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How to Overcome Writing Adversity

I'm blaming it on a hard-boiled egg.

I had food poisoning recently. I'm guessing the egg, although refrigerated, had been cooked too long beforehand. But my illness came at the most inconvenient time you could ever imagine...

I had an important client presentation in a few days. I also had a volunteer job to speak to three classes of grade 8s. And I was in the final preparatory phase for an annual workshop for one of my clients. No time to be sick, for sure!

But there I was with a sore tummy and a somnolent, achy attitude. On the first day I ate nothing except a half cup of plain yogurt. I went to bed at 7 pm and awoke at 3 am for an hour to watch TV. Then it was back to sleep until 8:30 the next morning. (That's 12½ hours of sleep! I haven't gotten that much shut-eye since I was 16.)

This morphed into three entire days of sleeping, reading and watching bad TV. Even climbing our stairs wearied me. The worst symptom? I felt as though someone had taken me out back and beaten me up. My entire body ached.

There is nothing worse than feeling sick and having to write. (Well, feeling sick and having to lift bricks might come close.) If you ever face this problem, here are five tips. Note that these strategies are also equally effective if you have a big deadline that's forcing you to put your other work/clients on hold:

1) Put yourself or your important deadline first. No one cares about your problems (or your work) as much as you do, so concentrate on what you need to. In my case, it was sleeping. I slept like it was an Olympic sport.

2) Make lists. I know there are people who are born list-makers and those who aren't (and then there's Umberto Eco who says, "we like lists because we don't want to die.") But when you are sick or super-pressured you really do need to make a list. Lists improve memory, productivity and motivation. But for the sick or super-busy, they also allow you to choose what you can safely ignore.

This is because once you've put an item on a list, your brain can relax, knowing that you're not going to forget about it. I call this "the promissory note system" and I encourage you to use promissory notes in your writing. It's an incredibly effective way of breaking the editing-while-writing habit.

3) Write ONLY the urgent. When I became sick, I started abandoning all the things I normally do. Copying? It's very important to me but completely non-urgent. I stopped. I even abandoned my daily list of "first-morning tasks" (in which I check my Google analytics, track my product sales and respond to my email.) Important, yes. But not urgent.

4) Write during your prime time. When younger, I was a night owl. Now I'm a morning lark. When I began to feel better, I started work at 6 am — flat out with an important editing task for a client. (I didn't do my first-morning tasks or even look at my email beforehand.) From there, I proceeded to my next most urgent task. As soon as I wasn’t feeling sick, I was able to return to my important writing work.

5) Rely on others. If you're wondering how my client presentation went, well, I was a little disappointed with my own performance. It wasn't nearly as polished as I would have liked. But here's the good news. My co-presenters did a fantastic job. They were stars. And I was happy to let them have their moment in the spotlight while I continued to recover and catch up.


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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