Ok, in fairness, I wrote another manuscript. The book part will be a few weeks longer yet as it still needs to go through early reads, professional edits, and formatting. But I wrote another book. (Update – the book is done and scheduled for launch on March 26, 2020)
So what, you might be saying. You’re a writer — a novelist — that’s what you’re supposed to do. I thought so too until I tried to write this one.
However, this time was different from the rest.
Perhaps it was the fact that it is the final book in my science fiction trilogy. It was as if my characters refused to share their story with me, knowing it likely was their last.
Perhaps it was the new house or the new job. Maybe my brain needed its old combination of background and routine to get into its groove.
Perhaps it was my family. The kids are getting older now. I am unfortunately finding they aren’t as willing to go to bed before the sun completely sets, just because their mom needs to hit her daily word count. Nor have our weekend become any less full.
Perhaps it was simply me.
I should have finished this manuscript in February. That was my intent. I would take a break from the blog for the holidays and focus, instead, entirely on it. When February passed, I said, eh, it’s a short month anyway, I’m not that far behind.
Weeks stretched into months and still the most glorious words in the writer’s language, ‘the end’ continued to elude me.
I wrote during this time. Don’t get me wrong, but it was a steaming pile of word turd mixed with verbal vomit left behind to fill a blank page and little more. Thanks for that imagery, you might be thinking. Just be glad you weren’t the one expected to clean it up.
This is all to say, I might be late, but I’m still here.
I set a goal — I missed it — but I didn’t let a self-imposed deadline stop me.
Do you ever have those moments … the ones that make you realize everything you’ve done over the past several weeks if not months was preparing you for this one specific day or hour?
I had one of those moments recently.
To properly tell you about it though, I need to go back to this summer. We’d invited another family over and decided after the sun began to set, we’d send the kids upstairs where they could watch a movie while the adults continued to chat downstairs.
I escorted the kids to the top of the stairs where I walked into an invisible wall of sauna-like heat. It quickly became apparent that our heater had taken it upon itself to rise up and rebel against the shackles of its thermostatic-overlord’s imposed peace treaty and instead do battle against its arch-nemesis the air conditioning unit. When I’d walked into the fray, both climatic titans had been doing battle for some time, however, the AC was now in a state of retreat.
We shut the unit off and opened all the windows, hoping beyond hope that the artificially heated air could find its way to the greater outside. It was too much to hope for. The ninety-degree temperatures lasted much of the night, and well into the following morning.
We called an HVAC repairman who let us know that a wire had gone bad. A few moments later the AC was once again running as it should. I thought peace had returned. I was wrong.
Fall decided to cut its time with us short this year, hopping over to winter before the leaves could even finish changing their colors. My husband grumbled and moaned about it but after listening to the children and I complain about the chill he begrudgingly went to turn on the heat. Only the heat didn’t come on.
A day passed. Warmer than the last. Then another day. The chill returned. After a few more days of the atmospheric roller coaster, I asked my husband when he’d scheduled the follow-up appointment with the repair service. I learned he hadn’t. Then it grew colder.
My doorbell rang, sending Her Royal Highness into a frenzy. It was the same technician as the one who’d serviced the unit in the summer (who was deathly afraid of dogs – which of course meant HRH wouldn’t leave him alone). He told me it had to be the thermostat. I questioned that as I’d noted the thermostat wasn’t getting power so thought there had to be another problem.
Then he told me it could be the control board on the furnace or maybe still the wiring. He could fix it, he said, but it would be a two-man job and so he’d have to come back another day – which could be a while as they were rather backed up at the moment with other job orders.
I reluctantly agreed and found a sweater. What other choice did I have?
The downside of working from home is the fact that you don’t have the benefit of escaping to another location when things like this happen. While my kids got to thaw at school during the day and my husband was able to work up a sweat running his business, I, on the other hand, spent the next several days trying to write while I huddled next to an ancient space heater.
The weekend arrived. We’d agreed to go camping with the kids’ scout troop back when we thought we’d still be experiencing a Fall this year. It was in the sixties when we arrived at the site and set up our tent. The sun began to set as the troop built up a fire. The temperature dropped. And dropped. And dropped some more.
It was cold enough to allow me to see my breath inside my tent as I burrowed deeper and deeper into my sleeping bag and still the night grew colder. The temperature inside my home, unpleasant as it was, was nothing compared to this. What had we been thinking, agreeing to go camping in mid-November?
