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Writing When Life Interferes

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Seriously. I want to know. How do you sit down at the computer, maintain your focus, and form cohesive sentences when life sucks you in, spins you uncontrollably, and then hurls you to the ground without warning?

When I told my husband I was writing a blog about how to write when life gets in the way, he burst out laughing. “Well, that should be both an easy and short blog for you,” he said. “Because you don’t.”

I just hate it when he’s right.

As career oriented writers, we are expected to write. Come hell or high water our fingers should be flying over the keyboard at any given moment during the day. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but writers are human. And, sometimes, life just gets in the way.

It could be job related, it could be health issues, or it could be family related. The reason doesn’t matter. The important thing is whatever is going on in your life, it’s serious enough to prevent you from either having the time, energy, or frame of mind to sit down and put words on the page.

Several years ago, I experienced the unexpected death of a close family member. My world turned upside down in many ways. Apart from the sudden loss, I went from having an independent mother, who lived over two hours away, to one whose grief and subsequent health issues had her relying heavily on me.

I didn’t quit writing completely, but finding a time when I wasn’t mentally and physically exhausted from my duty as caregiver only added stress and guilt. Yes, guilt. Remember? Career oriented writers are expected to write.  I grabbed a few hours here and a day there, but my concentration was shot. Simply put, I didn’t want to think. Thinking meant coming to certain realizations that I wasn’t ready to face. My life had forever changed.

I began wondering how many other writers had faced similar situations. Were they able to channel their pain into their writing? Were they able to block out their situation and power through to keep their writing routine?

The guilt that I couldn’t produce in the face of life’s challenge loomed over me. I questioned my dedication. I questioned my desire. I questioned my ability. I was driving myself crazy trying to fulfill my family obligations and justify why I wasn’t writing. I was adding stress on top of stress. So, I quit. Writing, that is. I came to the realization that it’s okay to take a writing break. I hadn’t lost my passion or desire, I just had to put it away for a short time.

Should writers give themselves permission to take time off from writing? It that really okay? Some would argue that if you don’t write every day, you lose your momentum. Some argue that powering through a rough time helps keep the emotion in your story. I say it’s up to the writer. She knows her limits. She’s aware of what’s going on in her life. My mother always told my two sisters and me, “Don’t criticize someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

In my situation, it was absolutely the right thing to do. I don’t have any regrets. I was there for my mother when she most needed me. Her health has since improved, she’s moved closer to me, and we’re both healing from our loss. More importantly, every second I spent with my sister instead of writing is a memory I hold precious in my heart. As I said, no regrets.

What about you? Have you had to make some tough choices in your writing due to life’s interference? How did you juggle life and writing?

40 Responses to “Writing When Life Interferes”

  1. Vivi Andrews says:

    I totally agree that each writer has to do whatever is right for him or her. I am naturally a binge writer – going through frenzies of writing and then taking time away to recharge before coming back to it again. Sometimes my breaks are short and planned, sometimes life steps in and my breaks expand. But I’m a firm believer in not beating yourself up for what you did or didn’t do – move forward with a clean slate. How many words you got down yesterday is nowhere near as important as how many you’re going to get TODAY.

    Great post, June.

    • June Love says:

      Vivi, thank you for that! Beating yourself up doesn’t increase your productivity. I would think if anything, it would only sink you further into despair. I had well-meaning writing friends who tried to help keep me on track, but their continuous prodding only made me feel guilty.

      I love the idea of binge writing. I think it’s important to take breaks and recharge.

      • Kim Law says:

        Exactly! Beating yourself up just makes it worse. I truly believe everyone has to do what’s right for her. Only YOU can know what you need. And it’s not to make yourself sick with guilt!!!

  2. Jeannie Lin says:

    I’m feeling the doubt you described above very much right now. For the first time, I got a release date for a book that I didn’t even have a title page for yet. Thinking back on how hard it was to shop that first manuscript, this carte blanche scares the crap out of me. It really makes you wonder whether you can hang with the big girls (and boys).

