I had plans. Big plans. Solid, definite, “nothing can stop me from doing this the way I want” plans.
And then, as it so often happens with things we are the most excited about, everything came crashing down around me. Suddenly my plans were in pieces and I did not know how to handle it.
Sure, this was nothing all that serious — I planned on spending an entire morning writing and for reasons completely out of my control, zero words were written that morning.
But it was frustrating. I only have so much time in a day to do the things, and when I can’t do the things when I promised myself I would do the things — ESPECIALLY if I happened to be highly motivated to do the things in that moment — everything goes off the rails.
Or, at least, it used to.
Slowly, I am learning how to keep my sights on my goals and continue moving forward even when things don’t go the way I planned them out in my head.
Here’s what you need to know in order to begin to do the same.
The great idea you had when you sat down to write won’t always deliver. Something that often happens to me — welcome to the not of this Earth mass of cells that is my brain — is I will get a random idea for a blog post earlier in the day, write it down, and leave it alone until I have open space in my schedule to write that post.
Usually as I am writing the idea down, I feel pretty good about it. That’s how all ideas feel in the beginning — they all seem like the best idea you’ve ever had. Until you go back to them later and realize they aren’t nearly as brilliant as you of two hours ago initially perceived.
One of the most frustrating things I have to deal with when sitting down to write at the end of the day is sitting in front of an idea no longer having any interest in working on it.
This does not necessarily mean it’s a “bad” idea or that I’m going to throw it away and never look at it again. I have just lost the motivation to give it the effort and attention it deserves.
But it does mean that I am either going to have to find something else to work on or not do work at all — which is usually a luxury I can’t afford.
When an idea you thought was going to work out is no longer going to work out, it’s completely acceptable to close out all your tabs, stand up, and give yourself 15 minutes to go for a walk, get a snack, and do whatever it takes to clear your head and make room for a different idea to take its place.
This doesn’t make the situation any less frustrating, in most cases. YOU. HAD. A. PLAN.
But if you haven’t figured it out by now, there are plenty of downsides to making plans. Mainly that you have to learn to accept that plans don’t always stick, no matter how much glue you apply.
The grand plans you had to write uninterrupted will almost always be interrupted. I live in a house full of people who do not understand that writers don’t have work schedules and creative expression is an ongoing, unpredictable process.
Which means that sometimes I don’t get to follow through on my plans to have a blog post done by lunch or to write a thousand words before I make coffee in the morning. Sometimes I am in the middle of writing The Best String Of Sentences I Have Ever Written and someone walks into my office to ask me if I have any extra Post-It notes.
(I am a writer. OF COURSE I HAVE EXTRA POST-IT NOTES. WHICH COLOR DO YOU WANT? WHAT SIZE? HERE, TAKE THE WHOLE STACK OF NEON PINK ONES, I DIDN’T WANT THEM ANYWAY.)
This, and the fact that I have a one year old Husky who can barely go five consecutive seconds without having some part of her fuzzy body touching me (HEART EYES), makes my writing life pretty interesting.
It has taken me a very long time to accept that I will probably never write uninterrupted ever again — at least, not during the day. I have gotten to the point where I am amazed when I am able to sit down and write an entire blog post in one sitting without having to help someone locate a lost object or letting someone else out to pee.
You may live alone without even so much as a single goldfish and still experience unwanted interruptions at the peaks of your writing productivity. Your phone will ring, someone will knock on your door (why? You’ll never know until you answer I guess!), you’ll suddenly remember something you were supposed to do earlier and stop everything so you can do it before you forget again. (This is, by the way, what Post-It notes are for.)
Something will always try to distract you or attempt to derail you completely from your task.
It’s hardest when you have trouble regaining your focus after having it broken. This is the biggest hurdle I encounter as a writer almost on a daily basis. If I’m in a flow state and I have to stop writing or editing to give my attention to something else, there are days it takes up to 20 minutes for me to get back into a flow mindset.
But you have to do the best you can to deal with the inevitable interruptions — or at the very least accept that they are going to happen and plan accordingly. I save the “easiest” writing tasks for when everyone is awake and likely to bother me (tasks that usually involve writing that I don’t plan on publishing anytime soon — where I can afford to be a little looser with my words) and do the hard stuff when everyone is asleep (freelancing assignments, proposals, blog posts — things I need to give my full attention and concentration to without my focus being broken).
Accept that interruptions are the way of the writing life. You’ll learn to get less upset when they happen, knowing or expecting that they will.
Writing will not always be the most important thing in your life. We all WANT writing to be the only thing we worry about. At least three times this week I caught myself saying, out loud: “I just need one day where I have eight solid hours of uninterrupted writing time … I would get so much done.”
That’s never going to happen, Meg. Accept it. Move on.
If I can accept it and move on … you can, too. Trust me.
This is one reason so many people struggle to transform their writing dreams into real successes. They want their writing to be their main focus, their top priority, the most significant thing they have to worry about on any given day. But the truth is that this just isn’t most people’s reality.
Most people dream of writing, and might even actively write as often as they are able. But they also often have day jobs, and families, and responsibilities and obligations beyond the stories they want so desperately to sit in front of their computer screens and tell.
The majority of writers actually can’t make writing their priority all the time. But their biggest mistake isn’t accepting that they have other priorities. It’s thinking that in order to succeed in writing, you have to make writing a constant priority in your life.
It is currently 9 PM as I am writing this. It is a Saturday night, and for reasons I’m not going to get into in this particular blog post, I have a lot left to write before I can call it a day. Normally on a Saturday I would have had most if not all of my writing for the day finished by now. But also due to reasons I’m not going to discuss here, I had to spend most of the day completing tasks for my full-time, Monday through Friday job.
I would have loved to spend some of my morning reading a book and drinking coffee, followed by some casual writing before walking the dog, going for a run, enjoying my favorite Saturday morning breakfast, and then diving into some of my professional projects (like this blog).
I did absolutely none of the things I have described above today. Only now am I getting around to writing, because today, writing was not my priority. It couldn’t be. Today, copy editing 20+ articles about celebrity drama and Netflix took precedence over everything else.
Am I super annoyed about this as I chug coffee giving myself yet another pep talk as I chip away at my writing goal for the day? Absolutely. But I have also learned over the years that sometimes other things are more important than writing, and you can’t beat yourself up about that. You can’t get upset about not being able to write. You just have to deal with your responsibilities and deadlines first and pick up your writing as soon as you are able.
Do note, however, that setting your writing aside to handle more important things is not the same as putting off writing because you are avoiding possible negative emotions you’ve come to associate with it. Prioritizing and procrastinating are very different things. We do them both. Know which one you are in the middle of and adjust your attitude accordingly!
This is not going to go the way you think.
Plans and priorities and schedules will always change.
But one thing never will: If you want to succeed in writing, you have to continue writing anyway.
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.