Protecting Your Work, Part II

I’m a sucker for a good bodyguard story. I pop those narratives like candy, they hit all my kinks. There’s something seductive about the idea of being protected, of someone caring enough to want to keep you safe. I can, black-hearted and stone-faced bitch that I am, be brought to soppy tears by a good peril-bodyguard-romance.

Unfortunately, I live in the real world, and I learned long ago that there’s no such thing as a bodyguard, really. There is nobody waiting around to save me. In the end–all the way down the line, really–I’ve got to take care of myself.

Don’t ever wait for someone else to protect you and your writing. You have to be your own goddamn bodyguard, babe, and look out for your work as well. How? Here’s a few ways.

* Admit that the world does not want you to write. There’s always going to be something you can procrastinate with. There’s always going to be life getting in the way. The world is not built for our comfort, my friends. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and you can spend a lot of time bemoaning it. Don’t. That time is better spent giving the world the finger by actually getting some writing done. Go ahead and be mad about the unfairness of it all, as long as that anger energy is spent on actually writing.

* Prioritize. Confession: I’d rather be watching a K-drama and eating chocolate than writing this blog post. I’d rather do zero drafts than revise, I’d rather pitch a fit about how nobody understands my geeeeenyus than admit an edit letter’s right. It doesn’t matter. Writing this blog post, revising, and swallowing the harsh bits of an edit letter are priorities today. Set aside five minutes or so every week–I suggest on a Monday–to just think about your priorities. You’ve got five minutes, set a timer and just…think about it.

My children? Priority. My mortgage? Priority. Working rather than faffing about on YouTube? Priority. I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever decompress, but take a week or so and log your time. If you’re spending hours doing things that don’t advance your (small OR large) goals, it’s time to rethink.

* Put the inner asshole to work FOR you. There’s a long passage in IT where Stephen King, via Ritchie Tozier, talks about grabbing the wild internal asshole who’s fucking up your life and putting him to plow. “He works like a demon once you get him in the traces,” is, I think, how King put it. Example: I spent most of my young life as an adrenaline junkie. That’s hard on your body and your life, so I pour that addiction into my work (combat scenes, anyone?) and running. I get the same kick, but I’m not using unsafe behavior to get it.

Figure out who your inner bitch is, and get to know her. Not only will she pull the plow fast and far once you figure out who she is and where to point her, but you can also use her for perhaps the most important thing of all, which is…

* Practice saying no. Saying “yes” isn’t a bad thing. What’s damaging, though, is the “uhhh, I really don’t want to, but emotional blackmail…so I guess I will.” Saying no to protect yourself is hard, hard, hard. Do yourself a favor and start with little things. Sugar in my coffee? No, thanks. Do I like *band of the moment*? No, I really don’t. Work up to the big “no”–no, I can’t kill myself turning around those copyedits in three days, no, I won’t respond to this fan who thinks he’s my soulmate, no, I won’t answer the door while I’m working. Practice letting your “no” be enough. If you need help or guidance on how to do this, I suggest reading some Captain Awkward, who is sixty different flavors of amazing, gives great life advice, and is hella clear and easy to follow on creating boundaries.

Your “no” can be a weapon, and it can be a gift you give yourself. Don’t be afraid to use this marvelous gift to protect your writing time.

* Build your habit. I get a lot of flak for saying “write every day.” I understand that doesn’t work for some pro writers and some pros have other views. That’s okay. You’re here on my site reading my advice, and my advice is: write every goddamn day. Set a kitchen timer for five minutes and write. Set it for ten and write. Do it every damn day.

Why? Because getting into that habit will help you prioritize writing. Carving out a little bit of time, no matter how small, to do something every. damn. day. sends the signal that you’re serious about it. It’s also a way to game yourself into producing words. Often–like, 95% of the time–the timer will ring but you won’t stop, because the pump has been primed and you can write for a little longer, a little longer. And before you know it, you’ve horked up a chunk of text.

You can fix ugly writing. It’s much harder to fix a blank page.

* Recognize toxicity. We all know how I feel about writing groups. There are going to be people who don’t like you writing, either because it takes your attention away from them or because they fear what you’re going to say, or–you know, who the hell cares why they don’t want you to write? Fuck them. Look out for toxic people–those who undercut your confidence, make you feel like you’re unlovable or hard to like, who always seem to have a crisis while you’re in the middle of a project. Now, there are genuine Life Crises that arise while you’re writing, and those deserve to be priorities. But be watchful for emotional blackmail and the people who do not want you to write, or worse, want to vampirize your writing energy for their own purposes.

I don’t speak about it often, but I lost a few people I thought were my friends when I finally got published. My achievement felt threatening to them, and the emotional blackmail rose to epic proportions. It was so bad I didn’t trust my own perceptions until my husband at the time (there was a reason I married him) validated them, and supported me in cutting those people out of my life. Had he not, it would have taken me a lot longer to activate my inner bitch and let those people go, and I’m grateful for it. I’m even grateful for the lesson in how to spot people who only like you when your dreams are out of reach. Life is too short for that crap.

