When The Shit Hits The Fan


Sorry I didn’t have a post last month, folks. I came down with the worst case of strep I’d ever had. So bad that the doc checked me for diphtheria. Seriously. But no, I didn’t make the news. It was just a nasty case of strep. Put me down and out for a good five days.

That and some other things have made me think about writing during adverse times. Adversity comes in many shapes and forms. Sometimes it’s health related–you get sick, you have a chronic illness that keeps haunting you, you break something, etc. Sometimes something happens to the people you care about: death, illness, bad relationships, and more. Then you have the unexpected financial crisis–job loss, books fail, publishers drop you, a sudden unexpected expense that you don’t have the ability to cover. Or maybe you’ve had the wear and tear of a job that’s soul-destroying and you can’t leave it. Or maybe you’re desperately trying to have a child and find out you can’t. There are so many varied possibilities of adversity out there, each one personal, that I can’t even begin to cover them here.

I’ve faced a lot of adversity this last year. Some highlights: My dad nearly died, I had a neck fusion, I had whooping cough, and I had a publisher cancel a contract on me. It’s been pretty devastating. The thing about adversity, it is so easy to let it all soak up our attention and time so that we don’t write. That’s dangerous. Not only for deadlines, but also for sanity. Writing keeps me grounded and happy and sane in a way that nothing else can. Without it, I’ll go off the rails. When I turn in a book, I have a week or so of happy relaxation, and then I’m itching to get back into the saddle. I need to put words down. I need to tell stories.

Recently, when the book contract was canceled, I mourned for about 1/2 an hour. Then I started writing on the book that was still going to be due and let myself dissolve into it. I didn’t let myself wallow for long. Not that I didn’t mourn later and not that I still don’t ache for the book that won’t now be born, but you have to move on. One of the things I like about my character Max in my Horngate books is that she keeps going no matter how bad things get, and they do get bad. I want to be like her. I want to not lose time and energy in the what ifs or the crap of life, I want to keep shouldering on and find my bliss in my writing and in the good things in life.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think there’s a compartmentalization that has to happen when you write. You have to learn to shut down all the other crap and work if you can. You know it will raise your spirits, your self-esteem and your level of happiness, so just do it.

How do you deal with writing adversity?

Oh, and let me just add, but way of Shameless Self Promotion, that Crimson Wind was released at the end of December. It’s the second in my Horngate series and I think you’ll really like it.


18 comments to When The Shit Hits The Fan

  • Diana,

    “Writing keeps me grounded and happy and sane in a way that nothing else can.”

    I know what you mean. I’ve got my own laundry list of stuff.

    Maybe this isn’t the healthy way of doing things, but I find that I deal with writing adversity by shutting down. I stop frequenting places on the Internet when I don’t have the energy to keep all the balls in the air – posting less on Facebook, spending less time reading friends’ Livejournals, and pretty much not tweeting. I also cut back on my social engagements, because I can get stressed when I’m not writing. When that happens, it feels like I’m losing my anchor and floating away.

    On the other hand, I’ve also realized that I can be a very anxious person, so lately I’ve been trying to combat anxiety with one of two things: information (What do I need to know that will make me stop worrying?) and action (What can I do to create forward movement on the issue that’s bothering me?). It’s helped a bit. Still getting used to the revelation, though.

  • Di,
    Sorry to hear about the strep. My adversity has been pretty minor lately, so I’ve not needed anything major in way of healing.

    In the past, I used to barricade myself in my room with headphones blaring. When it was about a girl, I’d write poetry in red pen and cry my eyes out. Yeah, I was a sappy youngster.

    Lately, I’ve been into killing shit. When I get frustrated I start my computer and open an RPG or shooter and just hack or blast things. That works for me.

    Anyways, I hope 2011 makes up for 2010. All the best.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    My current adversity is my thesis, due WAY too soon, so there’s been no writing on the story for a while. But MW has been a real blessing with this, because it keeps the story in my mind, helps me work on ideas and helps me believe that I WILL get back to it when this is done, and one day it WILL be AWESOME. (hope.hope.hope.)

