Carve Out Writing Time & Guard it Like a Zealot… Until It’s Time to Make Chicken Soup

The title pretty much sums up my week. I worked for days, banking time to free up this last Thursday and Friday for working on the book. “Only two chapters to go. How hard could it be?”  I won’t tell you which significant other likes to trot out that phrase.

It took a lot of energy to sock away extra time.  I knew it would be worth it. Two days of pure writing time awaited me if I could just pump out the other tasks and sand bag the rest to open space for writing.

Thursday morning arrived, coffee was made, pencils sharpened, my labored-over outline lay crisply in front of my computer. Just as I stretched my fingers to start typing, my oldest daughter walked past me on the way to the kitchen. And sniffled.

Oh shit.

“Mom, I feel like shit. I’m coming down with a co—”

Oh shit.

“Mom? Are you okay?

“I don’t know? Are you? I mean, let’s get you some tea and get you back to bed. That’ll be best…”

I brewed the tea. Made sure she drank it. And tucked her back in bed. I washed my hands like a health professional: nails, backs of hands, up the arms. Then trotted back to my desk, logged back in and… and… in ten minutes she needed tissues. In ten more she needed cough syrup. Then she fessed up her friends had strep, so I called her doctor. And I called her schools, so I wouldn’t have to make coffee for the truancy officer.

Find any fingers?

By 10 AM I threw in the towel and was making my grandmother’s chicken soup, which includes both boiling and pressure-cooking chicken bones. I shortcut the recipe a few places, but over all decided it was still the right thing to do.

By 1 PM she was asleep again so I snuck back to my manuscript. Where was I? I was looking over my notes and it dawned on me what was wrong with my previous chapter. I had not used my usual outlining process. I had not included my usual plot lines and chapter arc where I bring up the tension with an unresolved issue in the middle of the chapter and allow my young character to address it somehow, but not until she’s had all kinds of things thrown her way.

So, I went on a fishing trip through the previous chapter and sure enough, my readers were right. It just felt like a serious of interesting anecdotes linked in chronology, but without a rise in action, anticipation or denouement of sorts. A beginner error.   But one that happened because I’d allowed myself to take too much time off from writing and had stepped out of rhythm with my usual writing processes.

As soon as I set about making notes on my writing process error, daughter #2 came home and daughter #1 woke like a slumbering bear and needed to be fed again. Whoever said, “Feed a fever” had it wrong. It’s feed a cold. For sure.

Friday was no different. Except that my I’m-not-meeting-my-self-imposed-what-if-this-were-a-real-deadline-deadline anxiety left me paralyzed at my desk while, I swear the whole house was sneezing and coughing and asking me to heat up soup in keeping with our house rule of “Sickos Stay in Quarantine.”

Friday was same stuff different day. By 3 PM in desperation I packed up and ran out to my favorite locally owned café where I risked an almond milk latte late in the day and settled in to review my chapter outline once for what I hoped was the last damn time.

I think my distraction button had been pushed too many times in the previous 36 hours. I was primed. First it was a fly. It buzzed from latte to computer to my hand where I resisted the temptation to pack everything up to wash. Where’s the hand sanny?

 Then a woman came in with her teenage daughter who the sight of briefly made me feel guilty for leaving mine at home while she was sick. Even though she’s old enough to drive.  But the mother and child must have had a Goldilocks complex. They circled their table for some time trying to decide which chair and which view or combination thereof worked best for them. They kept eyeing up my table. I made sure to swat feverishly at the bothersome fly when they did.

Then, came the final straw. I sat overlooking the courtyard. Having a lovely garden to consider usually gets the writing juices flowing. Just as the fly departed and the mother-daughter game of musical chairs stopped, the barista traded out for a mixologist. The wine and martini crowd wafted in and the bartender drew the shades on the little place.

As the coffee bar turned dark-as-a-disco, it was the last straw. My writing mojo circled the drain like grounds from yesterday’s cup-o-joe.

I did what any mother does in that situation. I went shopping. I bought another chicken. I knew that if I didn’t, I was sure to catch the cold. Making that chicken soup was the most important thing I could do this week.  At my daughter’s age, how many more opportunities might I be gifted to tuck her in and make her soup? So, the  chapters got finished on Saturday and Sunday instead of Thursday and Friday. If I’d waited that long to make soup, who knows, when I’d get the next chance?

When have your writing plans gone awry?  What did you do?

13 thoughts on “Carve Out Writing Time & Guard it Like a Zealot… Until It’s Time to Make Chicken Soup

  1. What a wonderful post, particularly the last paragraph. Would you share your grandmother’s recipe for that beautiful-looking chicken soup?


  2. Ugh, gawd, I was there with you the whole time. Although my kids are now older, that is STILL my life for some reason. Except I don’t get to make the soup too often, but I do run care packages of Throat Coat tea, Ricolas, and probiotics to the post office. And get distracted every two seconds, no matter how much I try to plan a bit of time for writing.


  3. Yes, I have definitely had days (and weeks) just like yours! If it helps, I have several projects laying around the house (and in my dining room) waiting for completion. Sometimes the hardest part is picking up where I left off a week ago, so much of my time is spent finding a place to start. I look forward to reading the last two chapters!


  4. I’ve been in the writing doldrums for weeks. I need to make it a priority to get “jump started” again. Once I’m writing, I can’t stop, but it’s getting started. I’m counting on a trip to Montana to fix my writing problems. Being away from home and all the responsibilities might help….


    • Thanks Windy. Ya, I figured you’d know how it goes! I’d love to hear how things are sitting out there for your novel these days. So exciting! Thanks for the kind words and Twitter promos!


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