    Writing is very definitely a personal game. And a personal mind game we play with ourselves. So you as the writer get to make the rules and no one else can say what feels right. And only you can give yourself permission.

    I used to believe in my process, but lately I don’t even have time for my process. It’s like losing your religion when your tried and true process doesn’t come through for you. So I’ve had to really strip things down.

    So I guess that’s the only thing I’ve learned about writing when life interferes: Find that one thing you believe about yourself as a writer. I’ve heard other authors say that they tell themselves “You’re a good writer” over and over again when things get rough. Or “I can finish this book”. Or even “I can finish this page.”

    The thing I tell myself every day now is. “You can fix it in revisions.”

    • June Love says:

      Jeannie, “you can fix it in revisions” is a good piece of advice. Someone once told me to just get the words on the paper and leave fine-tuning for the revision process. I’m actually trying to follow that suggestion.

      You have two wonderful miracles that I’m sure demand a lot of your time. I don’t see how young mothers handle all that they do. I kept my niece’s six-month old for a night a few weeks ago. Actually, he slept in my room with me, while his mom and dad were in my guest room. He was teething, running fever, and fussy. He didn’t get much sleep, but he got more than I did. However, holding him while he was sleeping in my arms was one of the best feelings I’d had in a long time. :-)

      Oh, by the way, I have no doubt you can hang with the big girls and boys. In my eyes, you are one of the big girls.

  3. Hope Ramsay says:

    A writer’s process, like her voice, is something really personal. It depends on so much. I know, when my father died my life was thrown into a little bit of a tizzy. My mother moved, and I got to spend a lot more time with her. I never begrudged that time. I loved my mother deeply. And at that time in my life I was working a pretty high stress job and my kids were little. Thankfully I had a stay-at-home husband. :)

    But even with a death in the family, I still got up at 4:30 am every weekday morning and wrote for an hour.

    I did this because I’m compulsive about writing. And I’m the kind of person who CAN get up at 4:30 every morning without any problem.

    I also plot and outline and do a lot of other compulsive things. A friend once told me that my ability to focus on just one thing at a time is a symptom of mild Asbergers Syndrome. Who knew?

    So I’m weird. I wouldn’t recommend my way of doing things. People sometimes say my emotional reaction is slow to nonexistent, but that’s not true. I just internalize well. And my routines give me comfort.

    I would never judge anyone who stepped away from writing for a while. Just like I would expect not to be judged for my own way of doing things. This stuff is all individual.

    • June Love says:

      Hope, I sincerely applaud you for being able to focus with all you had going on around you. I suppose I’m too easily distracted…no…I know I’m too easily distracted. When I worked full-time and everyone was healthy, I got up at 4:30 in the mornings to write, too. I’m a morning person, so I was more productive during that time. I still am, but I don’t get up so early these days.

      Your drive has certainly paid off. Congratulations on your success!

  4. Laurie Kellogg says:

    I’ve had moments when I’ve let the things in my life take precedence and others when I’ve written through it and shoved my career to the forefront.

    The difference between the two situations is that when I let life get in my way was more often when I was disheartened about where my career was headed.

    The times I could write through it were times when I felt more hopeful about my work. The hope motivated me.

    The problem is when there’s no hope, my work suffers, and it’s a self-propagating situation. The more my work suffers, the less hope I have.

    My suggestion is to try starting fresh. Work on something new that excites you. Use your work to escape from the tough moments in life.

    • June Love says:

      Laurie, what you said about how you’re feeling in your career determines your ability to push through makes a lot of sense. Maybe if we’ve hit a wall in our story, then it’s not so hard to let life drag us away. When I wrote my first book, I was so into it that I’m not sure anything could have kept me from writing. Of course, that was when I didn’t know what I was doing and writing was so much easier. :-)

  5. Jaye Garland says:

    Thanks for posting this, June. Everything you said was so true and, in my humble opinion, needed to be said. We are told that in order to succeed, we must ‘power through’ the chaos, that if we really are professional writers, we have to treat every day–regardless of life’s events–as a full time job. Well, I do agree with that, but only to the extent that there are moments in our lives that no matter how determined, how strong, how dedicated we are to our careers as writers, sometimes we just…cant.

