How to Keep Writing Even When Life Is Tough—3 Tips

How to Keep Writing Even When Life Is Tough—3 Tips

Adversity strikes all of us. It can be as simple as welcoming a new puppy or baby into the family, or it could be as complex as caring for a loved one with a terminal illness. Either way, we will all experience times when life is handing us lemons, and, as writers, these are the times when it can be toughest to figure out how to keep writing.

But it’s not impossible, and it shouldn’t have to feel that way either.

Why I Kept Writing When My Life Was at Its Toughest

Before you say, “Oh, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about!” let me tell you this: I’ve been there.

In August 2012, my husband and I got the news no parent wants to hear: your child needs a bone-marrow transplant. Our youngest suffers from a rare disease, and from the moment he was diagnosed, we knew a transplant was always an outside possibility.

For the next year, we were enmeshed in travel for treatment (I moved 2,000 miles from home for the length of the transplant), doctor appointments, and a huge learning curve as I tried to figure out how to deal with this new dynamic.

Liberty and Xander Speidel After Bone Marrow Transplant

Throughout it all, I wrote. I wrote about my experience. I wrote about how our son was doing. And, most importantly, I kept working on the projects I was determined to publish.

Nurses, doctors, and fellow writers had no idea how I was able to continue working. It was a compulsion. I couldn’t not write. It was the one thing that helped keep me sane.

Writing During Adversity Is a Sanity Saver

Emergence Darby Shaw Chronicles Liberty SpeidelDuring the five-and-a-half months I was gone, I wrote tens of thousands of words. I rewrote and edited an entire novel, well over 100,000 words, and began work on what would be my first published novella. I didn’t neglect my son or his care—he spent an unbelievable amount of time sleeping—but in order to get through everything, I had to do something creative.

It wasn’t the ideal situation. But in that time, I learned a lot about not only me, but about how I write.

It takes a lot of time to write a novel. If you have any desire to see your work published, you can’t afford to take time away from a project, just because life is trying to intervene. I’d been working on my goal of publication for too long, and even though I knew I’d be going through one of the hardest patches in my entire life, I promised myself several things. One of those promises was to figure out how keep writing no matter how tough life got.

3 Ways to Keep Writing Through Adversity

If you’ve found yourself in the midst of a difficult season, what can you to keep moving forward with your writing career.

1. Think About Your Priorities

Consider what exactly is going on in your life and understand the time demands that come from it. Maybe you’re getting married and the planning is time consuming… but you’ve got this novel you just don’t want to let go of for a few months. Getting married is quite different than being stuck in a hospital for the better part of five months, and your time restrictions are going to be different. Maybe you can only spare ten minutes a day to write a few paragraphs. Hey, it’s a start!

2. Outline Your Goals

This is where you look at where you want to take your writing career, and realistically try to figure out how to keep writing and stay on track. Ironically, about the time we learned about the need for transplant, I received a partial request from an agent. It was probably good it didn’t pan out since I was not in a position to fulfill any duties to a publisher at that time. But I was already working on my goals, so figuring out how those worked alongside the needs of the medical treatment was just another dimension added to what I already had going.

3. Always Be Doing Something—Even if It’s Not Writing

Shortly after we arrived for treatment, I rediscovered podcasts. I’d been listening to K.M.’s podcasts of her Sunday posts off and on since they began, but now I had a lot fewer demands on my time (in certain ways) and needed something to keep my mind distracted when I couldn’t write—if I was out for a walk, taking a drive, or just needed a break at the hospital. There are a lot of great writing podcasts out there:

The voices in my earbuds became friends and a bit of a lifeline when we were in some of our darkest moments. Let me tell you, you get looked at a little funny if you’re laughing so hard you’re crying from a podcast… and your son is in the middle of the ICU!

Liberty and Xander With Earbuds

When adversity strikes, you don’t have to let your writing fall by the wayside. But it will if you let it. However, you can not only continue on with your goals in the face of harrowing times, you can amaze others with your work ethic. The tenacity to push through is something almost everyone will admire. It’s also a really good feeling as a writer. When I returned home and realized everything I’d managed to accomplish, in addition to having a son who was doing amazingly well, I got a little burst of pride. It made it that much easier to push forward with stronger vigor than before.

If you can get through adverse times and figure out how to keep writing, you’ll find it that much easier to carve out time on days when you’re not in a trial.

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever had to figure out how to keep writing during adversity? What did you?

How to Keep Writing Even When Life Is Tough: Three Tips

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About Liberty Speidel | @LibertySpeidel

Liberty Speidel has been a voracious reader since reading her first Nancy Drew book. But she was telling stories long before then with her figurines from Disney's Rescue Rangers. When she's not writing, she may be found gardening, baking, crocheting, or hiking (with lots of bug spray!). She is also the founder, producer, and co-host of Lasers, Dragons, and Keyboards, a podcast for lovers of and writers of speculative books. A lifelong Kansan, she now resides in the Kansas City metro area with her husband, children, and a spoiled rotten chocolate Labrador. Liberty is the author of The Darby Shaw Chronicles, featuring superhuman detective Darby Shaw.

Comments

  1. Thanks for having me today, K.M.!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Liberty!

  3. This was such a timely message for me. Thank you, Liberty, for writing this and KM for posting it. The past few days have been the most trying time for my family and I’m worried about what the future holds for a dear family member. There are moments when I’m compelled to write to distract myself, and moments when I feel guilty for writing when there are bigger, life-changing issues at hand. But I know that as long as I’m here I have to contribute something to this world, so I keep writing. Thanks again!

  4. Wow, this is great advice. My dad was diagnosed two months ago with fourth-stage, terminal lung cancer. For two weeks, I didn’t write a thing. But I listened a lot. We spent so much time in waiting rooms, in hospital during the chemo which takes forever (as I’m sure you know), and in the car driving from place to place (he lives out in the middle of nowhere, so plenty of time in the car).

    During those times, he told stories from his life. So after a couple of weeks, I realized, I needed to write these down. Some were stories I had heard a million times, but loved hearing again, because he loved telling them. But he has also started to open up about things he hadn’t talked about before. His time in Vietnam, for example (he still won’t talk about the fighting and that’s fine with me, but for him to even talk about other experiences over there is a whole new thing). Also, interesting things about his father and grandfather, and his siblings.

    So I started writing down what stories he has been telling. The idea is to make a book, print it not through self publishing even, but just through blurb or something, a few copies for family and to leave to our descendants. I’ll try to gather stories from those of us who are left behind, as well, a real keepsake.

    Things have calmed down a bit since that first huge rush, and he is doing very well. He doesn’t need me to drive him to appointments anymore, he is able to drive (my mom can’t because she is blind). And I have returned to writing not only his stories, but the novel that I’ve been working on forever, and some short stories, too. It does help. And there are new emotions for me to draw on, as I realize the finality of this disease and what it means to our family.

    Wow, didn’t mean to go on so long, but thanks for this post. It helped me not feel guilty that I was determined to keep writing and not just bail during this time of trouble.

    • Thanks for sharing, Jennifer! Yes, you shouldn’t feel guilty about keeping your writing at a high priority–that’s something I learned about my own experience! Prayers for your dad. And it sounds like that book of his stories will be something your family will cherish!!

  5. Steve Mathisen says:

    This is a great article and an excellent guide for using my time. I keep waiting for things to become normal so I can concentrate on my writing. I think I have finally figured out that whatever is disrupting my life at the moment IS my normal. I need to just shove it aside, at times, and write.

  6. In times of adversity, we automatically drop all forms of self-indulgence, but this often means, especially for writers, sacrificing our lifeline to sanity. Honestly, whom does this serve? It’s a pervasive human instinct, and it’s time it was held accountable! Being able to laugh when oppressed by worry is not callous, it’s sublime.

  7. If I can’t write the story I’m working on I journal my day. Thanks for the tips.

  8. thomas h cullen says:

    There’s literally no end to what can be said about this issue – you have my respect Liberty.

    Life’s hardest assault is its very own repetitive nature. A supremely ironic truth however, as the trick to overcoming so many of life’s general obstacles is in recognising this truth about life – its identity of just pattern.

    See the pattern! Accept that life is pattern; accept that your future is your past, accept that there’s no point in not confronting something, as every time you don’t, your future reality will just be your having to face up to that same aspect yet again and again.

    So much of life can be overcome by this acceptance.

  9. I do have a busy life style to the point people ask me how I find the time to write. At the moment though, I am in a bit of a rut with my next novel. My busy lifestyle, two jobs, plus other commitments don’t help as the fact that I am still plugging away at trying to get more notice and sales for my last novel. Your post here, Liberty, was sort of an adrenaline shot for me.

  10. Glad to hear it, and good luck! 🙂

  11. Thanks for sharing you powerful story. I guess expressing yourself creatively can be a healing thing in difficult times.

  12. M.J. Sparks says:

    Thank you for this sage advice, was well-timed for myself and I hope that your child is getting better.

  13. Thank you for your timely advice. My only problem today is that I have an extremely full life and not enough time to sleep. A luxury problem indeed…For me it is about routine and habit. If I write every day I continue to write every day. As soon as my schedule is disrupted so is my writing schedule. And I wonder why I am feeling icky…when I write, I am tapping into something that fills me with energy. I just have to sit down and write that first word, and be ok with a short blog post instead of a novel…

    • I completely understand! I frequently find myself running on 6 hours of sleep, and I’ve sometimes successfully carved out early morning time since returning from my son’s treatment, but I can’t consistently carve it out. Finding time, any time, is the most important thing. 🙂

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! It’s inspiring to know that despite the difficulties in your life you still continued to write. That is a sign of a true author at heart and I applaud you for it!!

