Writing Despite Setbacks: Redirecting Personal Challenges Into Our Stories

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In an ideal world, only positive things happen to us. We have all the time to write and are in the best psychological mindset. We’re free of stress, always in a zen-like state, can jump into our WIP, and immediately get into a flow. We never let anything get us down, have never experienced writer’s block, and are always in a perpetually creative mood.

The truth is most of us have bad days. We have days where we don’t feel like writing. We have days where if writer’s block doesn’t impede our creative process, circumstances outside our control land on our front doorstep. Some weeks we might be on top of the world, and then all it takes is an unexpected traumatic event to tear it down. We saw the unexpected with the pandemic and how it changed the world. There is a whole list of stressors that experts rank as being the hardest to overcome. Some of us have dealt with illness, career change, moving, the untimely death of loved ones, and more. What they all have in common is that life goes on despite hardships. Relying on good times or our feelings is as reliable as driving a 1970s Ford Pinto. The gas tank could rupture during collisions, not only a scary thing but a potentially fatal one.

As much as we crave reassurance, writers are indeed human, after all. We can’t rely on positive praise from external sources. We can’t wait for permission to tell our story, and we shouldn’t dismiss our challenges as problematic roadblocks. Hardships, even on a small scale, such as having a bad day, can potentially inspire ideas for our stories. Somedays, writing or editing our manuscripts can seem like an impossible task. Writer moms and dads out there, y’all know what I’m talking about. Even if our little ones are not in daycare or school, there are after-school sports, activities, homework, playdates, birthday parties, and so on. It gets crazier when juggling a day job and squeezing your side hustle as an aspiring writer into an already-packed calendar.

When my son was sick and we almost lost him, I continued to write and edit despite it all. You can, too. Although it may seem like you’re incapable, I guarantee you’re cutting yourself short. We’re often capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for.

Making Time To Write During The Impossible

The beauty of being individuals is that we all have different perspectives and definitions of what we consider an impossible situation. Some of us have a lower tolerance for trauma. In contrast, others might have escaped struggles, instead living a tale that many would find not only harrowing but mind-boggling to know that the person lived through it. Below are tips that have helped me manage my time for work, family, and writing aspirations.

  • 20-Minute Sprints: Many writers think they need large chunks of time to write. Yes, it can help to have 2-3 consecutive hours of uninterrupted time to do nothing but write your WIP or revise a completed manuscript. But that’s not always going to be the case. It’s good to try and train your brain to write and edit in 20-minute sprints. It’s like doing push-ups. You may not be able to crank out 100 push-ups in one sitting, but you can aim to break it up and do 10 sets of 10 with pauses in between. It’s the same with writing or editing any long-form project. You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in 20-minute intervals. You can even do multiple short intervals of writing or editing throughout the day.
  • Weekend Warrior: If the weekdays are challenging, you may want to get more done on the weekend. This is especially helpful if you’re drafting or tackling any major rewrites. Being a weekend warrior writer can work beautifully if you do 20-minute writing sprints through the week and then save your longer writing and editing sessions for the weekend.
  • Get Help With The Kids: If you have kids at any age, you will need help. You can’t do it all, and it’s okay to admit this. If the budget allows, consider investing in a part-time babysitter. In my case, my husband and I don’t have family or any nearby relatives that can help. So, we rely on each other to tag team. He’ll take the kids when I need some “me-time.” We also try and budget for daycare and after-school programs for both of our kids. An annual pass to a local indoor play park is a great activity when a partner, spouse, or friend can take the kids while you focus on writing.

Working Trauma Into Your Writing

Sometimes we’re neck deep in an unforeseen event that has turned our world upside down. It can also be a bunch of small things that pile up and add to our diminishing bandwidth. Whatever we’re going through, it’s not always easy to write about it while simultaneously experiencing the situation as it unfolds.

