Writing Amid Chaos (Penny Rader)


This month we’ve been talking about what gets in the way of our writing. Fear? Check. Procrastination? Check. Time Management? Check. Distractions? Check. Myself? Ch—no one wrote that post, but I’m the one who gets in my own way.


In addition to the fear that the words just won’t come and frittering away my time by procrastinating and indulging myself in all sorts of distractions, my other obstacle is writing when all around me is chaos. Or rather, not writing.


There've been several health issues in my family this year. Nearly lost my mom in May. My dh has another surgery scheduled this week. A separate, highly emotional issue is also pulling us in all directions and might go on for another month, maybe indefinitely.


During times like these my brain freezes. I’ll jot down things the doctors, etc. say so I won’t forget…but creative writing? Doesn’t happen. My brain is just mush. I can read (to momentarily escape), but I’m unable to create, unable to lose myself within my own writing. I remember hearing a story as a kid about tigers chasing each other around a tree. Around and around they went. Faster and faster and faster until they turned into butter. That’s my brain. Butter. A messy blur.


I’ve read that many, if not most, writers write through emotional chaos. That writing helps them through trying times. Are you one of those people? How do you do it? Or are you like me and unable to write when your life is a stressful mess, especially emotional stress?


37 comments:

Starla Kaye said...

For all the "chaos" in your life, Penny, you still function remarkably well. Someday, hopefully, all of these problems will work themselves out. Someday you'll get to write again.

Penny Rader said...

From your lips, Starla. Fortunately, my day job doesn't require me to be creative. :D

Heather Hiestand said...

When things have been as bad for me as they sound like they are for you right now, all I can do is edit in waiting rooms. Under normal chaos, I choose a time of day to draft and only do that. No rereading, no editing, just draft until I reach my word count. I keep typing even as I'm being interrupted, if at all possible!

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for visiting, Heather. Edits are a great idea. That's what I used to do when my kids were little. I had a hard time creating new stuff when they around, but I could edit and research.

LOL at typing even while being interrupted. Do you ever end up typing what the interruptor is saying instead of what you meant to type?

Rox Delaney said...

For some people, writing brings calm in the midst of chaos. I wrote through a divorce and the four moves in the two years after that. I worked full time and wrote in my mother's claustrophobic and cluttered dining room, where people had to practically climb over me to get to the bathroom. None of it was easy, and I often look back and wonder how I did it.

We all have ways to get through the crises that interrupt our life and try to crush our souls. If it means we don't write, then so be it. Don't add beating yourself up to the list of things keeping you from writing.

Write when you can. When you can't, make notes if, in the middle of dealing with the unthinkable you think of an idea, a snippet of conversation, or the backstory of a character so it'll be there when the chaos backs off a little. And it will.

Penny Rader said...

I sure wish writing brought me calm, Rox. Thanks for your words o' wisdom, oh wise one.

Rox Delaney said...

LOL Not hardly. Experience is a tough teacher and isn't often kind.

Just because someone else can do something doesn't mean I can or you can. I never could do a cartwheel, but nearly everyone I knew could do one.

Lynne Marshall said...

Hi Penny,
I came here hoping to find some tips, too! I am going through a tough time with my writing, feeling ready to give it all up. this hasn't happened to me before. I was even able to meet a deadline while my mother was living with us on hospice with a brain tumor in 2009. This time, I just don't know. I do put my butt in the chair and fingers ont he keyboard, but I'm afraid it is not enough time or effort these days. Sigh.

Lelani Black said...

Penny, hang in there. It's not easy coping much less writing through chaos. Hopefully you don't have deadlines or commitments looming to add to the pressure.

As a writer, I'm one of those that can go in the zone even as walls are falling down around me. But family illnesses are a different story than, for example, kids running around screaming or the laundry climbing up to the ceiling. Don't be hard on yourself for needing to step back to take care of loved ones, or to take care of other business.

As for writing through other types of emotional chaos, sometimes the frustration of it all can make you a writing machine, or can numb you from writing. Just remember those emotions are so powerful they will show up in your writing, and not always in a good way--but if writing helps you cope, then by all means cope away.

