Give Yourself Permission

Give Yourself Permission
Terry Odell

There have been several posts recently about how to motivate yourself to write, how to increase productivity, how to “do the job.” I’d like to take a moment to look at the other side of the picture.

(Disclaimer: I’m an indie author and am not on deadline at the moment.)

Recent events—both positive and negative—have pulled me away from the current manuscript. I had a short visit with my mother, followed by a planned week’s vacation which was an organized tour, and we were on the go all the time. When I returned home, ready to tackle the WIP, my mother’s failing health had taken a rapid downturn, and I dropped everything to return to LA. My brother and I spent two weeks dealing with the funeral and trying to get her house cleared out enough to put on the market. She’d lived in the house since 1958 and apparently threw nothing away.

At any rate, all the sorting and wrapping, bagging, and packing was both physically and mentally exhausting. Although I’d intended to use “down time” to work on the manuscript (even brought my regular keyboard), there wasn’t any.

I did have one pleasant break—I met with JSB for lunch one day, and it was nice to talk about writing, and a glimmer of a spark to get back to the book flashed for a moment or two.

At first, I told myself that I had reached a “need to do some research” stopping point before I left, but I faced reality. Even with that information I wasn’t going to be able to write. Constant interruptions, distractions, and the pressure to get everything done wasn’t conducive to productivity—at least productivity that wouldn’t end up being the victim of the delete key.

I gave myself permission to set the manuscript aside and not feel guilty about it. The same went for a presence on social media. I checked emails, but set most of them aside to deal with when I got home.

While writing every day is part of the “job”, there are legitimate reasons for taking a leave of absence. When life intervenes and you have to step away, accept it. The manuscript will still be there.

Now that I’m home in my familiar writing environment, I’ll be catching up with all the “life” stuff that accumulates while you’re away, but also with easing back into the writing. I wrote a post some time ago about getting back in the writing groove, but I thought it was appropriate to repeat my tips here:

Get rid of chores that will nag.
If you are going to worry about cleaning house, paying bills, going through email, take the time to get the critical things dealt with. Otherwise you’re not going to be focused on your writing. If you’re a ‘write first’ person, don’t open anything other than your word processing program.

Do critiques for my crit group.
This might seem counterproductive, but freeing your brain from your own plot issues and looking at someone else’s writing can help get your brain into thinking about the craft itself.

Work on other ‘writing’ chores.
For me, it can be blog posts, or forum participation. Just take it easy on social media time.

Deal with critique group feedback.
Normally, I’m many chapters ahead of my subs to my crit group. If I start with their feedback on earlier chapters, I get back into the story, but more critically than if I simply read the chapters. And they might point out plot holes that need to be dealt with. Fixing these issues helps bring me up to speed on where I’ve been. It also gets me back into the heads of my characters.

Read the last chapter/scene you wrote.
Do basic edits, looking for overused words, typos, continuity errors. This is another way to start thinking “writerly” and it’s giving you that running start for picking up where you left off.

Consult any plot notes.
For me, it’s my idea board, since I don’t outline. I jot things down on sticky notes and slap them onto a foam core board. Filling in details in earlier chapters also helps immerse you in the book.

Figure out the plot points for the next scene.
Once you know what has to happen, based on the previous step, you have a starting point.

And don’t worry if things don’t flow immediately. Get something on the page. Fix it later.

What about you? Any tips and tricks you’ve found when outside world distractions keep you from focusing?

Now Available: Cruising Undercover

It’s supposed to be a simple assignment aboard a luxury yacht, but soon, he’s in over his head.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

29 thoughts on “Give Yourself Permission

  1. Terry,

    I’m sorry about your mother. Many years ago, my two sisters and I handled the same situation with our widowed mother and it was indeed stressful trying to complete the necessary tasks and arrangements while processing grief.

    Regarding tricks or tips to refocus on writing: The only suggestions I can add to your excellent list is this tactic that worked for me: I took a one-day writing workshop. It ended up being very basic, but I had fun, met interesting people, and got pumped to resume writing. Since running off to even a short workshop isn’t always possible or desirable, rereading chapters from favorite writing craft books, such as those by James Scott Bell, usually inspires me,

  2. I’m sorry for your loss. It’s very stressful and draining when you’re closing up someone’s home but also contacting the right people about utilities and other details/things that have to be taken care of.

    These are all good tips on getting back in the writing groove. In those situations I find trying to ‘force’ myself to instantly get back in the groove doesn’t work, so taking steps like you mention helps ease back into it until the writing wheels start turning again. And sometimes when dealing with this it seems that just the right writing post, article, or book will come along which helps me transition back to writing mode.

