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