Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How to Keep Writing When the S*** Hits the Fan


I wrote the latter part of Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe and nearly all of Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp while going through one of the hardest stretches of my life, and I felt very acutely how writing during hard times can be both a great blessing as well as a serious stressor.

It can be cathartic to block out everything going on in your life and lose yourself in your fictional world for a while, but stress can also make it extremely hard to focus.

Having made it to the other side, here are some things I learned about how to keep writing when life throws you a major curveball.

Take care of yourself first - You first, writing second. Get the help you need, take the time off you need, and don't let your desire to write add to your stress. Life comes before writing every single time. Do what you need to do.

Don't keep your situation a secret - You may feel like you don't want to burden your writing/critique partners or your agent and editor with your personal life, but that's not the right instinct when things are serious. Keep them in the loop and don't be afraid to ask them for more time if you need it. Chances are they're going to be awesome and tell you to take care of yourself, which will give you the breathing room you need to focus. I did just that with my agent and editor, and they were wonderfully supportive, which relieved a huge amount of stress.

Force yourself to get going - That very normal hump that you have to get over to force yourself to sit down and start writing when you don't want to can feel like Mount Everest when you're stressed out. So start climbing. Open up the computer, make yourself get started. Follow the steps for getting back to writing after a break, and once you really get going you'll be amazed how nice it feels to lose yourself in your writing again.

Don't be afraid to cut back - Even if you do power through and keep writing during a stressful time, chances are you're not going to be as productive as you are normally. That's just the nature of being distracted. Plan ahead for this and don't put extra pressure on yourself to maintain the same pace.

Channel your emotion into your writing - Even though I was writing wacky children's books, I still found a way to channel the things I was feeling into the stories. In Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe, Jacob starts wondering if he really even wants to win, and Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp hinges on whether Jacob should change the past. Now, Jacob doesn't get all cynical and depressed, but he does feel some of the things I was feeling in the past few years.

Let writing be a bright spot - At some point we're all confronted with difficult stretches in life. But let your writing remind you of how great your future can be. You're going to keep getting better, you're going to keep writing books, and no one can take writing away from you. Savor it and enjoy that it's yours.


Have you tried to write during a difficult time? How did you do it?

Art: Incendio de Troya - Francisco Collantes






60 comments:

Patty Blount said...

Nathan, this post couldn't have come at a better time. Three weeks ago, my mother passed away and the second book in my contract is due in three weeks.

I don't want to write.

I don't want to get up in the mornings.

I am so sorry to hear of your own ordeal but love that you found solace in your craft. I am trying to do that, too, but finding it hard to care about my characters anymore.

David said...

That's a great post, and let me offer my very belated sympathies for what you went through.

Years ago, I managed to write during some very difficult times. The writing helped a lot. Now, decades later, I'm slowly getting started on a mainstream novel incorporating some of those experiences. I think it will be therapeutic.

Matthew MacNish said...

All excellent advice Nathan. Writing has always been fun for me, so it's more a matter of finding-or rather, making-the time to write, regardless of how life is going.

Anonymous said...

My condolences on the loss of your mother, Patty. I'm currently struggling through revisions while my father is exhibiting signs of dementia - accelerated, no doubt, by the surgery he just had to undergo. But I've decided to focus on the lovely lucid moments with him and continue a little bit each day.

Thanks so much, Nathan, for sharing your words of wisdom. People like you make the world a better place.

annaldavis.net said...

Great article. I've had a difficult year, and just recently finished my first novel. Writing has been an outlet, a way to channel anger and search for purpose regardless of what was happening in my personal life. Now I'm coping with the sense of loss that comes from completing a long-term project, and already I'm channeling that frustration into my next book idea. As you say, it's a blessing and a curse.
Anna

vp chandler said...

Thanks for posting this. It's just like so many things in life, it needs a little give and take.

Liberty Speidel said...

Yes, I too have found solace in writing. For at least 4 months, my son was battling his own body (until we found out WHY he was sick and not gaining weight.) When I was in the hospital with him, I always had my laptop with me. When I was at home with him (and my daughter), I'd write. It was a great way to keep part of my brain distracted.

