Tuesday, July 8, 2008

When life interrupts

When the reminder came that it was my turn to post again today, I was in the middle of a semi-crisis and found myself floundering about for a topic. Then I realized I had one right under my nose!

You know how it goes. We’re rolling along, making headway on our work-in-progress, and BAM! Life socks us in the gut. My (most recent) sucker punch came when my husband’s heart problems landed him in the hospital last week with atrial fibrillation. Long story, but he’s fine now, praise God.

On the other hand, I lost my sanity, my energy, and (when you tack on the Fourth-of-July holiday) a week of irreplaceable writing time.

Life interruptions come in many forms:

  • Your (grand)child gets sick.
  • Your spouse gets sick.
  • Your car gets sick.
  • You get sick.
  • An ice storm leaves you without power for nearly a week.
  • Your grandkids visit.
  • You visit your grandkids.
  • The dog needs a vet appointment.
  • Spring hailstorms total your roof.
  • You have to prepare pitches and pack for a writers conference.
  • You go to the writers conference.
  • You’re so exhausted after the writers conference that you need a vacation.

This year alone I’ve personally dealt with all of the above except item #1! And the hardest part for me after any kind of life interruption is getting back into the groove. When something hits at the beginning of the week, even if I could get back to normal by Thursday or Friday, I typically count the whole week as blown and plan to get a new start on Monday.

Of course Monday is likely to arrive with a few interruptions of its own. (And it did. Just as I sat down to work on this post, the roofers arrived with a load of shingles, so it’s going to be a very noisy few days at my house.)

What I have to remind myself--over and over and over again--is that the interruption-free life we consider “normal” is nonexistent. Interruptions are the norm. Interruptions are life.

So the problem becomes, how can we quickly get past the interruption, regain our focus, and get back to writing?

Um . . . drawing a blank here. No surefire solutions forthcoming, except to take ourselves by the scruff of the neck, plant ourselves in front of the computer, and (sorry to borrow from Nike) JUST DO IT. If you’re employed, you either get right back to work after an interruption (and probably have to make up the time you missed) or you get fired. When it comes to writing, you need to be just as tough on yourself.

Not easy. I get it. But sometimes sheer force of will is the only thing that works. You’ll also find plenty of encouragement available online to get you motivated and redirected. Here are a few sites to check out:

Writer’s First Aid: a medicine chest of hope : Kristi Holl, the creator of this blog, was my instructor back in the ‘80s when I took the Institute of Children’s Literature course. She’s an expert in working through the interruptions!

Craig Harper, motivational speaker : I came across this blog in one of Kristi’s posts.

Writer . . . Interrupted : My friend and WIN chapter president Gina Conroy is the creator of this blog, a great source of encouragement for writing moms and anyone else dealing with life’s ongoing interruptions.

Margie Lawson’s class “Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors,” offered online next January or you can order the lecture packet (see her Web site for details). Highly recommended!

Okay, everybody, how do you deal with the interruptions? What’s your strategy for churning out pages when life conspires against you?


Tina M. Russo said...

Wow, Myra,you have had a year.

I admit I struggle with this also.

It is so hard to get INTO character and into the zone with interruptions.

My best defense is swimmer's earplugs. Seriously. Those neon ones sold at the drug store.

It enables me to utilize even the shortest amount of time to get into the zone and close out the world.

Julie Lessman said...

BINGO!!! Boy, Myra, you nailed it good on this one -- life doesn't have a whole lotta respect for our writing, does it? And some people seem to plow right through life's interruptions (uh, Cheryl Wyatt, comes to mind) and actually write a book or two between operations or family emergencies. Don't know how they do it because like you, one interruption puts me WAY off track.

I tend to be a eat-of-the-pantster who writes by feeling or sensing, and all too often life's interruptions rob me of that "feeling." I'm realizing that writing has to be more of a discipline whether I feel it or not. So you're absolutely right about just doing it.

Mmmm ... easier said than done.


Mary Connealy said...

My neighbor Roberta always says, "Pray for a boring life."

I think she's got something there, just like your interruptions, Myra, an 'interesting' life usually means something bad or at least hectic and distracting.

