July 31st, 2017

How To Get Your Writing Groove Back

Christa Allan

Once Upon a Time, I Had a Writing Groove…then the music changed. Finding your writing groove after life transitions
A post made possible by the fact that my husband doesn’t read anything I write…except checks.

Four years ago, I retired after teaching high school English for twenty-five years and grooved myself right into being a full-time writer.

I basked in my writerly world for six months until my husband announced he was starting his own business, and he needed—guess who—to work for him. The groove became the rut my writing fell into and out of my reach. But he assured me I’d be able to take my laptop to work and write…between answering the phone, filing, and clients that barked, growled, pooped and peed. Did writing happen? Well, I took notes because how can you not when a man arrives with his snake in a cardboard box and tells you it has a cold, and he’s sure of it because the snake’s been sneezing. My journal/morning pages became my refuge, and I comforted myself with the knowledge that I was at least still capable of forming coherent sentences.

Then, six months later, after increasing my meds (let’s all agree to no judgment here) and his hiring more employees, I re-retired to being a writerly person again. Rescued the stories I’d abandoned, salvaged what I could, and filled the rut with enough hope to get my groove back. Until…we (he) decided that converting part of our home into a vacation rental would be a brilliant idea. My new job description included bedmaking, washing, cleaning, dusting, vacuuming, and scheduling. And once again, did writing happen? Well, I took notes because how can you not when a neighbor calls to tell you that the bachelorettes left a penis-shaped piñata in your front yard?

I managed to cobble together enough chapters to publish my first indie…a Christmas novella. Maybe because of the constant craziness of my life at the time, maybe because I was simply grateful to have an idea, regardless of how wacky it was, I allowed myself to have fun with a cast of characters who grew out of these first lines that baked in my brain: “It took Beulah Grace three tries, but she finally killed my mother. The first time was in June when she accused her, her being my mother Nancy Jane Pressfield, of diverting $29.54 from the Magnolia Springs Garden Club into her personal account. For fertilizer.”

In the meantime, my husband had neck and back surgery following an accident (more on this later). 

And because the husband and I can take crazy to a whole new level…we did. We converted the entire home to a vacation rental.  Which meant we had to move. Which meant I had to pack. Which meant my writing groove transformed into a rut. Again.

Months later, my groove returned when the writing gods smiled upon me, and I was offered a contract. This provided me legitimate grounds for escaping post-moving responsibilities because my mantra became, “I have a deadline. I have to keep writing.”

A year later, we sold the vacation-rental house, sold the house we moved into and, after a lifetime in NOLA, we moved to Houston. I wanted to be closer to my kids, my husband retired because he could no longer work due to his injuries, and my book was finished. Of course, this meant more packing followed by more unpacking.

Writing? Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Zero.

Now, for months, I’ve been coping with RHS (Retired Husband Syndrome), which is only slightly related to RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome). Instead of having irresistible urges to move your legs, RHS is characterized by irresistible urges to move your husband. To another planet. At least temporarily.  Because how the hell else am I going to write when…

  • the television in the room next to my office is belching high speed car chases and crashes, and universes exploding, and weapons firing at volumes that make the floors tremble
  • when, if my fingers aren’t glued to the keyboard, I mustn’t be writing, so questions like: “Do you know where ___is? Can you print this for me? I’m going to Home Depot. Don’t you want to come with me? How about we leave in two days to drive to Omaha for the College World Series? We’ll only be gone ten days.”
  • a text summons me upstairs, and I bolt to the second floor thinking something is wrong, only to find said texter on the ladder, pointing to the floor, and asking if I mind handing the (insert name of tool here) to him so he doesn’t have to get down off the ladder

One of my writer friends, who also deals with RHS, says she shuts her office door, but her husband still walks in. She said she never knew he could talk so much.

My PSA: In all fairness, my husband didn’t want to retire, and the man who could play two rounds of golf a day is barely able to play six holes. I mean, if I could find a play group for retired men, I’d be delighted. He probably would be as well.

So, now what? How do I find my groove before it becomes a rut again or, worse, a trench?  To segue from Orly Konig-Lopez’s post on Juy 21, how do we move from “Working World” to “Retired World”?

My first thought was maybe I should consider a part-time job.

But, seriously, it was recognizing that we’re in a season of our lives where the bucket that holds the list of all the things we want to accomplish is much closer to our feet than we’d like it to be. So, how much time away from the man who made my own retirement do-able, who made my dream of living closer to my kids possible, who’s blessed my life beyond measure, am I willing to sacrifice in the name of writing?

