21 June

Writing Through a Personal Crisis...

I won't kid you. This is the most difficult thing a writer can do. 

When your world crashes down, and you still need to produce content to make a living. Liken this emotional feat to being given horrendous news and then having to step on stage and woo a crowd with your swan song, delivering happily when all you want to do is crawl into a ball and cry.

But life has a way of bulldozing through your writing schedule, threatening your royalties and lambasting your world as you know it. Fun.

Recently, such an implosion happened twice in as many months to me. First, was a severe bout of Covid that at least I had a couple day's warning was coming after me. Second, was a house refinancing crisis with a hard deadline. Both I weathered, and juggled with my writing work, because I had to, but it wasn't easy. 

I'm here today to give you pointers on how to do the same because peeps, sooner or later, a crisis will burst through your door and mow you under, and mental preparation is the key to overcoming that bulldozer move Life likes to throw at humans as some kind of fatalistic inside joke. Life should be a stand-up comedian. I'd' throw tomatoes at it on stage.

Okay, here we go. Buckle up. This is going to be a wild ride...

KABLOOIEPATOOIEBLASTBOOM! 

Crisis! Phone call. Text. Pounding knock on your door.

The news hits. Your mind spins. Your eyesight goes dim.

You fall into a chair, weak at the knees. You can't think for over-thinking.

Amid the fall-out, you remember you were on a deadline in your office, a chapter or article due today, tomorrow, in two hours! You have no time for this emergency! But emergency live-through you must do.

You make calls. You go places. You fix the crisis as best you can. You survive... barely. Some time later, you stagger home, fall onto your bed, exhaling, relieved you escaped the worst.

You find the energy to rise and close up the house for the night. You wander past your office, and you see the blue haze emanating from your still lit laptop.

"Holy Heavenly Heck! That deadline! Nooooooooo!!!"

(Oh, yes, dear writer, oh, yes. This horrible day is not over yet. Yes, your life is charmed...)

You pad to your desk, plop down in the chair, and fend off frustration, exhaustion tears. They plop onto your outline paper and melt the blue inked words...

You mutter, "How in the flying freaky Wallendas am I supposed to have a brain and wax poetic after the day I've been through?"

The Lego Winston Churchill doll you made years ago to support you on your writing journey merely stares at you with a look of disdain, this time offering zilch for comment. Every ounce of whatever energy you have left, you use to NOT throw the former Prime Minister against your office wall. You fear he might haunt you from the grave.

Instead, you WILL do this. Yes, you will. It worked for me. It'll work for you:

  • Make a soothing drink. Your favorite in times of trouble. For some, that'll be a soothing mug of tea; for others, a stiff double shot of bourbon, straight. Frig the rocks. No judgement here, folks.
  • Wait for the rest of your household to go to sleep before you head back to work. You don't need family emoting all over you right now. It's game face time.
  • Close your office door. The last thing you need is the outside world peering in. It's done enough damage to you today as it is.
  • Turn off the ringers to your phones - cell and land. X your browser. Same reasons as above.
  • Re-read where you left off, before your world collapsed. Concentrate on the words. Read them out loud to better focus your mind to the topic at hand. Whisper over and over, like a mantra, until you believe it, "Nothing matters right now but THIS."
  • Return to your outline or notes, and start the next paragraph or point. Don't give a hoot about perfection right now, just barf out those words. They are better than you think because your perception on everything is damaged from today. Remember: Perception can be wrong, and usually is. And the cool part: It can be changed.
  • Hammer though each paragraph or point. Stop only to take a swig of your drink. Don't take an actual break. Breaks will only weaken you at this point. Draft right through to the end.
  • After the draft is complete, now take a break. Open your door, make another drink, sip it away from the screen for 15 to 20 minutes, and breathe... in and out, and in and out, and in and out... then return to the laptop once more. You're almost done. I'm so darn proud of you! No! Don't cry yet. I'll let you know when you can cry...
  • Read Out Loud your draft. Yes, ROL that beast! Softly, mind. Don't wake up the house. Fix the gaffes where you stumble. Add the factoids you forgot. 
  • After the above ROL edits, read the passage through, one more time, and if you see no further gaffes, consider that sucker DONESCO. This is NOT the time to channel Fitzgerald or Hemingway. This is the time to make the deadline amid one of the greatest crises of your life. It's called Survival Writing, peeps. Be thrilled you fought the good fight, and won the word war. Don't be looking for the Medal of Honor here.
  • Submit that sucker wherever it's supposed to go. Turn off your laptop and the lights, keep your phone ringers off, if you can, and collapse into bed for a well-deserved micro coma. If you need to cry before sleeping, heck, that works better than any sleeping pill I know! I'm all for a good tear-jerk to vent the pain of a horrendous day.
  • Turn over and close your eyes and say goodbye to the Day From Hell. The world can assault you again in eight hours. For now, tell it to go outside and play Hide and Go Frick Itself.

You did it. I knew you could. Here, have a Kleenex. We writers buy them in bulk. 

25 May

Live to Write, Not Write to Live...

 

I get it.

As a writer, sometimes the only freedom you feel, the only way you feel alive, is behind the keyboard, saying on the screen what you might not be able to say in person.

If that fact didn’t exist, doubtful books would have ever become a thing.

But, as a new writer, often obsession takes over reason, and you end up thinking the only way to live is to write, abandoning your life away from that keyboard.

Das ist nicht gut, as the Germans say.

It’s living your life that enables you to be a writer, for if you didn’t experience, if you didn’t participate in this global human experiment we call life, no words would spring to mind, no issues to analyze, no emotions felt.

That obsession to hole up and live with your keyboard will, sooner more than later, have you dive into deep Writer’s Block, as paralyzing as writing yourself into a corner with nowhere to turn.

As you schedule your writing life, remember to pencil in your worldly life.

Visit family, friends. Listen to what they have to say about their slice of this human experiment.

Grab a coffee at a shop, and overhear others’ conversations.

Take a walk, hike a mountain, go fishing with no intention of catching fish.

Hit the road, make no plans.

Breathe. Be.

For in those living moments where your keyboard has no place will be when ideas spark, sentences come out of nowhere in your mind, sensory feelings give birth to opening scenes, closing scenes, firming up mushy middles.

And above all, keeps that writer mind of yours from slowly going insane. We know insanity is a thing with scribes. Maybe not always the drooling, padded room kind, but a slow narrowing of one’s life. I could list renowned writers whose worlds imploded because they simply forgot to go out and live, but I’m sure you have your own list.

HOMEWORK: In your writing week, schedule at least one or two times when you close that laptop and be a normal person. Engage your ears and eyes and fingers. Listen, look, feel. Or, as one of my profs said years ago, Be a Sponge. Soak up the world around you. Try NEW things, and be gleeful you’re lousy at them!

Only through a rich personal life can you produce rich prose. Anyone who tells you different is a four-star idiot, who is hole up under his rock, inside his cave, only to peek out every now and again, and gripe at those who have the courage to climb out from underneath, and find reasons to write spectacularly well when they return.