Writing through Hard Times

Writing through Hard Times

Ruth E. Walker

When we were looking at the focus for The Top Drawer for December of 2016, we thought it would be good to highlight positive, uplifting topics. For too long, we thought, the world’s been listening to a lot of negative words and ideas. Let’s keep it optimistic and encouraging. Set the tone!

So we celebrated the delightful and inspired writing spaces of Noelle Bickle and Heather Tucker. Creative writing teacher Dorothea Helms (a.k.a. The Writing Fairy) made us smile about the tough realities of humour writing. And we ended the year with some easy-to-accomplish writerly resolutions for 2017.


Cue fireworks and happy music…wha-?


For 2017, we wanted to continue that positive vibe. But world events are impossible to ignore. Negative politics and incomprehensible behaviours are being analyzed in every form of media, social or otherwise. Protests are erupting worldwide like pre-holiday pop-up shops.

Frankly, with a son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren in Texas, it’s difficult for me to look away. Not even the keening call of my nearly finished novel is pulling me from the news. Indeed, on Sunday night, the horrific attack in Ste. Foy, Québec, brought me to my knees.


As a writer, what can I do to work through this deep foreboding in my heart? Sure, I marched in the Women’s March (in Texas, no less.) In actions and in words posted on my personal social media, I share my support for thoughtful discourse, equality and empathy. I believe in social justice.

Writing strategies for challenging times


I am also a creative writing teacher, and dedicated to sharing ideas on technique, craft and inspiration. Indeed, Gwynn Scheltema and I started Writescape to encourage and support writers, and that isn’t going to change.

So what can we writers do when the world sucks away our energy?  As part of our “2016 positive words” theme, Gwynn brought constructive ideas about what we writers can do when writing is just not possible. Her Art of Noticing is one way to work through emotional fatigue and rekindle your muse.

I find physical exercise is also helpful. I’ll be at the gym tonight, pedalling off steam and worry, and trying not to look at the latest headlines scrolling past on the overhead TVs. I hope that when I come back home, my manuscript will forgive my lapse of the past couple of days and allow me back into my characters’ lives.

All writers (because writers are also people) have found themselves without the will to think and to express themselves creatively. So I turn to four wonderful writers for their words of wisdom.

Advice for writers from beloved best-selling authors:


Poet, civil rights activist and beautiful thinker, Maya Angelou said: What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’


Novelist Jack London offers up some tough love for writers who are distracted or down in the dumps: You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.


Poet, novelist and so-very-wise Margaret Atwood advises us to face our reality and use it to make true our writing: The darkness is really out there. It’s not something that’s in my head, just. It’s in my work because it’s in the world.

And I’ll end with some words from the great science fiction writer who first spoke to my adolescent heart from the shelves of my public school library, Ray Bradbury: You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.


There you go writers:

  • seduce your muse by not giving up
  • chase down inspiration like a Palaeolithic hunter
  • remember you’re a writer and awful is necessary even in fiction, and
  • whatever you do, don’t let reality take you down.

How are you coping? Comments please:

Let us know if world events are simply background noise and not distracting you. Or If you’re struggling with staying focused these days, share some tips or ideas on how to write through it all.

Check out more Top Drawer posts in our blog archive