There’s no way to predict the future.
Unexpected things happen all the time. There are so many things we can plan for — but so many more things we can’t. And it can be frustrating when these things interfere with our writing schedules. Even when the things standing in our way are very important to us.
What do you do, when “business as usual” just isn’t possible?
Here’s how to deal with the unexpected, whether you have to stop writing completely for awhile or you just need to do less.
Scale back your production
Sometimes, stuff happens. It’s not always under your control, and it can feel like you’ve lost ownership of pretty much everything in your life. But there are some things you still can control, like what you write, when, and how much.
If you can’t go at the pace you normally do for the time being, but you don’t want to stop working completely, it’s OK to pull back and write less. In quantitative terms, for example, you can switch to writing only 500 words of your novel every day this week instead of 2,000.
Some progress is better than no progress. But there will be points in your life where you have to say no to work (or extra work) and yes to more pressing matters.
If you have to stop, try not to worry too much
I know I keep using this example, but it’s a much more uplifting scenario than, say, a funeral (though many of life’s plot twists are very difficult, and I don’t want to minimize that for anyone who might be going through some tough stuff while reading this). About a month ago, I adopted a puppy. And for two weeks, I could barely write anything outside of work, because she just needed her mom to not work extra for awhile.
It did not feel good to step away from writing. I felt guilty every second I didn’t spend writing when I knew I could have, despite how much I loved my fuzzball. I had to constantly remind myself that writing could wait, that I had other priorities, and that I would regret not spending time with my puppy more later than I would regret not writing for a few weeks.
This is not an easy choice to make, for anyone. But when there’s a legitimate thing circling you that you have to give attention to, you have to do your best not to feel too bad about putting your writing aside. You will get back into it. And as long as you transition back into the writing life the right way, it will end up feeling like you never stopped at all.
Jump back in when you can; start small and slow
After the various periods of time in which I’ve had to put my personal writing on hold — puppies; final exams; family matters — I always found it the hardest to jump back in (1) when I didn’t give myself a “starting deadline” and (2) when I jumped in too quickly and tried to do too much within the first few days of my “return.”
First, if you can, give yourself as much time as you need to recalibrate. But also give yourself some kind of deadline by which you have to return to writing. Example: “I’ll need two weeks to take care of some things and rest. On May 30th, I will wake up at my ‘usual’ time and write [something].”
Second, don’t try to go too hard, too fast when you do get back into writing mode. The same way you might scale back on how much you write in certain circumstances, take your typical daily production and either halve or quarter it. Start small and go slow. Set the bar low, and don’t push yourself too hard. Easing back into it will be worth it not too far down the road.
Life will always present you with obstacles. But you are a writer. Your passion runs deep, and you cannot survive for long, or thrive, without writing. You will find a way. True writers always do.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.