Today my guy is flying back from an overseas job, and while I have faith in the airline he picked, I know I won't be able to write from the time his plane takes off until it lands. I'll be too busy pacing the floors. Because I know his itinerary and my capacity for air-travel anxiety, I planned for this and wrote a little extra yesterday.
I couldn't take the laptop with me during my most recent unplanned road trip, so that completely wrecked two working days. Which I also anticipated, and took along a manuscript I wrote on-spec so I could do the final read-through during any quiet moments. Got about two-thirds of it read, edited and ready for the final buff and polish, plus I made notes for a shorter version of the synopsis. That came in handy this week when I decided to finish the submission package and send it to my agent, who thought it rocked and is now shopping it around.
Sometimes I can't predict when my writing time will be knocked off schedule, like this morning, when the dog decided to be sick and, of course, choose to do so on the carpet versus the tile floor. I lost an hour to clean up and comforting the pup, which combined with worry over my guy's flight back will probably keep me from catching up on my writing for the day. So I'm composing this blog post and my afternoon chores this morning and will try again to write after I make the school pickups. If I don't, I have a couple of hours to add to my writing time for the next three days.
I hate being derailed from my writing routine, because along with the regret over lost productivity comes a nice big fat dose of guilt. I belong to my manuscripts for a certain portion of every single day, and when I can't show up for work, I feel like I've just called the boss and lied about having the flu. I've had to learn how to set aside those feelings and accept that real life often has to come before the job, and that I simply can't juggle it all without dropping something now and then.
One way I compensate for missing writing time is by lining up simple work-related tasks that I can do. There's always a box of filing waiting in the office for me to put away, as well as a stack of books to add to my book inventory over on LibraryThing. The ledger can be updated any time, not just on Friday, my usual deal-with-the-accounting day. I now print out e-mails before I answer them and make notes on them for whatever I need to do in response (send an ARC, pass along referrals, recommend another writer for whatever I can't do, etc.)
Market research and reference books sit in a TBR pile in the book room in the order I need to read them. Shorter tasks include dusting the computer station, running a disk cleanup and defrag, updating my backups or vacuuming the office rug. I also update my new monthly reminder program, Chaos Manager, with new appointments, deadlines, and anything else I need to add from a notepad I keep with dates and things as they come in.
People laugh when writers say that while they're sitting and doing nothing while staring off into the distance they're actually working, but when the writing is derailed I do my fair share of that, too. I think about the stories I'm working on, the characters, and how I can make them more interesting, more realistic, better written, etc. I run through ideas for future books, and reconsider old ideas that I never had time to develop. Sometimes my most effective story epiphanies have come to me while I've been sitting in a waiting room or in traffic. Which is why I always carry a note pad and a voice recorder with me wherever I go, to nail down the best of those fleeting, idle thoughts.
I'll never be able to know when the next derailment is due, but since I'm never completely caught up on anything peripheral to the writing, I always have something to do or read or consider. The trick is to see the derailment as an opportunity instead of letting it wreck me.
What do you guys do when your writing time is derailed? Let us know in comments.
Photo Credit: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration