Putting things into perspective

One of the challenges anyone who happens to be self-employed faces is having to carry on in the face of real life challenges. It doesn’t matter what your profession. You can be an accountant or professional dog walker, a painter or a writer. When you are self-employed, you don’t have the cushion of paid time off or sick leave. No matter what the hurdle life throws at you, you have to find a way to continue working. If you don’t, the money stops. That is the reality of the situation.

It is also one that was brought home to me with a vengeance this past week. Oh, I know we here at MGC talk about life derailing us from time to time. Usually, it is only a bump in the road. It throws us off our plans and makes us have to reflect for a bit to find a new plan of attack. Sometimes it becomes hard to push through, more because what we had planned has suddenly fallen through than anything else. There are times when we have to focus on things other than our writing but we always know we will get back to it sooner rather than later. We have managed to survive moves (and I still shake my head in wonder at how Dave and Barbs managed to move to Flinders Island without going absolutely insane) and illness and job loss and more.

This past week, however, I found myself faced with something that made me realize how important it is to put things into perspective. But it was more than that, not only do we have to put all those hurdles into perspective but we have to have an emergency game plan, not just for life but for work. Why? Because things happen and we can’t always control it.

I won’t go into details here because the hurdle isn’t mine, not really. But it is one that will impact me because it has risen up to hit people I care about. One of my oldest and dearest friends is facing a challenge the vast majority of us will only ever read about. She is going to need me with her as she faces this challenge. Even if she hadn’t asked, I would be there for her. Why? Because she has always been there for me and mine.

That’s what friends and family do. You rally around those you care about.

But, when you do, work is impacted.

I know that the next few weeks and months will see us waiting for the shoe to drop. In some ways, it will be like those last weeks of pregnancy. A bag will be packed, the gas tank filled and we will all be waiting for the phone to ring to tell us it is time to leave. No, not a bug-out, at least not in a Ringo-esque sort of way. This is the call to get to the hospital within a certain amount of time. The clock is ticking and it is very loud.

It has impacted my work and will continue to. It’s hard not to let it when suddenly you are reminded what is important in life. So I spent some time over the last week figuring out how to deal with the rollercoaster the next few weeks and months will be. Part of it will mean being very disciplined about work on those days when I know I can work. Those days — like today — the butt goes into the chair after the first cup of coffee and it basically stays there until the end of the work day. Yep, I am forcing myself to get back into the habit of an 8 – 5 work day. Not all of it is writing. There are breaks for research, all carefully timed so I don’t fall down the research hole, and editing. Then there are the inevitable interruptions to let the dog out — and bring him back in.

I am also having to look more closely at my publishing schedule and how to keep as close to it as I can without completely going off the tracks when the proverbial fecal matter hits the fan. I have always had more than one project going at a time. Usually, that has meant I’ve been writing one novel while plotting the next one. That hasn’t changed but I now am looking at writing, editing and plotting all at the same time. It takes discipline, but it can and will be done.

It has also meant changing what I have with me at any time. I’ve always had my phone and a small notepad squirreled away in my purse in case I needed to make a note about something. Smart phones are great for being able to use for dictation and look up things, etc. Now, however, the small purse — my preference — has been traded for a larger one. The smartphone and pad have been joined by my Surface Pro 3, stylus and charger. Why? Because the SP3 gives me everything my laptop does but at a fraction of the weight. The screen, while small, is still larger than my Android tablet and the keyboard is much better than the virtual keyboard on the Android. Add in the thumb drive with all my working files and I have my office on the go.

The other thing I’ve done to make work more streamlined is I have turned off social media. Once the butt goes in the chair, I disconnect from Facebook, etc., and only go back at lunch and after the “work day” is over. Oh, it isn’t a complete cut off because there are a few folks I keep in touch with through social media. Notices go to my phone and I check them during breaks. However, all I see are headlines. If it isn’t an emergency, those notices get dismissed, forgotten until after work.

