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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons

Courtesy of gun4hire
Pursuing a career in writing and publishing can be difficult in even the best of times.

But what about when it's not the best of times? 

When you're sick, when you're going through stressful events, or if you're trying to deal with chronic health conditions.

It's during these times that striving to have a big picture perspective is vital. As someone who is a bit of perfectionist and extremely driven when it comes to writing, it has been difficult finding that perspective and balance when my body fails me.

Some things I've learned along the way that have helped me cope:

Set Realistic Goals

One of the things I really have to work to remember is that realistic when my body is functioning isn't the same thing as realistic when it's not. I have to consciously pare back my goals and expectations to what my body can do during a flare-up.

It isn't easy to look at what I "should" be able to do and compare it with what I'm physically capable of accomplishing. That's why it's important to remind myself that I'm going through a flare-up and that I have an alternate plan for when that happens. I've also learned that I set more realistic goals when my health is down than when I'm healthy and postulating what I should be able to do when I'm not.

Realistic goals for me--depending on the severity of the flare-up--can vary. Sometimes it's as simple as cutting down my writing and editing load. Other times it means choosing one over the other. And on those very special occasions, it means doing things that don't really look like writing. For example, when I'm too tired to write or edit, I focus on reading or watching TV shows. I choose the book or show with care, because I'm not just reading or watching, I'm paying close attention to how the writer(s) make things work. How they portray their characters, amp up the tension, structure the narrative, etc. So even though I'm not technically writing or editing, I'm still doing something that will further my craft.

Listening to music and just allowing my mind to spin thoughts together has also proven to be very helpful.

Be Flexible--Now More Than Ever

This is a lesson that most writers have to learn. Life isn't generally well-organized and pristine. More often than not, it's messy, complicated, and has a way of intruding at the least opportune time.

But when you have illness, loss, stress, devastation, or any of life's lemons to deal with on top of everyday living, it's especially important to remember to be flexible.

Set your goals, do what you can, and let the best that you can do be good enough. Goals are just a means to an end and not the end itself. I find myself less frustrated when I manage to remember this.

Celebrate the Victories, No Matter How Small

This goes along with being flexible. As a triple A-type personality, goals are extremely important to me because they allow me to measure my progress on things that are within my control.

Because of this, it can be easy to get caught up in meeting my word count goal or editing goal, and very frustrating when I'm unable to. (Add this to being unable to do what I'm normally able to do in other facets of my life, and you have a whole lot of writerly angst.)

I've found that when I'm dealing with life's lemons, I can remove a lot of frustration by learning to see and celebrate as many victories as I can, no matter how small they may be. My usual word count goal is 2,000 words a day. On those days when I've done my best and am only able to squeak by with 100 or so, instead of looking at the 1,900 words I *didn't* get down, I try to focus on the 100 that weren't there before.

Give Yourself Permission to Take Time Off

Sometimes the lemons are so big and heavy that it isn't possible to write on top of trying to survive the citrus assault. It's during those times that it's essential to give yourself permission to take time off.

This is something that's been very difficult for me to do, but I'm finding that practice makes perfect. (I have a feeling that life is going to give me plenty of practice until I get this one down. :p)

When I'm feeling unhappy because taking time off will throw off my writing/publishing plan (I plan five years ahead) or guilty because I could do this if I just tried a little harder, I focus on my family and the people in my life that I love. As important as writing is to me, those people will always be more important. I can't spend time with them if I don't take proper care of myself. Putting it it those terms helps me squelch the disappointment and the try-a-little-harder inclination.

In the Pursuit of Publication, Don't Forget the Joy of Writing

Burnout and lemons, while not usually welcome, can be valuable in so far as they help us slow down. Help us remember why we're doing this in the first place. It can be so easy to get caught up on deadlines, projects, and where we want to be in the future that we can forget to find joy in the moment.

When I write, really write, I'm not jotting down sagas of imaginary people with the intent to be published. No, I'm writing down stories for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because writing brings me joy. Makes me feel more alive and in touch with myself.

Landing an agent, a publishing contract, and a horde of adoring fans can be wonderful, but, for me, not at the expense of the joy that comes from a thread of a thought that unwinds into a story that's larger than myself. For me, those other things are the perks, not the reason, for writing. Hitting bumps in the road and finding lemons on my doorstep helps me distill and clarify that truth (for me), bringing my perspective back to a happier, healthier place.

Danyelle Leafty| @danyelleleafty writes YA and MG fantasy. She is the author of The Fairy Godmother Dilemma series (CatspellFirespellApplespell, and Frogspell), and Slippers of Pearl, and can be found on her blog. She can also be found on Wattpad.


Sheila Good said...

What a wonderful post! I also have a chronic illness with "flare-ups," and that type A personality! They must go hand in hand! I too, find it difficult to stay up at time both on my writing and in spirit, but your post was a welcome reminder of what is important with helpful tips. Thank you.

Kathryn Purdie said...

I so needed to read this today. Thanks, Danyelle! I'm in the middle of a huge lemon and writing is having to take a backseat. My story is always on my mind, though, and I've found time to do further plotting and research, so that's something. When I have time for actual words, I'll be more prepared, and in the meantime I can have peace of mind that I'm doing my best during this stressful period.

Annmarie Pipa said...

I loved reading this post...your thoughts and knowledge and experiences.

Raewyn Hewitt said...

Thanks for sharing, it's a timely post for me as I'm also going through a case of lemons with an on-going injury. As hard as it is to take time off I've found it's really made me prioritise too. I'm focussing on getting a few good writing hours each day and then letting myself rest and look after the rest of my life at a slower pace.

Strangely it's increased my love of writing because any productive spell is a win, and I'm also enjoying family time more now because I'm not pursuing unrealistic goals.

Bit of a shame about the injury though, but at least there is some lemonade...