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When Everything Stalls

By Sandra Heska King

My first novel-to-be stalled last summer.
Then I took a hammer to it.
I haven’t even made writing goals for this year.

Gasp!

Well, except for pouring out words almost daily on my blog.
June. I think June will be a good time.
I had goals last year, but they dried up.
I know. I know. I should have been just planting butt in chair.

Right through my daughter’s major surgery and recovery.
Right through caring for grandgirls.
Right through worry over my dad’s brain hemorrhage.
Right through planning a wedding.
Right through discovering my mom had an aggressive brain cancer.
Right through the months of caring for her until she died shortly before Christmas.
Right through getting ready for a holiday I’d have preferred to ignore.
Right through the exhaustion.

If I’d done that, I’d have finished that novel. I’d be ready to enter Genesis now.

That was my goal.

But I’ve decided to be gentle with myself.
To be more than do for a season.
Because then I might be more effective in the doing.

So I’ve created a six-step plan for the next six months.
Well, the sixth step will begin the sixth month.

1. Step Away. Not from writing altogether. But from the novel itself. Oh, I’ll still let the story percolate. I might I’ll probably scribble a few notes. I might I’ll probably do some reading. But I’m going to let me rest. Enter the no-pushing zone for a spell.

“Writing starts with living,” writes L.L. Barkat in Rumors of Water. “Living starts with somebody caring so much about something that they need to drag you out of your chair and take you where you’ll be surprised to find your words.”

I’m that somebody that cares. I’m going to drag myself out of my chair and find my words.

2. Sit. Not at my desk. Not at my keyboard. Outside. Or at least by the window. Every day. Maybe work my way through L.L. Barkat’s God in the Yard again. She sat outside for an hour every day. For a whole year. Even in the snow on her red sled.

I don’t have a red sled.

But I know that I can bring more depth to my writing if I sit a bit with my grief and with the events of the past year.

3. See. Not just see. But dive deep. To look for miracles in the mundane moments.

4. Stretch. I’m going to get my body moving again. I really haven’t been taking very good care of myself.

5. Simplify. My word for the year is “order.” A cluttered home leads to a cluttered head. I was gone for several months last year, and this place is a mess. Yeah, I’ll blame being gone. I also need to simplify my time-complete current commitments but then cull.

6. Sit. By June, I see my butt in chair again. And maybe I can still finish that novel by the end of this year.

Sandra Heska King is a wife, mom, grandma, and a nurse. Her great-grandfather and great-great grandfather were both lumberjacks, and she grew up on Paul Bunyan stories. Today she lives in the same 150-year-old farmhouse where her husband grew up. She is currently working on an historical novel set in Michigan in the early 1900s.

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28 Responses to When Everything Stalls

  1. Joanne Sher says:

    What a year, Sandy! I think you’re being very wise. LOVE the idea of sitting outside. I REALLY need to do that. Praying. (Sometimes, life just happens)

  2. So many words to be found in that stuff of life, though, right? We might be pretty boring writers without it.

    Oh, and learning to sit outside–just sit and see with no agenda–was a life changer for me.

    Thanks for the prayers, Joanne. :)

  3. What a wondferful post, Sandy. My heart and prayers go out to you, both for coping, living, and writing. God bless, and stay strong!

  4. HisFireFly says:

    As you breathe
    and He limbers your spirit to stretch
    when you stop looking for them
    your words will find you
    ??

  5. Laura Bethuy says:

    Sandra,
    Very sound advice and great prespective too. While you’re sitting, I’m certain God will use your quiet, reflective time to shower you with a fresh annointing. When you’re ready to re-plant your butt to that seat your book will be waiting for you with open pages. Praying for you.

  6. kd sullivan says:

    I’ve been there all too many times. Sometimes I even end up resenting everyone around me for asking that I continue life and responsibility. But…we must do what God places in our hands to do for each day.

  7. Sandy, I love your honest heart. I understand more than you know! After two years of life in a tailspin, spending weeks and months away from home with family, I had to let go. It’s not easy. Like you, I’m still writing. I’ve simply chosen to live first in the “no pushing zone” you mention. It is a wonderful gift to oneself to just being, and not be so driven by the doing. God bless you as you step gently, moment to moment. Love.

