Unplanned Time Off and Getting Back on Track With Your Creative Life
Unplanned Time Off

Unplanned Time Off

I took some unplanned time off from working on my blog over the past few weeks. It stemmed in large part from a life roll—the loss of our two dogs. Poppy passed at the end of April, age-related reasons, at 18 years old. Worf, only 7 years old, was diagnosed with cancer and had stopped eating despite all that we tried. It became clear he wasn't improving and we made the difficult choice to have him euthanized. It's been hard for me and my family. As I get my creative life back on track, I thought I'd share some tactics I've used that you might find helpful. 

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Accept Unplanned Time Off

Whatever the cause, the first thing to do is accept the need to take unplanned time off. In my case, as a working full-time librarian and writer, I needed to recognize that it was healthier for me to take the time off and grieve. It doesn't have to be grief. It could be any life roll that makes it more difficult to pursue your creative practice. Maybe you've got a move, a new job, a new relationship, a loss, an injury, or an illness. Family issues may also tip the scale. Allow yourself the space to address whatever the cause of your unplanned time off. 

Our self-imposed deadlines can encourage us to create new work and to be more productive and creative. If it becomes a source of stress then it is important to find ways to adjust and be kind to ourselves. I find meditation and exercise helps me cultivate a calmer mind and develop awareness and acceptance.

Getting Back to Creating

How do you get back to creating after your routines have been disrupted? I ran into this big time after finishing my latest degree. Between 2015-2017, my attention outside of work was on the degree. I wrote very little during that time. When 2018 came around, I tried to jump right back into creating as if nothing had happened. That hasn't worked. It wasn't realistic to expect that I'd immediately fall back into old routines. Whether the disruption that led to taking unplanned time off (or planned time) is short-term or long-term, you may find that you can't simply pick up those routines.

Or maybe you can? In my experience, that hasn't been the case, but you may have a different experience. 

I realized that I'm in a process of rediscovery or reinvention of my creative process. 

Discovering Your Creative Process

The other day, as I walked along the lovely trail near my house, I listened to Joanna Penn's podcast interview with Jeff Haden

The discussion around process resonated with me in that interview. It's at the heart of what I've struggled with, both in finishing my degree and with the recent loss of our dogs. In both cases, I've failed to pay attention to process.

For me, process is how you win, process is how you succeed because it weeds out all of the other stuff like talent or education or connections - Jeff Haden

Process, Not Deadlines

Deadlines may serve a purpose. This came up in Darren Rowse's recent podcast on deadlines for bloggers. This week the podcasts have hit right at the heart of my current struggle.

I relaunched my blog with a regular schedule of posts. I tweaked and adjusted it a bit, but pretty much stuck to the blog schedule. Only, it wasn't based on anything concrete in terms of my available time.

Deadlines can help or hinder. They can be incredibly motivating for some bloggers, who do their best work under pressure. But for others, schedules and deadlines are crippling. - Darren Rowse, Problogger

Internal vs. External Deadlines

Darren discusses the conflict with deadlines and makes the point that a deadline can be an internal deadline. I think this is an important point. I put deadlines on my books that I'm reprinting, deadlines on my writing new books, and deadlines on my blog production. 

There were two big problems with my deadlines. First, my deadlines didn't have a concrete basis. I'd talked myself into a writing deadline for novels that was based more on what I thought I should be able to write. Not what I'm getting done right now. Not a deadline that takes into account time spent writing for the blog, publishing tasks, marketing, or any other business tasks. Second, the deadlines increased my stress even though I hadn't explicitly stated my deadlines in public.

Darren's suggestion to have an internal goal makes a lot of sense because you don't want to have production slack off to nothing. 

Dark Matters

Focus on Process

I realized through all of this that the key for me right now is to focus on process. I need to let go of deadlines. With a full-time career, a family, and a reading habit, I'm not going to spend every moment producing new content. I'll watch TV sometimes, or a movie. Play games. Run errands. Work on the yard.

I don't know how long its going to take me to write my current novel. I don't know if it'll take more time or less time to reprint the book I'm working on than the last one. When it comes down to it, should doesn't matter. I need to focus on my process. I can follow a process. I can improve a process. 

With enough time and work on my new process I might eventually have a better estimate on how long projects will take. My ability to estimate it right now is limited. I can plan to work on my process.

For example: I need to spend time editing the next book I'm publishing. To overcome resistance, I dropped a shortcut to the document into the startup folder on my computer. My habit is to sit down at the computer with a bowl of granola and almond milk in the morning. Instead of reading posts on Facebook or news, now I'm going over edits on the book. It may turn out to be the only time I have to work on edits all day. That's fine. The process moves the project a bit closer to completion. 

Process is Key

So right now I'm focusing on processes. Each process that I follow whether writing new novels or stories, blogging, improving as a digital painter, publishing, marketing—whatever it is that I'm trying to accomplish. I have internal goals, but I've shifted my attention to the process. If I follow the process, I'll get to the desired outcome. I'll finish writing the book. I'll publish a book. I'll launch my new newsletter. Whatever it is, I'll get there by focusing on process rather than deadlines.

Process is also how I'm dealing with my recent unplanned time off. It gives me something concrete to focus on. One step at a time in the process, and I'll make progress.

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About the Author Ryan

Ryan M. Williams lives a double life as a full-time career librarian and a multi-genre writer with over twenty books. He writes across a range of genres including science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, mystery, horror, and romance. He earned a Master of Arts degree in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University and a Master of Library and Information Science from San Jose University. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Pocket Books, WMG Publishing, and in On Spec Magazine.

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