Adjust, Adapt, and Soldier On

We make plans. It’s part of what we do. As human beings, we think about what we want to have happen this week, this month, this year, this decade. Life, however, finds ways of mucking everything up.

The idea of adjusting expectations and moving on is top of mind for me at the moment because, recently, my own near and short term plans have been thrown off track by things as big as picking up and moving to another part of the country and as small as four inches of unexpected snow. The move screwed up my writing mojo for about five months. The snow lost me an hour of my day to shoveling and sabotaged my plans to tick off a few to-do list items that required actually leaving the house. (Groceries? Who needs groceries? Canned soup and crackers are sort of like food.)

Regardless, we don’t give up on our plans. We re-evaluate them and see if they fit the new circumstances. If so, great, and if not, we adjust. We adapt. We soldier on. We come out better and stronger on the other side.

As writers, we make entirely different kinds of plans.

We make outlines for our stories. But if our characters are the kinds of fully-actualized people we hope they are, they throw monkey-wrenches into everything. In the first chapter, the hero hints at a character flaw we never saw coming. A third of the way through, two characters decide unresolved sexual tension is for the birds and decide to tear each other’s clothes off. Near the epic finale, the villain reveals a whole new layer of motivation and dastardliness.

It’s a challenge for any writer, and doubly so for a die-hard plotter. We examine the changes and compare them with our plans. Sometimes, we decide our characters were totally out of line. We delete a chapter or a scene and we shepherd everyone back on track, and our outline survives.

Sometimes, our characters are doing precisely what they should in this situation, and we have to work around them. More often than not, things work out better than they would have if we’d followed the script. A new level of complexity emerges, or a we’re able to build a new resonance between our themes and our plots and our characters.

But those aren’t the only kinds of plans we make. We make plans for our careers, and more often than not, at least in the beginning, they involve not a little bit of wishful thinking, magical dust, and the ever-popular, “Oh, no, I’ll be the exception,” and, “Then a miracle will happen.” Reality smacks us around. Writer’s block rears its ugly head, rejections come, sales underperform. We don’t give up.

Let me repeat that, but without the contraction: we do not give up.

We adjust. We adapt. We soldier on. We work through the block. We revise our query letters for the eleven millionth time, and consider either putting the book away or querying a small press. We start a new manuscript. We learn from the experience and come out of it with a better understanding of the industry and of ourselves and of our craft.

We soldier on.

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