I have committed the ultimate new author sin; I started a website and then disappeared from the face of the internet. My disappearance wasn’t planned or anticipated. (They never are, right?) Life keeps moving, for better or worse, regardless of what we have planned for ourselves. The problem is, how do we not beat ourselves up with guilt when we can’t meet the expectations we have for ourselves and others have for us? How do we accept that sometimes, we really can’t find the time or space to write?
For the past eleven months, I’ve been facing the most difficult challenge of my adult life. It’s absolutely a first world problem, but it has had a major impact on my writing. My husband and I sold our home and are building a new one, and frankly, it’s been a nightmare. I won’t go into details, but being without our own home for a year has prevented me from preserving that sacred mental and physical space needed for conjuring well-rounded, realistic fictional people out of thin air. All of my inspiration is packed away; my lovely books are boxed up in storage, and my gorgeous, hard-won oak writing desk in sitting in my nephew’s basement, a sheet draped over it. We’re living out of my future writing studio, a 10×12 foot “hunter’s cabin” that came with my property. It has no running water. How can I write when I can’t make tea or take an inspirational bath? (If it weren’t for the shower at my office I’d be so screwed.)
These are hardly ideal conditions for the imagination to craft sparkling dialogue and unexpected plot twists. Add to that an emotional exhaustion so acute, you (a writer) don’t have language to describe it, much less be inspired to craft achingly beautiful sentences worthy of publishing. I totally get it. I’m living it right now. But how can we overcome when life has overcome us? I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve found a few things that have helped me during this shit show. Things that have helped me keep my eye on my prize.
- Forgive yourself.
You know all the old sayings about writing every day, writers succeed because they show up to do the work, make a habit of writing, blah blah blah. I don’t disagree with those guidelines generally, but when they make you feel like shit for not showing up every day, it’s time to let that guilt go. It’s not serving you. Life is hard, and getting through each day takes priority sometimes and that’s perfectly okay. Understand your capacity for coping and decide accordingly. Whatever you decide is the right choice for you. Fuck what anyone else says or thinks. Be kind to yourself.
Take an honest look at your proverbial plate and decide what you can step away from. I don’t believe in doing things half-assed, so I’d rather bounce than do a shitty job. This one is also as much about mental health as it is time management. The added stress and pressure of additional deadlines, commitments, and expectations are too big a burden in super stressful times. Until life stops being an asshat, try to cut some of the fat from your life. You’ll have more time and emotional capacity to devote to what really needs to happen to move past the shit show and get back to “normal life”.
- Stay Connected
You may not have time to write a chapter a week, but make an effort to stay connected to your writing circle and your audience. If you can, join a critique group (you’ll hear this a lot from me). Meeting with other writers is a fantastic way to stay motivated and grow in your craft. Also, try to stay connected on your social media platforms. Don’t squander any momentum with a disappearing act. (I’m trying to take my own advice on this one.) A couple of tweets a day keeps you in front of your audience, and if you share your story with them, you’ll likely find a new source of support and encouragement.
- Remember that Nothing is Permanent
All things pass and everything is temporary. You will get through this challenge, and yes, there will be another to replace it almost immediately. Cliché? YES! True? So much yes. The lessons you learn from this challenge will help you in the next one. View all challenges as fodder for your future writing. Human suffering is the great equalizer and making human suffering relatable is the writer’s job. Use these experiences as a learning device to improve your work, and simultaneously use it as a way to make your work more relatable to readers. That is the entire point of literature, after all, to illuminate that we all suffer and we’re all human.
Don’t lose hope and do what you can, when you can. Good luck!