Life happens. And sometimes life happens in the big middle of your best writerly intentions. A work project explodes and takes all your spare time with it. A family crisis turns you inside out emotionally. Your kid finally makes that traveling hockey team (yay!) and you’re suddenly a rink-side nomad racing around the state (boo!).
When life goes nuts, priorities change. And you may find your novel sliding below other priorities like sleeping, brushing your hair, and pretending that things aren’t really that bad. You may sit down to write, and find that you just can’t. Your focus is elsewhere. Your heart isn’t in it. And every word that does make it out looks like garbage.
After the necessary beating yourself up phase (nearly impossible to skip it altogether, but try to keep it as short as you can), it may be time to accept that you need to step away from your writing for a while. But that doesn’t mean you should step away from your writing life. In fact, when you can’t write, it’s more important than ever to keep in touch with the people and places and stories that made you want to put pen to paper in the first place. Because, ultimately, it’s your writing life that is going to pull you back when all those life things finally get easier. Because they will get easier.
Here are five ways to stay in touch with your writing life, even if you’re not writing.
1. Be a good reader: Dig up a favorite book that you haven’t read in a long time, and look at it with a writer’s eye. What exactly is it about this book that really drew you in? Beautiful language? Amazing characters? Vivid setting? Tight structure? Give yourself permission to underline and bookmark sections that really exemplify what you’re trying to achieve in your own writing. Revisit often.
2. Be a good writing buddy: Make time to hang out with your writing friends, even if it’s just a social call. Sharing their trials and tribulations will remind you that everyone runs into setbacks, and they’re a normal part of the process. And it’s important to get encouragement from people who believe in your work.
3. Exercise your editing muscle: Even if you don’t have in you to write yourself, offer to be a second set of eyes for other writers you know. Helping them work through their writing roadblocks may give you insight into your own.
4. Take a one-night class: You may not be able to commit to six or ten week intensive course, but you may be able to treat yourself to a one-night stand. A quick look through Grub Street’s calendar offers a multitude of options. If you can’t make class, take a look through some of these prompts.
5. Write whatever you can: If your novel feels too overwhelming at the moment, write something else. Anything else. Start that short story you’ve been thinking about (or if you’re really crunched for time, flash fiction). Play around with poetry. Write a journal entry or two. Anything to remind yourself that you can still do this, you still love this, and you will be able to get back to it.