How do you keep writing when chaos strikes your life? When everything is suddenly different? When you feel like you’ve lost your rhythm?
Isaiah posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Hello Mr. Ingermanson,
I am a junior in high school aiming to one day write a novel and hopefully make a career out of writing. I have been writing fiction since I was six years old, but really picked it up when I found your book “Writing Fiction for Dummies.”
Three years ago I came up with a really good idea for a book. Its been steeping in my head for almost four years and now I finally feel that the idea is ready to be put on paper. I’ve been writing it for about two months now, and I finished the prologue yesterday. The truth is that I have never had this much trouble writing, and here’s why I think that is. For seven years we lived in one place, and then we were forced to move, and then we moved again, and then we moved again, and were planning to move again. I can’t make a habit out of writing because my environment is constantly changing, my old desk which made me feel professional is in storage, all my books that sat on my shelf and made me feel smart are buried somewhere beneath all that furniture, and my bedroom walls that used to keep the noise away are gone. Do you have any suggestions on how I can re-kindle my old imagination and adequate ability to put it onto paper?
Randy sez: That’s a good question, Isaiah. The issue I think you’re facing here is that chaos has entered your life. You used to have stability. Now your family is constantly on the move, and that’s extremely unsettling.
You’re not alone. When major changes come up in your life, it’s going to put a crimp in your writing.
This happened to me years ago, when my kids got older and needed the room I’d been using as an office. So I went from having a nice quiet office to having a desk in the corner of the chaotic family room. And that really threw me for a while. It’s hard to focus on writing when people are interrupting or looking over your shoulder or just milling around.
And a few years later, my family and I sold our house, moved halfway across the country, rented an apartment for a few months, bought a house, and got settled in. Once again, major chaos for months and months.
So how do you deal with that?
First off, just acknowledge that a major change in your life is going to disrupt your writing. Unless you’re superhuman, it will. So you need to give yourself some slack here. At your age, a disruption of a few months may seem like forever, but in the grand scheme of things, you’ve got a long, productive life ahead of you. If you live to be 100, you’ll probably still be writing fiction then.
Second, you need to find a writing space. It sounds like you no longer have your own room. Not fun. But is it possible you can find a place outside of your home where you can write?
A lot of writers make Starbucks their office away from home. I’m not kidding. They take their laptop to Starbucks, buy the magic potion of their choice, and settle in to write.
A lot of Barnes & Noble stores have areas where you can sit quietly at a table, and I often see people with laptops there. Maybe they’re writers, maybe not, but even though it’s a public space, nobody is looking over their shoulder.
Maybe you can find a place at the school library or a public library or SOMEWHERE that isn’t home and will keep away the prying eyes and yapping mouths of family members.
Having a writing space is absolutely critical. I’m grateful to have an office with a door now in the house we moved to. I can turn on the music of my choice and get lost in my own world. You need to find your space, and this may take some creativity. But without it, writing is much harder.
Third, you need a writing tool that works with your writing space. For a lot of writers, this is a laptop, but not necessarily.
I know a lot of writers used to love their AlphaSmarts — small, dumb devices that you could type text into. They were light and practically unbreakable and you could upload your work to a computer via USB. Nowadays, a lot of my friends really love their iPads. Those are pricey, but there are other tablet devices that are cheaper.
At one point in my life, I used paper notebooks. They were the small 50-page bound notebooks that you can buy at Office Depot cheap. I used them because I needed to write away from my desk and I couldn’t afford a laptop. I called my notebooks my “laptop” and they worked just fine for getting down the words. I still have a box full of them in the garage, and they never need backups. They aren’t sexy, but they work.
The point here is to find a tool that you can work with. Fancy is not as important as portable and easy to use.
Fourth, you need writing time. You need to schedule it. This is hard. You can’t necessarily schedule the same time every day. But if you don’t schedule your writing time, then other things will crowd out your writing. It’s a law of the universe — little rocks crowd out big rocks.
Figure out when you can write and then try to make that time sacred. Professional writers do this. Amateur writers don’t. If you want to be a professional, then start acting like one, and one day you have a very good chance of being one. This is another law of the universe.
Isaiah, I hope that helps. I won’t pretend that managing your writing life is easy. It isn’t. But it’s worth doing. Good luck!
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.