Writing Through the Tough Times — Guest Annette Dashofy

Anjana is the winner of Uneasy Prey! Look for an email from Annette!

Welcome back, Annette Dashofy. Annette is the author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series. No Way Home, the fifth book in the series, is nominated for an Agatha Award for best contemporary novel. Uneasy Prey, the sixth book in the series, released on March 27, 2018. Annette is going to give away a copy of Uneasy Prey to one of our commenters. Here’s a little about the book:

On the way to the emergency room, an elderly woman regains consciousness long enough to inform paramedic Zoe Chambers that her fall down the basement steps was no accident. Before she can say more, she succumbs to her injuries, launching Zoe and Police Chief Pete Adams into the investigation of a burglary ring targeting the area’s vulnerable senior citizens.

Zoe—in spite of Pete’s objections—takes it upon herself to act as protection detail after the con men, disguised as water company employees, set their sights on Zoe’s beloved former landlady. It’s a decision that eventually puts Zoe in harm’s way.

With Zoe already recovering from one close call, Pete must race against time to stop the crime ring—and a dangerous killer—before they strike again.

I recently asked the fabulous members of my “street team” (AKA “Zoe Chambers Mysteries & Friends” on Facebook) to list some topics they’d like to see me blog about. The list was filled with terrific ideas, but one suggestion kept repeating in various forms.

How do you keep writing when life gets in the way?

It’s a subject I’m well versed in. I wrote through my dad’s final days, although back then it was more for therapy than for publication. And I wrote through my mom’s failing health and death while under contract for my new book, Uneasy Prey.

The reasons and methods for writing through hardships vary widely. No one-size-fits-all solutions here, folks. Sorry.

When my dad had Alzheimer’s in addition to a series of strokes, I wasn’t a published author yet, but it was during this time that I rekindled my love of writing fiction. I wrote a truly horrible novel that will never see the light of day. A romantic suspense set in Las Vegas (where I’d never been), it was pure fun rubbish. But it served its purpose. It was my daily escape from reality. I would spend the morning visiting Dad, feed him lunch, and then come home a frazzled bundle of nerves and sometimes tears. My routine was simple. I’d fix a cup of coffee, eat some medicinal chocolate, and sit down at my computer. I’d tell my family, “I’m going to Las Vegas.” Translation: “I’m going to write. Do. Not. Bother. Me.”

Ten years later, by the time my mom’s health had started to go south, I had a handful of published novels under my belt and a contract and a deadline. My life situation had changed so my writing routine had to change as well. Mom was in assisted living. My husband worked steady daylight instead of afternoon shifts. Writing after I returned home from visiting Mom didn’t work because Hubby rolled in about then.

I started writing first thing in the morning. And I do mean first thing. My dear friend Ramona Long has a morning “sprint” thread on Facebook where writers leave a comment telling of their intent to log off and just write for an hour. Most days, I would supplement that morning one-hour sprint with another couple of hours.

The key to getting that book completed was that pre-dawn one hour. Ship Hubby off to work and write before the rest of the world woke up to dump problems in my lap.

Did I meet my deadline for that book? Heck no. But I knew I wouldn’t. I saw the proverbial writing on the wall with my mom and asked my publisher for an extension well in advance. They were fabulous and gave me an addition 3 ½ months. I did meet that second deadline.

Yes, there were days when Mom was in hospice that I didn’t write. There were days when planning her funeral and dealing with her estate wiped me out mentally leaving no functioning brain cells and no energy to even look at the manuscript.

And there were days when I did write but what I wrote was crap. That’s okay. I could and did fix it later.

By way of advice for those who are also dealing with life while trying to write, I offer the following:

  1. Find a time of day that works for you, whether it’s before dawn, during your lunch break, afternoon, or late at night, and make a ritual of writing. It might be one hour. It might be 20 minutes. Let your family know this is your sacred time to “go to Las Vegas.”
  2. Be flexible. Stuff will happen. You may have to change your routine depending on life’s demands.
  3. Allow yourself to write crap. If your brain isn’t into the story, that’s okay. Put down words with the knowledge and intention that you’ll fix them later. Sometimes the simple act of getting words on a page can prove cathartic.
  4. Above all else, be kind to yourself. Ask for a deadline extension if things are that dire. Don’t add to the stress by beating yourself up about needing to write when you simply can’t. Remind yourself that everything is fodder. You might be going through hell, but you can draw from those emotions later. Instead of writing fiction, journal. Blog. Or pour your heart out in some form that no one else will ever read.

Whether you’re dealing with a family illness or simply the everyday grind of work, school, and keeping the kids fed, the trick is…there is no trick. Find a small chunk of time each day and designate it as your sacred writing time. Maybe it’s an hour, maybe it’s fifteen minutes. Maybe you’ll write 1,000 words or maybe only half a page. But that daily routine will keep your head in the story and will keep your story moving in the right direction.

Readers and fellow writers, what methods do you employ to get through the rough patches life throws at you? Annette will answer your comments as she can today.

Bio: Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. She’s a three-time finalist for the Agatha Award: Best First Novel of 2014 and Best Contemporary Novel of 2015 and NO WAY HOME has been nominated for the 2017 Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel. UNEASY PREY (March 2018) is the sixth in the series. You can find Annette at http://www.annettedashofy.com/