How Do You Write When the World Is Falling Apart?

I can barely write this title because I’ll miss a second of news coverage. Here’s an update: Beeker has blown the whistle on Facebook data mining (no idea what this means) and a horse-riding, chest-baring dictator has won an “election” for the fourth time. In the U.S., leaders are running away, crumbling, getting sicker while others tread water, wondering if it’s really so bad. Some are working very hard to fight and keep the faith. If I sleep, I know I will miss something important.

This is sort of how I feel when I’m flying. Even though a few competent professionals have control over my life, the plane will crash if I fall asleep. Because I’ve never witnessed such chaos in my lifetime—sort of like the time I flew through three storm systems at once, thank you, Toronto to NYC October 2006–I must pay attention.

Our world is very different from what it was two years ago. With so much going on, creativity can either thrive or vanish. For a writer, a personal or external crisis affects that right brain (or is it left), which serves us so well on some occasions, then goes silent on others. As a writer, I know this. As an editor, I see this. As a human being, I want to understand how to safeguard my creativity during these very bumpy times.

It seems trivial, though, to worry about creativity or the state of one’s imagination. Kids and teachers are getting shot in schools. Basic human rights are being questioned, which seems to be an absurd trip backwards. Each day brings a new shock. So why get anxious about the inability to write?

There are several reasons:

The creative state feels the most normal to so many of us. Take it away and your zombie has won.

Shutting down the thinking, imagining brain for an extended period of time can turn into a habit, not necessarily a good one, i.e. a week of “coping” can turn into years. Some writers, like Anthony Trollope and romance writers, are highly disciplined. Many will stop to pick up a speck of dust, then mop the floors, then go out for a smoothie, then come home to realize the day is gone. These not-normal times only exacerbate one’s distractibility. I write this with love because I’m frequently distracted by dust—and Breaking News.

I won’t go into the medical repercussions of ignoring your creative urges. You know what they are.

I’d say this is the most important reason: Am I going to let Armageddon or a group of psychotic criminals take away my future legendary status? Absolutely not. Here’s where I get mad.

There is too much to do. Great theater to watch. Books to read. Books to write! Tap dancing classes to embarrass myself in. Cakes to bake not from scratch. Husband’s sunshine to bask in. Selfies to take. Restaurants to try. Walks to take. Moms to fuss over. Siblings to have church giggles with. Cats to purr with. Music to blow out eardrums to. Coffee to drink. Madeleine moments to have. Blog posts to post. Stories to dream.

There is life flashing in front of our eyes, which is why this is the moment to reclaim your writing and creative time:

Know that you may still be preoccupied with the crisis, i.e. watching a lot of CNN, checking Twitter, who used bad grammar to say what thing to whom? A total news fast is not recommended but if you can turn off the TV and social media for at least an hour, you’re a fierce warrior.

Schedule your creative time. I tend to set a clock or insist on a number of pages. If I’m too ambitious, I will not meet the goal so I do a little at a time, with dust-busting and cat-chasing sandwiched in there. If I do anything, I feel great.

As you notice the silence around you, thoughts might happen. It’s very strange. I went out for this walk, which is when you put one step in front of the other and the scenery changes in a three-dimensional way. My brain switched on. Taking advantage, I kept my devices off and got to work, digging out thoughts, one by one, and putting it on the page. You’ll be surprised by how much you have locked away. I remembered how to conjugate second conjugation Latin verbs.

Find a book that has nothing to do with what you write or what you read from day to day. Get lost in something totally different. For me, that’s been books about gems and how to boost my intuition, which I don’t think needs boosting, but it’s fun to dream that maybe I’m secretly Samantha from Bewitched.

Notice things on your own, without having them presented to you on a screen.

Repeat all of this, maybe not the next day but the day after. You can’t be perfect every day. Maybe you can, in which case, more chocolate for you.

For the 10% of energy you have left, by all means, I invite you to join me as I keep tuning in to our world and staying informed. If there’s ever a time when it’s understandable to be confused or outraged or paralyzed, it’s now.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be inspired, too.

Thanks for listening.



9 thoughts on “How Do You Write When the World Is Falling Apart?”

  1. It has been really difficult to write in the last year and a bit. It’s hard not to let depression lead to inertia. But I’m fighting the good fight. If nothing else, I want to give myself (and my readers) a world to escape to. Books are my escape, and I’m hoping the writers I read can keep doing their thing.

  2. You’ve had a rough one of late, Deborah! Please continue to fight the inertia because we need you and your brilliance. By the way, are you going to Denver RWA? Please say yes. Much love and fortitude to you. 🙂

    1. Nope, no Denver for me, alas. And yes, a rough year, but also the political situation is seriously wearing me down. It is hard to be constantly angry, frustrated, and afraid and still write…

      1. Look at the bright side, you won’t need to adjust to the time change and altitude! But I will miss you in Denver. I hope you’re feeling a little bit better every day. Kittens!

  3. I’ve felt this way for the last two years or so. I don’t know if it’s news, life, the state of the industry, etc., but it’s getting harder and harder to motivate myself to work. Ideas don’t excite me as much as they used to. Keep hoping I’ll snap out of it. I have things to do! Books to write! Contracts to fulfill! We must carry on.

    1. You are not alone! Finding that motivation is really tough when all seems so dreary. It’s not enough to say, “This too will pass” or “It is what it is” because it hasn’t passed that quickly and *everything* is what it is. Nevertheless, your work important and brings light to the world. 🙂

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