Writing in Turbulent Times
It might be easy to think that it’s hard to write in the midst of turbulent times. The world is in turmoil with politics, wars, natural disasters, cancel culture, inflation, and everyone fighting on all sides for the things they think are important. There are so many things going on all around us that can make it easy to take our eyes off what’s truly important to each of us: family, health and wellbeing, friends, and safety.
I like to think that our passions of writing and running are included as part of our wellbeing. But when times get turbulent, how do we keep our focus on the things that matter so we can stay productive? Rest. Rest can actually increase your productivity.
Ever had the flu? Most of us have. I remember the last time I had the flu. My body ached. I had cold chills and a high fever. I had congestion in my head and chest, my nose ran, and all I wanted to do was curl up in the bed and sleep. Like all day. I had no appetite. I thought about medicine and trying to get comfortable. I was like that for three whole days! But when I felt better, my mind went back to my to-do list and I actually had more energy to work on it and get things done. Rest is what rejuvenated me. I became more productive.
You’ve turned into an unproductive writer. You’ve been working on your novel for at least a year, but you still haven’t finished it yet. You’ve paused your writing for at least 3 months, but no new ideas have come to you. You’ve finished the first draft, but you have no idea how to revise it. You’ve been writing weekly for at least 6 months, but it feels sporadic and like you’re not gaining any traction. If any of these apply to you, then you’re probably stuck in the Unrested Writer Plateau. And if you’re experiencing any of these problems, then you’re likely making one of the following mistakes.
Is Your Writing a Priority?
You have this great idea for a book and you’ve even started writing it. But somewhere, somehow, you lost steam and it just doesn’t feel like it’s a priority right now. A family member is ill. Your job is demanding overtime. You said yes to organizing the church potluck. You volunteer at your kid’s school, or scouts, or the local food bank. Maybe your house flooded and you’ve got to deal with that. Something always happens that tends to take precedence over your writing dreams. Let me ask you a question. How important is your writing to you?
How important is staying alive? You eat, right? Go to sleep at night, right? Make sure the bills are paid? The kids have food, clothing, and a house to live in, and you make them go to school, right? So beyond the basics, things get a little muddled. Priority means “the fact or condition of being regarded or treated as more important” or “a thing that is regarded as more important than another”. Is your writing more important than your health or your family? Probably not. I ask you again: how important is your writing to you?
As a multi-passionate individual (hello, writing and running!), we have a tendency to take on a lot. We say YES to things at work, to book recommendations, to friends who want to go out, to family members who need help. Most humans feel bad about turning these offers down. Not to mention, every idea that crosses our mind, and every race we feel compelled to participate in. You might sometimes feel that you can’t do it all. But you can!
When you prioritize your passions, others will finally know that you don’t just enjoy them, but that they’re actually important to you. When something is important to you, you make it a priority. And that’s how you can have your cake and eat it too. You can’t really write and run at the same time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue both of your passions and have a life too.
Every time I’ve trained to run a marathon, half marathon, or a 10k race, I’ve made my running a priority. Finishing the race is important to me. Not finishing dead last is important to me. For those who want to make a new PR or place in their age division, then finishing the race within a certain time is an important goal.
When I was looking for a literary agent, it was important that I had several manuscripts ready to submit. If they liked the one I submitted, I needed to have another one ready in case they asked, “Do you have anything else?” or “What else are you working on?” My writing was always a priority to learn more about the craft, to practice my craft, and to learn more about the industry.
But when I got my first agent, I got lazy. I stopped writing. It wasn’t a priority. It was about a year later when we parted ways - due to many factors. But that’s when I realized I hadn’t continued making my writing a priority. It didn’t take long to find another agent, but this time, my writing remained a priority.
Most beginning writers are trapped in the tug-and-pull of getting the writing done. They’re stressed, discouraged, and not confident in their plan to finish their manuscript.
If you’re not making the progress you want with your book, you’ll never get to experience the writing life you hoped for when you decided you wanted to write your story.
Here are three ways to rethink your priorities so you can stop drowning in discouragement and procrastination and spend more time doing what you truly love - writing the story that made you want to write a book to begin with.
Understanding why passions should be a priority.
Questions to ask yourself about prioritizing your passions.
Learn why it’s hard to prioritize your writing and running (and what to do about it).
Why Your Passions Should Be a Priority
It’s easy to tell what someone’s priorities are. Just look at where their focus is.
How to Finish Writing Your Novel
Writing a novel isn’t easy, but the first draft is for you. You know it doesn’t have to be perfect, so why does it feel so hard to finish your manuscript? You just spent a long day at work and the last thing you want to do when you get home is to keep using your brain and think of clever things to write in your novel.
