In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy interview writing coach, author, speaker and blogger Elaine Fraser on planning for the new writing year. Elaine talks about creating a process, setting priorities, and creating the physical, psychological and spiritual space we need to write.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
- Elaine Fraser, writing coach, fiction and non-fiction author, blogger and speaker.
Topics covered in this episode:
- Creating a planning process for the New Writing Year.
- Making time in a busy schedule.
- Creating physical, psychological and spiritual space to write.
- The importance of faith to Elaine’s work.
More about Elaine at http://www.elainefraser.co/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ElaineFraserBeautifulBooks/?ref=bookmarks
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/elaine_fraser
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elainefraserauthor/
- Pinterest: https://pin.it/1bxhaOu
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Hit subscribe on your favourite podcast player so you never miss an episode and find show notes, useful links and a full transcript at gracewriters.com.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my blogs, books and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood educator. I have four adult children and I write under the pen name Alison Joy. You can find all my information on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy and for the last 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to underpin my preaching and public speaking. And more recently to inspire my young adult, urban fantasy series, Armour of Light. You can find out more about that and all my other projects at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Elaine Fraser is both a fiction and non-fiction author of eight books including, Beautiful: Beauty Tips for the Soul and Too Beautiful as well as her inspirational YA series, Beautiful Lives. Elaine has also written, Live Your Story Promise, a magazine style book to help you live a more adventurous life.
Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast, Elaine and happy New Year.
Elaine Fraser: Thank you. Happy New Year to you, too.
Donita Bundy: Elaine, before we get into the meat of our conversation we were wondering if we could ask you the rapid-fire-five. The questions we ask all our guests.
Elaine Fraser: Sure.
Donita Bundy: Are you ready?
Elaine Fraser: Yes.
Donita Bundy: Okay. Who is your target audience?
Elaine Fraser: My target audience is mainly YA and women on the fringes of faith.
Donita Bundy: Awesome! I like that. So, what is your main genre?
Elaine Fraser: That’s hard to say but non-fiction and YA fiction, so far.
Donita Bundy: Okay. Cool. When is your optimum time for writing?
Elaine Fraser: To be honest, my optimum time for writing is when I go away on a retreat and I can binge write!
Donita Bundy: And where is your favourite place to write?
Elaine Fraser: My favourite place to write is where I am now, in my library in my home office and down the south coast.
Donita Bundy: And how did you get into writing?
Elaine Fraser: I have always loved reading and writing and I used to teach it and one day I woke up and thought: it’s time to actually do it myself.
Alison Joy: I can relate to that. So, Elaine, seeing we are doing a New Year show, can you tell us what New Year means for you?
Elaine Fraser: New Year for me is a blank page filled with possibility. I think you just look at it thinking it’s an arbitrary line – the 31st of December and the 1st of January – it’s a 12-hour sleep or whatever. You wake up and it’s a new day. But I think there’s something psychological about a new start, a new day.
In the Bible it says every day is a new day that we’ve got and I think that it is. I think it’s a real mark of time. A new day. New possibility.
Alison Joy: Do you have a process for planning the New Year writing?
Elaine Fraser: I have a process for planning my whole life on New Year and it’s something that my husband and I have developed over the last 10-12, maybe longer, years. It’s evolved. But New Year is the time for reflection for us. So, we actually start the New Year by actually going through every day of our previous year’s diary, literally every day, and we rate it out of ten and we say is that something we want to do again? Is it something not? And that is quite a long process which I won’t go right into. That takes us most of New Year’s Day.
And then we get a great big planner out. I usually buy it from one of the big stationery stores and we put it up and we put in all the big things that we know about and we actually put in things like appointments, it’s what we call appointments for adventure. So, it might be usually, pre-covid, trips and different things that are set and then with my writing. So, for most of us writing is layered through our lives. It’s not the only thing we do.
So, when it comes to family and commitments and work and other things that we do, they have to go in first for me and probably for most people. And then work obviously is writing for me so I put in big things like retreats. So, I might have three or four times a year where I actually go away and write.
So, the process for me for writing is very much underpinned by the whole planning of the whole year.
Alison Joy: So, what advice would you give to Gracewriters starting a new year?
Elaine Fraser: I think you have to think about your life as a big plan and think about what your priorities are for the year. And for most of us writing is fitted around, as I said, other things. So, the advice is to actually make time. If you don’t put it in the calendar, if you don’t put it in your daily schedule, often it doesn’t happen. It’s easy to dismiss it.
And especially in the midst of a lot of busyness and commitment. And if you belong to a church and you volunteer and you have a family or you have a job that you must turn up at. Or if you’re teaching and you have marking at night. All that sort of thing. You have to fit all that around it.
So, for me, my biggest advice at the beginning of the year is to make some appointments right at the beginning of the year. So, even if it’s once a week for two hours in a café that you say, “This is my writing time this week.” If that’s all you can do, then do that. If you can do more and actually put it in the diary.
Belinda Pollard: It’s an issue of setting priorities, isn’t it? And whether we feel free to give a priority to writing. I guess for some, particularly for newbie writers who are just getting started it can often be quite difficult, can’t it, to feel that you can give priority to the creative task. Do you have any thoughts about that?
Elaine Fraser: I think the idea of the morning pages is also a really good thing because I think writing begets writing. Just this last month I signed up to do a songwriting course and I am not a singer and I’m not a musician. I did it as a little challenge to myself to just spark something in my writing.
One of the exercises we did was just free writing for 10 minutes and I thought I used to do that all the time and it was interesting what would come out. And I think opening up your creativity every day even if it’s five minutes of setting a timer and just writing in your notebook. And often five minutes turns into that’s not enough time and you end up still going and you actually find some little bits of gold in that.
Now, that’s not talking about if you have a book in mind to plan. I’m just talking about sparking the actual writing muscle in that sort of exercise. If you’re thinking about writing a book or a longer work that you really want to commit to, then that’s a whole other story.
Belinda Pollard: There’s different kinds of space you’ve got to create, isn’t there? I think you talk about physical, psychological and spiritual types of space. So, how can we go about creating those types of space?
Elaine Fraser: Again, I think it’s very intentional. If your writing is important to you, if you have a mandate in your life to write, something within you that’s driving you to it, then I think you have to actually make it happen.
And that’s not saying because I am not the sort of person who says, “Alright, I must write 1,000 words a day.” There are different approaches to it. There are some people who say that you must write every day at the same time and aim for a goal of a number of words every day. Now, that may suit a lot of personalities. Being constricted like that doesn’t really suit me.
So, I have to have a bigger plan for the whole year that I will meet by the end of the year. But my days are so different. I don’t have a regular routine. My routines are so different every single week. So, I really have to adapt and modify and take advantage of retreats and things like that but that’s all part of my bigger plan for the year but I think it depends on your personality.
Jim Collins who wrote Good to Great came up with a really good idea for himself that he logs 1,000 hours for the year of what he calls deep, creative work. And I started doing that. I have never been a daily journalist as in writing my journal and I started at the beginning of last year in 2020 – the year before now – in 2020, I started this and I would log how many creative hours. So, creative hours may be research or time spent writing or thinking or having a really good conversation with a writer friend that sparks something. And I actually realised that I can log 1,000 hours in a year of contribution to my writing.
The other thing is, I had three books that have been sitting in my computer unfinished for at least 18 months and so during 2020 when Covid hit and we were put into some form of lockdown, I decided I was just going to finish it and that was just grit and determination. And then in 2021, I was able to publish three books because I hadn’t written them that year but I had done the work the year before because I was determined to finish what I’d started.
So, I think it’s multifaceted. It depends on your personal schedule but I think you just have to find a way to make it work and New Year’s Day is a good day to actually sit down with your big overview of your whole year and think, What am I going to regularly put into my schedule, my year, my flow to make this happen.
Donita Bundy: Elaine, did you find that grit and determination that you talked about in 2020 that you just made yourself sit down and finish those three books. Did you find that that was a platform which you kept moving from and did it become easier over time to get back into that writing process or do you find that every time that you need to get into it, you need to be determined and use that attitude to get into your writing?
Elaine Fraser: I think, for me, if I say I’m going to do something, I will do everything I can to get it done. So, if I promise to do something to someone or if I say, like in 2017, I said, “I’m going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro,” and I did! I did the training. I did everything and I actually did it.
I think it depends very much on your personality but if you really want to do something, unless you’ve got a publisher, I mean we publish our own stuff mainly and sometimes we co-publish but most of the time the deadlines are our own deadlines and that goes for most of us.
And even if you are going to submit it to a publisher or an agent, you still have to give yourself a deadline. By September I am going to submit this to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 publishers or agents or whatever.
You have to give yourself deadlines. If you don’t have deadlines to work to, you don’t have that sense of compulsion to keep working. I think if you don’t have external deadlines, you have to make internal deadlines.
Donita Bundy: So, Elaine, just wanting to ask, our motto at Gracewriters is Christian writers changing popular culture. How important is the faith element in your work?
Elaine Fraser: It’s been really important. When I started this journey back in the early 2000’s I was more interested in trying to keep that idea that I had begun in teaching at a Christian school and devotional type things and trying to feed that sort of audience and thinking about life and making good decisions and thinking about God and just trying to foster lots of things in young people.
As I went on, I realised that there’s a lot of material out there for that sort of market. You go to Koorong bookstores and you just look around and there’s a lot of that in the market and I started to become more concerned about the kids on the fringes of faith. Those kids that might have gone to youth group or been to church at one time or another and then when they get to their teens maybe were a bit disenchanted or had fallen away or didn’t really understand what it was all about.
And if you read my books, especially the five novels, you can see a progression for me and each one is about a different girl. A different main character. But you can see where my concern starts to go. It’s for mainly young girls, young adults, who are trying to figure out life and faith and all sorts of personal issues and they may have some idea about God but they’re not quite sure how that all works and is it based around church or is it based around a relationship with God and can it be both and all that sort of thing.
So, faith to me is personally important but it’s also important to me to try to write stories that will encourage particularly young adult women to search for God. To find a way to spark the idea that your spiritual life is actually important as well as your everyday life.
Belinda Pollard: It’s the creating curiosity.
Elaine Fraser: And also, an openness to it and saying, “Look, it’s not all weird and wacky and irrelevant.” Faith is relevant to our everyday life and it is relevant to everyone’s life, I believe. It’s just the way we find it may be different.
Donita Bundy: Elaine, your workbook, Live Your Story Promise, you created for people to meet their life goals. Can you explain a little bit more about what is in this or what’s behind it or how people can use this book?
Elaine Fraser: This book sort of began from about 2008. My husband and I were in Paris which is lovely thinking about that now. Hopefully in 2022 we can travel more. And he looked up at the Arc de Triomphe as we were sitting on the Champs-Élysées and he said, “I won’t be doing what I’m doing in five years,” and at that time he was a director of a big privately owned company. He had worked really hard for 25 years and had just done a cross-country ride across Canada on a mountain bike and been injured and wasn’t able to finish and was feeling very discouraged. And he said, “I won’t be doing what I’m doing in five years,” and I said, “Well, what will you do?” And he said, “I have no idea but I will not be doing this.”
And that became a journey of trying to find a way forward and that’s where we started at the beginning of 2009, New Year’s Day. We got a big year planner out and we planned 12 adventures. For every month we said we have to have an adventure. He was still running the business at that stage. And to keep his enthusiasm and what have you, he started to explore what could come next and he had always been interested in photography.
So, anyway, that was a really big journey. So, Live Your Story Promise was for us a rather long journey and we ended up actually doing TEDx talks on it in San Francisco in 2014. Because by 2014, our life had totally changed around.
I used to teach high school and had gone on a whole different journey and had worked in Cambodia and done all sorts of things and he had left his business. Literally, just walked out of it, sold it off and just left it. And people were horrified saying, “But what about all the money,” and he said, “That doesn’t matter. I’m going on a whole different path now.”
So, I think that whole journey has become ingrained in us so much and so many people ask us about it. I’ve sat on a rooftop in Seattle talking to executives from Amazon and Google about our approach to life. These young 35-year-old executives who are going, “Well, what’s life all about. I’ve peaked my pinnacle at this stage of my life. What do I do now?”
And I’ve also talked to high school kids about not just what do you want to do when you grow up or leave school or go to university but how are you going to live your life. And actually, goes way back to year 12’s because I used to get my year 12’s to write a list every year of 100 things they wanted to do in their life. I talked to them about: once you’ve crossed something off you have to put something back in.
