Saturday, January 21, 2012

Don't Panic and Always Carry a Towel

By Kerry Schafer

I have been a crisis worker for about five years now. When I first started this job I ran into a lot of situations where panic seemed to be the most viable option. I've learned a few things since then, some of which, with a little bit of stretching, do carry over to the process of writing.

1. Always carry a towel. You may think I'm kidding, but towels are very handy both in my career and in my writing. For example, coffee can easily be spilled when you're driving down a windy dark road to a crisis at 1 am and a deer decides to take the opportunity to play Dodge Car. Coffee can just as easily be spilled on a desktop at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. Spillable stuff, coffee. And towels are absorbent and washable. It's a partnership made in heaven. A towel can also double as a pillow, so long as it isn't soaked with coffee. Which leads us to number two.

2. Never miss an opportunity to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom. This is the crisis worker's mantra, and was chanted at me by my mentors on numerous occasions before I learned its value. You never know when you're going to get called out to a crisis, and there are places I go where there are no bathrooms. Or bathrooms I am not planning on using anytime in this lifetime. Ahem. That one probably isn't relevant to writing, but the food and the sleeping are. It's tempting to skip sleep, fill your veins with caffeine and write obsessively, not to mention forgoing healthy meals and snacking on items completely alien to any of the known food groups.

For a short term, the body and the mind can tolerate this. But novels are a long term proposition. Mind and body require regular sleep and healthy foods in order to be at their best. The smart crisis worker doesn't stay up all night for fun during a call shift, because there is no guarantee of sleep. I think the smart writer also makes some allowances for basic needs like sleep and nourishment.

3. There is a solution to every problem. Sometimes there is no good solution, only the lesser of many evils, but even those evils are solutions of a sort. A crisis can only last for a limited duration of time. Humans are built to return to baseline. I've seen this play out over and over again, and when I find myself in what seems like an impossible situation I'm learning to breathe, to wait, to explore all of the options, to breathe some more, wait some more, and something always works out sooner or later.

If you write, you most likely know that moment of horror when you recognize that an enormous black plot hole is going to tear apart months or maybe years of work. You look at it in shock and terror, possibly clutching your towel, and know that you will spend the rest of your life listening to Vogons reciting poetry that makes even Vogons shudder. This is where Don't Panic comes in. There is always a solution. I might not like the solution, or it might be something blissfully simple. It could mean a massive rewrite, and it might even mean scrapping those years of work, walking away a sadder and wiser writer, and starting on another book.

Either way, the world doesn't end.

Oh, and about the original topic of the week, which is Foo Foo drinks? Forget those. Nothing like a simple glass of wine at the end of a hard day.

(My apologies to Douglas Adams)

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