Luckily, missing your writing goals isn’t a big deal, as long as you come back to your novel without feeling a sense of failure. You didn’t fail, your life just got in the way, and that’s okay.
Why is it okay? Because if you hold yourself to impossible standards, you’re going to burn out quick. And if you beat yourself up for missing your writing goals for a few weeks, it’s harder to get started again with a fresh sense of enthusiasm.
So cut yourself some slack. Most writers working on their first novel aren’t full-time writers, anyway. You aren’t getting paid to sit somewhere and write 8 hours a day. If you are, I hate you. You’re probably like me, writing late at night when you should be sleeping, or on the weekends when you should be relaxing or hiking or visiting your girlfriend’s nieces because they are cuter than puppies.
So. Even though it’s okay to take those inevitable writing hiatuses, the bad news is that when you do, you lose touch with the fictional world you’re creating. It’ll take some time for you to get back into the story.
It’s a lot like playing a sport. If you play tennis every day, it’s easy to get into the zone when you pick up your racket. Your mind and body are accustomed to it. You have dreams about tennis. Reacting to your opponent and making split-second decisions on where to send the ball come naturally, because tennis is a part of the fabric of your daily life.
But let’s say you don’t play tennis for seven weeks. What happens during your first day back? You’re stiff. You’re slow. Balls that you would’ve hit seven weeks ago go whizzing by your head.
It’s not that you’ve lost your skills, or forgotten how to play. You just haven’t been living and breathing tennis like you were seven weeks ago.
The same thing happens with writing a novel. When you work on it every day, you become engaged in the fictional world you’re creating. You doodle plot structure maps on your agenda during meetings. You jot ideas down on a napkin during your lunch break. You dream about your novel. You find it hard not to talk about it with your friends. That makes it very easy to open your manuscript up and write the next chapter.
So as obvious as it sounds, carrying a notebook around all the time is a great way to stay engaged in your story, even when you don’t have the time to sit down at your computer. If you can’t add to your word count, at least add to the world you’re creating in some way. Think about your characters, your structure, or your setting, and jot down any ideas you get, no matter how fragmented they are.
Because the most important thing about your inevitable writing hiatuses (trust me, they will happen) is that you stay engaged in the world you’re creating even when you’re not writing every day.
That said, The Hidden City has been progressing well. I managed to crank out 2,000 words the week before starting a new job at a Chicago nonprofit where I stare at a computer all day, which makes it that much harder to boot up my laptop when I get home at night.
Since then, my manuscript hasn’t thickened, but I’ve made various notes on the characters, structure, and mythology in my trusty notebook as the ideas came to me, which makes it so much easier to start writing again when the time presents itself.
I’ve also committed to a weekly writing date with my girlfriend, where every Sunday morning we take our laptops over to our favorite coffee shop (Next Door, in Lakeview near the Landmark Century Theatre). Just sitting at a desk where you don’t have a television, Xbox, or bookcase nearby is a great way to be more productive and focused.