Once, writer Richard Hoffman, whose two workshops during my MFA program triggered a big surge in my craft, counseled me this way, when my father was dying and I was worried that my writing output was declining: "Life first, writing second."
I took his advice then, put down my pen and my overly rigid expectations of myself for a few weeks. I came through the other side, ready to produce new writing again, richer I think than if I had forced myself to keep to a normal schedule.
Now, I find myself coming back to Richard's advice again. I've been across the country for two weeks at my mother's hospital bedside, and I've been struggling (but managing) to keep up with my students and teaching obligations, and to turn in contracted, assigned writing projects. But I've also been struggling, and not managing, to continue to produce a thousand or so words a day for new memoir and essay pieces.
Richard's words come back to me and I have to remind myself of their wisdom and the gift of freedom they gave me four years ago. I may be absent from my usual output (and from the blog) for a while longer, but I have come to realize that unless I take on Life first, writing second – then what would I, as a nonfiction memoir and personal essay writer, have to write about anyway? Unless I attend to life as it unfolds, what could I possibly have to say that might matter to anyone else's life?
While I'm still away (in several ways), I invite you to skip through the blog archives, especially to the posts where I've passed on more of Richard's wise words about writing here and here. In comments, maybe you can also share your own ideas and experiences about how you manage, or don't manage, to write while in the middle of personal crises.