    I’m not special. We all experience tragedies. But, what constitutes one person’s trial by fire does not equal another’s. We each have our own yardstick of what we are able to tolerate, when, to what extent, and for how long. After all, no one is able to determine what’s on another’s plate.

    I had to accept, one day in September of 2005, that I simply couldn’t ‘do it all’. Family, day job, AND being solely responsible for my dad during the 29 months after my mom passed away almost got the best of me. Something had to go. I am extremely grateful for every single day that I ‘walked away’ from my writing (knowing it was only temporary, but so very indefinite) and spent whatever time I could tending to my dad’s needs. During this ‘writing sacrifice’, I found the truest gift had been given to me. It was such joy to simply sit and chat with my dad. I’m back writing and moving forward. It’s all good.

    • June Love says:

      Jaye, I love your story. Like others have mentioned, it is a personal choice. We know what we can handle. Sometimes, it may take a ton of bricks to fall on our heads to remind us, but we eventually get the message. I didn’t want to give up writing. I didn’t even want to step away, but at the same time, I knew I couldn’t be productive and meet all the obligations of my family. My sister, a single parent, had a twenty-one year old son. At strong as he tried to be, I needed to be there for him as much as I did for my mother.

      I think what some may not realize is when we take a break, it is just temporary. It’s not like we’re giving up our writing forever.

      I’m glad you’re writing again. And, I’m especially glad for the wonderful memories you made with your dad. That’s what life’s all about.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your story.

  6. I’m kind of there right now, June. Just…emotionally exhausted on so many levels. Part of it, I think, stems from figuring out life after cancer. I guess I mistakenly assumed that after going through all that and coming out the other side, the heavens would open up and life would be PERFECT. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. LOL.

    And because I feel like I’m finally at the point where I can really start building a career at this, the emotional exhaustion turned into major WIP angst every time I sat at the computer. And the more pressure I put on myself, the worse it got.

    I’m slowly finding my way out of it by giving myself permission to NOT set a deadline on this book. Instead, my goal is time. Whether that’s 15 min, 30 min, an hour a day…whatever I feel I can realistically give and my only objective during those minutes is to focus on the book 100%. Even if I only get half a page written during that time, it’s forward progress. And I consider the day a win.

    • June Love says:

      Cynthia, I can’t begin to imagine what you’ve been through. It’s a testament to your strength and your will to overcome one of life’s worst obstacles.

      I think after going through a life-altering event, we yearn for routine. Normalcy. Because we made it through, we do expect some type of perfection. You know my saying was, “When I get my mom settled into her new life, I’ll________.” The irony is she will always need me. As evidenced by the four hours I spent with today at the doctor and grocery store. Like you, I need to set goals that just get me through the day.

      Cynthia, don’t let that WIP get to you. You’re a strong woman and a strong writer. If you’re not happy with it, talk it over with other writer friends. I know you have a group of them of right here. :-) It’s not worth the added emotional stress. I can promise you that.

  7. Reading this on a phone in the dark while my nine-month old son sleeps next to me, I find that life is definitely interfering with writing. These naps-which I spend next to him, or else he won’t sleep as long, are my only free times to write. It’s not too hard to type on the phone, so I’m thinking about writing on it. Guess I could just try!

    • June Love says:

      “…not to hard to type on the phone…” Oh, to be young with nimble thumbs.

      Jamie, you have one of the best “interferences” ever. You’ll never get back the time where he’s snuggled up against you. Hold on to that.

      Of course, you had a book release this week, so life didn’t stop you much. Congratulations on your release!

