When Life Gets in the Way

My college students often complain about having too much work to do for all their different classes. Because they’re young, they don’t get that I have to grade all the work I expect them to do (times all the sections I teach). Since I’m grading essays, it’s not as if I can skim down a list of answers and quickly mark them right or wrong. Writing is time consuming, especially if we follow the writing process and brainstorm, mull over what we’ll say, and make a few decisions before typing words to screen.

My adult writing workshop students also struggle with time; however, they don’t whine about it but seek advice on how to fit writing time into their lives. Their main gripe is that life gets in the way.

It gets in the way for me, too. I’ve just had more experience finding ways to continue writing despite the speed bumps placed along the road. The key I’ve learned to use it to be kind to myself.

Nearly two decades ago, I was dealing with extreme grief. Since I was only in my late twenties, I took the death of a relative very hard. I forced myself to continue writing, though, and quickly regretted that decision. My belief was that if I wanted to make it as a writer, I needed to keep up a steady pace of writing and submitting–no matter what. Besides, writing was a way to retreat within and avoid some of that grief.

When a rejection arrived in my mailbox, I reread the manuscript that had been returned and was stunned to discover that everywhere I’d meant to type “desert” the word “dessert” appeared. God bless spell check but damn my ignorance in relying on it!

After my face and neck stopped sizzln’, I stepped back to decide what I could learn from this unfortunate event. The guidelines I created then still serve me during today’s “Life gets in the way” moments.

Write, but focus on draft.. Work on developing characters, creating a world, completing research, or adding to an existing draft. Over my 20+ years as a freelancer, I’ve developed a process for juggling several projects in various stages of completion. During LGINTW moments, I often gather ideas and create a new project. It’s too early to submit so errors can be caught later when I am focusing 100 percent on my the revision and polish.

Do not push yourself to submit. Focus on drafting. If you do decide to submit, make sure it is twice-polished and proofread by a trusted friend.

Spin off of a previous project. This may be easier for me since I also write nonfiction. I can pull old articles from the file, update and reslant them, and then find new markets. I can also pull articles to send out as reprints. But, it can also work for fiction and may be a good way to get the creative juices flowing. Reslant a fiction project by telling a related story from the perspective of another character. I’ve done this several times for a science fiction piece. Using the same world, I toyed with the perspective and goal of a minor character, placing my former main character in the supporting role. What I wrote clarified the history of the world and provided insight into the native people, food, and entertainment. Whether or not this short story ever finds a home, it definitely helped in the novel-length project.

Read. Complete some research. Find stories or novels of the type you’re writing to get a feel for pacing, voice, characterization, or genre. Or, read about craft or about your favorite author. Sometimes we simply need to refill our creative well and reading is a great way to do so. Reading as a writer is also a sort of research that writers must do for their own development.

Offer yourself compassion as you take time to heal, grieve, or simply regroup. When you reach a LGINTW moment, you can still feel you’re moving forward without risking errors that will set back your career.