Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Disrupted Writer - Fast recovery

Your planning is perfect. You've mastered distractions. You're writing every day. Then life gets in the way.

Writers are not immune to financial concerns, the ache of romance gone wrong, the agony of a child with serious illness, or the shock and grief of a death in the family. If they were, they would not have the experiences they need to move readers.

Disruptions happen. They are beyond your control. But how do you deal with them? I have already written about Reentering the Interrupted Story and how listing Ten Reasons to Love Your Story can reignite your passion for your manuscript. Either of these might suggest strategies you can use to get back into writing when you are disrupted. But there are other approaches (and perhaps you have a few to share?).

Let's take the bad effects of disruption one by one and look at what you might do:
  • You're delayed - Here there is a difference between a five-minute phone call and a three-hour stay in the emergency room. The more severe the delay, the more a challenge it will be to your discipline. Go back to your plan, even if you do not have time to complete it. Add some words to your manuscript as soon as it is possible.
  • Echoes distract you - Even after a disruption is over, the situation may continue to run through your mind, or you may be overcome by the emotions. Acknowledge that the disruption is not necessarily over when you return to your writing desk, and it may need more time that you suspect. But replaying the situation may not be useful. In those cases, try doing something to transition yourself. You might, for instance, write a letter to one of your characters about what you just went through (and then write their response).
  • Your idea falls apart - Is there anything more frustrating? Sometimes the structures your minds produce are exquisitely delicate and they evaporate with a knock on the door. Taking a deep breath to dispel the natural distress is the best first step. The next is to begin reconstructing immediately, even if you can only snatch at fragments. Like dreams, these concepts get harder to bring back with time. If it still feels like a complete loss, forget reconstruction and get to work immediately on something different.
  •  You lose your enthusiasm or confidence - I sometimes thing being a writer or taking on a challenging work is a spell cast upon me, and an interruption can break that spell. Sometimes, coming back from this is just a matter of using the Reentering or Ten Reasons approaches noted above, but sometimes I need a pep talk or "proof" or a new attitude that gives me permission to work on a "lousy" project or do a lousy job. Okay. Tomorrow, things will be better.
Of course, a disruption may be so big it becomes the new normal. If you lose your job, it will take time to secure a new one. If your house burns down, you can't move back in a day later. In many cases, getting back to work will mean recommitting in the face of what your life is, as opposed to what you still believe it should be. (Which is not to say that you should "get on with it" immediately. Major life events are owed their time. You can't rush through the equivalent of K├╝bler-Ross's Five Stages of Grief without paying a price.)

Once you recommit to your writing, you need to reassess the work in terms of who you are now. Life events have a way of changing priorities. Finally, you need to rework your plans to reflect time available, opportunities, new options, and changing processes.

Overall, your response to disruptions is within your control. You only become derailed for a long period of time if you allow yourself to be. Sometimes, your recovery will be slow and begin with small things. Sometimes, you'll find a way to jump back in with more energy and commitment than ever before. I think of Ray Bradbury, who said that a day without writing was a little death. He lived this sentiment, when, after a disastrous stroke that left him unable to type, he began dictating stories as soon as he was physically able to.  If you are determined to write, nothing can stop you.

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