But we survived the night and returned home with memories of s’mores, camp songs, and a new pack of dental floss (an award from a campout game), so it wasn’t all bad.
My attempt at Flossing was voted "least terrible" by my kids' scout troop over the weekend – so yeah, I'm kind of a big deal
The house was still chilly when we returned home – but it was far better in comparison to what we’d just “slept” through. The technician came back – this time with help. Unfortunately, even with help, the overall the system was still broken. I soldiered on. After all, I’d been through worse.
That is not to say I gave up and accepted my lot. Instead, we called another service who actually managed to correct the problem, though it cost a little of the extra money I would have rather spent on Christmas gifts. However, ten minutes later, I heard the magical whirl of a fan coming back online as heat descended from the ceiling vent. It was glorious.
When I stood around the campfire that night, I’d joked with the other campers that our heat situation had helped acclimate my body to the cold – as if all the days of shivering by my computer were leading up to this moment. However, the hours that followed, proved me wrong. This story doesn’t end with me being able to grit my teeth and deal with larger adversity thanks to a series of trials leading up to this grand event.
No, instead, what I’ve realized is it’s not enough to deal with and work through unpleasant surprises. You also have to be able to keep yourself from settling for less, when it truly matters, even if that sometimes means starting over. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again, and each time it has gotten a little less scary. And that’s a thought that may just keep me warm for many more days to come. (Though finally having a working HVAC system sure helps too.)
My eldest son became sick and not just with a little cold. No, he’d caught the flu. The same strain of flu that was being featured on every nightly newscast. Taking care of him, and monitoring his symptoms was an absolute must.
At the same time, the forecast called for snow. Again. It was in the 70s (22C) the week before, but I live in North Carolina. We can go through a whole year’s worth of seasons in a week. In fact, we add a few more to the list – there’s also pollen season and hurricane season too. (Yes, yes, Colorado – where you can have all four seasons in a single hour – I know we have nothing on you).
But normally it doesn’t snow more than once or twice a year South, which is exactly why my parents moved us here when I was a kid. As a result, most of the people who live around here don’t have a clue what to do when the white stuff starts falling other than to rush out and get milk and bread like it will become the new world currency.
I had just gotten my eldest dosed and settled under blankets when I received word that the school system would be releasing my other son three hours early. Snow hadn’t even started falling, but classes for the rest of the day were canceled.
I received another alert. Not only had the school closed early, the following morning’s opening would be delayed by three hours.
My eldest’s fever climbed to 102.6 (39.2C).
The family calendar showed my hubby would be going out of town the balance of the week.
And then beta feedback for my most recent WIP came back as a solid ‘meh,’ signifying major re-writes were required.
There were doctors appointments to make, prescriptions to fill, dinners to cook, and her royal highness to walk, not to mention the work which needed to be made up from missed school and the day job. While juggling all of this, I needed to re-write thousands of words per day if I had any hope of reaching my writing-related goals.
And yet, during my regular writing time, when most of the house is either quiet or asleep, I found myself staring at a black computer case. I didn’t even have the energy to lift the lid, let alone turn the machine on. I felt I’d broken something. My creative muscle simply refused to work.
Which brings me to the topic at hand – how to remain focused on your goals when life is determined to get in your way.
Give yourself permission to let something go
With the exception of the week between Christmas and New Year, I’ve been posting something on this site weekly for a few years. My posts, on average, are between 500 and 1200 words meaning I’ve published more than then three books attributed to my name on my Amazon author page. I take pride in my consistency. I view it as keeping my promise to you, but something had to give.
Recognize your priorities
As much as I love this blog – the outlet it provides and the community it builds, my number one goal isn’t to be best known as a blogger. Scaling back my efforts for a week, under the circumstances, was an easy choice to make (as was giving up on cleaning my house for a few days). In fact, I may adopt a practice suggested by Diana Wallace Peach over at Myths at the Mirror to take one week off a quarter as a way of refreshing the mind and spending time on the priorities that matter most to me.
Don’t confuse artificial targets with your real goals
What do you mean? Aren’t they the same thing? No. A goal is where you want your arrow to go. The target around the goal just helps you aim. Hitting the target alone isn’t enough. It’s the bullseye you want.