I've always found that writing is therapeutic. It doesn't matter (to me) what I'm writing, or even if there are any parallels to what I'm writing/living... It just matters that I have that outlet.

Good luck!

Mr. D said...

We all have ups and downs. Different people deal with it in different ways. I suppose writers are similar in their ways. You just keep writing, that's all.

Bridget said...

I needed to read this; thank you so much!

Pamela CG said...

It somehow surprises me that this is so common. When you're going through it, you could swear that there is no one else in the world who understands or is going through the same thing. It's been almost ten years for me; when my divorce hit me, I stopped writing and didn't contemplate writing again for quite a few years. Hopefully this will help someone. I probably could've used something like this then.

Edith Bramwell said...

My husband of 26 years dumped me one month ago. Since then, my emotional range has stretched from giddyness to despair. The one nice surprise (among loads of nasty ones)is that I am now more honest with myself and everyone else - all bad relationships, in some way or other, are built with lies. Those lies infect the rest of our lives.

I'm too exhausted to do much more than keep my life on track - the job, the house, the kids, the dog. Like a funeral, a separation involves a lot of paper work, organizing and accepting the sympathy of friends.

I have set myself a date to return to my unfinished major projets (2novels). Come rains or shine, I will sit at my key board and type exactly 3 months after the dump date. If I don't write much, or much that's good, that's ok. But I'll go back to my daily routine on that day. I'm looking forward to it like it was a ticket to Paris.

Until then, I'm just doing smaller stuff. Little poems. Short stories. Stream of consciousness. That keeps me connected and makes me feel good.

And that's what I really need right now.

Caroline said...

Great tips as always, Nathan.

My grandfather recently passed after a brief battle with cancer. I spent all the time I could with him and writing continued to be on the back burner. But all that time spent sitting quietly while he slept was a good time for percolation.

We buried him almost two weeks ago, but somehow I found some sort of spark and picked up my writing again. It was a comfort in some ways since my grandfather was one of my biggest fans. I want to make him proud even though he's not with me anymore.

D.G. Hudson said...

Yes, by keeping a journal, and sorting things out via writing, (what was most important to my well-being, what did I need?) Once I focused on that, I knew the direction I would take.

Getting through these life changes is what makes us grow as adults. It's not easy, but you learn.

I've been following your blog for nearly five years, Nathan, and I'm glad you're still blogging and trying to motivate us.

Peter Dudley said...

Against some things I have not yet been tested. Should that day come, I will remember your advice.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I hope you know how many people you are helping by writing about this.

I'm going through exactly the same thing, and I'm finding it very, very difficult to write about true love at the moment (especially with 2 children under 4 and a post grad degree to concentrate on).

All I can do is try to find those moments that aren't filled with anger and hurt, and take advantage of them while they last. Those moments are becoming more common, thank goodness. But the one thing that is truly helping me along right now is this:

Success is the best form of revenge. :)

Oh, and the lyrics to the Destiny's Child song, Survivor. Don't pretend you don't know them. :P

Jory said...

A good friend of mine keeps having one horrible thing after another happen to her. I keep wishing she would blog or journal or something because there is a ton of research out there on trauma writing that show how therapeutic just expressing yourself in writing can be, even if no one will ever read it.

Writing is the only thing that keeps me sane sometimes.

Also, it's really great when someone pisses me off that I can write a character based on them and then kill 'em off.

Anonymous said...

I want to post my condolences to everyone here. Sometimes we forget we're not alone with it all.

Last year was one of the worst for me. I don't like dwelling on it, so I'm not going to say what happened (it was family related.) But now in my writing there is a whole theme dedicated to what family really means and it has brought me much closer to my characters.

I had to take a break but I found that I missed writing too much to stop. Which is weird because at times I absolutely hate it.

AG said...

I wrote before, during and after my father's battle with cancer. I write humorous urban fantasy, so it was a good escape on many levels. Once I had finished my first draft, I realized just how much of my late father had contributed to the work. Not just his silly jokes, but his love for all things out-of-this-world. I suppose my experiences with him subconsciously imprinted themselves in my writing.

Anonymous said...

This is probably one of your top ten posts of all time.

I had to go through a crisis and continue writing about five years ago. Basically, I did all of what you said in the post.

