Blogger: Mary Keeley
Recently I’ve heard several writers comment they are frustrated because they can’t maintain their desired writing schedule. Life happens. When family crises, health issues, nurturing small children, or necessity to keep your day job take priority, you don’t have to put your writing life on hold.
It’s all about perspective. Your situation might not be your plan but instead God’s plan for a purpose you can’t yet see. You might need to tell a different story or write about a different topic. I firmly believe that for Christians nothing happens by chance. Look at this phase as a time of discovery. Your characters will be more compelling or your nonfiction book more relevant as a result of what you can learn during these apparent life interruptions.
Here are five things you can do that will keep you moving forward when you can’t write.
- Journal. Grab a few minutes each day to write about your emotional reactions to the situation you’re in. What’s your perspective on it? That’s a good question to ask in the privacy of your journal. Let’s face it, a woe-is-me attitude can creep in. But you can catch it red-handed right there on the page. What you record about yourself and those around you can be attributed to characters in your novel. You’re taking in the stuff of our human condition on a deeper level during these life interruptions. Let the experience infuse your writing. Another bonus from journaling is that you’ll learn to recognize and develop your unique voice.
- Jot down thoughts, words, phrases, scenes that stand out to you. I learned this tip from Ann Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird. She suggests keeping 3×5 index cards handy at all times to write down a random word, name, quote, or thought you find interesting. You’ll never remember them later, so be sure to write them down. File them away to resurrect later.
- Document things happening in your life. Keep track of events, details, conversations related to your interruption. What is the dosage of that medication your ill mother needs? Why did the doctor say she needs it? How long was the time frame between the diagnosis and treatment, treatment and recovery? These details and timelines could prove valuable later on not only as a medical journal but also details for your work in progress.
- Keep in touch. When you feel as if your writing friends are sailing on ahead of you, you can be tempted to withdraw. Resist! Don’t become isolated from your writing circle or from your agent. Stay connected with your critique partners and ask them to update you on publishing industry news. Attend writers conferences if possible.
- Insert laughter. This tip might seem as if it doesn’t fit on this list. But it’s a necessary ingredient for staying joyful, positive, and for keeping your life interruption in godly perspective. You’ll bring joy to those who need you and to yourself. Your creative mind and spirit will be lifted.
I know a multi-published author whose spouse has been fighting cancer for several years. This situation could keep her from writing. But it isn’t. She made these practices her habit long before the illness. Being a seasoned professional, she functions in both worlds. It can be done. When you are finally able to devote time to the act of writing, you’ll be surprised at how much you learned during this interruption that will help to make your book even better. These pauses actually can prove to be important steps forward in your career.
What has worked for you during stalled writing seasons?
Kindle Fire Giveaway!
We want to encourage our readers to subscribe to our blog so that it comes to you automatically every time we post. Subscribe in the month of April, via RSS or email, and you’ll be entered in our drawing for a Kindle Fire! Click here for details.
I love this, Mary! I used to keep 3×5 cards in my purse but have fallen out of the habit. I’m going to slip some in there this afternoon.
When my kids were babies/toddlers, I had to take a break from writing. I used the time to join a local writer’s group where we had assignments twice a month. I also read every minute in my spare time. I knew in a few years my circumstances would change, and they did. 🙂 I don’t regret stepping back at that time!
Have a great weekend!
Jill, I hope every mom with babies/toddlers reads your encouraging comment!
You have a great weekend too.
Wonderful tips, Mary. I journaled long before I attempted to write a novel. The ideas you shared here will add to my current journaling practice. Thanks for the suggestions.
When I find myself with little/no time to write, I think on my current wip or future ideas, and write thoughts down as they come to mind, usually in my always-present composition book. I’ve set stringent goals for myself. Right now, I’m meeting them. We’ll see how well I do when the kids are out of school for the summer. 🙂 I’ll be refering back to this post, I’m sure. 🙂
Jeanne, great to see the on-the-spot note writing is working for you. I love your mention of setting stringent goals for yourself. Reachable goals along the way keep you moving forward. Thanks.
