They say "writers write." I don't think it's that easy. Given that nothing is easy at the moment, I'm going to say sometimes writers don't write. But we're still writers, and this is what we're doing when life gets a whole lot knottier than we anticipated.
- We write other things. That may mean blog posts. That may mean a novelist writes his first poems or an essayist experiments with short stories. It may mean that if your friendly local newspaper editor calls with a business profile on quick turnaround, you say, "Sure! That sounds like a co-payment right there."
- We edit. That novel you've had hibernating for several months, or a year, or since you were eighteen? Blow the dust off it and see what you can do. Manipulating words that already exist is a whole lot easier than coming up with ideas and creating brand-new ones.
- We end up writing anyhow while editing. You know, when you think to yourself, "Why is this scene over so quickly? We've been building up to it for ten pages, and the climax is like a paragraph." Voila: words you didn't have before
- We read. Going on "intake mode" is just fine, and if you're worried you're not a writer if you aren't actually working on words you created, reassure yourself that writers read in different ways than non-writers. Go ahead and pick up a book or two. Or six. It's research.
- We critique our writer-friends. Actually, in my case I discovered I'm much better at reading the piece than actually sending the friend my critique. (I'm very sorry, CB.) But it keeps you going.
- We stockpile. This stress right now, this experience? It may never end up in any of your work, but it's forming you as a person and therefore it's also forming you as a writer. Stress (and even tragedy) will help you form compassion and new perspectives, and those alone will help your future work.
- We create in other ways. Ivy Reisner said on KnitSpirit that while you need to engage your spirit to write, in some ways knitting or crocheting is "pure craft." Having knit a sock all the way down to the ankle during an ER stay, I agree. You can move a hook or a needle over and over without involving your heart at a time when your heart is already working on too many other issues. So find a "pure craft" way to create: cooking or woodworking or knitting will help you be creative without taxing your creativity.
When stressors hit, we need our fallbacks. Use them and don't feel bad. The stress won't last forever, but you'll always be a writer.
Jane Lebak is the author of The Wrong Enemy. She has four kids, three cats, two books in print, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and spends her time either writing books or shoveling snow. At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four kids. If you want to make her rich and famous, please contact the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.