Sunday, 28 June 2015

When Life Gets In The Way of Writing

If you wanna get anywhere as a writer, you need discipline. Get your bum on that seat, your fingers on that keyboard and godammit, person, write, no matter what. Don't let anyone or anything come between you and your beloved pages, there's always time to write, the successful and the professionals don't let excuses get in their way, etcetera, etcetera...

And yeah, I get all that. I really, really do.

But sometimes there are just so many things going on in your life that your poor little brain can't hold them all at once and write as well. (Anyone disagreeing with me at this point is doing so because they bloody well have backup; either a PA or a very devoted partner who's happy to pick up the slack and be Super-House-Runner whenever they need their creative space. Well, I'm very happy for you guys, but I'm afraid this post isn't about you. It's about the rest of us.)

My system for getting my arse in gear has always been to have a weekly goal of hours and word count per week that I strive to meet, and tracking my progress from week to week, month to month, with a spreadsheet. I make sure I 'clock up' a minimum of ten hours a week of writing time, and aim for a minimum 2500 words a week. (And yeah, I do realise that's a pitiful amount compared to 'professional' and 'full-time' writers. But I am neither of those things, so I have to make the most of the precious few hours I do get. Sure, I'll be slower to reach the finish line, but I'm no less determined because of that.)

But for the last couple of weeks I've been falling short of my weekly targets - not even meeting my base minimums. This isn't due to lack of inspiration or the dreaded Writer's Block, but simply large chunks of Life getting in the way.

For my first week of faceplanting short of my writing targets, my son's school had its Centenary Year. As this was such a huge event, it required not one but two completely different themed costumes, to be worn on completely different days. Supplied of course by the parents. So my wee laddie needed one schoolboy uniform from the year 1915 for Monday (suuuure, I'll just go dig that out, I'm bound to have it lying around somewhere...) and then another outfit representing 'fashion of the 1960's' for Friday.  And then once you throw in all the special events for parents to attend for the Centenary Week... well, I managed seven and a half hours and 2000 words of writing that week.

This last week has been taken up with my sons ninth birthday. Obtaining and wrapping of presents, organising and preparing food for his party and making his minecraft-themed birthday cake, to be precise. I was more pleased with this years effort...

Minecraft Ender Portal Birthday Cake

... than last years. (But only slightly, because thinking anything I've done ever approaches the exacting vision of beauty in my imagination is something that next-to-never happens... but that's a whole other post...)

It's a Minecraft Ender Portal, in case you were wondering. Nope, I had no idea what that was either, until I Google-Imaged it. But it passed inspection by my son and all nine of his party-going friends, so I guess it worked out okay in the end. But... it took a looonng time to make and ice, so even though I still managed seven-and-a-half hours of writing, my total wordcount was even lower than the previous week.

Now don't get me wrong. I do not begrudge a second the time spent on any of the aforementioned activities in either of those two weeks. I believe family should always come above writing in the list of priorities, and if that makes me 'uncommitted to the writing cause'... well, boo-hoo, this is my Don't Care-Face.

But I'll admit, not meeting my targets for two weeks in a row made me... twitchy. Like an addict deprived of her fix, it felt like something was missing from my life to make me feel okay again. And the guilt... Oh! The guilt! Does this mean I'm going cold on 'Redemption?' Am I running out of steam and destined to give up on this novel too, just like all the ones I gave up on before it? Is this nature's way of saying I should give up writing forever, because I just can't commit to any damn thing ever in my whole non-committing failing-at-finishing-a-novel life? 

Mmmyeah, I possibly went a little overboard on the melodrams at one point. But the fact remains, there was some mental self-flagellation going on. But why? Why did I do that to myself? I had some time off, that's all. Took a bit of annual leave to spend time with my family. So why is the Grinch in my head accusing me of slacking off and not having the metaphorical testicles to see my beloved writing project through?

'Cause it's his job, that's why. It's the job of all Grinches in the heads of all writers everywhere - yep, yours too. They want us to fail, and they know the best time to strike with their 'nad-crushing nonsense is when we're feeling vulnerable. And sure, we can listen to them and take their words as 'must try harder' messages. But we must never think of them as Oracles, predicting our future.

It's okay to take time out from writing once in a while. You don't 'stop being a writer' just because you take a break - any more than a doctor 'stops being a doctor' just because he goes on holiday for a couple of weeks. Sometimes a break is just what you need to fill up your well of imagination and come back to the page fresh and invigorated.

So if you ever feel the guilt of Taking Time Away From Your Writing, here's what to do. Take all that guilt, screw it up in a ball and lob it at the old circular file. And start working on the next, new page.

Oh - and give your Grinch a healthy dose of side-eye while you're at it. That should shut him up for a while.

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