Organizing your Writing Life When Words Fail You

Organizing Your Creative Life in 13 Weeks:

Week 8

Sometimes, even Penguins get shocked!

Sometimes, even Penguins get shocked!

Prolific science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt follows up her “Your Novel in 13 Weeks” PJ Lifestyle series with a new weekly experiment each Saturday to figure out the best way for all creative types working from home to better organize their efforts.

Week Zero, Introduction: Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 Weeks

Week 1/2, Preparation: The Case For Making Lots of Lists

Week One: How to Make Your Mind Like Water

Week Two: What Are the Best Apps For Artists and Writers Desperate To Get Work Done? 

Week Three: The Lone Writer Against The Time Masters

Week Four: How to Tame Your Subconscious

Week Five: How Separating When and Where You Do Tasks Improves Both Productivity and Quality of Work!

Week Six: Organizing your Life is Like Learning to Juggle Eggs and Chainsaws

Week Seven: 4 Tips So You Don’t Organize Yourself to Death


The advantage of a good organization method is that it can keep you going and meeting deadlines even when everything goes awry.  When the excrement, metaphorically speaking, hits the rotating object, you have something to fall back on.  You wind up your penguin timer, you take a big breath, and you dive down and keep ticking, just like the penguin, following the Pomodoro technique through thick and thin.

Or you would, if you were a robot.

I confess the disaster that was the end of last week and beginning of this one had an effect that took me by surprise: Words failed me.  For the second time in my life – the first time was when I gave myself concussion by passing out in the bathroom and hitting my head so hard my glass prescription went up a diopter in the left eye and two in the right – I had to think to get to the words.

I can’t begin to describe how weird this is for me. I have a dim – very dim – memory of thinking without words, but I’m fairly sure it’s a false memory since according to my mom I was gabbing away around one and a half years of age.

Everything was going along fine, and I’d blocked off Saturday morning to do my homework for the current course –I’m taking a class on publicity for indie publishers from Dean Wesley Smith, and three weeks in (haven’t listened to this week’s lecture, yet) I can heartily recommend it – except in the morning I walked to the post office to mail back some contracts. I took younger son for company and we had a grand old time discussing everything and nothing, as we usually do.  As we came back in the door, I found my husband ready to go out.  He told me not to put my purse down.  We were going to the hospital right away.  One of our closest friends was in ICU.

If you feel guilty about not writing even in the middle of a dire emergency, you might be a writer.

“Forget food. And water. I just wish I had my laptop so I could finish my novel.”

This is one of those friends who is almost family.  He and his wife helped form our first writers’ group.  We all got published within months of each other.  We had kids at around the same time, too (well, their younger ones are close to the age of my two) and our kids were brought up together in a big bunch. Our younger son and their youngest son went by “the twins” when they were little.  (Which is funny because theirs is as blond as mine is dark.  We used to take them around in a twin stroller, though, and people talked about how pretty the twins were.  The name stuck.)  They are still – at eighteen – as close as brothers.

Now, I won’t lie, our friend has been battling cancer for three years, so illness is not exactly unexpected.  What was unexpected was being told he had scant chances of surviving the weekend.

There has been a lot of intensive praying on my part, and a lot of asking friends to pray.  Our friend is now out of immediate danger, set to go home and start a new course of chemotherapy.

The problem is that unless we got that verdict, on Wednesday, my mind was an empty space, with feelings painfully translated into words one by one and with difficulty.

It made even reading very difficult, so instead I went through the boys’ laundry (they don’t relinquish until the pile bursts out of the closet) cleaned up the yard, swept sidewalks, and did an awful lot of TV watching without getting any of it.

I felt guilty.  Of course I felt guilty about not writing.  It wasn’t even my emergency.  I couldn’t do anything but visit at the hospital and pray.  And yet, I also wasn’t writing.

You can tell a writer.  I suspect if there was one in the Titanic, he’d be blaming himself for not having brought pen and paper with him in the lifeboat.

On Wednesday we got good news, and the words have been trickling back ever since – though you’ll pardon me if this post is still not quite up to my normal standards.

So, in these circumstances, are Getting Things Done and my beloved Penguin Timer any use?

Strangely, yes.  As the words came back, I could look at the index cards and find out where I’d got interrupted.  Some things still had to wait or be postponed.  As I said, if I were a battery pack, I’d, at best, be at half power.  However, I could set the penguin and set about fulfilling my obligations to PJM and my blog subscribers, even through both the boys coming in and out every five minutes to get advice as they deal with Insane College Bureaucracy TM.

Sometimes waiting is the hardest thing you can do.  Still, it has to be done.

Sometimes waiting is the hardest thing you can do. Still, it has to be done.

I’m not saying I got a lot done.  I probably did all of ten thousand words yesterday, and my blog post was a typo fest.  But I did get some things done.

And as the turmoil in my mind recedes, I’m sure I can return to the discipline of the penguin, (which sounds like a rather naughty form of bondage and domination. I’m sure it didn’t exist till this moment, but I’m also sure right now there are several men running around in penguin suits all over the web.)

And since this is devoted to organizing your creative life not just your writing, I wonder how this type of shock affects other creative endeavors.  I mean, no one came in and stole all my pastels, but I also couldn’t draw or paint because I seemed unable to fix my thoughts well enough.  Normally at such times, when I can’t concentrate on writing because I’m too ill or have some other problem, I do a lot of crocheting or embroidery, since those are almost mindless. This time I couldn’t even seem to do that.  I couldn’t sit still long enough for it.

This goes contrary to my emotional make up, but if I can give anyone any advice for what to do when a shock like this hits, it’s to forget the writing for a while. Give yourself permission not to write.  I have a friend who is going through something similar right now and blaming herself for not writing. Don’t. While the shock lasts, sit back, take a deep breath. Work out your anxieties in a way that does it for you.  For me violent yard work and housework do the trick because they both tire me out and make me feel I’m doing something, not just slacking off because I’m “lazy” (my subconscious has a horrible fear of being “lazy”.)

For others long walks or runs do as well.  Do something like that.  Work out the tension.  Let your needs be dictated by your inner self: solitude or company, work of sleeping.

The words – or the desire to create in other mediums – will come back.

Be good to yourself.  It will make it easier to be good to others.


Images credits in order — all courtesy