Life and Stuff

How Do You Handle a Setback

wide open door

Some weeks ago, I hit a wall. I’d just recovered from a deeply frustrating lack of enthusiasm and motivation for my writing (actually, the lack had crept into most everything I was working on) and begun to pick up steam again. Then, boom, there was the wall…in the form of lost work.

When I write, I alternate between the computer and old-fashioned pen and paper (sometimes my phone if my notebook isn’t handy). For long stretches, I work almost exclusively longhand. The rhythm of writing by hand, though it’s much less efficient and more time-consuming than typing, often frees my creativity in a way the keyboard can’t. The challenge for me is making sure the longhand stuff makes it to the computer, where it can be backed up and synced.

Earlier this year we were burgled, and my current writing notebook, which was in my computer bag, was taken along with our laptops and a couple other things. Amazingly (it felt like a little miracle, especially because we weren’t expecting it), the police found the laptops and returned them to us. The notebook was not. While I was initially sad about not getting the notebook back, I didn’t fret over much as I thought I had most, if not all, the scenes it contained already transcribed to Scrivener.

Sadly, this was not the case. I had several of the scenes transcribed, but many of the important ones were only in that notebook.

Still, I thought I could power through it anyway. I’d written the scenes once before. The info was all still in my head. I’d write them again, better this time.

I couldn’t. That lack of enthusiasm I thought I’d conquered came raging back. After a lot of savage threats to my muse, digging my heals in and mental hand wringing, I realized the wall I’d hit wasn’t going to budge. And it wasn’t losing the notebook, although that was the final straw. It was that I’d lost too much momentum on my WIP over the last year. Moreover, powering through it wasn’t going to work in this particular case. I had to step back.

I’d invested a tremendous amount of time and heart in this project. I thought it’d be my first published work. Putting it on the back burner felt like losing a friend. Yet, the need for it had been there for a good long while. I’d just been desperately trying to ignore it. All that struggle to write even a little these last few months was the folks in the basement of my brain telling me it was time to take a different path. But it took a big setback to get me to see it.

Once I got over the initial shock of putting the project aside, I found I was deeply relieved. I felt free, my creativity revitalized. Another story idea that’s been bouncing around my brain for months surged to the forefront and is now in the planning stages.

I hope to return to my previous project. The story’s a good one. I loved it enough to stick with it for years. But it’s also okay if I don’t. I’ve learned so much about the process of writing. I morphed from a full-on pantser to  a mostly plotter. I now have a more visceral understanding of plot structure, character and theme and how to apply that to a story. None of that is wasted stuff, even if the story that earned if for me never sees daylight.

So, triumph out of tragedy. The optimist in me knows that good can come out of the crap life throws at us, if we look hard enough. But the cynic in me sometimes has a tough time believing it. I guess I just needed another object lesson.

Oh, and I’ve also learned to transcribe the handwritten stuff at least once a week. That might be the most important lesson.


A brief note about ROW80: I’m taking a break for the next couple weeks or so. I may not rejoin this round at all. I need to get a firmer grip on the new stuff I’m working on first. However, I still plan to cheer all my fellow ROWers. Good luck with all your goalishness.


Have you ever been in a situation where you realized the best course of action was the one you least wanted to take?

Photo Credit
Open the door by Mark Dries, on Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


15 thoughts on “How Do You Handle a Setback

  1. A setback at times is very hard. Especially if it is something like this. You usually get a lot of great advice, about how to look at the good things that are happening, how things could be worse, etc. But sometimes that is easier said than done. You are a human being, and emotions don’t always work that way. I am usually a very positive guy, but there are certain events that are hard to switch off, or turn into something positive. That said though, at a certain point one has to move on. What helps is seeking some distraction, or talking with good friends. That last one especially is very important, as no one can handle things on their own. I hope things will continue to go better for you now 😊

    1. Absolutely. It’s so much easier to see the positive when we’re outside a situation or we’ve gotten a little distance. It doesn’t always work so well to try and force ourselves to see things a certain way. Sometimes we have to give ourselves a little time.

  2. That is definitely a hard lesson to learn and I can’t imagine losing all of that work. And I feel you on the difficult emotional rollercoaster of tabling a project after working on it for so long. I learned that lesson this year, too. But the fact that you felt relieved and are excited to write something different, I think, helps support that you made the right choice. Who knows? Maybe what you learn writing this book will help you figure out how to elevate that book to the next level.

    Good luck and always remember: you got this.

  3. I’ve definitely had similar experiences, where the latest version of a writing project was somehow lost, and now I have to recreate it. I think a big part of the problem is knowing that “that draft” was so good, and now you have to rebuild it, but secretly you know you can never perfectly recreate what was lost, and in some ways you felt relief that you had completed that part of the project.
    I definitely think you were right to switch gears.
    There are times where I get frustrated, and I try to knuckle down and push through it, but if I continue to trip, then I cease to walk the path with joy. Instead I grow angry, wishing only to “be done with it”, but that’s no way to create.
    I think, among other things, this is a good reason to have multiple projects at different phases in their journey. If one founders, you can switch to something else, something that has no connection to the frustration.
    In the midst of driving ourselves to “do it well”, it’s sometimes easy think we do this out of duty, rather than out of love.

    1. Agreed!

      It’s so discouraging to have to recreate what felt finished (or nearly so). And that lack of joy in the project makes it extremely difficult to carry on.

      I’m excited about the new project. The key will be in keeping the momentum going. And backing up, of course. 😊

        1. I like that. I have a tendency to be rather dramatic internally about all these things. *blush* I drop things, then kick myself for dropping them, which makes it hard to see that maybe I needed to drop them. I’m quickly learning to embrace these things. It’s much healthier and more happiness inducing. 🙂

  4. I’ve lost a pile of notes once before too — someone stole my book from the bathroom at work, where I’d accidentally left it on a chair, and it was stuffed with scraps of paper full of story scenes and ideas. Who steals that kind of thing?? Hopefully what I rewrote was stronger, as I’m sure yours will be!

    1. How awful! That feels like such a violation. Most likely, your rewrites were much stronger, but it’s still natural to grieve the lost stuff. 😦

      I’m forging ahead on a new project. I think I’ll probably come back to the old one with a better perspective, but I’m going to let it rest for now. The new project is very exciting though. 😀

  5. Ouch! I hope that scumbag thief gets what’s coming to them. Losing progress can be so discouraging. I have given up on certain video games after a power cut/file corruption erased hours of work. Having to redo something is so infuriating.

    Best of luck with your new writing project. With the passage of time perhaps you will return to the previous project and make it even better than the original.

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