Mary,it must have been a God-thing that you wrote this particular post today. I kind of touched on the same thing this Friday morning!
I still have Ann Lamott’s book on my “to buy” list. 3 x 5 cards are a fantastic idea, as are your suggestions today.
What has worked for me during stalled seasons? Laughter! I love to laugh and smile and bring joy. And on days where that might be a little tough, I search out those who inspire and encourage. I also read favorite scripture passages and pray.
Blessings all over you today!
I find keeping a blogging schedule really helps me to keep writing and to do it with an on-going deadline. Sometimes I feel like I should ditch the blog to focus on my novels, but the discipline and connection to blog readers is priceless. Even if I plug in an “old” post or a two-sentence explanation for the lack of a better post, I feel connected and like I’m keeping up.
Great point, Sarah. Blogging keeps writers connected. And like you said, it can be done in a few minutes a day if that’s all the time you have.
Excellent suggestions! I have kept a journal “forever.” For some unknown reason, I had decided that an earlier period of my life was full of frustrations and disappointments. I happened to find a journal from that time and much to my amazement I had recorded funny little incidents with my children, and happy evenings with My Sweet Husband. I learned a valuable lesson: my mind might try to twist things, but the written word sheds light on the truth.
As part of the “Insert laughter,” suggestion, I’d say spend time playing with your children or grandchildren…jump on a trampoline with them, (I usually sit while they jump, but we certainly laugh a lot), get on the floor and enter the magical world of make-believe with trucks or dolls… build sandcastles….I don’t think there is anything quite as freeing and joyful as “playing.” (And the bonus is you’re making memories!)
Hope you have a tea-riffic weekend! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)
What a great point you make, Kate. Those journals are the accurate written record of your feelings. And I so agree with you about play. Taking the time to enter into little children’s world and seeing the wonder and excitement in their eyes that you are really WITH them, lifts your spirit while creating that memory.
The last one is SO crucial. It helped me through a very difficult time. The others too, but I truly believe without the laughter, I’d be nowhere near where I am now.
One of my father’s favorite quotes applies:
“No laughing matter, no matter if you laugh.”
That’s a keeper, Lee.
I’m glad laughter helped you get through, Joanne. It’s importance so often is forgotten.
Very level-headed list. It’s hard to keep things all in balance, but I think that these things help. As writers, we always get little ideas, and jotting them down helps us focus on the things we need to while not feeling like we’re sacrificing anything. I also like the idea to keep connected. It really is tempting to pull away, but it’s so hard to get back in if you do that.
Tiana, all great points, well-stated. And the words, phrases, names that strike us don’t even need to apply to your WIP. Write them down anyway to remember for a future book.
When I was too weary to keep up my pace and write, I found myself reading craft books so I was taking new knowledge into my next revisions. It’s been refreshing but I’ve still been able to “work on my writing.” Thanks for the encouraging post, Mary!
Lindsay, great use of your limited time. I think, too, that reading craft books at this more relaxed pace, when you aren’t actually writing, helps you to retain what you learn.
What a great way to end the week, Mary. I love this list. I’ve gotten away from journaling, but I’m always jotting down things. I find I can’t recreate a phrase I like the same way if I wait.
When I’m really struggling, I give it up to God. If His plan is for me to make a living doing this, He’ll provide the way.
Exactly, Cheryl. I know I’ll never remember a phrase exactly right unless I write it down right away.
Thanks for mentioning the umbrella component over all the rest: Writers will find joy along the way as you patiently wait for God’s perfect timing and opportunity.
“Insert laughter” is so very important, and one that I can’t function without. When days or tasks seem tedious, there’s nothing like laughter to release the tension and breathe again. Thanks for these great reminders!
Donna, thanks for stating that well. Writers so often can be task-driven and forget the important part laughter plays–raising the endorphins and all that.