And I had a come-to-Jesus meeting with myself about my own bucket list as a writer. What book(s) would I regret never having written? How do I, gut-level honesty, spend the time I do have writing, not trying to write? Cory Padgett wrote an article, “6 Ways to Waste Your Time as a Writer,” and I’m guilty of all of them, plus about ten more she didn’t mention.

I could sit myself somewhere else to write, like Starbucks or the library, for a few hours a day. We could schedule days as yours, mine and ours. I could pimp myself and my writer friends (let’s all agree that’s marketing) on social media during one of those butt-thrashing noisy movies he watches. We’d at least be in the same room and that counts for something, right?

So, maybe the music of my writing groove changed. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop dancing.

Perhaps, during these transitions, when our writing seems to be falling off the edge of life’s cliffs, we learn what we need. Not what we want. You know…like our characters.
 
Has your writing groove ever been hijacked? How did you find it again? Are we, as writers, destined to always choose between sacrificing writing for our families or sacrificing our families for writing?
 
About Christa
A true Southern woman who knows any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, Christa Allan writes women’s fiction, stories of hope and redemption. Her latest novel, Since You’ve Been Gone released in 2016. Her other novels include: A Test of Faith (2015),  Threads of Hope (2013), Edge of Grace (2011), and Walking on Broken Glass (2010).
 
Learn more about Christa on her website.

51 comments to How To Get Your Writing Groove Back

  • If your novels have the same tone as this post, then they are entertaining page turners. My writing ruts are due to my husband’s politically related job and our one-year-old puppy. But the notes from these and other “drop everything and run” life events have found their way into my stories.

    • Always a plus when the ruts can pay off! A one-year-old puppy is like having a toddler, so I know how time consuming those little wigglers and chewers can be. Thanks for stopping by and glad you’re able to write on!

  • It’s ten after five on this Monday morning (I don’t need much sleep) and I’ve just finished reading your column, Christa. What a delight! Not only do you write beautifully, but I can relate to so much of what you say—RHS in particular. Only I’ve been at it for nearly thirty years: the blaring TV, the “If you have time, do you think you could…,” or “I don’t need anything fancy for dinner, just bacon and eggs or maybe one of those top ramen things.” The only solution I’ve been able to come up with is getting up at four in the morning, throwing open the windows above my desk while it’s still refreshingly cool outside, and sitting down at the keyboard. Granted, some mornings I get sidetracked into reading—i.e., great columns like yours—and I never write a single word, but that’s okay, too. After all, I, too, am retired.

    • Appreciate the kind words about my post. OMG…thirty years??? God bless you! I wake up early three mornings a week to run because the damn humidity here is breath-sucking. I suppose I could just wake up at the same time to get my brain running…Sometimes I believe retired means being tired all over again!

  • My husband thought it was “cute” when I wrote. Being from academia, he understood (after some training) that ‘writing’ didn’t always mean fingers on keyboard. Once I started bringing in money, he became a lot less “intrusive.” He even started reading my draft chapters. In fact, since the printer is in his home office, he’d say, “don’t you have any words today?”

    • Oh, so much I can relate to reading this. Especially when the financial payoff wakes them up! How does that work, his reading your draft chapters in terms of his feedback? Just curious as this isn’t something I’ve ever experienced. Glad you stopped by to read my post today.

  • Everything changed when my husband became a true fan of my writing. It took us a long time to get there, however. Now, he keeps the volume down and asks for the latest installment of my fictional world. Together we’ve pushed back the veil of chaos and most evenings our house is quiet enough for me to write. My mojo is returning much to his delight and mine.

  • Christa, I wish we lived closer. Your husband and mine could have a play date. His obsession: Westerns. Bullets are flying around my living room ALL DAY.

    Don’t even get me started on not being able to find things…he asked me where the ice cubes were once. (I’m behaving as if it were a joke, because if it’s not, I’ll head for the knife drawer).

    You (like I) need to set some boundaries, and learn this new vocabulary word that I’m still struggling with….

    N – O .

    • Oh, I wished we were closer as well! Those ice cubes are sneaky little suckers, aren’t they? Like they might be hiding in the laundry basket…Boundaries…I’ve heard of these…You’re so right. “Just say no” needs to be tattooed on my palm so I can slap myself in the head when I’m tempted to say yes.It’s reassuring to know I’m not alone…

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    What a delightful post!!! And so timely.

    I’m lucky that my husband has been supportive of my writing from the beginning. He was actually the one who kept on me that I had to take myself seriously and set boundaries. My writing groove takes a hit, however, with life in general and scheduling around a 12 year old. Summer especially shreds my writing mojo.