Editors are amazing and very supportive at times like this. And when you finally start really writing again, you know you're okay. It's hard to get there, but when you do it's a good feeling.

TL Conway said...

I started writing as a result of major life events. I needed the outlet and realized I could escape in my stories. I haven't looked back since. I'm thankful that I haven't had to field any major life events in the past few years.

Thanks for being brave enough to bare your thoughts with the internet, Nathan. These posts are an enormous help to many.

Nathan Bransford said...

Really sorry about everyone going through their own situations. Stay strong and take care of yourself!!

Wyndes said...

I wrote almost all of my first novel in the two months after my mom died. I look at the reviews now that say "light" and "fun" and "enjoyable" and really wonder how I did it. But mostly it was persistence. I tried to write every day and aimed for 1000 words. I didn't always make it, but even if I just wrote a sentence, it gave me somewhere to start the next day. Even a sentence a day adds up to a book eventually.

Bea, OT said...

I have always written through my troubles, though not always for anyone else to see. I think journaling keeps me sane. Yet I definitely have a hard time writing when things are hard in my personal life. My writing tends to draw a lot from my life, so it's great material...but also a pain...literally.

I think I may try writing wacky stuff and see if it's easier! ; )

Maya said...

Yikes! You must have a lot of will, Nathan to write, handle a life crisis, and have a day job. Stay sane, dude!

jpvest said...

I discovered your blog today and I like it !!! Thanks you for what you're sharing. JP, Paris

Article Writing said...

The asterisk stands for? By the way writing in difficult times? I don't think so that I could have a good outcome for that but sometimes there could be depending on the ... I don't know!

Tara Deliberto said...

Hey Nathan,

Carving out time for yourself and being honest with the people around you sounds exactly right.

DG said...

I began writing my first novel a year and a half after being diagnosed with stage IV cancer. I had a real job so I kept working, but soon found that my novel was my new best friend. It was always there for me when I needed to escape to another world, or be distracted from the realities of cancer. I would often take my laptop to chemotherapy and write during my sessions. By the time I neared finishing my novel my wife feared it might be keeping me alive so she stressed that I needed a new book to work on ASAP. I self published the first novel because I feared dying before I got to hold a copy in my hand. Anyway I'm still here and 157 pages in to my current WIP.

DG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Once again you are in my wheelhouse! This week I finally shared my stressful situation with my agent. She was awesome about it, and I probably should have shared earlier.

Generally speaking, I powered through the stress, but I did take a month and a half off altogether. I didn't beat myself up over that break, either. It just wasn't possible to write for that month and a half. But it did feel good to force myself to sit down and get back to it.

Like you, I used writing as a bright spot, and the thing is, I don't think I could have written this without my crisis. Well, maybe that's not completely true - but certainly much of what I experienced went into the story. Hopefully, my difficulties enriched and deepened the characters. Certainly, my characters helped me. Which is interesting, considering they're fictional people who live in my head. And yet they have the ability to comfort, soothe and provide prospective.

I'm so hopeful that something will come of this novel, that all that was required to produce it will have an impact outside of myself.

We shall see.

Regan Leigh said...

This is my third try at commenting. My iPhone is hating me today.

Thanks for another great and relevant post. It really is about balancing a break when needed while also using those moments to fuel authentic writing. I did both during my crisis moments. I had been open and honest with my writing peers -- as you suggested in this post -- and they noticed the difference a divorce had on my writing. And it's funny, but you were the first unbiased "stranger" to name the exact emotions underlying the first page of my novel. (when you did my page critique) It was nice and scary! ;) We really do show our souls in our writing. 

Anonymous said...

I didn't even know you were divorced until I read this post. I'm trying to lay off of the internet. I don't do Facebook, I'm cutting back on my blog posts, tweets and resisting Pinterest.
This technological, social media obsessed world is more ominous than people realize. Your situation has confirmed my feelings on this more than ever.

Sorry to hear of your troubles. Wishing you well and a soothing balm for bruised feelings and difficult times...

R.J. Keller said...

Nathan, you have no way of knowing it (obviously) but this is exactly what I needed today. Thank you.

Amy Cochran said...

Excellent advise. Thanks so much for posting this!

Kristi Helvig said...

