Thursday, 16 March 2017

Writing When It Doesn't Make Sense

It's been a difficult month for me and it's not likely to ease up for the foreseeable future.  Which has definitely impacted my writing.

Generally, I'm of the "allow yourself the luxury of a day off during a bad day" mindset.  Partly that's because I have a hard time not ticking off every item on my to-do list and have learned the hard way that driving myself into the ground will cost me more than just one day.  So I reassure myself that it's not the end of the world if I take a mental health day to rejuvenate myself.

But sometimes it's more than just one bad day.  Sometimes life throws a series of curveballs at me and my writing time gets eaten up.  Sometimes other commitments all crash together and end up being overwhelming.  Sometimes the kids have been fighting non-stop and I'm feeling drained, frustrated and not particularly creative.  

I can't put my writing aside for weeks at a time while I try to cope with the rest of my life.  Most importantly, not writing makes it harder to break out of those depressive slumps, but almost as important, I've chosen to make writing stories my business.  Even though I'm self-published, that still gives me deadlines and obligations that I need to meet if I want my business to flourish.

So how to do it?

First things first, ask for help.  This is the crucial step that gets overlooked too often when life gets overwhelming.  If you need to talk to someone, then talk to someone (a friend, therapist, cornered stranger in the coffee shop).  If medication will help, then see your doctor about your dosage or prescription.  If there are any tasks which can be offloaded, then find people to do those tasks and say "yes" when someone offers to help.  

With all the chaos and difficulty, household chores were suffering at my house.  So I found a housekeeper to come in a couple of times a week.  It's more expensive than I would have liked, but it takes a large chunk of my to-do list off my plate.  And it doesn't always have to be expensive, I knew a couple of moms who worked out a co-op arrangement, where one prepared all the meals for both families and the other dealt with dishes and tidy-up.

I also said yes when a fellow ORWA member offered to help me with the official ORWA Twitter account.  (Thanks, Jessica!)  This was actually quite hard for me, because I felt as if I was letting the organization down.  And I knew that Jessica was already doing quite a bit to help out, so I felt as if I was imposing on her.  But after a little time, I realized it was more of a blow to my pride than anything else.  And pride is not worth tearing myself apart for.  So I said yes and she's doing a wonderful job and I'm not having to worry about it.

Next step, set up for success.  We all have our ideal set-up for writing but most of us manage with a "that'll do" rather than insisting on the ideal.  But when the rest of life is not cooperating, then more support might be needed to make a few hours of writing into a success rather than a frustration.  Try to set things up as close to the ideal as possible.

For me, my ideal involves being able to listen to music without headphones, being uninterrupted and preferably alone for an extended stretch of time (at least 90 minutes), and not being distracted by other things that I know I have to do.  In reality, I often have to use headphones or deal with a shorter than ideal time.  And I usually have to ignore everything which is still undone.

However, when I'm already feeling crappy, then I need more of my ideal to be productive.  And so it's okay to insist on my husband taking the kids out (or dumping them with their grandparents) so that I have my uninterrupted time and can listen to my music without fear of complaint or comment.  And it's also okay to insist on having more time to accomplish the other tasks on my to-do list.

A last thought on setting things up for success.  It's times when things aren't going smoothly that I find I really need the plotting work I've done.  It's still not an entirely natural process for me, but it's invaluable to keep things moving when I'm not inspired.  

Next, use what you have.  Not feeling the happily-ever-after?  Then focus on the black moment, or moments of despair for the characters.  Feeling frustrated and angry, use it to fuel a confrontation scene.  

I tend to write sequentially, but sometimes I jump ahead to use what I'm feeling to create a more powerful scene.  Those scenes don't always end up in the final book, but they help.  They get the words out of my head and onto the page, which gives me some mental space.

And finally, celebrate any success, no matter how small.  Be proud of the fact that you wrote 500 words, even if your usual total is closer to 1500.  That's 500 hard-won, paid for in effort.  And it's still better than 0.  

For me this is crucial because it's too easy to find myself saying, it's not worth the effort for such a small gain.  Then I find myself tempted to veg in front of Netflix with promises of doing better tomorrow, even though I know tomorrow will bring its own challenges.

It would be great if I could always guarantee my life would make room for my writing career, but that's not how it works.  There are always going to be times when it goes smoother than other times and times when everything seems to conspire against me.  But that's where the commitment comes in, distinguishing the career writers from the hobbyists.  

If you can write when it's not easy, then you'll have a greater chance of succeeding in a field that holds more heartbreaks than triumphs. 

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