    Thanks for posting with us today, Christa!

    • Thanks for allowing me to be here! A cathartic post for me, so I’m relieved it’s registering with readers. Your husband needs to start giving conference workshops on husbanding an author!

      Summers are challenging because everyone’s schedule is skewed, so staying in the groove is discombobulating. I’m sure your pre-teen keeping you hopping!

  • That retired husband thing…so true. And yes he too found me a House without wheels near my kids, proceeded to fix it up, had quad by pass and a second heart surgery. But, but i don’t want to watch TV! I don’t have an answer. One sentence, one paragraph, mone scene at a time. That’s all I got.

    • Wow, Alice…the two of you have made it through some serious challenges! Glad that your kids are nearby, and I hope he’s doing better.

      You’re right about one sentence/paragraph/scene at a time. Sometimes writing is like AA…one day at a time!

      Thanks for reading my post today. Much appreciated!

  • colleen

    Ha ha. Loved the humor in this post, and I’m amazed you got any writing done at all with all those moves! I’d say you deserve a big pat on the back. Great illustration of how we have to fit writing into life, and usually life doesn’t make it easy. Hope you can get back into your groove. :O)

  • This is a great post becasue I think it happens to all writers at some point. For me the best way is to just push on bite sized chunks. One page or one paragraph every day no matter what. Its small, easy to tackle, but it keeps you in ‘writing mode’ and it really does add up in the end.

    • It’s reassuring to know we don’t struggle alone, isn’t it? I need to remember when I sit at the keyboard in a mini-coma that there are writers all over the universe staring at their monitors waiting for the words…

      Thanks for sharing these words of wisdom, Sherry!

  • Christa, yes, a delightful post. As someone further down this road of writing in retirement post high school English teacher/principal, try poetry. Lines descend upon you in the midst of crisis. Also, to get out of the house and for more noble reasons of course, do writing workshops for kids in schools in your community and then write a curriculum. Join a writers club and/or critique group in which both men and women are facing these issues, and perhaps make your husband your secretary or publisher (I’ll get back to you on how this is working out for me!).

    • Mary, these ideas are gems! Thank you for sharing them. And I’d love to ask you how to get started with these kinds of workshops. Being new to the Houston School Districts, I’m not sure where to start, but with school beginning soon, there might be some teachers eager for ideas. I’ll send my email in a FB message, and maybe we can make contact if that works for you?

      The husband would love making spreadsheets…!

  • Victoria Marie Lees

    Oh my gosh! My husband does things like that, too. He likes to come into my workspace and stare at me and sigh.
    “Yes,” I say, “I am preoccupied right now.”
    Sometimes he talks to me anyway and sometimes he walks away dejectedly. But as you say, Christa, he’s given me so much; I need to give back. There’s no one out there waiting for my memoir at this point, or my short stories. Oh and by the way, 4 out of the 5 children “he’s given me” have accessories, and EVERYONE wants a piece of my time.
    Nuts! Some days seem like a waste for writing. So maybe that’s why I’m a snott sometimes when my husband breaks into my writing time.

  • Laughed reading about the kid “gifts” and their accessories! I have five kids (well, technically they’re adults), and I know all about everyone wanting a piece of you.

    In an earlier comment, someone mentioned “boundaries,” and I know that’s where I need to start. But I’m beginning to think that taking a few hours, a few days a week, away from my office and writing somewhere else is the best solution. I can always not answer a call or text that I’m working. Much harder to make myself invisible when someone walks in my office.

    And, doggone it, yes we are waiting for that memoir and those short stories!!!

    Appreciate your stopping by. Let’s do this!!!

  • Dominique Blessing

    Wow, do I relate to this! Summertime is definitely a challenge with my 14 year old son. I also have an active, but needy, widowed mother (I never realized how much my dad catered to her) who doesn’t understand what it takes to write. Oh, yes, and there’s that thing called a job I have to keep until I’m published and my writing nets me the same income. Thank God, my husband is my cheerleader

    • You’re one busy woman, and I’m inspired and impressed with your commitment to writing! Have you ever heard the expression about if you’re wanting something done, give it to a busy person because they’ll make it happen? That’s you!

      Write on and thank you for reading my blog post today.

  • debrichmond62

    Thank you, Christa, for making me feel a step closer to normal. I thought my summer days would be filled with writing. My retired husband thought I would be doing green beans and helping with the laundry. Sometimes when he comes through that closed door, I give him my best teacher look until he stops chatting or asking where I would like to live in five years when I retire. But because he is at that age, he’ll often come back 2 or 3 more times until he remembers why he interrupted in the first place. He could use a short game golf partner if you’d like to send your husband over to Pennsylvania. Or maybe they could meet halfway in Tennessee every other week.

