Tuesday, May 30

When Life Strikes: Writing through the Unexpected

When Life Strikes: Writing through the Unexpected

Today I want to talk about what to do when life derails your plans.

Life derailed me yesterday! I planned to work on my book in the morning, visit my dentist in the early afternoon, write a blog post and publish it before dinner.

Well. At least I had a productive morning before everything fell apart. It turns out my dentist moved his office across town without telling me! Good to know.

SO. What to do? I made a slightly panicked phone call and a sympathetic receptionist pushed my appointment forward an hour. Great!

Not so much. It would have been great but it took me an HOUR AND A HALF to walk to the new location and then I had to wait for another hour!!

That’s a lot of lost writing time! I had to accept I wasn’t going to be able to write and publish my blog post. It was too complex, too long. I wouldn’t be able to complete it in time.

Which got me thinking about, first, how writers can try to plan for downtown in order to minimize the disruption and, second, how to minimize damage after something throws our meticulously arranged schedules into disarray.

3 Strategies to Help You Stay on Track When Your Schedule Is Thrown to the Dogs

Here’s how I try and plan for disaster.

1. Do not panic! Breathe. Remind yourself that life happens.

Some folks are optimists, others are pessimists. Optimists might he happier but pessimists are seldom surprised.

Still, life happens. Disruption occurs. It's okay. Really. You'll get through it. Realize that you'll look back on this in a few hours or a few days and be able to shrug it off.

It may seem corny or odd, but I highly recommend practicing some sort of relaxation technique such as meditation, a technique you can call on in times of high stress. It helps.

2. In the morning make a list.

2a. Write down the most important thing you want to accomplish today. 

If there’s something that absolutely MUST get done, then there’s no thinking involved, just write it down. I like to draw a little box beside the item so I can tick it off when I’ve accomplished it. There’s something fulfilling about seeing a ticked box, but that might just be me!

2b. Write down the second most important thing you want to accomplish today, then stop. 

Don’t write down anything else. Or, if you like (I find it can help ease anxiety) you can write down everything you’d like to get done today BUT make sure this list is distinct from your ‘must-do’ list.

The things you MUST do today are the first and second tasks you wrote down. That’s it. BUT if something unexpected comes up and destroys your carefully planned schedule, you already know the single most important thing you need to accomplish. Don’t worry about the second most important, let that go.

2c. Always work on the most important item first. 

I know that’s so obvious it seems silly to write it down, but still. It’s important. The first item on your list is the most important so make that your priority.

Sometimes I’ll complete tasks on my list quickly, in which case I make a new list. (But that rarely happens!)

A word of warning: Sometimes a task will be complex. In this case it’s important to break it down into smaller bits, each of which can be completed in a few hours. For instance, writing a book is a huge task that becomes doable when broken down into smaller bits.

3. Pad your schedule.

If you think a task will take you 30 minutes to accomplish, schedule 45. Even if you get through the task in 30 minutes there’s going to be other tasks that will take twice as long. Also—as I found out yesterday—one’s best laid plans are often completely derailed.

I should have given myself more of a margin for error. If I had I would have completed a rough draft of my post BEFORE I left for the dentist and would have suffered only a minor delay. So! Lesson learnt (hopefully).

The idea is that your day will have been successful and productive even if you only get that most important thing accomplished.

That’s it for today. I’d love to hear your strategies for avoiding and recovering from disaster!

Every post I pick something I believe in and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I like with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, they put a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I’m recommending Dan Wells’ book, “I am not a serial killer.” His other books are terrific too, Wells is a wonderful writer and I love, love, LOVE the podcast he co-hosts with Mary Robinette Kowal and Brandon Sanderson: Writing Excuses.

From the blurb:
John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it.

He's spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential.

He's obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn't want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he's written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation.

Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don't demand or expect the empathy he's unable to offer. Perhaps that's what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there's something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat---and to appreciate what that difference means.


  1. My mother died at the end of April. Did not write one word in May.

    1. I'm sorry antares, my condolences. After my father passed I couldn't write either. My thoughts are with you.

  2. Thanks for these suggestions, Karen--very useful in these times!


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