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Must-haves and misses

A chain travelled around Twitter recently asking writers to tag their three writing must-haves. Mine were coffee, background noise and a laptop.

As I sit drinking coffee in a noisy café while typing this post on my laptop, I’m thinking about what would’ve been my fourth answer, and what was, in fact, many writers’ first: deadlines.

I love them, I need them. They push me and give me something to aim for. But lately I’ve been struggling to hit them because of Stuff.

Coffee and laptop in a cafe. Background noise implied.

For example, I’ve driven half an hour to work at this café. It’s not in my home town. I took a wrong turn on the way and the café I wanted to work at was closed. Why go through all this? Because I needed a change of scene. I have a string of small things I need to get done, and being at home was a distraction. Sure, I may not have anything clean to wear to work tomorrow, but I have Got Stuff Done. My to-do list is shorter.

One obvious deadline missed was this blog post, which should’ve gone up yesterday. But I also missed another deadline yesterday – and it’s one I’d known about for months.

A screenshot of my twtter feed, with the 3 writing must-haves: coffee - but not too much; background noise - music or cafe yes, kid no; and laptop

A new anthology for unpublished YA writers was accepting submissions, with a 6000-word limit. I had the idea, had written the first half, and run it past my writing group with enough time to finish and polish it. I had doubts from early on that this work was a short story – the more I worked on it the more it felt like a longer piece – and some of my writing group feedback echoed this.

I wrote through. I added scenes, deleted others, had some perfect lines and was just over the 6k, but could be cut. The next submission for my writing group was due last weekend. Maybe it’s harsh stating I missed the deadline, because I’d already decided against submitting the piece for the anthology. It wasn’t ready – and I’m not saying that as a perfectionist. It was underdone. I’m thinking about playing with the structure, and there are subplots that could be beefed up and which would not work in a short story. Still, this new section was what I planned to submit to my writing group.

But I couldn’t find the file.

Last fortnight I wrote about how I organised my work, which included naming and dating drafts. Even though I’d decided not to submit to the anthology, I was on the verge of frustrated/angry/upset tears in a coffee shop (because café, background noise, laptop) when I couldn’t find the file. I started to doubt that I’d written the words at all – did I draft it in my head? No – I spent two days straight working on it. So where was it? It felt like a sign that this story wasn’t meant to happen; that the characters and the universe were against me.

I was hacked off – with myself. I’ve had a stack of other Stuff come up, and it’s taken priority over my writing. Days or hours I set aside became filled with other things both writing and non-writing. School holidays are always difficult, and yesterday I had three clear hours, but appointments ran long and the physio pummelled me beyond capacity to sit at a desk.

The good news is half an hour ago I found the file. My brain clicked in – I remember doing a combined file in Word with all the writing group feedback. I didn’t remember saving it on my desktop, where it should’ve been.

The file was misnamed and saved in the wrong place – but it was there. It’s too late to shoot it through for my writing group to critique (I’ve submitted something else), but it exists. And it might sound weird but it feels like the change of scene, being in a different place with nothing to think about other than what was on the table in front of me, forced my brain to think differently. Or maybe it was the coffee.

Whatever the reason, the upshot is I won’t have to start from scratch – and also that I would have. In fact, it was the thought of going back to look at the feedback which triggered me to remember where the file was.

Writing throws up so many barriers as it is without us creating more for ourselves. I’m starting to take notice of where my limits are – and submitting an almost-finished, okay-but-could-be-better piece is not me, because I’d stress about it. This was obviously not the right opportunity for this work, and there will be other chances. The stars will align.

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