You could get up early every morning and write for an hour, or 20 minutes. A lot of writers do this. But then when will you run? You relish your morning runs! You just want to finish your manuscript. You’ve already gotten seven chapters written – or 18… Where did the momentum go? Why do you feel stuck and unmotivated? Is it writer’s block?
The best way to finish your manuscript is to think about training for a race. When I ran my first 5k, the only training I had done was in my college jogging class. Race day came and people were walking faster than I was jogging! So a year later, with no other races under my belt, I wanted to run a marathon. You can call me crazy. It’s okay.
But this time, I was running with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Coach Scott created a training plan for everyone. Every Saturday, we ran on the Mountains-to-Sea trails to prep for our big marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. My first 4-mile training run was torture. It was the longest distance I had ever run before. But I finished. And I celebrated every small victory. Before long, I thought a 12-miler was easy. When race day came, I was ready. I ran (and walked) the whole race. It didn’t matter how long it took me – because I finished. That was my goal. To finish the race (or my manuscript).
I don’t want to see your half-finished novel shoved into a drawer never to be seen again. I don’t want you to feel like a failure. Giving up on your writing dreams is not an option. Your novel deserves to see the light of day. Imagine seeing your book on bookstore shelves, signing copies for your most loyal fans, and receiving emails about how much your readers loved your story. In order to get there, you have to finish your manuscript. Here are three ways to do that.
Schedule Your Writing Time
When I was training for my Alaska marathon, Saturdays were reserved for long runs. I ran 2-3 other days during the week, usually between 2-5 miles. You need to schedule your writing time like you would schedule your long runs.
There are two weekend writing conferences that I love to attend every year. The first is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in August or September for the Carolinas chapter. The second is the Georgia Romance Writers in October. But one year, I didn’t get to go to either one of them.
Nothing bad had happened like a death in the family or Covid or loss of a job. But when the time came to go, I couldn’t. Why not? Because I never registered! What? Why wouldn’t I register if I love going to these conferences?
Well… when registration opened up, I procrastinated. I thought I’d register in a couple weeks. Then a couple months. Then when there was only one month left until each event, I still thought I would register, but the real reason I never got to go is because I didn’t properly plan financially for my writing obsession. So I came up with a plan to make sure that didn’t happen again.
If you missed out on going to that conference or writing retreat you’ve had your eye on for so long because you didn’t have the money, here are 5 ways to fund your writing obsessions. Because let’s face it, we all want to become better writers and attending conferences and retreats is one of the best ways to improve our craft.
1. Save Up Your Money
Start saving your funds early. Calculate the cost of the event you want to attend and divide it by the number of months to save up and “tithe” to your writing fund. For example, if you’re wanting to attend a writing retreat that costs $2,525, if you save up just over $200 a month for a year, you’ll have the money to go!
When I was around 9 years old, my mom took me to a hair salon to get my hair cut. She held my hand as we walked toward the front door. I had never been to a salon or a barber shop before. The door jingled with a bell as it closed behind us. We sat in the worn-out red seats with scuffed metal frames and waited. I watched the hairdresser finish up with an old lady, whose hair was big and curly, and more blue than white. It made me think of Grandma. The hairdresser used a hairspray that made me choke and gag. I waved my hand up and down in front of my face to waft it away from me.
It was my turn to climb into the big black cushioned chair. The hairdresser put a booster seat under my butt to make me taller in the chair. I didn’t smile. She draped a heavy dark grey cape around me. I listened as she chatted with my mom and used a green bottle to spray water on my dark hair. “I bet you get lots of compliments on your beautiful black hair.”
I barely nodded. But I wanted to say, “It’s not black! It’s dark-dark brown!” which is what I told everyone.
She used a large comb to brush through my hair. Every time she found a small tangle, I winced. “Your hair is so long and thick. How short do you want it?”
I continued staring blankly at myself in the mirror.
My mom chuckled. “Just a trim. I think she’s a little nervous.” Then she turned to me and said, “Lighten up, honey. You look like a ghost. Smile!”
Ever had a moment like that when you were looking forward to something, even if it was the unknown, and in the middle of it, you just froze? Writer’s Block is a lot like staring at yourself in the mirror with a blank face - feeling like a nervous ghost.
Christie Wright Wild
Founder, Writers Who Run
Creator, Plot Like a Novelist
My Dandelion Wish Journal: A 5-Year Guided Nature Journal
101 Fun Creative Writing Exercises: Become a Better Writer in 14 Minutes a Day