As the second week of 2019 approached, I was feeling ecstatic. I finally had a writing-and-everything-else routine that was working for me. I was completing everything on my to-do list. I was making plans for how I was going to make it better. Everything was going so well. I was DOING IT.
And then Life Happened.
I don’t need to bore you with the details. Suddenly I found myself unable to concentrate, unable to do anything more than the absolute minimum. I was back to my 2018 ways: Rolling out of bed with just enough time to get ready. Not eating well, drinking way too much coffee, and — most importantly for our cases — barely writing.
My time was, once again, out of my control. Where I had to direct my energy and focus was out of my control. Something else needed my attention, and writing had to be the first thing to go.
But in the midst of all that, I remembered something very important: This had been the first time things out of my control prevented me from writing. And it would not be the last time, either.
I realized two things: One, that my priorities had temporarily shifted and Thing A needed more attention right now than Thing B. And two, that just because I had to put off writing for a temporary period of time did not mean I was failing, lazy, or that my goals were shattered and I’d never be able to get back on track.
We fall into two mindsets when things don’t go our way. Sometimes we fill ourselves with so much guilt and negative self-talk that we convince ourselves getting back up and trying again won’t even be worth it. And so we don’t bother trying again.
Sometimes we say, “Oh, this too shall pass. I’ll get through this and then back to what I was doing before.” But we never go back, because the second we solve one problem, another one comes along, forcing us into a vicious cycle of I’ll-do-it-when-the-dust-settles.
But the dust will never settle. And we can’t feel guilty for putting off what we want to do because someone or something else needs us to put them/it first.
I immediately started feeling guilty for not being able to stick to my new routine — a routine I’d already grown to love. But I had no reason to feel that way. This Life Happening was not my fault and it wasn’t about me. But it also required me to put my work aside, which is, I’ll admit, a lesson God or the Force or the universe has tried to teach me a thousand times and I still haven’t really learned a thing.
When things happen, you have to let them happen. If you can continue on as you are, with some minor adjustments, then do so. If you can’t, don’t submerge yourself in guilt. Sometimes you need to give other things your full attention, and writing would take away from that. It’s OK not to write if you have a good reason to step away for a minute.
Know the difference between an excuse (“I don’t feel like writing”) and a reason (“I need to take care of my mom/kid/dog/neighbor”). Know that just because you have to hit pause doesn’t mean you can’t hit the same button again soon.
And most importantly, don’t get too down on yourself if life just keeps Happening over and over again. Sometimes there are bigger things to deal with than finishing your novel. Contrary to what many believe, writers don’t live in a bubble. We deal with the same real-world things everyone else does. That’s why it’s so hard. We have to learn to ride the waves, recover from the crashes, and keep our heads above water as best we can, no matter what.
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.