Writing in Desperate Times

It’s a sad fact that the writing life is not just creating great art at the whim of a muse. The words rarely flow from the imagination from brain to paper with ease, falling into place naturally. Writing is just sheer hard work, sometimes bordering on drudgery, almost as distasteful as cleaning up after the dog. Concentration, an effort of the will, and just putting the rear end in the chair and the fingers on the keyboard are what is needed to produce some kind of coherent prose.

Some days that just seems impossible. Right now I’m living with a relative who’s in a home-based hospice program. I’m sharing a two bedroom apartment with her and her two adult daughters, one of whom is mentally retarded. It’s almost like being back in college again, sharing a bathroom and kitchen with roommates. But the circumstances are not nearly as joyful, and I was a lot younger then. At times it’s all I can do to find a minute to collect my thoughts enough to write a check.

I’m trying to use these times as best I can. Here are three things I’ve learned to do to keep my writing career moving along:

1. Use every spare minute

If I can find fifteen minutes, I can usually get a blog post drafted, or edited. The same fifteen minutes used well can get a page or two of my novel edited, or some plotting or research done. Every little bit I do adds up.

2. Capture the emotion of the moment

I had an argument with my relative, fed up and frustrated with her attitude. It left me feeling like a brute. How could I be so impatient with a dying woman? It also left me feeling unmotivated to work on my novel. Instead, I wrote a short piece, replaying the incident, trying to capture my frustration, resentment and guilt. One day I may have a character in a similar situation, feeling regretful or guilty for having won an argument and I’ll have a good description of how that person would be feeling.

3. Set goals that fit the situation

Setting goals is a great way to keep making progress. I’ve had to let go of the goals I had for the last four months of the year, and revise them to be realistic, both in terms of my time and energy. (I still toy with the idea of trying to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but maybe I’m kidding myself).

This is what I’ve learned from trying to write in circumstances that often feel desperate. Anyone have any other thoughts?

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