Have you ever had weeks like mine?
As soon as you decide that this week, you are going to nail your schedule, get down a staggering number of words, and finally break through the chapter that has been mocking you for the last three weeks, THAT’s when everything else in your life that you give a damn about breaks loose and screams for attention.
Sick family members, financial crises, kids in trouble, lost jobs, personal illness (have you noticed you instantly get a cold the moment you <re>commit to a new project?).
Car troubles, overwhelming schedules at the day job.
Changes in child care arrangements. New timetables for transport.
Your laptop battery rolls over and plays dead…and you need that sucker to write on the train.
The files you thought were safely docked on the hard drive didn’t synchronize to the cloud last time and now you’ve lost (irrevocably) the last two thousand words.
There’s an endless list of things that could happen with the potential to beat you back into submission. The more determined you are, the more creative and explosive and purely unexpected the distraction becomes.
Why you shouldn’t let the crappy stuff win.
The thing is, life is always going to try to derail you. It’s a cold, hard fact, as assured as gravity.
Think about something as petty as your laptop battery dying. It’s a pain in the rear, yes.
Here’s the thing, though: Even if you hadn’t made plans to write like a demon all week, the battery still would have died. You just wouldn’t have noticed it, or cared nearly as much about the bother it causes. In a normal week , it would have slid by, barely noticed.
As soon as you commit to a project, a new schedule, or even just recommit to your current schedule and determine that you’re going to get things done, then the death of your laptop battery grows in significance. Now it’s a problem that is out to get you.
Yes, it’s a mental thing. The difference between the battery dying when you have no grand plans, and the battery dying this week is purely perception: To you it feels like the battery just knew you were trying to get things done, and died to spite you. Because you don’t have access to the alternative universe where you didn’t make plans at all, you don’t see that it would have died anyway.
It’s nothing personal. It’s merely atrophy at work.
You can prepare and clear the decks all you want, before starting a new book or easing into a new schedule, but you can’t avoid the unexpected. You can’t avoid life rolls.
If shit is always going to happen, why give up because shit happened? You’ll never get off the ground if you let the crap keep knocking you back there.
[BTW: You get a cold every time you start something new, because stress depletes the immune system. If you stress out about the new workload and you’re at all run-down–which is most of us–then you’re going to fall foul of any bug passing by.]
What you get for hanging tough.
If you don’t give up, if you don’t let the shit defeat you, you get what you want.
What is it you expect to gain from the work? A published book, a finished manuscript, renewed self-respect, time for yourself, increased word count?
Perhaps this is the first step toward multiple finished books, more sales, more income and quitting the day job.
Whatever it is that you perceived to be the benefit of the work you set yourself, that is what you will get if you don’t give in to the distractions and emergencies.
I’d say “it’s that simple” but not giving up isn’t always easy. Hell, who am I kidding? It’s never easy.
But there are steps you can take to help ensure your circus keeps on rolling.
Pause to assess.
How big is the thing you need to deal with?
A dead laptop battery means a trip to the electronics store at best, or saving up for a new one.
A death in the family is of a different scale. Often there is little chance to even think until much later, when these heavy life-rolls hit. Eventually, though, you will have a chance to draw breath and think coherently. If the problem is of this magnitude, give yourself some slack.
Don’t personalize the problem.
Remember that the event would have happened whether you had plans and commitments or not. It didn’t happen just because you finally got serious about your writing, as much as it feels that way to you.
Sometimes, you just have to vent. As impersonal as life events are, they can still have deep emotional impact.
Give yourself five minutes, or five hours, or whatever time you think you need and go ahead and have that melt-down. Mourn, bitch, eat the whole tub of salted caramel ice cream. Whatever it takes.
Just don’t let the hissy fit last forever. Consciously rein yourself in as soon as you can.
Then, when you can think again, reach for calm once more so you can:
Regroup and adjust.
What’s the damage? How badly have things been screwed up?
More importantly; what can be recovered, now?
Assess where you stand and how you can go on with your plans.
I guarantee that adjustments will be needed — from the trivial loss of a couple of hours while you run to the store for a new battery, to the inability to write or have anything like a normal life for weeks or months. This last type of derailment doesn’t happen often, though.
Smaller events will demand modification of your plans. Instead of writing for three hours each night, now that you must rush across town each evening to check on a sick relative, that time is cut down to one hour. If you have to save up for the battery, then you will need to borrow someone else’s keyboard…or use paper and pen…or go to the library and use the public terminals and keep your files on a memory stick.
There are all sort of modifications that can be made. Yes, your progress may not be as stellar as you first hoped, but you will make progress, and that is a victory all by itself.
Don’t quit. Put things aside, instead.
Sometimes the life-roll is too large to do anything but put everything on hold and deal with it.
It is very important that you don’t throw up your hands and give up on the whole idea of writing a/this book at all.
Yes, it’s impossible to write, right now. But circumstances don’t last forever.
If you truly want to write, or write more and earn more, then don’t quit. Instead, put your ambitions aside for a while. The book will still be waiting for you when you get back to it.
The only reason for quitting.
There is only one reason why you should not stick with the work you’ve committed yourself to, and that is because the outcome of that work no longer serves a positive purpose.
If you wanted to write a thriller for a specific market and that publisher has now closed their doors, then clearly, the project will need to be abandoned. But can you retool the novel for a different market?
Perhaps you’ve learned that writing ten books a year is do-able, but you can see you’ll be a basket-case writing at that rate, which is counter-productive. In which case, designing a less-demanding schedule is needed.
Or perhaps you’ve discovered that you hate writing science fiction. Reading it, sure. Writing it? Ugh. In which case, you need to find a new genre to write, one that fits you better.
Although all these scenarios can be considered “quitting”, they are really just major regrouping of your priorities. You’re pivoting*, not quitting.
[*Does anyone else hear Ross Geller sceaming at everyone to “Pivot!” when they see that word, now?]
Pick up where you left off.
This is critical. Get back to work, using the modified parameters you’ve chosen to adjust for the changed circumstances.
Get moving. Start. You may have to grit your teeth and white knuckle it through the first four pages, but after that, you’ll have momentum on your side, and you’re getting words down once more.
You’re still on track and heading for a finished book. Congratulations.