  8. Fantastic post, June. And yes, a writer’s response to life stress is as individual as we are as people. When I started fighting for my life against ovarian cancer, my mind absolutely could not focus on fictional characters in a long ago century. All I could focus on was how the hell am I going to beat this?! Beat this and not abandon my three kids, my husband, my mom…everyone.

    So I stopped writing. But my husband pointed out that I was happier writing, always have been. So he suggested that I write about what was going on. And I did.

    It was the best thing I could have done. It kept me improving my writing skills, it let me bleed on the page all the emotions I was dealing with, and it gave me pages of amazing insight I can use in a future non-fiction book.

    And now, when I’m climbing back up the mountain to “normal” I’ve found my historical muse again. She’s finally taken off the teal Xena ovarian cancer warrior princess leather and donned the volumous skirts of 16th century England again.

    Taking a break was what I needed to do, but giving up something that made me feel better wasn’t good. I’m glad I found a compromise. So glad you are writing again : )
    Heather

    • June Love says:

      Heather, I can’t tell you what reading about your experience did for me. It’s a wonderful way to put your emotions on paper and to give others insight into your world of fear, treatment, and joy.

      I couldn’t write my usual light contemporary’s right after my sister’s death, but like you, I did write. I wrote letters to her. She was my best friend, and we spoke on the phone every night. With her I could be as serious, as silly, and as bitchy as I wanted. I was so empty without her, even though I had my family around me. So, I wrote letters to her. Some letters were emotional, some were filled with humor that only she would appreciate, some were about nothing more than what I did that day. It helped. A lot.

      Okay, now I’m crying. What is it about you and your posts that always makes me cry.

      I’m glad you were able to find your historical muse again. I’m back to my light-hearted contemps. Life has a funny way of working out and coming full circle.

      • June, I bet those letters are beautiful. And deeply personal. But I wonder if one day you’d ever feel okay with writing them in a book to help others who have lost someone close??
        There is absolutely no good in losing someone. Sometimes using the pain to help others can further your own healing.
        Hugs! Heather

  9. Great post, June! It’s one we can all relate to. The day we became writers our lives and our connections to others didn’t vanish. We all have family obligations and, sad to say, problems. But we also have love and joy.

    We can really hurt ourselves by comparing ourselves to others and what they’re accomplishing in the publishing arena. We need to remember, they might not be handling the life obligations we are at the moment. I hope they never do.

    The Rubies know my plate has been especially full the last several years. My writing has been an asylum. After stressing because I’d compared myself to many, I found comfort when I’d reconfirmed to myself that God gave me the talent and passion to create a story. And life gives me the stimuli for those stories. I also realized time will come to us when we’re ready to put our thoughts on page. It might be in seconds, but it will come.

    Also, don’t beat yourself up over words that aren’t perfect—that is what revisions are for, like Jeannie said.

  10. June Love says:

    Autumn, I know you’ve certainly had your fill of life’s changes. You’re right. We can’t compare ouselves to others. It accomplishes nothing and only makes us feel bad.

    I do believe once we realize our potential, then we’re able to set other things aside and write. I know we want our readers to find an escape from reality in our books, so why shouldn’t we find that same escape when writing our books?

    With all you’re facing, your attitude is nothing short of remarkable. You’re a special lady!

  11. Addison Fox says:

    June:

    This is such a fantastic post. I think the biggest thing any writer can give themselves is the gift of acceptance.

    It’s so important to cut ourselves a reasonable break sometimes. Life does throw some really difficult things at us and to assume that there’s no emotional backlash from that isn’t fair to ourselves, or to our writing.

    I also think that sometimes when we take a bit of the pressure off, we can relax enough to still get some work done. If someone’s previous output was 5 or 10 pages a day, 2 is still progress. All forward motion is forward! :-)

    Addison

    • June Love says:

      Addison, now that my life is settling down , I’m back to keeping a true word count of my day. A few weeks ago while I was getting my mother moved to her new home, if I just opened my WIP and stared at it, I counted it as progress. :-)

      “All forward motion is forward.” I love that!

