Writing When Life Gets Crazy

As writers, we often find joy, peace, and stress relief in our writing (ignore those infuriating, anxiety-inducing things like “sharing” and “querying” for a moment). Once we dedicate ourselves to our writing, we even find that we want to make time for it on a regular basis, that it gives us excitement, energy, and purpose.

But when we are just starting out or when our lives start changing, that can be more difficult. Maybe we have full-time jobs or responsibilities that cut into our writing time. Maybe we have a lot of hobbies that eat up our free time. Or maybe events happen in your life that change your ability to write for a time, such as planning parties or weddings or starting a new relationship.

Personally, I encountered this between the end of March and beginning of May. I got married on April 21 (yay!), which meant that for the weeks leading up to the wedding I was insanely busy and stressed (boo!). It also meant that the weeks following the wedding I was traveling and recovering from being insanely busy and stressed.

And you know what? Not having the time, creative energy, or motivation to sit down at the keyboard took its toll on me. I became irritable and anxious about everything, even toward the man I love more than anyone. I started having stress-related health issues (which I’m still trying to fix). I battled my anxiety and my depression to keep from losing it completely (when they say weddings are stressful, it’s an understatement).

All because I had no outlet and I let myself get caught up in not doing the things that restore me. I wasn’t creating and my dreams felt stagnant. I wasn’t working toward them. My job felt pointless and unfulfilling. And yeah, there was good reason I wasn’t working toward my dreams, but still, being able to do something to move you toward your goals is SO IMPORTANT. I knew it was a temporary situation, but I really did suffer for it.

So, in hindsight, let’s discuss how to deal with your writing (or any other dreams) when life gets a little out of control. And maybe next time, I won’t lose it so much either!

  1. Use the time you can find. It can be hard to find time to do things that restore you when you’re busy and stressed and ready to explode. But you know what? You can. It won’t necessarily be your first choice, but if it’s something important to you or something you need for your own self care (like writing for me), then you need to just do it.
    So what do I mean? Can you set your alarm five minutes earlier in the morning and just write for five minutes? What about staying up five minutes later? Brainstorm while you’re on your commute? Take a couple minutes out of your lunch break? As soon as you get home, scrawl a sentence into your work in progress? These are all tiny, but if you can do even one of them, it can make a huge difference in how you feel. It’s small, but it’s not stagnant. You’re keeping your creative brain active and awake. I wish I had done that this past month instead of letting everything sit and fester.
  2. Cut yourself some slack. Listen. Life gets rough sometimes. You run into issues or things get away from you. It happens to everyone. Don’t beat yourself up. We’re all doing the best we can. Your dreams will still be there no matter what you do. Try to take little steps, but if you can’t even do that? Give yourself a break. As writers, we have enough forces coming at us in the form of rejections and critiques and reviews that we really don’t need to add to the negativity just by opening our own mouths.
  3. Take care of yourself. Make sure you put yourself and your health above trying to crank out work. Yes, do those things that you have to, like wedding planning or building a relationship or whatever it is that is interfering with your writing schedule… but don’t forget that your health is the first priority. That includes mental health. So take that bubble bath. Read that book before bed. Take a walk. Just take care of yourself in whatever way you need to in order to get through the tough time.
  4. Refuel yourself. Listen, tough times drain us. They drain us emotionally, physically, mentally, and creatively. Don’t expect yourself to jump right back in as soon as things get better. You need to recover. Make sure you’re putting coins in the bank of creativity: keep notes while you’re busy of things you can come back to later, make every experience count toward writing fodder (as I call it… this is anything I consider usable writing material). But while you do that, give yourself time to relax and refill creative tanks without pressuring yourself to get back to your former writing performance. It takes time. For me, it was my honeymoon. I spent a week with no responsibility, seeing things I’d never seen. And by the third day, I was already inventing story ideas in my head. Refueling is vital!
  5. Keep dreaming. Don’t give up, even if you can’t be as involved and active as you want to be. Life can be hard. But don’t let it steal your joy.

Writers are such a unique breed. We need to write to take care of ourselves, yet our writing is also one of our greatest sources of stress and anxiety, especially when we can’t work on it. So, knowing this, we need to work extra hard during the tough times to take care of ourselves and do what we can to keep the creativity flowing. Or to at least make deposits in the creativity bank. If we can’t take care of ourselves, our writing is going to suffer, and so are we. Take care of yourself.

For now, that’s all. I’m ready to dive back into more creation! Good luck, and please share your tips and comments below. I’d love to know how you deal with your writing when life is busy!

When You Don’t Meet Your Goals

So NaNoWriMo was in the month of November. Show of hands, who participated? Who is close to completing the goal? For me, yes on the first and no on the second.

Unfortunately, while I participated in NaNo this month, I was not able to complete my goal. I am not going to be able to reach 50k unless something really drastic happens. I was on track for much of the month, though, and I did write over 30k, which is still the most I’ve ever done.

And I have to admit I’m disappointed in myself. I feel like I let myself down. I feel like I let my fiance down, since he was rooting for me so much to reach my goal. And worst of all, I feel like I let my dream down.

So what happened?

Very simply: life.

Long version: I was on track, then I had a friend visit for a few days, so I was entertaining instead of completing my writing. Then I went home for Thanksgiving. Then I was in South Carolina for the weekend. And by that point, I was hopelessly behind, even though I did try to catch up when I could.

Now, this is the second time I have attempted NaNo. Last time I made it to 14k before I called it quits. That time, it was an intensely stressful month and the onset of a depressive episode that blocked by path. This time, it was poor planning. But I still got closer than last time.

So how do we handle it when we don’t meet our goals? Here are some tips that I’m trying to keep in mind and might help you also.

1.  Acknowledge how you feel. Don’t try to bury your anger or guilt or sadness or whatever other emotion developed from you failing to reach your goal. It’s okay to feel. Let yourself feel it. Just don’t let yourself stay there and sit in the mud.

2. Evaluate what happened. Take stock of the situation. What prevented you from reaching your goal? Where did it come from? Be realistic: was it preventable?

3. Cut yourself some slack. Don’t beat yourself up for failing. If you really tried, then you still accomplished something that hadn’t been done before. In the case of NaNo, if you wrote at all, you still added words that didn’t exist before November. Just because you didn’t finish the entire goal doesn’t mean you deserve to feel like crap about it. Life happens. Things happen. We mess up or get lazy or have too much to do. It’s okay. Accept it for what it is and strive to do better as best you can.

4. Create an action plan. After you figure out what prevented you from reaching your goal, set up a way to reach your next goal. For example, since I didn’t complete NaNo this year but still want to, I will alter my approach next year. I will weight the writing at the beginning of the month so that I have the room to spare at the end, when holidays and life really get in the way. If illness got in the way for you, like it did for me last time, make a plan to address it. If it can’t be resolved or won’t be resolved for a time, create a plan to cope and fit your writing in around it. Remember: your health always, always comes first.

5. And most of all, don’t give up. Yes, failure can feel very personal and devastating. Don’t use it as an excuse to throw in the towel. Pick up your manuscript and keep working on it. Just keep putting those words one after another, and you’ll get through it. Don’t stop writing, and don’t give in to whatever negative emotions come up.

There you have it: advice for the writing failures in your life. I hope this list of tips is helpful to you. For now, I’m going to shift back to my own writing now. I might not be able to complete the 50k this month, but I can do my best to get close.

Happy writing!