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Writing Even when Life Isn't Kind

So! 2015 has begun. So far, the year has been…tumultuous.

We’re 12 days into 2015, and already my life has changed in ways I never expected. For the sake of privacy, I won’t go into it, but it’s world-shaking. (Don’t you love teasers like that? It could be anything! Is your imagination running wild? Good. You’re welcome.)

For now, all is well, and we’re attempting to keep it that way. But my head is spinning, and I can’t seem to find the inspiration to sit at my keyboard and get words onto a page. There’s too much depression to indulge in.

This is not such a good thing for my year, which I had promised myself would be full of words like “victory” and “completion” and “published”.

And why shouldn’t I just give in, lay in bed, eat chocolate and watch Netflix? Heaven knows I’ve done it in the past.

But there’s a problem with doing that. I haven’t been writing.

I spent a few days being pretty useless, even though I was trying to function through the difficulty. I slapped a smile on my face and I struggled through the hours, though inside I was a maelstrom of confusion, despair, and doubt. But I hung in there, and pretty well, too. I just wasn’t writing.

But I was doing okay. Yesterday, I even managed to cook a huge breakfast for seven people, get most of my household laundry done, make a batch of marinara sauce from scratch, make laundry detergent (I’m a hippie that way) and wrangle my kids – all while having company. It was a productive day. At one point, my friend shook her head at me and said “How are you doing all of this?”

I didn’t know. I just knew I couldn’t manage to get over to my keyboard. Later, I realized that I’d been avoiding the real work. Housework was easy, compared to changing my mood enough to write what needed writing.

Sure, I wasn’t in bed crying. But this was just the other end of the spectrum, the one called “avoidance”. By the end of the day I’d gotten a ton of stuff done…and no words on the page.

With these crises in my life, my emotions went wild, and my writing went to the back burner. And when I did have time, I didn’t include writing in my to-do list. Why?

Honestly? Because the inspiration wasn’t there, and I was afraid I would sit down and fail. My mood was black, no matter how much sunshine I tried pouring on it. I was hiding from my keyboard. As long as I told myself that I had stuff to do first, it wasn’t that I was blocked, or simply unproductive. I was busy! I was in the middle of a crisis! The story would wait!

Except…it won’t.

Today I faced it. I talked it out, I took the first steps toward purging this ugliness from my soul. It’s a journey of a thousand steps, but I’m no longer avoiding it. I can’t, if I’m going to get on with my life in a way that won’t damage me.

I’m jumping back on the wagon, and I’m going to try writing every day, even when life isn’t kind. No, I’m not totally okay with everything that’s happened, and I’m still feeling iffy about whether or not I’ll get anything on the page…but I sure won’t as long as I don’t try. I read an amusing comment today on a Facebook writing group: “Writing is 1% creativity, 9% editing, and 90% ass-in-chair-typing.”

So my ass is back in the chair. I won’t always have time to write, or a perfect setup, or an ideal place…and I have to make it work, anyway. This is the career I choose, and I owe it to myself to do my best at it.

So…. How do you write when life isn’t kind? Changing your mood into one that generates inspiration isn’t that easy. How do you do it?

There are a few steps I’ve learned from other writers, things I’m going to remind myself of when the darkness claims me next time (because sadly, there will be a next time, I already know it).

1. Set your mood. Try music, or an inspirational YouTube video if you need to. Or, if you can channel your emotion (by writing a really sad or angry scene, for instance) then do that. But if your mood is the thing preventing you from writing, try to change it. Depression makes this an impossibility, I know…believe me, I know. Going for a walk can clear your head. Get some sun; sunlight is a proven mood-lifter. Cuddle. Get some air. Exercise. Do yoga. Dance. Then…

2. Sit your ass in that chair. We’ve already established that you can’t write if you’re not even trying.

3. Stay away from social media.

Like my Netflix-and-chocolate analogy, it’s a buffer between you and your document. Don’t avoid your work. Close your browser and open your document.

4. If you’re blocked, work through the blockage. Try a writing exercise; there are dozens available. If you need to do a quick internet search on that, then do. You’ll build an arsenal of ways to bust through your block.

5. Take advantage of the good days. If you write on a schedule, write yourself ahead when you can. 45 days to complete a project? Aim for having it done by day 38. The good days will net you huge returns, and a bad day won’t be as devastating to your word count. And if life throws a situation at you, hopefully, you won’t be left with no time to finish since you wrote ahead.

Some other ideas to find inspiration? Read another writer’s blog! Check out what someone else has to say. You never know what gems you’ll find, and it may kick you back into gear. Go back and read something of your own; if you have a journal entry about a time you were inspired, for instance.

There are other times when life isn’t kind, too. Times when you’re stuck in a hospital waiting room or a doctor’s office, for instance. There are times when tragedy strikes, and it steals days from you. Not only are you stuck with the pain of whatever life has thrown at you, but you’re literally unable to sit at your desk. A few tips, for these situations…

1. Be okay with writing on the go.

I’ve adapted to be able to write on my phone when the situation calls for it (I’ve jotted sentences in school parking lots while waiting for pickup, for instance). Some prefer writing by hand, and that’s definitely a good option when you’re away from your desk (not for me; I’m too addicted to my keyboard. But for some!). Cloud-based services make it easy to access your work anywhere, and I find it helpful to keep copies of my active documents online. Be aware of security, however; this may or may not be something you’re comfortable with, based on your copyright situation. If you’re using a laptop/tablet/phone to do your writing on the go, make sure your device is charged or you have a charger and access to an outlet.

2. Have a daily goal, and do your best to keep it. This is a tough one. But your goal doesn’t have to be high. If your goal is 250 words per day, that’s a paragraph or two, and you can almost certainly find the time to jot that much down. Do that for a week, and you have almost 2,000 words. Depending on the size of your book, that could be a chapter. It adds up. You can do it. If you miss a day, brush it off and pick it up the next day.

3. If you simply can’t write, do something related. If it’s just impossible, use your time in another way. Plot something. Do a touch of editing. Take care of the other daily things, like returning email or keeping in touch with your writing group/editor/associates. Don’t forget to stay in touch with those who may be counting on your words! Life happens, and people are understanding. Make sure you’re letting them know if you’re experiencing a delay.

But finally…if you simply need some time…then take that time. A day to clear your head may be more beneficial than banging it against the wall. But if that day turns into a week, more drastic measures may be needed.

This is what I plan to do when the doldrums come for me. If this is something that speaks to you, remember…you owe it to yourself as a writer not to give up. Sometimes life sucks, the inspiration isn’t there, or you feel like you’re wading through mud to get to it. Taking some time off when you need it is okay – but don’t be defeated by it. You can still be a writer, even if your world is falling apart.

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