Planning for the Unexpected

Posted by on July 7, 2009 in business of writing, how to, uncategorized, writing | 6 comments

Yesterday,   asked me how my month-long sojourn to Hospital-Land affected my writing schedule (particularly because my previous posting had been about overly-aggressive goal-setting for writing.)  I figured I’d take a few pixels to answer, today.

In my prior job, if I needed to take time off to care for a relative, I’d let my boss know as soon as I became aware of the need.  I’d schedule vacation time to cover my absence, and if I ran out of vacation time, I’d discuss unpaid leave with my boss (and the Human Resources department.)  I’d keep everyone informed of my needs and expectations, and if things wrapped up sooner than I’d expected, I’d repeat the process of informing my boss, returning to pick up the work I’d left incomplete.  While out of the office, I’d stay up to date using whatever means I’d previously negotiated with my boss – phoning in regularly for messages and/or checking email on a regular basis and/or using a combination of electronic and postal mail to convey work product back to the office, with the understanding that absolute medical crisis might trump those negotiated points of contact.

As a full-time writer, my approach was virtually identical.  As soon as I learned that I’d be spending four to six weeks out of commission as a writer, I let my editors and my agent know.  I discussed my pending deadlines and agreed that with a bit of pushing in one place and a whole lot of pulling in another place, I could still meet all of my deadlines.  With one particular deadline, I let my editor know that I *might* need an extension of up to two weeks, but that if all worked according to plan, I’d complete my work before the due dates.

I repeated the process with my freelance clients, letting them know when I’d be inaccessible, and setting deadlines for all currently assigned work.  As new clients queried me about work while I was "out of the office", I responded promptly, letting them know that I wasn’t able to take on any new clients until August (giving myself a predicted month to clear the decks after my hoped-for return date.)

As the situation developed, and four weeks of absence looked certain to become six weeks, then looked certain to only be four weeks, I relied on email to update my editors and my agent.  I made every effort not to bombard them with minute-by-minute adjustments to my schedule; however, I kept them in the loop.

Before I left, I verified that I would have wi-fi access in the hospital, at the hotel, and at my parents’ home.  When I set out on my journy, I took a laptop, loaded with my writing software (Scrivener), files of everything I could imagine needing, and email.  I had a cell phone, but it received *terrible* reception at the hospital (an old building, full of metal, marble, and lots of signal disruptors), and only marginally better reception at my parents’ home.  I could phone in to my home phone, to pick up messages.

So – the short answer is that I treated my self-employed absence the same as I would have treated one while fully employed by others.  Communication – before, during, and after the crisis – was the key to success. 

The overly-aggressive goal-setting that I did prior to leaving for my family obligation was the only part of the process that didn’t work well.  As it turns out, my family only needed me for four weeks, so I’m able to use the extra two weeks cleared from my schedule to make up what didn’t get done via the brutal pre-trip goals.  If I hadn’t gotten those two weeks back, I would have followed up on the requests I’d made to shift deadlines, with months of prior notice to my editor.

If anyone wants a different, but similar, view of planning for the unexpected, you might check out the journal of   – he is preparing to undergo chemotherapy, and he’s determined to finishe drafting a long manuscript before treatment begins.  He keeps a detailed description of the steps he takes to preserve his career, even in the face of currently-unknown medical demands.

What steps have worked for other people?

Mindy, off to outline the *new* project that came in while she was on the road…


  1. All of which proves that nothing much has changed. You were well organized when you worked a day job, and you’re well organized now.

    Technology does help, though. How did we live before there were cell phones?

    • You’re too kind! (OK, I learned those organization skills after a lot of bruising 🙂 )

      I’m still not totally locked into the cell phone culture, but I used mine a lot while I was in Rochester. The hospital has family members sign in to each ward with a cell phone number, so that they can provide constant updates on patient status, especially but not exclusively on the day of surgery!

  2. Yep, it’s a bitch. I’ve even been talking to my hair stylist, my dentist, etc. And we had to noodle my next book contract around the chemo, to a limited degree.

    Hope you’re doing better. :\

    • Alas, Jay, I’ve had far less to deal with than you… You know, though, that there are dozens – likely, *hundreds* – of people who will help you in any way they can. The “bitch” is that there are so many steps of this journey that you need to take on your own…

      • Yes, I am well loved. Sadly, love will not address this, except indirectly. Most of this journey belongs to me.

  3. Wow, I didn’t expect my comment to inspire a whole post! 🙂

    Three things I have on me at (almost) all times:
    1. A book
    2. My notebook
    3. My laptop

    The book is for when I can’t focus on writing or I don’t feel creative; at least I can keep up with my reading. The notebook works best for transit and times when I’ll be interrupted often. And the laptop is for serious occasions, when I know I’ll have time to get into things (usually at work on my breaks).