Writing Through Interruptions

I began writing when I had a newborn (ten days old), a todder (two) and a preschooler. If I couldn’t write through interruptions, I couldn’t write at all most days.

People protest all the time that they can’t write with continual interruptions, and I never had much of a response beyond “just do it!” I knew it was possible if they’d really try it. Then recently I heard about someone who’d led a workshop dealing with this very thing–and she taught the participants a valuable lesson.

Start! Stop! Start Again!

The speaker was ostensibly talking about “carving out time to write.” She suddenly stopped and said, “You may choose to write on your current project or a new one, but decide on something, even if it is just an account of your day. Pick up your pencil and paper and write when I say go.”

She timed the group of writers for three minutes and said, “Put your pencils down” and continued her talk for several minutes. She then repeated the interruption and her instructions. They wrote for three more minutes. The speaker interrupted her talk four different times during the hour and had them write.

At the end of her workshop the participants compared notes. They had all written at least one page, many had more, despite being interrupted four times in only twelve minutes of actual writing! Each time they’d been able go back and pick up a thought and continue. The speaker ended with, “You can revise bad writing, but you cannot revise a blank page. Give yourself permission to write junk, then fix it.”

Change Your Mind

I know this sounds awfully simple, but I encourage you to change your mind about being able to write despite interruptions. So few of us live on a deserted island. Most writers–probably 90% or more–have to deal with distractions and interruptions.

If you need to prove to yourself that you can get back to your writing after an interruption, try that workshop experiment. Either try it alone or with your writing group. See what happens.

It just may turn out that you’ve been believing a lie all this time. Writing may not be as enjoyable when you’re interrupted, but it can be done.

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Borrowing Habits

Did you ever wish you could magically transfer some good habits from one area of your life and apply them to your writing? You probably can!

The “successful role model” in the quote at the left could be you.

Who, Me?

“But I don’t have self-discipline in anything!” you might say. You may feel that way, but it’s probably not true. Don’t believe me? Think about something you’re especially good at. Next, write down five or six habits you practice regularly that make you successful in this area. (Can be anything: running races, keeping a clean house, raising children who like vegetables, keeping your weight stable through the holidays…anything.)

I Don’t Think About It

Perhaps you said, “Well, I was a good student” or “I learned to play the piano,” but you’re not sure what habits made you successful. If that’s the case, pretend that someone approached you and said, “I’d love to be as self-disciplined as you are with your (fitness, music, housekeeping, whatever). Tell me how you do it!” Then make a list of what you do. Which of those habits can you transfer over to your writing life and make them work for you?

The habits that help you lose weight or be fit or run a business might include:

  • having a support system
  • keeping a written record (of food eaten, miles run, income/expenses)
  • setting small, sustainable goals
  • journaling through successes and failures
  • monitoring self-talk to counter-act negative thoughts and beliefs

Borrow Those Habits!

The next time you can’t seem to make yourself write or blog or do market research (or whatever is on your “to do” list for the writing day), think about areas where you are successful. Borrow those habits–they’re habits you already have under your belt in one area–and simply apply them to your writing.

  • Does having a support group help you lose weight? Then maybe a support/critique group would help you be accountable for your writing.
  • Does keeping written records help you balance your budget? Then maybe keeping records of pages or words written and marketing progress would help your writing.
  • Did setting small daily goals help you get your closets and garage clean? Then would setting small daily goals help you get your book written?

Build on Past Success

Good habits free up our time and attention so we can focus on more important things than overcoming procrastination. Chances are very good that you have had success in at least one or two other areas of your life. Take time to analyze those habits that work for your particular personality–and try applying them to your writing life. Success may be easier than you think.

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Forget About Age

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”  –Satchel Paige

Two writers in the past month mentioned that they were probably too old to start writing. One had waited till her last child had graduated. Another had waited until he retired.

I’d like to debunk that “I’m too old” myth. It’s never too late to get started! It’s always a good time to tackle a new dream.

Jessica Tandy won the Academy Award for Best Actress at age eighty. James Michener didn’t write his first novel until age forty-two, then produced a gazillion bestsellers before he died at age ninety. There’s a woman in my neighborhood who can out-run me, and she’s at least seventy-five now. Youth isn’t everything–not in physical endeavors, nor mental ones.

Experience Rules!

Become comfortable with your current age, even if it’s not what you wish it were. You have tremendous writing potential because you’ve lived long enough to have learned a lot. You have life experience!

For example, years ago I had an elderly student (70′s) who wrote beautiful historical fiction lifted straight out of her childhood–a la Laura Ingalls Wilder. She loved doing it! She didn’t have to do any research, yet her descriptions were superb and rich with detail because she drew on her personal experiences.

Time’s a Wastin’

If writing and publishing are aspirations for you–but you’ve come to it later in life than others–please don’t let that stop you. If you come to the end of your life, will you be disappointed that you didn’t try? I think you will.

You have the same qualities that drive younger writers: creativity,  perseverance, and a passion to succeed. You may not have as much energy, but you probably have a much larger pool of ideas and experiences to draw from. Don’t be afraid to start something new at any stage of life. Chances are good that, if you apply yourself like any other writer, it’s not too late to succeed.

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Writing During Summer Travels

Summer is just around the corner. And for many writers, that means traveling to see family and taking vacations while trying to meet deadlines.

Consistent writing may be a necessity during the summer. Can writing and traveling co-exist? Yes, quite happily, but only if you think and plan ahead.

Paved with Good Intentions

We may have the best intentions of writing on trips, but usually we return home with little or nothing accomplished. Since most writers don’t have the luxury of paid vacations—and deadlines approach regardless of summer holiday travel—we need practical ways to squeeze in writing while we journey to see family and friends. It can be done, and without offending anyone or missing out on the festivities. If you plan to hit the road or airways this summer, give these ideas a try.

First, you have to find the time to write. When you first peruse your travel schedule, you may feel convinced that there simply won’t be any time available for your writing. You may have activities planned (or planned for you) that don’t seem to show any gaps of free time. If so, look again.

What about when you check into your motel? Avoid turning on the TV for “company” or to check the local news and weather. Instead, unpack your writing supplies, clean the fly­ers and TV program listings off the desk, and set up an instant office. If you’re staying at someone’s house, make up your mind to write while others watch TV or snooze after a big family dinner.

You can easily find time to write on planes. Just skip watching the movie, ignore the head phones, and leave the in-flight magazines unread. Instead, write longhand or on a laptop on your drop-down table. You can also find time to write on buses and in taxis during long shuttle trips to and from airports. Time spent waiting in airports provides other opportunities to work, whether “people-watching” and jotting notes for your character files or writing longhand while perched on your pile of luggage.

Second, you need places to write. Workplaces for the traveling writer are even easier to find. Depending on the location of your trip, you may find yourself writing on a bench in the mall or at a backyard picnic table at a relative’s home. If your group is staying in a motel, you can write at a table by the pool or sneak down to the lobby and find a comfortable chair behind a potted plant for half an hour. You can write in public libraries. While others in your party shop at the mall, you can write in bookstores that provide chairs and tables. If you’ve planned a day at the beach, try writing while you tan instead of reading or listening to music.

Other places to write on the road include diners, lunch counters, delis, and coffee shops. And don’t forget your bed! Pile up pillows behind your back and grab your notebook or laptop. You can write first thing in the morning if you’re a guest in someone’s home—just let them think you’re sleeping late. Or write in bed before you go to sleep. At first it might not seem like much, but a half hour or full hour of writing can produce more work than we think.

Writing When Traveling: Think Ahead

If your holiday schedule will include traveling, yet you need or want to keep writing while on the road, do some pre-planning before leaving home. Adjust your mind-set ahead of time as well.

Be alert to unexpected changes in your travel plans and grab some impromptu writing sessions. Keep your writing tools handy in order to take advantage of these opportunities to write during your day. Be deter­mined to write in whatever chunks of time you find. If you want to travel, but you also need to work, this is one way to have your cake and eat it too!

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Writing after Major Losses

After I’d been publishing for a number of years, I had an eight-year period where major personal and professional losses piled on each other.

