Life finds a way. That’s a line from the original Jurassic Park. In some ways it speaks to the robustness of life, how it can persevere and thrive in the most unwelcoming environments and push past all the challenges thrown in its direction. I think that’s a good thing.
BUT when it comes to writing, I’m not sure that it is.
In writing, life finds a way to step in front of your progress, to slow you down, to throw you off course, to discourage you in whatever way it can. It catches you between the push-pull of things competing for your time and energy.
We all have our real life stories and the challenges that come along with them. But, one thing I’ve come to realize is that like life, for me, writing finds a way. I just have to open myself up to the possibilities in front of me and let it in.
For me, I found the trick wasn’t to fight against what life threw at me, but to work with and within it. If you’d indulge me, I’d like to share with you a glimpse of how I did that. Perhaps, it can help you let your writing find its way.
In a Perfect World
It was a little over eight years ago that I decided to put nose to grindstone and finish the novel I’d been fiddling with for the better part of fifteen years, never getting past the first few chapters. I was rumbling along, pushing hard, and rarely falling short of a thousand words a day. On top of that, I’d signed up for writing classes and was producing a short story a week for that.
To keep up with this production, I set aside the time to go to the library every day for at least a couple of hours. I told myself that I could do anything I wanted while at the library, surf the net, twiddle my thumbs, etc., but I couldn’t leave until the time was up. So, I wrote.
For me, the setting was as perfect as I could ask for. I’d bring snacks. I’d be surrounded by inspiration, and the quiet there nourished the flow of ideas. I could write nonstop for hours without anyone uttering a peep in my direction. When I left the library, I’d smile and be filled with a sense that I’d made progress. I’d describe it as like having a runner’s high except with writing.
Bumps in the Road
Then, real life paid a visit in the form of my Father going into kidney failure. It wasn’t unexpected. His health had been on the decline for years, but what was unexpected were the demands this would make on me. You see, my Father didn’t speak English. For his 50 plus years in Canada, his world had consisted of work and the few square blocks that made up Chinatown. Anything beyond that was 100% foreign to him.
So my trips to the library became less and less frequent, replaced by a series of doctors appointments mixed in with me having to be with my Father three days a week before, during, and after his dialysis treatments. Dialysis took over for his kidneys, filtering out excess water, toxins, etc. Each treatment took four hours, and when you add to that travel and wait time, you’re looking at least six hours out of the day.
Initially, on those days, I just couldn’t write. On the off days, the overall distractions became frustrating, because I couldn’t just sit down and focus on writing, just writing. I didn’t have my perfect bubble of time where I could shut off the real world and dive into the world in my head. I had to remember medications, appointment times, all the dos and don’ts, and then there was the pressure of never being late with anything involving my Father.
Some doctor’s appointments had to be booked six months or more in advance, so it wasn’t as simple as rescheduling for next week. And then there was the lingering pressure of me never getting sick, like ever, because to a certain extent, it could be life and death if I gave my Father a cold. You see, patients in dialysis all have compromised immune systems, so a cold could easily lead to something more serious like pneumonia.
But as this became the new norm for me, I started to realize I could reclaim time for my writing. As I sat by my Father’s bed at the hospital, I realized there was a reason they called laptops laptops. So that’s when I began to do a significant portion of my writing at the hospital.
Things settled in, and everything was humming along as normal as normal could be. It wasn’t ideal, but I got used to it. I finished my first novel, and of course, it sucked. I did a few more drafts, and it still sucked. But I fixed it up as best as I could and moved on to my second novel.
I wrote the first fifty thousand words of that second novel in a month. Unfortunately, it took me another four months to get the next fifty to sixty down. Along the way, the struggle to write became harder and harder as my energy levels became lower and lower.
At first, I thought I was just out of shape because of all the time I’d been spending sitting on my arse. But, it all culminated during a hockey game. I’d stepped onto the ice to take my shift, took two strides, and was completely exhausted and out of breath. That’s when I realized something was seriously wrong.
I saw my doctor and was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease, a genetic condition that gifted me with a hyperthyroid. End result was my metabolism geared up into overdrive. A normal resting heart rate is between 60-80 beats per minute. My resting heart rate was 110 beats per minute.
In comic books, this would be the cool origin story for a speedster like the Flash or the Whizzer. Yes, believe it or not, there’s a Marvel speedser named the Whizzer, and yes, he wears a bright yellow suit. But any way, for me, it meant my body was constantly revved into the red. It was like being in a 24/7 caffeine high, but without the energy. I couldn’t sleep for more than two hours at a time. I couldn’t exert myself without the risk of a heart attack. I couldn’t write because my eyes went buggy when stared at computer screen for more than a minute.
For the better part of a month and a half, while I got tested and diagnosed, all I could do was sit and think, mostly about how crappy I felt. I can honestly say that I got a tiny taste of what true suffering is.
Before this, I never truly understood why someone would want to even consider giving up instead of fighting for every last breath. But I think I understand now, at least a little.
