posted on November 5, 2015 by Susan Wiggs

Speed Bumps

by Susan Wiggs

very bad ideaWhen I was a classroom teacher (in the last century–gulp), I sometimes had to call for a substitute when something came up–a sick kid, sick parent, an injury, jury duty, family drama. When faced with an unexpected bump in the road, a writer (or other freelance artist) doesn’t have a backup plan like that. If I don’t work, the book doesn’t get written.

There are worse tragedies in life, to be sure, but when staring down the barrel of a deadline, it sometimes feels pretty tragic. As much as we like to plan things out, we never get to know what’s around the next corner. It might be another pitfall…or it could be Prince Charming. Or your next bestseller.

Enjoying the hillbilly heroinThe thing that is most at-risk during times of trouble, trauma, illness or even joyous events is something my very understanding agent calls “white space.” It’s that empty headspace we all need for world-building and imagining. When life interferes, you have to fight to protect that space. So ask yourself, is your life’s work worth that fight?

Here are a few strategies life has taught me through the years:

  • Take care of yourself. Health, relationships well-being always trump writing output. A writer’s problem, however, is worry. If she’s not writing, she’s worrying about writing. So part of taking care of yourself is figuring out how to do the writing you need to do.
  • For a physical injury or illness, be realistic about what you’re going to be able to do. If you, say, happen to shatter your wrist, thus requiring 3 surgeries, you’re probably not going to write your usual thousand-words-per day.
  • Call your agent and editor immediately and make the necessary adjustments to your schedule. It’s awful to change a pub date. Your readers count on you. But readers are awesome. They know life happens and are loyal enough to wait that extra few months.
  • Focus on the possibilities of this challenge rather than raging about the drawbacks. If you’re incapacitated, use the forced downtime to dream up new directions for your story. Maybe they’ll give you painkillers that make those dreams very interesting.
  • Feeling emotional? Embrace it! If you’re not totally sick of yourself, keep a journal. Seek out metaphors in your situation. They can help you make sense of things, and maybe enhance your writing.
  • Remember the profound truth of Winston Churchill’s advice: “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
  • Let your friends be your friends. You were probably always the helper, the supporter, the fixer. Well, guess what? Your friends are going to be there for you, they’re going to understand and help you through this, whatever it is. The world is full of love and support from the most unlikely places, if only open yourself to the possibility.
  • Remember that trouble is not the only source of writing interruption. You can also be distracted by extreme crazy happiness like falling in love and getting married, or getting a puppy, or having a grandbaby. All these blessed events are going to interfere. My advice? Let them. 🙂

PS: Never, EVER go skateboarding while holding a large doberman puppy on a leash. There’s really only one outcome to that, and it’s not pretty.

Miranda 2015

MIRANDA can be purchased in mass market paperback and/or eBook
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Susan Wiggs

Susan Wiggs

Using blunt scissors, pages from a Big Chief tablet, a borrowed stapler and a Number Two pencil, Susan Wiggs self-published her first novel at the age of eight. A Book About Some Bad Kids was based on the true-life adventures of Susan and her siblings, and the first printing of one copy was a complete sell-out.

Due to her brother's extreme reaction to that first prodigious effort, Susan went underground with her craft, entertaining her friends and offending her siblings with anonymously-written stories of virtuous sisters and the brothers who torment them. The first romance she ever read was Shanna by the incomparable Kathleen Woodiwiss, which she devoured while slumped behind a college vector analysis textbook. Armed with degrees from SFA and Harvard, and toting a crate of "keeper" books by Woodiwiss, Roberta Gellis, Laurie McBain, Rosemary Rodgers, Jennifer Blake, Bertrice Small and anything with the words "flaming" and "ecstasy" in the title, she became a math teacher, just to prove to the world that she did have a left brain.

Late one night, she finished the book she was reading and was confronted with a reader's worst nightmare--She was wide awake, and there wasn''t a thing in the house she wanted to read. Figuring this was the universe''s way of taking away her excuses, she picked up a Big Chief tablet and a Number Two pencil, and began writing her novel with the working title, A Book About Some Bad Adults. Actually, that was a bad book about some adults, but Susan persevered, learning her craft the way skydiving is learned--by taking a blind leap and hoping the chute will open.

Her first book was published (without the use of blunt scissors and a stapler) by Zebra in 1987, and since then she has been published by Avon, Tor, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Mira and Warner Books. Unable to completely abandon her beloved teaching profession, Susan is a frequent workshop leader and speaker at writers' conferences, including the Romance Writers of America conference, the PNWA and Maui Writers Conference. She won a RITA award in 1994, and her recent novel The Charm School was voted one of RWA's Favorite Books of the Year. She is the proud recipient of several RT awards, the Peninsula RWA's Blue Boa, the Holt Medallion and the Colorado Award of Excellence.

Susan enjoys many hobbies, including sitting in the hot tub while talking to her mother on the phone, kickboxing, cleaning the can opener, sculpting with butter and growing her hair. She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Jay, her daughter, Elizabeth, and an Airedale that hasn't been groomed since 1994.

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