You always have such great timing. Luckily, my current book is pretty dark anyway so it's a great outlet. I'm a believer in the "what doesn't kill you, makes you (and hopefully your writing) stronger." ;)

Bryan Russell said...

Sometimes you just have to give yourself permission not to write.

Holly Grant said...

Nathan, I'm sorry about your marriage and wish you the very best as you move forward in life. My condolences to everyone else.

I lost my wonderful husband and best friend three years ago. He battled cancer for 13 years, but he died because of a medical error, not the illness. He wasn't an invalid. We were hiking the week before he died. After his death, I stopped using most of the house because he wasn't in those rooms anymore. For a year I lived out of the living room and would sit in his place on the couch so I wouldn't have to see it empty. He used to tell me to stay up all night to write if I wanted, so I would do that. I wrote constantly. My writing and my dog kept me sane.

Jil said...

Your words are comforting as you tell how it is normal to find writing after a tragedy, difficult. My husband died suddenly last year and even though I have had an e-book novel come out,have another ready and yet another started I find it difficult to sit down and concentrate. So I'm normal. Thanks and good luck, Nathan

Nancy Thompson said...

Well, I went through a serious depression a year ago, but since I write very dark psychological thrillers, it only added to the emotion of my book. I helped so much, I even delayed going in to get my thyroid meds adjusted. I wanted those feelings to help me write on a more emotionally gut level. It worked and I feel back to normal now. :)

Cathi Stoler said...

You are amazing and your advice is always right on target.

Mira said...

What a wonderful post, Nathan.

Thank you, this is a gift.

thewriteedge said...

Thank you, Nathan, for the encouragement and the reminder to write but also take care of ourselves as people. Yes, I've written through a difficult time. One of my personal relationships was undergoing some major stress, and I wrote at that time and felt it immensely cathartic. It's at times like those I am more grateful than ever for this gift and hope I can use it for the greater good of others.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Another great post. Thanks, former Mr. Agent Man.

When I was younger, and going through a difficult time, I distinctly recall saying out loud: "I have a novel to write," and going into the walk-in closet in my bedroom that served as my study, and getting back to it.

Similarly, I once complained to my first literary agent and fan that my desire to be a writer had cost me my first marriage, and was essentially ruining any happiness I'd had in life.

To which he, uncharacteristically, snapped: "Who ever told you this was going to be easy?"

It is a gift. It can be a compulsion. But it can also be therapeutic.

I'm glad it found you, and you found it. And that you have always nurtured it, and now encourage others.

Thanks for this post. And for being there, even for us, even if we weren't for you.

wendy said...

Very sombre posts today as everyone recalls difficult moments that either helped or hinder their writing life. I think writing helps us heal faster as it gets the mind on a more uplifting, positive track. Writing, I think, is a blessing on more than one level. It always has been for me.

Thanks, Nathan, for this informative and interesting post today. :)

Barb said...

Thanks, Nathan, for this very helpful post.

I've been having a tough time finishing my work-in-progress because my mother died recently.

Caroline, my condolences for your grandfather's loss. Your comment about him being your greatest fan resonated with me. My mom would have wanted me to finish my book. She, too, was my greatest fan (next to my husband).

Anonymous said...

Short and Sweet.

Three years ago I found your blog. I follow it more than any other site. Daily. You give so much info on the industry. And as a mom who has been married a century or more, I'm sorry for the demise of your marriage.

Really. I hope you find the right one like i did at 15. But us Texas gals do it right and early.

Wouldn't change a thing. No regrets. Honest. I hope anyone reading this thinks the same. My hubby is a saint for letting me write even tho he doesn't understand my compassion at all.

I've read all the sad stories, but hey -- do what you have to do. Enjoy your lives -- live life and go for it............

me...llb

Joanna said...

I understand. In 2010 I experienced one loss after another. But each day I would block out the drama of my every day world and enter my other one. Door closed, phone turned off... My family and friends tried to stop me. "Don't push yourself... Relax!" But I insisted, and three hours later, I'd come out of my writing room with fresh perspective, and better able to take whatever came my way. When a publisher accepted my book, only I could understand the vindication. My writing world had triumphed over the real one and made it better.

Jill of All Trades said...

