuilding and re-commitment to excellence, I had sold more than one-hundred thousand copies of The Innocent and nearly the same for Godchild. The Remains would go on to sell at least as many. Almost all of these sales were e-book sales, which meant the books would never go out of print. In the end, I sold so many books I would have earned out my Random House advance.
Enter year six. With my new sales record and the income that was coming in along with it, I found myself with a new agent. That agent was able to repackage Vincent Zandri and acquire an eight book, “very nice deal” with arguably the hottest and potentially most powerful new major publisher on the block: Thomas & Mercer of Amazon Publishing. I had come full circle.
It took six full years to overcome the hump, or slump if you will, that began with a simple corporate restructuring. No matter what you call it, it still resulted in my having been served a crap sandwich. But there’s a major lesson to be learned here. As bad and personally directed as it all seemed at the time, my situation wasn’t unique. This business is fraught with disappointments and stumbling blocks too numerous to mention here. It’s not a matter of avoiding them since you can’t possibly avoid them all, but a matter of positioning yourself so that you can deal with them without having to take too many steps backwards.
Sure I have the major deal again but unlike the last time, I have set myself up so that I am never without a writing income, should one of my sources go south. How can you do the same?
–Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. If you’re a journalist and/or freelance writer, try and maintain a client or two, even if your books are making you a nice living. The money will be welcome, and it will keep your journalism skills sharp.
–Don’t rely on one method of publishing. Acquire major, traditionally-based independent, and self publishing contracts. This is an ever changing business and what seems like an awesome major contract today can become a real dog tomorrow.
–Ally yourself with a very good agent. He or she will secure you work should you need it. And of course, they will sell your movie, TV, and foreign rights.
–Take care of yourself. I still like to drink beer and wine, but I never again touched another cigarette after that one dreadful Christmas day nearly seven years ago now. I run and lift on a daily basis and I love to cook good food.
–Travel. See the world and write about it. This will re-energize the batteries and give you a global perspective, the least of which is this: the world and the universe does not revolve around you.
–If you’re in bad relationship that prohibits your making a success of yourself as a writer, get out of it. My second wife saw the destructiveness of our relationship and she made the difficult decision to end it while we still had love for one another and even a friendship. Today, I have my life back together and we are once more a couple. But this relationship is so different from what we had before, that she seems like an entirely new woman to me. And as for me, I’m an entirely new man. I’ve learned from my mistakes and turned a disaster into a success. More importantly, I’ve grown up. And in doing so, I survived the slump.
Vincent Zandri is the No. 1 International Bestselling Amazon author of THE INNOCENT, GODCHILD, THE REMAINS, MOONLIGHT FALLS, CONCRETE PEARL, MOONLIGHT RISES, SCREAM CATCHER, BLUE MOONLIGHT and MURDER BY MOONLIGHT. He is also the author of the Amazon bestselling digital shorts, PATHOLOGICAL, TRUE STORIES and MOONLIGHT MAFIA. Harlan Coben has described THE INNOCENT (formerly As Catch Can) as “…gritty, fast-paced, lyrical and haunting,” while the New York Post called it “Sensational…Masterful…Brilliant!” Zandri’s list of publishers include Delacorte, Dell, StoneHouse Ink, StoneGate Ink and Thomas & Mercer. An MFA in Writing graduate of Vermont College, Zandri’s work is translated into many languages including the Dutch, Russian, and Japanese. An adventurer, foreign correspondent, and freelance photo-journalist for RT, Globalspec, IBTimes and more, he lives in Albany, New York. For more go to WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM