The JRW Blog

Writing, caregiving and developing a routine

As you will note with a glance at the dates, I have not written a blog post for my website in over a year. But, as we all know, life can throw curveballs. In my case, a major change occurred when I unexpectedly became the caregiver for a family member. Unless you have been in this position yourself, you probably cannot relate to the difficulties involved, difficulties that include the various adjustments you have to make to your own life while you try to make someone else’s life easier.

It has taken me many months to figure out how to juggle my time successfully between caregiving, my writing/editing work and a bit of relaxation. Caregiving takes up the bulk of my days—and sometimes my nights—and relaxation usually comes in the form of reading or watching a little TV in the evening. Writing, frankly, is a godsend. Especially creative writing. And lately, it has dawned on me that over the past few months, I have slowly fallen into a routine.

Relying on routine

The experts say that children thrive on routine. I think there is a certain amount of truth to that no matter what age you are. A routine has structure, which can be comforting. You see, as a caregiver, you have to be prepared to handle a wide range of situations that can pop up at any time. They might be outside your field of expertise. They might leave you emotionally or physically drained. But whatever happens, you have to do your best on behalf of the person who needs your help. Having done so, you can fall back on the welcoming structure of your routine and pick up where you were required to leave off.

Tweaking the routine I have put together is fun, especially when it concerns my work. To that end, I have slotted time for various projects. Pretty sure that will help me post James River Writing blogs in a timelier manner.

The mysterious hyphen

Recently I was doing some website proofreading and edited out a couple of hyphens that appeared after words ending in “ly.” Words ending this way are adverbs. If they precede an adjective, they combine to make a compound adjective and a hyphen is unnecessary. Why? Because no further clarification is needed. Examples:  a “dimly lit room,” a “horrendously large blister,” a “finely tuned piano.”

Here is what the Chicago Manual of Style has to say on the subject:

Compounds formed by an adverb ending in -ly plus an adjective or participle (such as “largely irrelevant” or “smartly dressed”) are not hyphenated either before or after a noun, since ambiguity is virtually impossible. (The -ly ending with adverbs signals to the reader that the next word will be another modifier, not a noun.) CMS, Section 7.86.

On the other hand, hyphens do appear in your everyday compound adjectives such as a” high-speed chase” or “well-intentioned remark,” and in a good many other places. So, using a hyphen properly can be challenging. You and your colleagues may have differing opinions on the best way to insert it, and some may decide to ignore it altogether. There are times when the use of a hyphen simply comes down to personal choice—or appears by mistake.

In The Elements of Style, noted wordsmiths Strunk and White give the example of a hyphen being used to considerable public amusement when two newspapers joined forces. The News and the Free Press became the Chattanooga News-Free Press. The hyphen, of course, made it sound as though readers who were looking for news items weren’t going to find any in that publication.

A leap of faith

As I mentioned on my “About” page, I have moved from Virginia to Florida. It took me months to consider the pros and cons connected with taking this leap of faith—and that’s truly what it was—but once I made the decision to move further south, I put all my energy and effort into the idea. It wasn’t easy, but something that’s worthwhile doing usually isn’t a piece of cake.

Once the movers had packed everything up, my beagle Mary and I left Virginia on a sunny, warm morning feeling both energized and a bit nervous. We took two days for the drive, spending the night in Savannah, GA. We arrived at the motel around nine at night after a fairly uneventful trip with only one horrendous rainstorm to navigate. I had food for Mary but only a few snacks for myself, so I ordered pizza to be delivered. Hunger is good sauce, my mom used to say, and honestly, that was the best!

The next day’s drive was equally uneventful except that there were two horrendous rainstorms—but I didn’t mind. We were in Florida!

I’ve never been busier! Moving is always a busy and fatiguing activity, but when you move from one state to another you practically have to take on a whole new persona. I have a new address, a new phone number, new cable service, new bank—I even have a new car. That wasn’t planned, but due to a ridiculously expensive fix for things that suddenly went wrong with my old car, a replacement made the most financial sense.

Without going into everything that went wrong on the move, and there were lots of hiccups, let me say that I’m happy to be here and to finally be somewhat settled in. And I’m already thinking of the ways I can turn my moving experiences into articles and blogs! The moral of this story is not to fear taking a leap of faith because a challenge well met has its own rewards.

The value of routine

As we try to find our way through this COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals and other experts are advising everyone to keep to their usual routine. People not accustomed to being confined to home will find this advice especially useful. If you are accustomed to getting up at 6 a.m. to go to work, don’t stay in bed until 8 a.m. just because you can. If you are accustomed to taking your lunch break around 1:00 because it makes the afternoons go faster, do the same thing now.

Sticking to a routine works with writing, too. However, perhaps you’re used to writing in an office environment with the hum of other people going on around you. Now you’re writing from home and it’s a whole different story. Either you are laboring away in a totally quiet room, which you find distracting, or you are trying to work at your laptop while keeping your eye on a rambunctious two-year-old.

So, what was your routine like before we were all told to stay home? I saw a funny picture of a guy in an around-the-house sweatshirt looking at his cellphone in one hand while keeping his other hand wrapped securely around the rod holding up his shower curtain – obviously mimicking his usual routine of going to work via the crowded subway.

Not all routines are beneficial. Some can be destructive if bad habits like addiction to drugs or alcohol have taken over your life. However, most people have developed helpful routines over time. You might wake around 6:00 every day. Then you shower, dress, have breakfast and walk your dog, in that order, before reporting for work.  And if you are a writer, a routine that automates some of your daily tasks will free up more time that you can devote to your creative side.

Now, sticking to routine need not be as drastic as clinging to a shower curtain rod while checking your iPhone on your way to the kitchen, but relying on a certain sameness in the things you do helps get you through the day.

If you are new to the home writing environment and feel a little out of sync, why not start a routine now?

Slow Start?

Sometimes you sit down at your computer and your fingers freeze over the keyboard because writer’s block attacks you first thing. Perhaps you have no clue where to begin on the project you’ve been given. Maybe you’re even having trouble coming up with a title. Not to worry, all writers are faced with this debilitating situation at times, but there are ways to get around it.

Switch gears

Write something else. Ease into the project by setting it aside for a bit. Exercise your mind by writing about your day, some interesting experience you had or a memorable place you visited. If the project is technical in nature, or the subject is dry to the point of putting readers to sleep, try doodling while you think of ways you could brighten it up and make it more readable. I know, doodling is childish. Unprofessional. Who cares? Getting rid of writer’s block sometimes requires unconventional measures.

Take a hike

Leave the computer. Get up and go for a walk. If there isn’t time to actually go outside for some fresh air, do some laps inside the building. Let your mind wander. Whether you can take a 20-minute stroll, or you can only spare five minutes, it will be time well spent in reducing writer’s block to a manageable size.

Frown on the deadline

Finally, don’t let a deadline defeat you. If that’s what is causing your fingers to freeze, take a deep breath, then break your project down into parts. If research is involved, start with that. If actual writing is at the top of your to-do list, choose a section and start there. If you have been pressed into writing service by your employer, remember that there are no rules that say you have to begin at the beginning.

Turn to a professional

Writer’s block isn’t picky, it preys on everyone regardless of the victim’s level of writing ability. However, those of us who write for a living are a little more accustomed to its sneakiness. We are therefore better prepared than the occasional (or accidental) wordsmith to fend off an attack.