How to Still Feel Like A Writer Even When Not Writing

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I love writing historical novels. I love imagining what the finer details of a person’s life were like based on the little bit we know about them. I love taking him or her from a flat person in a history book known only by dates and events to a dynamic being with real-life emotions, complicated motivations, successes and failures, trying to navigate the path that is his or her life.

Sadly, part of my being a dynamic person trying to navigate the path of my own life means that I sometime have to devote more time to the job that makes me money than to the my passion of writing (which will hopefully make me money in the future). It can be demoralizing as a writer to have life interfere so much with writing plans and self-imposed deadlines, but it is a a fact of life for an aspiring author, and one of the hurdles that must be overcome.

My day job for the last four months has required endless amounts of overtime, working for weeks on end without a day off, and barely finding the time to see my family for a few minutes each day before I go to sleep. I knew this was coming as we had some big changes at work that required heroic efforts by a small team of us to make the transition work, and I was willing to do that because it was for a (relatively) set amount of time. We are finally seeing a light at the end of this long and dark tunnel we’ve been trying to dig our way out of, and I actually have a day off today!

The problem with writing historical novels that require lots of research and remembering of historical details is that it is not always easy to just pick up where you left off and start writing again in the few and far-between spare moments that arise. I find that I need a day or two after a long break from writing to re-familiarize myself with the historical facts and the copious notes I’ve taken outlining how my imagined story of the person’s life fits in with the known (and sometimes speculated) facts in the history books. Only then does my story-telling side feel confident enough to create the twists and turns that could have shaped the character’s life without worrying that I am so far off base as to make my story implausible. Some writers feel that knowing too many facts stymies their writing, but for me, knowing the facts frees me up to fill in the blanks with my wildest speculations. Those blanks are where there are no limits.

What I’m really trying to say is that without having big blocks of time, or consistent time every week to write, I get derailed, and that has been the case for the last four months. But finally-finally!- I can see hope that I will be getting back to having time for writing in my life, and may even get back to working four (long) days a week at the day job, so as to free up one long day a week that can be just for writing. This schedule works well for me, and I can’t wait to get back to it. Remembering facts from one week to the next isn’t difficult, even until two weeks later is doable, but beyond that I start to lose track of where I’m at and where my character is, and the progress stops.

But this time away from my book hasn’t been a complete waste. The ONLY perk to a long commute is that I can listen to audio books, and so I’ve checked out from the local library some of my favorite stories by the historical authors I admire, and I listen to them to and from work. I pay close attention to the words and study the story while I drive. I think about what it is in the writing that works and what doesn’t. I pay attention to the things that make the writers distinct and the elements that make a story good, no matter whose voice it is in. I listen, analyze, and think about writing even when I am not able to do any writing myself.

Being a writer has been my dream since I started to read. Working at becoming a published author has been part of my daily life for more years than I want to count. The forced breaks can be tough on the morale, but clinging to the little things that make me feel like I’m not completely wasting my time makes it easier to not let the dream slip away completely. With the hope of getting my day job back into balance with the rest of my life by the end of April, I am preparing to work on my story again. I’ve started studying my notes, rereading the highlighted sections of my research books, and re-acquainting myself with the finer nuances that make my character more than just a few paragraphs in a history book.

But for now, since I only have this one day off before returning to the job tomorrow, and I’ve done a little writing (even if it isn’t on my book), I’m going to the wineries with good friends to drink good wine and imagine what my character would have been saying to her friends over a chalice of wine in the great hall that would have been her home.

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Traveler and writer at Bitten by the writing and wanderlust bugs as a child, I am fascinated by many people and places.

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