I am in one of these phases of life right now and it’s driving me crazy! My mom destroyed her knee last October and had a knee replacement done in March. I have not touched my WIP in three weeks now. Everything in the house, along with taking her to therapy and the doctor, has fallen on me. I’m fast approaching being totally fried and even though she was gone all last week I still didn’t write anything. I needed the time to literally do nothing. And that’s what I did.
I’m not completely dried up. I’m still writing on other things and jotting down scenes and stuff. But the word count on my main WIP hasn’t moved. It’s very frustrating at times and I am so sick of being responsible for every meal, every appointment, every shopping trip. My siblings have been no help at all, and all three of us live at home right now! I work from home too and I’m losing money in my job thanks to their total inconsideration of the other person in the house.
I really hope something gives soon or I’m going to have a total meltdown. Not writing is torture for me.
Rachel, so glad you felt safe here to vent. Without knowing it, you are that writer I had in mind when writing this post. I’m sure everyone reading this blog understands your feelings.
I’m not a counselor who can advise you on what action to take, but I have learned through my own times of great frustration, that as I keep my priorities straight–as you are in caring for your mother now–and humbly trusting in God’s perfect timing, he will bless you. And on the other side of this interrupted season, you may be surprised at the growth you gained during this time that will make your writing even better.
Thank you, Mary. I did get to write some the other day on the main WIP and I’m feeling better this week.
Rachel, so sending you a hug just now. Life stages/crises/detours can be so frustrating and disheartening.
May I suggest just one thing? Write at least ONE full sentence and plug it into your WIP. It can be total silliness or whatever. The point is, it’s a psychological trick I used to use when we spent years in & out of hospitals and I didn’t have quality time to write. It’ll keep your WIP alive in your mind, and you can always go back and change it later on.
Your priority just now is your mom as it should be, but trust that God is preparing you for a another season, another time. A season of ripening.
Rachel, I certainly understand your plight. I was responsible for much of the care of my mother-in-law as her mind deteriorated.
Although it was very stressful for me at times and I felt like it would never end, I’m glad I was able to care for her. I didn’t do any writing, but I gained spiritual and emotional strength through the trial and was able to show her my love for her. Now she is gone.
Have you actually asked one of your siblings for a break at a particular time because you need one? If you can do that prayerfully from time to time without implying negligence, you might be surprised at the result. Remember that they are the losers if they ignore her and her needs.
I pray for strength and wisdom for you.
I’d ask my siblings for a break if they were ever actually home…. My mom is back on her feet now and starting to get back into the kitchen so things are better this week. I did get about 500 words added last Friday. We talked about it on the way to therapy last Friday too. She’s my biggest supporter and has been the one beside me every step of the way. The whole situation is tearing her up too.
I have all day this coming Saturday all to myself and I intend to put it to good use and jack that word count up!
These are great. I would add READ. Words are our medium- see how others use the medium.
Thanks Mary. I need to keep this blog close. These are truths as valuable as gold.
Darby, great point. Read, read, read. Make that the sixth bullet point.
Looking back, I did many of those things almost instinctually when my boys were small. One treasured sanity saver was a little notebook I titled “Thinks I never thought I’d have to say.”
After all, “Don’t pee in your dump truck” doesn’t roll all that naturally off the tongue…
“_Things_” not “thinks”. You’d think they were still here…
Laughed out loud. What mom can’t relate to this. That quote has to appear somewhere some day. Thanks, Jane, for inserting laughter into the comments today.
Very good post, Mary!
You’re so right – each of these things, whatever they may be, could be the catalyst needed to propel either a new book or a scene in a current WIP forward. Nothing happens by chance and we can learn from all things. Even if it’s negative.
I especially like the idea of the 3×5 cards. I use post-it notes, notebooks, business cards, anything that is available at the time, but that makes things a little more difficult to keep track of. 🙂
Amanda, thanks for reinforcing how interruptions often enrich a writer’s work. I agree, nothing happens by chance.
I envision a run on index cards at Walmart and Target.
Erin Keeley Marshall
Great blog! Timeless tidbits. I’m constantly learning that God is Master Pacesetter. Right now I’m waiting for a proposal to sell. In my heart of hearts I’ve been wondering whether I’m truly ready to write that book. If God agrees, then I need to thank him for not letting me write it now if it won’t reach the richness it could have after a bit more life growth in me.
Master Pacesetter . . . that says it all, Erin. Thanks for sharing your mature, God-pleasing perspective.
What works for me is to change gears by writing something else. Changes often stir the creativity for me and ultimately lead me back to what I began with earlier.
When that doesn’t work, it helps to get feedback or bounce ideas off others. People have a way of sharpening your focus or giving new perspectives.
Brian, thanks for adding these points. I agree, switching to write something else can reignite creativity. Switching from your own vantage point to hearing another viewpoint also helps.
Sharon K Mayhew
I look forward to your posts every day. I don’t comment very often. (hangs head in shame)
Something I do is I read or do research in my genre. It really gets me going again. I also enjoy critiquing. It always inspires me to pick back up the project I was stalled on.
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!
Sharon, thanks for your comment and contributing your helpful tips. More bullet points for the list.
You have a wonderful weekend too.
You had no idea this is EXACTLY what I needed today. I’ve had lots of frustration lately that life is getting in the way of my dream. Obviously, that is dumb because I love my family and my life. But when will I ever have the time to write when I am not too tired?? Thanks for the ideas. I’m going to post them above my computer.
Christina, God didn’t bless you with the ability and desire to write without a plan for you to exercise your gifts. Trusting in his timing will pay off. In the meantime I hope these suggestions will help.
Lisa Van Engen
I like to check out art and photography books from the library. I always have a few at home. I just jot down ideas and inspiration very casually. When life is busy and I’m too wiped to write anything intelligible this is an easy activity. When I am ready to go back to writing those casual reflections usually provide lots of material.
Lisa, what a fresh idea. I can see how viewing art and photography can inspire new material. Thanks for sharing.
What a blessing this blog has been to me. Nothing to add to the great comments…just thanks to all.
So glad it’s been a blessing to you, Susan. Thanks to everyone for your helpful comments and suggestions.
Wow, I wish I would have read this post when I was taking care of my mom-in-law, Mary. That was such a discouraging time in my life, and I saw my writing career crash and burn due to lack of attention.
One thing that helped me as the Alzheimer’s gradually eclipsed her life and mine was to rearrange my thinking. Her mother’s name was Elsie, and as my Mom-in-law regressed to about the level of a one-year-old, I kept telling myself that I was taking care of Elsie’s baby. For some reason that helped.
As I look back now, 5 years later, I realize that during those 5 years of caregiving I experienced the greatest degree of spiritual growth yet in my life.
Sue, great perspective you maintained. Thanks for sharing how God used the time to grow you. I’m sure your writing will be richer as a result.
A medical journal is an excellent idea!I usually keep a journal (it has also helped a lot with creating scenes in my writing since I can’t rely on my memory) but I usually keep things vague. A medical journal would be great to add detail.Good thinking, Mary. 🙂
Also, I always carry a pen and paper but I like the 3×5 cards idea. James Scott Bell recommends this in one of his writing books (he has one of thee best books on craft:) to break down movies/novels. Ever since I read that years ago, I seem to want to break every novel and movie down.
As always, great tips, Mary! Thank you.
Oh, and you are so right. Nothing happens by chance. That is a really good reminder!
Thanks for sharing how these tips work for you, Martha. Yes, James Scott Bell’s books on writing are excellent.