    • Ah, the teacher look. Mine says I use the teacher voice on him.

      You’re so normal and–if not–we’re not normal in great company! Green beans and the laundry vs. writing? No contest. Tennessee might be the perfect getaway golf trip.But then, they’d want us to schlep along with them…

      Good luck and know that the struggle is real! But we’re going to soldier through.

  • RHS, oh darling I feel your distress. The blaring TV, and the “where” questions and of course there are the screams (mine when I turn to find him standing behind me.) I swear it’s enough to give a me a heart attack. Even my muse gets up and leaves. Loved your post. So glad I’m not alone dealing with RHS. Should we start a support group?

    • YES! YES! A support group with required weekends away! Laughed out loud about your muse leaving. Maybe that’s our writer’s block?

      Appreciate your kind words. We’ll muddle through this together…let me know if you discover any secrets to RHS!

      • You won’t believe what happened after I responded to your post. RH leaves for golf game, yay me. I fire up Scrivener, lock and load, and within minutes I’m actually typing whole paragraphs. Phone rings.
        Now let me explain. RH never, I mean never calls me in the middle of his golf game. Never. So when his name flashed on caller ID, my heart skipped so hard it lodged in my throat.
        Me: Hey, uh you okay?
        RH: Yeah, got call from agent needs another document signed. Need it today.
        Me: Okay…
        RH: Hold on, laying phone down.
        I hear a lot of grunting and swearing.
        RH: Back, I told her I was on golf course but you were home messing around on your computer so… hold on be right back.
        Messing around? My blood pressure ticked up a few points.
        RH: Anyway, I thought you could take care of it.
        Me: Can’t it wait till you get home?
        RH: Is it too much to ask for you to go into my email account and sign the damn thing? Your on the computer.
        By now I’ve decided the least path of resistance is to just find the damn form and get back to my writing.
        Me: Okay, is it the MSN email?
        RH: Hold on gotta hit my ball.
        God almighty! I’m about ready to hit something. But instead, I close Scrivener and open an internet tab and type in his email info.
        RH: You find it yet?
        Me: No, can’t seem to get to the MSN acct.
        RH: It’s not that hard, just type in my email.
        Hmm, OH MY GOD! I don’t fucking believe this. My screen froze. Security picked up a virus attack.
        I hung up on RH and frantically began trying to save my computer.
        Several hours later, virus scrubbed and files saved, I called it a day.
        RHS struck again.
        Today, I’m laughing. After all, better to laugh than smother him.

        • OMG!!!!! I’d just put my cup of coffee down or else I would have drowned my laptop spitting it out reading this! Honestly, you can’t make this crap up! Almost the exact conversation I’d have with my RH except he might have given up at my inability to logon to his account–which is exactly why I have all his emails dump into mine. It’s a pain in the ass, but it’s saved me more times than I ever imagined.

          • You’re right, reality beats fiction ever time. I wouldn’t dare send his mail to mine. He has 2 email accts (that I know about) and loves getting crap mail. Every night I hear…
            RH: Wow, Babe, look at this deal.
            I’ve learned to nod and murmur. Because it won’t be five minutes before there is another remarkable spam sale, uh email. LOL

        • Oh Jean, I SO get the , ‘Is it too much to ask….’? Frankly, YES! But like you I cave, because the fight would take longer.

          And he knows it. And THAT makes me want to head for the knife drawer.

  • I’m in that predicament at the moment. But, I think I’m going to force myself to allow myself a little bit of time to write. I think that’s the problem. I’ve allowed some things to take over while forgetting to permit myself the time and energy to write a little. A jump start, so to speak. In my case, it’s so easy to let the kids, husband, relative with an illness, automotive problems, etc… take me away from what make’s me happy. I’m a mom, so used to putting myself last. Time to carve out the me time to write.

    Said it aloud, now I must do it.

    denise

    • Denise, it’s time and healthy even to make time for yourself. I still struggle with self-care, with feeling selfish or unsympathetic if I take time for me. But I’m learning that if I don’t, the emotional vampires won’t ever stop sucking the life out of me. I’m a better person to my family when I’ve spent time taking care of me.

      YOU MUST DO IT AND YOU WILL!!!!

      Thanks for sharing, and I hope you are kind to yourself and give yourself permission to write. To do what makes you happy.

