Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Things That Get in the Way ...

Most writers experience some periods of time when they face a multitude of these pesky critters that I have just loosely described as ‘things that get in the way’ – of writing. The things that we perversely put ahead of whatever writing project is staring us in the face can range from true crisis-type events to the imagined obstacles that have become like the elephant in the room. The first type we have no real control over, and the second is usually something of our own making that we can’t, or don't want to, see past. In both cases, it seems impossible to get on with the project that we most want or need to work on. It could be our current work-in-progress, a new story that we are actually dying to start but can’t seem to get the first words down, or a post for a blog (or some other assignment with a deadline).

Recently, I have experienced enough of these ‘things’ to cause me to stop and reflect on how I should be dealing with them. Here is my list of occasional, chronic, and unexpected things that get in the way of my writing:

1. Occasional distractions are those that happen when my writing routine becomes skewed by a change in circumstances. Even a change in the season can cause a break in routine when some new factor has to be taken into account. I found my writing took a back seat when the demands of garden work in spring and summer left me without enough energy to put equal attention to weeding, mowing, and writing. And not enough hours in the day! Writing wasn’t all that suffered. I also dropped out of my exercise program. Temporarily, at least. It is hard to get the balance back.

Months ago I agreed to spend a few weeks with my granddaughter while her parents were away in early September. She is in her final year of high school, and is becoming a very capable, responsible young woman. Some of my friends commented, and I agreed, that this could be like going on a writing retreat because I would have quite a lot of time to myself. Well, it didn’t quite work that way. Because I was away from my familiar surroundings, including my writing gable, I found it difficult to get into a regular writing routine. I soon found myself in more of a holiday mode, than a writing retreat frame of mind. Although I did some preparation for a conference I will be attending later this fall, I did very little writing. However, I did start exercising again!

Other occasional distractions, such as summer vacations, moving to a new location, or starting a job, can also cause disruptions to writing routines, or prevent us from starting one in the first place. If we don’t allow them to become chronic, these occurrences can provide a much needed break. Then we should be able to get back on track with a new routine that takes the changed circumstances into account, or the seasonal events end so that everything can revert to normal.

2. Chronic things that get in my way are usually of the self-made variety. I allow myself to sample new television programs (sometimes even in the guise of doing ‘research’). Sometimes, it is tempting to spend too much time reading or watching movies. Presto, writing time goes down the drain. I’m not saying any of these activities should be verboten, but if they prevent me from spending sufficient time on my writing, then I must change my priorities. If I don’t spend my allotted time on writing, then I shouldn't get to do the other ‘things’ I like to do. (If, like a child, I don’t eat my dinner, then I don’t get dessert!)

3. Then there are the unexpected crises, such as illness or a death in the family, that simply have to take precedence in our lives. They leave us exhausted and unable to cope with normal routines for a time. Frustrating tho this can be, with time and patience healing will happen. Although it may be difficult to see ahead to a day when our strength will be back, or that it will become possible to cope with debilitating grief, the writing we manage to do may very well be part of the healing process if we allow it to be.

To pull another example from my own experience: when I had a brief brush with an infection that affected my sense of balance earlier in the summer, I had to curtail most activities and didn’t have the energy to do much of anything. This was a strange and frightening experience for someone who is never ill (never say never). During that time, I had to suspend all my regular routines of walking, working in the yard, and writing. Fortunately, with the help of friends who drove me everywhere I needed to go, I was able to participate in some writing workshops for which I had already registered. I did the writing assignments that were required, but that was all I could manage to do for several weeks.

With my writing goals in shambles, I became discouraged. However, when Karyn blogged last week on Prairie Chicks about Fall being a good time of year to set new goals, I realised that it is possible to make a new beginning. Now I am ready to set up a schedule that I'm sure I can maintain in the weeks ahead. My health is good, I’m home again, and the sky’s the limit.

What do you find gets in the way of your writing goals? How do you deal with the occasional setbacks? Do you have any chronic obstacles of your own creation? What advice do you have for those who may be dealing with unexpected crises that affect their writing routine?

10 comments:

Yunaleska said...

What do you find gets in the way of your writing goals?
A) For me this is my health, which is an ongoing chronic condition. It reduces the amount of time and energy I have for everything, so I try and get writing in when I can. It does mean I won't be found writing for hours at a time. Yet I've learnt to settle with what I've got. At the end of the day, If I wasn't ill like this, I never would have discovered my love for writing.

Occasional setbacks - I just get on with it when I can. I try not to create chronic obstacles because I have a permanent one! Although if a new video game/anime is in my hands then yes i'll spend a few weekends just playing/watching that.

Advice? I guess life throws curveballs, and do your best to work around them. It's okay if you have to take a day or week or longer away from writing. It's allowed. Let yourself slack until life allows for writing. Because you may not put fingers to keyboard, or pen to paper, but you can spend hours with your Muse (or characters, if they topped their Muse off) in your head, which is where the initial idea creation begins.

Karyn Good said...

Occasional setbacks for me include TV and movies and, of course, all the little things that come up when you have kids at home. I have gotten better at writing in the evenings though, which I never used to do. I try and watch only those shows which I enjoy and no repeats, but season premiere time always has me spending more time in front of the TV. :)

Fortunately at this point in time, the biggest obstacle getting in the way of my writing is me and not using my time wisely. But my goals are helping keep me on track!

Glad you're back on track, Helena!

Helena said...

