6.29.15 - On Learning From Your Mistakes

Like all writers, I suspect, I need mental space to be happy. I need time with just my laptop and my own stories. I also need time with my "other" voices, the ones who don't exist in my series novels, who clamour to be heard, to come alive on the page. So I schedule writing retreats. Sometimes I stay home, sometimes I go away. I take a break from all my obligations and I let the other voices come out to play. Sometimes these vignettes become short stories. Sometimes they turn in to novels. Sometimes it's not worth pursuing and it goes into the treatments file. One never knows.

Last Tuesday, I set off for one of these retreats. I have very little time left to myself this summer, between traveling and editing the new standalone and starting a new book with Catherine, and I've had this small pocket of uninterrupted writing time planned for a while. 

So you can imagine my dismay when I arrived at the airport (this was a going away retreat) and realized that I'd left my laptop at home. I'd been working earlier in the day, and I plugged it in so it would get a full charge before I got on the plane (because I wasn't finished with my words for the day and was looking forward to the 90 minute flight to write) and I left it on my chair in the living room. Open. Plugged in. Decidedly NOT with me. 

I won't bore you with the self-flagellation that followed. I was upset and frustrated and embarrassed. I am normally tethered to my laptop. It is an extension of me, and leaving for 5 days planning to write sans my greatest tool wasn't the smartest move I could have made. Though as one of my dear friends reminded me, a dose of humility is always good for the soul.

I don't know that the humility helped, but it was a nice reminder.

When I posted this status update on Facebook (what is it with our need to publicly shame ourselves?) I had glib comments, of course I did, which I deserved. Ha ha, there's this crazy thing called pen and paper, etc., But for what I'd been planning to do, which was blow up a book by moving chapters around, pen and paper wouldn't cut it. I needed Scrivener, I needed Dropbox, I needed a reliable wifi connection, I needed my f-ing schedule that I'd planned out.

Deep breaths.

This is why I have Dropbox. I can access my files anywhere. Assuming I have wifi, that is.

Of course, access to wifi on this little island isn't the easiest thing. Though I had a desktop computer to work on, the wireless was turned off for the summer. Hello, touch and go mobile hotspot. 

The first day was awful. I jury-rigged some wifi, burned 90% of the data downloading my Dropbox (finally got smart and realized they have a selective download) then Scrivener needed an update. Which updated 90% then crashed the computer. Had to start over. Five hours later, I finally had everything I needed and managed to get to work. I moved my chapters around, then started writing new stuff. 

Day two was better. I continued moving things around. Wrote 1000 words, then went for a walk. I was still upset with myself, but I'd at least found a way to do what I needed. 

I did work. I didn't accomplish 1/5 of what I'd intended, because I like nothing less than sitting at a desk to write when there is a perfectly good porch swing and a sea breeze to enjoy, but I worked. And in the empty spaces, the places I couldn't take my laptop with me, I recharged my batteries. Walked 3.5 miles a day. Read 4 of 5 endorsement books due. Used my phone to communicate until it just became too much of a bother and I ditched it for some sangria. Ok, maybe a little too much sangria. 

So all's well that ends well, right? 

Sort of. 

I realized a couple of things while I was gone. 

Planning is my “thing.” I love it. I love knowing what I’m doing, day-by-day. As a tool, my calendar takes a very close second place to my laptop. I am an extensive planner. I have to be; with all the projects I have going on, making schedules and planning my time is the only way I meet my deadlines. The only way. I'm not being precious here. I have organizational OCD. Planning gives me a sense of control I’m otherwise missing. 

Which led me to this:

  • I am way too dependent on my tools, but I'm not sure what I do about that. I'm a writer who works best on a laptop and likes to plan months/years in advance.
     
  • Dropbox is like manna from heaven, but I can't ever leave the house on a trip without my work on a thumb drive (ironically, I do have one that has everything backed up to it daily...in my laptop.) 
     
  • Perhaps I am holding on too tightly. To everything. As a consequence, I am calling bullshit on myself. 

The calendar, the writing for three houses and putting out my own work...I've become rigid and inflexible with my calendar, which is simply an extension of myself. If I'm rigid and inflexible, my work will be as well. We can't have that. Where's the fun in being a writer in this scenario?

Remember my war on the word busy? I think I need to start a war on the word inflexible, too. Rolling with it is just not my forte anymore, and I'm not sure when that happened. 

I can't change my nature, not really. I am who I am. I will always feel in control when I know what I have to do, and by when, and plot out my days accordingly. But I can learn to let go of things that I can't control. Leaving my laptop at home was stupid, yes. But the upshot was, I still had my Kindle, and my phone, and my sneakers, and a beach. After two days of really beating myself up, I let it go and took advantage of the situation. I ended up getting things done, getting ahead on my reading responsibilities, and had a little break, too. 

Granted, it wasn't a sanctioned, scheduled break.... (Let it go, JT. Let it go.)

I'm looking forward to getting home because it's time for me to check my annual review goals for the year. This whole Year of No thing might need a major mid-course correction. I'll keep you updated.

In the meantime, I am all ears if you have advice on how to battle this newfound rigidity....

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JT Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen critically acclaimed thrillers and is the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. With over a million books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages. She is also the co-host of A Word on Words, Nashville's premier literary TV series, which airs on Nashville Public Television. She lives with her husband and twin kittens in Nashville. Visit JTEllison.com, and follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or at Facebook.com/JTEllison14.