For example, my target was to release the sequel to An Uncertain Faith in May. That target, however, is really nothing more than a release schedule, a deadline to help keep me motivated day in and day out. My goal, on the other hand, is to write a book that lives up to, if not exceeds, the reader’s expectations. Quality, therefore, is my goal, and frankly, there is no way I can achieve that goal unless I am willing to shift my bow and aim at a target more reflective of my current environment.
Ignore the urge to splurge
Once you have agreed to let certain lesser priorities go and/or readjusted your timeline after a period of stress or frantic activity, you may find yourself with feeling like there is this hole you have to fill. I’ve been told others call this strange sensation, ‘having spare time.’ Unaccustomed to spare time you may be tempted to take on additional tasks or responsibilities which sound easy in theory but are not in line with either your priorities or your goals. Don’t.
Life will fill in that time for you just fine on its own. Trust me.
Accept that setbacks happen to everyone
Even to people who’d prefer to present themselves as having it all together.
I am disappointed to be sure, but I am not giving up, nor do I feel bad about giving myself a break. I will still have another book out this year. It may just be after the summer instead of in the weeks leading up to it. I am able to remain focused by keeping in mind a setback does not mean the end. I’m back in my chair, plotting forward once more. It’s all I can do.
Because most importantly, when life is determined to get in the way of your goals, the best thing you can do is:
A three-day weekend loomed in front of us and our plan was to have no plan. We’d sleep in as much as the children allowed. We’d stay in. After being away from home most weekends in August, my husband and I were looking forward to tackling a few projects but generally doing nothing more than relaxing. It would be a weekend to simply enjoy being a family.
It was a good plan.
I’d no sooner stepped out of my bedroom Saturday morning when I was met in the hall by my eldest son and his best friend, Biff. “Mom! Biff invited me to go with them to a mud run. Can I go? Can I?” I blinked. I hadn’t drunk enough coffee that morning to be able to process that level of excitement. It was a wonder I’d even gotten into my day clothes already.
I stalled. “Those things usually cost money.”
“My mom will take care of it,” Biff assured me.
I felt like there was something I was missing. Kiddo would be out of the house all morning? He’d be exercising instead of alternating between begging me to allow him to binge-watch his latest favorite cartoon (there are only six seasons, mom), creating Lego minefields, or complaining about how bored he was and I wouldn’t have to pay for it? It seemed too good to be true.
We learned no such offer had been authorized. Sure, Kiddo was welcome to come along (the more the merrier!) but the insurance waiver clearly stated that a legally responsible adult must be present along with every child. One of us, either my husband or I, would have to go with Kiddo else live with a weekend long case of ‘you are the worst parents ever!’ There went our relaxing morning.
My husband and I faced off like gunslingers at noon in an old western.
“It’s only a couple of miles,” my husband pointed out.
“You are the one training to run another marathon,” I reminded his father.
*do-la-doooooo wha wha whaaaaaa*
“Please?” I swear Kiddo batted his eyelashes. (Don’t ask me where he learned that trick).
My husband broke first. “I’ll go change.”
LT, our youngest, caught wind of the conversation. He had no idea what a mud run was, but his brother and father were going. He would not be left out or heads would roll (as would the rest of him as his tantrums are typically full body affairs). Then all four of us were at the starting line with the elder Potts guys in their work out attire and me and LT standing on the spectator side with a camera and their spare clothes.
A fog horn blew and then they were off.
A short time later, two incredibly filthy smiling faces crossed the finish line. I know they were smiling because the only part that wasn’t covered in brown was their shiny teeth. The shoes they’d worn were tossed in a pile which would be industrially cleaned and donated to those in need. A large tanker truck provided the water needed to remove the mud from Kiddo’s ear. Speakers blasted music while LT grabbed fistfuls of grass and rubbed them into his hair and across his belly in order to look like one of the participants. We hadn’t brought a change of clothes for him, but I found I didn’t mind. Not one part of the morning had gone to plan, but it was still a good morning.
No. It was a better morning.
I am a planner by nature as much as by habit. I set goals. I track milestones. I know how to keep a program advancing, but though it is making me twitchy writing this, there are times you have to focus on the outcome, but let the plan go.
“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tony Robbins
I was supposed to have another book out by now, but my characters rebelled. I found myself asking what was more important? My outline or my outcome.
I thought my outline was a good one. I’d put real thought into it. I’d spent hours if not days planning and pacing. I’d created character profiles and scene summaries. I’d researched setting. It should have worked, but it didn’t, and ultimately I allowed myself the flexibility to adapt moving forward. I picked outcome.
