Derailed, and getting back on track

You leave your writers’ group meeting full of anticipation, your mind buzzing with helpful critique and your fingers aching to get at the keyboard. That evening, you devote a couple of hours to your novel, and go to bed feeling that warm, self-righteous glow that comes from productivity. Your next meeting is in four weeks—not a lot of time to produce 20 pages.

The next day, your husband reminds you that you have company coming and the bathrooms need cleaning but he can’t help because he has an early morning tee-time. You sigh the sigh of domestically martyred women everywhere and put on the rubber gloves. When they come off later in the day, you’re too exhausted to check your email, let alone write.

Since you are also a freelancer, Murphy’s Law says that you will get three new projects the minute you take a vacation day to write.

Your sister’s cat gets sick. You need to buy a light bulb and new socks. And your dishwasher needs servicing.

By the time you emerge from this glacier of responsibility, you realize that it’s almost fall and you haven’t written a word in two weeks.

It’s official—you’re derailed.

When you realize that you’ve gone off the tracks, your first emotion is despair. You fret that you’ve lost whatever motivation you may have had to write; that you’ll never get another spark of creativity; that writing won’t make you any money anyway so why bother. The computer is a mute reminder of your thwarted ambition.

But then you feel a little better. It gets easier to not write. You watch reality television. You have dinner with your family. You shop for a new dishwasher.

You work and cook and clean and do all those things that keep your life going. You go for walks. You try a yoga workout. You become a regular visitor at

All of a sudden, you remember that you love to read. You immediately devour four women’s magazines, a collection of fairy tales re-told for adults, half a fantasy novel, and the Onion, all in one week.

You re-visit an old Alice Munro story. You finally get what Rust Hills meant when he said “a short story tells of something that happens to someone.”

One day, while you’re flipping through the newspaper, you are struck by an article about a dog who was found at death’s door after being abandoned by his owner. You think how interesting it would be to write a fictional take on the vet who struggles to heal the dog, while she also struggles to extricate herself from a love affair gone sour.

You get that ache in your fingers again.

You decide that So You Think You Can Dance is overrated. You go a day without cute-cat videos. You open up your work-in-progress to the place you left off nearly two weeks ago. You tell yourself you’ll write one paragraph before having dinner.

Three hours later, your husband asks if he should pick up pizza or Thai.

You’re back on track.


Filed under Life and stuff

5 responses to “Derailed, and getting back on track

  1. Christine

    You’re joking, right? I’ve never heard of anyone in an artistic profession talk about how they put off what they want to do and blame it on something else.

    Nora Roberts buys dishwashers. Dean Koontz goes to the vet. But they still do their job – write and write, and write –

    Is there anyone out there that doesn’t think writers, famous, and otherwise don’t have to pick up pills, clean the kitchen floor, make dinner – If it were another profession, could you stop working, while you waxed poetic about the whole damn thing.

    If you’re a writer, you write and you finish the project.

    If you’re a wannabe, you talk about it.

    How about talking about the writing?

    • restlesswriters

      Thanks for your comment, Christine. And I wish I were joking! As you know, I work full-time, so it is very easy to get derailed by the smallest things. I suppose, like many new writers, I struggle to find the time to write while I also put food on the table, since my writing is not my livelihood at this time. Perhaps one day I’ll be a Dean Koontz or Nora Roberts, but I certainly have no delusions of grandeur at this time. I’m doing the best I can with the time I have, and improving my writing each day.

      Yes, I’m a wannabe writer—and pretty darn proud of it. Like any other wannabe writer, I do tend to talk about it more than do it. So I take that lesson from your comment—writing is hard work, and if I’m serious about it, I have to find the time. Dead cats, dishwashers and all. Enough said.

      I hope your writing is going well, and wish you all the best success.


      • B Jas

        Time seems to be a Goliath that many of us David writers wrestle with (I stole this).

        Two ways to integrate writing into your life include: joining a writing group and starting a blog. Maria, you have done this already! Give yourself a break! You have also done more writing than the rest of us since our little group’s inception.

        Nothing wrong with being a wannabe writer. You are a writer. You are WRITING and that’s the point. Reminds me of something Brian Henry said in his How to get published workshop: “Writers write — Authors finish.”

        We all have to start somewhere. Aren’t we all wannabe writers?

  2. Lori

    I think that all writers – newbie or not, wannabe, gonnabe or alreadybe, have moments of life getting in the way. I know for a fact (from her blog) that Jennifer Weiner, like many established writers, has a personal assistant to do the mundane life chores so that she may devote herself full-time to her writing. If only we all had that luxury (she says to herself, as she prepares to fold 4 loads of laundry)…

  3. Hi there

    Looking forward to your next post

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