Writing When Other Stuff Starts to Go Wrong

Saturday morning, the gasket on my dishwasher came unglued. Then, the rest of my day followed, with bad luck spreading like the soapy, dirty water that covered the kitchen floor. In hindsight, the dishwasher was an easy fix, and not a big deal. But the disruption to my schedule was a big deal, because I had blog posts to write, assignments to finish, deadlines to hit and my sanity to keep.

What can a writer do to get work done when life gets in the way? Oh sure, focus, make yourself a pot of tea, put on noise-canceling headphones, play your favorite music, go for a run, pet your dog. But you’ve thought of those (and attempted them) already.

Here are some ideas you might not have tried yet.

Zoom Out
Credit: Bien Stephenson

Zoom Out

Get some perspective on your problems. My dishwasher was broken, and it was spilling coffee-stained, chicken-soup-smelling water all over the kitchen floor. The runner rug in front of the sink was soaked, water got into the subfloor underneath the cabinets and heavy countertop, and worst of all, it stunk. (Ever suddenly opened the dishwasher while it was running? It’s not exactly an appealing smell.)

It was 4:45am. I had planned to go on a long run at 5am, and get two weeks’ worth of blog posts done before heading to a family party in the next state over. But then I had this mess on my hands. Hadn’t even finished my first cup of coffee.

As I was trying to fit the dishwasher gasket back into place with a butter knife, I heard the rush and rumble of a something large, perhaps a tow truck, heading swiftly up our street. Then came the sirens. A neighbor’s house was on fire.

The two children’s bedrooms on the second floor of the pretty blue colonial were belching black smoke, and fire trucks were congregating, trying to contain the blaze. The family made it out safely, thanks to their smoke alarms shrieking.

All I was cursing about was the inconvenience of my morning not proceeding as planned. My mind settled, because I was embarrassed that I was huffing about like my dishwasher was the end of the world.


Credit: mootown, flickr.com
Credit: mootown, flickr.com

Layer Your Work

What’s the stuff that needs a response from someone else? What parts of your work need to rise, like bread dough, or set, like concrete? Prioritize the stuff that’s going to take time, and get it rolling first. Once that layer of work is bubbling around, put another, shorter-term layer on top of it.

While you’re waiting for your interview source to write you back, take the time to outline your work, proofread something, or just start writing. You’ll be waiting anyway, and it’s basically mindless multi-tasking.


Credit: Williac, flickr.com
Credit: Williac, flickr.com


Gamification is one of those annoying buzzwords that’s made the leap from app developers in Silicon Valley to the business world at large, and basically, it means that you create a system of tasks and rewards that hook the game player. The game player is feeding on the immediate gratification (the “reward”) that accompanies the task.

In Candy Crush, you can move to the next level on the game board. In Farmville, you can buy stuff with the money you made from the crops you harvested. In writing, you can… what? What will you reward yourself with? It could be pie, a good cigar, a nap, 15 minutes of staring into space. Whatever suits your fancy.

Just remember that an effective task/reward system always includes an incentive to get back to the task at hand. Maybe you take time out of the task to put a pie together. After the next task is completed, you put the pie in the oven to bake. And then, only after the last task is completed, can you actually eat the pie. See what I mean?


What strategies do you use to get stuff done against all odds? Share them in the comments!