I like to be home, in my routine. Boring, I know. But I don't have to force myself to get back to normal, I RUN toward normal. Back into the groove. I chafe when I'm not. So it's easy for me to get back on track.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Define normal.

Myra, this is a great post and one that resonates with most of us or all of us I bet.

Sometimes you just need to take time off.

Sometimes you just need to say 'no'.

Sometimes you just need to sleep/play/watch TV/visit less.

Mostly sleep less.

Interruptions are a fact of life. Big ones we need to make time for. Little ones...

Stuff 'em.

Tina, love the earplug idea.

And I can picture you there, typing away, fingers flying, earplugs bouncing.

You go, girl.

And Myra, Jack was a big one so I'm allowing you last week off.

Now get back to work.


And no cookies, cakes, pies or pastries until you do.

Ruthy (in full tyrant mode)

Patricia W. said...

I think I come over here for a daily dose of Ruthy as much as for the blog posts. LOL!

Life never stops. So we have to figure out whether we need to slow down a bit and deal with whatever Life is throwing at us or we can go full steam ahead and make Life run to keep up.

I wonder if it's seasonal. I seem to handle Life best during the summers. Always have. Long before I married and had kids. There's something about the summertime that just energizes me.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, Patricia. I'm better at summers now than I was when we had kids at home. When they were out of school and needed Mom to run them all over for swim practice, visiting friends, etc. (or had their noisy friends over at our house), I just had to throw my writing time out the window and wait until September.

Myra Johnson said...

Ruthy, I think weddings and heart issues are pretty much right up there together. Glad to have you back in Seekerville! If I promise to write today, can I get some goodies later????

Myra Johnson said...

Mary, I run toward "normal" too. I just have a really hard time catching it. Like Julie, I'm an SOTP writer who goes on feelings, so I could use a hefty dose of Tina's determination and Cheryl's courage under fire. Oh, and Mary's humor.

Kim said...

You know, I LOVE normal!! But, as this wonderful post so clearly points out, interruptions are normal! Yesterday it was the switch on the well-pump, this morning the car is sputtering, Thursday my son is scheduled for surgery....interruptions.

I relate to what Julie said too. I tend to be more of a feelings person than a disciplined person. Keeping a daily blog has gone a long way to help that, but I'm still working on it.

Great post!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I'm learning to look at my writing as a job. When I worked as a systems analyst interruptions tried to weasle into my work day hours, too, but far fewer were actually allowed to, as that meant taking a family day or part-day off. You only get so many of those in the business world.

With summer here and kids home, I get up at 5:15 in the morning to finish my writing time by noon, so that the rest of the day is family time. Unless it's an emergency, interruptions must wait until the afternoon. But just like when I worked outside the home, family days are sometimes called for, I just guard them like I did when I had a boss to answer to.

Myra Johnson said...

Good advice, Eileen. "Normally" (LOL!) I try to take care of household stuff and necessary appointments in the morning. That way, they're behind me, not nagging at my subconscious. Then after lunch, I get myself in gear for a good 4-5 hours of writing. (Not counting a few breaks to check e-mail and my favorite blogs.)

BTW, it rained this morning, with more predicted for tomorrow, so the roofers didn't show. So I cleaned the bathroom and started some laundry.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Myra, great post. And boy we all know that life does have its way with us. Once in the eighties, I got my writing life so perfect. My husband was at work, I had all my friends trained not to call. All my family was in great health. But guess what???? I had nothing to write about. So even though we have to deal with those punches, they do get our emotions rocking, the people we meet become our characters, we can cry, laugh, fume with passion.

I think what works best for me when life rocks is to keep reminding myself that writing is a job. I set hours, I have a standard place where I write, I say I'm going to work. I read where one author even dresses in a suit when he writes as if he were off to work. And believe me, when I get out of that mode of thinking of my writing as my job, I sluff off. Its too easy to put it off.

So Myra, you hit the nail on the head. DISCIPLINE.
Happy writing.

carla stewart said...

