Becoming A Writer

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I always wanted to be a writer. I’d been studying my whole life as a reader, but it wasn’t enough. There are many more readers than writers out there. I needed to do more so I began to read about writing, took a short course, listened to podcasts. I bombard myself with writing knowledge but learning only the theory of the craft would take me so far. Sitting down and writing, not once, not occasionally, but every single day took me into the realm of artist where I gained the invaluable practical knowledge. 

Writing and showing up each day to write is when my craft grew exponentially. The snippets of information I had gleamed in my initial studies would pop into my head and they began to shape my art. I tried techniques suggested, those that worked stayed and those that didn’t were filled away as do not use. As I continued on, through the days I longed to sit at my desk and write and those days when I didn’t want to, but did anyway (and those days always produced the best work and left me feeling glad I showed up) I realised that the biggest teacher of all was the art itself. I had proven myself a willing student, had managed to close the door on those swirling voices telling me I was not good enough, that I was wasting my time, that it was all a load of crap. I pushed through and kept going and then, the art began to teach me. 

The creativity, which was so sparse I question if it was even there in the beginning, began to grow. It grew to the point where I entered the magical state of flow. I would sit for hours, churning out material and unaware of the time that had passed. But it wasn’t just at my desk. I would be in the shower early in the morning and run out, dripping water all over the floor, reaching for pen and paper to scribble down the idea that burst into my head; the next storyline or conversation or character development. Those came to me at the most unusual times but they were the diamonds and I was not going to miss a single one. 

Beginning was the most difficult part of all. Continuing on was tough, but as I continued there was a spark that lit up and soon enough burned into a raging fire that would not let me stop. The idea has caught me and it was not letting go until the job was done. Yet that burning passion came later. All I had in the beginning was one thought. Enough of this wanting to be a writer, they only way it’s going to happen is to stop wishing and start doing. That was all I had. I sat down and I typed. The next day I sat down and I typed and the day after that and so on. I didn’t even know what the story was in these early days. I had a vague idea of something with no idea of an ending or even a middle and I went along. Once I’d proven my commitment, the muse showed up and guided me along the way, taking my story into places I would never have conceived at the start. 

I continued to study. Reading, listening, talking with others. The study was much easier now that I had the ability to apply it to something. Then came that moment where I reached the end. The manuscript was finished. I rested it (just one of the thousands on invaluable tips I had gained) and came back to it. Yes it was in need of an enormous amount of work, but I knew I had tapped into something. The passion was burning and it fuels me still, to keep going. Because I am an artist now, a professional, I know my craft inside out and I know the standard I want to achieve and I am working on that standard each day. Like all good things worth accomplishing, it is taking longer than I ever anticipated, but I know it is worth every amount of energy I put into it. I know I am crafting my masterpiece that I will be proud to attach my name to. There will be others after it, however, like the first time of anything, there will always be something special about this one, the piece that taught me how to be a writer.

Sunday Meditation – Flexible

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Flexible. All we can control in this life is ourselves and how we respond to what life delivers to us. The randomness, the ups and downs and those events that come at us from the side, shaking the ground we stand on. Being flexible allows us to continue on towards our dreams while adjusting to these events in our life and not allowing them to take us so far off course we become lost. This means being aware that goals will change, timeframes will shift and falling down requires us to reexamine and make changes as we pull ourselves up again. With our goals in view we recenter ourselves and continue on in stability, with a lightness that allows us to mould again when our world once more shifts its angle.

Sunday Meditation – Intuition

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Intuition. Developing our intuition comes from knowing ourselves at a deeper level, who we are and what matters to us. When we fail to ignore ourselves we will seek our answers externally, often relying on other people to guide and direct us. Yet no one can know us better than ourselves, for even our closest companions barely scratch our surface. To hand control externally will ensure our lives continue to be tossed and turned like a boat in rough seas with no one taking the wheel. When we have developed our intuition we are able to proceed with an inner confidence and faith in our decisions, even if those around us disagree. We know what is right for us and what will serve us to accomplishing our goals. When we honour this inner wisdom our lives become steadier and more consistent and we are no longer surprised when opportunities arise, because we took the steps to lead ourselves to them.

What Is My Book About?

