Sunday, October 20, 2013

Writing Through the Storm

Pieter Mulier's Dutch Vessels at Sea in Stormy Weather
"When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it." ~ Henry Ford

"Gloom despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all" ~ From the TV show "Hee-Haw"

I had another post in mind for today, but my mind kept circling back around to the idea of weathering storms. As many of you know, this has been a trying week for those working for, or are connected contractually to work for, the U.S. government. Needless to say, our family has been affected by the talking heads in Washington D.C., and I would be lying if I didn't admit that it has been one of those predicaments that I just couldn't seem to put from my mind no matter how many times I tried to convince myself that all of this would turn out to be fine in the end. With only a delay to the decision-making being passed, I'm not really sure when that end will be.

But does that mean my life completely stops for one unsettling moment? Does that mean my writing stops?

The answer is simple: no.

I've weathered many storms in my life (more than I care to count), and my love for writing even grew out of one of the most precarious times in my life. Feel free to read (or re-read) my success story if you're interested in knowing what that's all about. In truth, I find that writing through a little adversity, writing through those troubling and uncertain times in my life, have actually helped me grow stronger as a writer. Oftentimes, a writer will glean bits of information for his/her storytelling through the events in his/her life. And I'm pretty sure I'm one of those.

This past week, I came across an interesting post by one of our followers. The fascinating L.G. Smith of Bards and Prophets wrote a post concerning this past summer's damaging floods in Colorado and the clean-up efforts going on there. It touched me on two levels: First, I used to live in Colorado and recognized many of the places affected by the flooding. I don't know how many times we took trips up into the Big Thompson Canyon and heard the story about the flooding of 1976. And to have that type of devastating event happen all over again was heart wrenching. Second, I like how Smith engaged on a writerly level with what was going on. As a writer, I've trained myself to always be observant, always watching the people and events unravelling around me. Strangely enough, when I'm impacted on such a personal level it also impacts my writer's POV as well, much in the same way Smith wrote in her post. Disaster may be surrounding a writer, but it seems our minds are never at rest.

When a trying time hits, my first instinct is to shut down, draw myself away from those I'm close to. That might be due to my personality type, but it is exactly what I do. But, then, I have to stop and think a moment. Think about how I might best get through the storm. What techniques and ideas have I come up with or tried in the past?

Back in April of this year I attended a writing meeting where author Lynne Hinton spoke on various aspects of her writing. She shared some very good tips on getting through those tough times when all you feel like you're doing is waiting. Here are some ideas on getting your writing moving forward when the last thing you want to do is place your fingers on a keyboard:

  • Start a fresh project -- Instead of sitting around, moping about a given situation, or even something as difficult as waiting to hear back from an agent or editor on a project that's out, dive into something fresh. As I watched the news this week, wondering if a furlough would really come to our family, I found I needed something to take my mind off the uncertain circumstances. So, I visited the local library, checked out some research books on a new project I've been wanting to start and started in. Since I write American historical fiction, it's not hard to discover the trying times others before us have gone through, and maybe in the process feel a little better about the here and now.
  • Dig into your characters -- You need to shift your attention from focusing on your own problems to those of your characters. I have one book languishing on the shelf because I just don't know how to figure out my MC in the story. If I hadn't decided to dig into some new research, then that would have been another route for me to go.
  • Get in touch with your spirituality -- This helps me every single time. We all have different belief systems and find a measure of peace through that system, so take some time out and touch base. According to Dr. Robin, a consultant for Oprah Winfrey on the benefits of faith, she has the following to say:
"Dr. Robin says that people who disconnect from their faith community -- whether because of a move or other life circumstances -- often feel a sense of loss. If you feel like something's missing from your life, consider reconnecting with the faith or religious practices that you feel can enhance and enrich your spirit..." 
It may bring a calm to what you're going through, maybe even clear your thoughts for what you feel you need to do. Whatever it is that you feel you need, then take a moment and catch a calming breath.
  • Start a journal -- I'm not very good at the whole journaling thing, but there are writers out there who swear by it. Some feel they need to do it on a daily basis, and that's a big plus when facing a difficult situation. According to Psychology Today,
"Research has shown the tremendous benefits of journal writing on both our physical and mental health. Writing not only relieves stress and improves your mood, but it also boosts your immune system, which helps your body withstand the effects of further stress." 
Sometimes it helps to write out the junk that's going on in your personal life in order to tackle the lives of those characters you're creating. And, who knows, you just might find a nugget of inspiration in what you've written!
  • Stay true to the stories you enjoy writing -- When facing hard times, now might not be the time to jump ship and switch out your fantasy genre for hardboiled mysteries. As writers, we find comfort in the usual stories we like to create and it shouldn't be something we feel bad about doing. Take the turmoil that's going on in your personal life and find a way to apply it to your storyline on some level. Believe me, it can be very cathartic.
Maybe you're like me and have just finished out a stressful week. Is there something you enjoy doing that helps you and your writing weather the beating storm? One thing I know for sure, storms don't last forever. There's always a sunny, cloud-free day on the other side!

