I had a Real Life situation, here in Houston in the last few weeks. Hurricane Harvey came to town. And stayed, and stayed . . .
We were lucky. Almost no wind. Thirty-three inches of rain was bad enough. But when the ditches start backing up because the river is full . . . and the predicted crest is five foot higher than the all-time-record that had us sweating last year . . .
Not a problem—we had a good 18 inches to go before we had water in the house. Gulp!!! They didn’t say five feet higher, did they?
But it crested lower than the early predictions, and we sailed through a potential disaster with only the minor inconvenience of not being able to get to the grocery store (or anywhere else) for five days.
And the reason we sailed through it was (1) Prep and (2) Luck.
In life, as with a writing career, you can’t pick and choose the storms that will hit you. But you can prepare for bumps in the road in general.
Where you live will determine the likelihood of various disasters, and those you need to prep for really early on. In California you look at fault lines and wild fire hazards before you buy a house. On the Gulf Coast, you check the flood map.
If you’re a writer, you have to consider possible dry spells, either in writing or selling. Even Indie writers have slumps. You can get sideswiped by family trouble, work complications, computer crashes . . .
So . . . how does a writer prep? Go back up all your files. Right. Now. Best writer prep ever. And read the contract. Get an IP Lawyer to read it.
Instead of a pantry full of canned goods, a backlog of stories ready to sell is really nice. A blog with a tip jar and occasional paid writing gigs might help smooth over the potholes. And acquiring and keeping up-to-date marketable skills really is a good idea, so if necessary an outside job could be procured. But then most of us already have a job, and writing is a part-time endeavor that we strive to make lucrative enough to quit.
One of the hardest decisions—in real life as in a writing career—is when to leave.
What to take with you, and what do you abandon? What do you try to get up out of the reach of a flood, in case there’s a house to return to?
For a writer, it’s harder. So much of it mental. When you cannot find the time or energy to write. When you’d have to give up something else . . . a promotion, starting a family, caring for an elderly relative . . . and you just can’t. When you’re sick, especially a long debilitating illness, or a life changing injury.
But how do you pack up a writing career, in the hopes that you might be able to get back to it later?
Can you write a little? Now and then? While the baby’s napping or dictating while commuting? After you’ve tucked Mom in bed, can you write for half an hour before going to bed yourself, knowing there’s going to be a problem at 2AM, as usual?
All too often the answer is no. Stress and lack of sleep are killers of the creative process. So create a space in your mind, where you can go to de-stress. Make up stories, just for your own entertainment. Don’t even try to write them down. Make a stress free place to go, and keep the story telling skills from atrophying.
In a flood or hurricane, snowed-in in winter, you eat the perishable foods, then the canned and dry goods . . . the choice gets more and more limited. You try to plan ahead, and the meals start getting skimpy . . . that Spam wasn’t nearly as bad as you’d feared, and what’s the expiration date on those things back there?
Okay, confession time. My husband and I like Spam. Which may be why I’m blanking on a mental equivalent of last ditch writer’s survival supplies.
Well, it depends on both the problem and the writer.
During the stormy part of my life, I wrote a lot of short stories and novellas. I had trouble holding a whole novel sized story in my head while dealing one after another with my husband’s serious hand injury, the needs of my elderly parents, an unexpected death in the family, a wedding overseas, and finally my parents’ deaths. Three years of stress, where I was often barely competent to edit and publish older stuff. I’m afraid to go back and read some of it now, to find out how bad a job I did.
But it’s all over now. Done. I sit here, telling myself it’s over. I can write long. A big, complex novel. Any time now.
It’s not easy to get back. But I did salvage that mental ability to create, to see a story and get it down on paper. The ideas have started popping up and insisting on being written. So I’ll trust that the skill to write long will return as well.
So think about prepping for storms, physical and metaphorical, so you can hang out in the rain with no worries. Or at least fewer.
One of the new short works:
But you really ought to start here: