by Eldred Bird
Let’s face it, writing is tough and sometimes the problems we face in our daily lives makes it tougher. Five years ago, my father-in-law fell and broke his hip. This accident led to two hip replacement surgeries and months of physical therapy. During that time, he also ended up getting a pacemaker. I was his driver and main support for all his appointments.
As he recovered, my mother-in-law ended up having several medical issues. I was her transportation and support as well. While all of this was sucking up my time and the stress was blocking my creativity, I was trying to write my third book. I felt like I was going to lose my mind.
So, how did I keep my writing on track when life kept trying to derail me? Let me share a few lessons I’ve learned the hard way.
Thanks to modern technology we can work from just about anywhere and that’s exactly what I did. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that 80% of Cold Karma, the third James McCarthy book, was written in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and physical therapy waiting rooms. Between my laptop, netbook, and cellphone, I was able to steal back hours and minutes that otherwise would have been lost.
I’ve done my fair share of writing in bars and restaurants as well. My wife no longer drives, so when I drop her off at an appointment or meet up with her friends I plan ahead. I have my laptop and current work in progress with me, or at least have a copy in the cloud so I can access from any device I have handy.
When life gets out of control it’s nice to have a place you can run to where you are in charge. When I write, I’m able to let go of the day’s problems for a while. Reading also allows an escape, but someone else is still driving the bus. Writing puts me in control of my own little world where I am God. Characters live and die based on my current mood. I usually go back and revive some of them later, but this helps me blow off some steam in the moment.
Let’s face it, when the world gets out of whack so do our emotions. I like to use that emotional energy and funnel it into my writing. Jump to the scenes where your characters are dealing with a similar problem and work them through it. I think you’ll find it helps you work through your own issues as well.
When I’m in a heightened emotional state is also when I tend to free-write. It lets me drain my brain of all the turmoil and lift the dark cloud blocking my creativity. Some solid plots have been generated by these sessions, like my short story Treble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins.
One of the best ways I’ve found to deal with stress and free my creativity is movement—any kind of physical activity. Take a walk, ride a bike, or clean the house. Do whatever works for you. You don’t have to run a marathon (unless that’s your thing). Put your body to work burning off the nervous energy so your mind is free to wander and find it’s center again.
One thing most authors forget is sometimes it’s okay not to write. Self-care is one of the most important parts of the creative process. Take a break and read a book or listen to some music. Call an old friend or spend some time with loved ones.
If you force yourself to produce when the inspiration isn’t there it’s going to show up in the quality of your writing. You may get something down on the page, but odds are you’ll spend more time later trying to fill plot holes and fix inconsistencies.
If there’s one thing the experience of the last five years has taught me it’s to have a good support system. When the times get tough, lean on your writing friends. They are the ones who truly understand what you’re going through and usually know the right thing to say. If it wasn’t for my weekly video chat with my author friends, I probably would have tossed in the towel long ago. So, to all of you (and you know who you are) I say a big THANK YOU!
How do you manage writing through the hard times? Do you have any tips or tricks that have worked for you? Let me know in the comments below.
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Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing Karma, Catching Karma, and Cold Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking Room, Treble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.
When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking, and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives).
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