Writing a Book When Life Gets in the Way

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverI should have known when I chose the title, Getting Through What You Can’t Get OverLife threw me plenty of fresh material, as one tough thing piled on top of many little distractions. Anyone relate?

With the greatest of intentions, you plan your life around that contract, basking in the after-glow of signing your name. You cut back, say no, and schedule in ways conducive to writing the next great masterpiece. But then…life.

For me, it started right after I signed the contract in April, with the loss of a dear friend to cancer, and my father-in-law’s diagnosis of a new brain tumor. This aggressive grower would require a second surgery, less than a year after he’d been through the same procedure. Only this time, he would undergo radiation five days every week, for a period of two months. Add other appointments, follow-up visits, side-effects requiring care, and my mother-in-law’s freshly broken ribs. Let’s just say as their main care-giver, it was one rough summer. And all the while, hovering over my shoulders, the contract deadline. September 1st.

So what’s a writer to do when life wants to get in the way of the writing? You take the problems and solutions, questions and lessons, the painful and the purposeful, and you write from the heart of your struggles. But there were a few practical/spiritual tidbits I acquired as I walked that long valley. I pray someone finds a nugget of help here today.

  • Don’t discount the value of brief moments. One of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read was the story of a man who wrote an entire novel two minutes at a time, because that’s all he could muster everyday due to his job/financial responsibilities.
  • This truly is a no-brainer, but bears saying anyway–turn off the social media for a while.
  • No matter how frazzled, far behind, or feverish you feel about the work you need to do, take a Sabbath rest. I can’t tell you how many times I was tempted to pick up my computer and write on Sundays, but I stuck to my commitment to honor God with that day set aside each week. I firmly believe He honored my obedience with supernatural strength and inspiration.
  • Look at your commitments through a microscope. Are there areas you can delegate? Can you humble yourself and ask for help–then accept it? Will you stop people-pleasing and say, “No,” when appropriate? Is there something you can neglect temporarily? Are there troops you can rally to teamwork? In my case, I was able to strategize with family members. We came up with a plan and took turns driving my father and mother-in-law to medical appointments. Not everyone helped, but instead of letting bitterness add to my emotional weights, I expressed gratitude for those who were willing and able.What Satan Means for Evil God Means for Good
  • Remember, what Satan means for evil, God means for good.
  • Crawl in your Writer’s Cave. I explain the process in the post link. But to date, I’ve found no better way to gain the solitude I need when those precious writing moments arrive.

It isn’t easy to pen a book, especially when life conspires to hamper your productivity. But I must say, life holds no power over the One who created it. When I asked God for help, praising Him in advance, He gave the assist. He never let me down.

I slid across the deadline exactly on September 1st. Are there parts of the book I wish I’d written better? Of course. Writing a book isn’t easy when life gets in the way, but if it was, then everyone would do it. When you finish yours, celebrate. For getting through something many never will.

What tips can you offer to those who are struggling to meet their writing commitments?

Top 10 Ways to Finish a Book

Kariss editingAs I write this, I have just finished up a few days in St. Louis at the ACFW conference. Any other attendees feel like they drank from a fire hose? I’m still digesting all I learned. Still thanking God for orchestrating the meetings He did. As I talked to published and pre-published authors alike, a trend began to emerge.

Those who want it bad enough have the discipline to finish.

Unfortunately finishing doesn’t immediately equal a contract. Some pre-published authors have multiple completed manuscripts stuffed in drawers still waiting to be read. To you, I say, “Keep writing and keep pursuing publication!”

To those working on the first book and struggling to finish, life happens. It happens to those with deadlines. It happens to those with contracts.

It happens.

In the publishing world, life revolves around deadlines, and somehow you have to find the will and way to “let your yes be yes” and fulfill your commitment. Editors want to know you can finish and finish well before they invest in you. Before you comment with the specific circumstance that hinders you from finishing that manuscript, let me just say that I get it! And I want to help.

My creativity is officially angled towards my third book now, and as I work to finish that one in the next ten weeks, I can confidently share with you what it took to finish Shaken and Shadowed and what it will take to finish Surrendered.

  • Turn off your inner editor and write. I’m not a scientist, but I feel the tug of war in my brain when I try to think technically while thinking creatively. Write. Be creative. Edit later.
  • Pick your favorite caffeinated beverage and keep it handy. I became a coffee drinker about a month after I signed my first contract.
  • Select a time of day, place, and schedule that works for you! I’ve tried to become a morning person, but my best writing happens at night. Why fight my body clock? I love to sit in my room or on my patio in the quiet of the night with a candle burning and my creativity racing full speed ahead.
  • Alert your cheerleading squad. I have a group of about 20 ladies who consistently ask me about my writing schedule. They know when I have a deadline. They help me process. They are my test subjects when I need a reader’s perspective. They see the tears, laughter, creative passion, and the frustration. They know and they encourage me. Find your team.
  • Set healthy boundaries. I work full time, write on the side, volunteer in a young adults ministry, have Bible study, and time with friends and family. BALANCE is key.
  • Know that life will happen and work around it. This year, I’ve experienced family emergencies, my brother’s wedding, ministry situations, work crises, and somehow the writing gets done. I set my schedule and adjust when necessary. If I miss my word count because of something I can’t help, I make it up.
  • Cook ahead of time. Don’t forget to work out. Take care of yourself! Eating correctly and working out gives you energy to juggle everything.
  • Prioritize what’s important. For me, it is making sure to focus on the relationships I currently have. The Lord has sovereignly placed me in my city, my family, and my job right now. I need to be present where I am while saying no when necessary to hibernate and write.
  • Trust the Lord. He knows your journey. When you feel like nothing is happening, trust that He is working behind the scenes.
  • Just do it! Finish strong! You will go from pre-published to publication. But it takes discipline. And chocolate and caffeine. But mostly discipline. And prayer. Tons of that.

What else would you add to this list?

How to Get Started Writing: Hamster Wheels and Hurdles

type lettersOf all that a writer can and should do—how, actually, does one get started?

It would be possible, in assembling writing advice from just a handful of the people who are giving it, to come away with the impression that making it in this business requires doing everything all the time.

You must, people say, build and maintain a platform. Start or re-start your website. Pin to boards. Make things that other people will pin to boards. Attend conferences and conventions. Join groups. Pitch ideas. Hone your message. Know your audience. Study writing books. Edit incessantly. Post blogs. Find a writing schedule that works. Tweet and re-tweet updates about all of this. Plus string tens of thousands of words together and hope somebody will see fit to make a book of it. That’s just phase one.

Phase two is its own hamster wheel. With a book in publication you must, people say, promote like crazy. Speak at events. Do interviews. Pursue interviews. Write accompanying articles. Track reviews. Deal with disapproval. Build friendships with booksellers. Have catchy marketing stuff. Improve on sales. Aim for bestseller lists. Figure out your next project. Pin, post, platform-build, edit, update, and speak some more. Promise to tweet and re-tweet, always and forever.

The general question: Who can possibly manage all that?

The specific question: How, possibly, can I?

The general answer is that likely nobody can manage it all, when trying all of it at once. The other answer is that you, specifically you, can work toward all of this by doing so incrementally.

You will not start out on bestseller lists. You’ll begin at the beginning, with the whole unrelenting shebang left to do. Tweet This

There will be potential failures and rejections at every corner and turn. But if you begin—if you sit at a computer or a typewriter or even a small slip of paper, and if you start putting words down and then keep putting words down, you will be writing. Often it is as simple as that.

hurdleHere is a personal example. After having published three books by 30 (two as author, one as collaborator), late last year I didn’t have a single writing project to speak of. I wasn’t sure I wanted any, because being submerged in the mire again—see above paragraphs—seemed exhausting. Other concerns demanded my focus and time too, namely: my husband was on a seven-month combat deployment to Afghanistan, we had moved our lives across the country twice in less than a year, and I had just given birth to a baby, our first. Some days, accomplishing just laundry and dishes seemed out of my league.

But I knew that God had given me a love for writing and the opportunity to publish. He was percolating words in me that I wanted to put down. So on one harried morning, I dared draft an article query. On another day I bravely emailed some book ideas to my agent. It was just a baby toe stepped back into the pool, but from where I stood it was the all-important start, a jump at the big, looming hurdle.

That was trajectory, finally, and in a matter of weeks and months I was actually writing again: ideas flowing, plenty of potential projects on hand, a few materializing, and even (always miraculously) another book contract waiting in the wings. Perhaps more importantly, I was learning to chip away at this job, little by little, reminding myself that it would not be accomplished in a single swing. The laundry and dishes were waiting longer than before, but I figured I could deal with that.

Have you wondered, frustrated, how to get started writing? The solution can be as simple as a little trajectory. Tweet This

Stop trying to figure out how to start writing; instead, start. Aim at a goal and have the courage to start imperfectly and incompletely. As you get a handle on one area, add another. You will likely surprise yourself with all that can be attempted and accomplished. Writing is far more doable when you’re doing it.

10 Kooky Tips On How To Write A Book

My writing nook at home. Don’t be fooled, it looks Pier One, but really, it’s a hodgepodge of thrift store and Craigslist.

I receive emails from people asking how to write a book.

I have written a book but I haven’t actually published it (yet, God give me patience and faith).

So when I am asked, it feels a bit like someone asking a person coloring a picture in a Strawberry Shortcake coloring book how to paint a still life.

Here are 10 kooky tips that popped into my head about writing a book if you absolutely don’t know how to start:

1) Start with a dangerously low self-esteem

This is vital. If you don’t, you may not be able to handle getting knocked off the height of your perch daily from rejection. It’s much easier to begin writing from the depths of despair.

2) If you have kids, get a lock for your bedroom door

My reasoning is two-fold: 1) my bedroom is where I write, and 2) my bedroom is where I cry when I am convinced that I cannot write, and it seems to upset the children when I cry uncontrollably.

3) YOU PROBABLY NEED TO ACTUALLY ENJOY WRITING

Or at least be able to stomach it, if you want to embark on a long project. Seriously, in order to write a book, you have to spend countless hours writing, which may stop you right there. Luckily for me, I love to write and see where it takes me. I also love to sit!

4) Make sure your writing desk has an economy size box of Kleenex.

I cry when I write. I cry over a beautiful sentence (both other people’s and my own). I cry over the fact that I can’t spell. I cry about God’s work in my life rendered on the page.

5) Listen to Papa Hemingway

I talk about Hemingway often, but I believe the goal is one true sentence.

Sometimes sentences string together perfectly and send shivers up my spine. One true sentence is the payback for locking yourself in your room to write.

6) Read books

Readers usually make good writers. Some of my favorite books include “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo, “Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott, and “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer. (I’m just kidding about Twilight. Sorry, not a teen vampire fan.)

Read books on craft. For memoir, I love Vivian Gornick’s “The Situation and the Story” and Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.”

7) Join a writing class

Most writing classes will require submissions and offer critique. This forces you to write. For years, I attended a memoir workshop in Chicago.

8) Buy business cards on-line and slap “writer” under your name

Call yourself a writer.

Even if you don’t have anything published, if you write, you are a writer. You may not be an author until you are published, but by golly, you are a writer. Put it out there! (And if you buy 250 business cards and have no one to give them to, the kids love to make up card games with them.)

9) Call or text or email people who love you, often

Writing is solitary. You show up and put words on paper and wonder if you actually have anything of value to offer the world. Call your mom, or your best friend, or Joe, the creepy guy at Starbucks who saw you writing one day and gave you his business card. Call anyone who loves you (OK, maybe not Joe) and ask for encouragement. You need cheerleaders. Buy pompoms and pass them out to friends.

10) Don’t write for attention

Believe me, an easier route for attention would be to hold up a Seven Eleven.

What’s your advice about writing a book?