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Keeping the Writing Going When Your Life is in Chaos

By Allie Pleiter

As I’ve been finishing my 2017 non-fiction How to WRITE When Everything Goes WRONG, I’ve been talking with a lot of authors about how they tackle the challenge of meeting a deadline under far less than ideal circumstances. The answer, as you might think, is as individual as every writer, but there have been some universal tactics I think are worth sharing. I know these have been true for me:

1. Try small batches in new formats.
The trick is to pick a word count that feels doable–even if it must be tiny. One hundred words, for example, can fit on an index card. I suspect even the most traumatized of writers could manage six imperfect sentences that can be edited later. That work, once accomplished, can become the foothold for more. Can you tuck three or four cards into your pocket and set yourself the challenge to fill them? Your smartphone, a small notebook, or even email can help a small task feel small. All you need at first–maybe all you need at all–are baby steps.

2. Change locations.
I was under contract during my son’s chemo. While it sounds drastic, chemotherapy involves a lot of waiting and patients often sleep. A laptop and a highly transportable muse made writing in the hospital room or chemo suite possible for me. You may discover, however, that you need to give yourself even 30 minutes in a different location in order to allow your brain enough space to compartmentalize. Maybe you can’t write in the hospital suite, but you can manage it in a nearby coffee bar. Ritualize it if it helps–“at 2pm I walk across the street to get my cup of coffee and do my writing” or “when I get home from taking care of Mom I make myself a cup of tea and write.” Remind yourself this is your time to work, and when you return to wherever this crisis is currently set, you can be fully present knowing you’ve done your needed work.

3. Don’t feel guilty if you crave the escape writing offers.
One writer I know was surprised to discover that trauma shut down her internal editor and allowed words to gush out. As a romance author, she craved the happy ending her work offered when life seemed fresh out of happiness. Should that be your case, embrace that for the gift it is. Every cloud has a silver lining, why shouldn’t this be yours? Take care that you don’t ignore when your crisis needs your attention, but remind yourself–and others–that it is okay to work if it helps you cope.

4. Know when to surrender.
After pushing on towards a deadline, one writer friend stopped altogether when she knew her father was in his last days. When the stress of my son’s illness finally took its toll on my own health, my agent gave me a straightforward “halt” command, and I obeyed it. Face the truth that you can’t write through everything. Every workplace has a bereavement policy–give yourself one as well.
While it’s true the nature of our work draws on deeper wells than some jobs, we won’t be the first person to have to work through a crisis. With a little help and self-care, it is possible.

How about you? What tactics have you used to protect your creativity in a crisis?

Allie Pleiter June 2014Bestselling author Allie Pleiter has penned over thirty published books, quite a few of them under challenging conditions. She is a frequent national speaker on faith, women’s issues, the writing craft, and is the creator of The Chunky Method of time management for writers. Visit her website at alliepleiter.com.

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