by Susan Wiggs
When 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.
The 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 can be purchased in mass market paperback and/or eBook