I’ve seen dozens of posts about whether and how to write during hard times. The answer to “whether” is always yes. Authors see it as an escape, a balm during times of trouble. I have friends who continued writing and producing during times that were far more difficult than what I’m going through right now. They amaze me.
During the hardest, most painful time of my life, from late 2010 through late 2012, I was writing both The Cat Lady’s Secret and The Simulacrum. Brad and I had been working on The Simulacrum together for years. He had the basics of the novel already; he just needed me to flesh it out more. The Cat Lady’s Secret was all mine, and it was supposed to be a straight-out romantic comedy. But the tone shifted during those years, and what I had originally intended became altered. It’s still a good book. I reread it a few weeks ago and still love it. I’m in awe of how it came together despite the circumstances during which it was written. It was a God-thing. It had to have been.
This time around, with adjusting to Billy being retired and dealing with this breast cancer—even though it’s “little c” cancer and should never again be an issue once I’ve gone through treatment—I couldn’t seem to get myself to write. First of all, with Billy home all the time, I’m having to rearrange my daily schedule to match our new daily schedule, which changes almost on a daily basis. I’m no longer regimented as I was when he was working.
If you subscribe to my newsletter, then you already know that my biggest problem is the “I don’t knows.” For some reason, having so many question marks circling in my head whenever I try to plan for the year has stymied me. It’s hard to plan things when I don’t know when I’ll start the IV treatment and don’t know how it’ll make me feel or whether I’ll be able to travel. Building our new house and moving this year are totally off the table. We simply can’t deal with that and everything else too. But it leaves enough for me to juggle, both emotionally and physically.
Yesterday, I sat down to my manuscript, Kayla’s Challenge, again for the first time in weeks. The last time I sat down to it was the first time in weeks. And the time before that. I haven’t worked on it solidly since before Billy retired in early April. I’ve been able to do my editing jobs for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and my administrative job for ACFW, but I haven’t been able to write. You know what that means? I’ve been totally left-brained. That alone is reason enough to keep writing or doing something that stimulates my creative side. I’ve neglected it.
So, as to the question of whether you should continue writing during times of adversity, I have to go with the others and say yes. And the reason is clear: you must keep your creative side sharp.
Then there’s the second question . . .
How to write during times of adversity
The “No Time” Excuse
Not long ago, Pamela Thibodeaux, a writer friend, came to visit, and I cried on her shoulder a bit. Haven’t been able to write. Haven’t had time. Everything is all wonky. Can’t concentrate. Can’t get into it.
Although she was sympathetic through most of my whining, she took a hard line when it came to my work. Should I be writing? Unquestionably. No excuse. You must.
No time to write?
You always have time to write. Take a notebook with you wherever you go. In a waiting room? Write. Driving somewhere? Write. Sitting through a boring TV show with the hubs? Write.
In fact, according to Michael Scott, another friend, the best way to become an author is to be uber busy in other areas of your life. If you really want to write, you’ll find time and you’ll make good use of it.
The “Loss of Regiment” Excuse
That’s pretty much covered above: If you can’t write when you always write, write when you can.
But there’s another line of thought too: Set your hours and expect everyone to respect them. I can’t remember exactly what K.M. Weiland, my hero and critique partner, uses to make sure her hours are respected—a flame thrower?—but she’s the first one who made me realize that it is within my power to keep my hours sacrosanct. It may involve some snarling, but you have a right to your time and a right to have your time respected.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you have a right to neglect your family and other duties. But whether it’s for thirty minutes or for a few hours, if you’re serious about being/becoming an author, your work time is important and should be honored.
The “Can’t Get Into It” Excuse
That’s the hardest one for me. I can’t get into it for two reasons: I’ve been left-brained for too long, and I’m dealing with emotional stress, which tends to absorb all my energy. But I found the second problem can be helped once the first one is.
- Try some warm-up exercises. Yesterday, I thought that going through a couple of chapters of my manuscript would kick the right side of my brain into gear, but instead, I edited. Left-brain activity. I’ve been doing it all year, so I simply fell back into the pattern. I decided to play instead, and here’s my favorite playground: Random Plot Generator. Try it. You’ll see immediately why I love it.
- Indulge in some free-flow writing. If you have a work in progress, take your characters out for a spin, driving them away from your manuscript and into a different world of “what if.” What if your novel’s hero got to meet your movie/TV idol? What if you took your villain to church? What if your historical character suddenly found herself in the 21st Century—or your contemporary heroine found herself in Downton Abbey? Just play with it.
- Notice your mood vs your manuscript’s tone. My first suggestion is not to work on your manuscript if the two don’t match. As I said about The Cat Lady’s Secret, the tone changed drastically from what I originally intended. But, your mood could enhance your tone. Use whatever you’re going through to make your characters’ emotions more real, more intense. Aside from making your novel better, it can be amazingly therapeutic.
Once you get into the flow of it, you’ll discover that you’ve escaped for a while all the things that are hard for you in your real life. You’re likely to emerge from your session more relaxed and refreshed.
Life is what life is—it’s full of ups and downs, and we’re not going to escape that as long as we’re in our clay houses. Part of being a professional is doing your job regardless. One friend of mine plows ahead while in the throes of migraine pain. Another met deadlines after her son died. Still another turned crisis after crisis into devotional books so she could share her lessons, love, and concern with those enduring what she endured.
Curling up in a ball in a dark corner of the room is also an option. But it’s best not to stay there.
Get up and write.