The Third of the “Goals and Dreams 2012 Series”

Got the goals? Dreaming the dreams? All set for 2012 and a good year of writing?

Standing here at the beginning of the year, every writer I know says, “Ready!”

And they mean it. But sadly, ask all but the most driven writers in May the same question and life will have stopped almost all writers cold. And they will not be back at it.

And the year will pass and around Christmas many writers will wonder what happened, swear they will do better in the new year, set new goals, and off they go into yet another new year to repeat the same problem.

Sounds horribly cynical for me, doesn’t it? But alas, it’s not. It just normal human action that I am reporting. I wish like hell I would be wrong, and I always am happy when a writer proves me wrong on this. But alas, for the vast majority of writers, I will be correct in my horrid assessment.

But there are ways to keep going, to start again in May or August, to climb back on the old horse you mounted on January 1st, and keep riding toward the end of the year. And thus end up having a great writing year.

But these ways are only used by the most driven writers, I’m afraid. And those of us who do this for a living. (You think this gets easier once you are making a living, think again. It gets harder.)

Once you learn and can apply some of the tricks and methods and drive I am about to talk about, you will have helped train yourself to be a long-term professional fiction writer. At least on the production side.

So, I am talking to everyone with this last post in this series, with the hopes the most driven will remember this in a month or three when the world knocks them for a loop.

Stopping is Not Failure

Failing to restart is a failure.

Giving up is a failure.

Failing to even start in the first place is a failure.

But once you are going and get stopped, which will happen at one level or another, you have not failed at that moment. You have only failed if you don’t get back to work.

So let me be very, very clear here. Everyone who starts a challenge or sets goals for 2012 will get stopped at one or more points along the way in 2012.

Everyone. No exceptions.

It’s a long year.

The stops will range from not getting to work at all for a few weeks, to a nasty sickness, to life events like the estate one I dealt with this fall. Friends will need help, people will die, day jobs will need more attention, family and friends will suddenly need to take writing time you hadn’t planned on.

It’s called living. Duh.

And you can’t control all the living aspects of the world and people around you, so don’t even try.

Let me say that again. Back to control. You can’t control what comes at you, so don’t try.

But you can control how you act in response to the life events.

And you can control when you get back to work on your writing.

Response

Most beginning writers I know do one of two things when major life events hit them.

One… They just put the writing away until everything is done. (This is normal and caused by focus. Your focus has been ripped away from writing. Most times this is the only option when an event is very, very large.)

Two… The writer gets mad at the event and gets into blame games and makes restarting writing seem like a HUGE event. And thus never does restart.

So what kind of response is sane and professional?

When the dust has cleared, meaning you are able to think about your writing again, you look at the situation. Cold and clear-eyed, not angry or emotional.

Ask these questions:

1… How much time have I really lost on my goal or my writing? 

2…How far behind am I on any real deadline? (contract deadline with publisher)

3… With the new situation, is the old goal still possible?

But what I skipped and made sound easy is the very, very first step: Remembering. 

Sounds like a problem you would never have? You can only hope. Because when life comes flashing at you throwing curve balls, only the most dedicated writers even think about writing. Most do not. Most do not remember the January 1st drive and excitement. Most just forget the writing.

But assume you do remember, assume you have looked at the questions and got the answers. Then you are ready to start again.

Sometimes you can just pick up and keep going. By the end of the year a two-week slip won’t even be noticeable in the large total.

Or if the old goal isn’t possible, you reset the goal.

Personal aside:

With my public challenges of 100 short stories and losing weight and running a marathon, I felt like I was right on track on August 21st. I knew I could finish the stories, I had signed up and paid the fees for a marathon and felt comfortable with that as well. All good.  

Then I woke up August 22nd after getting home from the World Science Fiction convention and my world had changed. Not just a little, but a lot. And at that point I didn’t know how much, actually. One of my closest friends had died suddenly at the convention after I left, and I was his executor on his estate. And he left me a mess that to this day I am stunned at the scope and size and legal issues.

Over the next few days my thoughts came back to my writing, but only in such a way that I was glad I didn’t have any New York deadlines at that point.

A couple weeks later I surfaced enough to think about the challenges. I cancelled the marathon run, but still hoped to get back to the writing of the short stories. I even did a few of them in that next month, but it soon became clear that I wasn’t going to be home much at all for months. And the estate was going to take all my focus at least until November. As it turned out, it took until December. And then I got sick. Go figure.

