Recently I experienced mounting frustration not because I was blocked and accomplishing nothing, but rather that I was focusing on one aspect of my work and neglecting others. I had determined that I would write at least five hundred original words a day, six days a week, no matter what else was going on. And for the most part I accomplished this, turning out short stories, novels, memoirs, and so on at a fairly consistent pace. I published a few books a year and had twenty to thirty short stories consistently out to magazine and anthology markets. However, as the COVID pandemic decimated business-as-usual, my income dropped; I found that I had to devote more hours to ghostwriting blog posts and articles for quick cash, which left me less time for my creative work. I managed to keep up my five hundred to seven hundred words a day, but often I had no time to do anything with the books and stories after I had completed them. I would finish them and put them aside and immediately start on the next project. Eventually I realized that I had four full books completed in first draft but that I was making no further progress in getting them out there in front of readers.
I was faced with a choice. I could continue to produce new material, or I could spend some time compiling, proofreading, and finalizing the material that I had already finished. I paused my five hundred words a day habit and worked on my backlog, but it was not an easy decision. I felt as if I was failing in some way, but I simply didn’t have time to do both. In a perfect world, I imagined, I would write my quota of original words in the morning (and not just five hundred words – one thousand, or even fifteen hundred) and would proofread and prepare material for publication and do all the other business aspects of writing in the afternoon. Alas, my world is far from perfect, especially financially. My writing does not yet support me well enough to allow such a schedule (albeit I have not given up hope that it someday will) and so I have to adapt. My only options were to focus on one or the other.
The situation is not without precedent. In Greece when my kids were young I taught English as a second language for so many hours (both in schools and privately) that there was no time left for literary pursuits. Since my wife worked too (she in the morning and me in the afternoon) when I wasn’t teaching I was taking care of children, shopping, cooking, and so on. As a result, all of my writing (or at least most of it) was concentrated in the summer when schools were out and I was free from my job. Early on summer mornings I would write my thousand to fifteen hundred words a day, completing full novels, story collections, or memoirs in each three-month stretch. It wasn’t that I didn’t think about my writing even when I was too busy to work on it; I thought about it constantly. I prepared by writing voluminous notes whenever I had the chance. To get the work accomplished, though, I had to adapt to circumstances.
As I have to do now. I have just published one of those backlogged books (Silent Interviews and Other Tales of the Telepathic Guild), and I will complete and publish at least two of the others in the near future as well. (The fourth I am saving for a future time, but I will still finalize it so it is ready for publication.)
The point of all this? Adaptability is essential when pursuing the creative arts. If you wait until circumstances are ideal you will never accomplish anything. You have to forge ahead and be willing to adapt to the situations in which you find yourself if you want to see your ideas through to fruition.