The Best Laid Schemes: When Life Forces a Writing Moratorium

Thursday, August 10, 2017
Ten days ago, I was in a car accident. Days later, after trying to ignore a constant headache, sick stomach, and concentration difficulties, a visit to the emergency room produced the diagnosis; I had a concussion.

"The best laid schemes. . . "
-Robert Burns
I hear about concussions all the time. Student athletes at my school frequently suffer from them. I knew these students struggled to keep up with school work but, until ten days ago, I didn’t realize what an impact a concussion could have on a person’s daily life.

The doctor’s instructions were simple: No reading. No writing. No computer. No phone. No television. I was to rest in a darkened room as much as possible until the symptoms subsided.

These instructions would be a tough pill for anyone to swallow, but I’m a writer. I’m a teacher. I’m a blogger. I’m a mom. It’s the last two weeks of summer break! I’m in the middle of manuscript edits requested by an agent!

All my work plans came crashing to a halt. I couldn’t write or read. I felt lost. Worse, I felt woefully behind on my progress and was worried how my writing aspirations would suffer from the loss of this precious time.

As I sat on the sofa, staring at the wall, I had to think of other ways to stick to my goals. I thought about my work in progress – the characters, the plot progression, the ending – and had time to contemplate each one. Small plot holes came to mind. I started to “talk out” the book with my husband and friends – anyone who would listen, really, because sitting on a couch in a darkened room all day is enough to bore anyone to tears - and they helped me find solutions to my problems. I couldn’t write, but I could think and talk. I had my daughter jot down important notes for me as new ideas emerged.

Parts of the book which plagued me began to take shape. I was fixing them – not in writing form, but in my head. I imagined the story, which was just as vivid as writing it down.

As for the no-reading rule – that one was easy to fix. I downloaded a few books on tape and listened to them as I did small tasks, like laundry, or cooking, or resting on the couch with the lights off. This, too, proved beneficial. One book – which will remain nameless – repeated words and phrases so often it was distracting. I made a mental note to watch out for that same mistake in my own writing.

I think everything happens for a reason. In this case, maybe my muse decided I needed to take a writing break and think my story through. As much as I wanted to work on it these last two weeks, taking a break has helped my novel.

I still have the concussion, but I’m doing my best to make the most out of this writing moratorium. As Robert Burns said, “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.” No matter how hard we plan, something can always go wrong.

Even if life isn’t forcing you to take a writing break, you might want to consider backing off for a few days. It could be the solution your story needs to take a step forward.

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Beth--That's the perfect, "If life hands you lemons, make lemonade" story. I'm glad you weren't hurt more seriously, and also glad you made the recuperation period work to your advantage.

Margo Dill said...

What a way to take a positive spin on things! I'm so sorry to hear you were in a car accident, and I'm glad that you are able to use this time in a positive way. Hope your recovery goes smoothly.

Mary Horner said...

Good advice, and hope you are recuperating nicely!

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