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).
His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.
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Thanks for your insights. I retired from teaching to get on with my writings. With time at home I had to own up to all the neglect of my property. Was I just being a responsible home owner or conveniently evading my writing. My solution to steal my time back has been a mid-afternoon escape to my favorite coffee shop. A mile and a half walk each way is good for clear thinking. The shop is pretty quiet at that time. I can get in two plus hours of writing and/or research. Caution: research easily becomes a delightful time trap -- a very compelling treasure hunt. One must stay focused or be lost rummaging through other people's stuff.
Research can absolutely become a rabbit hole! Best to time box it if you can.
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I struggle with mental health issues so self-care ist something I've learned from the ground up and is part of my daily life. I dare say I overdo it sometimes, but is there really something like too much care for yourself? What makes me sad is, that in my circle of writing friends the topic self-care is still widely neglected. They have all those huge demands towards themselves and consider taking a step back and relax as failure. Push, push, push. Until they are completely exhausted and/or frustrated because nothing seems good enough and they haven't done this or that yet. I think this topic (self-care) needs way more attention than it is getting yet. Or maybe it's not the right people talking about it.
Thank you for this post. It resonated with me a lot. And all the best from Germany.
Without continuous caring for yourself, you have nothing to give others. A great point: take the time to care for the person at the center of everything, because you deserve it.
I think we all have a tendency to over do sometimes. Selfcare is one of the most important parts of a healthy like no matter what you chosen field. It's something we need to talk more openly about in our daily lives. Taking time for yourself in not selfish, it's necessary.
TAKE something for yourself.
In the middle of my current medical trauma, surgery, and recovery, I took a weekend when there was nothing else I could do except ONLY rest (a very good idea), I did the last two small-but-I've-forgotten -how tasks - an ebook cover, and a formatting trick for ebooks which allows me to change the html produced by Scrivener2 for an ebook (which does NOT allow my epigraphs to be right-indented as I like), and change a number of 0.0em entries to the same number of 2.57em entries - and voilà, my right indents, and I am happy.
The tasks turned out to be tricky but small, I did them by hand, carefully so I wouldn't mess anything else up, reassembled the ebook - and published ebook and print to MY standards, with MY choices (though this time I gratefully paid for help with print cover and formatting).
"No dropping of standards" was nice in the middle of the chaos, and nothing else that HAD to be done got neglected, but I TOOK something for myself.
Agreed. Take the time you need, whatever it may be.
It's so good to hear someone say it's OK not to write. We hear over and over how we must write every day.
Thank you for the ideas.
Write every day is a noble goal, but not a realistic one. we all need a break once in a while.
Wise words, as I am currently in a "derailed state". I have decided to give myself permission to take the time off from writing and deal with "real life". I'm fortunate that I am not currently working under a deadline.
Hope things get better for you soon. Take the time and take care of yourself.
Thanks for your encouraging blog. I'm in such a season with elderly parents and have felt discouraged because stress has drained my writing and left me sad.
Glad this helped!
This post is so spot on! If it weren't for my iNotes on the phone, I would be so far behind my goals. At least with that, I can "steal" some writing time when I'm in the grocery line, when I'm in (yet another) medical appointments sitting forever in a waiting room. I found out recently that each scene in my iNotes added up to over 10K words!! It really does add up.
And I agree with getting on on some kind of physical movement (or at least a change of scenery) to keep down stress and prop up inspiration. A walk can be a game changer. Sitting on the edge of my garden to beg my veggies to grow counts, too! (I think!).
Great ideas! I have spent lots of time in waiting rooms and instead of bringing a book as I usually do, I will bring my notebook and pen next time. And yes, having some writing friends is important.
I'm still trying to figure out what works best for me.
We are all living on a rocky sea.
When I'm extremely stressed writing doesn't happen. It's like going into tabula rasa mode with no off switch. Sometimes you need to ride out the storm.
My top two thoughts on this: Writer buddies are a godsend, and long walks lead to relaxation and interesting ideas.
When I'm walking, my mind clears and ideas filter in my mind clearing stress induced creative thinking blockages.
Great suggestions, Bob!