Survival

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.


But what is a writer to do, when things get rough?

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:

 

18 Comments

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18 responses to “Survival

  1. paladin3001

    Glad to hear you survived Harvey fairly intact. Been reading about prepping lately for some reason myself (started before all the hurricane nonsense). A well stocked pantry is a life saver.
    I am trying my hand at writing and I try to write down ideas that come to me or at least general outlines. I have been struggling lately due to stress and real life issues. Still plugging away in the hopes that things will get better.

    • I have for some been amused at folks in northern climes (Minnesota, Wisconsin) seeming to panic-buy at stores before a predicted storm. Now, the milk, bread, and eggs – things that don’t have the best of shelf-lives, I understand (even if it does lead to the joke that snowstorms must cause a craving for French toast). But many other things leave the shelves as well. Things that one would expect anyone living in such locations would have made good and sure there was at least a few days reserve of in September or at least early-mid October. Why, yes, I *do* recall The Halloween Blizzard when Iowa shut down. That might not sound like much to some, but Iowan shut things down… the DeLorean hit 88 mph and it’s Some Serious…

      • Fresh fruit. I learned with hurricane Rita that I really miss not having at least apples and oranges on hand. Otherwise, I ran out of bread and was getting parsimonious with the cheese before the river dropped enough to get to a very poorly stocked store. If it had stretched to two weeks, I would probably _not_ like Spam any longer.

  2. Draven

    meanwhile… the ‘story’ i am working on is… thin

  3. Harvey was my first hurricane. We were in Corpus Christi with family when it hit. Such fun.

    If nothing else I managed to get three days worth of blog material from it. That and a bunch of mosquito bites.

  4. Tornadoes. Rather awkward to prepare for on short notice, although I do still keep a “panic bag” prepared on the nights the storms look like they are getting close (important papers, writing laptop, back-up drive for Day Job laptop, medicine). It’s a bit late to put a safe room into the house.

    I did get a story out of my last close call, but I can’t publish it until I file a lot more location information off of it.

    • Yeah, I’ve got a few basics in both vehicles, and the writing on a thumb drive in my purse . . . which needs to be updated.

    • This reminds me, we need to clean out (de-vermin) and check the storm shelter. Thanks for the reminder.

    • TRX

      A nice shelter setup is the reinforced-concrete “mud room”. It generally shows up as an attachment to the back door, finished to match the rest of the house. One door to the house, the other outside, so it’s pass-through.

      It’s not quite as safe as a semi-underground shelter, but you don’t have to wait until the tornado is upon you before you get half-drowned running to the shelter, they tend not to flood or turn into spider or vermin habitats. And you get electricity, and the kitchen and bathroom are only a few (dry) steps away.

  5. Dunno about your particular Texas Floating Society, but for Houston, not a record by a long shot.

    http://www.drroyspencer.com/2017/08/why-houston-flooding-isnt-a-sign-of-climate-change/
    ==============
    There have been many flood disasters in the Houston area, even dating to the mid-1800s when the population was very low. In December of 1935 a massive flood occurred in the downtown area as the water level height measured at Buffalo Bayou in Houston topped out at 54.4 feet.
    [Photo of Downtown Houston flood of 1935]
    By way of comparison, as of 6:30 a.m. this (Monday) morning, the water level in the same location is at 38 feet, which is still 16 feet lower than in 1935. I’m sure that will continue to rise.
    ==============
    Dr.Spencer also explains that the amount of rain wasn’t unusual in any way other than that the hurricane stalled and therefore dumped it all in one spot.

    Present flood levels are probably artificially doubled (if not tripled) by so much of the landscape being paved over that the excess water no longer has anywhere to go.

    • We learn from every storm. I’m proud of Houston’s adjustments. The hospitals didn’t flood, didn’t loose their emergency generators this time. They evacced some patients as a precaution, but their main problem seemed to be running short on food.

  6. Mike Houst

    Composition notebooks and a supply of ball point pens. Work really well when you are out of range of electronic writing devices. I used to use them during down time while at scout camp when the boys were out running around doing badges in the morning or activities in the afternoon.

    • Dorothy Grant

      I have one tossed in the back of the car, right next to the fire extinguisher and jumper cables. Because the difference between stranded and waiting is whether or not I have something to do!

  7. Zsuzsa

    Of course, sometimes even looking at the flood map isn’t enough. During our great flood 4 years ago, my in-laws house, which isn’t even in the 500-year flood plain, had their crawlspace nearly full, my husband and I were over there bailing and trying to keep the water from getting in the main house. Meanwhile, my parent’s condo, which was right next to the river and that they hadn’t even been allowed to buy without getting flood insurance…had some minor bubbling in the drywall.

    • Yeah, some work on the drainage systems, some extra paving and faster runoff . . . I haven’t a clue how old some of the floodplain maps are, and with all the building locally, the risk can’t have _not_ changed.

  8. Dorothy Grant

    Just as any emergency plan has to account for both staying or going (Because all the planning for stay-in-place may not stand up to Harvey’s rainfall or Irma’s winds), so our publishing became hybrid – because when Peter’s too ill (and I’m too busy fretting in surgical waiting rooms) to get a book out with proper cover and advertising, splitting the workload and the royalties with a good publishing house with fair contracts makes a lot of sense.

    Similarly, KKR has noted that short story markets in magazines are great – they not only pay for your story, but most revert the rights so you can resell it indie after a year, and act as an advertisement for the indie work you already have out. (Where else can you get paid to advertise?) And with those, while you have the wait to see if they’re accepted or not, they also do not require covers, formatting (other than to house requirements), ad copy (other than the query letter), or promotion if you’re too swamped to deal with that right now.

    Along the same lines, publishing in different genres adds more strings to your bow – if your urban fantasy series isn’t doing well, that’s all right if your westerns and thrillers are doing well!