These trying times can be hidden opportunities to for growth/enlightenment that you'll bring to your future writing works as well, so yes, no beating up of self allowed :)

Lelani Black said...

@ Lynne, so sorry to hear about your mother. That year had to be a difficult time for sure. The months/years after the major illness of a loved one can impact caregivers/family more ways than they realize :(

Frances Louis said...

Wishing you the best, Penny. Sometimes the focus in our lives shifts and it is no longer that which we originally sought.

Take Rox's advice. Don't beat yourself up for not writing. Enjoy the time you have with your loved ones! Life is crazy short!

Vonnie Davis said...

I used to think I couldn't write until the house was clean, the laundry caught up and dinner in the crockpot or the oven. I was making excuses not to write. Finally I realized I had to give myself permission to write. I suppose I considered the process a selfish act--to ignore all in favor of my craft. Once I did that, a sense of freedom and liberation flowed in. I cna't begin to tell you the number of chapters I've written in McDonalds as screaming kids and loud-mouthed teens streamed by me.

Now, having said all that, I also want to say that priorities are just that. If my DH were ill, I'd probably put writing on the back burner. If my grown kids were going through a crisis, I don't honestly know if I could write.

Sounds like you need to give yourself permission to move writing down the list of priorities for a month or so. Then re-evaluate your life in a month. Our spouses and families are so important. So is our writing, but not quite to that degree.

Hang in there. In chaos, focus on what you can change...accept what you have no control over...and love yourself for doing what needs done. Your writing will wait for a month or two or five.

One day, something will spark and you'll feel the desire to write. That will be your soul telling you it's time. Blessings to you.

Jennifer Jakes said...

Sorry for all the chaos. For a moment while reading your post I thought you had stepped into my life. I can SO relate, but I don't have any answers. I just keep hoping things will slow down enough my mushy brain will start working again.
Hang in there -- ALL of you!

Nina Sipes said...

Thank you Penny for this post, as always, insightful. And thank you to all who made comment. Because I too suffer from being in my own way, putting writing off when it isn't going well. Putting it off when I feel guilty about the layers of dust everywhere. Guilty about the lawn getting extremely overlong. Guilty about feeling guilty. That doesn't cover the feeling I'm being lazy. That's a whole nuther department. Then there's the uninspired, no-talent land I sometimes visit. The quicksand of empathy and sympathy for others. The fear of loss. The guilt of not paying attention. Yup, writing is an adventure all right. But, all of you ladies have written just a bit here and given me some optimism and soothing. I really don't need to heap on myself the guilt of inadequacy over the output or lack thereof of my writing. Nor, when I visit guilt-land do I need to self flagellate. If I need to feel guilt, I'm sure someone will let me know. Until they do, perhaps I'll try to get rid of that habit. I hope all goes well this week for you Penny. Your posts are always well received--you have a knack for them.

Rox Delaney said...

Penny, the story you're thinking of was Little Black Sambo. I had that book when I was little and remember the story very well. :)

teresa said...

Penny,
I can so relate because lately there are more days that I don't want to write than ones that I actually do. I agree, the issues we go through usually make it into the lives of our characters. Awhile ago I came home from a writers conference to find three fire trucks in my yard and my home burned to the ground. All my scribbles and dreams, pages and pages of writing was up in smoke. I didn't even have a change of clothes, not to mention a zip drive with any of my writings. That incident set me back at least three years while I reassembled my life. Now, although I'm still writing, I'm not as driven as I once was. Good luck to you. : )

Joan Vincent said...

I think the best advice is the "don't beat yourself up over not writing." With several sieges of health problems I found the beating up just adds to the problem and is defeatist. Acceptance of the rhythms of life will be far more productive in the end. {Hugs}

Calisa Rhose said...

Great post Penny. For me it depends on the situation and depth of the emotions involved. I cannot write when angry or really frustrated but heartbreak I can write through sometimes. Praying for some resolutions for you.

Penny Rader said...

I used to be able to do cartwheels, Rox, and splits. Many, many moons ago. Never could get a handle on walkovers, even with the help of my fellow cheerleaders. After they dropped me on my head I was too afraid to even attempt handsprings.