The result has been that I can and have been getting the job done despite the worry that is constantly there right now. I am working hard to not only meet the schedule I set for myself at the beginning of the year but to get ahead. I want that cushion for the day when we get the call telling us it is time to meet my friends at the hospital. I want to be able to be there for them and not worry about falling behind on “work”. I need to know that I am keeping with my schedule so the money can and will keep coming in. I need to know that, no matter what the time of day or day of the week, I am able to continue working without worry about where I happen to be. So, I will push now to get as much done as possible. I will plan for those days spent in waiting rooms by having a go-bag ready. That means always making sure I know where power cords are and extra thumb drives with all my current files backed up onto them.

It means being flexible, something I’m not always good at. But for now, it also means being disciplined.

So here’s my question for you. Are you prepared to continue pushing through you work in the face of a crisis? If so, what steps have you taken? If not, why not?

Finally, because I am a working writer, that means I need to do some promo — which I suck at.

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) will go live April 18th. It is available now for pre-order. Here is a short snippet. This is from the rough draft — I’m still working on my first cup of coffee this morning and getting up to find my thumb drive means moving the cat and dog currently guarding my feet. VBEG

*   *   *

“Please have a seat, Colonel. The others will join you shortly.”

Before she could reply, the young lieutenant stepped back and the door slid shut. For a moment, Lt. Colonel Ashlyn Shaw stared at the door, her concern growing. It went beyond this unscheduled – and so far unexplained – summons to meet with General Helen Okafor, Commandant of the Fuerconese Marine Corps. It even went beyond the very bad memories she had of this particular conference room. Something was wrong, very wrong. She could feel it all the way down to her bones. She simply didn’t know what it might be.

A frown tugged at the corners of her mouth as she looked around. Memories washed over her. Two and a half years ago, she had stood in this very same conference room, unaware that her life was about to be turned into a living Hell. That day, the JAG officer in charge of prosecuting her and the surviving members of her squad had offered her a deal. If she pled guilty to all charges, he would recommend a sentence of twenty-five years – without parole – and would make sure her people served only ten years He assured her it was much better than she would get if she were found guilty of the charges that had been leveled against her. She had refused. How could she plead guilty, how could she ask her people to plead guilty, when they had done nothing wrong? Foolishly, she had believed her beloved Corps would not turn its back on her and her squad mates.

That decision had cost all of them two years in the military penal colony on Tarsus. Two long years when she believed the Corps, her family and her homeworld had turned their backs on her. She knew better now but the hurt and the distrust sometimes returned. She had no doubt it would continue until those responsible for framing her and her squad, not to mention being responsible for the deaths of their squadmates, were tried and found guilty.

But she had to put that behind her.

She had put it behind her.

Breathing deeply, she turned and made her way to the table in the center of the room. The only other person present watched her, his expression betraying a mixture of concern and curiosity. Seeing it, she guessed he had more idea why they had been sent for than did she. Unfortunately, that did nothing to reassure her. Experience had taught her bad things came all too often from such meetings.

“Stand easy, Ash,” Admiral Richard Collins said before she could brace to attention. “Have seat.”

“Thank you, sir.” She sat opposite him and smiled in appreciation as he poured her a mug of coffee the carafe someone had left.

“By any chance do you know what this is all about?”

“That’s a negative, sir. I was hoping you could tell me.”

She heard the uncertainty in her voice and silently cursed it. No, she cursed the reason for it. The nightmares that had plagued her might be coming with less frequency but they still lurked just beneath the surface of her self-control. They mingled with the ever-present doubt that the last few months had been nothing but a ruse and she would soon find herself back on Tarsus, once again a military prisoner. Intellectually, she knew that to be false but it was hard to put the betrayals of the past behind her.

“I guess we have to wait and see then.”

Ashlyn nodded again and produced her datapad. She might have to wait to find out why she’d been sent for but that didn’t mean she couldn’t work. There were always reports to review or write and assignments to be made. Even though the Devil Dogs had been groundside for almost a month, it was her job to keep them at combat readiness. Fuercon was at war and that meant they could be shipped out any time or, worse, the capital could once again come under attack.