After my minor bout with a health issue (altho it seemed major to me at the time), I can certainly relate to those of you who deal with chronic conditions. And I admire you, Yunaleska, for being able to adjust your expectations, and above all, to embrace writing as an activity that is essential to who you are.

Some of my writer friends who also work at 'day jobs' have the willpower to use time wisely, and they make use of half-hours here and there on a regular basis to get their writing done.

Thanks for your wise words. Perhaps it's because of that busy Muse that leans over me so much of the time that I feel I haven't measured up. I must discipline myself to snatch evey moment that becomes available in the day to transfer those ideas to the page.

Helena said...

TV and movies *groan* are the bane of my existence -- as much as I say that I feed off what I view, in terms of ideas, format, plot, etc. I know it's often just an excuse to be entertained!

Karyn, you are such a good example of what I didn't manage to be when my children were young. I just didn't get writing into my life, tho I was constantly wishing I could.

I HOPE I'm back on track. I didn't quite realise how much my life had been disrupted by some of the stuff I described. I do feel invigorated this morning -- the sun is shining, the 'angst' was poured out on the page last night, and there should be no reason to delay any further.

Thanks for your support!

Janet C. said...

As you know, my obstacle has been/is moving. I'm slowly settling in, but still tweaking my much smaller house in order to fit everything in and save on storage costs.

Mostly, lately, my main obstacle has been confidence. I've been away from the writing and took the time to really reflect on my 'voice'. Now, when faced with picking up that pen once more, I question both my ability and desire. I'm going to blame both on transition issues that arise everytime we move. Adapting to a new lifestyle and surroundings takes time - or at least I'm saying it does :)

Glad to hear you're one track, Helena. I hope the retreat also inspired you to get back in the chair with hands on keyboard, typing away madly.

Helena said...

Glad you mentioned the retreat, Janet. Sometimes it does take a positive event like that, which brings like-minded people together, to bring focus back into our writing life. Hearing other people talk about both sides of the equation (successes and obstacles) does help to define the issues in one's own particular case.

I was thinking of you when I mentioned re-locations, knowing that getting settled can be, well, unsettling (!) for a while. I really hope Muse doesn't allow EE to get hold of you with real self-doubt. You may feel the need to refocus your efforts, but with your wonderful sense of humour, your tremendous imagination, and knowledge of writing, as well as your skill level -- I hardly see that it is an issue of confidence.

Having said that, I was at a reading by three authors at St. Peter's last night (first thing on my agenda when I got home yesterday!). Fred Stenson, an Alberta novelist, mentioned that a writer never loses that feeling of wondering whether the writing is any good, whether people will want to read it, etc. But all three (the others were poets) agreed that we must keep on writing for ourselves first, presumably because we love it and it is a part of who we are. Period. If other people think it's worthwhile, good. But it is a mistake to dither the point until it renders us helpless to move on.

Hope to Skype you into a meeting soon!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Lately I've had a lot of occasionals lined up to distract me. We visited friends out of town over a weekend, which didn't exactly help the writing process, then I struggled for three days to get my rhythm back (I know, whine whine), then went off to the fall retreat. I came home charged and inspired, but I have lots of little things to do right now, then there's a couple birthdays coming soon, the old Thanksgiving interruption, and then a good ten days of family visiting when I graduate. I hope to do my best to get through that time and get writing done when everyone else goes to bed, but I know I'll probably slack off.

As for chronics, it'd be ye olde interwebs, the blog, and time with my husband, which isn't actually a bad thing, but can be tough now and then. I take weekends when he's off, so coming back from the retreat to have three days off with him is lovely, but not good for the writing momentum. Again, I'll have to make the time during the night.

If the momentum won't come back, the plan is to make the novel jealous by writing something else :p

Silver James said...

The biggest thing getting in the way of my writing is...me. A friend, uppington, just addressed this over on her blog http://uppington.wordpress.com/2009/09/21/the-disease-of-the-shoulds/ and what she had to say is so true! My advice is go read her blog and then decide "will" instead of "should". That's what I'm doing. Sort of. Kind of. Will...in a little bit....

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
I guess we're all our own worst enemies when it comes to our writing. Right now it's my busy time at work so I'm putting in lots of extra hours. Also trying to deal with freezing stuff from the garden. And we might have to make a quick trip to Toronto to see my daughter. Life is conspiring right now.

My biggest obstacle is ususally TV. I do love my TV. I'm not very good at writing in the evenings when there is something good on the tube.

I do think that writing is like dieting; when you fall off the wagon, you have to pick yourself up and start again. It's never to late to start all over.

And Janet, don't make me come all the way to Nova Scotia to slap you silly! If anyone has a voice it's you, girlfriend! You definitely have the talent. Don't ever forget that.

Jana

Captain Hook said...

I'm pretty good at dealing with the occasional setbacks. I bounce back fairly easily.

Chronic disturbances? The only thing I can think of is lack of sleep :D I'm a bit of an insomniac, but instead of it hindering my writing, I use that time to write - usually.

That last one you talked about - unexpected crises - that's what I've been dealing with since the divorce. Just one right after the other, with very small breathing spaces in between.

On the plus side though, I tend to write fast when I have an idea (my two finished rough drafts - one took 1 week and the other a week and a half to write), but I wish I had more time to devote solely to writing. But real life concerns must come first. That means, unlike you, I don't get rewards if I do my writing. Writing IS my reward for getting through work and schoolwork.