This post was inspired by the BristolCon 2016 panel of the same name – with thanks to those authors who shared their personal experiences.
At some point in your life, difficult times will come. You may experience health problems, both physical and mental, illness or death of close friends and family, financial issues, or simply those times when life is just too much for you to cope with.
How do you deal with your writing when these things happen? Writing is an art that involves some expression of yourself, and life events will affect it. It’s not like typing numbers in a spreadsheet. Words are meaningful.
Let’s explore what to do when the words won’t come.
Should you write when you are going through difficult times?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. You have to work out what’s best for you.
Try and write, and see what happens.
Some people find writing is something that sustains them and comforts them. Others find the effort is too much and piles on additional stress.
The key is to know your body and be kind to yourself.
If you are able to write, it can go one of two ways:
You can use writing as an escapism from daily troubles. If you typically write dark things, you may find you need a change to something lighter and fluffier to give yourself some relief. Writing something fun and hopeful may be the antidote you now need.
Alternatively, your pen can be a therapist. You may find you can express your stress and worry through your writing and let your feelings out in this manner.
Another useful tool is free writing. Use it as an emotional splurge to get over the block, then it may propel you into something more productive afterwards.
Writing can work as either a time-out or a therapy session.
However, there may be times when you just cannot write. Your creative energy may be drained. Then, you have to take a break.
Later on, you may be able to write about the event looking back on it and something good may come out of that. But unless you are faced with an unchangeable deadline, it’s best not to put yourself under too much pressure to write or you may make the problem worse.
Be aware that your changing emotions and new experiences may make it difficult to continue writing in the same way.
Getting over writer’s block
Whether writer’s block is a condition on its own, a symptom of other stress in your life, or just a lack of inspiration, there is no doubt that it strikes most of us as some point.
Let’s have a look at some ideas for writing when you want to but no words are coming:
Set incredibly tiny goals: Aim to write 100 words a day. Or 50. Or two lines. It doesn’t matter – pick a miniscule goal and allow yourself to feel good when you achieve it.
Be kind to yourself: We writers can be very hard on ourselves and yet we make allowances for others. What would you say to a friend in a similar situation? If your friend said their dog died, you’d say, take it easy for a couple of days and look after yourself. Take your own advice.
Don’t self punish: Use the carrot not the stick. Reward yourself for meeting your tiny goals. Promise yourself an episode of your favourite TV show, or a bubble bath, or chocolate, or whatever, for your small achievements.
Switch it up: If you normally type, try writing longhand or vice versa. If you normally write in an office, go to the local coffee shop. If you normally write at night, try getting up an hour early. Basically, if routine defines you, push yourself out of it and see if the change helps.
Set a routine: This is opposite of the point above. If you just write when you feel like it as a general rule, but now never feel like it, try setting a routine. Choose a set time to write. Make a new writing spot. (Although don’t make it too comfy or the cat/your husband will steal it… oh yes!)
Give yourself a deadline: Some of us work better under pressure. Or get a writer friend to give you a deadline and keep checking up on you. The gentle stress may propel you forward.
Free write: Let all your anxiety and adrenaline out on paper. It doesn’t matter what you write. It might work like a cleanse for the brain.
Use a writing soundtrack: Choose a particular artist whose music you like. When you play that music, you write. Associate it with writing sessions, and eventually just hearing the music may put you in the right frame of mind to write.
When you need help
Sometimes a change in routine can be all you need. Other difficult circumstances will need time to get over, and some, such as health issues, could remain indefinitely. If you’ve experienced something extremely stressful, you will not go back to “normal” quickly. And when you do, it will be a new normal, coloured by your experience. After some events, life is never the same again. It may change your writing, because our experiences shape us and shape the art we produce.
Again, be kind to yourself. If your writing triggers you, or eats away at you, take a step back. Try and learn when you need to walk away.
Talk to friends – writer friends and other friends. See a therapist if you need to. There is no shame in needing help, even if that is simply a few trusted friends who will listen to your ranting for a while!
Eventually, our experiences, both good and bad can make us stronger people. Don’t stare into the abyss on your own. The abyss is less scary when friends hold your hand. And help is out there.
If you have writer friends in difficult circumstances, remember to check in with them. Don’t avoid them. A simple word or a quick hug (virtual, if needs be!), is all that is needed.
Whatever you are doing today, be kind to yourself 🙂