Five Things I (Re)Learned about Writing Life Last Week

First things first: I’m sorry about dropping off the face of the website last week. It was one technological nightmare after another.

I was all set to do #PitMad on Twitter last Thursday and just needed to print things out for the Michigan Writing Workshop on Saturday. I figured I would turn on the desktop computer, back everything up, and print out what I needed to on Tuesday.

But then the desktop computer apparently died, and with it a couple of blog posts, my synopsis, the templates for my business cards, my query letter, the start of another project, a spreadsheet I was using to track submissions, and the latest draft of my novel. And that, friends, is where I crossed the line from soul-crushing despair into the kind of despair that made me wonder if I still had a soul.

Long story short, everything worked out, even if it didn’t work out the way I had originally planned. My priority was recovering or recreating the stuff I needed for Thursday and Saturday, and I neglected the blog and website as a result, hence the lack of activity on basically anything but Twitter. However, I’m back, and with any luck things should be back to as normal as I can make them.

Anyway. I had a great time with both events, and my original plan was to do posts on the Wednesday and Saturday afterward detailing what I learned at both events. Thing is, there are so many posts out there about preparing for #PitMad and what to do at conferences that I would just be rehashing what everyone else said (and competing with the posts of new friends at the same time). Instead, I’ve decided to write about things I’ve learned (or re-learned) about being a writer as a result of all of last week’s nonsense.

So here they are, the five things that I’ve learned about being a writer as a result of the most frustrating week I’ve had in recent memory:

 

  1. BACK UP YOUR THINGS.

Yes, that required all capital letters. Flash drive, external hard drive, desktop, email, laptop, hard copies, cloud, however you prefer to do it, go back it up in a few different places. Go do it. Right now. Really. I’ll wait.

This was what saved me. That other project is gone, at least for now: however, I had emailed the latest version of the novel to myself earlier, but if that had been corrupted I had an even earlier version backed up on a hard drive. I had early versions of the query letter and synopsis printed out, so I was able to type them back into a word processor and proceed as normal. I already had the business cards printed, but if I hadn’t, they existed on my hard drive as well, and the template would not have been difficult to find again. The spreadsheet was backed up, and I just need to update the older one. I might not have the blog posts that I wrote, but I have a list on my hard drive of things that I was planning on writing. I had to recreate over half of my #PitMad pitches, but at least I didn’t need to recreate all of them because I had them, you guessed it, on my hard drive (seriously, that hard drive is up there among my most prized earthly possessions). Sure, I was working with pieces, but at least I had that much to work with.

On a related note, remember to save frequently. You never know when a computer is going to decide to quit on you, a cat walk across your keyboard, etc.

 

  1. Waiting can be physically painful, but you can’t avoid it.

I knew this already, but last week confirmed it. Waiting is the name of the game, no matter what stage you’re at. Have an idea? Need to wait until it develops more. Finished a draft? Sit on it for a couple of months before you go back to it. Lather, rinse, repeat. Sent it out to beta readers? Wait to see if they’ll respond at all, let alone with any changes. Sent out queries? Hurry up and wait.

Coupled with that, though, was the fact that I didn’t know if the computer would get fixed in time and had to wait for a verdict one way or another. I was prepared for the worst, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of waiting involved in that, either. I was waiting and counting down the hours to these events while I was waiting for some sort of results on the technological front. It was the worst.

In related news, I’ve learned that it’s really, really easy to waste time on social media, and that if used properly, it’s not always a bad thing. There are people that follow your updates religiously and genuinely care, but I’ll talk about them more later.

 

  1. Take your victories where you can get them.

For freelance artists that have yet to make it big, our victories tend to be few and far between. We do a lot of work for very little in the way of concrete rewards. So when something feels like a win, even if it’s small, go ahead and celebrate it, especially if everything else is going downhill.

Finishing the manuscript and the related publication materials were victories. The fact that I was brave enough to sign up for a conference with pitch sessions was a victory. Being able to hold my head up and move forward in spite of my technological woes was a victory. Being smart enough to back up my work, and realizing how much of it was saved as a result, was a victory. Recreating those things that I was all but certain were gone was a victory. Successfully pitching over Twitter was a victory, and so was every Retweet and Favorite. Every time I sent my work to someone out was a victory.

Yes, there’s a lot of pressure to not dwell on things and keep moving forward in this industry, and I’m by no means advocating coming to a dead stop whenever something makes you smile. The only thing I’m giving you permission to do is to appreciate those times when you win, and to celebrate however you think is appropriate. Queried 10 agents? Sounds like living room dance party is in order. Survived your very first conference? Unwind with your favorite movie and snacks. Nailed the big deal? You absolutely deserve that steak dinner and champagne or non-alcoholic equivalent. We get so few opportunities to celebrate: relishing those small successes can’t hurt as long as you don’t overindulge.

 

  1. Don’t wait until the last minute to do things, and if you have to, have a contingency plan.

I was in college once. I know the appeal of “Eh, that can wait until the night/morning before.” But seriously, things don’t always work that way, and the sooner you get into the habit of working ahead, the better. This is especially true for those of us like yours truly that tend toward being nervous wrecks under stress.

Like I said, I had events on Thursday and Saturday, and my problems started on Tuesday. Had I waited until Thursday morning to check, this could have been a completely different story. Because I had a day and a half between me and my first event, I had the time to let myself panic, get my head on straight, and then start making calls and working toward fixing this. If I had been trying to do that on Thursday, I would have been running on liquid fear, probably burned out within the first few hours, and left a really bad impression on those professionals that were lurking on the #PitMad thread as I rushed to make things up on the spot.

Your contingency plan doesn’t have to be detailed or even premeditated. Mine was created within hours of me realizing that the computer was fried and hinged on me having backed things up (and if you’ve done that, congratulations, because you already have the start of a contingency plan). Once I’d calmed down enough, my plan was clear: recover and recreate what you can, forgo what you can’t, and accept that you might have to cut your losses and move on. As long as you have a plan to actively do something, even if it’s nowhere near as good as the original plan, that’s worlds better than nothing.

 

  1. You don’t know who’s rooting for you, and the results may surprise you.

With one exception, none of my Retweets during #PitMad were people that I’ve met in person. I’m not trying to be passive-aggressive toward my real-life friends and family at all, because I really do get it: I’ve scrolled past a number of campaigns and online businesses myself, so it wouldn’t be fair of me to expect attention from them. The bulk of my friends aren’t in the writing industry, don’t want to link my name to polarizing political posts, or even on Twitter at all. Again, I’m 100% ok with that, and my goal with this point isn’t to tear people down, but to build them up.

Just before #PitMad, I was Tweeting about my computer woes and generally panicking about being able to do the contest and the conference at all. Total strangers came out to support me and cheer me on when I finally did throw everything together in time and came back the next day to show support for my work. When I told the guys who built our desktop computer “It broke again, I have 33 hours to recover the documents on it, please help me,” one of them was there the next afternoon, doing what he could. Two gentlemen who live in our apartment complex knew I was a writer and made a point of asking how my writing was going when I took a break to get the mail. My family showed up with a backup laptop so that I wasn’t trying to do things on a veritable antique in the meantime and fed me because they had the feeling that I wasn’t worried about food then. Even those friends that didn’t participate directly were available in other ways—usually by letting me vent or cheer at them as appropriate, engaging with me on my personal Facebook page, or saying affirming things on demand—and they did so with downright saintly patience.

Up until recently, I figured that writing was a solitary path and that non-writers wouldn’t really understand. It turns out that they really don’t need to: if you love it, they’ll love it (or at least pretend to) and support you no matter what you do. Sure, like a lot of the other things on this list, it’s something you know in theory, but it’s nice to see it confirmed in practice.

 

Made it this far? Great! Here’s your bonus tip for reading all the way through:

 

  1. BACK UP YOUR THINGS.

Ok, that’s cheating. I can’t stress this one enough, though. I can’t imagine how awful it would have been if I didn’t have anything, especially the novel, backed up somewhere else. The fact that I had something to work with made the moment feel a little more like a triumph than a consolation prize. So go back up your things, praise yourself for doing it, and thank the people that helped you along the way.

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