  15. Oh wow, that’s a lot to go through. I’m glad to know your son is better. Keep going strong with your writing, and God bless! And thank you for the pointers. >^-^<

  16. Thanks Liberty! Your efforts truly are admirable and I hope your son continues to be happy and healthy. I can definitely devote more time to write if you can and I’m certain that I will try to.

  17. Thanks Liberty! As a writer who hopes to be a wife and mother someday, this article was really encouraging to me seeing how you balance both of your passions in some extremely challenging situations. Your strength and resourcefulness is inspiring.

    ~Schuyler

  18. Thanks so much for this post. It was a bit different for me. I did almost stop writing all though my mum’s illness and for a year after she died. But then, I started feeling like… I don’t know. I needed to write and I think coming back to storytelling helped me cope with that loss. In some way.
    As you said, it’s catharcic. It’s a form of healing, I think.

  19. I made a blog post this morning for my #NaNoWriMo 2014 diary. It was a difficult week but I managed to get through it and pat myself on the back. However, after reading the above post concerning Libery Speidel’s adversity while writing, I’m not so sure if I deserve that pat.

  20. Everyone’s difficulties are going to be different, Ernesto! Yours may look quite different than mine, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less challenging for us individually!! Good work on NaNo! 🙂

  21. Alberto Leal says:

    Great article.
    With a rather nasty divorce and the unfair treatment I get when I merely ask about my 15 month-old son – who I’m not allowed to see or talk to – my world this year fell apart. But I only a few days ago I realised that writing is my thing so I took ownership of it. It wasn’t easy to sit down and work on the very book I shared with my ex-wife, but it worked wonders. Today I can write and feel like I am in control of my life again. And that feeling is worth millions.

  22. Dear Liberty,
    First, you have a gorgeous little boy. He has a very cheeky and infectious grin. Secondly, I think you are amazing. I’ve never had to go through anything like that with any of my children, or my nine grandchildren.
    God bless you, and continue to give you strength all your days.

    Lyn

  23. Thank you for this encouragement out of real life. It’s what I’m looking at today.

    I face major surgery in less than a week and have come to realize that the drive to write is exactly what the LORD is using to stay my heart and mind. The push to finish my third book has waned a bit, but He’s given me a smaller project with an intense deadline to keep me engaged.

    Writers write. 😀

    • @Sandra Allen Lovelace: I pray your surgery goes well, and I hope your book goes well also. (Surgery first; you’re more important than a book.)

      That’s a very good way to look at the situation, that God has blessed you with your writing. I feel exactly the same way. 🙂 God bless your health and your book!

    • Sandra, prayers for a good outcome to your surgery! Just take your time–you may not be ready to get back to work when it’s you yourself having surgery!

  24. I really needed to hear this. I’ve been having a difficult couple of years. But always felt guilty for the times I couldn’t write because it wasn’t for “critical” reasons. That having a horrible job with crappy sleep schedule, moving, getting married, and helping with someone’s non-life threatening illness. Any time used writing is good enough.

    • Anung, sometimes you need that break! When I got married, I took about a year or so off. Granted, I was much younger, finishing college, and had to move 3 hours away when my husband and I got married, but there was a lot of changes and adjustment that had to happen. I tinkered around a bit, but really got serious once my husband and I had gotten used to living together. 🙂 (My husband jokes that when we met, he didn’t even realize I was a writer–even though I was in journalism school at the time!)

  25. Megan H says:

    I just recently discovered this blog and happened to read this post at exactly the right time! My husband and I are both in college right now AND we have our first baby on the way so sometimes it feels like I’m too swamped and stressed to get everything done, but I know that I can make time in places! Thanks so much for this inspiration to keep moving! I find that writing helps me maintain my sanity when I’m pregnant and hormonal and stressed out anyway, so it’s best if I make the time for it.

  26. My biggest challenge is taking care of my special needs grandson, often getting him on the school bus and picking him up afterwards, keeping him until his Mom or Dad picks him up. During Spring Break I had him 24/7 for eight days and seven nights. Sometimes it’s frustrating when I want to finish a book, etc., but I wouldn’t trade the time I get to spend with him for anything in the world.

  27. Liberty,

    Thanks for sharing this post with me. Timing is so important in life, and this post came at a time when I needed it. I love this story, especially after knowing how well your first novella turned out and knowing that you wrote it during such difficult circumstances. Gives me hope that the work I’m doing now through my difficult times may be good enough to put out there. Thanks again!

    A. Mori

  28. Hey! Yep, writing can be very therapeutic. While my best friend had cancer, I wrote in spurts. After she died, I wrote – a lot. I now have a lot of material and I’m sure some of it will never see the light of day. But I want to put together some of it into a project I have in mind. I could not have worked on an unrelated novel at that time, but I kept the writing muscles limber and am now half done with a new novel.

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