I don't write in the "publishing" world but I write in my journal and on my blog and sometimes that block comes but I push through. I do write during a "crisis" time mostly because it helps me to release the emotion. To get the words out on paper seems to let me sleep and work out problems. The blog doesn't get so much of my "problems" as before because too many people I know read it now but the journal can really get a workout. You may not be able to read it later but I certainly feel better. Maybe one of these days I write the next great book! LOL

Nicole said...

Several of my dear friends in our crit group have gone through similar hard-life situations. I've learned so much from them about the power and healing that can come from "writing through it."

Thanks for your words of wisdom, as always.

Isabella Amaris said...

Thank you for a lovely post. Just what I needed to read right now. And I'm so sorry to hear about the tough time you've been having:( I hope everything works itself out soon, Nathan, and all the best with the second book - and hopefully a third:)

Anonymous said...

This was such a nice post I read it again today!!

Kristin Laughtin said...

Not a divorce, but I definitely have had one or two pretty bad break-ups happen while in the midst of writing. As you say, writing can be very therapeutic, but also an incredible burden during those times. I think it's absolutely vital to take care of yourself first. Anything you write when you can't get your mind in order isn't going to be very good. Attend to your needs and maybe you can get back to productivity sooner. (Of course, I think it's important to take care of yourself even when things are going great, but more in an eat well/exercise regularly sort of way.) Do what you need to do to get past the rough spot and don't beat yourself up about other things, even writing. And keep the doors of communication open so you are not suffering alone--publishing industry folks have lives and feelings, too, and will probably be willing to work with you if they know what's going on.

And if you can make writing that bright spot in your day, then all the better! But don't let it be too much of an escape, or the negative feelings will simmer under the surface and continue coming to light at inconvenient times. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.

Lucia said...

Thank you for this post Nathan. I'm sorry for you situation. Going through a divorce/separation hurts like hell, I should know. Writing was the last thing on my mind,and sometimes it takes a force outside yourself to get you going. That's what happened to me. The Universe nudged me, I merely tapped into the writer within and then, words appeared. I don't mean to sound so mystical, except thats how it is somehow. My story turned into a blog post for the Huffington Post and will be posted next week. Good luck to you and all who are hurting here.

Denise M. Baran-Unland said...

I'm a fulltime freelance writer by trade, so my fiction, self-published, is more for fun.
That said, my family and I are in the midst of the worse two years of our lives. It's hard enough to keep up with deadlines, much less find joy in the fun writing, and some days, there simply isn't enough energy to accomplish it all.
However, when I prod myself into the world of my own making, I quickly lose myself and emerge as refreshed as if I've physically had a break. Those are the times when, I think, artists have an edge over the rest of the populuation.

Dana Fredsti said...

Excellent post and, like for others here, very timely for me. Even when the s#*t hits the fan in ways that aren't totally negative, this is great advice.

Sharon Lynn Fisher said...

Thank you for sharing this, Nathan. It's such a great reminder that we're not alone in these kinds of experiences. It's so easy to feel you're letting yourself and others down. People are amazingly supportive when we find the courage to ask.

Daniel McNeet said...

Nathan,

This is a good post.

One of my sayings is: "Do not quit. Never quit. For as long as you play the game you increase your chances of winning. If you quit, you will have failed just before you became a success."

With respect.

Erotica, She Wrote said...

Nathan,

I held off writing for several years because I had a situation at home that was consuming me emotionally and physically. Thinking back it probably would have been a good idea to write through those tough times, forced myself to DO IT, as you say. In hindsight, it may have been a form of therapy too ;-)

Thanks for the post. Maria

Tina Moss said...

Ironically, I blogged about this same topic on Wednesday. Sometimes when life hits you over the head, you need to readjust. Taking a break is NOT a sign of failure. It simply means, life is telling me something is more important right now, I need to take care of it, and then I'll be back. Be good to yourself.

Lisa Ahn said...

This is such a helpful, timely post for me. In January, I ended up with a concussion and couldn't write or read for several months. Even now, 4 months later, my brain is not back to "normal" and writing continues to be a challenge. It's incredibly frustrating, and I need to do a better job at taking care of myself first and cutting back. Thanks for sharing your experience and ideas.

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