Posted On June 7, 2017 by Print This Post

When Life Happens by Caren Crane

I’m excited to welcome the fabulous CAREN CRANE to RU. Scroll down past her bio below for details of Caren’s GIVEAWAY!

I’ve been writing for about 16 years now. For some of you, that will seem like an eternity; for others the blink of an eye. Writing is hard under the best of circumstances, but particularly tough when a crisis crops up. Your kid or parent or pet is sick. The day job is a hornet’s nest. Your health is compromised. How do you manage to eke out the will to write when life is incredibly challenging?


Because life is rarely easy, y’all, and it often downright sucks. Though the rare day dawns when you wake up inspired and ready to hit the keyboard, most are simply meh. My own life is mostly fine and my “challenges” are nothing epic. Yet I find it hard to work up the creative energy to put together a blog post, much less novel-length fiction that people are willing to plunk down money to buy.

Sorry to be less than inspiring, but I get tired of advice from people so cheery I want to punch them in the throat. I find a dash of cynicism refreshing. Chances are your week so far has had a few speed bumps and maybe a yawning chasm in the road or a for-serious crisis to navigate. How are you supposed to corral creativity when all you want is to binge-watch shows on Netflix or just give up and hit your pillow?


It helps to start by giving up the expectation that you will ever be inspired. You’ve heard a million times, from people a lot smarter than I am that it’s easier to fix a crappy page than a blank one. I’ll add that it’s easier to read something funny than something tragic, including pitiful Facebook posts. So skip drafting a perfectly tragic status update or posting a picture of your cast on Instagram and open your work-in-progress instead.


It also helps to stop entertaining yourself with other peoples’ output 24/7. Ever lost half a day reading other people’s feeds? I know you have, because I have too. Knock it off! Your time is precious and irretrievable. Don’t waste it. No one needs to know how often the baby woke you up or how many hours you waited in line at the DMV. Put down your phone. Put down your tablet. Write new words in your manuscript.


In that vein, arrange some accountability for yourself. I’ve had friends lose patience with me and ask me what the hell I’m doing or where the f*%# those pages are I was going to send them, because I am a master of procrastination. And at times, I’ve had serious health issues. I’ve had family issues and work issues. I’ve had Stuff Going Down. I have also resented the fact that my well-intentioned friends dared to ask! Inevitably, though, I’ve been glad my friends and fellow writers (and even readers) cared enough to kick my rear-end and that someone – anyone! – was holding me accountable. So create some sort of accountability partner or group for yourself, even if it’s just your mom or your bestie asking for the next scene of your WIP.

Create external pressure via deadlines. Even if these are deadlines you create that are actually not set in stone, it helps you get it in gear. I like to sign up for reader’s conventions to force myself to write something new. I have a work-in-progress that I’ve been neglecting for a long time now. I am also appearing at a reader’s convention in August, so the heat is officially turned up! I have no idea if my book will be ready to go by then, but it’s certainly weighing heavily on my mind these days. If any of you are master procrastinators like I am, deadlines really help.


Finally, if life is hard for you right now and you’re sick, exhausted or beat up by life, take heart. It won’t last forever. Things may not get better, but they certainly will change. Life is what it is and it’s the only one you have. After you die, no one is going to read that book you never wrote. So stop waiting for inspiration and blocks of free time. Write on lunch breaks. Write during your kid’s soccer practice. Write while you wait for your mom at the doctor’s office. Write while the baby naps. Write while you sit in the airport. Write when you want to read. Write when you have nothing to say. But please, no matter how impossible and full life gets, keep sending yourself lines of dialogue as texts and new paragraphs and scenes as emails. Keep writing on the backs of receipts and napkins and transcribing them later. All the words count, friends, because words add up.


Whatever you do, write your book, because I want to read it!


How do you make yourself write when life throws roadblocks your way?



Caren Crane began writing warm, witty women’s fiction to save herself from the dreary fate of life in The Office. An electrical engineer by training, she longed to create worlds where things were any color except cube-wall gray. She still works in a gray cube, but gets to hang out with witty, fabulous people whenever she’s writing, which greatly encourages butt-in-chair time.


