Monday 22 June 2020

How to Keep Writing When your Life Sucks

By Guest Author, Paula Roe

Hello lovely readers and thank you BITB for inviting me to blog.  It's been quite a while between drinks so when it came time to decide on my topic, it really was a no-brainer.

About a year ago I had this idea for an interactive workshop, with writers discussing and sharing their challenges and techniques on how to overcome life's setbacks and detours. I'd like to share a few key points.

My Backstory

In 2006, I got the call that Harlequin Desire wanted to publish my book. I had been writing for over 25 years and this was my dream come true. YAY! At the time, my son was a challenging six years old, about to be diagnosed on the autism spectrum and struggling in an unsympathetic primary school. I was a single parent, sharing a house with my parents. It was an...interesting time. But I managed to stumble through my days, writing and publishing nine books with Harlequin Desire over the next eight years.



Then in 2013 life took a detour.

We had changed schools a year before to what became a 45 minute drive. I was thrown into an entirely new routine and suddenly had to be a writer with a virtual office. My Mac and wi-fi were my life line. I wrote three books that way, in a small private room in a local community centre while my boy was at school.

I spent the lead up to the 2013 RWA conference in my hotel room, hashing over edits for my book, Suddenly Expecting. 

This had NEVER happened before. I'd put back the deadline three times. I just could not finish this damn book and I could see it happening from afar... hell, I'd felt it on some level years before this, after I had just finished Promoted to Wife.

I was burnt out. Every day I was consumed with school drama, road blocks and hurdles, and my brain was barely functioning. I was emotionally drained.  And yes, dear reader, I had become jaded with the happy-ever-after stories which had once brought me so much joy.

We started 2014 with no school. I was trying to actively pursue my career as a published author, had garnered a small following and some loyal readers. I did not have the time or energy to devote to ANY diversion. But a new high school ended up being the worst five years of my son's life. I had to mentally deal with the uncertainty every day would bring, the stress and worry that physically manifested itself as pain and aches in his body. How his mental health took a major dive. And of course, my overwhelming helplessness, not knowing what to do or how to help. My gut dropped every time I heard the phone ring, expecting it was school, calling to tell me what he'd done, the unspoken inference that he was uncontrollable, which meant I was a terrible parent. It was hell and I could not bring myself to write stories that had an uplifting and positive ending when my own sucked so badly. 


To an observer, I just stopped writing. Even my family thought so; their casual, "so, when is your next book coming out?" was like nails on a blackboard. I stopped posting on social media. I closed my Facebook account. I let my RWA membership lapse and I drifted away from my tribe. Less than a handful of people knew the deep-down complications and churning emotion of what was going on in my life. I didn't want to hear about authors I knew getting published. I made a few anonymous Twitter accounts and started connecting with other people around the world. I talked about movies, celebrities, history - stuff far from my 'real' life and far from a genre I'd lost interest in. It was wonderfully freeing to be someone else.

Stress and worry and roadblocks are all unique and individual to every one of us. What I may find challenging (marketing, promo, sticking to a business plan) could be a breeze to another author. The same goes with life challenges. Marriage, divorce, family, work, injury, relationships, career.... All bring varying levels of stress and distraction.

Many, many sucky things can and will come at you in life. No one is immune to doubt, stress, distraction. Here's what I learned these past fifteen years, and some suggestions to help you get through.

Acknowledge there is an issue 

There is nothing - NOTHING - wrong with saying "this is too much for me. I cannot cope." And there's nothing wrong with having a cry and a mental health day. Lord knows, I had many of those. Do not compare yourself to other writers - you know, those who can write 3-10 books a year, who can hold down a job and write/plan/prioritise as their busy, active family are busily active around them. THEY ARE NOT YOU. Their plans and goals are not yours. If multi-published author Wendy Writes Alot, who has thousands of devoted authors and an active social media platform, makes you feel inadequate, address why and take steps to work through that.

Devote the time

Whether it's a family drama or a sick pet, take some time to focus solely on solving the problem, giving mental/physical support or putting steps in place to address it. Spend time with sick Rover, help organise mum's yearly bowling calendar, work out what programmes you can access to encourage your child's social engagement.

