It’s now three weeks and a little bit since I basically crashed out of my weekly writing goals program in late November. I’ve been running this growth program since I restarted writing in June, with the goal of continuing to get stories out here and eventually generating enough output and getting enough hours to make this satisfactory as a full-time pursuit. It’s a fairly slow and steady plan, based on learning and growth progress curves I’ve used elsewhere in my life, mainly with a growth curve based on the golden ratio. I started in June with a goal of 800 words per week, and that was a grind, as a lot of my time was spent journaling about why I wasn’t writing, as well as struggling to deliberately spend time not distracted by other things.

As we moved into August, I rediscovered fluency in writing, which is why I wanted to do this in the first place. Though it’s not always easy to get to, the ability to just sit down and go, from time to time, is one of the best feelings I’ve ever known. It’s what I’m primarily seeking here, and I found it easily enough in August and early September to believe that continuing to devote most of my attention to this project is a good idea. In late September and early October I had a minor setback, with a chronic illness flare, but was really pleased that even through that I was able to continue writing a little over two thousand words a week. I felt like I had established something of a new production floor, and got even more confident when late October and early November led me back to growing production and frequent fluency.

But then in late November my body and brain reminded me what a real setback can look like. It didn’t quite send me back to zero, but the week of November 23 was my least-productive week since the start of the project, even including those first grindy weeks that were more about fighting myself over not writing than actual writing. My brain just basically wiped out, which for me generally manifests itself in wanting to do nothing but play phone games. And there wasn’t really anything to do, that first week, but let it have its head and be kind to myself about not coming close to any of my goals.

Still, setbacks are inevitable, and a big part of not letting them win is how we handle the aftermath. And I thought it would be worthwhile to document how that went this time, so that I can look back on what worked whenever the next one comes. 

That first week, I just let it go, did the things I had to do to maintain life outside of the writing realm, and spent all the rest of my time playing on my phone. It was clear for the second week that just trying to jump back onto my previous goals was a bad idea, so I set one single goal: write more than I had the week before. I managed to get into writing position for about three hours that week, during which only one half-hour session was actual writing, but I did some useful development on The Cell Phone Towers of Elfland and also some overarching strategy journaling to keep me pointed forward.

In that second week I also took some actions to improve my life experience for the winter, letting the crash serve as impetus to make some speculative changes looking for marginal improvement in my physical situation. I bought an inexpensive rowing machine, despite never having even used one before. I bought an extremely large weighted blanket for myself. Both of those have ended up being worthwhile ventures, so far. I’ve been on the rower every day since it arrived, and am slowly working through a cycle of which muscles are most startled to be used in that way. The blanket seems to be helping me sleep better.

In week 3, then, I came in with more or less the same goal: write more than I had in week 2. Again my hours were only about three and a half, but I did manage to put together another week of improvement, and I also spent a long session reviewing my long list of active projects, and considering what needs to be done with them going forward, and with what priority. While doing that I came up with the idea of Development Camp: I have a few projects that are ready-to-write, but I also have a bunch of potential projects, including three other series meant to appear here eventually, which could use some really extensive development work to be brought up to that point.  Generally development work is much easier and more reliable for me than writing actual words, so that gave me a bit of an out for scaling back up how much work I was doing if the words continued to be difficult.

So far, I haven’t needed it. The plan was to have Development Camp in my back pocket for something to do this week if the words weren’t coming, but at this moment they have been. I made my goals early enough last week to knock off early on Friday morning and have nearly a three-day weekend, and by Monday morning my brain was ready to work on “Ian and the Briar Patch.” On Monday I was able to put in about 1500 words on it before hitting a giant wall of fatigue. Yesterday I added another 400 or so before my brain was clearly too tired to go on. I still have a lot of fatigue going on, I’m still clearly limited, but it looks like I’m going to manage three or four thousand words this week despite probably not scaling the hours much, and I’m very much OK with that. 

Unfortunately this is the longest of Ian’s stories so far, and I’m not sure if that means I’ll be able to finish it in time to get it to Victoria, the illustrator, in order to publish in on Wednesday. However it does look likely I’ll be able to get it out by the end of December, which is a relief. 

By the pre-crash growth program I’d be trying for eight thousand words in ten to twelve hours this week, and while I’m a long way from that, if I can manage four thousand in four hours that’s not something to be sad about. And if I can get back soon to the ten hours I was at before the crash, with anything like a similar velocity, we’re starting to get to the point of really good high-level production, being able to get a story out here every week and still work on standalones and novels, which is the end state I’m looking for. 

Through this whole process I’ve kind of been judging how much writing and journaling time it’s reasonable to aim for in the long term, and as it’s gone along I’ve become convinced that twenty hours a week is a really strong but achievable goal. That’s not going to come soon, as I’ve had a lot more luck with increasing word count than with increasing hours, but I’m OK with that. I had ambitious growth goals to start with, and I’m confident that I can get back to them soon with a reset after the crash.

And every crash dealt with coherently, with momentum coming back afterward, leads to more confidence and more security in the long run. 

A few weeks ago I discovered that while writing new stories has been going well for the last several months, as that was happening I was falling farther and farther behind on the various administrative tasks involved in this project: updating the website, submitting the one standalone story I wrote in the middle of it, commissioning illustrations, running ads to drive traffic, and so on and so forth. In order to deal with that I shifted my schedule around to have Wednesdays exclusively for non-writing tasks, and I’m slowly catching up on my backlog of those, one of which was to start an occasional blog on the website, knowing that there were going to be times when I didn’t have a new story to publish for several weeks in a row, and not wanting to let it sit looking like I had abandoned the project.

And without too much of a surprise, with the end of November and the beginning of December have come some obstacles to the writing as well. This is not a good season for me, especially with the pandemic limiting my ability to deal with the winter by extensive travel. In a normal year I’d be somewhere warm by now, or at least getting ready to head there. Instead it looks like I’m going to be stuck at 45 degrees north for at least the first chunk of the winter, and I’m not really sure how it’s going to go.

The last couple of weeks, however, have not gone especially well. My writing groove has gone away, and I’m working to get it back, with some success. I have hopes that this crash won’t be long-lasting. But I had planned to get at least one story in each of the current series out in December, and right now that doesn’t look exceptionally likely. Each of them is well-started and completely outlined, but the onset of winter has left my brain unable to keep track of enough things at once to feel comfortable putting new words on them. 

For me the creative act of actually writing the words of a story still involves a lot of narrative decision-making, even if I have a full scene-by-scene outline to work from. This is even more true when writing a series that’s supposed to have continuity. I have to consider the implications of everything I have a character do, every bit of backstory I introduce, even casual descriptions of setting. I had no idea that air pressure didn’t increase at altitude in Fairyland until I wrote that sentence in Ian and the Goats Gruff, and being able to put it in there meant considering how it worked with the world as I know it and the world as I intend it to be in the future.

When I’m working well, this sort of cognitive load is one of the most enjoyable things about it. It’s the complexity that builds off of each little detail in an ongoing series that made me want to do this in the first place, and figure out a way to publish them in an environment where very few venues exist for that sort of thing. Unfortunately it also means that I requires the ability to operate at a high level when I’m doing it, something that just hasn’t existed in the last couple of weeks. 

I have some strategies to try to get back from the crash of the early winter here, and I reassure myself that even in this particularly difficult state I’ve still been able to write about as much as I was when I started the project in June. I’m pretty sure that at some point I’ll be able to recover and start making real progress again, and continue bringing out stories to advance these two series. I just don’t know if that will be tomorrow, or next week, or in January, or in April. I really hope not in April. 

Until then, you may get blog posts on Wednesdays instead of stories for a while. One thing I can always do is write about not writing. If I need one again next week I’ll probably talk about my mitigation strategies for this crash and whether they’re working at all; by then I ought to have a pretty good idea. I’ve also been thinking about maybe publishing that one standalone story here, since the logistical overhead has been keeping me from actually sending it anywhere anyway. I might give that another week and see where I am on the next stories in the series.