  • Young_Writer

    I listen to music that fits my story or mood. Sometimes the lyrics spark creativity and I forget about my problems.

  • Diana,

    Sorry to hear about the strep and all the other junk you’ve been hit with. I can relate; strep beats the crap out of me every time, and when my kids were little they brought it home all the time. I’ll also say from personal experience, when things get rough, you have to fight back hard and fast. A half hour is about all anyone can afford to indulge in. I let it go longer than that a few years ago and it took me a ridiculously long time to finally crawl out of the hole. Keep writing, stay sane.

    Best of luck selling the book to a new publisher. You have too much talent not to.

  • First off, Di, I’m sorry for all you’ve been through. But I admire your attitude and your perseverance. Early in my career I had a year when I lost both my parents, as well as several other relatives — the older generation all went at once. I didn’t have the experience I have now, and I did let it slow me down for a time. More recently it’s little stuff [knocks wood] — career setbacks, family issues, a bout with vertigo. But as you say, writing is a haven, a place where I can go to shed those other things and do what I love and do best. Thanks for this, and for the example you set for the rest of us.

  • Diana> I’m sorry for the illness (whopping cough? I know there’s an epidemic of it in S. Cal, but you’re the first person I know who has had it!), and this is an absolutely fabulous post! Thanks for reinforcing what I knew that I knew: that writing is a way of coping with the adversity, and it is worth doing.

    NGD> Love your idea. I play silly “hidden object” games and they relax me, because I feel like I actually acomplish something: “ahh, look, I’ve set the ghost free” or whatever.

    Laura> When is less time on facebook ever bad for anybody? 😉

    I feel like there isn’t much adversity in my life (knock on serious wood here…) and even so, the writing helps me with daily grind stuff I find annoying (but so far none of those folks have shown up in my novels to be killed off in violent and interesting ways!).

  • Diana — Hope you feel better. Not to sound too mushy, but beyond writing, this site can really cheer me up. Just knowing that I’m not alone in what an author goes through can help gain the needed perspective to keep going.

  • Diana, I’m a huge Horngate fan, and am sending a note to my local indie to order me a copy.

    Hugs on the difficulties facing you.

    I’ve been dropped so many times by so many publishers over the years, but I remember that first time and the second time, and the depression that came from those percieved failures. But I went on and found new publishing success, and you will too. You are too talented and the worlds and characters you create too fully realized not to!

  • mudepoz

    When adversity hits, I head for my job and work. Well, one aspect of my job. I go to the greenhouse and groom plants. Or plant seeds. Or clean. Or water. There is nothing better than just zone out with lush, green things. Unless it’s snuggling with a dog. Or three. In either of my zones I can play in any world my mind tosses me in.

  • Mudepoz,
    That’s another thing I do when stressed, but only in summer, so it didn’t cross my mind, yard work/gardening. In the winter, I also make chainmaille, stringing links together is very peace-inducing.

  • Several years back, I went through a divorce, my son had a kidney transplant and I lost my job. There were other bad-juju monsters that came calling over about a 2 year period, but those listed above kind of set the stage.

    I honestly don’t think I could have survived those years if it weren’t for the worlds I created. They were my refuge and salvation and sanity.

  • mudepoz

    NGD: That’s why the only that really stresses me is when I compete. And I’m learning that I don’t have to be on the top anymore. When your job is generally peaceful. I’m lucky. Normally. I think my termites froze, my paramecium, hydra and stentor weren’t shipped. No classes next week, I guess. Wups.

  • Laura: Anxiety is the worst. Does the rational thinking help? I never could get my emotions to cooperate with thinking things through. But I think I’m a worrywart about some things and can’t seem to change that no matter what the logic is to the contrary.

