How to overcome adversity in your writing

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How do you work when you really, really don’t want to? Take my advice on how to overcome adversity in your writing…

I’m blaming it on a hard-boiled egg.

I had food poisoning last week. I’m guessing the egg, although refrigerated, had been cooked too long beforehand. But my illness came at the most inconvenient time you could ever imagine…

I had an important client presentation in a few days. I also had a volunteer job to speak to three classes of grade 8s. And I’m (still) in the final preparatory phase for an annual workshop one of my clients presents. No time to be sick, for sure!

But there I was with a sore tummy and a somnolent, achy attitude. On the first day I ate nothing except a half cup of plain yogurt. I went to bed at 7 pm and awoke at 3 am for an hour to watch TV. Then it was back to sleep until 8:30 the next morning. (That’s 12 ½ hours of sleep! I haven’t gotten that much shut-eye since I was 16.)

This morphed into three entire days of sleeping, reading and watching bad TV. Even climbing our stairs wearied me. The worst symptom? I felt as though someone had taken me out back and beaten me up. My entire body ached.

There is nothing worse than feeling sick and having to write. (Well, feeling sick and having to lift bricks might come close.) If you ever face this problem, here are five tips. Note that these strategies are also equally effective if you have a big deadline that’s forcing you to put your other work/clients on hold:

Put yourself or your important deadline first. No one cares about your problems (or your work) as much as you do, so concentrate on what you need to. In my case, it was sleeping. I slept like it was an Olympic sport.

Make lists. I know there are people who are born list-makers and those who aren’t (and then there’s Umberto Eco who says, “we like lists because we don’t want to die.”) But when you are sick or super-pressured you really do need to make a list. Lists improve memory, productivity and motivation. But for the sick or super-busy, they also allow you to choose what you can safely ignore.

This is because once you’ve put an item on a list, your brain can relax, knowing that you’re not going to forget about it. I call this “the promissory note system” and I even encourage you to use promissory notes in your writing. It’s an incredibly effective way of breaking the editing-while-writing habit.

Do ONLY the urgent. When I became sick, I started abandoning all the things I normally do. Copying? It’s very important to me but completely non-urgent. I stopped. I even abandoned my daily list of “first-morning tasks” (in which I check my Google analytics, track my product sales and respond to my email.) Important, yes. But also non-urgent.

Work during your prime time. When younger, I was a night owl. Now I’m a morning lark. When I began to feel better, I started work at 6 am – flat out with an important editing task for a client. (Uncharacteristically, I didn’t do my first-morning tasks or even look at my email beforehand.) From there, I proceeded to my next most urgent task. Today is the first day I’m not feeling sick and not consumed with urgent tasks. At last, I have the time to go back to my important work.

Rely on others. If you’re wondering how my client presentation went, well, I was a little disappointed with my own performance. It wasn’t nearly as polished as I would have liked. But here’s the good news. My co-presenters did a fantastic job. They were stars. And I’m happy to let them have their moment in the spotlight while I continue to recover – and catch up.

How do you cope when you’re trying to overcome adversity — and you still need to write? We can all learn from each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me by commenting below. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)

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