Anita Mae Draper
Great suggestions, Mary. However, I seem to be on a different playing field – not unusual for me by any means. *heh
I have dozens of 3×5 cards, more if you count the ones with recipes and 4-H speech notes on them, but nary a one with a writing idea. Nope, I use my iPhone for that. I used to use a journal, then upgraded to a digital voice recorder, and then an iTouch except it didn’t have a microphone. Hubby got the hint and bought me an iPhone and now that’s my method of choice. So much better to record your voice than trying to write while driving. (I know there are laws about talking to someone on a cell phone while driving, but does talking to yourself count?) For the times I’m able to write, I have aps on my iPhone for writing and notes depending on what I’ve just seen, heard, or thought. ie little folders to keep my thoughts organized
And when I wake up in the middle of the night after a vivid dream that has my heart racing, I can speak a lot more coherently than I can write legibly. Yes, I go to bed with my iPhone on the shelf above my head. Hubby has learned to live with it. Yes, it’s on silent mode. Him and the phone. 😀
As for writing every day, some months I do when my life is on schedule. When it’s not, I don’t worry about it, but keep talking to my iPhone. 🙂 Then I’ll hide in my cave for days at a time and catch up. Yeah, I know. People cringe when I say I’m not regulated. The thing is, after 20 yrs of military service I learned something… do what needs doing when it needs to be done, and then sacrifice for the rest if it’s not enough.
Anita, thanks for bringing us into the tech generation of 3×5 card note taking! I’ll have to try your method.
Thank you for the tips Mary. I’ve written of my son’s experience with his skiing injury, surgery and ongoing physical therapy. The spiritual growth and maturity I’ve witnessed in him has been a great topic for my blog. Parents can relate and it provides a personal connection with my readers.
The other suggestions are helpful too. I’m going to tuck some 3×5 cards in my bag!
Thanks for your example, Becky. I’m glad to hear how your son has grown through this tough time and the perspective and connection you are sharing with your readers.
My reason is job-related also. I’m a teacher and this is testing season. For the past month I’ve had to set my own writing aside so I could pay proper attention to my students’ writing. I’ve graded enough essays and given enough feedback to fill an anthology. *g*
I could have made time, but I always feel like I’m cheating my students if I take “me” writing time when they need so much of my extra free time. Ah, the guilt. So instead I use my subway travel time to read and ponder what makes the book I’m reading so good that I forget my surroundings and how tired I am (or, the converse, why it has me falling asleep on the subway).
Testing is almost done. Then I get to focus on MY writing again!
Mary, thanks for showing where there’s a will there’s a way to keep moving forward when you can’t actually write. I hope you have a great time writing this summer.
Mary, I most appreciate your faith emphasis and your reassurances that God uses everything. I believe that, too. Thanks for the reminder and for the lift!
You’re welcome, Lenore. I’m glad it was a spirit lift.
Thank you for this blog. I believe that everything we do is a part of the writing process. All of our experiences are the fodder for what we write next. We sometimes need a hiatus, and I remind myself when this happens that it is needed time to replenish and recharge the writing battery. But I never truly stop writing. I carry around 3 or 4 types of journals – two are permanent fixtures in my purse. I also have a tiny tape recorder I carry with me at all times in case I’m in a place where I can’t write, but I can record thoughts coming to me. Even when I’m not working on a project, I consider thoughtfully everything I put into the written form, whether it’s an email, letter (yes, I still do snail mail) or journal jotting. It’s all writing. Happy writing (and incubating when life demands it)!
Patricia, thanks for contributing your helpful writing suggestions and another electronic option to 3×5-card note taking. Happy writing.
This is such good advice. It seems like through the week, while I am at that office that is when I most want to write but obviously not a good time as my employer want me to focus on the work at hand. I have started carrying a notebook in my purse so I can at least jot down quick ideas or write at bit at lunch. It also comes in handy when I am waiting on an appointment.
I also like the idea of staying in touch. It is too easy to walk away when you can’t focus on writing. In reality though, you never know what sort of useful information you might get just from keeping contact with other writers.
Thanks for the post!
You’re welcome, Jen. It sounds like you already have a working system for jotting down notes. And do keep in touch. Happy writing.