Caren lives in North Carolina with her wonderful husband and a semi-feral rescue cat. She has three fierce, intelligent, gorgeous grown children, having neatly side-stepped her mother’s threat that she would have children Just Like Her. You can find info and excerpts at


Catch up with Caren at Red Door Reads (, on Facebook ( or on Twitter (


GIVEAWAY! Caren will giveaway a digital copy of KICK START to one of our commenters.


When life stalls right in the middle of the journey, sometimes all it needs is a Kick Start

Linda Dowling’s husband traded her in for a younger model, and she clung to the only life and home her kids knew. Easiest thing by far when her heart was broken and her small town was filled with folks who commonly mistook their neighbor’s concerns for their own. But even in Cross Springs, NC, time moves on and heals the most grievous of wounds. Linda shakes things up, goes back to school and–gasp!–starts to date a younger man.

Suddenly everyone in Cross Springs has something to say about her life–and Linda is faced with hard choices. She has tried for years to live up to the expectations of Cross Springs’ society, but now she is remembering the girl she used to be, back before motherhood and self-doubt robbed her of her self-esteem. Should she bow to comfortable roles and old expectations? Or should she give herself a Kick Start and pursue the kind of love she never thought she would find?

This book is perfect for discussion in book groups and book clubs. Discussion questions are available on the author’s website:

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28 Responses to “When Life Happens by Caren Crane”

  1. Hi, Caren–

    Great insights in this post! For me, writing is an escape, a refuge from those daily speed bumps. But when the speed bumps become a sledgehammer to the engine block, the car grinds to a halt. Some life events are too big and too draining, at least for me, to power through and get words on the page.

    I’ve dealt with those by keeping my writing projects in mind, thinking about them even if I didn’t make much forward progress, and bearing in mind that this, too, would pass, as you say.

    In general, life’s little hiccoughs aren’t a problem for long. OTOH, I know I’m really stuck when cleaning the shower seems like a fabulous idea.

    I find social media to be a huge time suck. I like being able to keep up with people, but FB is a particular trap for me. I have to limit my time there, or I fall happily into people’s feeds as hours drift by.

    I already have Kick Start, a terrific book, so please don’t enter me in the giveaway.

    Posted by Nancy Northcott | June 7, 2017, 7:25 am
  2. Nancy, you are so right about the power of thinking about projects. At times when I’ve been unable to write anything, I’ve tried to imagine how my characters would react to certain scenarios, or sent them on a dinner date, or imagined what they would do on a day like today. It helps keep the story more real to me.

    It’s so great you have go-to tips and tricks. I know you have handled some tough times!

    Posted by Caren Crane | June 7, 2017, 7:36 am
  3. Love your sense of humour, Caren. And I too work in a grey cubicle of doom! But I keep a stash of romance swag (and a stuffed t-rex) on my desk to keep my spirits up 😉

    Posted by RHYLL | June 7, 2017, 8:00 am
    • Rhyll, It takes something fantastic and mind-feeding to battle the cube walls, doesn’t it? I find comedy almost everywhere. I had to make peace with the fact that even my most tear-jerking scenes would always have a thread of humor in them somewhere. It’s frustrating, but that’s who I am! I hope you give my books a try and see for yourself! 🙂

      Posted by Caren Crane | June 7, 2017, 8:13 am
      • I can really relate to this comment, Caren. I have a bad habit of falling into slapstick when I come out of writing an emotional scene.

        A few years ago I was writing like a madwoman – up to the wee hours of the morning, churning out half a million pages over about five years.

        Lately, the only writing I’ve been doing is for my day job – writing for a landscape trade magazine. I have played with some new story ideas and some short story ideas but I haven’t made much progress with any fiction since I moved to Chicago.

        Fixing up the old house, packing and all the preparations for moving slowed me down considerably. Once I moved here and started helping take care of my grandkids, that became my main priority.

        One of the kids starts kindergarten in a few months, so I’ll soon have all kinds of time on my hands. I’ve discovered writing isn’t like starting a car. You can’t just insert a key, turn it and hit the road. At least, it hasn’t worked that way for me.

        Your post has come at the perfect time for me – thanks for the motivation! And thanks for joining us at RU today!

        Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 7, 2017, 8:32 am
        • Becke, with writing it often seems it’s feast or famine, doesn’t it? I’ve experienced both, but find that it helps in the famine times to do teeny, tiny bits of things. I’ll dash off a couple of paragraphs with a new story idea, or send myself a line of dialogue I’d like to use at some point. Scribble down something funny I’ve noticed that I might be able to work into my WIP.

          There are lots of ways to “write”, as Nancy pointed out, that don’t necessarily involve sitting for hours in front of your computer. It’s liberating to think about!

          Thanks so much for having me here, Becke. It’s always fun!

          Posted by Caren Crane | June 7, 2017, 8:43 am
  4. Hi Caren!

    There are times when I have a clear schedule to write, but more likely I have a million other things that require time and attention. So here’s what I do. If life is tough, I make a goal to spend fifteen minutes writing, no matter what. I figure everyone can find fifteen minutes, right? I set a timer so I know that my commitment has been met. Generally, I keep on writing after the timer goes off because I’ve been drawn into the manuscript, but not always–and that’s okay. My family is important, my friends are important and my health is important and all of those things have a place in my life (especially my new little grandson). So I believe in not beating myself up over lack of constant production, but allowing fifteen minutes daily to keep me in touch with my work in process.

    Great post! Just what I needed today 🙂

    Posted by Donna MacMeans | June 7, 2017, 9:57 am
    • Hi, Donna! Fantastic idea about the timer. I used to set a timer for 10 minutes for just this reason. I wasn’t quite up to 15 like you, but figured even at the height of busyness in my life, I could find 10 minutes. And yes, it was usually longer, but not always. 🙂

      It’s so important, too, not to beat ourselves up when we are already stressed out. Having goals is important, but being able to forgive ourselves when we don’t meet them is even more important.

      Congratulations on having the sweet grandson to enjoy. One of the best reasons for staying healthy and sane while still being productive, for sure!

      Posted by Caren Crane | June 7, 2017, 10:34 am
    • Grandkids are the best kind of distraction! And they grow up waaay too fast – I have no regrets for the time spent with my grandkids. But, on the other hand, I’m not on deadlines with fiction writing.

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 7, 2017, 11:25 am
  5. DISCIPLINE. New notebook. Purse that can hold it. Pens or sharp pencils. Sticky notes to remind you of things. And determination. Grab minutes in the waiting room, the dentist, the doctor, the mammogram, when the dogs are napping and the house is quiet for 5 minutes….during soccer games, scout outings, karate training, just before crashing into bed. (DO NOT PUT THE COMPUTER IN THE BEDROOM)

    I had this determination once – I need it back. It was very productive.

    Posted by Donnamaie White | June 7, 2017, 10:13 am
    • Donnamaie, being an insanely busy mom in taxi-service years is a crazy time of life, but I was SO PRODUCTIVE then! Even though I worked full time, had a scout troop and three kids to ferry around, I managed to get writing done in just the way you describe. I wrote on any piece of paper I could find, though I tried hard to have notepaper in the car. 🙂

      Since the kids are grown and the baby has finished college, I am less productive than at any time since I began writing. It makes no sense at all! That’s why I started giving myself deadlines. If I didn’t, I would get nothing done at all!

      Keep up the good work. You have a solid system!

      Posted by Caren Crane | June 7, 2017, 10:39 am
  6. Thanks for the motivational words, Caren! I especially like “[things] won’t last forever.” Sometimes when we’re in the throes of CRAPPY STUFF, we forget that each day brings a different challenge, but also a different opportunity. And girl, you just keep looking younger and younger. Can’t believe you’re children are all grown ups!

    Posted by jo robertson | June 7, 2017, 10:56 am
    • So true about the challenges and opportunities, Jo. It can be tempting to give in to despair – it take so much less energy than being creative! 🙂

      And girl, please, you’re one to talk about people and their grown children. You’re a grandma about 30 times over now and still look amazing. I miss you!

      Posted by Caren Crane | June 7, 2017, 11:28 am
  7. I am 75 – talk about not being as productive —- I should have forced myself up and fighting 10 years ago (My younger son died – took 12 years to get up and get productive – still fighting) but – I have 12 books on-line and am working on a special novel. Don’t wait as long as I did.

    Kids and a job? Check this out: Working Mother’s Morning.

    This story – written way back in the 1980s – is the lead in a book of the same title (in queue) – it’s reception when it ran in the company newspaper was incredible and told me – go for it! I’ve wanted to write novels since I was 8.

