Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Writing Through the Chaos—Tips to Keep Moving Forward When Life Happens

by Edie Melson

Life happens to all of us, and with it comes times of chaos and catastrophe. It’s easy to get derailed and let our writing life come to a screeching halt. That’s never a good thing, no matter what crisis we’re dealing with—from the death of a loved one, to an unexpected winter storm. Because as writers, we process life by putting words on paper (or screen). Suddenly finding ourselves with no time or energy to write can be as traumatic as the original event.

We need that exercise to keep us sane. The things we write may change, depending on the circumstance where we find ourselves, but I propose that we will cope better by setting aside time. Today I want to share some tips to keep moving forward when life happens.

In case you think I’m dealing with concepts instead of reality you should know that I’m actually writing this blog post from a place of chaos. It’s been a tumultuous couple of weeks around my house. My father suffered a stroke while I was out of town teaching at a conference (he’s continuing to improve), I found myself bedridden with a nasty sinus/ear infection, and our daughter-in-law lost her father. On top of that, my Guideposts military blog, While They Serve, launched right smack dab in the middle of all this.

Trust me, I know what I’m talking about here. This is how I’ve survived many upheavals in my life.

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize: During times like these, a calendar is your best friend. Sit down and look at all you have on your writing plate.
  • Start with the things you’re getting paid for and/or you consider legitimate work. Those need to have top priority.
  • Next look at things you’ve made a commitment to do. These could be anything from blogging on your own site to blogging on other sites or other types of writing. The thing you want to do with this group is look and see what you can reschedule, back out of, postpone, or ask someone else to do.
  • Finally look at the things you wanted to accomplish. This might include things like get a piece ready for a contest or submission or just making forward progress on your current WIP (Work In Progress).
Now, before you set down the calendar, look at the commitments generated by the chaos. These could include doctor visits, time at the hospital, time without electricity, anything out of the ordinary.

Begin fitting projects into the spaces around your commitments. I know this doesn’t always seem possible, but you can get significant progress in 20 – 30 bites of time. Here are some tips to write inthe bits and pieces of time you've got. 

For example, one thing I must do is schedule social media every morning. It’s part of my job at My Book Therapy. I would get to the hospital in the morning. Spend some time visiting with my mom and dad, then announce I had 30 minutes of work to do. Assuming a doctor didn’t come in, I kept my head down and worked for that space of time. Afterwards, I closed my laptop and again was available to visit, help, etc. I also took several breaks during the day to answer comments on my new Guideposts blog, as well as my own.

We all know this isn’t the ideal to write, but you have to use the time you can carve out.

Additional Tips
  • Contact those places where you have commitments. People will forgive a lot if they know what’s going on. This is the time to be an EXCELLENT communicator.
  • Call in favors, and enlist guest bloggers where you can for your own site.
  • Don’t forget you can recycle old posts to save creative energy for paid writing assignments.
  • Cut back on the number of social media updates you put out daily and/or eliminate them altogether. But don’t be afraid to use social media to ask for prayer support. Your readers and audience will feel more connected to you by sharing this part of your life.
  • Try to carve out time to work on something you want to do. It may be a blog post, a WIP, a devotion or even a poem. But if you feel that creative hunger, feed it. You’ll be calmer and more able to cope if you do.
  • Don’t waste what’s happening, instead incorporate it into your writing. If you have a blog, do what I’m doing and share your process in a post. At the very least, find a place to write out your feelings and journal what’s happening. If you can’t use it immediately, I guarantee it will come back when you need it. Just don’t lose it by not recording it.
  • Try your hand a writing a devotion. If life is in chaos, I guarantee you’re learning some tough lessons. You may not end up with a finished product, but jot down the details of what you’re learning.
  • Write a poem. Yes, you read that right. It doesn’t have to rhyme, but it can. And it doesn’t even have to be good. But searching for the words to describe intense feelings is a good way to process and come to grips with a life that seems out of control. If a full poem seems too intimidating, consider a haiku. Here’s a link to help you Write a Haiku
  • Use this time to accomplish small tasks. Here are just a few to get you started:
  1. Write a character sketch.
  2. Research a setting or job description
  3. Check your timeline.
  4. Edit a chapter.
  5. Make a list of possible blog posts.
  6. Pick an emotion and brainstorm ways to show it rather than name it.

We all have times that could potentially stop all forward momentum in our writing lives. But it doesn’t have to. And when you’ve weathered the storm, you’ll be glad you kept moving.

I’d love to know what you do to stay on track with writing when chaos happens. Be sure to share your thoughts below.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


  1. God-timing as usual - I needed to hear all this today. I've been feeling like I didn't have time to write in the midst of personal chaos right now, but I know I need to -- as much to calm my spirit as it is to meet my deadlines. Thanks for the much needed pep talk!

    1. Jess, I'm so glad you've found this helpful. Don' you wish life would settle down and behave? I'm praying for you - Blessings, E

  2. Hi Edie,

    I want you to know I've added you and yours to my prayer list. {{{HUGS}}}

    Thank you for these tips and organizational tools. God bless.

    1. Rene, thank you so much for the prayers! I'm glad these tips are helpful! Blessings, E

  3. Thanks, my friend, for your words of encouragement. I just looked up and time just flew away from me. You have any ideas on how to get ti back. lol Oh by the way, I'm a retired Army Officer. If you need any help with your Guideposts While They Serve piece then just let me know. Have a great day.

    1. Chris, don't I wish I knew how to reclaim time! I'd love to talk to you more about military things. I'll contact you through Google +. Blessings, E

  4. Praying, Edie! Hope you and your father get better soon, that life calms down and for your daughter-in-law and her family. These are great tips to keep on course through all the insanity that happens sometimes.

    1. Angie, I appreciate the prayers and I'm glad some of the tips are helpful! Blessings, E

  5. Hi Edie,

    I pray things settle down for you and your family.

    This post came at the right time for me. After a nasty upper respiratory infection, challenges at work, and my Mom breaking her hip, my writing came to a complete standstill. I finally managed to crank out 1,000 words on my WIP the other day.

    I've been doing some of the things you suggested, but you've given me additional ideas. Thank you for always having a word in season.

    God bless,
    Susan :)

    1. Susan, I'm so sorry! I'll be praying for you as well. I think I left out the most important tip - don't be too hard on yourself! Blessings, E

  6. My prayers go out to you and your family. I know what you are experiencing with a parent in the hospital. My mother suffered a stroke two years ago and I spent three weeks night and day at the hospital with her. I didn't have the writing commitments you have now, but I still had to find time to do what I could and just have some down time. These are wonderful tips you have shared.