Leave me Alone, I’m Trying to Write!

- by Elaine Isaak

Over the course of my roller coaster career, I have discovered that writing is, for me, a biological necessity.  If I haven’t been writing for too long, the effects are rather like dehydration:  I’m cranky, tired, low energy, hungry, eat a lot of chocolate. yeah, okay, the symptoms *are* similar to PMS–which is why I claim it’s biological.  I need it–I crave it!  If I don’t have it, my family will regret it.

The author in her natural environment.

The author in her natural environment.

You see above, a photo of me on a good writing day. How can I tell?  That huge three-ring binder on my desk is a novel in progress.  I purchase cases of pre-drilled copy paper for my printer, so I can print out each chapter as I write and put it in a notebook like this.  There are also copious quantities of sticky notes, to jot ideas for the next chapter, or for something that I should change in revision.  This is a happy writer.

So why would I ever go without?  Alas, there are a variety of reasons, some days, all too many.

The problems fall into a couple of categories:  balance issues, and writing issues.  Balance issues include life getting in the way.  There are children to pick up from school or drop off someplace else (or, heaven forbid!, no school at all!), there are appointments with doctors, lawyers and Indian Chiefs (not enough of the latter, in my opinion).  Family obligations, holidays, health problems, house-cleanings, exercise breaks, actual jobs . . .It’s a balancing act to fit in the things that must be done, the things I want to do, and the things that will keep my family happy.  However, I must prioritize–does it have to be done now?  Is it (as my daughter would say) a “Must Do” or simply a “Should Do?”  Am I shoulding all over myself?

Writing issues include not having a work in progress (WIP), not liking the work in progress, not having enough research to move forward with the WIP.  At the professional level, they can be disagreements with the editor or agent about what should be changed in the WIP, or what should be written next.  And, sadly, not having written in so long that the whole process seems rusty or destined for disaster.  Sometimes, life intervenes so forcefully that, when we have the chance to write again, we seem to have forgotten how, and the very real joy of writing is a distant memory.

The real trick is recognizing when the balance issues are actually concealing a writing issue.  When they are, in fact, an elaborate and self-righteous cover story for me not knowing what to write about, not feeling like writing it, or doubting that anyone will ever want to read it.  It’s amazing how much else I can get done *instead* of writing, especially if I’ve fallen out of the habit.

To get back in again, I find it helps to reread part of the WIP (not usually the whole thing–I am a novelist, after all), or simply to spend some time with the protagonist, remembering why I wanted to write about him.  Often, it’s like meeting up with an old friend–I can’t imagine why I let all that time go by!  It still takes a little while to get back up to speed, to be able to simply keep my fingers moving, rather than pausing to consider what to say.  But soon, I am back in the flow, back in the office, hoping that life will leave me alone for at least a chapter or two!  Trust me, we’ll all be happier this way. . .


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