How to Make the Most of The Things that Get in the Way of Your Writing

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Last weekend, I went to the City Museum with my son’s Boy Scout Troop. The museum was built in an old shoe factory. Unlike many repurposed buildings, this one wasn’t simply gutted into a dumpster. Instead, the museum’s founder worked what he found into the museum itself.

Chutes to move finished shoes from upper floors to the loading docks became slides. The rollers on conveyor belts were painted and can be found throughout the museum, enclosing slides and forming parts of the banisters. Gears decorate columns. Bottles and other items uncovered when digging to put in an outdoor exhibit become items in an urban archaeology exhibit.

These bits and pieces weren’t an inconvenience or things to be worked around. They became opportunities.

Women writers face a similar set of decisions as we seek to work writing into our crazy busy lives. Maybe your situation includes a child who has lost his job and has had to move home with wife and kids in tow. Or maybe you are changing jobs and moving cross country. There’s no doubt about it. Life takes a serious amount of both time and energy.

But when you look from your life to your writing, it's time to make a decision. Do you push the events and emotions of life out of the way to make space for your writing? Or do you find a way to reshape and repurpose them, creating a framework for your latest writing project.

For nonfiction writers, the way to do this is fairly straightforward. You can write a memoir based on whatever you are currently experiencing in your personal life. Your latest home improvement project might yield a series of nonfiction articles or even an inspirational essay. Whatever it is that you are living can become a piece of nonfiction.

It can also feed your fiction from the characters you create to the story problems with which they must cope. More importantly, you can draw on the emotions you felt as you faced a recent family emergency–anger, fear, uncertainty, or hope–as you work on your novel. What were your physical reactions? How did these emotions alter your behavior. Feed this into your writing and your character’s emotions will run below the surface and pull in your reader who has felt similar things.

When life is coming at us from all directions, writers often lament the loss of our quiet time. We mourn the fact that we don’t have the space or energy to write. But how would it change our work if we took life’s unexpected slips and slides and, instead of letting them roll over us, worked them into our writing?

Author Sue Bradford Edwards blogs at One Writer's Journey.


Sioux Roslawski said...


I love the City Museum (that bus on the roof is crazy!) and your advice--especially during the NaNo frenzy--is wonderful. Thanks for making such a great connection between your trip with the Boy Scouts and writing.

Anonymous said...

Yes, like a "when life hands you lemons" proposition. My current WIP does exactly this, incorporating my own experiences into a fictional character and setting. The balance, of course, is being able to stand back and remember, this is fiction, not an autobiography. Good article.

Marcia Peterson said...

Good reminder, Sue. If it's a crazy/emotional/busy time, at least try to jot some notes down here and there about what's going on. Even if you can't write about it now, you'll have the details for writing about it later.

Margo Dill said...

Lately, I've been trying to be more in the moment and giving myself a break. :) So, when I am doing something with my daughter like the Butterfly House, I try to focus on that and not worry about the fact that I am not writing. She won't be two forever. :) But then that night when we are at home and I am still on my own because of my husband's crazy work hours, I allow myself to put in the Dora DVD and let her watch it, so I can get some blogging done/email read/notes jotted down. I used to think, I will never allow my child to watch TV, but boy, that was unrealistic. I am trying to balance, which is what I think your post here is about, too. :)

SueBE said...

It really is a balancing act. You have to have experiences to draw upon. You have to have time and energy to write. Speaking of which - I better start moving toward bed so I have energy for a 20 page rewrite tomorrow!

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