Stay Focused During a Rough Patch

This May has been full of distractions. Unexpected travel, family issues, and a sudden attack of the plague have conspired to keep me a little behind where I wanted to be with the book.

I like my routines, and being tossed out of them usually has me dreading those first few laggy days of getting back on track. This is an issue that's come up again and again in my life, so earlier in the year I put some thought into dealing with writing disruption. Since I've kept my momentum going better than usual despite this month's challenges, I decided to share what I learned.

Back up your writing.

It's something we should already do regularly, but use an unexpected event as a reminder to back up your work. Knowing that you've got a copy of your book tucked away in case the worst happens can put your mind at ease while you're out of commission. Backups are also helpful if, under the influence of cold medication, you don't quite realize that you shouldn't be editing under the influence of cold medication.

Read selectively.

I read a wide variety of stuff, but when I can't put in my usual writing time, I turn to books that keep me connected with my style of story. For me that means fantasies, especially those that have female heroines or are set in a city. I got through slumps earlier in the month with Kristen Cashore's Bitterblue and Elizabeth C. Bunce's Liar's Moon, and I spent the more coherent parts of this week coating the current issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction with germs. Sticking with the genre I'm working in kept my head in the right place to go back to my own cast of characters.

Think in stories.

Under normal circumstances, this advice would be like reminding myself to breathe. But like a lot of habits, it tends to fall by the wayside when I'm distracted by the nonfiction side of life. My favorite low-effort trick is to make up factoids about the people and places around me. Thinking out a scene when I go to bed helps too, but I avoid using my regular characters when I'm doing that. The point of those sleepytime scenes is to keep my story muscles in shape, coming up with stuff for the book when I can't really work on it is more of an exercise in frustration.

Write everything down.

This is another one of those "yeah, of course" habits that I let slide too often while not in working mode. I try to keep a pen and paper at hand, but I've come out of this month's side trips with a lot of new entries in the notes app on my phone. If a relative uses a funny turn of phrase, write it down. If the NyQuil gives you dreams full of great, bizzaro images, write them down (again, just not in your working file).

My strategies for dealing with writing disruptions are, oddly enough, pretty similar to my regular way of working. It's just that I have to keep reminding myself to do the things that come more naturally during regular life. If I don't keep up with these habits then I'm in for days of disappointing output when I get back into my groove. So in a busy month like this one, they've saved me a lot of frustration.

I spent most of this week sacked out on the couch, but I checked my backups as soon as I felt the sore throat coming on. I read some good stories that kept me in a fantasy frame of mind, I made up fluffy nonsense scenes between naps, and I kept a running list of medication-influenced story ideas. I still have a bit of a cough, but somehow I'm feeling pretty refreshed and ready to buckle down on my manuscript come Monday morning. I think this positive outlook could help as well, convincing myself that I'll have an awful slog after any break may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you've got any slump-busting tips of your own, please share them in the comments. I could always use the help!

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