A month ago (good Lord, a month?!), I was posting about how I was finding strategies to focus–to single-task and increase my daily word count. It was going great. I was averaging about 3,000 words a day instead of my usual thousand. I was looking forward to my writing sessions each day. My novel took on terrific momentum and almost seemed to be writing itself. Writing was fun, and I felt happy and satisfied at the end of the day.
Then, my momentum slowed down. Not to a crawl–I was still surpassing the thousand words a day that I’d always striven for in the past. But suddenly writing 1,700 or 1,800 words in a day felt like failure. That was silly, and I knew it. Still, I’d raised the bar and I was no longer clearing it. It got harder to start each day.
Sometimes, a slowdown in momentum comes from taking a wrong turn in the plot. It’s like my characters let me know that I’m trying to make them act in ways that they simply wouldn’t. When that happens, it helps to take a step back from the writing, stop orchestrating the story from above (like God or a marionettist), and get down on the ground with the characters. In other words, to forget what I want to have happen now or plan to have happen next and see the story through the eyes of those living it.
So I did that. I let go of any and all word count goals for a couple of days, let the story sit, and then reread the last several scenes, tinkering with those a bit but not making any big changes. During this time, of course, I was conscious of not getting any new writing done. And I’ll admit I let myself slide back into some bad habits, especially going online first thing in the day. But I tried to set such concerns aside for the moment. I know I focus better when I single-task, and that knowledge gives me the power to regain my concentration. Plus I have time before this manuscript is due, and I wanted to focus on the story–not on progress charts or days until deadline or any of that.
Reading over my work, everything seemed solid. I decided to try the strategy of jumping ahead to the next big scene and then going back to connect the dots later. That often works for me. And it seemed like the best way to get back to writing 3,000 words a day was to stop obsessing about how many words I was writing. To just get on with telling the story. After all, daily progress is what builds momentum.
That’s when I hit the brick wall. An acute medical problem sent my husband to the emergency room, and he was admitted to the hospital for the better part of a week. He has multiple medical issues that have gradually stolen his health, and this one has left him weak and exhausted. He’s home now, but he’s still very sick and I’ve become his caregiver. Gladly and with love. I will do whatever I can to take care of him, make him comfortable, and help him recover. And I’m grateful to be able to do that at home, sparing him an extended hospital stay.
I haven’t written in two weeks, since the health crisis started. I took my laptop to the hospital so I could write as he rested, but a combination of worry and the unfamiliar setting kept me from getting much done. Since he’s been home, I’ve spent hours on the Internet looking up his symptoms so I can have an informed conversation with this doctor. And I’m on call 24 hours a day when he needs help.
That’s as it should be right now. It’s important that I understand what’s going on with his health, and it’s important that I take care of him. And to be honest, I’d give up writing entirely if doing so would restore his health to 100%. But the gods aren’t offering me that bargain.
So I need to figure out how to start writing again. I suspect the answer is, “Just do it.” I’m working on the how. I never thought of myself as a creature of routine until my routine was interrupted and my days exploded into a thousand tiny fragments. I used to get up first and have about two hours of writing time in the morning. I can’t count on that now. But two hours–or an hour at the very least–always seemed like how much time I needed to write. I don’t have that luxury right now. I don’t know when I can sit down to write or how much time I’ll have to do it. So I have to learn how to make progress when all have have is 10 or 15 minutes. I have to turn on my laptop at the start of the day and pick it up when I can. I have to be able to jump into a scene without a lot of warm-up.
It seems to me I have two kinds of fear to get past: fear for my husband’s health and fear of losing my writing. The only way to get past these fears is to face them, moment by moment and day by day. To stop worrying about the future, about what might happen, and to do what I can right now, in this moment. I’ll let you know how I do.