Writing When Life Interrupts

Gizmo is too cute! photo courtesy Robin Riley

Every writer knows that when life intervenes, writing usually takes a hit. That’s what happened to me this week. My dearly beloved ex-Marine husband suffered a stroke on Sunday. He’s extremely lucky in that we were able to get help fast and the hospital used the clot-buster drugs to dissolve a life-threatening clot in his brain. But after he comes home, life will change again.

Writing Tip for Today: Here are some observations I’ve made after life-changing events affect my writing life:

An Inconvenient Respite

Usually, I can find a hundred excuses not to write. Unless I’m on deadline, conjuring up the discipline to write is always vulnerable to the dust bunny or garden chore. Throw in a whopper like your spouse suffering a stroke and I don’t have to reach far to find an excuse to skip writing.

Yet I also find that during and following a crisis, writing can be a welcome diversion. For an hour or hours, I can disappear into my work. In my make-believe story, I can not only escape reality, I get to inject more realism into my writing as a result of the real events.

I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what it’s like when a person has a stroke if I hadn’t just witnessed one. Luckily for us, I knew when his mouth drooped and speech became slurred that he was stroking and that I needed an ambulance stat. In the future, I’ll be authentic if I write about strokes.

Be Gentle

While I’ve sneaked away to write while hubby’s hospitalized, it isn’t always possible. In crises, you don’t beat yourself up for neglecting word count. You take care of the living before attending to the made-up living.

Yet I’ve been at this a long time, and my writing antennae are always up. I look and listen for details that seem odd or real or laughable or sad. I tuck these away for future characters. And I write little snippets to help me remember.

Most writers haul a notebook around for these opportunities. These days, your phone can record your voice or you can jot notes. Whatever floats your boat, don’t let these details–writer gold–slip away.

Notes to Self

If you had to stop mid-scene or at a scene or chapter break when calamity occurred, jot a few notes for where you intended the story to go next. Trust me, unless you’re a dedicated outliner, you are liable to forget things you wanted to add or what would come next in the scene list.

If you usually take a crossword puzzle or read a novel at your loved one’s bedside, consider brainstorming ideas for your work-in-progress. You may surprise yourself–better, deeper, more meaningful directions can emerge when you are not waist-high in your manuscript.

Thinking outside the manuscript also gives you a chance to better understand your characters and their goals, the obstacles and the stakes. If you have long stretches of waiting, use that time to develop your story.

If you’re in a hospital, try not to include beeping monitors or vampiric blood draws. I’m kidding of course, but after a huge life-changer like a stroke or heart attack or cancer diagnosis, you’ll need your sense of humor more than ever. I’m going to try to follow my own advice as my husband recovers.

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.

7 comments on “Writing When Life Interrupts

    • Michael,
      We got him home today and we’re told he is extremely lucky. We’ll do some rehab, esp. for swallowing, but he does not have any paralysis. Thanks for your prayers!
      Keep Writing,

      Linda

  1. So happy for his recovery. Love him with free abandonment….time passes swiftly! I just lost my husband after 10 years of heart problems.

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