Be Patient and Hurry Up

Writing self-care

Be Patient and Hurry Up

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I write a lot here in the blog about being kind to yourself as a writer. Authors are susceptible enough to external pressures of pursuing a creative path, like productivity, deadlines, money and marketing and sales and reader reception. We even have plenty of internal pressures often at work on our psyches, like perfectionism or fear of failure or impostor syndrome. The last thing we need to do to ourselves is to add even more weight of expectation on our writing output and results.

For the most part I try to follow my own advice. Building a happy and successful writing career is about process, I frequently remind myself and others, not product.

And yet sometimes—often—we still need to create that product, often on a deadline.

Regular readers know I’ve been working on a follow-up book for Intuitive Editing, which I plan to publish later this year. I had intended to keep my speaking and teaching engagements to a minimum this year so that I could get the book out by summer, but as often happens in life, unexpected opportunities and obligations cropped up that I had to schedule my writing time around. Instead of killing myself to meet my original deadline, I took the pressure off to publish to that pressing timeline, deciding that the book is ready when it’s ready. I needed to be patient with the drafting process and with myself and the rest of my schedule and not push myself so hard that I burn out.

This is all healthy and good and indeed kind to myself. But now I’m working with my book designer on creating the cover and interior formatting, and she has a schedule of her own that means I now have concrete deadlines by which to get her the material if I want to fit into it, which I do.

When being kind and patient with ourselves and our writing conflicts with the business realities that sometimes entail meeting hard and fast deadlines for our career, how do we find a balance between nurturing our creativity and giving it the space it needs while also meeting our professional goals?

1.  Determine what is needed

I’m at 60,000 words of a book I expect to be around 85 to 90K. That means creating another 25,000 to 30,000 words by my deadline, which is in roughly a month and a half. Writing at my usual pace, a thousand words a day, that’s doable, but that doesn’t factor in a number of other obligations I have to schedule around as well: Besides my regular editing work I have this weekly blog, two longish articles due for a publication, and several speaking and teaching engagements to prepare for and present, some involving travel and two involving new content creation. I also have visitors coming in, during which time I know I can’t work.

Given the time I have to carve out for those other things as well, that means I need to come up with that word count in probably about half the time. That sounds a bit daunting, but I can also factor in that much of the material already exists in at least some kind of rough-draft form, which means getting it into fighting shape will go a little bit quicker.

Considering all those factors, I anticipate that I will need to create about 5,000 words a week. That’s a lot given that I can’t work on it every day, but at least I know what I’m looking at and can budget that time.

2. Make a plan

Once you know your specific goal, you have to determine what you need to do to achieve it. That means creating a concrete game plan.

If I want to hit this kind of productivity level amid all my other obligations, that means I’ll be working weekends and some nights, something I usually try not to do. It means cutting some extracurriculars, being less free with my free time, doing fewer activities and seeing friends a little less often for these next six weeks until I get the book done. It means asking my husband to carry a bit more than his fair share of the weight around our house for a little while, and warning him that I may be a less than fully present and attentive wife for a bit.

None of those are compromises I’m willing to make on a regular basis, but for the short term with an imminent goal they feel necessary and worth it.

3. But don’t forget self-care

Just because I’m going to crank things up a notch for a while doesn’t mean it’s okay to forget about being kind to myself, as a writer and as a human. You’ll notice one thing I haven’t cut out in the above plan is sleep, for instance. It’s too important for my health and well-being, and it’s too important for my mental state and creativity. I haven’t cut out my twice-weekly training sessions either, for the same reasons. Nor have I completely cut out activities with my husband and friends, because those two feed my soul and give me needed breaks from the grind that replenish the batteries and refill my creative well.

When driving to meet an urgent goal or deadline, it’s also easy to fall victim to the demons, of happy memory. Working faster than I would normally want to, I may begin to worry that it’s not good enough, not complete enough, not saying exactly what I want to say. That may make me wonder who I think I am to do this in the first place, or whether anyone will even be interested in this thing I’m working so hard on, or if I’m simply indulging myself. I might start to worry that there are so many other books for writers out there, what’s the point of one more?

