For years now, I haven’t eaten sugar or drunk alcohol or used drugs. I still drink loads of coffee, though!
During my time herding goats in the mountains of France, I learned how good it feels to live close to nature, exercise, and eat well. So, I live on small island today, which is essential to my well-being.
As a writer, however, I do what is ridiculously unhealthy: I sit and sit and sit.
As far as alternatives go, I think I’d lose my concentration with a walking desk. Honestly, when I sit for hours at time, thoroughly obsessed, I sometimes write my best work.
Sometimes I must admit, I can sit 8-10 hours, and get up only to use the bathroom and eat. I try to balance those sedentary days with active ones later in the week.
Pillows Help, and Wii Fitness!
I write sitting on my couch with two pillows on my lap to prop up my laptop. In the past, I had horrible neck aches, but they disappeared when I started this trick of piling pillows (which I learned from a physical therapist.) Once in a while, I use the half donut pillow you see on airplanes to support my neck.
Besides walking (which I discuss below), I turn on Wii Fitness to the “free step” which allows me to exercise in front of TV with a beat pounding and occasional commands: “shoulders back,” “keep up the pace,” “you’re doing well.”
I do the step exercises for thirty minutes while I’m watching Jeopardy. It’s fun, I don’t have to pay for a gym, and I don’t have to go out in the cold, wet weather. I use coke bottles for weights.
The Isolation of Being a Writer
My biggest emotional challenge is my isolation. I’m a slow writer to begin with. It took six years to write A Long Way from Paris. I write and rewrite on my own, over and over again and honestly, I do my best work alone, not at libraries or coffee shops.
Then, when I come up for air, I ask, what happened to my friends? Sometimes, I need to make a concerted effort to leave my writing in order to be semi-social.
Social Solutions: Walking Dates and Meditation
Walking is the answer to both my physical challenges and emotional challenges.
I socialize through walking, rather than going out for a beer or coffee. I make walking dates, catch up with old friends, and get my exercise in, too.
I should do it more often, though. Historically, I socialized hanging out at the proverbial water cooler or chatting at the kitchen table, but now I walk. Walking with friends is my savior.
For my general well-being, I also meditate. I’ve meditated for about thirty years on and off. Daily would be great, but usually it’s only 2-3 times a week.
To cope, I rely on my incredibly supportive family as well as my writers group. Well, we’re not really a writers group any more. We began as a writers group years ago, but morphed into a writers/support group where we divide our two hour sessions between the number of people present, and then use our time to talk however we wish.
Over the years, our members have had divorces, cancer, foreclosure, and one of our loved members passed away. We have become amazingly close and emotionally reliant on one another. We also read to each other if we’ve written recently.
Unfortunately, since I live in the country, I need to travel 45 minutes to an hour each way to get to the city to participate. It’s worth it. I love these women.
I also to connect with people through Facebook; but honestly, Facebook is too addictive. I’m not recommending it by any means.
The Darkest Moment: “I Hate This Book!”
Like so many writers, I have received countless rejections.
I don’t think you can be a writer without having faith in yourself and tough, tough skin.
There was one point after I’d worked on my book for five years, I told my writers group, “I hate this book! I want to dump it in the trash!” But I’d been working on it for so many years, I wasn’t willing to throw it away.
And then, it went one to win one of KIRKUS BEST BOOKS of 2014. Who’d have thought!
The One Thing That Has Kept You On Your Path
Perhaps my Mom dying with Alzheimer’s. I believe without a doubt my time is finite and if I’ve ever going to do this, it has got to be NOW.
My ducks are in a row. My daughter is doing well, my husband earns enough to balance my measly salary as writer, teacher, and tutor, and if I don’t write now, it’s just not going to happen.
Maybe it’s not passion—maybe it’s reason. Reasonably speaking, it’s now or never. I am compelled.
Advice for a Young Writer: Don’t Expect Overnight Success
Start at the bottom. Be willing to believe that if you study, if you read, if you write and write and write, you will improve. Don’t expect overnight success.
Show your writing to many people so you can weed the grain from the shaft, so to speak, to get a fair assessment of your work.
You can always get better, no matter where you start.
Read one hundred books of your genre: this is the best advice I was ever given. Surround yourself with supportive people. Figure out what works for you.
For example, if I’d listened to all those people who said you have to get up at 4:00 am or even 6:00 am, I’d never have written my book. I get up at 7:00 and start to write between 8:00 and 8:30. Writers need to find their own routine and stick to it.
Write those 10,000 words. And most importantly, believe in yourself. Learn to ignore that voice inside your head that says, “This is shit.” Maybe it is. That’s what revision is all about. Have faith in the process of revision.
And eke out fun where you can!
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Elizabeth Corcoran Murray, writing under the pen name EC Murray, wrote A Long Way from Paris, a book about her personal transformation while herding goats in the mountains of France, and Life Kind Kind of Sucks, a tiny, colorful book brimming with ideas for tough times.
A native of Massachusetts, Elizabeth traveled to all continents except Antarctica—an item on her “non-bucket” list. She is married, has one daughter, and a frisky cat named Valentine. Before becoming an author, Elizabeth earned her Master of Social Work and worked with people with disabilities. She now teaches writing at Tacoma (Washington) Community College and publishes The Writers Connection, a resource for writers.
In the era before AIDS, after Vietnam, Elizabeth herds, births, and kills goats at a primitive farm in Southern France. A city girl, she struggles under the disapproving eye of the matriarch.
Surviving brutal storms without running water, heat, and plumbing, Elizabeth learns to believe in herself as she reflects on her drug-filled life in Oregon and her proper New England prep school upbringing. Twinges of romance simmer in this fun, yet thoughtful memoir about courage and tenacity.