  8. I got very quiet reading this…my heart hurts for you, knowing how precious my parents are to me. My novel stalled last year in May. I took care of my grandgirls last summer…I was a grandmother for the first time, as I have been a long distance grandmother all their lives…my mom’s health declined and I panicked…her condition turned out not to be life threatening, but it took a toll on her psyche. My prayer for you is that you have peaceful days and your novel progresses.
    I read Rumors of Water this month and plan to get LL Barkat’s other books. Something about her writing is equally light of touch and profound. Finally, I understand the sitting by the window…my desktop faces the front of our property…the road. I prefer the kitchen where the table has windows on two sides and of our woods.
    Here’s to words and finding a “red sled”.

  9. Sandra, you are so, so wise. Yes, you might be ready to take those steps in six months. If you need to ease into them, then do so. And know that you have been really living this past year. That experience will work its way into your writing in due time.

  10. Sometimes it’s more important to be than to do.

  11. @Marianne: Thank you so much. My strength is in Him.

    @Karin: You always have such deep poetic advice. When we stop looking so hard for the words, they find us. Breathing that in.

    @Laura: Sometimes it’s like beating our head against the wall, right? Just stepping away can give us space to breathe and gain a fresh perspective. I’ve found that a long, hot shower can make the words flow, too. ;)

    @Kim: That’s a fine line sometimes, isn’t it? Setting boundaries but being recognizing what God calls us to do in a given day. And it’s in that everyday stuff that we can actually find our inspiration.

    @Barbara: That letting go while keeping on is such a balancing act, isn’t it? Accepting the gifts of both Mary and the Martha.

    @Elizabeth: I’m sure that all that–the good and the not-so-good took a toll on your psyche, too. Hold those grandgirls close and love on your mom. But save time for you, too. I’m thinking L.L. could make a little extra side cash if she marketed some red sleds for writers. Are you back to work on your novel?

    @Megan: You know this journey, don’t you? Does He call writers and then not allow some suffering into their lives? It’s how we go deeper, right? And as we’re obedient and lean on Him, He helps us realize the dreams He gives us–in His due time.

  12. @Davalynn: Amen. And when our doing flows from the being, there’s no end to what He can do through us. Why are we sometimes so afraid to just rest?

  13. He made artists, us. That alone is amazing, a grace-filled deed opening our hearts and minds to the universe to allow His creation to be revealed for others by writing or painting, to re-trigger their awe of His glory.

    Rohn Federbush

  14. Once upon a time a missionary hired a group of native guides to lead him to a remote village deep in the jungle. He pushed them hard the first day and they were ahead of schedule. The next morning, at first light, he was up and ready to roll. The men sat, talked, ate, and ignored the missionary and his attempts to get them to move. He asked the leader what was wrong…”You pushed so hard yesterday the men are waiting for their souls to catch up.” Maybe, we need to do the same now and then.

  15. Pegg Thomas says:

    Sounds like the perfect plan for what you need. Rest, heal, recover, and then move on.

  16. Oh Rohn. That’s just beautiful. Thank you for that.

    What a commission we have as Christians artists to reveal Him through our work. And He’s the one to refill us when we run dry. What better way to let that happen than to immerse ourselves in His Word and in the beauty of His creation.

    @Pegg: It’s interesting. I may not be actively working on the novel, but writing itself is healing. At least for me. And hopefully for others. :)

  17. I’ve never heard that story before, Doug. It’s a keeper! And it’s so true. I believe that are times when push ourselves so hard we have to sit down and let our souls catch up.

  18. Linda Glaz says:

    Love things set in Michigan. Wish you the best, Sandra!

  19. Yes. Beautiful. In His time.

  20. “I?m that somebody that cares. I?m going to drag myself out of my chair and find my words.”

    And that’s exactly why you ARE finding them. Because you care. Deeply. And those words pour out of your heart and onto your blog nearly every day to bless the socks right off the rest of us! You have words, Sandy, deep words, because you “see” in the midst of, you breathe Jesus and He overflows into your fingers and across your keyboard bleeding through the words. Beautifully! To touch our hearts as we journey through the tough places with you.

    Bless you, friend! May God give you words in abundance to weave the tale in your heart.

