But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
January is wrapping up this week, and for me this month has been less than kind. In fact, it has been a right train wreck. When I rang in the new year with friends and family, and celebrated its beginning with a day of great games, good food, and the best of people, I made plans to get cracking on a few major projects that would carry me into the summer. The first project was, of course, Operation: Endgame, the final adventure of Agents Books and Braun. Then there’s the fifth and final season of Tales from the Archives, kicked off on Christmas Day with our Christmas Special. I’ve also got an idea percolating pretty hard in my noggin to the point of where I’m collecting a lot of resources and researching hard how to pull this idea off. All this, and I’ve got a special photoshoot in the works for The Pixel Project and was gearing up for my first con appearance of 2017 alongside Nick Kelly and Robert V. Aldrich.
Well, as that Scottish verse said “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley” and it could not have been more apt. See, following a great day of gaming, I got hit hard by what I thought was food poisoning. I made that conclusion as Pip also lost her dinner an hour after I did. Came to find out that ten other guests were having issues. Stomach flu. I was on my back and out of commission for close on a week.
Once back on me feet, the next few days were dedicated to getting caught up on that lost week; and I was making progress until a sudden head cold sent me right back to bed. Another week, gone. Just as I shook the cold, my father was admitted to the hospital. The original plan had been a two-day, in-and-out procedure that would have cured the AFib he had been diagnosed with months ago. Turned out the AFib was being caused by a leaky heart value. This meant open heart surgery.
What should have been 30 days of productivity had been reduced to roughly seven. And counting today, I have two more days to go.
Losing time like this can be worse than frustrating. It can be demoralizing. Especially with it being the beginning of a new year and new possibilities, dealing with life’s unexpected derailments can make you feel like you have no time, no motivation, and no reason to return to your best laid plans. (Good God, whether it’s the original or the modern translation, that damn mouse poem is depressing as hell!) You might not find yourself in a perfect storm of setbacks and distractions like my January turned out to be, but even losing a week out of a month can feel like a rug being yanked out from under you. What matters is getting back on track with what you want to get done.
Record your day, then get organized. As soon as you can, take a look at how a typical day plays out. Physically write down how it goes, from waking up in the morning to turning in at night. When you record your daily habits for a week, you may find places where you could get in some research or writing done. The next step is to put together both daily goals alongside long term To Do lists centric to your projects. Consider Habitica online or the AuthorLife Planner 2017 for a deep dive into organizing your day, your monthly deliverables, and what you want to accomplish for the rest of your year.
Push back your deadlines. You may not be able to do this easily if you are under contract—and you certainly don’t want to make this a habit—but if you find yourself concerned about meeting a deadline, reach out to an editor and explain your situation. Ask for extensions. The worst a publisher or client can say is “No.” With works-in-progress and self-proposed deadlines, though, give yourself some time. New due dates do not have to be dramatically rescheduled months from when you planned to have your work done, but you don’t want to be writing in a rush. It’s always better to have a work completed at a later date than have a title underdeveloped or riddled with problems that will demand more time and attention during editorial passes.
Remember to cut yourself a break because life happens. You don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. Neither do you know exactly when you’re going to get sick, if your family will need you, or if something dramatic occurs. You may not be able to plan for the unexpected, but you certainly can expect it. Be kind to yourself. You can make plans, sure, but there is no guarantee they will carry out without a hitch. Punishing yourself for lost time will only stress you out, and that will carry over into your productivity. If you slip or stumble, take a beat and then find your footing.
Alright, so January is just about done. Doesn’t mean I am. I have a few phone calls to make, an email or two to send, a couple of dates to shuffle around, and a father to help through his recovery. I lost a month but there’s eleven more ahead of me. That’s a good amount of time to get things done, so it’s time to get to it.
What about you? What keeps you on target throughout the year?