When your writing needs to take a backseat

leaves hang on rope

When writers tell me their biggest struggle when it comes to their writing is actually finding time to write, I like to probe a little bit, and narrow down what the core issue really is. Usually it’s one of three things:

  • You realistically do not have any time, and you’re in a phase of your life where your writing needs to take a backseat.
  • You find it difficult to prioritize your writing amongst all your other activities, and something always gets in the way of your writing.
  • You can carve some time out for your writing, but you find it hard to motivate yourself to sit down and write.

I want to address the first scenario in this blog post.

If you are in a phase of your life where you’re feeling overwhelmed, where you have little time for anything beyond all the tasks that need to get done throughout the day, where you’re falling asleep exhausted and waking up exhausted, I want to say to you: it’s okay to not write.

Give yourself the permission to take writing off your plate. For now.

Your writing is not going anywhere. You can get back to it. It will always be there waiting for you.

I’ve had several long periods in my life when I didn’t write, some intentional, but most unintentional. The most recent of these periods was when the pandemic started. 

When we first went into lockdown in early 2020 and my kids were home from school, I had no space to write. Mentally, I was just trying to deal with this new sense of anxiety that had crept up in me and being around my kids all day long left me with zero capacity to do anything for myself except watch reruns of old shows on Netflix.

At the end of a long day, I had no desire to write.

It went on like this for months until schools finally reopened and I had space to think about writing once again. Slowly, cautiously, I found my way back to it. It was hard in the beginning — my writing felt very rusty, almost as if I had forgotten *how* to write. But soon enough, the muscle memory kicked in, and I got back into my writing routine. More or less.

Your writing will not abandon you if you need to take a break from it right now.

Don’t fight with your writing. Don’t let it force its way into your life, especially if it leaves you feeling frustrated and deflated. This season of your life will pass, InshaAllah. And there will come a time when you can reconnect with your writing again, in a way that feels freeing and refreshing.

Your ideas won’t leave you. The ones that are clamouring to be written, they’ll come back when you’re ready. 

In the meantime, remember that you can always be in a writing state of mind when you’re a writer.

Leave a notebook (or several) lying around your home. Carry a little notebook with you when you’re out. Even little scraps of paper will do, like the backs of receipts or the margins of flyers. Or use the Notes app on your phone.

Whenever you notice something, just jot it down — the smell of the neighbour’s cooking that’s wafting in through your window; the construction sounds you hear when you’re out for a walk; the way your new dress feels against your skin; the snatches of conversation you overhear when you pass by someone on their phone; the things people do in the checkout aisle at the grocery store — all of these details are the ingredients of your writing, the bedrock of your scenes and your stories.

Keep gathering your ingredients. Don’t discard them. When you are able to sit down and write, you’ll see how many building blocks you’ve amassed. It’s as if you were writing the whole time, even when you thought you couldn’t write!

If you have the capacity for it, you can also try to keep a very simple, pared down writing routine.

Find two minutes in your day when you can write. Just two minutes. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning. Maybe it’s in the car before you drive off to where you need to be. Maybe it’s at lunch time or right before you go to bed.

Wherever you can squeeze it in, pick two minutes that you can generally rely on, that you can insert into your daily routine. Write in those two minutes. Have a writing prompt handy, set your timer, and go. You’ll be surprised at how much you can write in two minutes and what comes up. When I give writers prompts in our discussion sessions (at The Writers Lounge), I only give them two minutes. And I’m always astonished by how much they can get on the page in those 120 seconds, as are they. 

You are a writer. Don’t let this fact leave you.

Don’t despair if you don’t have time to write in this particular phase of your life. Keep up with your writing in whichever way you can, whether it’s through noticing details in your environment and/or writing for two minutes everyday, or every other day, or even just once a week.

When you have space in your life to write in more significant ways, you’ll be glad you kept in touch with your writer-self all this time.

If you want to feel supported in your writing, I invite you to come write with us! The Writers Lounge is a monthly membership where you’ll find a writing community that sustains your writing practice and gives you a space where you belong as a writer — a space where we connect, learn from, encourage and motivate each other in our writing. Registration will be opening soon and I’d love to have you!

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