  • jamesr403

    What a great post! Thanks! I have gone to wearing headphones, which is supposed to be a signal that I’m working. And, you know what? That works unless the other person thinks it is important. It’s good to know that somebody else goes through this. And at least I haven’t relocated!

  • Headphones…great idea. Perfect signal without ever having to say, “Move away from the door.”

    Oh, you’re so not alone as you can tell from reading the comments.

    Appreciate your stopping by and reading my post!

  • What a great post. I’m lucky in that my husband has always been supportive of my writing but he doesn’t read it either – he says it’s depressing.

    I have to work my writing around a five-year-old and a seven-year-old. When they were babies, I wrote during nap-time. As they got older, I instituted ‘quiet time’ (essentially watching a movie), and sat on the couch with them and wrote. Now one’s at school and one’s at pre-school and the main challenge is with myself and my mantra is, ‘writing is my job. During this time I will write not vaccum/dust/change kitty litter/prep dinner/visit friends…etc’. The more I value my role as a writer the more others seem to. I’m not making money (yet) but it’s still my job.

    • This is IT in a nutshell: “the main challenge is with myself.” So true…it’s the good news/bad news! I totally relate to your mantra when I’m writing at home (we have three cats). I know I’m stuck in my writing (or sometimes really afraid to write what I know I need to) when I experience an overwhelming urge to empty the dishwasher.

      Thanks for sharing, and bravo for staying focused. I’m so glad you stopped by. Write on!

  • I have RHS as well! Laughing about being texted to pick up a tool – I’ve had that happen as well.My husband is actually very encouraging about me spending time writing, but I admit to feeling guilty about not spending more time with him. And yes, some days I do retire to the library or coffeeshop for uninterrupted writing time.

    • Debbie…I think we have enough peeps to form our own little sorority of RHSers. The tool thing with you too? OMG. I actually feel a bit better knowing at least other man is as clueless as my husband about climbing down from a ladder to get what he needs.

      The damn guilt…is it a woman/wife/mother/daughter thing? Writing away from home, if it’s more productive, I think makes us less frustrated and resenttful when we’re distracted at home by you-know-who.

      Appreciate your commenting!

  • Beverly Turner

    RHS seems to be an epidemic. LOL I deal with it at my house, too. But for the most part, my husband understands when I go to the room I write in that I’m not available. Thankfully, he has a part-time job that gets him out of the house a couple days a week and he does have a play group (aka three friends he plays golf with). There are times when things are rolling and I don’t want to stop writing to cook dinner. All I have to do is tell him he’s responsible for dinner. Since he likes to cook, he doesn’t mind that either.

    • You are rocking this RHS, Beverly! A part-time job…what a blessing! And I loved when my husband could play golf because it meant five to six hours of free time. And your husband LIKES to cook and doesn’t mind? Hold on to that man.

      It’s wonderful that he’s supportive and that you have given him a reason to be so!
      Thanks for stopping by.

  • […] Once Upon a Time, I Had a Writing Groove…then the music changed. Finding your writing groove after life transitions A post made possible by the fact that my husband doesn’t read anything I write…except checks.Four years ago, I retired after teaching high school English for twenty-five years and grooved myself right into being a full-time writer. Read the rest of this post HERE. […]

  • Christa, you made me laugh out loud! In a few years, I’ll be facing RHS and now have a few ideas on how to escape or divert his attention. Thanks for the fun and informative post.

  • karenmcfarland

    OMG…Christa, I feel like you were just inside my head! Why am I not writing? But it’s the constant distractions. Worsened by a husband with severe back problems brought on by back surgery. (Jenny Hansen, you know what I’m talking about.) But then, “How do I, gut-level honesty, spend the time I do have writing, not trying to write?” Right?!?! So…”Has your writing groove ever been hijacked?” Oh hell yes!! And if you know how to find it again could you please let me know? Because it’s driving me crazy! Wow, do I ever relate to this post. 🙂

    • Thanks, Karen, for sharing your own frustrations because otherwise I/we would think we’re the exceptions in writer-world!

      I’m learning how to find it one day at a time. Seriously.I did learn a few things in AA besides how not to drink…I do whatever I can, when I can and then I have to tell myself that getting wonky over it is going to send my muse packing.

      I’ve also had to decide what I REALLY want to spend my writing attention on…I’m latching on to the ideas that make me want to get back to the laptop and have fun with my characters. Some days are better than others. But it’s a beginning, you know?

      Hang in there, honey. I’m with you!

  • I totally get it. Thanks so much for sharing this in such a marvelous way.

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