Myra, I think you've been spying in my windows. Kids, grandkids, BIG wedding in California coming up, my sister having breast cancer, my grandson getting sick on his annual visit with us and having an appendectomy (after I rushed him back home). And of course, the appendix had burst so he is still in the hospital, and I'm enjoying the delights of his younger brother. Got an email this morning that another son's house caught fire over the weekend--major damage, but d-i-l and grandson and dogs okay. My son just left for a patrol with the Coast Guard, and they ran him to earth in Mexico to bring him home. Okay. Enough is enough.
Writing? You have to be kidding. But I have been on my cranky knees before the throne. Maybe that's what I needed all along.
You gals keep on writing, and when all the dust settles, I will join you.
Thanks, Myra, for the post. I know I'm not alone.

Mary Connealy said...

Interruptions are life.

That line should probably be on bumper stickers.

tina pinson said...

For the last two years it has been a struggle to write. So much has been going on in our home and at work. We have our business, which takes up alot of time during the day.

And relax time at night . . . well, two of our sons, with family in tow, moved in. At the same time. So there were three grandkids( all under age 5), their parents and 6 dogs, all residing under the roof of my trailer.

My office space was taken over for living space. So I tried to get writing done at work, while things were slow, (one of the perks of being an owner) only things got busy and I just didn't have the gumption to go home and do it later with everyone bouncing around in the living room. One son and two children and two dogs has sinced moved out, but I find it hard to get into the swing of things. And when I start my granddaughter comes alongside to visit. Plus I have to care for her some as well so that breaks my rhythm.
I've got life interruptions seeping out my pores.

So this very timely for me. I'd love to be in a critique group, maybe that would light a fire under me. OR maybe I'd be of little value to the others I should be critiquing for.

I was signed up for one and there was only one other person and they felt they really didn't need anything checked at the time. So that kind of fizzled.

I like the idea of the ear plugs.

But really, I just like the idea of having my writing life back as it was, unfortunately, it looks as though that will take some time and I'll have to adjust to a new way of getting my stories done.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Oh Wow Myra, I know EXACTLY how you feel!

Take this past weekend - three whole days one of which I was PROMISED all to myself to write and blog and promote and just do what I want, when I want.

My interruption?

My sister-in-law died Friday morning.

But amidst all the fatigue and grief an unusual and wonderful thing happened.

I sat down Sat evening and wrote more of a short story that I've been pecking away at for a-year-and-a-half. I finished that story this morning and sent it off to my editor at The Wild Rose Press (say a prayer please)! :-)

The only thing I can figure is that God provided the perfect escape for my grieving heart - a creative outlet for the emotions that I'd prefer to feel instead of those rioting within my soul.

Wonderful post!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Scheduling writing is crucial for those of us who either have too much to do with full time/part-time jobs, family, homes, aging parents, grandkids, etc.

Or for those who have a lot of time on their hands, they just don't budget it wisely.

I find that I'm much more streamlined in my timeline because my schedule is so crazy. If I miss my early morning writing time, I don't have an option to gain it back until 4:00 AM the following day...

That's not an option, so I try not to miss it. (Wedding week, okay let's be honest THREE weeks were the exception. And the wedding was wonderful. Beautiful bride, lovely service, great music...)

I see habitual writing as getting "in the groove". Fall out of the habit and you can make up every excuse in the book to push off the writing segment of your day. Stick to the habit and it's amazing how much you accomplish.

Myra, I've got fresh strawberry pie here, trimmed with real whipped cream and a crust so tender and flaky our grandmothers would bat each other over the heads with handbags trying to get it out of me...

Odd because all they really have to do is ask, LOL!

And there's sweet tea to go with it because it's 90 degrees here and sweet tea (okay, mine's really diet Snapple, but it tastes sweet to me) hits the spot on hot, muggy summer days.

And I love that Patricia likes seeing me slap people around. In loving fashion, of course.


You guys are amazingly on top of things. Sometimes life hands you a lot to chaw on, but I try to balance things by realizing that someday an editor is not going to look kindly on the fact that I need extra time or x-number of days because I frittered away time and then got caught in a crunch because tragedy occurs.

Get 'er done, gals and guys. Don't waste the time you have because you never know what's around that bend in the road.


Ann said...

My prayer has always been for a long and boring life with DH.

I thought I was in full chaos mode but you all have my sympathy.