  3. Thanks, BK.
    I got home Monday night. Tuesday was spent dealing with the mundane and routine, and I didn’t even force myself to do all the usual household tasks. Sheets are clean, but not yet folded. Snail mail is sorted, but I haven’t filed everything away. Writing blog posts was about the only ‘writerly’ think I did–and I took the ‘rerun’ shortcut.

  4. I am so, so sorry you lost your mom, Terry. {{{hugs}}}

    Giving yourself permission not to write isn’t easy. I’ve learned how to ignore social media, but the WIP never lets me rest. Except Sundays, when we watch football. Thanks for the tips!

    • Thanks, Sue.
      While it’s okay to take the occasional break for a day or two, these extended periods due to major life changes can lead to guilt, and that’s not healthy.

  5. I’m sorry for your loss, Terry. And thanks for being willing to discuss this painful subject.

    I recently was hit with two or three “emergencies” that required use of all my time. They weren’t anything as serious or emotional as what you dealt with, but it took me out of writing for several weeks, and made me struggle to get back into writing. I almost abandoned a rough draft at the halfway point.

    I agree with all your points, especially not feeling guilty for setting aside the writing while you deal with putting out the fires. Your advice about reviewing plot points is something that helped me. Going back and reviewing/studying/editing my outline helped me regain interest in the story (and make some improvements on the story with some additional perspective). And, one last thing that helped me was finding that point when I could give some time back to the writing, reserving the mornings for writing and working on the burdens in the afternoons. I’m still in that phase, but the excitement for the writing has returned.

    Thanks for the tips, and I hope the sharing of your story helps speed your recovery from the grieving process.

    • Thank you, Steve.
      I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this post–my private life is normally private, but when writing defines us, we need to know that we’re allowed to step back. If we’re writers, we’ll write even if we have to step away. Things became “easier” for me on the mental side when I let go of the guilt.

  6. All good tips, Terry. When I hit one of these times I allow myself to drop everything and do some pure pleasure reading. Especially of a favorite novel. I find that rereading some of the writing I most admire soon gets me back on the mood to write again.

    A nice lunch with a writer friend helps, too. 😁

    • Thanks, JSB –
      On this trip, I did something I NEVER do. I’d started a library book the night before I left. I read about 2 chapters. This was a 500 pager, hard cover, and heavy. I put it in my suitcase and read it before sleep every night.
      I expect to see Romeo at that restaurant sometime soon.

  7. Terry, your mom had a long life and was able to hold her daughter’s books in her hands. That must have made her proud. Of blessed memory.

    Even though you know death is coming, when it actually happens, there are always many more complications than can be anticipated. It’s a very tough time and I’m glad you didn’t pile writing pressure on top of your other heavy responsibilities.

    Doing critiques for others is a great tip. It lets you get outside your own pressing problems for a little while.

    Wishing you peace.

    • Thanks, Debbie. I’m a few chapters ahead in my WIP, so I’ll be sending the next one to my crit groups very soon–that also helps me get back into my own story.

  8. I am so sorry to hear about your mom. We went through something similar with my mother-in-law several years ago. It’s soul-crushing.

    Thank you for posting. I needed to hear this. Our show opens this week which means I leave for work at 7 am, do a flyby at home between work and rehearsal, getting back home around 10 pm.

    I decided a full time job and a show are all I can handle this week.

    Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way talks about taking time to restock the pond when you’re all fished out.

    Hugs and love.

  9. I’m so sorry about about you losing your mom, Terry. Your tips are very helpful. After my father died I didn’t write for some time. I was his executor, and juggling that and my day job put writing in the backseat. I think giving yourself permission not to write lets you focus on what you need to do. I didn’t really do that, but ended up not writing anyway.

    I find easing back in too actual writing when I haven’t for a long while to be definitely hard at first, and giving myself a very short amount of time, say 15 minutes, even five minutes, just to put a few words down on the screen, eases me back into it. I also find getting out a pad of paper and jotting down a paragraph or three about the novel as a whole, helps me return to it.

    Very glad to hear that you were able to have lunch with JSB while you were in LA.

    I hope all the wonderful memories you have of your mom will give comfort.

  10. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, Terry. No matter how old or how infirm a loved one is, their death is still a tragic shock.

    I agree that it’s important to be able to take a guilt-free break from writing, whether voluntary or imposed. I’m fortunate to have a fellow author (and extremely honest critique partner) living in the house. My husband and I discuss plot issues over dinner or while we’re on road trips. On a recent trip to Kentucky, we were gone for four days. I didn’t do any writing, but made major progress in resolving plot issues with my WIP.

