How do you stick with your writing when life throws you a curve?
Maybe you create a list of goals for your writing. Or choose one project to finish this year: a novel you started last year, a series of short stories, a book on how to cook gourmet meals.
Then something happens.
A flood damages your home, you need to care for an ill friend or family member, you become injured yourself. In addition to your grief and learning to cope with the change in your life, you may feel more frustrated, depressed, or anxious because you can’t write or aren’t progressing the way you feel you “should.”
What do you do?
You Don't Write With Your Toes, But…
In late April I broke two bones in my foot.
One was a major bone on which you put all your weight, so instead of a walking boot for a short time (as one of my friends had for a stress fracture), I had a series of different casts that reached to my knee. I had to stay off of my foot entirely for over 10 weeks, spent 3 weeks in a walking cast, and am still rehabbing so I can eventually walk without limping.
When the doctor told me the treatment plan, though, I figured it wouldn't interfere with my writing. After all, I don’t write with my toes.
It turns out wearing a cast makes it hard to find a comfortable way to sleep, to sit at a desk, and to get around even at home. Things like brushing my teeth and making the bed took twice if not three times as long as usual on crutches. And I was exhausted. Not only from lack of sleep but because it takes a lot of energy for your body to heal.
It seemed like I'd be struggling forever, and spending a lot of time at home alone didn’t help my state of mind.
So though my fingers could still type, I didn't write all that much. But I learned a lot.
Feel free to adopt what helps you and ignore the rest.
Remember: It's A Long Game
Whether you’re recovering from a physical injury, dealing with emotional pain, or experiencing other acute stress, you may well find you're less able to write.
If you can keep your writing schedule and it helps you feel better to do it, then of course go ahead.
But if not, remind yourself that it's okay to do less. Finishing a novel or building a writing career is a long game. As Anthony Robbins says in Awaken The Giant Within, most people overestimate what they can do in one year and vastly under estimate what they can do in 10.
Slowing down or taking a break entirely doesn’t mean that in the long run you won’t reach where you hope to be.
Do Something Different
During the first few weeks of my recovery I had trouble focusing enough to write or read much. But I did two things that ultimately helped me feel better and sparked new ideas.
Each time I iced my foot I watched a segment of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a modern-day take on my favorite book of all time, Pride and Prejudice, told as a video blog. In doing so, I engaged with a new (to me) form of storytelling and delighted in a different spin on a story I loved.
That reminded me how much I love the audiobook edition of Pride and Prejudice narrated by Shiromi Arserio.
I started listening to it at night when I couldn’t sleep. The narrator has a wonderful voice, and hearing the book again was like visiting old friends.
Now that I'm doing better, I added a new book to my list of non-fiction books to write over the next 9 months: Pride, Prejudice, and Plot. In it, I plan to use Jane Austen's classic to illustrate the simple plot points from my guide to plotting, Super Simple Story Structure.
If people find that book helpful and enjoy it, I plan to write Pride, Prejudice, and People, a study of characterization.
Choose A Smaller Or Writing-Adjacent Task
You may not be able to keep writing when life throw you a curve, at least not at the same pace or on the same project.
But you may be able to write or plan something else.
Perhaps a short journal entry each morning. Or maybe you can do something to help create or plan your story, such as imagining a scene or interviewing a character in your mind.
Appreciate What You Can Do
It’s easy to think about what you’re not doing. But rather than thinking about the hours you don't spend writing in a day or week, give yourself credit for the fifteen minutes you do.
Be Guided By Your Feelings
Sometimes something you think will help makes you feel worse. For instance, at first I thought that since I had to spend so much time at home sitting or lying down I’d be able to add to the roster of writing podcasts I listen to.
But that made me feel depressed.
It emphasized what I wasn’t doing and left me feeling as if I were behind everybody else. I cut back to the two podcasts that for me are the most helpful and encouraging: The Creative Penn and the Sell More Books Show. And even those I sometimes put off listening to for a day or two until I was in the right state of mind.
It’s also important to pay attention to what makes you feel better.
The Lizzie Bennett Diaries were so absorbing that they took my mind off of my pain and elevated my mood. That’s why I binge watched them.
That’s all for today.
Until next Friday —
L. M. Lilly
P.S. For thoughts on writing and chronic health or wellness issues, see Writing When Injured Or Not Well.