Life has ups and downs, and often our writing path follows them. When I was pregnant with my son, I had a horrible first trimester. I was sick, tired, and depressed for what felt like every minute of the day. My writing suffered. I stopped working on my novel; I didn’t blog for two months. Similar things happened after my grandmother passed away, and when I found out that my best friend had cancer. When my real life suffered, my writing life did too. I told myself that it was only natural to have trouble writing when times were tough, but it still caused me grief on top of what I was already feeling.
The good news? After a few of these tough periods, I learned some tricks that helped me keep writing through them. I hope none of you are going through a difficult time in your life right now, but if you are, or might in the future, here are a few things you can turn to:
Keep a Journal
There’s no better way to release your frustrations about life than to write about them. Start each day, or each writing session, with a brief journal entry. There’s no wrong way to do it, but I like to start by chronicling what’s happened since I last wrote. It’s an easy way to start, and usually leads to deeper feelings within a few lines. This is an especially important practice if you’re feeling blocked in your writing life as well as in your personal life.
Maintain Your Normal Writing Time
Even if you’re having trouble writing anything you’re happy with, or feel blocked from starting a new project, keep writing when you usually write. Don’t tell yourself, “I’ll come back to it when things get better.” It’s very easy for that time to close up on you, especially when your life is overwhelming. Even if all you do during your writing time is make a journal entry and jot down ideas for a future project, that’s still something keeping you in the game.
Create a Project That’s Unique to Your Current Situation
Are you sad after the death of a loved one? Write eulogies for yourself and other family members, predicting a happy future. Have you been sick recently? Choose a time in your life when you were healthy, like a favorite vacation, and write fond reminiscences about that time. Are you going through a breakup? Write down all your murderous thoughts toward the person who broke your heart. Who knows? Maybe it’ll become a darkly humorous memoir of how you got through a tough time.
Whatever your difficulty is these days, figure out the predominant emotion you’ve been feeling. Is it frustration? Anger? Sadness? Write from that feeling. You have deep well of it right now; you might as well use it.
If You Can’t Write, Read
If you’re really having trouble lighting the writing spark, shift your focus. Read books in your genre, or books about writing craft; read a classic that you’ve never attempted, or devour books for sheer pleasure. Strong reading begets strong writing, so you’re still doing something positive for your writing life.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Before things got tough, maybe you were working steadily on two different books and a short story, and maintaining a blog. Now you can barely write one blog post a week, and it took you a month just to finish the short story. Life is a continuous loop of productive reaping periods and resting fallow periods. You can’t assume that your highest level of productivity will last forever. And that’s okay, as long as you keep going, and push yourself to try harder when things get better.
Most importantly, know that this, too, shall pass. Change is the only constant in our lives. Eventually, this tough time you’re going through will come to an end, and life’s roller coaster will start climbing upward again. Look forward to that inevitability, even if you’re not sure when it’s going to come. And prepare yourself for jumping back into a full, rich writing life when it does.
Leanne Sowul writes the column “Be Well, Write Well” for DIY MFA. Her historical novel, Waist, has just gained representation by the wonderful Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary. Leanne also blogs about writing, reading, work/life balance and self-improvement strategies at Words From The Sowul. You can also find her on Twitter @sowulwords.