  21. Oh Snady – I so appreciate this post!
    In the words of a GUY PENROD song – BREATHE DEEP – reminding one’s self of those memories we take for granted.
    I’m no where near where I thought I’d be by now in life/with my writing goals and like you, my goals for 2012 – non-existant for now.
    I shared some of the pain of last fall with an ACFWer author and she told me – “I sometimes wonder what you’re hurrying to accomplish. Writing is a journey – enjoy the journey, Joy.” She’s a very wise woman.
    Sit a spell – soak up the Lord and the beauty of His creation.
    I LOVE you to pieces, Snady! You’ve been such an example of grace to me over the past year. I’m going to join you in spirit each day – following your six-step plan!

  22. The motto I live by is, “This novel has a schedule all its own.” I gave up on schedules years ago in favor of God’s timing. Having given up significant portions of my life to caregiving, I thoroughly relate to your post. My last responsibilities ended 08/08/08 with my mother’s passing. Prior to that, I spent years caring for her in my home. I wrote when I could, often not at all. Family first. You’ve lived that. As for outside, I learned the restorative qualities of communing in the woods when I moved to seven acres of hardwoods in the Upper Peninsula in 2003. I’m on permanent retreat, soaking in the beauty of God’s creation. I’m putting you on my prayer list. How wise you are!

  23. @Linda: Michigan rocks! Thanks.

    @Patricia: And it’s almost time for lunch. :)

    @Cindee: You encourage me to breathe deep(ly). Your words always touch those deep places inside. I’m blessed to journey with you.

    @Joy: I always smile big when I see your name. It gives me such joy. :) What wisdom that author has now blessed us all with. Thank you for sharing it. You’ve done battle these last few months, I think to slow down a bit to breathe might be just what the Doctor ordered. And the words will flow. You have such a heart for others and are such an encouragement. And your words here–they humble me. Sending you hugs.

    @Donna: I love your motto! That encourages me so much. *I* wanted to finish this story so my mom could read it. Now *I* want to finish it while my dad can still read it. But it is all in God’s timing–and my availability when His time is right. I grew up in the woods and on a lake. I miss that. Though our country acreage offers a beauty all its own, there is something about water and the wind in the trees. I need to seek that out more. Truly it’s in solitude in His creation where I’m replenished. Thank you for your prayers.

    And everyone, Karen Ball has a great series going called Let Creativity Flow over at Steve Laub’s blog. So far she’s posted three of four parts.

  24. Sandy, I can’t tell you how deeply your post ministered to me. I’m at the same emotional place of exhaustion. While my Right through… list may differ, it’s the same result. I’ll remind myself to stop beating myself up for blank pages written and try to get back to soaking up God and living life again. The inspiration will come. Thanks again.

  25. You’ve just ministered to me by letting me know, Johnna. I was a little nervous about posting over here for the first time.

    Okay, a lot nervous. ;)

    We have four seasons in Michigan. We wouldn’t expect big juicy red tomatoes or yummy raspberries in the middle of winter. Why don’t we allow ourselves seasons to rest and then grow and then produce the best fruit, too?

    Soaking up God with you.

  26. You have such talent. I guarantee your sitting will not make it go away. Take much care, my beloved “Snady-Sandy”. There is much to do – in the future – for God’s Kingdom; I feel that for you in my bones. He doesn’t give a writing gift such as the one you have to allow you to sit much longer than six months. (grins)

    But sitting, watching, waiting – and let’s not forget praying – are going to be wonderful healers for you, a balm for your wounded heart and soul. Breathe it all in, the rest, the peace, the reflection; and then let go, and let God…

    You are a wise woman for coming up with your “six steps to getting back on the writing track”. I’m almost certain once you jump back on board, though, that locomotive is going to chug to life, and you will be taking a bunch of us on a good, fast ride when we take hold of that first published book and feast our eyes on your riveting story.

    I can hardly wait.

  27. Oh, Shar. All I have now are tears. And love.

  28. Hmmm…I somehow missed a few of those LIFE CHANGING EVENTS of the last year or so, Sandy. Sheesh. I think you are very, very wise to take these months to just be – you ARE writing. You’re writing wonderful stuff on that blog of yours and all over at other places, too. The rest will come. I am sure of it. Love to you.