It was Scottish poet Robert 'Rabbie' Burns who first penned the phrase "the best-laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft agley." These days it sounds more like something a Scotsman might say after ten pints, but back then it meant "even the most carefully-planned plans can end up whooshing down the toilet when life gets a hold of them." Or as close as. And that's certainly what's happened to me over these past two weeks.
Remember how I had my outline for Draft Three of Redemption all ready to go, and I was eager to make a start and do this thing? Well, on that first Monday that's exactly what I did - out of those traps like a greyhound, so I was. When I went to bed that night I was happy I'd made a good start, and that, if I could keep that momentum up, I should finish draft three in a fraction of the time it took me to do drafts one and two...
...Except that, when I woke up the next morning, I was feeling... not so good. My right leg was so painful - from hip to toes - I could barely stand on it, never mind walk, and I was pretty sure I had a temperature. As the morning wore on the pain got worse, and by eleven a.m. I was lying on the sofa wearing a cardigan and shivering under two coats trying to keep warm (this is when it's a relatively mild 20 degrees c outside.) Obviously something was wrong, so I decided to ring the NHS Direct Line.
(For those of you not in the UK, that's a number you can ring to get medical advice from trained professionals before you head off to a hospital or ask for an emergency appointment from your doctor, to determine whether or not you really need to to do so. It was set up because the already overstretched and under-resourced hospitals were getting a bit fed up with people rocking up to their local emergency rooms with period pains and the flu. Yes, that was really happening.)
When I got through I answered all their questions about my symptoms, fully expecting to be told, at most, that I probably had some sort of virus and to take some paracetamol until I could get an emergency appointment with my doctor for some antibiotics. So I was more than a bit surprised when they said they were sending a couple of paramedics round to my house straight away. I was even more surprised when, after prodding me a bit and taking my temperature and blood pressure, those paramedics then radioed for an ambulance to take me to Pembury hospital. Blimey, must actually be something serious then. This was a diversion from my plans for the day, to say the least.
Less than twenty-four-hours later I was diagnosed with a severe form of cellulitis - and, with blood oxygen levels below 90% and a temperature hovering close to 40 degrees it was clear I wasn't going anywhere for a while. After a further seven days of being stuck with more needles than a shaman from one of those rainforest tribes Sting liked to hang out with back in the day, and intravenously pumped with so many different antibiotics I actually wondered if I'll have to spend the rest of my life living in a bubble-tent, I finally went home with strict instructions to continue the two antibiotic courses I still have left, and to spend as much time as possible with my leg elevated for at least the next couple of weeks, preferably 'above heart level.'
Having no desire to take up a career in a can-can line, this is why I'm now typing this with the offending leg propped up on a cooler box, at a not-particularly-comfortable 45-degree-sideways angle. 'Above heart level' is, unsurprisingly, not an option for this activity, but since the payoff is being able to write again, I'll settle for 'bum level' and to heck with it. Besides, I've had to deal with the knowledge that I Missed A Whole Week of Writing.
Before I began Redemption this wouldn't have bothered me in the slightest. A whole week of no progress on a writing project? Meh, so what, I got a busy life. But that was before I got serious about my writing; before discovering Chuck Wendig's website and reading his tough-love blog posts about finishing what you start, before drawing up a proper timetable for myself and treating my writing like an actual job that I showed up and clocked in the hours for. Now there was a gaping hole over a week wide in my time spreadsheet and it was bothering the heck out of me.
Of course I didn't spend the whole week doing no writing at all. Even in hospital I managed to scribble in a notebook after a few days (turns out a cocktail of intravenous antibiotics and morphine makes for some crazy-ass dreams, and there's no way I was going to let them disappear into the ether.) Besides, when you've read all the books you have with you and the only other alternative is watching The Jeremy Kyle Show... hell, I'd copy out the bloody phone book rather than put myself through that. But I never wrote anything to do with Redemption in my notebook - in fact, it's fair to say I wrote about anything and everything other than that. And yet, the feeling that I should be never left me.
What kind of rubbish, non-motivational guilt is that? To berate yourself for being a slacker on your w-i-p, but then blatantly not do anything to fix the situation? Maybe I felt there wasn't anything 'useful' I could handwrite in a notebook about Redemption. Maybe I needed a break from it for that week - particularly since I spent most of it feeling like utter crap, so most of anything I wrote would probably have been equally crap. Or maybe... some subconscious part of me decided I needed to step away from the actual writing of the thing, and spend some time just thinking about the writing of it instead. Because I certainly did a lot of that.
In every project - whether it's an architectural design for a building, the computer code for a software program or the order of events in a surgical procedure - there comes a moment when the person in charge has to step back and take a broad look at it from above, seeing the whole thing all at once from a godly overview. My moment for that just happened to coincide nicely with being very ill in hospital (or, more likely, forced me to take that moment at that time.)
Or maybe... it really doesn't matter and I should chill the heck out.
Do I need a boatload of excuses (even good ones) to justify taking a week off? Of course not. And that's what I've learned from this experience. Life just gets in the way sometimes - for all of us. And when that happens, beating ourselves up over the things we haven't achieved just saps our confidence when it comes to getting back on track. Everyone deserves a holiday at some point - yep, even writers. And while mine wasn't the kind to get me writing 'wish you were here' postcards to friends and family, it took me away from my normal routine for a bit (I certainly didn't miss the housework!) Once you have schedules and goals for your writing it's easy to pin all your expectations on them, so that falling behind even a little bit can feel like a downhill free-wheel to failure. It isn't. Just put the wheels back on and carry on trucking. Forget the past - tomorrow is another chance to start anew.
Even if you have to do it with one leg propped up on a cooler box.