Penny Rader said...

{{Hugs}}, {{{hugs}}}, and more {{{{hugs}}}}, Lynne. I hope our wonderful commenters (commentors?) have helped you.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Lelani. That seems to be the key lesson: stop beating myself (ourselves!) up. Fortunately, I don't have editorial deadlines. Just self-imposed ones...which are being scooched back and simplified.

Here's hoping I emerge from this a more enlightened, better person with a renewed sense of purpose...and words trickling steadily from my fingertips.

Penny Rader said...

You're so right, Fran. Life is crazy short! I'm trying to make the most of what I have while I have it.

Penny Rader said...

One day, something will spark and you'll feel the desire to write. That will be your soul telling you it's time. Blessings to you.

I love this, Vonnie. Thank you so much. Still trying to figure out what it is I can do to get us all through these current crises and what I have no control over. Fortunately, I'm not alone.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jennifer. Having a mushy brain is the pits. I hope everything improves for you, too.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Nina! [waving] I totally get the guilt about feeling lazy. Did you just crawl inside my head?

And I, too, appreciate all the kindness everyone has offered -- like a warm, fuzzy comforter of cheer and support (that doesn't make me sweat in this 100+ degree weather).

Penny Rader said...

Oh, Teresa, I'm so sorry you lost your home and your writing. {{{hugs}}} I panic when I lose half a page. I can't imagine losing all my pages. May lots and lots of stories dance inside your head and flow through your fingers to share with the world. Good luck to you, too.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Joan. You're right. Stressing myself out just creates more stress which makes my head hurt and makes me feel ill and less capable of dealing with all I need to do. Right back at you with the {{hugs}}. I hope you're feeling much better. It was so good to see you at the retreat.

Penny Rader said...

Thank you, Calisa. I appreciate the prayers & need all I can get. I'm trying to remember to jot notes about how I'm feeling during these times so I can use it in future writing. Those poor characters. They won't know what hit 'em.

Penny Rader said...

You're right, Rox. That is the story. It's been ages since I read it.

Melissa Robbins said...

Penny, my current characters, Wren and Company were created when I sat in the hospital room for five weeks while my son recovered from open heart surgery.

Reese Mobley said...

Penny, I understand your frustration. I hate when my brain is so full of other things that I can't even begin to concentrate on my wip.

Nina Sipes said...

Wow Penny, can people relate to you or perhaps you to them?!! I guess 2011 is the year of the slump....

Teresa,
Computer life brings experience--although I can hardly imagine not fainting if I came home to firetrucks. I came home to a smoking hedge once and a REALLY irate husband who thought I had bligthly left home with a smoking trash barrel. I hadn't, but I hadn't planned on the wind coming up after I left and swirling the glowing ashes out of the barrel either. But, I found out the first time I lost about five pages that I could adjust Word to back up minutely. After I lost my work (in a new computer) to a bad bearing in the hard drive, I began to back up weekly and switch the flash drive with one a friend of mine keeps at her place. Every week I switch them. I do the same for her. Long term storage? I have a lock box at the bank for both paper copies and on a CD. Yes, I'm paranoid. But I hate losing my hard come by work. Not that it is golden by anymeans. I'm merely attached to it. The way I am I can only imagine the pain of losing so much creative work.

Nina Sipes said...

Teresa,
Another more cheerful thought. I've heard many a time that the first book is one that should stay under the bed. Everything you write from the fire forward has those years of experience behind it!! You don't even have to choose the best to keep. Decision already made!

Nina Sipes said...

Nah Penny, I'm not in your head--your picture is a picture of mine!!
I think we are all in those Disney ride tea cups. But it seems like we're having group thoughts. Oh, or maybe we're all telepathic?

If nothing else I appreciate the empathy.

Penny Rader said...

That's a long time to spend in a hospital, Melissa. Hope your little guy is doing well.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Reese! A clogged brain can be super frustrating, can't it? I try to remind myself to write down worries, to-do's, etc to get them out of my brain but still have a record of them I can refer to.

Penny Rader said...

Nina, I agree 2011 has been something else. Here's hoping we can end this year on an up note. :D