Thursday, May 15, 2014

When You Hit A Bad Day

Let's face it head on. Everyone has a bad day. You know what I'm talking about. 

When you walk out to your car and see the tire is flat—and naturally you are trying to rush off to some important meeting.

Or your computer crashes in the middle of an important rewrite on an article or book and you lose hours of work because you didn't back it up. 

Or you get sick and land in bed. Or someone in your family gets sick. Or a dear friend suddenly dies.

Or a friend or a co-worker promises they will do something—and they don't. So it creates huge amounts of unexpected work for you or a project you were counting on completing didn't happen.

These various possibilities that I just listed are a fraction of what happens to everyone. The unexpected happens to each of us with our writing and publishing lives. 

Here's the critical question for you: when you meet one of these difficulties, does it totally derail you so you don't complete what needs to be written. Or do you rise to the challenge and continue forward with your writing?

Something derails writing for a day. Do you shake it off and return to it the next day? Or do you set it aside and say, the time must not be right? There is a time and place to persevere. 

This month many publications and programs have been celebrating the storied career of journalist Barbara Walters. At 84, she is retiring this week from 17 years on The View. This week I read an article about Barbara Walters in AARP magazine, which claims have the world's largest circulation at 24.4 million (more than three times the circulation of Reader's Digest).

In the AARP article called What I Know Now: Barbara Walters, she shares the secrets of her success saying, “I think the secret of my success is that I persevered. I didn't give up. I didn't say, 'This is a lousy job, and I'm unhappy, and I'm going to quit.' I went through the tough times, and they were tough. And I was fortunate that I came out the other end.” I admire Barbara Walter's perseverance.

Recently my agent friend Steve Laube wrote an article What to do when technology fails? I did feel bad for the author who lost the entire manuscript on a computer the day it was due at the publisher. As a result the book was canceled. Buried in the story was the fact the author had missed the third extension. What happened in the case of the first two extensions? This story wasn't told.

About ten years ago when I started working as an editor on the inside of publishing houses, I learned that writers are notoriously late. I've often been the editor who the author calls and tells about their bad day then asks for an extension. Publishers know about bad days so they often build some flexibility into the deadline.

Yet writers should not count on that flexibility or extension. Here's how to distinguish yourself as a writer and make editors love you: turn in your writing when you promise to turn it in—with excellence.

It's one of the elements that I've done over and over with my writing deadlines—met them. I recall writing one section of a book where I stayed at my computer all night in order to meet the deadline. At that time, I had a full-time editorial job and I had taken on a book project to write. 

When I didn't come to bed, in the middle of the night my wife came down to my office to see if everything was OK. Everything was fine except I had to meet a deadline and did not make it to bed that particular night. I fired off my deadline material to the editor, cleaned up and went off to my full-time job. Yes, I drank some extra caffeine that day and was tired but I delivered what I promised to the editor and put in a full day at work. I've only done it once so I don't make a regular habit of such actions. 

How do you handle bad days? Does it derail you so you don't complete what needs to be written or do you shake it off and continue?

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