My motto is: more good times.
~ Jack Nicholson ~


  1. It's very interesting the way we react as writers, isn't it? Always analyzing, always observing. Everything is fodder for a story or character trait.

    I'm sorry to hear your family was affected by the nonsense in Washington. That's what galls me the most is how so many average Americans ended up as collateral damage. But, yes, every experience we go through, particularly the difficult ones, can be channelled into our writing. In fact, I'm sure it helps us maintain the illusion of sanity on a daily basis. :))

    Thanks for the mention too!

    1. I do believe everything is fodder for a story or character trait. I'm always telling my family this! Ah...the illusion of sanity...I like that!

      I hope your family is doing well and that they're making progress with the clean-up.

  2. M&M, I liked this post a lot. Perfectly straddled the line between an intimate portrait and an outward-looking, perspective-giving piece.

    My heart goes out to everyone in my old town. I wish I could just sit with you at the Flying Star (or as Adrienne and I called it, Frigid Star) and talk about whatever (remember that one time?) Sending you my prayers.

    1. Frigid Star. Made me laugh. :)

    2. Frigid Star...I find that funny too!

      I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Suze. Yeah, too bad you're not here for a little coffee talk. That would be nice! :)

  3. Oh how I sympathize. The last two weeks were quite a trial. We'd been putting purchases on hold, making contingency plans, wondering how we might make money in the interim; very glad we can at least start breathing again for now. For me, writing fiction can be a real solace when things go wrong. There's a reason novelists are often people dealing with difficulty. (Happy families and all that.) But I could not muster up the energy to blog. I really had to force myself to do that.

    I like your survival list: lots of good advice there, and not just for writers! Thanks for sharing.

    1. I think it can be pretty difficult to sit down and write when you just aren't feeling motivated. I think it takes a little practice, though, to realize life will always throw curve balls and we have to come up with our own ways of decompressing and getting through. Writing has actually always helped me and I think it's because I work with fictional characters that I like to put through trying circumstances.

      We were really trying to get things squared away, too, with an upcoming furlough. I think we had a good plan in place, but luckily Washington pulled through at the last minute. I guess we'll see what happens in January and February! Oh boy...I can't wait... :)

  4. I also sympathize. What happened was like a nightmare I didn't think would happen in the United States. My father's probably rolling over in his grave. But like Stephanie above, I didn't have the energy to blog and just gutted it out. Oh, but I can't wait to vote in November for our next governor!

    1. Yes, I think going to the polls when the next election rolls around has been the mantra for many people everywhere after all this mess. The interesting thing is that this isn't the worst it's ever been in Washington. Try book is all about that mess in history!

  5. I love how you always manage to bring something good (your novels) out of a bad situation. I admire your ability to focus and your optimism. When I have problems, I have a hard time concentrating enough to write (especially fiction). But I love your list and I'm going to make an effort to follow it when in need!

    1. Glad I could bring a ray of sunshine to the dark gloomy cloud, Lorena! I have this little saying that I came up with and love, "Life is like a monkey. It's always flinging crap at you." But a lot of times it's how you endure the crap-flinging that shapes and forms how you'll deal with the next bad situation. I have to shake it off or it would just turn me into a bitter individual, like I think it would do to most of us.

  6. Thanks for commenting on my blog Lessons from the Monk I Married. I weather storms by writing through them. I write every day because I'm doing 365 Inspirations this year on my blog. I write right through the storms and fog....I don't wait until I'm having a good week, I just WRITE. It's been a very enlightening experience and I highly recommend keeping a daily journal or blog. All the best and love your sisterhood here!

    1. I was more than happy to stop by, Katherine! I like the 365-day thing you have going on over there. I must say, I admire your tenacity to post every day. I, too, like to do some kind of writing every day, whether it be researching, editing, writing a new novel, blogging, etc.

      Thanks for stopping by the Sisterhood!

  7. Excellent advice and a great post. That opening set of quotes? Perfect.

  8. "Dig into your characters" - that really struck a chord with me (well, actually, all of them did, but that one in particular. Thank you so much for this post, I really needed this right now.


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