How to Keep Writing When Life Won’t Let You

The past two weeks, life has brought me a perfect storm of craptasticness. My new puppy had to spend a day getting his rabies shot and got carsick on the way to the vet. The state got dumped on with snow when I had to be driving. The little sleep I usually get was interrupted with my Restless Leg Syndrome more than usual. Then, someone close to me experienced a mental health crisis. In the middle of it, water started leaking from the ceiling electrical outlet where my washer plugs in. My upstairs neighbor’s tap needed repair, requiring a hole in my ceiling (still not fixed). That meant two days of shuffling my washer and dryer in and out of their cubby as maintenance personnel floated in and out of my condo. Imagine trying to keep writing through all this. (Because, you know, goals and bills.)

keep writing broken pencil

Sometimes, it becomes logistically impossible to keep your writing schedule or do what you’d planned for publication. That’s not always your fault. But that doesn’t mean you have to completely stop writing. It just means you likely will have to make some changes. Here’s what I did that might help you in a mess.

1. Cut the fluff.

Almost every writer has personal or stretch projects that are good to work on but that aren’t core requirements for contracts or income. When life pelts lemons at you instead of sugar, let those dim for a while. I put up posts on all my social media accounts alerting my readers I had to slow down. Additionally, I politely declined some work offers despite the fact the money would have been nice. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do my best work and would be stretched too thin. Then I focused solely on the essentials. These included contacting people about working on my book launch team and making sure my newsletters could go out to subscribers.

2. Keep writing with something different.

Some writing is harder or more time intensive than others. If I have a technical piece that takes a lot of research, that’s going to be more of a tussle than if I simply want to share a strong personal opinion on something I saw or read. I also leaned on finishing well-outlined, uncomplicated work. I shared lighter posts that didn’t require a lot of extrapolation, such as cartoons I knew my followers would enjoy. Because I was able to get a good result with those, it kept my sense of flow going and maintained my sense of confidence. It also gave me enough to continue to interact with my readers online.

3. Talk to people.

As I dealt with the mess happening around me, I looked at which projects I could shift. Then I reached out to those involved and re-coordinated. This didn’t necessarily mean changing deadlines for the project. Sometimes it meant just scheduling a Zoom meeting for a different time or day. I was blessed in that every single person was understanding of my situation. I can’t guarantee everyone you have to re-coordinate with will be completely forgiving or flexible. But you don’t know unless you communicate your truth.

4. Write the experience.

Like I’m doing with this post, for example. When you go through something tough or learn, that’s the perfect time to share it with your readers. Not only is the writing helpful in processing what you’re going through, but you gain a level of trust with readers because you are sharing your authentic experience. Even if you don’t have the time to write an entire post or piece, jot down the concepts you’d like to address in the future.

5. Get ruthless about the calendar.

Many writers succeed because they are flexible, writing when inspiration hits. They don’t worry too much about it if they don’t religiously plan their writing sessions. In that context, I don’t ever want you to feel too boxed into a corner. Not everybody thrives on strict guardrails.

But when life gets messy, not adhering to scheduled windows of opportunity for writing can mean those opportunities pass and die. Just as any other business leader needs to know exactly when tasks are going to happen when competition heats up or deadlines come down to the wire, you do as a serious, professional writer, too. So, look at your calendar. Be realistic about how much you can manage. But then give yourself some structure, even if it’s only temporary until your crisis has passed. If you have to call in the cavalry to do this, such as coordinating with your spouse to ensure you have uninterrupted time while the kids are home, do it.

I don’t recommend this just to keep your writing going. Knowing that you have room in the day to write can reduce stress around taking care of the mess around you. You know what time will be free so you can schedule appointments, do self-care, or whatever else you need to do. Simply knowing that everything logistically will work can be a major tool for keeping your cool. If you keep your cool, you write better and are typically more productive in general because it’s easier to think through what you’re doing.

Make changes if you must, but keep writing

You’ll have periods in life where all the stars align and your writing goes more smoothly than Clark Griswold’s sled on the snowhill (OK…maybe that chaos isn’t the best example ever…).

But you’ll also have periods where it feels like forces are conspiring to keep you away from your pen or keyboard and you want nothing more than to write poetry laced with the most excellent profanity.

You don’t have to abandon your writing in times like these. You likely will have to work a bit differently than normal, however, which has both logistical and cognitive/emotional challenges. Know those challenges and differences are coming. Prepare well. But don’t quit.

Image credit:
duaneellison from Getty Images