(Not) Writing My Way Through Stressful Times

The last two months have not been easy. Long hours at the day job, unexpected travel, a major death in the family, stressful Christmas, several close friends in distress, and almost six full weeks of both of us being sick on top of that.

But I’m not here to whine, not really. Everyone has days/weeks/months/years like that. (Too many people to count, if I judge by my social media feeds.)

What I wanted to talk about today is how the hell do you keep your writing mojo going in the face of so many disruptive life events?

The answer for me, is, I barely did. For most of the month of December, I couldn’t concentrate on fiction for more than a minute or two at a time. Even when I had the rare twenty minutes or so to myself.

The answer for others is, writing is that constant thing that gets them through all of life’s BS, from work stress, to souring relationships, and even through great personal struggles like serious illness. I have the deepest respect for people who manage to keep working in the face of that.

This post isn’t about “finding the time to write” in the middle of the usual ups and downs of life. If you’re going to write at all, you’re going to find some way to overcome the day-to-day distractions. (Plus, I think I’ve sort of written that post before! :P)

I wanted to talk about some strategies for writing through major disruptive periods of life. (Well, MY strategies, anyway. Like with all things process-related, these are intensely individual. YMMV.)

Don’t Write.

Sometimes, when you sprain that ankle, or break that leg, the best thing you can do is stay off of it. Under proper medical care, of course, you do everything you can to leave it alone. Let it heal. Let it rest.

Our creativity is like that, too. Sometimes it takes a blow that it needs time to recover from–like grief for a loved one who’s passed. For me, at least, I needed not to worry about the daily word count or untangling the plot of the short story I was working on before the craziness began. I couldn’t even imagine pulling out the novel. Well, I tried once, and stared at it like it was a big gray lump of wet dog hair.

I gave myself permission to rest. Of course, my writer-guilt brain cranked into overdrive every once in awhile, especially when I saw my friends and colleagues post about word counts, daily progress, and even sales, online. When I put my weight on my creativity though, it hurt. So I took a deep breath and did my best to ignore my writer-guilt brain.


Watch a bunch of movies. Good ones, bad ones. Genre. Documentaries. Oscar-bait. Read comics, books, interesting articles. Play some video games. Fill that Creative Well. It’s almost like creating something yourself. Kind of. You’ll absorb the energy, ideas, and they’ll be there when you need them later.

Spend time with people you love and that love you. This is probably the biggest part of recharging for me. Have a quiet dinner with friends. Play D&D with your sister who’s all of a sudden taken up the hobby and loving it (yay!). Plan and cook a special meal for your family. Be with them.

Sit on the riverbank (or beach, or mountain trail, or at a campfire) and stare into the beauty of this time, this moment and don’t think about anything at all. Exercise. Meditate. Pray. Any and all three, according to your desires and beliefs.

Do write. A little bit, anyway.

It was difficult for me to focus my efforts into a coherent beam of creativity. But I made notes when an idea struck. Or jotted down a phrase or two of dialogue that welled up from the depths of my brain. Don’t stifle or shut off all of your creative thoughts, but capture them for examination later. I had a couple of new story ideas come along while I wasn’t looking. There was no way I could write them right away, but the ideas are still there.

I knew that my log-jam began to break-up for me when I sketched out a hypothetical D&D game on the way back to L.A. I hadn’t played for over a year (not counting the Christmastime game), but the unrestrainable urge to plan out a campaign I may or may not ever play was the first trickle of a flood of creativity.

That kind of writing, the kind that doesn’t have word counts or deadlines, but only pure excitement and joy — can be the way back to to the keyboard. For me it was D&D. For you it might be fan-fic, or a blog post on your favorite movie, or album, comic book, or TV show.

(RPGs have always been my version of fan-fic. In fact, D&D is probably what got me into writing in the first place, but that’s a story for another blog post.)

You’ll find your way back. Give yourself permission to wander a bit.

I’d love to hear about your wanderings in the comments.


Trackback URL

  • Remy Nakamura

    I’m not sure why, but I’ve had a death in the family and yet have felt a surge of creative energy and focus in the past few weeks. It seems strange, since past tragedies seems to suck my writing life dry.

    • Andrew Romine

      I’m so sorry for your loss, John, but I’m glad to hear about your surge! Embrace those when they come! 🙂

  • Mishael Talarico

    So one disciplined thing a day… And then say “fuck it”…. You’re good man…. Trust your stuff.

  • Paul Weimer

    When you are ready, the creativity will return. I am learning this in relation to the loss of one of my best friends.

    • Andrew Romine

      Condolences on your loss, Paul.

  • walter

    My greatest source of stress is thinking about age. I
    started writing late in life, so I feel like I have to rush things up to make
    up for lost time, and it gives so much anxiety that it stops me from enjoying
    my creativity to its fullest extent, and I get stuck. And when I am stuck I get
    more anxious. Then I curse myself for not starting writing earlier in life.

    Does anyone else feel stress about age?

    • Andrew Romine

      I suspect that feeling of lost time impacts us all, whether we are conscious of it or not.

  • Pingback: Hot Baths in the Desert. (Or Dealing with Anxiety) » Inkpunks()

  • Pingback: Fits and Starts | Lauren C. Teffeau()