Featured Writer on Wellness: M. J. Summers

Filed in Writers on Wellness by on July 19, 2017 • views: 1088

MJ SummersI would say the biggest physical challenge for me is that my wrists and thumbs get sore if I type more than four thousand words in one stretch or spend more than about nine hours editing or working on graphics in a day.

I have been to physio which helps, but I’m afraid I haven’t faithfully kept up the exercises.

I have definitely put on a few pounds since I started writing. I often have weeks at a time under tight deadlines and the first thing that falls off my to-do list is exercise.

I’ve been trying to at least keep up my walks in the woods near my house, as it is not only important for my physical health, it’s key for my creativity as well.

A path I often walk near my home.

A path I often walk near my home.

Cutting Back on Wheat, Dairy, and Processed Sugar Helps Prevent Weight Gain

To ease hand pain, I tend to switch from sitting at my desk, where I use a split keyboard and mouse, to working on my laptop directly at some point during the day. I find the variety helps keep me working longer. I also stretch my hands frequently, which helps.

As to the weight gain, I have cut back on wheat, dairy, and processed sugar to help prevent my weight from creeping up when I’m under deadline. I’m also finding this helps with a lot of other areas, such as sleep issues and reducing anxiety.

What If the Story I’m Working On is Terrible?

I would say the biggest emotional challenge is battling self-doubt, which is rooted in anxiety.

To quote Deepak Chopra: “The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.”

They are two sides of the same coin and it’s so easy for me to flip into a state of worry. “What if the story I’m writing is actually terrible and I only think it’s funny/enjoyable/worth reading?” “What if it doesn’t sell well?” “What if people hate it?”

I can “what if” myself into a state of paralysis if I’m not careful. But the more I write and study writing, the more I calm down.

My dog, Lucy, walking with me in the woods.

My dog, Lucy, walking with me in the woods.

Does Your Self-Doubt Come at the Same Point in Each Book?

My best friend pointed out to me one day that she noticed a pattern in which I always seem to end up hitting a wall of self-doubt at the same point each book. Huh. Big light bulb moment for me.

Each book starts out with a honeymoon phase. Everything seems perfectly wonderful, the story flows, I’m happy, the characters are fabulous. Then, as the story progresses and things get a little rough for the characters, I start to second guess things.

My characters aren’t comfortable, so I’m not either. They have to do things that create conflict, and I don’t like conflict. I like harmony. So, I tend to start to worry that the book isn’t good.

But now that I know this about myself, I can more easily push on, trusting that it’ll all be okay in the end, and that the conflict is the juicy stuff that makes the story worth reading. Once I reach the end, I feel better.

Then I start editing, which starts a whole new level of fear.

How Voicing Your Self-Doubt Exposes Its Lies

I do a lot of things to help get me through this. One is to talk to my husband, my parents, and my friends (both writers and sane people—LOL). Somehow when I voice what I’m telling myself, I realize that all that self-doubt is built on lies that should be ignored. My books have been reviewed by thousands of readers—real people—who for the most part agree that I can write. I should trust them at their word.

Talking to other writer friends also helps because you come to realize that almost all of us are going through the same thing, no matter a person’s level of success.

I also meditate several times a week using an app called Insight Timer. They have every type of meditation you can imagine. For me, meditating on self-confidence and reducing anxiety are key. The more I do this, the less likely I am to allow anxiety to stall my work.

How Authors Can Organize Their Lives

At this start of 2017, I also started using The Authorlife Planner. This one book has helped me not only plan my year, month, week and each day, it has also given me a realistic picture of what I can accomplish in a given period.

Tracking how long it takes me to write, edit, and market a new book has allowed me to plan realistically, which helps me to reduce feelings of disappointment.

I tend to believe I can do the impossible, which isn’t always a good thing. I have three really busy kids. Sometimes they get sick and have to stay home from school. Occasionally I need to sleep (like every sixteen hours or so).

The planner is reducing my stress level because I have a plan, I build in time to get caught up, and I am far more organized, which means I won’t forget small but important tasks.

Two Necessities: My Favourite Mug Filled with Tea and my Authorlife Planner

Two Necessities: My Favourite Mug Filled with Tea and my Authorlife Planner

When Your Genre Gets Competitive, What Should You Do?

[As to the darkest moment?] I would say last year was rough.

The romance market has gotten increasingly more competitive and my last few books weren’t hits. I started questioning my choice to write as it wasn’t bringing money like it did the first two years. I was ready to throw in the towel.

I decided to move into very serious women’s fiction, hoping to find an audience there. I spent two months writing a heartbreaking story and sobbing at my keyboard. Then I handed it off to my agent and took writing classes and read every book about writing that I could get my hands on.

When I got the book back from my agent, she said, “It reads like a romance except without the happily ever after.”

I rewrote that book and sent it back to her. I’m not sure if that one will ever get published, but in the meantime, I’m back to writing romance. It’s where I’m happiest and I have to believe that if I keep writing the best stories I can, that success will come my way again.

I Want People Who Read My Books to Fall In Love

[What’s the one thing that’s kept you on your path?]

I’d say it’s my desire to provide people with an escape from the stresses of life.

We exist in this fast-paced, often critical world, and all too often we don’t take the time to stop and relax. If I can help make someone’s week better because she knows she has a different world to dive into when she gets home, then it’s all worth it.

I want to help people. I want to make people laugh and sigh and blush a little. I want people who read my books to fall in love because falling in love is good for the soul.

Me at a book reading at a library in the small town of Stettler, Alberta.

Me at a book reading at a library in the small town of Stettler, Alberta.

Advice for a Young Writer: Fortify Yourself for the Experience of Publishing

Writing is easy. Publishing is hard.

It’s the equivalent of standing naked in front of the world, saggy bits and scars and all, and saying, “Well, what do you think?”

You need to fortify yourself for that experience and try not to take it personally when (not if) people don’t like your work. No matter what you do—you could spend a decade painstakingly poring over each word, you could hire the greatest editor of all time to tear your book apart and rebuild it, you could have the most original, exciting plot, and the most lovable characters of any book ever written—someone will hate it. In fact, lots of people might hate it. And you can’t let that get to you.

But how do you stop it from getting to you? Think of books like fruit. I love me some papaya, but mangoes, not so much. Does that mean there’s something wrong with mangoes? Not at all. I just don’t like them. To me, they taste like soap. And some people just won’t like your book. Doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your story—or you as a person.

So, if you want a career as a writer, you need to truly accept the fact that not everyone is going to like your work. And that’s as it should be.

You can’t be a mango and a papaya at the same time, so don’t bother wasting precious energy trying to please everyone. Accept the fact that the perfect novel is an unattainable ideal. It doesn’t exist. Be cool with that, and you’ll be fine.

Find your readers, keep writing great books, and turn them into fans. Push past the times of self-doubt and slow sales, and just keep writing, one word after the other until you reach “the end.” Then do it again. And that’s how you build a career.

* * *

M. J. Summers currently resides in Edmonton, Canada, with her husband, three young children, and their goofy dog. When she’s not writing romance novels, she loves reading (obviously), snuggling up on the couch with her family for movie night (which would not be complete without lots of popcorn and milkshakes), and long walks in the woods near her house.

M. J. also spends a lot more time thinking about doing yoga than actually doing yoga, which is why most of her photos are taken “from above.” She also loves shutting down restaurants with her girlfriends. Well, not literally shutting them down, like calling the health inspector or something. More like just staying until they turn the lights off.

For more information about M. J. and her work, please see her website, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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