Right now I’m sitting in my study listening to a generator in the house about 10 yards behind me. The generator is for the benefit of the roofers who are pounding away outside my window. Not to be outdone, there’s a crew on the other side of our house digging up the road in preparation for a new one. And in the house itself? Our electrician is going from upstairs to down repairing wallboard and painting, later to be joined by our plumber.
It’s a slow day in paradise. In the past three weeks there have been as many as six workers in the house at a time, and not to be outdone, the house behind us is undergoing a total renovation, so even on weekends, a crew is there banging away.
All this and a deadline, too.
How do writers work under these conditions? I’m certainly not alone. I once visited a writer friend who was working under a plastic tarp in her study as a new roof went on over head. She, too, was on a deadline. Another friend–and I’m not making this up–was told after the sudden death of her husband that everyone at her publishing house was terribly sorry, but would she mind getting the book in on time anyway?
No problem, right?
There are difficult conditions and difficult conditions. House renovation is a good problem to have. The end of a happy marriage is not, and the two in no way equate. Yet sometimes a writer has to write, no matter what’s going on around her.
The last weeks have taught me a little about how to proceed in the midst of confusion. If you’re not a writer, this may apply to you, as well. After all deadlines are a fact of life whether you’re submitting a novel, finishing a quilt for the local show, cleaning the house for a party, getting ready for a trip or a million other life events with endings attached.
- List everything you need to do in the next few weeks. Don’t order by importance. “Finishing the book” can be sandwiched between “Buy milk” and “Take the dog to the vet.“
- Next put the list in order, again not by importance. Start with the things you can actually do in the midst of chaos. End with the things you absolutely can’t.
- Now put the “can do” list in order of importance. That’s what you should be working on now. Remember, even if the important things have been relegated to the bottom of the list, if you complete everything else, you’ll be able to dive in and complete the things that most matter the moment life settles down, and you won’t be as distracted.
Last week when it became clear to me that I wasn’t going to be able to write my new book for a while, I spent my days editing and formatting one I wrote years ago which I plan to publish as an ebook. Editing can be done in fits and starts. Creating a new work takes chunks of time and fewer interruptions. By finishing the ebook edits, I will no longer have that distraction once I can write.
Finally, here are a few other tips to help relieve the pressure.
- Check the “need to do” list and delete anything that isn’t essential. Can you live without it for weeks or even forever? Then do so.
- Enlist help. Ask supportive family members to pitch in, or hire people to do what you can’t manage so you can work non-stop when the opportunity presents itself.
- Make a realistic plan for what to do if meeting the deadline is hopeless. Sometimes knowing you have an “if all else fails” plan will make it easier to forge on.
Noise blocking headphones, a husband to run interference and errands, a sense of humor? They’ve all been invaluable for me.
Share your tips if you feel so inclined. Somebody will thank you for them.