Those self-doubts will derail me and my productivity, but trying to ignore or bull through them is only going to make their destructive voices louder. So even though I’m on a pressing timeline, I have to take time to acknowledge and address those issues.

This is when regularly working on these skills throughout your writing career will come in handy. Doing so has made me much quicker to notice when the demons are swarming out of their cave and which particular ones are partying in my psyche. It’s taught me to know what to do to soothe each one’s fears, how to refocus on the heart of my writing and teaching efforts–my why and my enough–and how to coexist with these demons while still doing the work.

Read more: 
"Why Do You Write?"
"Attack of the Inner Demons"

4. Expect the unexpected

And yet naturally, in the wise words of Forrest Gump, shit happens. I was sailing along quite briskly, rounding 75,000 words, when this morning I realized that one extremely lengthy chapter did not tonally fit the rest of the book. Simply cutting it was not the answer, though, because it’s essentially the heart of the book’s message. So now I have to rework about 7,000 words in addition to finishing the rest of the chapters I have outlined.

This could be a great time to panic, despair, or freeze up, but I don’t have that luxury. This is again where I can reach for some of the tools I have spent time acquiring before this crisis point. I may go walk my dogs to clear my head, take deep breaths to calm my racing heart, remind myself to have faith that if I can write a 9,000-word editorial letter in one day, I can do this too.

It’s where I might try it out some of my most helpful mantras, like “Good enough is good enough,” or “Find the fun,” or “Permission to suck”—any of the techniques I have developed for myself that help me recenter or calm down or get perspective or focus.

I can remind myself that this is normal, a common part of the writing and revision process, and that I have the tools to deal with it. I can even give myself an escape hatch: worst-case scenario, I have to miss my deadlines,  which may result in additional expenses or having to wait for my designer’s next availability or pushing back my publication date. None of those are ideal outcomes, but they’re also not the end of the world. Chances are solid that I’m not going to have to resort to any of them, but if I know that I can if I have to, it gives me the breathing room I need to keep my creativity loose and healthy. Creativity only responds to the carrot, never the stick, so I have to find some kind of carrot to hold out, rather than continuing to beat myself with the stick.

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It would be wonderful if things always worked out smoothly, if our creative efforts could operate pure and free of commercial concerns, but if you’re trying to build a professional career as a writer, that’s never going to happen. Success hinges on balancing those two seemingly opposed sides of ourselves, the artist and the businessperson, the process and the product.

Just like you don’t want to wait until your ship sinks to learn how to swim, the more time we spend as authors developing the tools we need for these inevitable crises and conflicts, the better the chance we will survive—and thrive.

Over to you, authors. How do you balance the concrete realities and obligations of your writing career with taking care of yourself and your creativity? What are your biggest challenges?

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16 Comments. Leave new

  • karin gillespie
    June 13, 2024 10:18 am

    Awww. Sounds like a lot. I’m here if you need some feedback!

    Reply
  • Thank you. This is just what I needed right now. I’m preparing my home for sale, first time solo, interview estate agents, my editor is booked for the end of the month and I need to line edit all but two chapters, And I find I can’t do those two things back to back, they take too much from me. That is okay. Like you, I’m not comprising on my morning or evening routines, going out with friends, dance class (I’ve missed the one I am allowing myself). My mantra is “you can do this” and “nothing is ever finished!”. Enjoy the next few weeks.

    Reply
    • Oh, Sylvia, I LOVE “You can do this”! It’s having that faith in ourselves that whatever the challenge, we can meet it…and it will turn out okay, one way or another. That lends me a lot of peace and calmness too. I also love your reminder that everything is ongoing. I have to remember sometimes that there’s no finish line–that all the challenges and hurdles and even triumphs are just part of the continuum. My similar mantra for that is, “This is life”–meaning this is just the natural state of things, not anomalous fires that need putting out before everything will be okay and back to “normal.” Speed bumps ARE normal.