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Since announcing to the world I had written a novel, I’ve been asked many times; “What is your book about?” It’s a great question and a natural one, it’s certainly the first question I would ask someone. However every time it is asked I want to scamper away because I haven’t yet formulated an answer. The question is also a reminder that I should sit down and write out my pitch for the novel. How do I answer this question without going into too much detail and accidentally giving the ending away. The first few times I was asked this question I waved my hand and said it is contemporary women’s fiction. My novel does fit into that category, but what book with a female protagonist written post 1950’s doesn’t fit that category. That response doesn’t reveal a single thing about the content of my book only that the main character is female. 

It wasn’t until I began to review the submission guidelines for my first choice in publisher that I started to think more seriously about this question. Firstly, what category does it fit into. If I choose the generic ‘contemporary women’s fiction’ how will my book ever stand out in such a sea of storylines. Besides, my book has a specific theme. It’s a love story. Or perhaps more accurately, love stories. And yet I shudder to say it’s a romance. I read a substantial amount of novels that fall under the category of romance, although it’s not something I openly admit to doing. When I think of romance I don’t think of the novels that capture my heart but the twenty Mills & Boon books I bought for $2 at a country fete while on holidays sometime in my early teenage years. Each one indistinguishable from the next. 

I was asked the question again the other day, wanting to change my response I replied my novel is a romance. The immediate follow up question was; “Like 50 Shades of Grey?” I recoiled. While I would never disregard another artist, and acknowledgment must be given for the enormous success of the trilogy, success most commercial writers dream of, that particular genre of writing, isn’t my cup of tea as granny would say. This was also the response I feared getting which was why I avoided saying romance to begin with. Straight up my book will not have you racing for a cold shower. 

When I was 16 I was introduced to Pride and Prejudice, the book and the mini series with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy (the only adaptation I recognise). I fell in love with that story and since then have fallen in love with love. Call me an optimist, I am. Attack me for wearing rose coloured glasses, but I find it the most enjoyable way to view the world. Label me a hopeless romantic, it fits me well. From where I stand, love makes the world go round and stories of love are some of the oldest and most enduring stories there are. And for almost all of us, tales of love are what we can relate to, both those with happy endings and those without. I am a storyteller of love, a cheer leader for love. My name is Elissa Johnston and I am a writer of love, and proud.

My story? It is a tale of love that spans over two decades. It will take you on a wonderful journey with a strong and endearing protagonist who I hope the reader falls a little in love with. It asks all kinds of questions about love; the search, the falling and love at different stages. And how do we make love fit in with life, how do we marry it with friends, with family, with career, with dreams. How high does love rank among our other desires and what do we do when they seem to conflict. And in the end, does she find love? 

Interested? I hope so and to that I say, watch this space.

Sunday Meditation – Passion

Passion. Those things that immediately spark within our core and summon us to action, that propel us, are our passions. They significantly contribute to our meaning, our mission within ourselves, our families, our communities and our work. They enable us to continue on when change becomes uncomfortable and allows us break through our comfort zones. When we labour on our passions, it is not work, it is pleasure and it drives us towards the visions we have. Life is dull without passion and often when we feel lost and dissatisfied it is because we have drifted away from what makes our heart sing. We know what our passions are, we simply need to cut the noise in the background and focus within and listen. Getting back on track is simple, by taking the smallest action towards our passions we will be reignited and renewed again and ensuring we are living our lives to the fullest.

Sunday Meditation – Hope

Hope. When we reflect on what we haven’t accomplished, on the mistakes made and the things we wished we could change in the past, our focus faces downwards and ensures our journey continues to be painful. Yet with hope, we can look upwards, at the promise of things to come, of our circumstances improving, of passing through our struggles and grasping the dreams we are working towards. Hope enables us to spot the opportunities that linger on our peripheral, and when we reach out for them they pull us up and forward with a force we would not have had otherwise. Hope propels us forward and enables us to tread lighter in the present. Regardless of what has taken place, or where we are in this moment, instilling hope ensures the future will be better, and that future will become our present.

When The Finish Line Vanishes

It is the unknown that keeps people up at night. Pondering how life may look if we did something else, what could have been, perhaps should have been and our fears suppress the actions we would have taken.

It was finished, that idea that sparked a sentence, then a paragraph then many months later an entire manuscript. A vision becoming reality. The bulk of the goal accomplished and now the finish line appeared on the horizon and it called my name. All that was required was an edit or two to polish the piece and go from manuscript to novel. That was 3 months ago. Today, the imminent finish line has vanished.