Though I hate that it has taken so long to get to this point, I have to admit my characters were right. I rewrote my plan. I altered my method. I’ve received my feedback from my beta readers and all that is left to do is a few manageable rewrites and work through my final edits before sending it out to the next round of advanced proof readers (if that sounds like something you’d enjoy, please contact me at allie AT alliepottswrites DOT com).
The path to publishing this book may have deviated from my plan. It’s taken a few twists and gotten messy along the way but my commitment has never wavered. With a little patience and a whole lot of support, I will publish this book and it may just be better than I ever planned for.
“Just when I thought I was out . . . they pull me back in.” – Michael Corleone, The Godfather part III
The quote pretty much sums up my feelings on our recent weather. Just a few days ago I was outside in short sleeves. The children were passing their weekends in treehouses and exploring creek beds. Flowers bloomed. I’d even seen a dusting of pollen. We thought spring was well on its way. Then, just as we thought we could pack away the cold weather gear, winter returned with a vengeance.
I suppose it could be worse. We only received a light dusting of snow when those living in states just a few hours away are once again under blizzard conditions, but they knew what they were getting into when they decided to remain in an area so used to this sort of weather they named an entire pattern system after it (Nor’easter), but I digress.
This weekend Lamont mentioned he’d found an intro to self-defense class geared for runners who happen to use Raleigh’s many greenway systems and hosted by a local Brazilian Jui Jitsu center. Now, even though I do occasionally guilt myself into going for a light jog, I do not in any shape or form consider myself a runner. (That is unless a bear or zombie – or worse a Zombie Bear – is chasing me, in which case, watch me go). I am even less skilled in martial arts. However, I do use the greenway system (at least, I do when it is warmer) and it happens my current project’s main character could benefit from similar skills, so off we went.
Class began. The task was simple. All we had to do was pretend to be resting on the side of the trail and hop up in the method and manner demonstrated resulting in a wide-legged stance, perpendicular to the threat. Lamont and I faced off. I would be the victim. He would play my attacker. He approached, entering my over-sized personal bubble of space. I forgot everything. Instead of getting up, I kicked and kicked, looking much like a roach flipped on its back.
I tried again with similar results. Now normally I don’t consider myself a slow learner, but in this case, instincts have a way of taking over, even if they aren’t always the most cooperative instincts.
We swapped places. Lamont hopped up in a ready stance as I rushed him. Lamont is over a foot taller than me and outweighs me. Suddenly I felt ridiculous and couldn’t stop giggling. If I’d really been out to do him harm, I would have had just as much luck running head first into a wall.
We switched roles again as we moved to the next exercise involving a block to the attacker’s neck followed by a slap to the ear. Now, this I took to so well, I wonder if I missed my calling as a soap opera star. My giggling reduced as I started taking what we were learning more seriously.
Then it was back to the floor exercises. The designated attacker (Lamont again) was to straddle the victim (me). Lock your hands on one arm and pin the attacker’s leg to your side, our instructors advised. Check. Now lift your hips. Here goes nothing. Lamont fell to the ground and I got away.
I sent Lamont back to the mats. Lamont, who I can wear three-inch heels around and still feel petite. Lamont, who is responsible for opening jars that just won’t budge for me or hauling heavy things away. I toppled that Lamont.
I was no longer giggling. No, instead of feeling ridiculous, I now felt something else entirely.
Now clearly, this wasn’t a real life situation. Lamont was sitting on me, but he wasn’t fighting me. He allowed me to get my grips and leg locks precisely where they’d be most effective – a courtesy I wouldn’t expect from a real attacker. I know, one class does not an expert make and much more practice is required. Even so, I left the class feeling more confident in my ability and myself than I had the hour prior.
It got me thinking about all the other areas in my life and career where I’ve underestimated my ability simply because I was smaller, too young, too old, too relatively unknown, or any other reasons that caused me to back down or give up without really ever trying.
Yes, I am rarely the largest presence in the room and I know I will hit the mat from time to time, but this experience proved I don’t have to stay there.
I might not be the Godfather, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have muscle. I can kick. I can slap. I can block and I can charge. I can use other’s strength against them and I will not go down without a fight. And I know, most of all, that as long as I can find the proper leverage, I have it within me to challenge giants or move mountains be they physical or more metaphorical kind.
Now if only I could find a way to shift this weather.
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