There’s a lot of advice, including here on DIY MFA, about how to squeeze writing into a busy day. For example, we recently shared an article on eliminating distractions.
But what happens when something much larger than an everyday distraction stands in the way of your writing? Like a big life event that throws your whole writing routine off balance–or even halts it for a while? This happened to me almost two years ago when I had my first child. But for you, it could be getting married, a job promotion, an illness, etc.
After giving birth to my daughter, my life changed for the better. But my writing pretty much stopped–for months. Between my postpartum recovery, adjusting to new mommy-hood, and the sudden sleep deprivation, writing took a backseat to everything else. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write, but for those first few months, it became more important to bond with my daughter, sleep and figure out my new normal.
Eventually, when my daughter was a few months old and I felt more adjusted, I was ready to get back to writing. But it was hard. No longer could I write whenever I wanted to. Even attempting a short writing sprint here and there felt like a big challenge. It was difficult to come to terms with the fact that even though I really wanted to write, there was now limited space for it in my life.
I eventually found my writing groove again during my daughter’s first year, and I even completed a whole new manuscript that I’m proud of. But then, last month, life got in the way again. This time, my writing was put on hold because one of my best friends passed away from cancer. It was a devastating loss, and I needed to take time to process it and grieve. I took a month off from writing, and it was the best decision for my mental health.
If you’ve faced a life event recently that’s thrown your whole writing routine off kilter, don’t worry. It’s possible to find balance again with your writing, even if that balance doesn’t look the same as before. Here’s my advice for you:
1) Be Kind To Yourself
Life happens. Sometimes it’s for a good reason, and sometimes not, but either way, big life changes happen to everyone. During my maternity leave, I felt guilty that I wasn’t writing, especially when I saw how much my peers were producing. But I had to learn to be nice to myself and remember that my manuscripts weren’t going anywhere, publishing wasn’t ending anytime soon (thank goodness), and even if I had to take a few months off, I was still a writer. That change in perspective made a huge difference.
2) Be Flexible and Start Small
When you’re ready to get back to writing, start with a short writing sprint. Or try a writing prompt. Even 5-minute increments of focused writing throughout your day can be enough to make progress on your manuscript. You might not be able to be as productive as before, but you can start creating a new writing routine. This may mean working at times when you never would have before, like early in the morning or late at night. Now that I’m a parent, I wake up early in the morning, when the rest of my family is still asleep, to get my writing time in. For you, it may mean writing in a notebook or on your phone more often, until you have the chance to get to a computer. The more you allow yourself to be flexible, and write whenever and however you can, the more you’ll ultimately get done.
3) Be Passionate
The more excited you are about your project, the easier it’ll be to jump back into it when you have a free minute. When I returned to writing as a new mom, I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo to keep myself accountable. I ended up switching projects a week in because the first book I was working on stopped exciting me. But once I switched to a fresh project I’d been itching to write, the words flowed faster, and I got so much more done during the small writing sessions I had. Even if you aren’t able to switch projects, or don’t want to, you can find ways to keep your passion for your manuscript alive. Create a playlist or a Pinterest board. Write a love list. Anything to make you yearn to write, so that when you can, the words flow.
I love the above quote from India.Arie’s song “Growth” because it’s so true. Big life events happen all the time, and they usually come in phases. You have to learn to embrace them and be open to adjusting your routine. Once you can do that, you will find your balance again.
Have you experienced a life event that put your writing on pause? Do you have any other tips to share?
Janae Marks writes contemporary fiction for kids and teens. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School, and is an active member of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She lives in New England with her husband and daughter.