How Breaking (Temporarily) From the Writing Life Helped My Writing
November 2, 2021
The Struggle to Return is Real: The 6 steps I am taking to return to the writing life
This article is for those writers who struggle, right now, to get any words on the page, for those writers who find the realities of life overwhelming, and for those writers who feel like frauds because the struggles of life are keeping their ideas hidden in the back recesses of their brains.
Until recently, my writer’s notebook sat on the desk in my second-floor writer’s studio waiting for writing action of any kind while I sat at the living room coffee table for months only filling my One-Notebook with to-do lists and morning pages. The idea of writing to a writing prompt or working on a specific writing project hid behind a door in the dark recesses of my mind. Idea peeked out once in a while, but slammed the door, quickly, when it noticed my concern with how Hubby was acting or feeling.
Over the past two years or so, I coaxed Idea out of its room for a few days every so often. It rarely stayed to interact with me. Instead, Idea would quickly retreat. It couldn’t compete with everything else occupying my mind.
Truth be told, I didn’t write much or write with any consistency except my Morning Pages since 2019. I struggled and fought for most of the words I wrote.
Let me explain
Have you ever had a block of time where you found every fiber of your being stretched like a rubber band to the breaking point?
That had been my world for better than two years. That stress band began to stretch back in late 2018 when Hubby began his journey toward dialysis and amassed six surgeries between February 2019 and January 2021, not to mention the medication overdoses and medication side effects that left him disoriented, incoherent, and unsteady on his feet for much of 2019 and 2020. Leaving him in the living room or the bedroom for a short time to go to my writing studio set off warning sounds in my mind, while leaving the house to get groceries was gut-wrenching.
(You can read about that journey and experience HERE.)
When COVID entered our lives, those stress bands stretched even further. I feared bringing the virus home to Hubby and sentencing him to a long hospital stay. I made trips to town only for necessities when supplies ran low.
On dialysis days (three days a week), I drove Hubby to the center for his treatment and used the time available for necessary errands. Dialysis patients sat alone for their entire treatment — masks a must, water and snacks forbidden. What had been a long and boring experience became an exhausting ritual for both of us. We social distanced from everyone, stayed at home and only talked to family on the phone, and masked up, but we also worked to boost our immune systems and worked to come to terms with the feelings of being trapped at home.
During those two-plus years, I snuck in my writing time while he napped or while he was at dialysis. Between making breakfast, dinner, or lunch. Before he woke or after he went to bed. I squeezed it between mowing the lawn, vacuuming, doing dishes and laundry, and other household chores. I became a one-woman show in a two-person script and held that role for better than two years.
The Turning Point
Then, it happened. On January 22, 2021, Hubby received the call that there was a donor kidney available that was a match. We rushed to the hospital for transplant surgery. (I wrote about that HERE.) After surgery, however, we returned to medication side effect hell. The anti-rejection medications made him nauseous and diminished his appetite, side effects we had been told to expect, but side effects that would diminish after his body became accustomed to the medications.
As he worked on recovery, I wrote, or tried to write, still staying on the main floor of our home. Many days my pen ranted and bitched in my Morning Pages. Cathartic as it was, these pages repeated my frustrations each time I sat down, produced little usable work, and even exhausted me. They didn’t pave the way for any constructive work to begin.
By mid-March, something amazing happened. Hubby began to feel better and function better. He began trying to help out because his energy and drive were returning. He returned to helping make the bed, folding the laundry, and even occasionally cooking. Even his doctors at the kidney clinic were impressed at his progress after the initial two months of recovery.
What Happens When The Tension in Your Stress Band Relaxes
On the other hand, something horrid happened to me — all those tightly stretched mind, body, and spirit bands relaxed. The ability to focus on anything in detail escaped my grasp. All I wanted to do was sit on the couch with Hubby and play games on my phone or sit in the recliner and read a book or just veg out for hours in front of the television. I wasn’t walking on eggshells anymore with what to talk about, but I wasn’t sure how to talk about anything more than Hubby’s health care. I surface cleaned, but not well. I’d start projects, but quickly lose focus.
I needed to get those mind, body, and spirit bands back in shape. They needed to hold me together so that I could accomplish something — anything. They hadn’t gotten overstretched overnight, so it was evident that I needed time to let my mind, body, and spirit do their thing to get back in shape and heal. So, I let myself not write AND not feel guilty about not writing.
The Return to Writing
I have validated my not writing months as a deserved mental vacation, a time to readjust my thinking and my attitude which had become horribly negative. Morning Pages, according to Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, contained all my negativities, frustrations, stresses, and anxieties.
