Writing is hard. On the best of days, when the phone doesn’t ring and the dog doesn’t bark and your other jobs or school work or family obligations remain mercifully quiet, writing is still a challenge. And the truth is, most days aren’t going to be like that.
I started working on this post last week, right before the American midterm elections. My inbox was full of messages, my work deadlines were looming, I had just started National Novel Writing Month and, as an east coast liberal living in my new southern city, I was glued to the election results. While I didn’t turn on the television until the polls began to shut down for the day, I spent most of last week fidgety and anxious, wondering how the day’s events would unfold. Needless to say, it was a distraction from my work and I missed hours of writing time I could have used productively.
These things happen. Whether it’s age-old anxieties (we’ll discuss that another time) family emergencies, paying work, self-imposed deadlines or whatever else, we sometimes have to find ways to write in uncomfortable situations. Here are just a few I’ve picked up over the years.
Shut Down, Unplug, Turn Off, Lock Up
Sometimes it really is that simple. If you’re desperate to finish a section of your novel and you have the time but other things just keep getting in the way, hide your phone, turn off your WiFi and hit Do Not Disturb on life. Those emails will get your full attention in an hour. You can Snapchat, text back and comment when you finish these words. While major events may have you scrolling your Twitter feed, remember that writing is your job for this moment, and you wouldn’t be able to get away with that at any other job.
Leave the Scene
When your brain is somewhere else, however, on a recent breakup or job offering or any of the myriad good and bad things that happen to us in our lives as human people, you may not be able to put good words to the page. It happens to every one of us from time to time and the best thing to do is not try to write for a while. Go for a walk around your neighborhood. Bake cookies. Try to meditate or exercise or speak with a friend. Be wary of indulging yourself too much but acknowledge that a change of scenery can sometimes make all the difference.
Change Your Office Space
Getting out of the office can be a huge help, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop working. Sometimes something as simple as setting up in Starbucks or the apartment lounge can give you a fresh perspective and inspire you to work more efficiently. If anything, you’ll probably be slightly more embarrassed about dicking around on social media for three hours straight. Consider, even, leaving the computer at home. Depending on what your current project is, a notebook and pen and park bench might be all you need to create something wonderful.
Change Your Project
Some days, the project is…sticky. Maybe you’re struggling with a scene or a character or a complicated plot where you’ve backed yourself into a corner. Maybe you’re struggling with forces outside of your control that make it hard to fix the problems in your current manuscript. It happens. Rather than giving up for the day, find something you can manage despite what’s going on. Maybe that means updating your marketing plan. Maybe it means working on a less complicated story. Consider taking a break from the challenge and getting something else done instead. The sense of accomplishment alone is worth a lot.
Be Honest (With Your Friends)
One thing that non-creative people struggle with is the idea that sitting at your desk for an afternoon is work. It’s not a critique–I sometimes struggle with the idea as well. The point is, you probably get coffee break? texts and lengthy phone calls from your siblings during your work day and it can really cut into the time you have to write. Be kind but firm. Explain to the people who love you that you can’t be interrupted during the day with long, breezy chats and the like.
You don’t want to come across as a pretentious ass, I must be alone with my art! but writing is your job and passion and the only way you’ll be able to complete your project is if you’re given some peace.
Be Honest (With Yourself)
This one can be a little more challenging. Sometimes we overwhelm ourselves with the amount of work we think we can complete, or we leave it to the last minutes, or we don’t anticipate holiday breaks, visits from family, etc. While striving to succeed and produce work is always a good tactic, you need to be honest with yourself about how much you can reasonably accomplish in a certain period of time. This will help to reduce some of your stress and make it easy to complete pressing work.
Go to the Root
As with the elections last week, I was able to quickly identify the root of my distraction, but sometimes it isn’t so easy. Since we moved over the summer, I’ve been managing my anxiety, but there’s often a sense of lingering doom and gloom that has no source or cause. Sometimes the distraction takes more than a tea break and honesty between friends. If you find your emotional situation, interpersonal relationships or other straits are preventing you from creating good work, zero in on that. You may not be able to find an answer right away, but a unique, informed approach can make all the difference.
There are countless ways to handle the distractions of the word, but the point is that as authors, poets, screenwriters, songwriters, novelists, journalists and everything in between, we will have to write in places of discomfort. We will have to write on days tragedy strikes. We will have to write when we are happy and we will have to write when we are sad. It’s fundamental to our careers and passions to find a way to handle both being a person and being a writer because the hard-people days will come, often and constant. What you do with them, how you handle them–that’s what determines if you also get to call yourself a writer.