Nancy: Writer Interrupted, Home Improvement Edition

Please Do Not Annoy the Writer

What writers usually want but rarely get is more time to write. We often get less time than expected because life has a tendency to ignore the advice of my favorite mug and has the audacity to annoy, interrupt, and otherwise mess with us, writing plans be damned. That’s possibly why we so often look for story inspiration or writing analogies in the other things that demand our attention. For instance, during the past two weeks, my life was interrupted by a long-delayed patio installation project, and while it didn’t derail my recently-completed writing plan, it certainly didn’t help it. But amidst the chaos, I took away some home improvement lessons learned that could be applied to the writing life as well.

Planning is key. For our patio project, my husband and I had a general plan in our heads. We went to a stone yard to hand-pick the materials, pored over pictures of completed patios, and had long discussions with the contractor about what we wanted. And we asked, nay, begged the contractor to prepare a full-color scale drawing so we could work out all the details of the plan. We never got the picture nor worked out the nitty-gritty details, and lo and behold, things had to be adjusted along the way, causing time delays and materials shortages that ate into the contracting company’s profits (our contract was for a fixed price, so they couldn’t charge us for their mistakes). The project lead’s decision to do less planning up front cost the company money on the back end.

Yes, yes, I know. Your WIP is not a patio, and some writers just have to be free! They must ‘pants it’, let it all hang out, go where the winding road takes them. And that’s fine. Fabulous even, if it works for you. But even the most pantsy writer tends to need some kind of plan, a guidepost here and there, or they run the risk of never FTDB (finishing the damn book). If you do choose to go planless, just be aware of the risks and know it could cost you time (and sanity!) later in the project.

Life happens, plan or no plan. There we were with a loose plan and a good contractor. We would be on site to answer questions, make final decisions, and generally make sure we got the patio we wanted, all while keeping up with day jobs and ongoing life commitments. We could just barely eek out enough hours in the day to keep up with it all. Then my daughter (visiting for a week) turned on the upstairs hall shower and it started raining in the kitchen. A few days after that, my dryer started making hair-raising screeches and loud thuds. A few days into the patio project, a flooring contractor who was doing work for us on another property cancelled on us. And suddenly we had three more projects on our plates with no more hours in the day to deal with them.

Life, the universe, mean people in the world – sometimes it feels like they’re all conspiring against us and trying to ruin our projects. Sometimes we can interrupt our current project and take time away from it to deal with emergencies. Other times, we have to make the call that the current project is more important. It takes triage – will a bandage (or a tourniquet) staunch the bleeding until I’ve finished a page/chapter/manuscript? Can we put off addressing the other house problems while we focus on the patio? Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it’s no. It’s life and we have to work with it, around it, or through it.

Only you love your project enough to sweat the details. We had the luxury of being able to work from home while the crew built our patio, and more than once my husband and I looked at each other and said, “What the hell would have happened if we hadn’t been here?” I should state here, this is a reputable, licensed company, and their workers did an amazing job. But multiple times a day, they would knock on the back door and ask us to come look at some detail and would tell us how they would usually handle it. And at least half the time, it wasn’t the way we wanted it done (we’re not talking structural, engineering-type decisions here, just the aesthetics). Because we were there sweating every detail, we got exactly what we wanted, we got our vision, not someone else’s interpretation of it.

Most writers have no intention of turning over their creative vision to anyone else. But some are willing to skimp on the details. They don’t want to take the time to walk away from the first draft and come back to it, to revise and revise and revise until they can’t stand looking at the thing anymore, to garner quality feedback and incorporate it into the work to make it better. In some self-pub circles, there are even those who believe you don’t need to take the time (or spend the money) to hire a professional editor and cover artist. There is at times a rush to market that jumps right over the detail-sweating part of the book. And that’s just bad for business, not only for that individual writer, but for all the writers in that market.

Nice timeline but, yeah, that’s not going to happen. We contracted for our patio project back in the fall. At the time, the salesman said we’d probably be on the schedule for November. November, when the average daytime temperature was probably somewhere in the low 50s F. He also said it would take about three days to complete. By the time they actually got to our project, it was January, and the crew had to work around snow. It took a large crew seven days on site (this is a big patio installed on a steep slope, which required two separate retaining walls) spread over two weeks because they couldn’t work on the days when it was actually snowing.

