How many of us have laughed, sometimes a little bitterly, at the little sign saying, “Deadlines: I love the sound they make as they go zooming past?” Or “If it wasn’t for the last minute, I’d never get anything done.”
Yes. We writers feel that a lot, either because of contract deadlines, tax deadlines, or self-imposed sales and publications deadlines. The threat of a hard time limit can be wonderfully inspiring, or it can turn a brain to mush. I tend to fall into the latter category, or used to. The words, “You have five minutes to finish your paper,” caused all cerebral function to cease. I might as well hand in what I had, or print it and turn it in, because the connection between hand/hands and brain had just been severed.
I’m a little better now. Now I just whimper and keep writing. This is in part because I learned that I had to be able to keep an idea in mind and resume writing when I had a chance, otherwise nothing got done. Fiction or non-fiction, dropping the train of thought was not an option. And it was hard to learn. But deadlines are deadlines. There’s nothing like “If you don’t finish by X date and have a signed publication contract, you have to pay back [large amount of money] plus three percent interest” to concentrate one’s mind. It was good training for fiction.
So, what do you do when you want lemonade and Life hits you with two eggplants wrapped around a large cinder-block wall? Running around in a small circle, waving one’s hands in the air and screaming is sometimes a good short-term answer, but not a long-term solution.
- Build wiggle room into your project if you can. This isn’t always possible when you are writing to a contract with a deadline, or revising to contract.
- Set a time (minutes or hours) per day to write. It can be a solid chunk (ideal) or grabbed over the course of the day. This is best for when you are at a stage that tolerates short bursts of concentration.
- Acknowledge that life has clobbered you, at least for the short-term. You are not SuperWriter. Family, faith, bad life rolls, they can take priority and often should. Don’t beat yourself up for not writing when you are recovering from a car wreck, or other accident, or major life shift (good or not so good). Things happen. Heck, Christopher Nuttall is recovering from the big C and he’s still managing to produce something, even if it is not at his usual pace. We all have times when we just can’t juggle another flaming chainsaw. Four at a time is the limit.
- Get you priorities set. Right now, it is Day Job, family, music, writing. My family knows that one of my Day Job commitments will peak in a week, and that the concerts would soak up all free time for a week. So I made myself focus on Day Job, then family, music, and then write when I could. It eased some of the stress.
- Make use of what you do get. An ounce of self-discipline will sustain a lot of writing. Even a few hundred words a day, on a few different projects, will lead to a place where you can finish, edit, and launch several things in relatively quick succession.
- Write down ideas, scene bits, and other short nibbles. You will have them on hand, and you may find that several can be worked into something. Let your subconscious (or Muse) stew for a while and you may come back stronger than before.
- Get rest. Things happen, and your mind and body need space to rest and recover, recharge and heal. Sleep. Eat as well as you can. Take a few minutes and go somewhere quiet, look at flowers and trees, or just find a place on the ‘Net with beautiful nature pictures and rest your mind.
- You are not SuperWriter. Life will happen, so take a deep breath, deal with the big things, and then the small things.
- And always, always, back up your work. Don’t let a hard drive failure on your writing computer take out ten years and more of work. On-site and off-site backup, using someplace that won’t claim your work. *glowers at a certain large free data storage place*