Good morning. Welcome back. It’s good to see you. Well, it’s good to see most of you. Not you, guy in the back, you know what you did.
So today we’re going to talk writing schedules, and we’re going to talk about what happens when life interrupts and you have to change everything around.
Let’s suppose you have a daily writing schedule. Doesn’t matter if that’s one block of hours, or three chunks from sunrise to sunset, or if you’re doing it all late night when the kids are asleep.You’ve had this schedule a while, and people around you know about it, generally respect it, and you use it to get a lot done.
Still with me? Great, now we’re going to change that schedule. When I talk change, I don’t mean like a small one-time interruption, like the kids were three minutes late or you didn’t make the light and had to wait, or the weird barista who thinks you’re named Stan was on duty this morning so your latte was something strained through dirty hobo underpants, I mean like a big change. Let’s suppose you have a moderate surgery. Not enough to hospitalize you for weeks on end, but just enough to really throw a wrench in your habits. Let’s make it a cardiac issue, because those are just scary enough to warrant being careful while being invisible enough to lull you into a sense that maybe it isn’t so bad because you can’t see it the way you can see a leg cast.
But it is bad enough that you’re reminded it’s a big deal when you get tired in the middle of those hours when you’re used to writing, and it’s bad enough that your hands get cold and ache randomly, so even if it didn’t feel like someone bludgeoned your midsection with bricks like they’re playing a violent xylophone, you couldn’t type so fast. So what can you do? Wallow in the muddy guilt of not sticking to your schedule? Give a lot of mental real estate to the voices in your head who scream and wail that this is exactly the sort of momentum killer than can end all your hopes and dreams, so you might as well try and get a job with that weird barista?
No, you practice the ancient and mystical art of adaptation. Here’s how.
Illness and injury, invisible or not, is going to happen. You might not have cardiac issues, but maybe you get the flu. Or the kids get the flu. Or your spouse/partner breaks a leg and you’re doing the good nurse thing. You can’t have dedicated plans for each possible event in life, but adaptation works even when you don’t have a solid plan.
Consider your process. The routine of it. You’re awake at a certain hour, you’re writing by this time, you’re pausing here to eat, and you know the number of times you get up to get more tea or water and use the bathroom. You’re still going to have to drink water and get to the bathroom, so that’s fixed into your adapted schedule. But the writing time … there’s our variable.
When we talk about sitting down to write at a certain time, it’s not the time that imbues some greatness to the craft (8:17am is not some sorcerous moment in time and space that makes exposition amazing), it’s that you’re spending a chunk of time doing the writing. X number of minutes, hours, commercial breaks, whatevers, getting fingers on keys. That’s where craft gets built.
So you adapt. Start with the hypothesis that you can write for fewer minutes. Abolish the notion that this abridged schedule is immediately faulty or negative, because it’s not – you’re not giving up entirely, you’re just going to work for 30 minutes, not 60. Seems reasonable.
Until you remember that you write while seated in one particular chair, in one particular posture. A posture that in your current state, you can’t do without a great deal of pain and fatigue. Is this the sign where you give up?
No, this is where you further adapt.
Can’t sit up? Find yourself in a reclining posture for the next few days or weeks? Can your workspace move? Can you get a wireless keyboard and work from the couch or bed? Is it a laptop? Can’t balance it on your chest or thighs? Is there a table you can repurpose? Is the typing the tough part? Can you go text to speech? Can you dictate and have someone else type? Can you do straight audio?
The point is that any element in the process is up for variation. What doesn’t change is the fact that you’re writing. You are writing. You’re just not writing from the nice Aeron chair at the slab desk in the corner of that one room, you’re writing via wireless keyboard from the bed or the couch. And you’re not writing for two to three hours at a clip, you’re writing about 45 minutes and then you’re dozing off to sounds of the X Ambassadors.
Adaptation isn’t cause for guilt or shame. It’s cause for ingenious compromise. And yes you’re capable of doing it. I’ve got some bullet points for you to consider:
- Think of every step in the writing process. Include the sitting down, the typing, all that. Be as objective as possible.
- Be as clear as possible when identifying what the illness or injury is making difficult (obviously, if it’s making X impossible, don’t do X). Specificity super helps.
- Figure out what individual changes you can make on a nearly 1:1 basis to cover the difficult spots. Don’t forget to actually make them once you figure out what they are.
- When a proposed change doesn’t work, look a different solution. Don’t worry that this hunt is eating into your work time, because when you get this system set up, it will be there for all those illness/injury days down the road. An ounce of prevention, and all that.
- If one of the things you need is rest, actually take it. If 48 minutes of writing absolutely sends you laying down for 60 minutes, do it. It’s going to be extra hard getting the words on the page when you’re double exhausted if you don’t go lay down.
- Reward yourself when possible. Got the wireless keyboard to work from the bed? I think it’s time to watch that youtube video. Figured out how to tweet using voice to text? I think that calls for nachos.
So for me, here are the changes for the immediate future:
- Reading manuscripts will happen while laying on the couch or in bed during the day.
- Blogging will happen in the morning while I’m seated, writing tweets will be from the couch or bed. Because sitting up is exhausting on the chest and abs.
- Coaching will still happen, it’ll just be done from the couch.
- The workflow will be about 60-90 minutes a day for another week, then I’ll try for 2 hours, and build up from there.
I want to take a minute here to point out that through all this, what really helps is supportive people around you. I don’t just mean a nurse if that’s what you need, I mean the genuinely special people who encourage you and talk to you and rally you. The ones who call you Speedy when you’re shuffling across the living room with a walker, and the ones who fistbump you when you pull yourself to a seated position. The ones who hand you pills and a cup of tea and pull the blankets up when you can’t possible muster the strength to lean forward and grab them. I have been deeply and sincerely lucky to have wonderful people all around me as I recover from big scary surgery, and I want you all to know that I wouldn’t even be able to be sitting here and blogging about their obvious awesomeness if they weren’t supporting me.
InboxWednesday returns this week, I’ve got a backlog. See you then.