    Wishing you shalom.

  11. So very sorry for your loss, Terry. Thank you for the excellent tips. Your tip, “Get something on the page. Fix it later” is especially useful. I also follow JSB’s advice and read for pleasure. Currently going through a cache of John Sandford’s “prey” mysteries I found in the local library. Entertaining and educational. Sandford knows how to move a plot forward.

    • Thanks, Elaine (although can you call it ‘pleasure reading’ if you’re learning from it!) Love Sandford. Took a workshop from him years ago. His advice on the final editing pass stuck.

  12. Losing your mom sucks. I’m so sorry, Terry.

    The chores can be used to your advantage. The big McGuffin of my first novel was based on the published date of an Edgar Allen Poe poem. Anyway, my trusted research source had the wrong date, and I was screwed halfway through my novel. In despair, I decided the fridge really needed a complete cleaning. By the time it was sparkly clean, I had figured out a way to make the McGuffin and the book even better.

  13. Thank you for sharing this personal experience. Grief takes energy. When processing my father’s death (35 years previously), I was so mentally exhausted, I had to nap often. Also, my memory went elsewhere; I forgot a very important 45-minute appointment.

    Another thing that takes inordinate amounts of energy is decision-making. Not necessarily important decisions, either; deciding whether to keep or toss something takes energy, too. A thousand such decisions to clear away the clutter of 60 years is a huge drain on top of grief issues.

    I offer my belated condolences for your loss, and hope you will not have to revisit it down the road. Only time and tears can free us from our ultimate sadnesses.

    • Thanks so much. Yes, the decision making is physically as well as mentally exhausting. My brother discovered the stack of letters he’d written to our parents when he was in college and had to re-read every single one. His wife, while not as connected to my mother (but it’s been over 40 years), was of the ‘give it a glance, and if it doesn’t seem useful NOW, stick it in either the donate or toss pile. She was a whirling dervish.

  14. Terry, this post hit home for me, as for others here. I’m sorry about your mom. It’s hard to lose a parent. Even as adults, we can feel orphaned.

    My mom passed away in 2016, and I remember how hard it was to write. That was the year I indie-published my first book, and she just missed it. She died in June, the book was finished and available in the fall, as I recall. She wouldn’t have been able to read it because of her dementia, but I would give anything to have a picture of her holding it. She’s the parent who gave me a love of literature.

    And now, there’s my dad. He’s 89, and failing fast. I take care of everything for him…paying his bills, overseeing his medical care, and arguing with the VA.

    I’ve found that (as cold and business-like as it sounds) putting him on my “writing schedule” works. Whether it’s a visit, a phone call to him, or yelling at some faceless insurance person, it’s on my daily schedule.

    I won’t forget to write, but I surely don’t want to forget one detail regarding his care. I won’t have him for much longer, and I keep reminding myself that he never forgot one detail of my care when I was a child. I must do no less, even if I have to schedule it.

    Thank for bringing this topic to us, and for all the comments. It feels like, even though we spend a lot of time alone in our caves, we’re kind of rowing the same canoe. 🙂

    • Thanks, Deb. I understand what you’re going through. My dad passed away 5 years ago and suffered from dementia for a couple years prior. My mom had caregivers for him, and my brother, who lives closer took care of a lot of details, sparing me that task. Mom had macular degeneration and could only read my name on the cover of my last few books, but she delighted in getting them, and I in sending them.
      I was reluctant to share my private life, fearing it would simply keep the wounds open, but now I’m glad I did. Reading comments has helped light that tiny spark, and I’m now sending my critique partners another chapter from my wip.

  15. I’m so sorry for the loss of your mother. Even when someone is critically ill, we’re never prepared for that day. My mom passed away five days before my first book released. But I was comforted that she got to hold it in her hands even if she wasn’t up to reading it.

    I learned that whether we participate or not, life goes on–my book did just fine without me doing a thing.
    These tips are great for easing back into writing. I just returned from visiting my daughter and grands and even though I thought I’d get an opportunity to write, Ian saw to it that I didn’t. So I’ve been away from the manuscript for about two weeks and now I’m easing back into it.

    • So sad about the timing, Patricia, but at least she got to hold it. People in “normal” jobs get weekends, vacation, sick days, regular hours, other holidays. We writers are made to feel guilty if we treat our jobs as requiring attention 7 days a week, all day. I actually did that research I’d been putting off as a way of easing into things…and discovered I’m going to have to do some serious rewriting. Which, all things considered, might be easier than pushing forward.

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