How to Write Through Duress
Is your daily writing routine anything like mine? Waking up with first light, meeting the dawn with 15 minutes of power yoga, settling down on your sun-strewn patio with birds chirping and a fountain in the background, cup of hot chocolate and freshly baked croissants by your side, ready to begin an uninterrupted, and inspiringly productive, 4-hour writing session.
Right. How I wish.
Too often, the world’s greatest profession is practiced under far-less-than-ideal conditions. But, as they say…
Life does not put things in front of you that you are unable to handle.
Most writers today face all of the same challenges any other professional does, especially those with families. On top of everything you’re supposed to be doing as a writer, you might have a day job, or other forms of income to pay the bills while you build up a strong readership and/or enough titles to replace those other forms of income.
Creative or not, writing requires focus. Writing this very blog requires focus, attention, concentration. If you’re writing a novel, you’re managing a million moving fictional pieces. If you’re writing a business book, you’re researching, interviewing people, targeting to a specific audience. Seemingly from everywhere, distractions fly in. Phone calls. Emails. Appointments. Social media. That bar of dark chocolate in your fridge.
If I were a wagerin’ kinda gal, I’d bet 99% of you reading this post are nodding vigorously (or twitching in acute recognition). Like yours, my days are painfully fragmented. At times to the point where when (double adverb alert!) I do finally get a linear span of time all to myself, I’m so fatigued I’m incapable of producing prose.
Here’s where a little sacred time comes in, bolstered by willpower and boundaries. Make sure you work some into your day, on a regular basis. See also “Tools” below. And if you’re feeling even a little bit guilty about claiming your time, don’t. Dump the guilt into the laundry basket.
In Sickness and in Health
It’s tough enough being consistently creative when you’re healthy. The moment you fall ill, attention shifts to health—and sometimes, sheer survival. This past holiday, I spent 12 days with a killer sinus infection—the pain was so bad I could feel it in my jaws. I soldiered on through it all: I had a novel to finish. But I wasn’t nearly as productive as usual.
The experience made me think about people with chronic pain, long-term illnesses, or any ongoing health issue that denies you the ability to write the way that you want to. One blogger I’ve had the pleasure to “e-meet” not too long ago suffers from chronic pain. Her grace and attitude about it are humbling.
So if you are in good health, or want to get there, nurture it! Take care of yourself for the long-term—eat healthful food, exercise, and please drop the sodas/smoking/junkfood/fill-in-your-vice—as if your writing depended on it.
Because it does.
Redirect Your Ability
Those of you who read my posts here on The Write Practice know I don’t throw praise around. I believe in constructive critiques delivered straight up. Some months ago, I commented on a writing practice that had a lot of spelling errors in it, asking the writer to proof before posting. The writer commented back explaining they’re dyslexic and sometimes they just don’t see the typos.
That changed the way I experienced the writer’s work.
The medical establishment calls dyslexia a “disability”—there are other conditions and realities, like dysgraphia or illiteracy, that can make writing and reading more difficult for some. The fact remains however that even if you have a harder time learning how to read, write, or proof your work, you have just as much a right to be a writer as anyone else. Whatever seems to be hindering your talent, or the expression of your talent, work with it, learn about and from it, seek support for it, move through it.
Find what works for you, but don’t give up on that dream to write. Ever. If Helen Keller could write, so by God can the rest of us.
This one is the toughest. But we’ve got to address it.
There are times and there are situations that go beyond presenting frustration (e.g., your 3-year-old giggling her way through your writing session or your demanding boss making you stay late at the office) and become downright dangerous and/or harmful to you personally. This can be an abusive spouse or partner, a disparaging colleague at work, a stalker at the café where you love to write. It can be joblessness, which saps your strength and self-esteem. It can be family feuds, a loved one passing away, or a failed relationship.
All of these forms of distress can tear your heart and soul apart, and that can kill the writer’s spirit. And yet… human resilience is a powerful force. I know of people who’ve gone through profoundly traumatic life experiences, and write as a way to conquer those demons, push through and deny them any power. Maya Angelou is (was) certainly one such writer.
Now, if you are experiencing a potentially threatening situation in your life, you should probably (!!) attend to that first rather than sticking your head in literary sand. Aside from that however, use your stories, your writing, to work through emotional pain, break new ground to stand on, or simply establish inalienable boundaries for yourself and your creativity.
The Writer’s Secret Tools
Some of my personal favorite kick-ass resources to keep that writing spirit strong and vibrant!
- EATING RIGHT & EXERCISE. Your health is your single greatest and most important asset and resource. It’s not the inheritance or the genius writing grant, it’s your mental, psychological and physical health.
- MUSIC. For me, music is the elixir of the muses. Certain songs have the power to pull me into certain books I’m working on, each and every time, regardless of my emotional state, fatigue, frustration, or hunger. If the songs you listen to when you write can’t do this for you, maybe you haven’t found your musical muse yet.
- MEDITATION. A few minutes of quiet time can be critical to help you spin down that hard disk we call the brain. Your characters need you the way a child needs a parent: completely and unconditionally focused on them. And the Muse likes to work her magic in solitude, too.
- DISTANCE. Getting away physically frees you of whatever temptations or threats are looming to derail your writing time. If you write at home, and your home is a source of constant distraction, interruption, or heaven forbid, distress, you need to get away or set up a space for yourself that no one can violate.
- WILLPOWER. If none of the above is available to you, build up this muscle. No one anywhere can ever take away your will. No one. You might think that a person or situation can rob you of it, but in fact, no. It’s you letting them. Do not let go of your will, your passion. It is yours and yours alone, as long as you respect yourself and as long as you honor your craft.
What do you do to overcome the stresses in your writing life?
If you can/want to, share your own personal challenges and obstacles to writing, and please also share how you’re dealing with them. Or, comment on a fellow writer’s challenge. The power of community is about supporting one another.
And for an actual practice, let’s do something a little crazy. Pick the busiest, most non-conducive-to-writing time of your day, and try to write something. Post that.
Then re-write that same piece at another time in your day when you do have some peace & quiet, and post that right below. Will be interesting to see the difference!
About Birgitte Rasine
Birgitte Rasine is an author, publisher, and entrepreneur. Her published works include Tsunami: Images of Resilience, The Visionary, The Serpent and the Jaguar, Verse in Arabic, and various short stories including the inspiring The Seventh Crane. She has just finished her first novel for young readers. She also runs LUCITA, a design and communications firm with her own publishing imprint, LUCITA Publishing. You can follow Birgitte on Twitter (@birgitte_rasine), Facebook, Google Plus or Pinterest. Definitely sign up for her entertaining eLetter "The Muse"! Or you can just become blissfully lost in her online ocean, er, web site.