Hire help

I love the mantra "stress less, write better".  Here are some things you can hire that can ease your stress burden:

-a house cleaner once a week (stop worrying about dust!)

- part time admin assistant to do your filing, answering emails, updating your social media (family members can be great for this).

- hire a hubby/Airtasker service for all those around-the-home jobs that never seem to get done

-stop ironing (I did this years ago. Best decision ever.)

Get away

Many writers find it impossible to write at home. Before the days of social distancing, you could go to a coffee shop and take your writing device. Now we are living a new normal, so until those restrictions ease:

- Create a room in your house where you can close the door. Attach a sign saying you're working (not 'writing' - way too easy for people to dismiss as unimportant). Give a time that you will be available e.g. "I'll be finished by 4pm."

- hot desking is out right now, but Air B&B can provide isolation and privacy to write. Be safe and make sure whatever place you choose follows cleaning and safety guidelines. Or you can hire an office space of your own (budget permitting).

- make space in your backyard for a table, a chair and some sort of shade for an instant writing place.

- talk to a neighbour/relative/friend who goes out to work or has a spare room available for a few hours. You could water their plants/walk their dog in exchange for uninterrupted hours.

Surround yourself with your tribe

I first mentioned getting yourself a group of like-minded souls back in 2003, at our very first Gold Coast conference. I have my writing girls and my online tribe, and I know I can go to them to talk/complain/cry about anything. No pressure.

Go learn

Can't write because you don't know enough about plot/your characters/three act structure? Do a course.  There's plenty of online workshops to suit all levels of writer and many/most festivals are now going virtual.  My go-tos are:

- local community colleges (I have a few online courses running next term!)

- Masterclass

- Savvy Authors Australian Writers Centre

- Writing NSW

 -TAFE also offer short online courses. 

-And of course, there is always YouTube and LinkedIn Learning.


Approach your community college or library and offer to run a creative writing workshop. Distance is no longer a problem with the move to virtual learning.

Do other creative stuff

All writers need to refill the creative well, which means doing something else to refresh and re-engage your brain. Knitting, painting, photography, reading.... Find out what you love to do in your down time and do it.

Throughout my "writing pause" years I still wrote. I never stopped. I just wrote for myself: stories without publisher guidelines in mind. Thoughts and poems. Fan fiction. A movie script. A TV series script. Online workshops. Honestly, it was freeing not having to worry "will my editor like this/is this what my publisher wants?" I worked through stories in my own time, when I was ready.

In 2018 I started a new business, which has been on my goals list for a while. The Wordable Writer is all about providing writing help, downloadables and writing products for writers - book cover design, to-do lists and my labour of love, Spark Cards (cute little boxes of cards to prompt your writing brain).  I then realised I needed more experience in design and drawing, so the business is on the back burner while I make my way through a diploma in graphic design. I LOVE IT and better yet, don't feel guilty about not writing.

Time Out

Stop writing. If your brain and life in general is abuzz with a gazillion distractions and writing fills you with dread, then stop. Deadlines can be either great motivation or give you a looming sense of impending failure, so make smaller or completely different goals. Instead of "I will write 1000 words by the end of the week", clean up three drawers in your filing cabinet. Throw out/shred old paperwork. Plant sunflowers in the backyard. Research something that interests you, or for a new book idea that's sitting in the back of your mind.Give yourself a break and do not feel guilty about it.

Caveat - not writing is a seductive and slippery slope. Binge-watching Game of Thrones is all well and good, but be careful not to lose sight of why you are avoiding writing. I've watched dozens of TV series and movies in the past six years because a) I love storytelling in all its forms but also, b) plotting and character development fascinates me, which leads to, c) learning from watching those shows and using those techniques in my own writing.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself enjoying doing anything BUT writing, then you need to have a serious conversation with yourself. Maybe you need to change genres? Novellas instead of novels? Try writing a script, a web series, a how-to instead of fiction.  Or is it time for a career change altogether?