Timelines are a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t be able to get through a week or maybe even a day without a schedule in hand. But unrealistic timelines are just that – unrealistic. We had minor inconveniences when the contractor gave us an unrealistic estimate. Being unrealistic about a writing project could have bigger repercussions, especially if you are bound by a hard deadline and/or depending on income from a project. So build a pretty timeline if that’s part of your planning, but then pad the heck out of that sucker. Remember those other lessons about taking the time to sweat the details and life happening whether it’s in your schedule or not? Always assume these will happen, and always know they will impact your timeline.

Patience Grasshopper, good things (sometimes) come to those who wait. When it was all said and done, the planning (and lack thereof), working around life problems, sweating details, and adjusting timelines culminated in a fabulous patio. We are currently so enamored with it, we don’t want to put our patio furniture and fire pit on it because it will obstruct our view of the beautiful design (yeah, we’re weird like that).

Some things are worth waiting for. Stories, especially really good ones, take the time they’re going to take. But if you have patience with your WIP (and cut yourself some slack, at least occasionally), you might end up with something you (and a few hundred, thousand, or million other people!) love.


Amidst all the chaos, dust, and noise of construction, I was able to almost stick to my writing plan, and I did ‘touch my story’ every day. Still, I’ll be glad for the peace and quiet this week promises to bring (fingers crossed that nothing else essential breaks). I’m sure I’m not the only one dealing with interruptions to the best-laid plans of mice and writers. What has annoyed, interrupted, or generally screwed with your writing mojo lately?

11 thoughts on “Nancy: Writer Interrupted, Home Improvement Edition

    • That’s the plan! Unfortunately, the ones on my phone came out too dark (issue with my phone’s camera), so I’ll have to snap some new ones with a real camera. I’ll plan to upload them as part of my January wrap-up in a few weeks.

  1. A leaking irritation system was responsible for writer-interuptus this week. Instead of hands-on-the-keyboard, I was outside, digging up a portion of the lawn, up to my elbows in mud, trying to find the source of a leak (which I did not). I’m guessing there will be further interruptions as I break down to call in a professional to fix what I could not. Sigh.

    • That sounds terrible! I’m all for calling in professionals for such things, and I hope you’re out of the mud and back to the keyboard soon.

  2. Only you love your project enough to sweat the details. I think that’s a keeper, right up there with Pixar’s 22 rules. If I could sew, I’d make a sampler. I might have to settle for a screen saver 🙂 .

  3. I’ve learned that I cannot write when the kids are home from school. If they’re not out of the house or in some way majorly occupied (like playing Minecraft with my husband), they will interrupt me and I will not get any writing done. I plan to keep this in mind when working out deadlines with my future editor…don’t expect me to finish anything in the middle of summer or after Christmas break. It’ll have to be done before that, or it won’t get done at all. At least until my kids are old enough for part-time jobs!

    • When they become teenagers, they will want a LOT less of your time and attention, but it’s not like you really get that time back because then you’re busy finding ways to stay involved in their lives. Props to you and all the parents/writers finding ways to make it all work!

  4. (-: I was feeling side-swiped by life today, so I’m glad I got a chance to read this. I always like to have a plan, but I also like to be flexible about it. So little goes according to plan, after all. (-: This isn’t quite the way I planned my life when I was 17, after all.

    This whole months has been about one damn thing after another. Influenza in the family, dentistry, kid applying for college (and getting her driving license which is quite an enterprise in Japan), stomach flu, strange car noises (turned out to be ice! My husband drove out to knock it off the bottom — my hero). But despite it all, I have been making tiny bits of progress. I’m still reading about my era and collecting notes, and making some writing progress. Still haven’t figured out my third act (but my Girls have ideas for Book Two). So, it isn’t all bad.

    I’m aiming for March 21 to finish the first draft, and at the other end, Sept. 1 for the book as a whole. We’ll see. But I think this is one that is going to see the end of a third draft (at least).

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