Tuesday, May 3, 2016

8 Days that Changed My Life

The Crash

Disk Boot Failure Insert System Disk And Press ENTER.

The shock incontrovertible, the panic thumped in my chest and, for the first time in about ten years, I took the name of the Lord in vain. I didn't have a system disk to insert, but I pressed ENTER anyway. Nothing happened. I tried pressing down and holding CTRL+ALT+DEL. The computer restarted, made a scratching sound, but the “Disk boot failure” message reappeared. Normally calm under pressure, I was thankful that no one was at home to hear the long sequence of expletives uttered until I was able to calm down and think.

Computers crash all the time and files are easily recoverable, right? Oh, I prayed hard that that was true.

Let me explain ...

My computer crashed on Monday, 11 April 2016, and the day before I had just finished a long and difficult rewrite of a novel manuscript. The week before that, I had run out of black ink for the printer and, as a result, had not been able to print out the last 73 pages of the revised manuscript. When the new ink cartridge did arrive, the less than one-year-old HP ENVY 4500 printer wouldn't read the ink cartridge. (What's the expression? The Lord doesn't give you more than you can bear? I was on the threshold!) Then I had to spend a few hours talking with HP Customer Support, who determined the ink cartridge was defective, and Amazon, who agreed to refund the purchase.

All of my writing was stored on my computer; I had older versions of some files stored on different USB keys. I thought, briefly, that I had lost everything and would have to begin again. That terrified me. When I did calm down, I did a Google search of computer repair shops in my neighbourhood, found one and raced out of my condo with my laptop. A week later, I had my computer back, and my files, which have since been backed up to the cloud. Lesson learned!

However, even before my computer crashed, I could feel that something was happening. A shift. A change. Something. But it didn't have a name, couldn't be pinned down. It wasn't clear and was slow to come into focus ― like waking up, breathless, from a bad dream in the middle of the night and waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. But it was real. A sort of transformation, or realization. Have you ever felt like that? Like something was happening but you weren't sure what?

There were signs, too, of the shift that I ignored. I was anxious. I couldn't focus. I had trouble sleeping though the night, and was often awake and up by 3:30 or 4:00. It took my computer crashing to make me see what was in fact happening. I was in crisis.

The Reboot

If you've read my blog posts before, you know this about me: I'm a writer. I write every day. My short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Canadian and international literary magazines, both online and in print. In 2011, my debut novel, Freestyle Love, was released by Lazy Day Publications. I worked hard at my writing and it paid off. I had a dream ― to have a novel published ― and I succeeded.

But there was something I didn't know, then, how to handle, something I wasn't prepared for: Criticism.

Naturally, when Freestyle Love was published, reviews started flowing in ― good and bad. And, wanting to know what readers thought of my book, I read them. It wasn't until recently (when I realized I was “in crisis”) that I understood that I had, unwittingly, let one particularly bad review throw me completely off course. Back then, I took the criticism personally because of its savage nature. Taylor Swift's album, 1989, wasn't out yet; I didn't have that much of an online presence and didn't know just how much “Haters gonna hate.”

What has lingered in the back of my mind since was that savage review. I let it stick to me, couldn't let it go. That had me repeatedly asking myself, “What's the point?”

The point is this: I had to “Shake it off.” I mean, before and since the publication of my novel, I've shown up every day to write. I haven't let go of my dream ― to see the spines of my books lined up on bookshelves. So I know I needed to make some changes if I wanted to get my game on. My computer crashing helped me to reboot my life.

The 8 Days that Changed My Life

I was without my computer for eight days while it was being repaired, and that turned into a quasi timeout from social media. (I have an iPhone 4 with iOS7.1.2., and can't do much anymore since most apps require iOS8 or later.) Those eight days changed my life. Here's how:

Attitude Adjustment: No more “What's the point?” thinking. Writing is what I love to do. As more of my writing enters the public domain, I'm better prepared for handling criticism1. Haters are going to hate no matter what (are they too afraid to share their own creativity with the world?), so let them. My job is to create; I'll leave the judging of my work to others. And each day I carry with me the advice of my good friend, Adrienne, to “stay grounded in your conviction that you're doing what you want to do and feel called to do.”

Eliminate Distractions: I've learned to dedicate focused blocks of time to my creative projects each day, and my productivity has soared. Why? I'm no longer giving in to distractions. Settling in to work on a new novel, short story or blog post, the TV and computer are off (I write all first drafts longhand), and the cell phone is out of reach. There's no temptation to “quickly” check social media sites or e-mail. And I'm also doing my most important creative work first thing in the morning, when I'm at my best2. I feel the momentum and, day by day, I am laying track.

Take Action Now: The publishing would has changed, and continues to evolve. If I believe in my writing and its worth, I don't have to wait for someone else to “accept” it or deem it worthy. I can share my work with the world, and that's what I'm working on. I'm building a new author website. I've hired an editor to edit my novel manuscript. I've written a strategic plan3 for my writing career over the next seven years. I'm on fire!

I think Anatole France said it best: “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”

1 A good read on how to handle criticism is Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success, by Mark McGuinness.

2 Great tips and inspiration from, “Scheduling in Time for Creative Thinking,” by Cal Newport, and, “Laying the Groundwork for an Effective Routine,” by Mark McGuinness in Manage Your Day-to-Day, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei.

3 Strategic Planning for Writers: 4 Easy Steps to Success, by C.S. Lakin.

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