It was my fault. I thought the writing was close to brilliant. But with my mind in editor mode I saw it was close to rubbish. Then the story changed and I didn’t connect those dots and enveloping those factors was my total underestimation of how much time editing takes. The volume of work required to fix the holes and raise the standard of prose. I am re-writing entire chapters with new scenes and sub plots that didn’t exist in draft one. Is that editing or am I back into the perils of writing.  

Progress is painfully slow. Scenes that took a day to compose are now taking a week. My brain hurts from switching sides; creative to analytical and back to creative again. Procrastination has risen. Writing, once done first thing in the day, the one non negotiable has moved down the list. I’m chasing other things, items that are more measurable. Tasks that can be finished quickly. Anything with visible progress, finish line in sight. I’ll clean, I’ll bake, I’ll do whatever takes me away from the computer. From the tapping of letters on a keyboard followed by mass deletion. 

This is the hard part. Before, what I thought was hard, I realise were easy obstacles. I am now at make or break. It would be easy to stop. I have many excellent reasons for giving up. If I tossed it away and someone asked me why, I could pull out any of those arguments. The other person would nod, they would agree with me that I made the right decision for the justifications I provided and then move the conversation along. But in my heart I would ache and be unable to look at myself in the mirror. My life, like everyone else, a history of decisions. Moments of choosing left instead of right. Selecting A and not B. What if I do stop. But stopping will have me tossing and turning and pondering. I must finish so I know, and knowing isn’t trying it is finishing, and in finishing maybe it will change my life, maybe it won’t. Either way I will have an answer and I can sleep with knowledge. 

I’m tired. The excitement of this venture has gone, it doesn’t exist when I’m in the trenches, trudging along. I didn’t know it would take this long. It feels it’s taken long enough and I’m now doubting I am even halfway. But I’m too far along, there is no going back. This dream has caught me and shackles me. The idea is alive and it has manifested and won’t let me go. Yes you are weary but you are capable it says. So I must push through. Continue to chip away no matter how slow, no matter how much other parts of my life try to derail me. As slow as it is, every sentence kept and moved on from is progress. The finish line may have disappeared from my horizon, yet I know it exists. This is where faith kicks in. In my ability, in my endurance, in my determination. Faith the finish line will appear again and I will cross it. I have faith the finish line has a place for me on the podium and I need to keep going until I’m standing on it. So forward I go. Because once I cross that line that will be the moment I say, thank goodness I persevered. And I will know, what could have been, what should have been. What is.

Sunday Meditation – Let Go

Let go. Our lives are congested, when we feel stale and frustrated is when we need to take stock and remove the old. Relationships that being us no joy have already come to an end, thank them for their purpose and let go. Commitments we have made that are now a burden may be stopped. Instead we invest our time and energy into something more deserving. To bring in the new we need space and space can only be carved when we clear out what no longer aligns with who we are and where we are going. This process may be challenging, yet the release that accompanies it reassures us that we have done what is best for ourselves. When we let go, nothing holds us back and we are free to grow and the opportunities we have been searching for present themselves and now is the time to seize them.

Sunday Meditation – Stop

Stop. Time to lift our heads up, catch our breath and take a look around. Without stopping we will push ourselves into the ground and getting up from there will require a lot more energy. It’s even harder when we have been fortunate to stumble onto our passion, losing ourselves in that is pleasurable. But without a break our creativity dulls and our resources stretch thin. Have faith that pulling away is the best thing in this moment. We have many different aspects of our lives and this is a reminder to check our priorities and pour ourselves into those spaces that are asking for us. What we have toiled for will still be there when we return, and the work forward will be stronger because we stopped.

Make Them Human

@elissa.johnston-3

You will fall in love with my protagonist. She is beautiful, she is smart, she is popular, she is wealthy, she is successful, everyone wants to be like her. In short, she is perfect. Which therefore makes her completely un-relatable and makes the reader want to throw the book into a burning fireplace. Your characters are human and therefore they have flaws. Of course you love your characters, even the unlikeable ones, but it is easy to make your protagonist too perfect in an attempt to make them the hero. Particularly if on some level they are a reflection of you. But it’s the imperfections that allow conflict to occur in the first place, which is the only way a story progresses. Think about the people you love, they have a suite of traits you adore about them. Yet they also have a handful that cause you to complain to others, to want to bang your head against a wall and to make you pick fights with them. It’s the same with your characters. What are their weaknesses? What annoys you about them? What faults do they have that causes them to trip up again and again. In thinking about your characters remember to make them human.