    Never throw anything away.

    Posted by Donnamaie White | June 7, 2017, 10:59 am
    • I’m 65 and I wish I had attempted fiction back when I was in my 20s! There’s always something. I’m awed by people who manage to write with toddlers in the house, who write while fighting cancer and other horrible diseases, who write while going through divorce and the death of loved ones. I am so sorry about the loss of your son – kudos to you for fighting, even if it’s taken 12 years.

      Now that I think of it, I did write my non-fiction (gardening) books when I had kids at school, when I had a dog and three cats, and while I was very active in PTO. But, heck, I was young then. I had more energy in those days!

      Right now, I’ve been digging up old stories and reading them to see if I can revive the spark that inspired me back then. Whenever I get a new story idea, I write down a few paragraphs to lock it in my head. It’s fun when I come across those and think, “Hey, that’s not bad!”

      And then there’s the guilt factor. I just got off the phone with my 94-year-old aunt. “Whatever happened to that novel you were writing? Have you thought about writing short stories?” It’s not the same as an editor calling about a missed deadline, but it IS making me antsy.

      But right now I have a non-fiction deadline looming over me. Back later – I love these comments. You are all great motivators!

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 7, 2017, 11:35 am
      • Becke, getting more done when you have more to do is a phenomenon I don’t understand, but you’re so right that youth helps! I am just so much more easily exhausted than I used to be. And though writing isn’t physically exhausting, being creative certainly is! Good on you for seeing to your deadline. I’m sure you’ll get to the fiction when it’s time!

        Posted by Caren Crane | June 7, 2017, 12:00 pm
    • Donnamaie, I am so very sorry about your son. I can’t imagine ever getting past the pain enough to move on. You are an amazing, strong person! I’m sure it’s frustrating now that you’re publishing that you didn’t begin sooner. But you have to cut your grieving self some slack, for sure. And, given the craziness of child-rearing while you have a career, it’s not surprising you didn’t decide to add another time-consuming occupation to your list! Thank goodness we have so many tools to help us these days. If you haven’t tried Vellum, it may change your life! 🙂

      Posted by Caren Crane | June 7, 2017, 11:51 am
  8. Caren, what a wonderfully wise post – it IS hard to be creative when life really bites you in the rump, isn’t it? And sometimes the answer is to be kind to yourself. And sometimes the answer is to pull up your knickers and get down to it. I find what can help me get back into the swing is baby steps. Everyone can find 20 minutes or half an hour to write. Set a timer and just make yourself sit down. You should be able to do at least a page in that time. Or tell yourself you only have to write half a page. Half a page and you can turn your attention to Netflix! Not too scary – and I find that often gets me going so I do more. And even if I don’t, half a page is better than nothing.

    Good luck with the deadline! That’s another thing that works for me!

    Posted by Anna Campbell | June 7, 2017, 4:12 pm
    • Anna, so lovely to see you here! You’re right, different tricks work at different times and for different situations. I do love the timer, especially when I use the timer in the kitchen and I’m sitting in the den and can’t see it!

      I have a bit more trouble with setting page goals, though that works when I’m trying to finish a book better than when I’m in the dreaded middle and feel like it’s all dreck. 🙂 But rewarding myself with entertainment is always motivational, especially when I’m in the middle of a series and really want to see the next episode!

      FIngers crossed you guys have helped me get ramped up for this deadline. I needed inspiration!

      Posted by Caren Crane | June 7, 2017, 4:20 pm
  9. Hi Caren! Wow, did I ever need to read this today. It sure is true that life can sneak up and grab you, and complicate everything you thought you were going to get done. Ugh.
    But you’re also right that setting timers and page goals and giving yourself rewards for completing the work (Supernatural!) can keep you going when the times get tough and the writing gets slow.
    Getting together with writer friends often does it for me too – somehow that writerly energy can ramp up my writing in ways just setting page goals cannot.
    Great encouragement here, so thank you!

    Posted by Jeanne Adams AKA La Duchesse | June 7, 2017, 5:53 pm
    • Jeanne, so great to see you here! I totally agree about getting together with writer friends. I sometimes get a Saturday or Sunday morning text from one of my local writer buddies asking if I want to have a writing date. Those have been, by far, the most productive writing days I’ve had this year.