      Cutting ourselves some slack is so important. It’s like when you’re trying to think of a person’s name and it’s on the tip of your tongue. Once you forget about trying to remember it, it will come to you. Or, in my case, when I walk in a room and have to walk back out just to remember why I went into that room in the first place. :-)

  12. Rita Henuber says:

    Great thought provoking post June.
    Every day life interferes. Some days I can say back off, others I have to give in. Vision problems have recently slowed my writing down. Every day is different. Every day is an adjustment. One day I can easily put three thousand words on the page others three hundred is an effort. I don’t worry about it anymore. I do what suits me.

    • June Love says:

      Rita, so true. Everyday it’s something. Doing what suits you is all you can do. I’ll have to say I’ve never been able to put three thousand words on a page in one day. To describe my writing style, you could say T-U-R-T-L-E.

      I didn’t realize you were having vision problems. I’m so sorry and hope there’s something that can be done for you.

  13. You know what all I’ve been through with my mom, June. I’ve taken breaks and written through crises and I can’t tell you why I made the choices I did at the time, but I do know that each crisis was different. Sometimes I could write, and other times I couldn’t. You have to go with your gut and your heart and do whatever is best for you at the time. Forcing yourself to write when you’re emotionally devastated is tough, and sometimes downright impossible. You do what you have to do to get through that stepping stone in your life, and then move on. Hang in there! Times do change.

    • June Love says:

      Melanie, I do know what you’ve been through. I will admit I never fully understood it until I began facing similar issues with my mother. I know you’ve also had stress from other areas in your life. I think sometimes you’ve been able to write through it because it gave you an outlet. Other times you couldn’t write because you literally didn’t have a free moment to even think about it. You’ve had quite a few people tugging for your attention in the past few years.

      I will say that when you are able to sit down and focus, you churn out those pages like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing.

      Thanks for stopping by. :-)

  14. June, each of us must work in our own way. I worked through the deaths of my parents and my separation from my EX, all within 11 months, even though I spent a lot of time editing what I had already written.

    I am editing for others, instead of writing. $$ make a big difference in my lifestyle.

    • June Love says:

      Mary, in the span of eleven months? You poor thing. The fact that you were able to keep writing is wonderful. You manged to get through a tough time and writing helped you do it. So, what if you had to edit? At least you had something to edit.

      Good luck with the editing. I know you’re an excellent editor.

      Thanks for commenting.

  15. Liz Talley says:

    Wonderful post, June, and such a hard thing – writing while the world feels as if it’s choking you.

    I’ve not actually gone through something majorly tramautic (like death, disease or some other serious complication) while actively writing, but I do find that my mental state can hamper my writing.

    I’ll be honest, here lately I don’t feel much like fighting for my writing. That’s what it feels like some days. I wonder “Why bother?” My books don’t sell that well and I’m not making much money and the promo factor overwhelms me because I really don’t know how to get visibility. SOmetimes I want to stop and take up something else to occupy my creative mind. So, yeah, sometimes it’s hard to write, but I’ve declared this my job and Im pretty stubborn. I’m not ready to throw in the towel. So on I go. My mindset is important to my creative self, so if I feel like what I’m doing isn’t worthwhile, it’s hard to put my best out there. So, yeah, I struggle with it. Doubt is like a crow pecking at me constantly. So it’s not just life’s major upheavals that hamper me, it’s doubt and fear of failure.

    • June Love says:

      Liz, I’ve been reading some of your FB posts and have mercy, girlfriend! You’ve been dealing with a lot lately. I wondered how in the world you could write with all that going on.

      Well, I love your books, so I’m glad you’re stubborn. For someone who hasn’t even joined the world of Twitter yet, I can relate to the promo factor. Of course, I don’t have anything to promo right now, but that’s beside the point. I’ve often wondered if gaining visibility is the answer.

