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/

59 Thoughts

  1. Thanks for having me here today, Wickeds! I’m going to be on the road today but will check in and respond to comments as I’m able.

  2. Just do the next thing; you really can only do one thing at a time.

    1. Exactly. And I became proficient at prioritizing (or maybe it was procrastinating.) What HAD to be done today, I did today. Everything else got shoved back to tomorrow. But writing was at the top of the priority list 99% of the time.

    1. Thank you, Ramona. Yes, you have witnessed me in Book Jail a couple of times. It’s not pretty. But your sprint thread keeps me on track 365 days a year, even when the dreaded deadline isn’t looming.

    1. Having a contract with a deadline helps provide motivation, Karen. 😉

  3. Welcome, Annette! I’ve seen you in book jail, too, and you have what it takes.To “be kind to yourself” I would add, “take care of yourself.” Get that walk or swim in. Eat some fruits and veggies as well as chocolate. Grab a nap when you need one. It helps in the struggle to keep going.

    1. Absolutely, Edith! I know I wasn’t getting enough sleep at night, so those naps were golden.

  4. When life throws curve balls, I do what most people do… baby steps. You put one foot in front of the other and prioritize what has to be done and do the rest, whenever time allows. During difficult times, you hope that your friends and family will help support you and assist in whatever way they can.

  5. I really like your advice to those trying to write while experiencing difficulties in life. I applaud your dedication and sensibleness in this regard when you were dealing with your own trials. I thought I was too busy to ever seriously write a book, but you’ve given me much food for thought. I’m going to keep this post. Thank you.

    Congratulations on the sixth book in this series. ( :

  6. So much insight and wisdom here, Anette. I especially like your advice to have compassion for ourselves in times like these. And to keep writing!

  7. When life gets tough I read. You may think that when you retire things go smoothly all the time – they don’t! So I read. Thanks to all of you for writing.

    1. It’s our pleasure, Gram. Thank YOU for giving us someone to write for!

    2. I totally agree with you Gram. I am also retired and when I get stressed, I escape into a book and take things one day at a time.
      Great blog Annette.

  8. I lean on friends when I’m going through tough times. Their support and encouragement keeps me moving forward. Thank you for joining us today and congratulations on your Agatha Award nomination!

    1. Ah, yes. Friends. We couldn’t do it without them.

      Sherry, it’s always my pleasure to hang out here with the Wickeds! And thank you. I’m over the moon about the nomination!

  9. Thank You Annette and the Wicked cozy authors! That was an amazing piece of advice and so much needed for me personally now 🙂

      1. I received the book today! Thank You so much Annette and can’t wait to read it! 🙂 lots of love all
        The way from India!

    1. Thank you, Ellen! Congratulations to you too! Can’t wait to see you in a few weeks!

  10. Thank you, Annette. Such excellent advice! Sometimes it’s hard to remember that even a few stolen minutes writing can keep the ideas flowing – it doesn’t have to be a clear hour or two. And that when the brain is too stressed by life events to be creative, just writing anything – capturing it into words- is therapeutic. (I have found blog responsibilities quite useful for this) Best of luck with the new book!

  11. An important post for us all, writers and readers. I’ve come to realized that writing through crises is therapeutic: in what you write you can make things come out the way you want, in spite of what’s going on around you.

    I think of Louise Penny when we talk about things like this. Through her husband’s slow decline, she kept writing, and the book that came out of that dark period was, in my opinion, perhaps her strongest.

    1. Yes! I’ve been thinking of Louise too and what she went through recently. Thank you, Sheila.

  12. Thanks for visiting, Annette! GI really enjoyed your post!

    I rely heavily on my Sunday planning sessions and overall goal setting to keep me moving forward especially when daunted. Over the years I have learned to talk to myself the same way I would to a loved one or even an acquaintance. I ask myself what matters overall, why it matters, what I can do to take action on the important things and what I can let go of at present. I remind myself of what is going well and where I am succeeding. Usually, that works!

  13. Wow. Annette, If only I’d read this inspiring post when my dad had Alzheimer’s and a series of strokes in assisted living and my mom’s health (she lived with us) declined. My older sleuth character went silent and I didn’t make the deadline for my third book. (It finally came out last summer.) But I’ve beaten myself up about it ever since. Thank you for this, and congrats on your nomination!

    1. Hey, Lisa. No beating yourself up. We do what we can do in the moment. I stopped writing during the several years I was getting divorced (I had nothing under contract at that time), but when I resumed my writing was stronger.

    2. What Edith said, Lisa. When we’re going through “stuff” we’re carrying enough burdens without giving ourselves more guilt and grief.

  14. Congrats on the Agatha nomination. I agree with Gram that retirement doesn’t mean all your stresses go away. I also read to escape. But when I have a huge task in front of me, I break it down into very small pieces and rejoice as each one is accomplished. Everything gets done eventually. Looking forward to the latest book!

  15. I had no idea our stories were so similar. My dad had Alzheimer’s when my first book, The Death of an Ambitious Woman, came out and died before the first Maine Clambake mystery was published. My mom had her final illness and died when I was writing the second Maine Clambake mystery. I wasn’t, however, the most proximate child. That was my brother, who did more than his share. Nonetheless, I rocketed from New England to Pennsylvania for several years, stressed out and sad, but saved by writing books.

    Congratulations on the Agatha nomination. So well deserved.

    1. Thank you, Barbara. There are more of us going through this than you can imagine.

  16. Thank you for this wonderful column. I’ve been struggling lately with grief again (just when I think I’ve got a life). Lately, I’ve even been unable to write letters, a passion of mine. Your words inspire me to try. Bless you.

  17. Great advice and very well timed! Thank you for sharing this with us today. Congratulations on the Agatha nomination! I can’t wait to order your books for my library.

  18. It’s that commitment to writing every day that is important.

    Congrats on the new book! I’ve really got to spend time catching up on this series.

  19. I’m glad I read your thoughtful post. So much good advice-especially about writing even if you only have a few minutes. Thanks for sharing.

  20. When life gets tough, I re-read favorite books. It’s helpful to get lost in a familiar world with loved characters.

    1. Yes! Escape into a favorite world can be wonderfully therapeutic!

    2. I also do this, reread favorite books. The familiar characters and settings are a comfort.
      Congratulations Annette on the Agatha nomination. I look forward to seeing you at Malice.

  21. When life throws me a curve ball, I try to not let it stress me out. I also talk to my Sister about those kind of things, she has a way of giving me a different perspective on things. Prayer also helps.

    1. Of course. Family and prayer are wonderful sources of comfort.

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