      Good for you for not letting go of what nourishes you. That’s so easy to do–cut out the “extraneous” things when we’re feeling pressed, but I think it’s so counterproductive. Thanks for sharing your techniques–and good luck on the sale of the house! One of life’s speed bumps indeed. 🙂

      Reply
  • I really needed this today. If followed back far enough, my writing demons’ cave tunnels into all the other caves—such as the “I’m putting together a dinner party for my husband’s boss and his wife tomorrow evening” cavern. My entertaining demons are currently entertaining their writing buds because if I’m cleaning and cooking, I’m not writing. I was feeling all kinds of beleaguered this morning until I read this blog. Thank you, Tiffany

    Reply
    • That makes me happy to hear, Karen–thanks for telling me. I laughed at your network of demon tunnels. Those little boogers are resourceful and tenacious, aren’t they? Silly little demons. Good luck with the dinner party! I have found that it’s never the menu that makes these memorable and positive for me–it’s the conversation and the people. Hopefully that takes some of the pressure off!

      Reply
  • So, so relevant! I’m facing a huge revision of a manuscript that’s already with my agent. I have to remind myself that the process is not linear, or at least not a straight line, and that doing what I have to do is ultimately going to serve me best and be best for my career as a writer. In the meantime, juggling all the rest when all I want to do is write is the constant challenge.

    Reply
    • It is! A big part of creating a successful writing career is balancing it with our lives, I think.

      With revisions, it helps me to “look down,” so to speak, instead of at the top of Revision Mountain: just the next step in front of me, and the next. Not only does that result in steady progress without overwhelm, but it lets me enjoy and pay attention to each step, instead of rushing through them. Good luck!

      Reply
  • An interesting article. I’m written 88,500 words of my novel, which I expect to be about 94,000 words. I target to work on it for 2 or 3 hours a day, 7 days a week. I don’t want a day off as I would miss my characters. I enjoy being with them every day. I average about 300 words a day plus editing the previous days work. I don’t set a deadline as such but think in blocks of time, 9000 words a month etc. This method works for me and makes my writing an enjoyable addition to each day. Just off for my afternoon session. 😊

    Reply
    • That’s great that you’ve found the pace and schedule and structure that work for you, Mark. Such a huge part not only of building a successful writing career, but a satisfying, fulfilling one too. We each have to find what works best for us as writers, and create the writing life we want, not the one we’re told we should have. And congrats on being in the home stretch! I am right there with you–I can almost taste that finish line. 🙂

      Reply
  • As is typical, your newsletter is right on time for me. I finally found a way to implement your edits and suggestions. I was enjoying finishing this draft, which I think will be submission ready when I’m done. I rewrote the first 10 chapters when I saw a post that my coveted agency opened for submissions. Suddenly I felt pressure to dial in my query and revisit my first chapter and it distracted me from the work of finishing my novel. Since my deadlines are self imposed, I decided to focus on the work of finishing my novel, having faith that I’ll find the right agent when the time is right.

    Have a blast at the Kauai Writers Conference! You know it’s one of my favorite places on the planet!

    Reply
    • Oh, yay, Marta! This makes me happy to hear–that you’re satisfied and feel good about where the revisions are going, and that you’re letting yourself take the time you need and not feel pressured or rushed.

      And I’m so pleased to be presenting with the Kauai Writers Conference this weekend, but this one is virtual. I’m of course very hopeful that I’ll be invited IRL soon, though…! 🙂

      Reply
  • I love how you block off time for your projects. Right now, I’m in a space where I don’t know what is going to happen in my book that is already 80,000 words but is missing some key pieces. Although I’m not writing much, I spend a great deal of time with my book thinking about character (from your character class a few weeks ago). Sometimes, I structure and daydream when I’m not actually writing. There are no words on the page, but in a week when I have a chunk of time, I’ll put hundreds or thousands of words down because I’ve stored them up for days or weeks on end. I love reading about your process. It helps me think about my own and how I can tweak it.

    Reply
    • That thinking/noodling time is often as important as the writing time–and like you, I do a lot of “extra” writing to get to the core of what I want to say.

      Thanks for the feedback on sharing my process! Sometimes I wonder if refracting so many of these posts through my own experience is too narrow a focus to be relatable to many, but I always think it’s the specific, personal insights from others that help lead to our own that apply to our own situations. Kind of like story, I think, right? 🙂

      Reply
  • I have very few obligations until July 9, when I’m traveling. If there is anything at all that I can do to help, I’d consider it a privilege. (I do windows!)

    Reply

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