      Doubt will bring you down quicker than anything. Don’t listen to it. You’re not a failure. Not by a long shot. And, you’ll never be a failure. A failure is someone who never even tries.

  16. Elizabeth Langston says:

    Two years ago, I was diagnosed with adhesive capsulitis (also known as frozen shoulder.) It is the only major health problem I’ve ever had. In that sense, I’ve been very blessed. But–because it was the first, it really threw me for a loop. Between the pain gripping me like a vise and the drugs fogging my brain, I was pretty worthless. So I stopped writing during the worst of it. Completely stopped. I knew I would go back one day. And six months later, I did.

    In retrospect, I mourn the pages I didn’t write, but I can’t say that I regret the decision. I had to mute the stories to pay attention to my health.

    • June Love says:

      I’m sorry about your shoulder. Typing had to be painful. I think the key is what you said…you knew you would go back to it. I would think you’d need to step away briefly if for no other reason than to heal.

      What do you do for your shoulder now? I’ve had to have physical therapy twice in the past year for my shoulder. After I’ve been on the computer most of the day, my shoulder lets me know.

      • Elizabeth Langston says:

        I have an ongoing relationship with my physical therapist. He’s given me a lot of exercises to do at home. I visit him every two months to make adjustments to the program. But they aren’t getting better… in fact, the pain is getting a bit worse.

        However, the belief that I can manage the pain is worth a lot. Hope is the best medicine.

  17. Kim Law says:

    June, this is truly a fantastic post. So many people out there worry they are doing it “wrong” and that they aren’t “professional” enough if they don’t do it like everyone else. That is baloney! What works for one person may never work for another, and THAT’S JUST FINE!!!! And people need to hear that! So yay for you for saying it.

    As for me and how I power through…I’ve not had to really test it too bad, but the little blips I’d had, I stink at it. I totally give myself permission to not write. Of course, now I have deadlines, so I guess we’ll see what happend next time!

    Yay to you for taking the time with your sister and enjoying every moment of it!

    • June Love says:

      Kim, I think if you’re on a deadline, then you have no choice but to work through it. And, it may be easier to do so because you know that. I’ll have to admit these past two years are the first I can remember being thankful that I didn’t have that problem.

      I especially believe newer writers should be aware that writers have their own uniqueness about them. We should not be held to any one’s standards other than our own.

  18. June, this was such a powerful post, especially since I know how grief stricken you were. Losing a sister so unexpectedly took its toll. Like you, I am unable to write when there is something bothering me, even if it’s as simple as one of my kids having a problem. Last Easter I lost my 28 year old great niece to a blood clot after knee surgery. My heart wept for my loss, but I had to -and still have to–watch my niece whom I love like a daughter lose all joy in life. I pray each night that God gives her the strength to make it one more day. How could I write funny stuff when my heart was so heavy?

    Give yourself permission to find your way back. Writing is way down the list of important things in life. And when you do come back I feel sure your sister will be right there sitting next to you while you type. Love you, girl.

  19. June Love says:

    Oh, Liz, you and I have discussed this at length. We’ve both suffered through the loss of sisters and through unexpected deaths like that of your great-niece. So tragic. I understand about your niece. My mother will laugh and smile, but you can tell the joy of life has left her. I think my nephew is what keeps her going. Oh, and your books. And, the recipes in them. When she decided to move into her new, little independent apartment without a full kitchen, she said, “How am I going to try out those recipes from your friend’s book?” (She always calls you my friend, instead of Liz) I told her we’d try them out together at my house. She loves you and so do I!

    I’m going to remember your niece in my prayers.

  20. Gwyn says:

    The fact I’m so late tells you that life, once again, got in the way, but I’ve learned to roll with the punches. I had no choice. I either learned or went even more insane (sanity is HIGHLY over-rated *g*). Something is going to happen soon. I don’t know what, but I feel it coming, and it will be good. I’ll keep you posted.

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