My interruptions are pretty low-key ... 4-H heifers, candles, models and decorated cakes, 100 baby chicks, baling hay and so on and so forth. A hundred "peeps" puts us square in the hobby farm category.

The kids and I have a hobby farm and would like to dabble in free-range and organic whilst Hubby is full-blown heavy iron and better production through chemistry.

I just kind of figure that I am a seasonal writer - during the school year I write, then this summer I've been trying to revise and package The Great American Novel. It's easier to do little chunks that way.

How about some chai, everybody? The kettle's on and we can catch our breath together.

Ann said...

Forget the chai. I'd rather have some of that sweet tea, Ruthy!

Mary Connealy said...

Okay, I declare Tina the winner of this interruption contest.

Sorry Myra, you've been busy, too, I know, sweetie.

Mary Connealy said...

I've been picking cherries off my tree. We had fresh cherry pie for supper the night of the Fourth of July, now how all american is that? I had a daughter, her husband and a friend helping me pick and pit.
I came in from boating and made the crust while they boated, which is fine by me. I sunburn with the finesse of a marshmallow that's caught fire.
The home made ice cream to ala mode it, plus grilled steak and chicken and more.
A feast.
I still have about a zillion cherries to go, so I called in the neighbors. They're overloaded this year but pitting cherries is tedious and I'm dieting, I don't need a lot of dessert.
My husband agrees.
So cherry picking is done for the year.
I suppose that's an interruption but who cares?

Myra Johnson said...

Tina P, not Tina R, of course. Wow, Tina--a whole menagerie of kids, grandkids, and pets under one roof! No wonder you aren't getting much writing done!

A couple of you used the term "seasonal writing." Sometimes that's all we can do--wait until our season rolls back around. And in the meantime takes lots of notes. As Sandra said, when life gets too easy, we run out of "grist for the mill."

Myra Johnson said...

Cherries!!! Brings back fond memories of visiting my grandparents in Missouri. They had a cherry tree in their yard, and Grandma used to put up dozens of jars every year, then make wonderful cherry pies.

Better yet, eat 'em straight off the tree!!! Yum!!

Myra Johnson said...

Pam T, so sorry about your sister-in-law. Praying for God's comfort and peace for you and your family.

Pam Hillman said...

Okay...I'm really late in the day, but I haven't read any further in Myra's blog post than this...nor have I read any comments:

"So the problem becomes, how can we quickly get past the interruption, regain our focus, and get back to writing?"

Now I'm going BACK to the post to learn to to DO this.

It better be good, Myra!

Pam Hillman said...


No life-changing revelations that will turn me into 4 people, I see.

Oh well.

Let's see, to get back into the writing groove after an interruption...

I've found that having good outline with both internal and external threads mapped out works for me.

Something much more tangible is to go into the quietest/farthest room in the house (which is our breakfast nook), turn out the lights and write.

Dh wondered why I'm sitting in the dark, but he's gotten used to it by now.

Pam Hillman said...

Myra, when I'm home and can write, I flip your routine. I get much more done if I write first then do chores.

Even though I'm tired, I feel such a sense of satisfation that my writing is done (if it goes well) and I can clean later.

Uh...much later.


Myra Johnson said...

Sorry to disappoint you, Pam. There just aren't any surefire fixes to the dilemma of recovering from interruptions. And everybody's different in how they go about it.

I have to agree with you, though -- having an outline and some idea of what needs to happen next in the story really helps. And this from a confirmed SOTP writer!!

Actually, I'm working right now from a chapter-by-chapter outline I HAD to do for a proposal. Hardest thing I ever did, and I had to write 3/4 of the book before I could plan out the final quarter.
I really MUST learn to plot!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Myra, I disagree. Why force something that doesn't come naturally and might not be required on future books? Who's got the time to spend on that?

Pantsers aren't really waving in the dark, we just don't need to cement things into corrugated boxes or 3 x 5 cards, or create image posters of our make believe towns, heroes, heroines and local crops.

For those who need props like that, who feel more connected to the story and better able to produce under those conditions (ya' readin' this, Pammers????) are smart to recognize that but that doesn't make a pantser an unplotter.