  • Take Time To Process: With any situation — especially something that has taxed us on a psychological, physical, and emotional level — we often need time to process what happened. When my son got sick with a life-threatening infection, I didn’t immediately crank out a blog about it. In fact, I didn’t write about it until four months after the illness occurred. Sometimes our minds and souls need time to heal from the shock of it all. This is definitely true if a traumatic event is sudden. We need to allow ourselves the time to heal before we write about it.
  • Practice Self-Care & Patience: Practicing self-care is critical to the healing process. Going through the cycle of grief is not like a stopwatch. Every situation is unique, and the pain around any traumatic event takes time. Some people can bounce back relatively quickly from divorce, death, a change of job, and anything else. Meanwhile, others can feel the pain of what occurred for much longer. Regardless of your process, self-care means being patient with yourself. It’s carving out some time to do things that bring you joy and surrounding yourself with individuals that lift you up. Being around positive people, who help you see the silver lining in your situation, can be a game changer. They can often spin any negative into a positive, and that’s crucial when you’re not objective enough to see the forest for the trees.
  • Write It Down: Channeling your experience into your writing can be very helpful. Sharing your trauma in your fiction or nonfiction work can make stories so much more authentic. Readers can feel when you’ve tapped into a passionate subject matter and have written something inspired by personal pain.

The Bottom Line

Understandably, we all want to ride a high and be at the zenith in our professional and personal lives. We all want to win awards, get mega publishing contracts, never face illness, and be in perfect relationships that never fail. If we were candid with ourselves, most of us would admit that we prefer living predictable lives that never challenge us with unwanted change. It would be nice to win the lottery, too. But being in a perfect world where nothing ever goes wrong and the good comes easy is unrealistic. Change is as inevitable as trying times.

Difficulties test who we are and push us to greater limits beyond what we ever thought we were capable of. When we tell a story using personal trauma as a vehicle to convey a human story, we capitalize on the honesty of our experiences. By sharing them, we’re reminding others that they’re not alone. Human stories make for the best marketing campaigns. It’s why unscripted reality shows, docu-series, and documentaries are so popular. Stories told from personal experience can also make a work of fiction stand out because the author has breathed life and authenticity into it.

To become better at our craft as writers, we must be willing to channel our pain into our work, which often takes equal parts courage and vulnerability.


13 thoughts on “Writing Despite Setbacks: Redirecting Personal Challenges Into Our Stories

    stockdalewolfe said:
    January 16, 2023 at 9:27 AM

    Very good advice. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    thomasstigwikman said:
    January 16, 2023 at 10:37 AM

    There are a lot of thoughtful advice and insightful reflections here. Thank you for an interesting read. It must be very hard to find time writing when both of you are working, you have children, and no grandparents nearby to help. That’s already tough without a side hustle as a writer.

    Liked by 2 people

      S.Z. Estavillo responded:
      January 16, 2023 at 11:37 AM

      Thanks for reading. It has been tough without family and it does require lots of Time management.

      Liked by 1 person

    chrisr74 said:
    January 16, 2023 at 12:21 PM

    What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger! And certainly we can learn some valuable lessons that help us grow both personally and professionally.

    Liked by 2 people

      S.Z. Estavillo responded:
      January 16, 2023 at 12:29 PM

      Definitely true, we are strengthened by our challenges.


    macabeliam said:
    January 17, 2023 at 3:54 PM

    Great tips. It’s always helpful to manage our time. Though, it’s not always easy to do when life gets in the way.

    Liked by 2 people

      S.Z. Estavillo responded:
      January 17, 2023 at 3:57 PM

      It certainly helps to learn little time management tricks and hope that my tips helped.

      Liked by 1 person

    jennylynnangelo said:
    January 17, 2023 at 4:10 PM

    I totally agree that when in the midst of a trying situation, we need time to process it before you can share it with others. Way to go in managing your time and juggling kids along with the career. Keep going! I’m rooting for you. Hoping you end up landing a publishing deal with your writing. You deserve it. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

      S.Z. Estavillo responded:
      January 17, 2023 at 4:12 PM

      Thank you so much, Jenny! Always appreciate your kind words and support. Hope you reach all of your 2023 goals as well! ❤


    apeacefultree said:
    January 21, 2023 at 8:09 AM

    Working through challenges in the best way we can while continuing to do what’s important is excellent advice – great post :)! Thank you for the inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

      Vennie Kocsis said:
      April 29, 2023 at 6:19 PM

      I understand so many aspects of this post. As I was writing my memoir, “Cult Child,” I often felt like I was on a balance beam between quitting and collapsing from grief of the trauma. I had to learn how to balance my writing time, making sure I had a couple of days to rest as there were times where I experienced uncontrollable crying. Writing our trauma is a fragile process. We have to put our self care at the top of the list while going through it and hope that those connected with us understand. Thanks for your vulnerability here.

      Liked by 2 people

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