* List, list, list. I love making lists. A master to-do list for overarching projects, daily lists to help me with the bite-size stepping stones to those projects, grocery lists. If you get overwhelmed by lists, you can always redo them. A list isn’t set in stone, YOU are the smart monkey with thumbs who made it.

Every time you update a list, put one thing on it you’ve already done, so you can get the dopamine hit of crossing it off. Set aside one day a month (or week, if that’s your jam) to update your master list, and feel good about every damn thing you’ve crossed off EVER, not just on the current lists. Lists are powerful. There’s a reason we’ve been making them ever since cuneiform.

* Admit your worth. One of the most effective ways to guard your tender inner self and your work is to admit you’re worth it. If you’re reading this and have any suspicion that you may not be, in fact, worth it, let me put that to rest right now in the strongest possible way. YOU ARE FUCKING WORTH IT, TAKE IT FROM ME, I AM TELLING YOU RIGHT NOW. Read it as many times as you need to, my friend.

The world may not care, but it really does need your writing. It needs you healthy and producing, even though it may not seem like it. Other human beings who need stories need you to fight to take care of yourself, even though the whole universe is seemingly set up otherwise. You are the only person in the world who can tell the stories lining up at your skull-door, that’s why they chose you. You are also the only person who can take care of those story-babies, who can make your writing time a priority, who can liberate your inner bodyguard bitch and make her work for you.

So. We’ve gone over burnout, and how to bodyguard yourself. Let’s do a small experiment: I’d like you, my dear Reader, to hop on down to the comments and give one concrete way you can protect yourself this week.

I look forward to hearing it.

  • DGR1214

    One way I have learned to protect myself is to let go of the “shoulds” and allow others to take over work that I either can’t do or can’t find the time to complete. An example would be housework, such as cleaning the kitchen (putting the dishes in the dishwasher, cleaning the floor and the countertops, putting away food in the refrigerator, etc). I have Crohn’s disease, and there are days when I spend all day and most of the night in the bathroom. That’s just the way it is. While it might not seem like much, feeling like you have your period and diarreha at the same time is enervating. My “job” in my family is to cook and clean the bathrooms and the kitchen every damn day. But, as I said, there are days when I am wiped out after getting out of bed and taking a shower. So my husband put the dishes in the dishwasher and cleaned the counters this morning, and now he’s going to do some bathroom clean up, too. He doesn’t do as good of a job as I do, and that aggravates me, but I’ve had to learn to accept it and say to myself, “You know, he dirties dishes and uses the bathrooms in this house, too. It’s not written in stone that you have to be the one to do the charwoman’s job for the rest of your life. Let it go, for heavens sake!” So now when I tell myself “I should get up and clean that” I also tell myself, “STFU and relax, it will eventually get done.” I am trying to save up the energy today to lead my book group at the library tonight. We’re discussing a book by the Dalai Lama, which has a lot in it about letting go.

  • Say Shelton

    Let go of any disappointment or shame over not being as productive as I wanted to be the past few weeks and just move forward. Be productive today and try to do the same tomorrow. But I won’t do that if I don’t stop beating myself up about yesterday.

  • Hazel Evermore

    I take my lunch break in my car and work on my current project (a short story that just will not die), bargaining that even just a few sentences is better than nothing, and setting a low goal of 3-4 sentences per writing session. I also aim to arrive to work early so I can sneak in 5-10 minutes more of writing, also aiming at 3-4 sentences. A lot of times between those two, I get a whole page or more written in the day. Today was a good example. I ended up with a little more than a page. It’s not much, and I could do a lot better with protecting my work, but it’s a start.

  • This is a good one. Now that the kids are old enough to do chores, it’s gotten a lot easier for me to ask for help. It helps that they WANT to do things to make the house nicer, too.

  • Easier said than done! I have to work on this one.

  • I think it’s just fine. “Even a few sentences are better than nothing” is pretty much my entire writing life, especially when I was working day jobs.

  • DGR1214

    Wow, you are one lucky woman! My 17 year old used to help with the housework without protest, but now that he has a summer job at the local grocery store, he’s not inclined to do any housework or chores at all. He wants to spend his free time playing video games and eating or talking and playing Dungeons and Dragons with his buddies. So the hubby has had to take up his chores. So I am envious of your kids desire to want the house to be clean and neat. 🙂 Still, I have hopes that when my son graduates from high school next spring, he will return to helping with the housework.

  • Amberle Foster

    I have several short stories I’m working on, including a background story for one of my characters, that I keep on my phone, so I can work on them, bit by bit, whenever I have time. Doesn’t matter if I’m on break at work, going somewhere, or even out to eat with family.

  • A good use for technology!

  • I think it’s more that helping is non-negotiable. They see me working hard, naturally want to help, and everyone who stays with us pitches in too. So the idea of not doing chores or not helping out is foreign to them.