Monday, August 15, 2016

4 ways to handle seasons when you can't write by Joanna Roddy

I'm going back to teaching full-time in about three weeks. Much of what I'll be teaching is entirely new to me and I have all the flurry of curriculum planning, new job orientations, in-service programs, and moving into my new digs. Oh, and I have two young kids at home. Oh, and I'm a writer and my agent is expecting a revision from me soon.

I think we've all experienced this. We reach a season that is not forever, but we know that the writing has to go on the back burner. For me, it's this first semester back to teaching. I'd like to think there are some ways to navigate these seasons with as much grace as possible, so I thought I would share my current strategy with you.

1. Finish up your commitments. Reasonably.
Before the madness sets in, if you have some foreknowledge of it coming, do what you can to tie up what you're in the middle of. For me, that means setting aside the two WIPs I have going and just focusing on my monthly article commitments and my manuscript revision. There are still a few weeks before things blow up, so this feels manageable.

2. Keep writing, but lower your expectations.
I know I just said that there are seasons when we can't write, but the truth is, we always can. At least a little. It might be 10 minutes a day, or one evening a week, or one retreat weekend this quarter, or one hour each weekend, but take something for yourself. We need balance to keep our sanity and even if it's a tiny amount, it's still keeping you in touch with that vital creative part of yourself. For me, I'm going to write on Monday nights with my writing group during our regular meeting time. We're shifting into a new season of actually writing together, which seems heaven-sent. That's all I've got to give to my writing, but I'm going to give it fully.

3. Accept this season for what it is.
It isn't forever. Next semester my class-load will be half and I won't be creating curriculum from scratch. You don't have to kill yourself trying to do everything. Let your writing mind rest and remember that fields that lie fallow are primed for flourishing the next year. 

4. Keep a notebook with you for ideas.
It seems ideas always come when you just don't have the time for them. Don't reject them! Just tell each idea patiently that you will pay attention to it when you can give it the respect it deserves. Then quickly take a note so you don't forget it. When your crazy season is over, set aside some time to just sit with those notes and really think them over. See what still resonates.

Being a writer is not contingent on your output. Ebb and flow is part of the creative life, and sometimes a forced reality of circumstances. Don't let it discourage you. 

While I live out the frenzy of my coming semester, there's a secret, quiet place inside me that is beaming about having my own office to write in where I won't have to buy coffees endlessly or leave at closing time. I won't be using my new office that way yet. But it's there waiting for me on the other side of this semester. And this image of abundance sustains me in the season of scarcity: me at my office desk, a mug of tea steaming beside me, three walls of windows around me in the romantic old Tudor building where I teach, and my manuscript open in front of me with quiet hours ahead in which to do my work. 


  1. "Ebb and flow is part of the creative life, and sometimes a forced reality of circumstances. Don't let it discourage you."

    Such wise words. Earlier in my writing life, I would have been a hot and guilty mess for being so unproductive these past months. (I've been in the ebb mode during this busy summer.) Now I feel the flow surging inside, ready to burst out come September!

    1. Thanks Michael. All my good wishes in your turn of the tide!

  2. And this is how a writer remains a writer and not a burned-out mess -- with a realistic, generous, kind approach. My very best as you enter this season!

  3. Joanna, this truly resonates with me now! Experiencing similar. Love all of your ideas to keep yourself sane while also in the writing thinking. I love to audio record ideas, dialogue, scenes on my phone. Ideas strike me as I drive so I find this a wonderful way to keep my mind on my story when I cant write. THEN when I do have time to write I transcribe my notes and always add to them.

    1. Donna, you always have the best ideas. Wish you lived in the NW and we could meet up so you could download your wisdom on me. For reals.

  4. This is wonderful advice, Joanna! The summer is always brutal for me because of kids and so many commitments. But it's so true, when I lower my expectations and do first things first (MFA stuff), I'm not as overwhelmed.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!