The door once again slid open. Instantly, Ashlyn and Collins slid their chairs away from the table and stood. As they braced to attention, two others entered. They remained silent as they move to the table. Then, as the door closed and a low hum filled the room, signaling full security block had been put in place, Linden Klingsbury, Secretary of Defense, motioned for everyone to be seated.

“Thank you both for coming.” His deep voice might not betray his feelings but his eyes did. Ashlyn saw the worry and something else, anger maybe, reflected in them. “I apologize for not only the early hour but also for the lack of notice in getting you here. I assure you, it was necessary. The last thing General Okafor and I want is for certain parties to start asking questions we aren’t ready to answer.”

He broke off as a soft tone signaled someone at the door. A moment after the admiral lowered the security screen, the door slid open. The lieutenant who had shown Ash in earlier stepped inside, followed by an ensign carrying a tray with coffee and several covered dishes on it. They quickly served coffee to the newcomers and then topped off Ash’s and Collins’ mugs. After making sure nothing else was needed, they left the room. Klingsbury reactivated the security screen even as he motioned for everyone to help themselves.

“Admiral, Colonel, what you are about to see and hear cannot leave this room. The only reason you are being read in right now is because this information came to us through your actions as well as the actions of your people. Your last mission gave us a treasure trove of intel we are still examining. To be honest, even that isn’t reason enough to read you in. However, both of you have started asking questions that show you have started putting two and two together. These questions, while valid, are best left unasked for the moment. It is my hope you will understand before you leave here.”

Concern once again growing, Ashlyn reached for her mug. As she did, she thought back to that last mission. They had been lucky, probably luckier than they had any right to expect. For whatever reason, the enemy had moved out of the Cassius System, leaving only a minimal defensive presence. Whether they had been overconfident or there had been another motive, she didn’t know and, frankly, she didn’t care. That decision had meant First Fleet and the Devil Dogs had been able to liberate the system and rescue the POWs with minimal losses.

None of which explained what the admiral meant.

“Before we get started, I need you to confirm, on record, that none of what you are about to see or hear will leave this room without permission from either myself or General Okafor,” Klingsbury continued.

For a moment, neither Collins nor Ashlyn spoke. “A point of clarification, sir,” Collins said. “Does this apply to our XOs?”

“It does.”

Ash frowned. She did not like keeping her XO in the dark, no matter what the information might be. That was especially true if the information could help the Devil Dogs do their duty. “General, begging your pardon, but that could put our people at a serious disadvantage.”

“Ash, I understand your concerns,” General Helen Okafor said. “All we are asking is you don’t jump to conclusions until you have seen what we have to show you. If, after you have, you still want to discuss reading in your XOs, we will consider it.”

Knowing she could ask for nothing more, Ash nodded. “Then, with that proviso, I agree.”

“As do I,” Collins said.

“Thank you, both of you.” Klingsbury punched a code into the console in front of him and the holo display over the table came to life. The Fuerconese flag filled the display. “Admiral Collins, Colonel Shaw, the two of you, along with the men and women under your commands, have served Fuercon and its allies well. This information will help bring an end to the war, hopefully sooner rather than later. But it is not something we can move on just yet. Not without further confirmation of what it appears to represent. However, I believe that once you see this, you will understand its importance and the need for secrecy until we are ready to act.”

“Help yourselves to food and then we’ll get started. There is a lot for you to see and, unless I miss my guess, there will be even more to discuss,” Okafor said.

Ash cast a quick glance at Collins who shrugged. Like it or not, she would just have to wait to find out why she’d been summoned to this off-the-books meeting with the Commandant of the Fuerconese Marine Corps and Secretary of Defense.

