Writing through Chaos

Ah, August. Vacays, grandchildren, camps and conferences can all take a big bite out of your writing routine. How can you keep writing through the chaos?

Writing Tip for Today: Here are some tips for keeping calm during chaotic times:

Don’t Fight It

I’ve been reading up on a topic I’m writing about and I keep running into advice that I can’t quite relate to. My topic is meditation and nearly every author advises daily practice. But nearly every author is male and/or lives a cloistered life. My life is so far away from a nice quiet time to meditate that it made me remember the season when I was a new writer trying to get away from my four kids.

At first, I tried mightily to get up before dawn, as another writer (a pediatrician with ten kids, no less!) advised. At the time, I was also watching other people’s kids, from about six AM until dinnertime. Getting up at three AM when I had a twelve-hour day ahead was foolish for me. I couldn’t make it work.

I felt ashamed until I decided to stop fighting my circumstances. I had little chunks of time (during nap time or at the pool or park) when I could jot down a few words. I learned to take a notebook everywhere. And while the kiddos napped, I typed standing up in the kitchen, the better to spot escapees or attend to kid needs. I did what I could when I could.

Be Flexible

We’ve all heard the advice to keep a notepad next to your bed in case the brilliant writer has a late idea. Keep something in your bag or pocket—these days you can even type or record on your phone—for waiting rooms and long boring meetings. Sketch out ideas for scenes, dialogue or try to solve plot problems while you wait.

Sometimes, writing or not writing is a matter of priorities. Do you value canning or gardening or canoeing? These activities require a “season,” while writing can be year-round. But instead of putting all writing on hold while you can green beans, why not use your season to write stuff about green beans, canning or pressure cookers while you’re at it? Target a few periodicals you read and pitch short articles or helpful hints to them.

Another way to squeeze in writing during busy/chaotic times is to list your ideas as you think of them. Refer to them later for essay or articles you could write. “The time Jimmy accidentally stepped in the wet cement” might spur you to write a publishable story later when you have more uninterrupted time to write.

Think about your work in progress while you do mindless chores.

Ideas Galore

I have developed a habit of thinking about my writing while I do mindless activities such as weeding, vacuuming or dusting. I think about why my characters are saying or doing things, how I can add more tension to scenes or solve those plot problems. I tend to remember these things best if I can record a short note on my phone or jot down a reminder.

During times when you feel frustrated about writing time, you can still make progress. Instead of immersing yourself in your fiction as we love to do, use your writing time to work on short projects (articles, essays, even blog posts) which you’ll need to build your readership. Increase those bylines and credits with pieces that relate to your story. If your story is about dogs, write a dog story. If you’re working on romance, think of what you might write about the setting, the history or the background of your work in progress.

When your life is chaotic (as mine is frequently), please don’t put your writing on the “back burner.” The more you write, the better your writing will be, even if you must do it in small timeslots. If you want to write, it’s a good idea to keep at it in one way or another. Your season of chaos won’t last, but if you’ve already put writing at the bottom of your list, it may not rise to the top again. Don’t fight it, be flexible, but keep writing. You know you want to. Make it so.

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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