We 'feel' our plots. We progress on those feelings. I bet most pantsers (can ya tell I'm speakin' from Ruthy experience here?) don't know where the middle of the book will go but know they need to get to the end through a series of events that bring the hero and heroine together.

And the busier you are, the bigger the data stash is of WHAT brings two people together under less than stellar circumstances.

And you go from there.

A Tyrant In Defense of Pantsers Everywhere

Myra Johnson said...

Ruthy, did you miss the part where I said I had to write 3/4 of the book SOTP-style before I could do my chapter-by-chapter??? I just don't "see" the story until I'm living it out with my characters.

And even though it's nice right now (i.e., post-interruptus) to be able to sit down and churn out these last chapters already knowing (generally) what's going to happen, I'm sure when I start on the next book, I'll have to do it exactly the same way -- feel my way through word by word and page by page until the end is in sight.

Pam Hillman said...

No, no, Ruthy, it's WRITING in the dark, not waving... lol

Get from Point A to Point B the best way you can is what I say.

Mary Connealy said...

The best thing about all our different methods of making progress is, that if you look at all the ways, pretty soon you realize there is no one right way.

Everyone has a system that works for them.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary being the voice of calm and reason.

Great Gracious Sakes Alive, someone note the day and time!


Myra, I read that part you noted, I just didn't want you to feel bad about being a pantser. It's kind of like how I'm constantly defending being a Martha as opposed to a Mary...


Neither way is wholly right but I still want to know who was gonna feed them thar disciples if Martha hadn't rustled up some leg o' lamb and unleavened bread with a splash of bitter herbs and oil.

And twitting Pam is just plain fun because she's organized beyond anything I see within the realm of being normal.

And it makes me green with envy, LOL!

Okay, I think I got the ranting out of my system. For today, anyhow.


Janet Dean said...

Myra, great post! I so identify with the struggle of staying on track with our writing when life gets in the way. I'll check out the Web sites. And focus on the fabulous wisdom in your post and in the comments.


Kristi Holl said...

Thanks for the good words, Myra! Glad to find this blog. Hope you don't mind, but I quoted you here:

Make it a great writing day--despite interruptions!

Myra Johnson said...

Kristi! Thanks for stopping by! It's been so nice to catch up with you again this year through our blogs. I sure wish I'd realized you were at Mount Hermon. I've been saving you a big thank-you hug since ... um ... 1985 or so!

Keli Gwyn said...


I sent up a prayer for your and your DH. My husband had an isolated episode of atrial fibrillation the day after Thanksgiving two years ago. He's always been in great shape and takes excellent care of himself, so the episode came as a huge shock. Although he's had a clean bill of health from his cardiologist every since, the experience changed him. May God be with you both as you deal with the emotional after effects.

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks, Keli! My DH has always kept in great shape, too, but his family history of heart disease set him up for problems anyway. He had to have cardiac catheterization and a stent last month. The A-fib apparently is one of the possible complications. We hope that's the end of it!

Cheryl Wright said...

Hi Myra,

Often at my blogs I write about losing momentum and trying to get back in the writing groove. Like you, an interruption early in the week, pretty much floors me and it's a painful struggle to find my rhythm again.

Journaling or blogging about my frustrations as I climb back up, slipping and sliding all the way, help me more than anything else. When I read what I have written I'm ashamed and feel guilty for being such a failure for not being able to focus on more than the bare necessities (my weekly column).

Your thoughts gave me a new perspective on interruptions. I see it. Interruptions are the normal. What I considered normal, is a fantasy that God grants as a blessed whiff and I should be thankful for them.

Besides, we learn so much more from the interruptions that grace our lives.

Myra Johnson said...

"Besides, we learn so much more from the interruptions that grace our lives." -- No kidding, Cheryl! Interruptions are surely a huge way God speaks to us and teaches us, if we only listen. And I love journaling, too. It's a good way to vent (and pray).

Thanks for stopping by.

Missy Tippens said...

Myra, I'm sorry I missed your excellent post! I was interrupted by vacation at the beach. (no complaints here, though!). :)

I tend to get really frustrated by interruptions, so I've had to learn to go with the flow. And like you said, I have to jump right back in and not wait for the next time I think I'll have a long work time.

Great suggestions on the websites!