Thursday, May 29, 2014

Help for the Weary Writer by Carla Stewart

Award-winning author of five novels, Carla Stewart has a passion for times gone by. It's her desire to take readers back to that warm, familiar place in their hearts called “home.”
She launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the coveted honor of attending the Guidepost’s Writers Workshop. Since then she’s had numerous magazine and anthology articles published. Carla was the 2011 trophy winner of the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. “Best Book of Fiction”, an Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award (Faith, Hope, and Love) finalist in 2011 and winner in 2012, a two-time Genesis winner, and an Oklahoma Book Award finalist four times. She and her husband live in Tulsa and have four adult sons and six grandchildren (with one on the way!). Learn more about Carla on her websiteTwitter, Facebook, GoodReads, & Pinterest.

I just turned in my sixth contracted book – something that a few years ago I never imagined would happen. To say I feel blessed is an understatement. Saying that I was exhausted is not. It was the second book “from scratch” I’d written in twelve months, and while others do this quite readily and successfully, it stretched me to the outer limits. And left me feeling as if I couldn’t write another word. Ever.

And yet, there was a part of me that was heavy with guilt for not being able to move right into the next proposal/social media craze/book idea. Somehow in the quest to write more books, gain more followers, and achieve success, the entire point of writing in the first place had taken its toll. I wanted to curl up and sleep for a week.

As novelists we’re in the constant state of creating worlds and characters that entertain readers and give them an escape from their harried worlds. Yet, we often fail to give ourselves the same grace—moments of abandoning life’s pressures and just being in the moment. In turn, our readers don’t get the full benefit of our best work because we haven’t refilled own wells of creativity. The next step will surely be writer burnout.

Am I alone in this presumption? I don’t think so as I read posts and social media updates almost every day from writers who are at their wits’ end. Giving up isn’t the answer. Taking a sabbatical might be. Even our Lord rested on the seventh day.

How to take a sabbatical:
  • Take stock. You know what deadlines and obligations you have. Fulfill those and plan a date in the near future when you will take a rest.
  • Decide how long your sabbatical will be. Some people can bounce back and be refreshed in a week or two. Others may need three months or even a year. It’s always wise to keep in mind that if you disappear for too long, you will lose momentum with your audience, so know what your goals are and whether or not you may be making a change of direction and can afford a longer period.
  • Remove distractions. Clean your house. Make sure your bills are paid up to date. Be strong and say no to anything that may keep you from your planned time of sabbatical.
  • Unplug from the electronic world. If you feel it’s necessary to announce that you’ll be scarce for awhile, that’s fine. Do inform anyone who needs to know how to reach you if needed.
  • What to do on a sabbatical. Listen to your soul. Activities should be directed by what comforts or inspires you. If napping for an entire day in the hammock in the back yard is your idea of heaven, do it. Take walks on nature trails. Go to concerts or plays. Spend a day volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Go to the mall and people watch. Paint a picture. Take a picture. Write a poem. Visit a flea market and buy something that makes you happy. Take the time to visit with an elderly neighbor and listen to his story with your heart. Invite a friend you haven’t seen in awhile to lunch. Have family game night and do include your children in some of your activities. Truly listen to them and let their laughter fill you. Take a cooking class or art class. Go on a picnic or a weekend trip. Build something out of wood. Plant a garden. Journal words that make you smile or tidbits from your day that touched you and identify the emotion it gave you. Walk a labyrinth and count your blessings.
  • Lose yourself in books. Not just the ones you’ve been saving because someone said “you have to read this book” but old favorites, the ones that inspired you to become a writer. Read something outside your preferred genre or that classic you’ve been meaning to read since 1995. Re-read your favorite book of the Bible. Memorize it.
  • Resist the urge to return too soon. You will notice, as I have, that ideas will start coming, and the temptation to open a file or start a new project is enticing. Instead, keep a notebook handy and jot down your ideas, a future to-do list or tasks that have come to your attention while you are on sabbatical. Like the dirty dishes in the sink, they will still be there when you’re ready to tackle them.

A time of rest is different for everyone, but refilling the well that is uniquely you will help you gain perspective on the important things in life and massage the worn-out corners of your heart and mind.

Rest. Refuel. Arise with sparkling new ideas and stories you can’t wait to plunge into. The world is waiting for the best you have to offer. That which only comes when you’ve given yourself the gift of unfettered time.

Do you struggle with burnout? How do you fill your creative well?  

For Nell Marchwold, bliss is seeing the transformation when someone gets a glimpse in the mirror while wearing one of her creations and feels beautiful. Nell has always strived to create hats that bring out a woman's best qualities. She knows she's fortunate to have landed a job as an apprentice designer at the prominent Oscar Fields Millinery in New York City. Yet when Nell's fresh designs begin to catch on, her boss holds her back from the limelight, claiming the stutter she's had since childhood reflects poorly on her and his salon.

But it seems Nell's gift won't be hidden by Oscar's efforts. Soon an up-and-coming fashion designer is seeking her out as a partner of his 1922 collection. The publicity leads to an opportunity for Nell to make hats in London for a royal wedding. There, she sees her childhood friend, Quentin, and an unexpected spark kindles between them. But thanks to her success, Oscar is determined to keep her. As her heart tugs in two directions, Nell must decide what she is willing to sacrifice for her dream, and what her dream truly is. 


Gina Holmes said...

Good advice, Carla. Just doing one book a year (and working my day job) gives me burnout. I can't imagine writing two in one year. Love your new cover and synopsis. Sounds wonderful!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I agree, Carla. As an indie, I have gotten pretty burned out getting 2 books out in the space of a year. Along with editing and formatting comes marketing...suffice it to say, I haven't written anything beyond blogposts for months. I'm planning to take this summer off from everything but some minimal marketing to recharge before tackling my next historical.

But you are so right--I think we KNOW when our wells are getting dry and we are wise to pull back and take that break we need. BTW I love your book cover! Thanks for sharing today and reminding us to slow down sometimes.

Ane Mulligan said...

Lots of good tips, Carla. A book a year is my speed, I think. I'm realistic. ;o)

carla stewart said...

Gina, writers who also work at a day (or night) job have my greatest admiration. How you do it and still write such wonderful books is truly grace in action. Thanks, friend!

carla stewart said...

it's a fine line, Heather, when you throw all the marketing and other things into the mix. Glad to hear you are pulling back this summer - perhaps I should have mentioned taking walks along the beach or fleeing to the mountains. Both of those sound pretty tempting right now! Blessings to you as you find your groove again.

Thanks for the compliment about the book cover - while I'm busy writing, my publishers work on marvels like this.

carla stewart said...

Thanks, Ane, and thank you so much for inviting me to Novel Rocket. I wouldn't be half the writer I am today if not for all the wonderful advice I've read here over the years.

My books are one a year as well, but the contract timing and publishers schedule tightened these last two deadlines a bit. Now, they are done, so I can relax for awhile!

Being realistic is a good way not to push yourself to burnout. Can't wait for your first book to come out, Miss Ane!

Carrie Turansky said...

Hi Carla, these are wonderful ideas! I can identify with the need for an extended break. I just finished a book and now it's time to start the next. I will be planning a longer break after this one. I hope you enjoy your time off. : )

carla stewart said...

Thanks, Carrie! While I had a short break in April, I'm back to working on edits and promoting my upcoming release. I'm really looking forward to July and August, though! Hope you get some much-needed time of refreshing, too. Thanks for stopping by.

Jennie said...

Good advice, Carla, for someone who has struggled for four days over the same paragraph. I think I need to refuel.

carla stewart said...

Jennie, I've had days like that, but I bet your paragraph is a work of art :-)