red stop sign
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As I write this post, I’m looking back at a week of writing that just didn’t happen. Oh, I got a few words down, and I have been focused upon getting the writing done, including a new switch up in routine to keep it fresh. But the first half of the week was a disaster. And the weekend, which I intended to use to catch up, just didn’t happen either.

So I’m kinda in dire straits with the production schedule. I’m leaning way, way over the deadline for this book. The worst thing about that is it’s not just me who gets to scramble and get ‘er published in a few days or hours. These days, I have other people involved in the process (artwork, editing, formatting and more) and they get to scramble as hard as I do when I fuck up like this. So there’s guilt stirring in my gut, too.

This morning, instead of writing, I’m clearing the decks, so that in theory, I can write more today that I normally would. I suspect that this will be the process for the rest of the week–short shrift to everything else, get my ass in the chair and write. (Dammit).

Only, this to-the-mattresses writing is exhausting. I will talk about hitting the mattresses in another post, soon. This morning, though, I want to explain how you should stop and assess when you hit a point like this one.

Stopping and assessing is a pretty simple process;

  1. You kick the day’s schedule to the curb, including your writing (and that’s where the danger comes in — more on that in a second).
  2. You figure out why you’re not getting the words down. There’s a number of ways you can do that including:
    • Journalling, using a Socratic question-and-answer format, to drill down to why you’re ducking the work.
    • Talking to someone else, explaining to them why you’re not writing. Their role is to nod and asking leading questions. They do not get to judge.
    • Just plain sitting/walking/running/working-out while thinking, if that works for you (it does NOT work for me–I don’t know what I’m thinking until I’ve written it out and learn my thoughts that way).
    • Or by using whatever method/process works best for you, that from experience you know will provide you with some insight into what’s biting you and stopping you from writing.
  3. You address the issues your thinking has revealed. This might involve having conversations with others (“can you please not interrupt me until severed limbs are involved?”), or rearranging your writing schedule, changing the chair you sit in…the potential solutions and changes are endless.
  4. Then you set out a remedial writing schedule that will get you back on track and leave your production schedule not too badly dented.
    1. Depending on how badly you’ve bailed, this time around*, you may have to maintain that emergency writing schedule only for a day or two, or for many days, even weeks.
    2. If you’re looking at months of extra-heavy-duty writing, then you might want to rebuild your production schedule around the gaping hole you’ve created, get back to a normal schedule, and fervently promise to never duck writing for quite so long, ever again–and you do this by stopping-and-assessing far sooner than you did this time.
    3. It’s also highly likely that while you were ducking the writing, you were also putting off a whole shwack of tasks and projects and commitments that may or may not be related to your writing, and they are also nagging you when you try to sleep. Build into your new schedule time to tackle them and get them off your plate, or you’ll be right back to ducking writing, because your subconscious is bullying you over all the other stuff you’re not getting done in the meantime.
  5. Then you do the work.

[*”But, but, but…once you’re done this once, why would you ever need to do it again?” Because writers are creatives, and extraordinarily good at coming up with reasons for ducking the hard work of writing. You will fall off the rails, over and over again. And very often, it’s for entirely novel reasons. The trick is to recognize when you’re doing it, stop as quickly as possible to minimize the damage, and go through this assessment process. Yes, again.]

The Benefits of Stopping And Assessing

The most obvious benefit is that you stop fooling yourself that you’re handling the workload, that you’re getting words down, or that you’ll catch up, no worries. The act of stopping and assessing is a silent admission that you’re not coping at all.

This also has the effect of removing a great deal of unnoticed stress. Your subconscious stops nagging you (and might even cheer, instead).

The clearing of the muck makes it much easier to knuckle down to the hard work of catching up (if you choose to catch up), and make you even more determined to stick with your production schedule (if you re-build, instead).

The more often you have to stop and assess and make adjustments, the more you have to live with the consequences of missed release dates, the better you will get at sticking with your schedule in the first place, AND the better you will get at recognizing when you’re in trouble because Resistance has been kicking your butt. You’ll avert major consequences by acknowledging the issues sooner, while the outcomes are still minor.

In other words; your self-awareness improves immeasurably.

The Danger of Stopping and Assessing

I’ve already hinted about the danger of this process. Because it can feel so good to reset everything and start fresh, Stopping-and-Assessing can become its own form of procrastination. It can become a back-up way of getting the work done. “It doesn’t matter if I goof off for a day/week or so–I can just re-build my production schedule and go from there. No sweat.”

But if you keep rebuilding your production schedule, you’ll never really get anything done. You’ll just convince yourself you’re on top of it all, while multiple publishing dates come and go with no books being put out there.

The other, related danger is that even if you decide that a remedial, heavy-duty writing schedule is all that is required, and you stick with your release dates as-is, if you do this too many times, you find that you’re almost permanently bowed under the weight of emergency, remedial writing schedules that take a toll on your health, your business (because you’re not getting anything else done), and your relationships. You eventually get to hate writing, because it’s a beastly task-master you can’t get away from.

The worst thing you can do is drive yourself to the point where you no longer like writing. That is a major career disaster.

Before you raise a white flag and swing into damage control, ask yourself if you’re not just ducking the work in a way that looks productive. Would you be better off just doing the work?

If you get to your desk one morning and can feel your worm brain telling you it just doesn’t feel like writing today, then buckling down and Just Starting will serve you better than a schedule rebuild that you’ll get to tomorrow.

But if you’ve been without sleep for a few nights because your gut and your nagging better self knows you’ve got seriously behind; if readers are shouting at you; if you’ve <gulp> missed a deadline and failed to publish; if you keep being reminded of stuff you’re not getting done that you mentally promise you’ll get to; then it might be time to stop and assess why you’re not working.

If you do stop and assess, make sure you acknowledge to yourself (and even to others, if they can help you stay the route, afterwards) that you will get the work done now. Because it’s going to be tough on you, to catch up. And there will be consequences if you skip a release date.

But sometimes, you just have to reset. Often, you’ll know very well if you’re just reaching for a fancy form of procrastination, or if you’re in actual trouble. Be honest with yourself and do what you need to, to get the work done.

And now, I’m off to assess the current mess I’ve made of my production schedule. <wince>

t.