I wrote the latter part of Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe and nearly all of Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp while going through one of the hardest stretches of my life, and I felt very acutely how writing during hard times can be both a great blessing as well as a serious stressor.
It can be cathartic to block out everything going on in your life and lose yourself in your fictional world for a while, but stress can also make it extremely hard to focus.
Having made it to the other side, here are some things I learned about how to keep writing when life throws you a major curveball.
Take care of yourself first
You first, writing second. Get the help you need, take the time off you need, and don’t let your desire to write add to your stress. Life comes before writing every single time. Do what you need to do.
Don’t keep your situation a secret
You may feel like you don’t want to burden your writing/critique partners or your agent and editor with your personal life, but that’s not the right instinct when things are serious. Keep them in the loop and don’t be afraid to ask them for more time if you need it. Chances are they’re going to be awesome and tell you to take care of yourself, which will give you the breathing room you need to focus. I did just that with my agent and editor, and they were wonderfully supportive, which relieved a huge amount of stress.
Force yourself to get going
That very normal hump that you have to get over to force yourself to sit down and start writing when you don’t want to can feel like Mount Everest when you’re stressed out. So start climbing. Open up the computer, make yourself get started. Follow the steps for getting back to writing after a break, and once you really get going you’ll be amazed how nice it feels to lose yourself in your writing again.
Don’t be afraid to cut back
Even if you do power through and keep writing during a stressful time, chances are you’re not going to be as productive as you are normally. That’s just the nature of being distracted. Plan ahead for this and don’t put extra pressure on yourself to maintain the same pace.
Channel your emotion into your writing
Even though I was writing wacky children’s books, I still found a way to channel the things I was feeling into the stories. In Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe, Jacob starts wondering if he really even wants to win, and Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp hinges on whether Jacob should change the past. Now, Jacob doesn’t get all cynical and depressed, but he does feel some of the things I was feeling in the past few years.
Let writing be a bright spot
At some point we’re all confronted with difficult stretches in life. But let your writing remind you of how great your future can be. You’re going to keep getting better, you’re going to keep writing books, and no one can take writing away from you. Savor it and enjoy that it’s yours.
Have you tried to write during a difficult time? How did you do it?
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Art: Incendio de Troya – Francisco Collantes
Kristin Laughtin says
Not a divorce, but I definitely have had one or two pretty bad break-ups happen while in the midst of writing. As you say, writing can be very therapeutic, but also an incredible burden during those times. I think it's absolutely vital to take care of yourself first. Anything you write when you can't get your mind in order isn't going to be very good. Attend to your needs and maybe you can get back to productivity sooner. (Of course, I think it's important to take care of yourself even when things are going great, but more in an eat well/exercise regularly sort of way.) Do what you need to do to get past the rough spot and don't beat yourself up about other things, even writing. And keep the doors of communication open so you are not suffering alone–publishing industry folks have lives and feelings, too, and will probably be willing to work with you if they know what's going on.
And if you can make writing that bright spot in your day, then all the better! But don't let it be too much of an escape, or the negative feelings will simmer under the surface and continue coming to light at inconvenient times. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.
Thank you for this post Nathan. I'm sorry for you situation. Going through a divorce/separation hurts like hell, I should know. Writing was the last thing on my mind,and sometimes it takes a force outside yourself to get you going. That's what happened to me. The Universe nudged me, I merely tapped into the writer within and then, words appeared. I don't mean to sound so mystical, except thats how it is somehow. My story turned into a blog post for the Huffington Post and will be posted next week. Good luck to you and all who are hurting here.
Denise M. Baran-Unland says
I'm a fulltime freelance writer by trade, so my fiction, self-published, is more for fun.
That said, my family and I are in the midst of the worse two years of our lives. It's hard enough to keep up with deadlines, much less find joy in the fun writing, and some days, there simply isn't enough energy to accomplish it all.
However, when I prod myself into the world of my own making, I quickly lose myself and emerge as refreshed as if I've physically had a break. Those are the times when, I think, artists have an edge over the rest of the populuation.
Dana Fredsti says
Excellent post and, like for others here, very timely for me. Even when the s#*t hits the fan in ways that aren't totally negative, this is great advice.
Sharon Lynn Fisher says
Thank you for sharing this, Nathan. It's such a great reminder that we're not alone in these kinds of experiences. It's so easy to feel you're letting yourself and others down. People are amazingly supportive when we find the courage to ask.
Daniel McNeet says
This is a good post.
One of my sayings is: "Do not quit. Never quit. For as long as you play the game you increase your chances of winning. If you quit, you will have failed just before you became a success."
Erotica, She Wrote says
I held off writing for several years because I had a situation at home that was consuming me emotionally and physically. Thinking back it probably would have been a good idea to write through those tough times, forced myself to DO IT, as you say. In hindsight, it may have been a form of therapy too 😉
Thanks for the post. Maria
Tina Moss says
Ironically, I blogged about this same topic on Wednesday. Sometimes when life hits you over the head, you need to readjust. Taking a break is NOT a sign of failure. It simply means, life is telling me something is more important right now, I need to take care of it, and then I'll be back. Be good to yourself.
Lisa Ahn says
This is such a helpful, timely post for me. In January, I ended up with a concussion and couldn't write or read for several months. Even now, 4 months later, my brain is not back to "normal" and writing continues to be a challenge. It's incredibly frustrating, and I need to do a better job at taking care of myself first and cutting back. Thanks for sharing your experience and ideas.