During this time, I had four surgeries in thirteen months and took on extra work to pay medical bills. Our teenage adopted child was having severe emotional problems, I went through a divorce, moved twice, remarried, and survived a blended family’s three custody battles. Then came the corporate publishing take-over when my eleven books went out of print. 

Block or Burn-Out?

At that point, I could no longer write; no “Ten Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block” would help me. The common advice was of no use:  “Just retype the last page of your previous day’s work and you’ll be off and running.” There wasn’t any previous day’s work … or previous month’s either.

I had symptoms of “writer’s burn-out”: by-products of prolonged stress. It can be treated. Each symptom stifles a writer’s creativity in a specific way and needs a specific remedy.


FIRST, my buried feelings refused to come to the surface. I felt like a robot trying to write. My heroine’s impassioned speeches were stilted and wooden. Plots I hatched were so worn they were threadbare. This was because during a crisis we get rigid control over our feelings. We have to in order to deal with things. Over many months, feelings “under control” become “frozen feelings.” This numbing out spells disaster for writers because we rely on emotions to bring characters and conflict to life.

A SECOND symptom concerns your self-image. During stress, self-esteem takes a plunge. To write best, we need to feel good about ourselves. Long-term crises (divorce, child in trouble, job loss) deal heavy blows to even a healthy self-esteem. It leads to increased fears of criticism. How does that affect you as a writer? Even in the best of times, negative reviews and rejected manuscripts are tough to handle. When emotional resources are shot, normal parts of a writer’s life become impossible hurdles, and we become fearful of trying any new project.

THIRD, after prolonged stress, we often are no longer able to unwind. To create, we need a relaxed, “loosened” state of mind. During long-term stress, because of the extraordinary need for tight control of our feelings and behavior, we become rigid and lose our ability to relax that control when the need passes. Always having “everything tightly under control” leaves a writer too rigid to produce a decent rough draft.


There are some antidotes to thaw your frozen feelings and restore your confidence. They’re simple–but effective.

FIRST, tackle your “frozen feelings.” Pay attention to yourself, learn again to identify emotions. You’ve probably been so centered on others for months that you lose touch with how you actually feel. Get re-acquainted with yourself. A simple journal of daily events and the feelings aroused can be very helpful. Sample journal entries:  “When John criticized me at lunch I was so furious that my hands shook” or “That meeting with the attorney left me feeling anxious, as if I’d somehow lost his approval.” Identify and record those feelings. Try writing out your prayers and tell God how you feel too.

SECOND, work on your self-esteem. Lost self-confidence is sometimes tied to isolation that sets in during periods of long-term stress. We don’t feel up to seeing people. It’s easy to retreat within our own four walls; writers don’t even have to leave the house to go to work. We tend to get locked into our homes during high-stress periods. Your office begins to resemble a prison. Even in public, we isolate ourselves from others by “putting on a happy face.” To rebuild self-confidence, break your self-imposed isolation. Walk to the park, putter around a museum, take an adult ed class, go to the movies with a friend, and talk to a counselor.  Get out.

THIRD, give yourself permission to relax. Let go of those around you. After living with out-of-control situations, giving up control can seem terrifying. However, giving up the rigid control will probably be necessary if you’re to be a productive writer again. Our best work–our most creative–comes from us when we’re in those relaxed states of mind.

All Healed Now?

Suppose you’ve come this far. You’re now in touch with your feelings, you’ve come out of isolation, and you’re letting other people live their lives while you get on with yours.

Does the writing now flow automatically? Unfortunately, no.

The final task is to coax your creativity out of hiding. It’s not really gone–just merely in hibernation. Often it’s just a matter of changing course, being creative in another area of your life for a time. So try another creative outlet. Each person’s choice will be different. For me, flower gardening and quilting did the trick. Just start small (not some big formal garden or king-sized quilt for a wedding.) You need a no-pressure project.

I planted two tiny plots of petunias and impatiens. I stitched individual quilt squares for wall hangings and table coverings. These were small projects that I worked on for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. Slowly, over time, as I stitched and hoed and prayed, my mind’s rusty gears started to turn. It wasn’t long before my quilting and gardening time produced more story ideas than flowers or wall decorations, and my burn-out was a thing of the past.

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