    Dave: the strep was extraordinarily painful, but for a few hours I was pretty exotic. I mean, i might have had diptheria. Or however it’s spelled. I love it: loud music, sap and blood. There’s an anthology in that somewhere.

    Hepseba: Been there on the thesis. In fact I wrote one novel why writing my dissertation. Switched back and forth whenever my sanity was slipping. Or I hit a roadblock. MW is pretty awesome for me too. It’s such a great community and it helps not to feel alone.

    Young_writer: I listen too. It does help.

    Edmund: Sadly, the book was WFH, so I can’t do anything with it. But water under the bridge. Thinking ahead, though. Onward and upward to the next thing. Oh, and hitting the next deadline too. The kids are such petrie dishes, aren’t they? Disease vectors. On top of that, I teach and so I get hit with the germs of the classes.

  • David: Actually it’s thanks to Magical Words for making such a nice community and making me feel not alone.

    pea_fairie: I like to kill off the people who truly annoy me in books too. Sometimes I do it. Or I kill my friends. Like Jim Hines in Crimson Wind. Killed him DED!

    Stuart: Exactly. Not mushy at all. I’m totally with you.

    Oh Faith, you are so awesome! It was definitely disappointing, especially since i really liked the book. It just didn’t match their vision I guess. It was WFH, so nothing I can do. Sadly. But you are so good for my ego.

    Mudepoze: My dogs have been a joy. There’s nothing like snuggle beasts who are totally happy you exist and are willing to celebrate you with uninhibited joy. I’d definitely do the gardening thing if it wasn’t the dead of winter in Montana. Nothing grows now. Sadly.

    Lyn–that sounds awful! You are one strong woman. And thank goodness for writing, no?

  • Diana,

    It does, to a point. Like I said, it’s a new way thinking for me, so I still don’t always remember to do it.

    This week’s drama was thus:
    1) Will I survive swordfighting class and not push myself past my limits? I don’t want to trigger another MS episode.
    2) Why are there realtors wandering around the house we rent from?
    3) My flight to ConCarolina’s departure time has been moved up! Thanks, Air Canada! 🙁

    The answer to 1) was to ask my friend who studies at the Academie how intense the workout was. She reassured me that it wasn’t too bad. I brought my ice vest to prevent overheating all the same. Class turned out just fine.

    In regards to 2) My DH didn’t want to talk to the landlords about it, but I told him it would help me stop worrying about it. So we asked when we dropped off our rent cheque, and it looks like they’re in a situation where they’ll have to sell. But now we know, and I’m *slightly* less stressed/anxious about it (even though it means people may need to see our suite and that forces us to clean up, which I’ve been bugging DH about anyway.)

    As for the flight, I called the airline and they told me that they have another flight schedule review in April. So I won’t worry about it terribly before then. I was also told exactly when I would have to be there, which is only a half hour less than I thought I was supposed to be there, so at least there’s that.

    Either way, it’s the feeling of *doing something* that really seems to help.

    Hope you’re feeling better!

  • Sarah

    I’m with you Laura – it’s finding out what I can do, even if it’s really small, and then doing it that helps me cope with stress. It helps with the writing too. Right now I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get a 13 year old hostage safely away from a dragon without giving the hostage taker what he want. But I can write a paragraph describing the location. Maybe if I keep typing and thinking the solution will emerge.

  • Diana – my life was (and still is, in large part) stress central. My son was diagnosed with kidney disease when he was 2. He’s 25 now and on dialysis after two failed transplants. Writing keeps me grounded and provides a much needed escape when reality becomes overwhelming.

    I had to learn to deal with stress and worry. I have three methods. The first is, of course, escape by writing. Everything else gets tuned out, all my active braincells are in the world I’m creating. Second is, adopting the AA prayer – “God grant me the wisdom…” If ~I~ can’t fix it, I don’t worry. Worry takes too much energy needed for other stuff. Third is only allowing myself to indulge in self-pity while taking a hot shower. When the water gets cold, time is up. (Note: this last one does not work if you have a demand hot water heater!)