5 Tips for Writing When Life is Kicking Your Butt

Photo by David Castillo Dominici; Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by David Castillo Dominici; Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

You’re trying to finish that first draft, and a loved one gets very sick, you get very sick, work stresses you out, or you have papers due for class.  We’ve all been there.  Sometimes when life gets tough, it’s hard to find time for your passion.

The great thing about being a writer is that every setback life throws at you is fuel for your work.  Added stress, tension, depression, anger, whatever are feeling can help your writing in several ways.

Here are 5 tips to keep stress from getting in the way of your writing.

1. Keep Your Goals Attainable

Maybe this was the weekend you planned to do nothing but write and finally get that first draft completed, and then you come down with a bad case of the flu, your best friend is in the middle of a crisis, and you find out you’re going to have to work on your day off.  When the stress of life piles up, you have to be okay with the fact that you will not be as productive as you initially hoped.

It’s okay to readjust your priorities to life’s demands.  Sure it may dishearten you that you’ll have to wait another week to finish your draft, but sometimes other things take precedence.  You may say that you can still push yourself to finish it, but then you’ll probably just make the situation worse by adding exhaustion to the mix.  It’s better to save those long writing session for when you have a clearer head, and pushing yourself too hard might make you lose interest.

Make the most of small writing goals.  Even when you’re stressed, it’s often possible to find time for a little writing.  Try not to let it discourage you that instead of spending your weekend on 12 hour writing days, you’re stuck only working for 20 minutes.  Set yourself smaller, more attainable goals until whatever is derailing you has passed.  Keep in mind that any progress at all you can make is more than you had before, even if it’s just ten words at a time.  Besides, finishing multiple small goals may give you the rush you need to keep pushing on longer goals.

Do anything you can to keep writing at least a sentence a day.  Every novel was written a sentence at a time, so don’t stress about how quickly it comes together.  The extra time between writing sessions may even help you come up with some great ideas for your project.

2. Learn From Your Strong Emotions

You feel angry, hurt, betrayed, sad, or frustrated.  Great!  Now get writing.  I know that sounds strange, but those really powerful emotions are great motivation for writing.

First, writing through your problems is a great way to release frustration.  It can help you take your mind of problems and help you think of ways to deal with it.  Being productive is a great way to get out all the stress that’s piling up .

Second, all those strong emotions you are feeling can help you with characterization.  Flat characters have few, if any, strong emotions, so use your latest stressor as inspiration.  Use that overwhelming sadness to help you get a better description of how your character feels when her mother dies.  Take note of how your anger feels and have your character feel the same when he gets into a fight.  Don’t let anything you are feeling go to waste.

3. Use Those Nasty Situations

If your novel feels like it’s dragging, maybe that tough situation was just the thing you needed to be able to see what your novel is missing.  It can show you that real life is full of tension, and if your draft isn’t, maybe it’s time to add some.  Try not to get too auto-biographical (unless that’s what you’re writing), but maybe what just happened to you is exactly what your character needs to grow.

4. Life Teaches You Lessons

When you have a lot going on, try to think about what you’re learning from the pressure.  Have you discovered that you’re a lot stronger than you thought you were?  Did you learn something about your relationships with other?  I bet that whatever you went through changed you in some way. Remember that it’s the same for characters.  Everything you put them through in the course of your story is something that changes them in some way.  Use your lessons to influence your character’s growth.  I’m not saying your characters have to change exactly how you did, but your own personal change can show you how people and characters change over time, and it will make your story a lot stronger.

5. If You Really Can’t Write…

Don’t stress about it.  I know it stinks, but it happens.  Sometimes there really is too much going on, but you have to take care of yourself.  Besides, if you really are as passionate about writing as you think you are, you will come back to it.  It may take longer than you hoped, but it will happen.  Sometimes that time away from your draft can help give you perspective into what you were missing, too.  Just try to remember that anything worth doing can be difficult at times, and try not to stay away for too long!

How has your writing changed because of something that happened to you?  Leave a comment!


7 thoughts on “5 Tips for Writing When Life is Kicking Your Butt

  1. Not even sure how to describe it. Events in my life are basically tools for me to use when writing fiction. So negative and positive events teach me how people respond to situations and the emotions involved. Not sure if that makes any sense.


  2. Great advice here. Perfectly timed, too. I find myself feeling overwhelmed with reading and writing, especially during stressful times, because of so many thoughts and ideas that surface while doing either…thank you for writing this. 😀


  3. #2 and #3 are usually what help me write. I had a personal situation that was really irking me back in college and I had a story due in a few days. I took all those emotions–anger, irritation, sadness–and worked it into a short story that was actually received well in my workshop. My anger brought some memorable lines of sarcasm that helped develop the story.

    Great list and tips!


  4. I agree with these, especially #2, Learn from Strong Emotions. For example, at times when I’m feeling angry, I often go to the point in my story where my character was angry and see how I can really describe the emotion.


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