There is nothing more certain in life than the fact that at some point, the poop is going to hit the fan. There will be illness (yours or a loved one), death, accidents, natural disasters, financial crises, and all manner of other life-altering events. Often these all occur together because the universe likes to crap on you while you’re already down. (If you’re really young and think I’m kidding because nothing has hit you yet, lucky you. But trust me: Shit happens. Often.)
These things are scary enough on their own, but the stress is compounded when you also have to work. If you only write for fun, no problem: You can shelve the work until things are better. But if you’re a freelancer or a contracted novelist, you’d better have a writing emergency plan to keep you working when the world around you is falling apart.
But how do you do that? It’s way easier to crawl in a hole and hope the storm passes. That’s not an option, though, for people who depend on their writing for income. A client or publisher might be willing to cut you some slack, but deadlines exist for a reason. It’s their business and they’re only going to be so tolerant. Eventually, they’ll have no choice but to cut you loose. It’s not personal, it’s business. As with any other job, people count on you and they don’t care that your mojo has been sapped by the crisis du jour.
Writing in times of crisis isn’t easy. (Nothing is easy when your world is falling apart, including brushing your teeth. But we’ll stick with writing for now.) What should be in your “writing emergency plan” that you bust out when things get bad?
Here are some ideas from my own time in the crisis trenches.
(Standard disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or a psychologist and this isn’t medical advice. If you have specific needs or questions, get advice from a physician or other medial professional.)
Have an established writing routine.
Being one of those people who writes “whenever” might be great when times are good, but loose structures like that tend to break down in crises. It’s too easy to say, “I can’t write today,” “Maybe later,” or, “Sure, I can tend to ten other problems right now,” and then your work is shot for the day because you don’t have a schedule nagging you to get back to it.
However, when you have an established routine, it’s easier to keep going. If your writing hours are reliably 08:00 – 01:00, for example, it’s easier to say to people, “I can deal with the problem after 2:00,” or, “I can make a 2:00 appointment.” Sure, you can’t always time everything to suit your schedule and you may have to cut back or adjust your hours. But having some structure is a good thing.
Trying to set a schedule, though, in the middle of a crisis, is difficult. If people are used to you being available “whenever,” they’ll expect that to be the case when things are going wrong. And if you’re not in the proper frame of mind to even think about what to do today, much less tomorrow, setting up a schedule isn’t likely to happen. Establish your routine long before you need it.
Establish a self-care routine.
As with a work routine, the time to create your self-care routine is before you need it. Train yourself early to eat well, get proper sleep, exercise, and manage stress/mental health through things like meditation, journaling, or spiritual practices. When crisis hits, it’s too hard to think about these things. You’ll simply default to whatever is easiest, even if it’s not healthy. However, when you have an ingrained routine, it’s there for you to draw upon when you really need it. Doing the right things is already automatic for you, not something you have to learn while dealing with misery.
Keep creativity boosters close by.
When you get stressed, it’s not unusual for your brain to freeze up. The distractions are too great, the stress too much. You’ll find yourself staring at the computer with no idea what to do. Have things available that you already know will prod your creativity into gear. That may mean great movies, books, activity books, craft supplies, music, or passes to the local museums. These things serve as distractions from misery, allowing your brain to get out of that mindset and into a more productive one. These things are not easy to identify in times of stress, however. You’re often too distracted to even think about what may help, much less use it. But when you have stuff in your emergency kit, you can pull it out without thinking about it.
Have an emergency file of ideas.
Ideas tend to dry up when your every emotion and brain cell is consumed with the current crisis. Keep a file of ideas and maybe some preliminary research/thoughts for each one so that you can jump right into it. You’ll spare yourself the agony of coming up with something out of nothing. You can keep ideas for blog posts, freelance articles, novels, sequels, podcasts, or anything else you need to keep the income flowing. When your brain shorts out, pull out the file and get going.
Keep a list of goals.
It may seem pointless to strive for goals when your world is falling in, but that’s exactly the time you need something to aim for. Unfortunately, making a list of goals in the middle of a crisis isn’s a great idea. Nothing seems possible, sensible, or even realistic during those times. But if you’ve already got a list, you can refer to it and remind yourself of what you want out of life. Where do you want to be when the crisis passes? You’ll likely have to scale down your ambitions or timeframes, at least in the heat of the crisis, but you can always be working toward your goals. Goals remind you that things will eventually return to normal and you can move forward, even if life seems to be telling you the opposite.
Know the people you can rely on to help.
Having people you trust to help (or simply offer support and a hug) can make a world of difference in any crisis, including writing-related ones. Know who you can call to provide emergency child care, for example, if you have to complete a project but also trek back and forth to the hospital to visit an ill loved one. Have a list of reliable contacts who can help you complete a job, or act in your stead, if necessary. Keep a good counselor on speed dial to help you deal with mental health issues. It may also be helpful to know of other reliable services in your area such as housecleaners, meal delivery services, landscapers, etc. so that you can free up time to deal with “life” while also working. Having trusted people/service providers already in your corner makes surviving a crisis much easier than if you must find these people/services on the fly (or do without).
Get your financials in order.
Taxes, billing, managing bank accounts, etc. are all necessary evils for the working writer. If your financials are in chaos, it’s almost impossible to pull them together in a crisis. At the very least, doing so consumes time you need for other things. The thing is, the IRS, your vendors, and employees aren’t going to care about your crisis. They want their money.
Figure out a system that works for you and use it. Maybe you can automate some payments. Become a spreadsheet addict and track who you’ve billed, for how much, and when they paid (or when you need to nag them again). Keep all records you need for your taxes in one place and in a sensible order. Have a way to track incoming cash and outgoing expenses. I never advise people to handle their finances on the fly under any circumstances, but in a crisis you’re sure to miss things and mess up others. Get your system in place now so that these things are easy to deal with. (You’ll reap the rewards even when you’re not in crisis because you’ll spend less time on these chores and have more time to write.)
(Photo courtesy of 3dman_eu)
How can I say Amen to all the above? AMEN, and then some.
Adding that a writing routine is essential even when life goes on swimmingly.
I completed my longest manuscript to date while my personal life was flooded with challenges. If anything, the work saved me just as I was making sure it not drown…