So, there's a few of my obstacles and possible solutions. I'd love to hear from you guys.  What have you found challenging? How did you work around/through it?

Paula's bio

Paula Roe is an internationally published author, ARRA award winner and reformed Contest Diva.  You can find her books and articles on her website, follow her on Twitter You can also find The Wordable Writer on Twitter and Instagram


  1. Hello Paula, and I absolutely LOVE that you've been so honest about your writing journey. I remember when your first book was published and I devoured it, thrilled for you, and subsequent books. Your writing is wonderful. I also appreciate the story about your son. When your brain's wired a different way, life becomes tremendously difficult - and that's the understatement of the year. I hope now that school is over he's found a niche where he (and you) can be a bit happier and more fulfilled. I'm sure he has gifts and talents, even if they aren't 'mainstream' (whatever that is...!). I really enjoyed your recent gig in RWA's Hearts Talk, discussing covers - always gave me a laugh. And I discovered I'm so old I'd read a lot of the books you were talking about! Hmm... Lovely to know you're still thoroughly enmeshed in the writing world. I've just followed you on Twitter, and look forward to hearing more about your writing endeavours. Thank you!

  2. Hi Miranda and thanks for your comment <3 It's been a hard slog and the learning curve was massive (still learning!), but it's important to know how to get help and support, plus reflecting on what you can/can't change. Thanks for the Twitter follow!

  3. Hi Paula. As an author who hasn't written productively for nearly a year I know how hard it is to hear the questions about when the next book is coming out or how is your writing going, when it's not. You have some excellent advice. Thank you.

    1. UGH the non-writing days are bad, but the stressing about not writing is worse, I think. Maybe we should all just have a bunch of cards with "I'm still writing so stop asking me about it!" on them to hand out when someone asks :/

  4. Hi Paula. Haven't you had it tough for the last few years! Huge hugs to you. I have some of your Wordable stuff - it's great! And thanks for the suggestions on how to write during those sucky times.

    1. Hi Marilyn! You are quite welcome and thank you for your support xx.

  5. I totally forgot to mention - make a comment here and one of you will go in a random draw for some merch.... a notepad, Spark Cards, pen and coffee mug.

  6. Hey, Paula. Life can whack you when you least expect it and it can be so hard getting back on track. So glad that through it all, you were subconsciously looking for a way back to the way things once were and discovering new things along the way. Quite a journey. Love
    your suggestions for overcoming obstacles and hope you have overcome yours.

    1. Hi Enisa!

      I am reminded of the wise words of someone (I cannot remember who!) who said if you can quit writing at all, if you can live without it, then do it. Because it can be such a battle, a thankless profession and totally dispiriting. But I cannot NOT write.... and when the words don't flow for a 80K novel, sometimes you have to just let the muse take the wheel :)


  7. Hi Paula,
    Thank you for this article. We are not all writers, but we all have a more or less cracked life. Your words and positive attitude will be helpful for many, certainly for me. I am reading your books now and waiting for a new one, whatever topic or form you choose :).

  8. Thank you for the lovely butt kicking and sharing your story. I've been really lucky in these COVID times, I have a day job I can do from home, with a supportive team and good set up - but the change has still been kicking my backside. All your ideas on how to deal (especially the one about acknowledging Wendy Writes Alot) are going to be put to good use!

    PS. how's your son doing now?!

    1. hello, Kristine! One of the positive work-arounds is so many are able to work from home. My course transitioned smoothly to online connected learning and it's been barely a disruption. I have been blessed in that regard.

      And my boy is so much better out of the school system. I'm thankful we survived it intact, tbh, even though there is still lingering frustration and anger. I've been talking to a young mum who's going through the same things with her 6yo and it's uncanny how some traits and reactions are present in kids across the board.

  9. Fantastic and timely post, Paula. Thanks so much for being a guest on our blog!

  10. thanks so much for inviting me, girls! Cassie, can you DM me your address? I need to send you something :)

  11. Thanks for sharing your experiences Paula and for discussing a multitude of ways to move forward with your writing when life is hard.


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