 

12 Comments

Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: LIFE

12 responses to “Putting things into perspective

  1. Just bought Vengeance from Ashes because of that snippet. Dang, Amanda…

  2. I’m facing that real-life thing now.
    Last year it was knee replacement surgery for myself. It cost me a solid three months of work. Not only the surgery, but the physical therapy appointments and above all, the pain and not wanting to work while I dealt with the psychic trauma.
    This year it’s supporting my son while he recuperates from yesterday’s knee-replacement surgery. I knew it was coming, so I prepared in advance.
    I pushed hard to finish my then-WIP, NFI: New Frontiers, Inc. Two twelve-hours-at-the-keyboard days fried my brain, but I published the book last Thursday and it went live on Amazon Friday. That gave me breathing space.
    I’ll keep working now, but I can slow down while he works through recovery. I won’t stop writing, my next book keeps pushing me onward, but I’ll take time to help him until he’s recovered enough to drive himself to appointments, etc.
    Upshot, dividing my time between family and work will slow production, but this time it won’t stop it.

    • I’m glad you are going to be able to be there for your son. It really helps, as you know, to have a support system in place. It also sounds like you have a plan in place to keep the words flowing. Now I need to go find your book — New Book! Yay!

  3. Yes, or so I’d like to think. I would turn my loose-on-the-edges writing schedule into a hard one (allowing for Life) and be a lot more disciplined about getting Job Work done first, then writing work. I have a tablet (paper kind) and my favorite pens with me most of the time, and my e-reader for research reading, so I can work in waiting rooms and take notes of other things when necessary. I had a bit of a practice run in February when I was three teachers for two weeks. I survived. Words got written.

  4. I keep my laptop’s files updated, and a thumb drive, and cloud backup that I can access from anywhere . . . I’m spending two weeks every other month out of state with my parents. My Mom’s on Home Hospice care and my Dad not in much better shape. My sister who lives an hour away from their home _needs_ this respite.

    So . . . I write when I can, keep up with the world, edit a bit (One job finished! Yay!) . . . and fit things into the bits of time as they come up. And thank goodness the parents have had their flu shots and hope what I’ve got is what the shot covered. Arg!

    • You just take care of yourself. One of the hardest things for a caretaker to remember, much less do, is take care of herself. Remember, too, that we’re here for you if you need anything.

  5. I’ll be praying for your friend, to heal in the way best for them, and for family and friends to accept that.

  6. I liked this post, Amanda. It is particularly relevant to me right now, ’cause my father has been very sick for the past three weeks. I haven’t talked about it publicly (except now, here) because I didn’t see the point — it’s not my story to tell, plus I didn’t want to say anything until my father’s siblings had been informed. (Now they have been, and Dad is starting to recover…though recover is still very slow. He had pneumonia.)

    Most of the time, I’m already brain-fried because I’m trying to take care of my mother, who’s also not in the best of health. (My parents are long-divorced.) I don’t talk about this much, either — again, not my story to tell. But it’s something I have to factor in to what I’m going to do, and how I’m going to go about doing it.

    Basically, my father’s illness took away all my writing time, and most of my editing time as well. I did what I could despite this, but have been told by my doctor to rest, OR ELSE. (Running back and forth between two sick people isn’t easy, especially when you already do not feel up to snuff.)

    Anyway, you asked a good question…what strategies do others have to try to get writing in despite a major life challenge or two?

    My strategy, usually, is to stay up very, very late. (That way, I have time to think, ponder, plan, and even research, without having to take care of anyone but myself.) This gives me ten or fifteen more writing hours than I would have otherwise.

    Do I minimize social media time? Yes. (I was virtually absent, the past few weeks on FB and Twitter, and certainly didn’t talk much at my blog or anyone else’s blog, either.) Do I disconnect from these things when I’m writing or editing? Again, yes…otherwise, I’d be too distracted, and not be able to do what I know I need to do, or carry on any sort of business at all.

    I’m trying to accentuate the positive. I have managed to keep editing despite these difficulties. I have had ideas for writing, which I’ve put down in prose note form…both of my parents are in better health than before I started doing all this, and I haven’t collapsed yet. So it’s all good, providing I can somehow get back in the groove of writing again.

    I wish you very well with your friend’s situation, and I appreciate your thoughtful post about dealing with significant challenges using personal discipline and forethought. It gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, I can do something of the same thing.

  7. Er, *recovery* is very slow. (Did I mention that sometimes, I type too fast, especially when I’m trying to get back to work? But this was important, so I took the time to answer.)