So I changed my challenge. (Notice, I was paying attention to it all along.)

I will still write 100 short stories in the challenge and put them up here, but I took the deadline off it, since any yearly deadline is just artificial anyway. And in a coming post I will talk about how I will climb back onto writing. What some of you don’t know is that even though I got home in December, for the most part, I’m still not totally here. For the first time in my life I’ve had a really, really bad flu. And I lost (temporarily) most of the sight in one eye from one of the estate trips.

If I had traditional deadlines, I would have been talking to editors this fall and just now getting back to working on those books. But thankfully, I am still clear of major deadlines, so I have time to rest and come back naturally. And I am allowing myself that time, much to the surprise of my wife and friends. (grin)

But Kris will tell you, over the last two months, we’ve had a ton of conversations about how I will get back at the writing and when. I am not angry in the slightest. It’s not the first time life events have stopped my writing and it won’t be the last. It’s just the way life rolls and the key for me is to not let it stop me any longer than is sane and healthy.

I’ve detailed out all this to show how a professional writer deals with major events. Take from it what you will.

End personal aside.

Some Help in Getting Back On the Horse.

Assuming you remember your writing challenge, that you really, really want to get back at the writing, and it is healthy to restart, let me give some tricks on how to restart.

Trick one: 

Plan out ahead what you are going to work on first.

And write it down! I don’t mean outline, I just mean know what story or novel you plan to work on when you start back writing.

And maybe have two or three out ahead of you. Example: Tomorrow plan to work on X-Novel. Chapter 10. Friday plan to work on X-Novel, finish Chapter 10 and start Chapter 11. And so on.

If you have three or four writing sessions out ahead, roughly  planned, it will cut down on the panic of the restart.

Trick two:

Have a back-up project to work on.

And have it written down on a back-up list.

Example:  Plan to work on Chapter Ten of X-Novel, but for some reason, that’s just not coming, so back up plan is to work on Y-Short Story about (blank).

There is no such thing as writer’s block, but there is “project block” so be ready to move to a new project and fire at a moment’s notice. The moment you do that, the pressure on the other project will ease, your subconscious mind will figure out what was stopping you, and you can go back to it later.

But as you restart, it’s a good idea to have two or three projects ready to switch to.

Trick three:

Set an emergency back-up time each day for writing.

You have your writing time figured out, and you have told your family you are getting back to writing. But life is nasty at times. Be prepared to have that time yanked. So prepare for that.

For example, you plan on a writing session between 7 and 9 in the evening, but alas, family gets in the way and you’re going to miss. Nope. Your back-up for the day is after the family goes to bed, you’ll stay up and get the minimum pages cranked out. That way when you wake up the next day, you’ll feel amazingly good about overcoming yet another life issue and still getting your pages done.

Again, this time is emergency time only. But it will really help you keep up a great attitude along the way.

Trick four:

Set up a “report into” person.

You may have already had this set up when the challenge started. Tell them you are restarting and ask them if can you start reporting into them again?

Knowing that you have to report in will drive you even more. We all hate making excuses and missing. Especially since you just came off a miss. It will drive you to write in your emergency time more than not.

Reporting in to another person is one of the most powerful tools in structuring new habits and rebuilding ones you think you lost in the down time.

 Summary

You have your goals all figured. You have your daily or weekly work total figured. You have told your family and friends that you have a set writing time and you plan to protect it.

In other words, you are set to get into a great year of writing in 2012.

Now, somehow, in some fashion, when life bumps you off your goals, off your pace, you need to do the following things to keep the year in writing going.

First: Remember your writing. It might not be on the top of your mind in the emergency, but as things clear, bring it up. Make it important.

Second: Plan your restart. Don’t make it into a big deal. Just do a little planning and then get some words done.

Third: Never try to catch up. Be willing to change your goal, change your plans. Setting a yearly goal is artificial at best.

Stopping and getting knocked off track is going to happen to every writer this coming year. I have never had a year when life didn’t send me spiraling off into strange directions away from my writing. It’s normal. Treat it as normal instead of some big disaster.

Then get your butt back in the chair and get back to typing.

Stopping is normal.

Not restarting is failure.

Have a great writing year, everyone. And stop back here at times. This is going to be a fun year-in-transition for publishing and we can talk about it.

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Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
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This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery.  I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Thanks, Dean