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When Things Don't Go to Plan

I leapt into my new book last month, setting myself some ambitious productivity goals and marking off March 1st on my calendar with the word count I hoped to achieve by today.

Spoiler alert, I didn't make it. Not even close. Life intervened in February, in a variety of ways. There was school vacation, and some DIY home improvement stuff that seemed like it would be simple, but of course never is. The home improvement stuff set off a cascade of organizational projects because well, we were taking all that stuff out of there anyway. The pump on our well gave up the ghost and had to be replaced. My laptop was dying and then died and also had to be replaced. I underestimated how much time and emotional energy it would take to get one kid ready for a two-week international exchange program. (Though hearing about his adventures makes it all worth it!)

It was cold. I was tired. I had trouble tuning out the terrible news coming from every part of the planet.

I had moments of despondency, but I also know by now that this happens and the trick is not to let these unproductive periods mean more than they actually do. It's easy to feel shame about not writing and that shame can lead you to not write even more. I've been grabbing time to write when I can and now, finally, I feel like I'm deep enough into the plot that I have some momentum.

But this month got me thinking about how sometimes we need techniques to trick ourselves back into productivity. When I haven't gone running in a while, I fool myself by just going for a walk. No pressure. Often I end up running for a bit, and then a bit more the next day and so forth. It's the same with writing.

Here's what works for me when things don't go to plan:

Switch Things Up

Sitting at my desk, surrounded by To-Do lists, reminders of dentist and doctor appointments that I need to make for various family members, household things to fix, and farm tasks that need to be accomplished, not to mention the ever-available universe of the internet, it's hard to really lose myself in the creative process. I like to get up and move to a completely different spot for a writing session. I've been using a chair in my bedroom and it works pretty well. Sometimes a cafe can serve the same purpose.


You can find more information about the Pomodoro Technique here, but the idea is that you set a timer for initially short, focused blocks of work. This works really well for me when I've been away from my manuscript for a while. Twenty minutes and then I can check my email, I think to myself. I can do that. That's easy! Before I know it, I'm back in the groove and I can do longer and longer blocks of time.

Just Talk

Over the last year, I've been experimenting with using voice dictation in my writing. It started with a shoulder injury; I was trying to stay away from typing for a bit. My results were mixed. I could use dictation to get some very rough, very messy thoughts down, but I found that composing by talking didn't quite work for me and led to some fairly nonsensical stuff that I ended up deleting. But, when I am having trouble even getting to my desk, getting some of that nonsensical stuff down can help me get going again. After all, some words, even very rough ones, are better than no words and seeing a big block of text transfer over to an empty page is sometimes just the lift I need. It feels low stakes and I can dictate some paragraphs anywhere.


Need I say more?


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