But fortunately, I knew what the problem was. I had a friend who went through the same thing, so I knew the prognosis was good and what to expect. Honestly, I don’t want to imagine how much worse things would have been if I didn’t know there would be a light at the end of the tunnel.
When I finally got onto meds, I’d lost over twenty pounds, all burned off by my revved up metabolism. And it wasn’t the good type of weight loss. It was like the Incredible Hulk in reverse. My body got angry, and all my muscle went away, and all I was left with was lots of fat.
The Road Back
It took me six months before I sat down to write again, and to describe myself as rusty would be an understatement. It was like rust covered in molasses coated in super-glue.
That first return to writing netted me just under two-hundred words, terrible words at that. For the longest while, I couldn’t break past five hundred words no matter how hard I tried. Physically and mentally, I still wasn’t back to normal, but I slogged on. The story wasn’t going to write itself after all. Though, wouldn’t it be cool if it did?
Eventually, I finished my second book and its subsequent drafts. I liked the results enough that it became the first book that I shopped around to agents. (If any agents are reading this, it’s still available. :D) Then, it was on to my third book.
Things had settled back into a norm. I wrote at my Father’s side. I worked on recovering my health. I finished the first draft to my third book, and then, my Father’s condition took a turn.
During his dialysis treatments, my Father would usually sleep or lie still and watch TV, but gradually, he became more-and-more restless. He started to move around like a fidgety kid, to scratch, to adjust his position in bed, and he would not hold still no matter how much I explained the need. This was a sign that my Father wasn’t tolerating the dialysis treatment as well as before.
This wasn’t necessarily a problem in itself, but his movements included his left arm. I’ll skip the reasons for brevity, but his left arm was the only place where the dialysis machine could be hooked into his circulatory system. If he moved his arm, he could disconnect himself from the machine, and it’d be blood spurting everywhere. If you’ve seen Tarantino’s Kill Bill, that’s what would happen. No joke.
So whereas before I could just sit and write, the rumble of hospital business in the background, disturbed only by the need to translate for nurses and doctors asking questions, I now had to hold my Father’s hand, so he wouldn’t inadvertently disconnect himself.
For a while, I tried stealing moments by thinking of what I wanted to write beforehand. I’d then slip my hand out of my Father’s, quickly type a few words, and then grab my Father’s hand again before he could move. But that only worked for a short time. My Father was surprisingly quick when he wanted to be, leaving me next to no time to type if I let go even for a second. So, instead, I held his hand with my right and typed with the left.
This was slow and had its own set of frustrations to go along with it. Trying to push shift or ctrl and reach for a key in the middle of the keyboard was always a pain in the arse. But slowly and surely, I forged ahead with my third book. I got the first draft done, and was almost through my second draft. But that’s when my Father had a heart attack.
Finding a Way
He went into the cardiac care unit. I stayed with him everyday from morning to night, and to pass the time, I wrote. I finished my second draft on a Sunday just before the doctors told me they didn’t think my Father would make it back home. You see, the heart attack had weakened his heart, so it couldn’t pump as hard as before. This resulted in low blood pressure. Low blood pressure meant he couldn’t receive dialysis. Without dialysis, he wouldn’t survive much beyond ten days. That Sunday was day 5 without. His only hope was for his blood pressure to increase enough for them to put him on dialysis. This was three days before his 84th birthday.
The next day, I came in and was setting up my laptop to write when I noticed his blood pressure was up. I was about to look for a nurse to tell when one found me and said they had managed to put him on dialysis for a couple hours early in the morning. They dialyzed him again the next day and said he would be well enough to go home on Wednesday, his birthday.
My Father celebrated his 84th birthday with his grandkids, smiling and eating cake, and then went back to his normal routine. I sat next to him and wrote during his next dialysis run. It was the last time I’d do that. After that run, he had another heart attack and was gone by the following Sunday.
Please don’t take this as me standing here proclaiming how hard my life was, and despite it, I still managed to write. Because honestly, life wasn’t hard at all. So, don’t cry for me Argentina. It was just normal life stuff with normal drama and normal consequences.
I just wanted to illustrate how life tends to pull you in this direction and that, throw this at you and that, and get in the way of writing. Putting my experiences out there is just to show where I found the time to write. How I didn’t wait for the right time, because there was no right or perfect time. There was just time, and how I chose to use it, wherever and whenever it was. How, for me, writing found a way.
Writing Finds Its Way
So for everyone who is struggling to find the time, many I’m sure in tougher situations than I have ever been in, just take a look around and see if you can find a few moments to let the writing find its way in. It doesn’t have to be long, fifteen minutes here, five minutes there, a word here, a word there. You can make it happen.
The journey of a hundred-thousand words starts with the first keystroke. Sometimes between each there are long pauses, but what matters is you don’t stop the journey. So long as you find your way forward, you’ll get there, eventually.
So if there’s a place in your life where you can open up and let the writing find a way, use it. I think you’ll be glad you did. I know I am.
What are some of the challenges you have to maneuver through to get your writing done?
What would your perfect writing situation be?
Would you still write if there was a possibility that you wouldn’t finish your story?