Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Balancing Act

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

It wasn’t long ago that I could pick up a book and read it from cover to cover without fighting the urge to grab a red pencil. Far be it for me to have noticed the author’s excessive use of tags, or cringe at his or her POV glitches.

I’ve always loved to read—loved the feeling of becoming one with the story. No, as long as the plot kept my interest I read. I marveled at the author’s ability to transport me into his fictional world—wished I could do that—never thought I would.

The image I had of writers was that of a wonderfully elite group of intellectuals who lived charmed lives. I imagined my favorite author lounging on a wicker chair on the front porch of his seaside bungalow, a drink in one hand, a pen in the other. He’d gaze across the shoreline at the incoming surf and methodically contemplated a plot while his agent and publisher eagerly wait for him to complete his next brilliant work.

My plots come to me while I stand in line at the market. My character’s dialogue comes into focus while I clean out a cluttered closet, and the scene of the crime takes shape as I scrub down the bathroom. I go to work every day from eight to five. The closest shoreline to our house is Lake Michigan which is four to six hours away, depending on who is driving, and believe me, life is anything but charmed. It is, however, becoming increasingly interesting. Such is the real life of a writer.

The release of SILENCED CRY was preceded by months of edits and stringent deadlines. The marketing and promotion end of things slammed into me like a runaway train that barely gave me a chance to stop and ask for directions. Needless to say, the experience placed me on a major learning curve. It also tossed my life off kilter and for the first time in several years I felt ... off balance.

I continued at a mad pace for nearly two years until I recently reached my limit. I had spread myself dangerously thin. The slightest new demand on my time felt like another weight on my shoulders. I was quickly losing the tug of war and didn’t like it. So I stopped and reminded myself to take a deep breath and say, “No.”

Gee, wasn’t that easy?

I cleared the slate and decided it was time for some time management; prioritizing and completing tasks within a certain timeframe. But more important was the need to assess the challenges I’ve been presented with on a daily/weekly/monthly basis and adjust my routine accordingly. In other words, balance my life. I should have known better, but I had became so focused on my writing the past few years that I might as well have flipped a coin to see what else would get done. Now, I never missed a family gathering, graduations, holidays, birthdays or any like that. But it was as if I was only half there because the writing kept lurking in the back of my mind like a genie ready to pop out of its bottle.

All first time authors face many unknowns and eventually we all get through them. Soon I’ll start working on the Oct/Nov launch of my second book. This time I’m feeling amazingly calm about it. In part, because I know what to expect. The blurb is done, the cover is in the works, my marketing plan is in place, and life is once again as it should be. Back to “normal.” Okay, so maybe my life will never be “normal” again, but I’m bound and determined to spend many a summer night lounging out on our patio with a tall ice tea in my hand and do some star gazing (a favorite past time). I vow to take time to watch my flowers and vegetables grow over the coming weeks and I’ll definitely spend more time with the people I love.

The king of balanced living, Aaron Lazar, suggested that sometimes breaking away from the usual rituals can open up our brain and make us see the light. I believe he’s right. Think I’ll get out my oils again and paint a scene. Maybe it will stir an emotion that will ... oh no, lead to another book!

* * *
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. SILENCED CRY is available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on my website
Honorary Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival
2007 Top Ten, Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT coming soon, fall, 2008.


Julie Ann Shapiro said...

Yes, a change in routine can open up new areas of creativity. With my first two books I pushed myself to work on them practically every night and squeeze in other story ideas here and there. But then with my third book I fell more in love with short stories and had to break up the routine and take long breaks from it to explore the other stories. I even gave it a six month break, which breathed new life into it.

Now my routine is more of less one of rotation. I listen to the muse. Some nights I'll write a brand new flash fiction story. Other nights I'll edit the novel in process or write a story for an emerging story collection.

I've found that hopping from one project to the next keeps the writing fun and makes it more like play and less like work.

Kim Smith said...

Oh you guys! you soooo inspire me :) -- I will hopefully get back into the saddle soon!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Wow! "The King of Balanced Living?" Very cool, now there's a title I haven't heard before. Thanks, Marta. Great article. Sometimes we just have to stop and live life. It's as simple as that.

Marta Stephens said...

LOL I thought you'd like that, Aaron. But it's the truth. I don't know how you manage sometimes, but you do!