Writing in trying times

Posted Jun 30 2018, 11:43 pm

One of the writers on the PRO list asked some excellent questions the other day about writing during trying times. She was referencing the current political climate, but I think the questions really applies to any trying times: How do we keep writing? How many of our problems do we bring into our books? Do we keep them issue-free, or address things head-on?
I wrote the following response and thought I would share it (edited for brevity) here:
A few years ago, my (then middle-school-aged) daughter was assigned a project: she had to write an essay and create a project on one way she could solve a social problem. She spent weeks not turning anything in, as we nagged at her to get it done.
Finally, she exploded: “I can’t think of anything I could do that would solve a problem! I’M JUST ONE PERSON! I’M JUST A KID!” 
It turned out that she was going through world problem after world problem, unable to see a way out, growing more and more frustrated. We had to walk her through a process to narrow it down: look at the bigger problem, and divide it. What are smaller problems that are part of that problem that you can address? And what does it mean to address a problem? What can one person do? Write letters. Make phone calls. Vote (eventually). Research the issues and speak out. Find small ways to donate time and attention (and money, if you have it) to that cause.  No ONE person can solve THE problem, but you can solve A problem, or even solve part of a problem.
As an example: No one person can end puppy mill breeding, but one person can donate to animal rescues, or take in foster dogs and help prepare them for life outside the mill. 
Why am I telling this story? Because that’s how I look at writing when times are difficult. There are three things that I try to remind myself, every time I sit down to write: 
1. If you do want to grapple with modern issues in your HEA, picking and choosing isn’t a bad approach. A romance should still be a romance, and the focus should still be on two (or more?) people falling in love… but a current issue might be part of the conflict your characters face. Of course, your characters will have to face a problem specific to them, not all the problems in the world.  
The book I’m currently working on, for example, originally had a professor heroine — but now, based on my own experience, she’s an adjunct struggling to make a living in academia. But the book is not a screed about the pitiful state of employment in higher education (although, if you want that rant, I CAN DELIVER IT). It’s an enemies-to-lovers romance in which my heroine and hero take on the ghosts of their pasts and (eventually) work toward a shared future together.
That said…
2. It’s entirely possible to ignore current issues in your writing, and that’s okay. Modern communication methods are faster to spread than ever before. We are exposed to a constant barrage of information, and we barely have time to digest one thing before another fresh batch is dumped on our heads, every time we refresh the screen.
Giving yourself the time and space to indulge in a “pretty” HEA (whether you’re reading it or writing it) is not “dodging reality” — it’s a necessary break. We all need to walk away from from stress every once in a while. It’s all right to escape from the barrage.
3. Finally, it can be pretty tough to feel like we’re “allowed” to write fiction (even with current events included!) when the world is on fire. It’s not just romance; I see writers in a lot of genres (mystery, SF, fantasy) grappling with this conundrum in their different ways.  See, for example, SF author John Scalzi’s post on the difficulty he had with writing in 2017 (warning for language).
No one has all the answers. No one else can give the right answer for you. But if you’re struggling, know that you aren’t alone. Find a group to write with. Lift each other up. And know this: Only you can bring your stories to the world. And somewhere out there, hopefully, a reader is waiting for the brand of escape that she (or he) can only find in that book you’re writing, right now.



3 responses to “Writing in trying times”

  1. Cara says:

    Nice. Great reminder!

  2. Castillo Claire says:

    Yep, that’s me…and then some. Thank you Darice, for the well needed reminders and the good advice.

  3. Connie Taxdal says:

    Great article!!! Thanks Darice.

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