Forty-four weeks after the second day of the new year
If you’ve seen Author’s Twitter this week, you know that her laptop, Stanley, died. She was working on it at the time, as confident in it as ever, and then it just stopped working without warning. The screen went dark, the laptop no longer responded to its power supply, and that was it.
No, there was no panic. Irritation, yes, and a sense of urgency because of Author’s need to get back to work on her next book for you. But no panic. Author and Sister knew who to call, the store they regularly buy from. Sister called them immediately, received information about their available laptops—Author’s laptop was two years old and that model is no longer sold—Author made a quick choice and Sister, being a sister, rushed to pick it up. Two and half hours after Stanley died, Stanley Jr. was sitting on Author’s desk, being updated with all the software she regularly uses. The next morning, she already transferred her backup to it and resumed her work. But the entire incident made Author think. About two matters, in fact, that she would like to talk about in this post, which is in its entirety a tip.
One matter is that of the importance to us of the technologies we use, hardware and software alike. You should know what you’re dependent on for your work. Yes, dependent. What would prevent you from doing your work if it is not available to you for your immediate use? We no longer rely only on paper and pens. We use computers in our writing, and computers malfunction. You need to prepare for the possibility that yours will stop working, and you need to know what to do when it does, how to get back to work as seamlessly as you can.
Which brings Author to the next matter: there are steps in your work process in which you need to make sure you’re not away from your work for a lengthy duration. At the very beginning, when you’re still writing the raw draft of your story, it’s fine if you stop. The story is still being created, and time away from it can give you a new perspective, new ideas, perhaps new ways to continue if you’re not sure where the story should go, or how something or someone you want to put in will fit into it. That first draft is the best time to think, to argue with yourself, to make essential, content-related decisions. So if you take some time away during this step in your work, it won’t harm your story.
However, the more advanced steps of your work, beginning with editing, entail varying types of scrutiny of your story after it is already written. In them you make changes, some of which require that you constantly have a whole picture of your story in your mind, because making them in one chapter, section or paragraph could impact others in terms of consistency, continuity, and clarity. So once you start one of these more advanced steps, you can’t just leave it in the middle for a significant duration. How long a significant duration is, is something only you know, because only you know yourself and your ability to focus and to remember. Only you know how long it is before if you stopped somewhere in chapter twelve you’re no longer able to pick up where you left off, before you get to where you’re enough out of touch with your work that you risk making a change in that chapter that you won’t be able to properly integrate into the preceding chapters that you had worked on before you took the break. So that instead of continuing where you left off, you would now need to go back and start at the beginning again.
And for the new writers among you, there’s another risk in stopping your work for a duration. If you’re not sure you should be writing and have doubts about yourself and your ability to measure up, then, if you run into technical issues you’re not prepared for and take too long to return to work or lose the work you’ve done until that point, or if you stop your writing for too long for any other reason, you might not go back to writing at all. When you run into obstacles, it’s easier to let doubts have more place in your insecure mind than they’re due, easier to convince yourself you should be keeping your attention on that “day job” you might have, that after all there’s no assurance that you will succeed as a writer. We writers are good at doubts. Actually, all of us people are good at doubts, and at letting them stop us.
So here’s what Author suggests you do: first, know what you need in order to do your writing. If it’s a laptop you’re comfortable working with, make sure its software is updated and protected—you do maintain an updated security software, don’t you? It’s the smart thing to do. And back up your work. You want to use a cloud, use a cloud you trust. You want to back up on another PC or on an external drive or a flash drive, fine. Just as long as you back up. And make sure you have a contingency plan if your laptop malfunctions. If you intend to have it repaired, make sure there’s some other way you can do your writing in the meantime. If you think you will replace it, make sure you know where to go to buy a replacement and what you require from your next model—the brand you prefer and the specs that would suit you and that you can use at any time to choose among the models available at the store of your choice—so that you can choose without delay. Be ready so that if something happens, you’ll be able to quickly transition to your selected laptop and continue your work as quickly and as seamlessly as possible.
And one more thing: if the length of time away from your writing isn’t your choice, if a lengthy duration is mandated by circumstances beyond your control, make sure you at least make some notes before you take the break. Write down anything that’s on your mind that is related to your story and your plans for it, just so you won’t forget anything. We do tend to be busy and have a lot on our minds, and thoughts can get lost, be forgotten, or be replaced. These notes will also make is easier for you to focus on your writing again when you get back to it, because going over them will bring your story back to life in your mind. And as for you, the new writer, don’t let doubts and obstacles win. Get back to what you love to do, give your writing and yourself the chance you deserve.