By mid-June, I felt comfortable enough and focused enough to climb the stairs to my writing studio. Although we had purchased our forever home with the intent of using one of the second-floor bedrooms as a writing studio, I had spent very little time there since mid-2018.
I stood in the doorway that day in June and stared at the room. I had been using the living room coffee table or the kitchen breakfast bar as my go-to office while my writing desk and every other surface in the studio had become a dumping ground. After paying bills, I dumped the statements and receipts on my desk instead of taking time to file them or shred them. I stacked books that I had read on the floor instead of re-shelving them. Boxes of Christmas decorations and furniture that I wanted to sell sat in the middle of the room. The room looked more like a storage room than a writing studio.
It was time to pick up the pieces of my writer’s life and work to get back on track.
Important Details in a Writer’s Life
#1. A clean organized space ignites productivity.
I took a deep breath and started to clean and organize. I put anything that wasn’t about my writing either where it actually belonged OR in the guest bedroom until I could find a home for it. I shelved books and filed papers. I opened windows, dusted, and vacuumed.
NOTE: An organized, uncluttered writing space invites Idea to join you in your writing. If you are working at the kitchen table, clean up after the meal before you begin. Those dishes won’t be staring you in the face asking when you will get to them. If your writing space is at a dining room table, it will be helpful if only your writing materials surround you. Maybe you are lucky enough to have a special writing place only for you. Great. Make sure it is clean and organized.
#2. Take time for an artist date every week.
I took another lesson from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and scheduled some artist dates with myself and kept the dates: a massage, a haircut and color, painting ceramics at a local venue, and a book club discussion group at a local restaurant.
NOTE: A weekly artist date with yourself allows you time to expand your horizons as well as regroup mentally and emotionally. Your artist date doesn’t have to be lengthy and doesn’t have to cost money. A walk in the park as crisp autumn air fills your lungs and trees decorate the landscape with color can re-awaken your artist’s creativity. Communing with nature as you sit along a creek or river or on a lake or saltwater beach can soothe your soul. An artist date once a week can be the reward you give yourself for working on your writing.
#3. Create a flexible routine that allows for the spur of the moment yet still requires you to write.
Far too often, I read other people’s suggestions for developing a writing routine: get up an hour earlier, set a time and hold yourself to that time each and every day, or write after everyone goes to bed.
The events of the last two and a half years have led me to realize that I can’t follow other people’s writing routines because I am me and not them.
I needed to get myself on a flexible routine that worked for my life. There are important things I need to do in my day before I write. Getting up early each and every day robs me of snuggling with Hubby before the day begins. Breakfast on the front porch with Hubby playing DJ works to heal my body, mind, and soul. Some days it is noon before I move into writer mode. AND, that is ok.
Hubby has been given a new outlook on life which has given me a new outlook on life.
“What is that?” you ask.
Life is short, and I would rather look back at the memories I created instead of kicking myself with the “could-a, should-a, would-a’s” that could eat at my soul if I only focused on my writing.
Instead of following some other writer’s daily schedule, I am working to find something that works for me.
NOTE: What should your schedule look like? What would you regret missing? Find the important things in your life — family, travel, exploration, learning, friends — and figure out how your writing life fits with that. Yes, by all means, read about other people’s writing routines and successes, but remember that you are not the person you are reading about. What brings them success might not work for you and that’s ok.
#4. Incorporate reading into your writer’s daily schedule.
I’ve learned that the best time to read for me is either late in the afternoon or after the dinner dishes have been done. I set my timer for 15 minutes. I can withstand almost anything for 15 minutes, and when the timer alerts me that my time is over, I tend to turn it off and continue to read.
With this technique, I’ve been able to focus on reading novels and craft books.
NOTE: Reading both fiction and nonfiction is vital for you as a writer. Read the novels penned by your favorite authors, but also read novels outside of your favorite genre. Read books about the craft of writing, but also read books on subjects that interest you.
(My recent find is America’s Most Haunted: The Secrets of Famous Paranormal Places by Theresa Argie and Eric Olsen. I found it in the souvenir shop while waiting for a ghost tour to begin.)
#5. Treat your writing as a job.
The most important thing I did to get back into my writing was to declare that my writing was my job. I researched, developed, and signed a printed writing contract with myself. It identifies my expectations for myself as an employee of my company. This way, writing is my career and not just a hobby.
NOTE: Take time to figure out what you need to do to help you treat your writing like a job and move forward.
Each Saturday, The Writer’s Notebook will contain links to the week’s articles, and on the last Saturday of each month, it will be packed with ideas and information about writing: from the basics to motivation to creativity and beyond.