A few years ago, I flew to South Korea on an assignment. Starting out from Portland, it was naturally a long flight only notable for two things: 1) my extreme discomfort from United's torturous coach seating and 2) the glimpse I had of our passage south over the Russian arctic wastes. I was awed by the glistening, white expanse, just rolling, unbroken, uninhabitable white from one horizon to the other.
As I look over my fiction output spreadsheet for April, I'm reminded of that arctic view. My daily output quota is 1500 words. Most cells contain only zeroes. Only now, at the end of April and early May, am I getting back on track.
I'm not the most sympathetic guy in the world, but I'm least sympathetic of all with myself. Any day with a zero on it makes me irritable. A month of them sends me into a tailspin of depression and bottomless self-doubt. But wallowing never helped anybody. It's my job to determine why I fell off track and how to prevent it from happening again.
Most people would chalk the lapse up to "writer's block." I got stuck. I was waiting for the muse to strike. I needed time to recharge my creative batteries.
This is wall-to-wall BS. There is tiredness. There is being distracted. But there is no such thing as writer's block. Writer's block is an imaginary excuse akin to pseudoscience. "I don't want to or cant recognize what's really going on here, so I'm going to use this nifty phrase to explain it." Really, writer's block is just another expression for laziness.
Do I get writer's block? No, because it doesn't exist. I get tired. I get distracted. I even get lazy. But I never get writer's block -- because it doesn't exist. How are you supposed to be an honest writer if you can't even be honest with yourself?
But these are not the main reasons my April derailed. First, I can take the safe route and blame work. Yes, my day job, freelance tech writing, experienced a spike in assignments. My calendar showed double to triple the amount of work I'd had only a couple of months before. It was (and remains) insane. That's a good problem to have, of course, but the truth is that I lost a couple of assignments along the way because I simply couldn't stay on top of everything. In the never-ending battle between fiction, work, and family, fiction lost last month. No one will blame me for this. Except me.
Why? Because I walked into April unprepared. I have two novels actively in progress. In fiction writing, there are "planners" and "pantsers," the latter being people who write of the tops of their heads -- by the seat of their pants. (I'd love to know the etymology of that seemingly nonsensical expression.) My writing schedule had been so rapid given the rest of my schedule that I'd outwritten my pre-planning. I'd outlined the opening chapters but never found the hours of quiet concentration necessary to chart the entire books. I hit the end of my prepared material right when the April madness hit. Call it a perfect productivity storm.
Clearly, I am not a pantser, at least not with all of the other demands currently on my time and attention.
Meanwhile, editing on the third draft of my first novel came to a standstill in April. The one thing I accomplished was getting my primary work-in-progress far enough down the planning road to let me get back to writing.
I'm not saying all of this to throw myself a pity party or to wallow in public self-flagellation. I'm detailing this because, at bottom, I have a workflow problem. The system I created earlier in the year called for fiction writing in the morning and future planning as well as editing in the evening. With a day job and four kids, that workflow did not pan out. Not even close. As my lack of advance planning shows, it wasn't even working before April hit.
This leaves me with a conundrum. I'm not willing to give up a daily block of morning writing, because a decent output pace is essential to my long-term goals. That leaves nights and weekends for planning and editing. So far, I haven't hit on the right strategy for making this all work, and I have the deepest admiration for those who do. If anyone out there has suggestions, I'm all ears. In the meantime, you can have a good smile at my ongoing efforts to find balance. We all try our best to make things work out, but it's never easy, is it?
William has been working in the tech field since 1991, when he began his long journey through working for a manufacturer's rep, being a distributor, moving into retail and corporate sales, shifting into journalism, and gradually transitioning into content marketing. In 1997, he sold his first articles to local computer magazines. By 1998, he was a full-time tech freelancer and now produces content for several of the industry's top companies.