Featured Writer on Wellness: Joanna Elm

Filed in Writers on Wellness by on March 7, 2018 • views: 927

I started writing when I was a child to create
different “adventurous, exciting worlds” for myself.

However, I could never have earned enough to make a living from fiction, so for decades I found work writing for newspapers, magazines, TV, and as an attorney—in jobs which I loved, and where they paid me quite nicely.

Eventually, I had two novels published (when I was a stay-at-home mother) and now, I’m back to writing fiction because (mostly) I love it, and I can afford to do it without working at another job.

When Writing for Yourself, Watch Out for Procrastination!

When I was employed as a writer/journalist/editor/attorney, I couldn’t allow emotional challenges to get in the way. When it’s your pay check, you just do it. The words always come from somewhere.

When I write for myself, however, my biggest emotional challenge is fighting procrastination. I am the ultimate procrastinator. Unless, I have a deadline, I can find a million other things to do before I sit down to write.

It’s not just tweeting or checking emails either. I can kid myself I’m working by going to writers’ group lunches, or book festivals, or just reading the latest thriller (in my genre.) I can even make time to clean the kitchen before I sit down in front of my laptop.

I’ve written about some of the distractions that keep me away from my laptop on my website in a section I call “Behind the Scenes/Book3.” Without deadlines, I fear that I’m going to be writing my new novel forever!

With former James Patterson co-author, Andrew Gross, at a Palm Beach Writers’ Group lunch.

Secrets to Get You Back to Your Laptop, Writing!

When I’m procrastinating there’s always a little voice at the back of my head that’s niggling away at me, and forcing me to think about whatever chapter I’m supposed to be writing. So, I’m actually always thinking about the writing even if I’m not doing it. And, usually, it’s enough to eventually drive me to sit down at my laptop.

I will also pick up a book, not a craft, how-to book necessarily, but something like my favorite, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or Dani Shapiro’s, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of A Creative Life, and then I’ll find a chapter or a paragraph with which I can identify, and which makes me feel happy that I’m a writer.

I also read a lot of websites on writing (yes, like Writing & Wellness) that suggest little things you can do to overcome obstacles that keep you away from your keyboard.

Most importantly, since I work so well with deadlines, I committed to writing a blog, and I post something religiously once a week at the same time, same day of the week. That always gets me to my laptop.

I Can Sit, Sit, Sit, and Write, But When I Get Up…

The biggest physical challenge is that once I’m actually writing, and sitting at my laptop I’ll find it almost impossible to walk away.

If I have no exercise planned for a day or two, I can go from sitting on my couch to my desk to the dining table, and just sit, sit, sit, and work. Once I’m into it, I can sit for hours, but when I get up I’m in agony from stiff joints, creaky bones, and cramping muscles. You name it.

I also have really uncomfortable reading glasses which pinch my nose, and really hurt after hours of work. I can’t see a thing on my screen without them. I ought to get them fixed, but I’m always putting that off (See? Procrastinating, again.)

If there’s one thing I could fix about my physical shortcomings it would be to give myself 20/20 vision again. Otherwise, I’m seriously fortunate in being really healthy. I don’t take any pills, medication or supplements, and the last time I was in a doctor’s office was for my annual physical three years ago.

Plan Your Exercise and Physical Activities First!

Because, I know how physically debilitating it can be to just sit and write, I plan my physical activities/workouts for the week before I plan anything else.

Scheduled tennis games go on the calendar first. That’s something where others are involved, so it forces me to fulfill my commitments. I usually play 4 days a week for 90 minutes a day. My Fitbit—it’s a Charge 2—tells me I burn about 350-400 calories per game. I always feel fabulous after a workout like that—especially if I’ve won a set or two!

On the tennis court at the Breakers Ocean Club, Palm Beach.

Then, the rest of the day is planned around those games. I’m really lucky because I’m able to play tennis year round, and mostly I can swim every day, too. Those are just the best activities for getting your body parts moving.

When I can’t do either, I walk. I walk pretty much everywhere, and when I go shopping I try to park in the furthermost space from the store, and wherever I can, I take stairs and not elevators. Again my Fitbit is invaluable. My Fitbit app shows me on a map where I walked, and how many miles, and what my heart rate was at any point in the walk. The Fitbit is a gadget that makes any kind of exercise fun and satisfying. I couldn’t function without it.

Nevermind Trends and Diets—Just Eat Nutritious Food

Diet-wise, I’m a very picky eater. About 40 years ago, I found a book titled Everything you Always Wanted to Know About Nutrition by Dr. David Reuben. The book has outlasted all the fad diets and trends since then. It has been my food “bible” ever since I discovered it.

I’m incredibly lucky because where I live in New York we have so many farms and so, great farm stands, and I’m just a mile or two from the second largest commercial fishing station in the state. I love the Mediterranean diet, and adhere to it most of the year. My favorite lunch (at home) is cottage cheese and tomatoes, or any kind of salad (although I also absolutely adore good bread!) So, I don’t have a problem with finding and eating healthy food (or drinking really great wine to go with it.)

I just read an article in a British newspaper that suggested eating only in a 10-12 hour time frame. So, if you wake at 6 a.m. and have breakfast, your last meal/snack of the day should be by 4p.m. I’m going to try that because it sounds like a good idea.

On a boat with Capt. Rick (left) and my husband Joe (right). Rented the boat and captain to explore.

With Writing, There’s Always a New Mountain to Climb

[My darkest moment had] to do with my third book (which is not the one I’m working on now.) I had an offer on it right after my first two were published, but for a number of reasons, I walked away from it.

Sometimes, I wish I had stayed with writing thrillers, but I moved on, and went to law school (another dream of mine) and landed a job as a judicial clerk (a lot of writing!) which I totally loved.

Now, I’m back to writing fiction, so I’m coming round full circle. The truly great thing about being a writer is that you can write in so many different areas and fields, and there’s always a new mountain to try to conquer.

Mom, No One Reads Your Blog!

Because I’ve been writing for a while, I have a few satisfying memories involving my writing:

  1. Getting an award for writing and researching an Emmy- winning TV News documentary for a New York TV news station.
  2. Selling more than 70,000 original paperback copies of my very first thriller, Scandal—and hearing readers say it was a real page-turner.
  3. Most recently, launching a website, and religiously adhering to publishing a blog every single week for the last sixteen months—even though my son says “Mom, no-one reads your blog!”

There Will Always be Work for Writers

There is no better job in the whole world than being a writer.

There are so many different media in which to write. Every great movie or TV show started as a screenplay written by a writer. Print newspapers and magazines may be suffering from reduced sales, but digital/online publications will still always need writers.

I couldn’t see doing anything else ever. I never ever wanted to do anything else. So, it would have been more difficult to stray off that path rather than stay true to it.

But, if there’s one thing that allowed me to finally take the risk of writing a novel it was marrying my husband. He has always been supportive of me in every way possible. Since our marriage 30 years ago, he has never wavered in his confidence in me.

In his eyes, there was never any doubt that, for example, at age 50+, I would graduate summa cum laude from law school—or that I would write a novel which would be published.

Advice for a Young Writer: Look for a Job Where They’ll Pay You to Write

I’d advise him/her as my father advised me more than fifty years ago when I said I wanted to write fiction for a living: he said look for a job in journalism, where they’ll pay you to write.

Learn the trade, learn the craft. Accumulate experiences so you can write about them later. You have to know a bit about life, and experience some joys, hardships and tears before you can write convincing fiction.

Then, I’d add, you’ll need to find a mate, partner or spouse who either shares your passion, or understands it. Writers/authors are rather awful people to live with, and if your partner or spouse doesn’t come from the same profession, or doesn’t respect you enough to try to understand what makes you tick, then it can make your writing life really difficult.

* * *

Joanna Elm is a former newspaper and magazine journalist. She has worked in TV News in New York, and is the author of two traditionally published thrillers, Scandal and Delusion. She is currently working on her third thriller, “Book 3.”

Joanna is also an attorney, has been married for 30 years, and has one son. She writes a weekly blog on her website. You can also find her on Twitter.


Scandal: When Kitty Fitzgerald decided to become the South Florida correspondent for the TV tabloid show Inside Copy, she thought the move from New York to Boca Raton might mean a better life for her son Jamie and a new life for her.

And it did, at least until daytime talk show host Marina Dee Haley was found murdered in Palm Beach and a stalker began following Jamie.

Soon the past Kitty would rather forget (and one she can’t tell her fiance, detective Frank Maguire) is made present-with a vengeance.

Available at Amazon.

Delusion: When Emma Kane turns up dead in her Main Line mansion, no one is free from suspicion, least of all her husband of twenty-five years, New York media mogul Jack Kane. Too many people would love to see Jack Kane out of biusiness permanently, including a nemesis whose dealings with Kane rival the Murdoch-Turner conflict.

Bestselling true-crime writer Kate McCusker arrives on the scene to help uncover Emma’s murderer. As Kate finds herself the center of opposing attention between suspect Kane and Philadelphia cop Mike Travis, she is caught up in an all-consuming web of intrigue even she couldn’t have imagined–and only a high-tech Peeping Tom is tapped into the truth.

Available at Amazon.

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