Writing When Life Explodes: It Can Be Done

This time last year, I was pumped from the 2010 Ontario Writers′ Conference and was pressing ahead with both writing and planning more writing. I was starting to develop a short story into a novel. My youngest kids were getting ready for full-day school and I was planning how I would spend my time writing while the kids were in school.

But, life got in the way.

Two of my children struggle with the institutions of education and have had challenging years. I have spent the bulk of this year either worrying about my kids when I could have been writing or providing school at home. Add to that a bad flu season with 4 kids and my scheduled work hours have become a joke.

Even with the demands of my family ruining my plans for this year, I have kept writing. Looking back, I realize that a few principles have been key:

  1. Commit to delivering work to people on a fixed date. I hate disappointing people. Deadlines push me to make time even when I thought I had none.
  2. Write every day. I don’t always succeed on this one, but, just like eating healthily, I know I feel better when I do, and knowing that helps me push toward that goal.
  3. Answer the question ″What do you do?″ with ″I write.″ If I tell people I write, I have to write to make it true. I wouldn’t want to make a liar out of myself.

Attending the 2011 Ontario Writers′ Conference last weekend, I found myself reflecting on the past year.

Last year, at the Conference, Robert J. Sawyer reminded us of Robert Heinlein′s rules of writing. A version of the talk he gave is available here. If you are unfamiliar with Heinlein′s rules, they are:

  1. Write.
  2. Finish what you write.
  3. Don′t rewrite.
  4. Submit what you write.
  5. Keep it on the market until you sell it.

Sawyer added a sixth rule: Start something new while you are submitting the other piece or pieces.

Robert Heinlein′s rules as amended by Robert J. Sawyer make good advice and I have been trying to follow them this year.

When I attended the conference last year, I had just become dedicated to creative writing after decades of dabbling. Last year, I entered a flash fiction competition almost every other month and won once. I used NaNoWriMo to complete a first draft of a YA novel. I had a short story published. The story I was trying to adapt as a novel turned out to be better as a short story, so I left it in that form. I have blogged irregularly at two sites, and guest posted at a few other sites. Not as much writing as I had hoped, but much more than I had completed in the previous year.

Last year, I chose not to have a blue pencil session at the conference to get feedback on my writing. This year, I submitted the opening of my YA novel in progress to an agent. And the feedback was encouraging.

At the conference, I met a woman who is just beginning her journey as a writer. Talking to her, I realized how much I have developed as a writer in one distracted year. In addition to writing and submitting, I have joined a writers′ networking group where I have found companionship and support. I have figured out what I need in a writing group and am networking to find one or put one together myself.

If you are in Durham, ON and need a serious critique/editing group, let me know.

I am making a few changes to the commitments I make for the next year to push myself to solidify better writing routines. I am not going to push myself too hard. My kids are creative, divergent thinkers like their parents, and raising them requires a lot of flexibility. But, I know from my experience this year that I can do it. I can write, despite the other chaos of my life.


About Kate Arms-Roberts


Posted on May 3, 2011, in This Writing Life. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Yes, please keep writing Kate! Your style just flows, and it’s a pleasure to read. Looking forward to hearing about how your story (and stories) unfold.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      Thank you.

      Now that I have started again, I can’t imagine anything that will make me stop for more than a brief spell.

  2. Kate – I love these tips. Thanks for offering them. I’m sure I’m not offering you anything new with this, but I just love Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird when I struggle with the discipline of writing amid the realities of life.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts here.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      Bird by Bird is fabulous, indeed. I didn’t read it until recently because I had heard so many raves about it that I couldn’t believe it was that good. But, it is.

  3. Your commitment is inspiring, Kate. I particularly love how you’re claiming writing as your vocation when people ask you what you do. So powerful.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      Thank you. Claiming writing as a vocation has been huge. I never realized how many preconcieved notions I had about what makes a “real” writer until I did. And now, every time I write, I sense that I am a “real” writer because I am writing.

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