      Something about being around other writers gets the creative juices flowing. It may just be the creative hive mind cranking up. 🙂 Whatever it is, I need to arrange for more of that in my life.

      I’m trying, right now, not to get sidelined setting up a second(!) guest room at my house. I inherited an enormous iron bed that belonged to my great-grandparents, along with a chest and armoire that were my grandmother’s. I have an empty bedroom and mattresses were just on sale, so…you know how that goes.

      I imagine recently you’ve been overwhelmed by end-of-year school activities. Those always sucked my will to write! I hope we’ve inspired you to get back at it and get some pages knocked out. Some of us are waiting on your books! 🙂

      Posted by Caren Crane | June 7, 2017, 6:18 pm
  10. I laughed and nodded my head wryly over your post! I love how honest and straight-forward you are, Caren. I get so tired of hearing how people wrote 100 pages on the day their grandmother died. It seems particularly prevalent in the romance community that you need to crank out those pages come hell or high water. Not sure if any other genre places quite so much pressure on writers to produce.

    Sometimes it really is hard to write those pages (as it is for me right now) but the only thing that ever helps me is to make myself sit in the chair, at the same time, day after day until the book starts to flow. So many things in life–like exercise–are about making yourself do it until it becomes a habit. My problem is that instead of continuing the habit each time I finish a book, I give myself a holiday when it’s done and then I have to form the habit all over again!

    Posted by Christine Wells | June 7, 2017, 6:26 pm
    • Christine, my Aussie sister! I readily admit cutting side eyes at those writers who can produce pages no matter what tragedy befalls them. They make me feel bad about spending an entire weekend watching Better Call Saul! :/

      I can say, though, that the one time I had the luxury of writing for hours every day (that one year when I was laid off and still getting paid for 6 months) was by far the most productive time in my life. I would force myself to do nothing but write, then reward myself by going to lunch with a friend or watching a movie I loved. *sigh* Those were the days!

      I, too, am guilty of being so relieved to be done with a book that I put myself on writing holiday and never go back until I have to. By which time, I have to relearn all those painful lessons about putting my nose to the grindstone. I always think there MUST be an easier way, but somehow it doesn’t ever manifest. I have no self-control once I finish a book! 🙂

      Posted by Caren Crane | June 7, 2017, 7:02 pm
  11. Caren – loved this post! So much truth in it, so many things not easy to face.

    When I hear what friends are going through – chemo, kids in crisis, accidents and illnesses – it makes some “life happens” moments feel much less important. And yet when even those smaller moments are staring you in the face, they seem huge and sometimes unfixable.

    A big problem for me is the darned squirrel that lives in my house. You know, the one that jumps across the keyboard just as I’m settling down to write. 😉

    He’s not quite a roadblock but a definite distraction. My solutions are to set timers that let me follow him for a bit, then get me back on track. Also, to take a look at my to-do list and remind myself those items won’t get checked off if I don’t get to work.

    Posted by Barbara White Daille | June 9, 2017, 2:42 pm
    • Wow, Barbara. The squirrel on the keyboard excuse definitely trumps “the dog ate my homework”! 🙂 It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a squirrel, dog, cat, child or husband, *someone* often gives us reason to leave the keyboard. If only we could block them all out!

      Sadly, there is always something more fun than writing. It’s so much WORK. I think that’s why some sort of reward system seems to work best for me. If I can get so much written, then I can watch a movie or read someone else’s already-finished book. :/

      I hope the squirrel leaves you be and lets you get those tasks crossed off your to-do list!

      Posted by Caren Crane | June 9, 2017, 7:33 pm
  12. When serious life happens it isn’t necessarily finding the writing time to get words on paper but the creativity. ER / bedside vigils / days spent monitoring rehab chase away the calm center needed for creativity.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by HELEN HENDERSON | June 13, 2017, 10:50 am
    • So true, Helen! Creative endeavors really sap your energy. Finding the wherewithal to be creative when things are in chaos is terribly hard. At such times, even if I am able to write I am not often pleased with the results. Still, it’s easier to fix those crappy pages if I can make myself write them to start with.

      Here’s hoping we can all have less chaos and more creative energy! 🙂

      Posted by Caren Crane | June 13, 2017, 4:30 pm

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