Justine: When Family Crisis Puts the Kibosh on Writing

44725499 - vintage stop sign on city asphalt floor.We’ve all had (or we likely will have) a situation where our writing has to take a back seat to life…whether it’s our own health that we must cater to, a family crisis or tragedy, or the care of a loved one.

The latter has been my situation for much of July. I had grand goals of getting the second half of my Beggars Club Series Prequel finished and ready for distribution, flipping the switch on my website for a go-live date no later than August 1st, and finishing the storyboard for my book His Lady to Protect so I can cultivate the 467th draft of it into something that resembles a book.

I got nothing done.

My mom’s health took a quick decline at the end of June and while I’d planned to spend much of July on the East Coast going between mom’s house and my sisters (with kids in tow, but carving out time each day to work), instead (and by mutual agreement with my sis) I shipped the kids to her house so they could play with their cousins and I spent 2 ½ weeks caring for mom.

Writing, or anything related to my writing career, got the kibosh. Even if I’d had the time to write, I certainly didn’t have the motivation. Each day left me emotionally and physically exhausted and everything in my life, save paying bills or other necessary things like that, simply went by the wayside (including back-to-school shopping for my kids, who started up again this past week…let’s just say I LOVE Amazon).

As the month went on and I watched my deadlines pass with zero progress, I started to feel a little anxious and frustrated, then stopped myself and let my head lecture my heart on what it needed to hear:

My Work Will Be There: My book isn’t going anywhere. I don’t have editor-imposed deadlines I have to meet. Being indie means I make up my own schedule, and right now, the focus is on getting mom well. When she is and I can take a step back from caring for her, I can step right back into my writing.

THINK About My Story: While of course I want my focus to be on writing, there are other things I can do while I’m with mom that may still benefit me in the long run. One thing that I sort of fell into when I had a brief break from caretaking was brainstorming. I’d think about a scene I hadn’t written yet (or one that needed a lot of work) and come up with dialogue or interesting scenarios in my head. These weren’t long conversations, but mere snippets. Something that captured the tone or essence of the scene for which it was intended.

I also thought about how I could deepen the emotion in a given scene. A lot of times, especially when I’m storyboarding, I tend to focus on the Who, What, When, and Where, but not the Why. I found myself thinking about ways to deepen the emotion in a scene, to give it a kick, or how a character should react to give something an emotional punch.

As this brainstorming was happening, I kept a little Moleskine notebook handy so I could jot down the essence of what was going on inside my head for later use. Of course, not every time I thought of something was I able to write it down. But it happened some. Doing this kept my head in my story while still moving me forward, even if it seems to be at a glacial pace.

Chat with Friends: Even though I’m not talking about my story, my critique partners are talking about theirs. Engaging with them, sometimes late at night, let me blow off some steam as well as celebrate their successes. A tiny part of me felt bad that they were making progress I wasn’t, but they have their own challenges, be it work or family, and sometimes we’d all commiserate together about how we haven’t written anything lately. There’s comfort in knowing that we all face obstacles to our writing.

Remind Myself This is Temporary: Mom fortunately will not be sick forever. In fact, she’s on the mend (even as I sit here in her kitchen, back in Maryland after only a week of being home, aiding her on her road to recovery). When I return to Arizona next week, I’ll get back into the swing of things, into my old habits and patterns of writing in the morning, editing in the afternoon, and thinking about my story all the times in between.

How have you overcome challenges to your writing that life has presented to you?


3 thoughts on “Justine: When Family Crisis Puts the Kibosh on Writing

  1. These are all great lessons, for yourself as well as the rest of us, because life does happen to everyone eventually. Hang in there! We continue to send positive thoughts and vibes to you and your mom.

    As for the work being there when you are ready to come back to it, absolutely! I think I’ve talked about my 18 months of not writing on the blog/in comments, haven’t I? Our family had two major towering events occur 6 weeks apart (this was in the late aughts). We were in survival mode for months, and I couldn’t even think about story. I’d been picking around the edges of fiction writing for a long time, and had completed a few (less than stellar) manuscripts by then. But after those events, all the story voices stopped.

    It took me 9 months to return to even some semblance of writing, and in the end I threw out every word I wrote over the following 9 months. When I finally really got back to writing, I was not only a different person; I was also a different writer. But that was a really good thing. I was motivated to finally truly study the craft, which landed me in Jenny’s McDaniel courses, where we eight ladies met, and the ideas for my WF books and my VR series began, and – as they say – the rest is history, (still in the making :-))!

    • Sometimes these life-altering events can change our writing for the better, or make us realize that we want to approach our writing with more serious intent. I’m sorry you had to go through such a huge family crisis, but it seems to have motivated you in a good way.

  2. I’ve had entire decades go by without writing. There are always going to be external events that you can’t control. All you can do is deal with them as best you and get back to writing when the Fates allow.Glad to hear things are calming down in your neck of the woods and that your mom is on the mend.

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