So, this book comes from a whole approach of life that has grown over many years and that other people have often asked us about and we thought well maybe if we write the process down for people in very practical ways in a book with my husband’s beautiful photographs with journal space so that they can actually write their own ideas and things into it. And maybe follow that along.
Now, it’s not obviously coming from a Christian background but it is spiritually informed from our lives and I wanted it to go broader. So, it’s my first time I written something that’s gone out into the general market and it was formally released at Christmas and I think it was a good time because New Year is a good time to actually work on these things.
So, that’s a really long answer to that question! But it was a really long process.
Donita Bundy: And it’s a beautiful book and the photography is just gorgeous. I had a look at a bit of it.
Starting out the New Year with blank pages and with thought-provoking comments and beautiful pictures. It is a great place to begin and, as you say, intentionally plan your future. Not necessarily just through the year even but where are you going on your journey. Yes, beautiful book. Congratulations to you both for that.
Some of us write to Christian audiences, some of us write to a non-Christian, some of us write crossover. Would you have advice for new Gracewriters starting out this year? What is something you could help them with or one piece of advice you could give them?
Elaine Fraser: I think, write what you passionately believe and what you know is true. I started out trying, not my non-fiction but my first novel, I thought I had to try and write a Christian novel so I tried to write it along the lines of what I’d read from some of the mainstream Christian young-adult authors and what have you.
And if I read it now, I think how clunky it was and how I could see how I was trying too hard to try and fit. If you read the five books, you can see the progression to where I really sit which, as I said before, is to write to the people on the fringes of faith. And I feel really comfortable there. And not comfortable in an easy sense because it’s not easy. It’s a really hard place to write because if you start to put people into boxes of Christian and non-Christian, it starts to put a division in. And I think that we just need to have an audience in mind, a person or a couple of people, and write your heart out for them and say: this is who I want to speak to. This is what God’s laid on my heart. This is where I feel like my sweet spot is and just experiment.
If you’re just beginning, just experiment and try and read it out loud and listen to it and think is that the voice I want to portray to the world because that’s what happens. When you write, the words go on the pages and then the words go out to people. People read them differently, of course, according to wherever they sit on the faith journey or life journey. But you have to feel comfortable. That’s my voice. That’s what’s going out to the world and I’m happy with that voice. This is the voice that God’s given me.
And I think, if you feel like that, your writing will come across as confident and you will hit your sweet spot and the people who need to read your books, whether it’s one person or one million, it doesn’t matter. Your voice has touched the right person or the right people.
So, I wouldn’t get hung up on it too much. I would just say, “What has God given you? What’s really burning there? If it doesn’t fit the mould?”
That’s why my books didn’t get submitted to Christian publishers because they were like, “We don’t know what to do with it because it’s too different,” when I started. Now, of course, there are a lot more books like the ones I’m writing but when I started there weren’t.
So, just write what you really feel you’re led to write and it will just flow much better. If you try and fit a mould or you think you’re trying to write to what you think you should write, it will come out clunky and if you read my first novel, you will read it and go, “That is clunky! I can see what you mean!”
Donita Bundy: Well, Elaine, thank you so much. That is great advice. Not just for new writers, new Gracewriters, but for all of us. And what a great time to hear it starting out a New Year. So, again, thank you for your time and your advice and sharing a bit of your story today.
Elaine Fraser: Thank you. Lovely, thank you.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, thank you, Elaine. How about I pray for youand for the Gracewriters with the New Year.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for Elaine and for the things that you have taught her, the things that you have done through her. The way that you have led her in obedience even in hard times and on adventures and possibilities. And we thank you that she’s using all of that experience and all of those gifts to help encourage others, especially other writers, into adventures.
And we do pray that you will bless her writing and her publishing in this coming year and also for all the Gracewriters out there that you will fill them with your inspiration for the particular task that you have for them. The possibilities that you have for them. The readers that you have for them.
And we entrust the New Year and everything in our lives to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Elaine Fraser, thank you so much for these ideas and inspiration that you’ve given us as we start this New Year. We really appreciate it.
Thank you, Alison Joy and Donita Bundy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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