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After an Upset in Your Routine Catching Up Is Hard to Do

Organizing your Creative Life in 13 Weeks: Week 9

Like an upended turtle, it's not easy to get your creative life right side up after being upended.  But it can be done.

Like an upended turtle, it’s not easy to get your creative life right side up after being upended. But it can be done.

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

Week Eight: Organizing your Writing Life When Words Fail You

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After the chaos that was last week, due to illness in what can only be called extended family – our friend is doing better, thank you – all I can say is that catching up is hard to do.

Yes, I had the techniques from combining Getting Things Done and The Pomodoro Technique.

The problem is as follows: I faced both a boatload of things not done, and the chaos of the week in which my sons returned to college, (with attendant difficulties in finding a given book, issues with parking permits, etc.) combined with this weird lassitude and inability to concentrate which I think is the aftermath of an emotional shock.

The combination made me forget to do the page proofs for a short story and the back-of-book text for the Omnibus of the first two of my shifter books Draw One In the Dark and Gentleman Takes a Chance.

Part of the reason these didn’t get done is that – because of the turmoil of the previous week – I never wrote them down on the index cards.  Mind you, I have the short story sitting right here on my desk, but I forgot to look at it.

Of course, this is because I violated one of the rules of Getting Things Done, which is that when you get an email you should either do it immediately (which would have been possible with either) or enter it in your system and note the priority on the calendar.  This was, of course, because I was what is technically known as “knocked for an emotional loop.”

Of course this is not new for either creative people nor frankly for mothers.  The world goes on, no matter what private shocks you suffer.  To the extent your private world – and both writing and motherhood can be extremely private in process if not in result – interact with other people’s commercial or personal activities, you’re going to have to learn to function when everything around you is falling apart.

It used to shock me that my mother could turn from, say, a problem with her parents’ health, to dealing with a client, and use her best business voice, and sound perfectly composed.

Alas, I can only stop imaginary worlds with my super-awesome glare!

Alas, I can only stop imaginary worlds with my super-awesome glare!

Then I became a mother and I came to realize that the world doesn’t stop because you’re dealing with a horrible situation.  For instance, when my three year old was diagnosed with a heart malformation (he grew out of it by sixteen,) and we were going through extensive exams to find out whether he needed intervention or not, I still had to send his seven year old brother off to school every day, and do so with a smile (and a packed lunch) and pick him up on time, and take him to his swim lessons, and go grocery shopping, and keep up our weekly writers’ group meetings.

That is the essence of adulthood.  Others depend on you, so you do what has to be done.

In the same way, should you achieve some success in your creative life – such as being able to live from it, or even derive significant income from it – you’ll find that other people depend on you.  My publishing house can’t stop its schedule because a good friend of mine got ill.  They have contractors waiting to typeset books, print covers, etc.

On the other hand, unfortunately, I’m still not a super awesome robot.  So things will still occasionally slip up, and those two were part of what did.  It was probably not improved by the fact that it was the week before World Con —  which at least used to be – the main conference for science fiction writers and publishers in the US.  This year I’m not going.

I stopped going some years ago because we evaluate conferences strictly on the basis of “do they pay off with new business for me.”  Some of them do, some don’t, and some do initially and then stop doing it (such as World Fantasy.)  Worldcon is or was, when I attended regularly, an awful lot of fun, but it never paid us back (in contracted stories or novels or other business) for the flights and lodging, so we stopped going.  We might go back next year, or we might try Dragon con in Atlanta, where a growing number of our friends go every year.

Unfortunately I'm still not a robot!  Do androids dream of completed novels?

Unfortunately I’m still not a robot! Do androids dream of completed novels?

In either case, my publisher goes to Worldcon and sends delegates to Dragon con. Both are there this weekend which means the “system of prodding crazy writers” wasn’t fully in place.

Things that did get done include getting covers completed for a few projects, finding someone to take my work to Create Space-ready stage and editing a friend’s manuscript. Also continuing to do battle with Through Fire, the next book in the Earth revolution series, where the main character insists on not opening up to me. It is one of the great injustices that I’m on deadline, but the character isn’t.

Since I was overwhelmed with a lot of little stuff, ranging from neglected housekeeping trivialities, to answering phone calls from the previous week, to answering story invitations from the previous week, to… just stuff… prioritizing is important.

The other lesson of this week, which I should have known before, is that if you don’t start off with the biggest thing that needs to be done, it will slip away and you’ll either forget it or be too tired to do it.

I should have remembered this from when my husband took organizational classes (and talked about them.)  I didn’t. As a result two of the days this week got “nibbled to death by ducks.” The little stuff got done, but the big tasks (mostly Through Fire) didn’t get finished.

Clearly this has to change this week. At least now I know. The thing about training yourself for greater productivity in a creative endeavor, is that it involves training your subconscious, which means no matter how much you decide “I’m going to get this done” it’s still mostly a matter of establishing an habit. I suspect the habit, if well ingrained, will also allow you to survive shocks.

So, did I catch up with all the trivia of last week? Am I on course for a good next week?

I caught up with most, and the rest should be possible – if not easy – to finish in the coming week.

Which is better than I would be doing without a thirteen week method and a guideline to organize my life, and without my ever trusty penguin timer.

So, onward to week nine, and may the penguin be with you!

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images courtesy shutterstock / Liliya Kulianionak / Yuganov Konstantin /  Lana Langlois