Writing Through Calamity

We writers are such an odd bunch—we make a thousand excuses for not getting our BICs (Butts in Chairs), but if we can’t get to the keyboard—due to illness, a calamity in the family or other trauma—we suddenly become very creative. At least I do. It’s reverse psychology of the irritating kind, but I’ve tried to figure out ways to make these periods count.

Writing Tip for Today: What are some ways writers can maximize productiveness during illness or other work-stopping situations?

Dream Up Something

A forced sabbatical is one of the best times I find for solving plot problems, spotting unrecognized flaws in my work or just brainstorming ideas. Those on deadline might not appreciate it, but when I’m forced to abstain from producing regular word count, I try to fill the time with writing-related activities—even if it’s reading. Right now, I’m recovering from a mean bout of pneumonia. It’s almost over, thank goodness, but I’m still weak as a kitten with the thinking skills of a cane toad. I mean, I can’t sustain a rational thought for more than a second or two. Until my usual faculties return (soon please dear God!), I’m daydreaming about my fictional characters and reading good fiction—in between unscheduled naps.  I’m jotting down ideas that I hope will make sense later. I’m thinking about feedback I’ve received and reading aloud work I previously thought was perfect. And I’m really good at playing the “What if?” game with my characters, where I dream up all sorts of laughable relationships and events. Hey, you never know.

Say Something

Since I have that writerly affliction of carpal tunnel syndrome on top of my sickiness, I purchased the Dragon Naturally Speaking software. I hope you’re better at it than I am. Still, I do think this makes for a way to continue drafting while you’re laid up. I say drafting—it’s really not great for edits or precise final work. But if you can talk, you can dictate from your sick bed. And during NanoWriMo, Dragon could give you the edge. I confess that so far, I am miserable at Dragon. Somehow, my brain routes words out through the ends of my fingers and is resisting sending anything coherent to my speech center instead. With that carpal tunnel surgery looming, I’ll keep trying, but the process really does expect me to retrain my brain.

Hear Something

When you’re consumed with disaster or you can hardly raise your head off the pillow, it’s hard to do much writing. But with so much time on your hands (time normally spent pounding out words), listening to a great book might give you some great writing ideas. Techniques of pacing, dialog and scene writing will still be evident if you listen instead of read the kind of fiction you want to write. Until you get back to your BIC regular writing life, Audible or a similar service might be your best chance to keep up while your life is making other plans. For me, as soon as I recover a bit more from this pneumonia and sinus infection, I plan to set fire to my keys as I whip out my best work yet. Until then, I think I’ll listen to another chapter before I nod off again.



About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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