When Things Turn Pear-Shaped

What do you do when your plans head south? Turn pear-shaped? Or resemble a dried up pile of dog poo?

The Plan

I took long service leave from teaching in order to write my first novel. My aim was to have a 90,000 word manuscript finished by the time I went back to work in the middle of July. Having 14 weeks of leave (2 weeks of school holidays, the entire 10 week term and 2 weeks of holidays) I planned for a few weeks of outlining, followed by weeks of writing where I could commit a few hours a day and write a couple of thousand words. This would allow for more family time and for a few other bits and pieces.

Then it all went pear-shaped.

My wife’s grandmother had a serious stroke and died in the first few week of the term (I used the school holidays to rest and recuperate). She died 10 days later. My wife spent a lot of time at the hospital with family. I took up the domestic duties of getting children to school and other places.

This was followed by the funeral and the wake held at our house, which meant a whole lot of cleaning and tidying.

When things go wrong, what do you do? Change the plans.

My new plan went like this: outline for the latter part of May, write for all of June and *ta da* there’s a novel.

I had a plan. I wrote an 11 page, 6.6K word outline. I had an aim of 3000 words a day. Did it work?

Nope.

I couldn’t write 3000 words a day. The best I managed was 2.6K. One day I managed the grand total of 437. Right now, my novel stands at 24,000 words.

What to do now? The best laid plans of mice and men become the equivalent of sitting in a wad of chewing gum in your best trousers. Sometimes stuff just happens and even if you feel right royally shafted, you have to rethink and plan again.

To say the least, I am a little disappointed. It has forced some thinking and introspection and here is my solution.

Identify the Problems

Problems can be external (things you cannot control) and internal (things you can control).

External – illness, family commitments, domestic duties, unexpected visitors. Things just happen and there’s not a thing you can do about it. You work around it.

Internal – these are the things you have control over and I identified a number of reasons why I wasn’t successful in my planning.

* I’m easily distracted – discipline is a key characteristic I’m developing

* I was thinking about the scene, the characters, the conflict and tension, where it might end. I had done the planning, but spent time thinking about the scene rather than writing what I had in mind. Thinking time is not wasted time, but it is if it detracts from writing.

* It’s a whole lot harder than I thought – being more prepared for me is essential and I had no idea how hard is it to write a novel. I didn’t think it was going to be easy; I know it’s hard to write. I am still developing routines and disciplines.

Make New Plans

Over the next two weeks I will be writing when I can, adding to the word count and continuing with my outline. I will not be finished by the time I return to work, but I my new plan will have the novel completed by September.

I am not defeated, just rethinking and planning. It’s taking a little longer than I wanted, but so it be it.

I have also learned I could conceivably plan and write a novel in a year to 18 months, allowing for the busyness of my job and allowing for life’s little distractions to get in the way.

What do you do when your plans go pear-shaped?

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8 responses to “When Things Turn Pear-Shaped

  1. How many people does it take to write a novel? Nope. More than one. You need to get together with about four other people who have writing goals and meet with them once a week. That meeting will result in a critique of your new chapters, and a critique of your progress. (And a critique of their’s, too.)

    If you can make it on your own, you’re a better man than I am.

  2. Wow! I now know why I haven’t heard from you. Keep going, I want to read your novel. Rick.

  3. My tip? Don’t make plans. If you make time to write you can guarantee you won’t be able to. Fit it in around what you already do and you’ll sail through. You might even find that you write MORE because you’re already busy. Might sound mad but it works.

    And we’re all here for you because you’re awesome.

  4. I respect your non-spontaneity, Adam. I’m in a similar camp. When I feel spontaneous I’ll gladly add to the work I’d have done anyway, but otherwise, I plan and revise those plans as emergencies arise. I’m battling family catastrophes I couldn’t have foreseen, like Will’s failing liver. The loss of a family member like that is a respectable reason for plans to shift. I am military-minded enough that I look at concrete time periods – today, this week, the next ten days – and decide when I’ll be free to work, and then set up ironclad production requirements as soon as I can get back. Given that I have at least four major trips this summer, I’ve had to wind my novel-writing plans around all the loose times I’ll have.

  5. First of all, so sorry about your wife’s grandmother, RIP. With regard to your novel, if it makes you feel any better, it took me 3 years to write my first draft at 60,000 words. In nearly 2 full years since that time, I’m now on my 4thfirst rewrite. I’m determined to make it my best possible work no matter how long it takes. Like you, I have to make time to write working around a full time job and family commitments. Enough about me though, best of luck with the novel and my advice would be to find a time each week that you always set aside to work on it, and do your best to always follow through on this commitment to yourself.

    • 4th rewrite, that is, not 4thfirst rewrite, not sure how that happened, I suppose it’s what I get for typing comments on my little phone. Sorry about that!

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