4 min read

[Surviving Serial Fiction] Help! Life's attacking!

Help! I'm drowning

Help! Life is attacking!

After the first post, a number of serial fiction authors have let me know that they needed help right now. I heard you.  Because you're overwhelmed, I'll try to be as clear as possible.

Sometimes life gets overwhelming. You can't predict illness, hurricanes, or other life events. For most authors, when life gets hairy, they simply extend their deadlines. Their editors don't like it, but there's nothing a publisher can do. The truth of the matter is that great agents build leeway into their procrastinating client's contracts.

Serial fiction is another species altogether. Our weekly or monthly deadlines are non-negotiable. You have to get out that chapter or section. If you're extremely lucky, you have hundreds of fans waiting to read your next installment. Your readers are counting on getting "their" story. You do not want to face their wrath.

Of course, the easiest way to be certain that you meet your deadlines is to write ahead. Charles Dickens wrote six story parcels ahead of his deadlines. Because his chapters published once a month, he had a six-month life-goes-to-hell buffer.

This column is not about safety nets. This column is about that the moment of panic when you remember your deadline when you're listening to the buzz of the air condition in your FEMA trailer; or when the Med Tech tells you he loves your serial while he moves the ultrasound wand over your pregnant belly; or you're rolling into surgery and the doctor brags about your storyline. This column is about getting it done when your best laid schemes have gone astray.

How to get your story done when you feel like you're drowning:

Don't panic. Just get to work.

Grab the rope!

1. Immerse yourself in your story: It's likely that life chaos has knocked your story out of your brain. Don't panic. You haven't lost the story. You've simply lost access to the story. You can reconnect with the story by rereading what you have just written. Close your eyes and imagine every detail. Read it again. Think of your story as tea - you want to steep in the story details. How does your character smell? What would your main character say about what's going on in your life? Try re-reading the first chapter out loud. Think about your story while you're attending to life's messes. If you have the bandwidth and time, you can also try talking to readers about the story online by posting: "Who's your favorite character and why?" to Twitter or Facebook. Once you've grabbed a link to your story, move on to the next step.

2. Focus on the specific section or part of the story you wish to write. Let go of the big picture. Don't think about the book or the deadline or even what people will say. Focus your mind on what you want to say next. How does the next section move your storyline? What has to happen next so that you can move forward? Focus down to the number of words - "I need these 500 words to move my character from here to there."

3. Breathe. Go to Calm.com and take a 10-minute meditation break. Walk around your block. Take a shower. Move your body while your mind focuses on the story. If you can't move, tape your knees - left then right then left again, and so on. The tapping will bi-laterally stimulate your brain and get the story moving. (I use the Centerpointe tapes, which do the same thing.)

4. Type without stopping. Go on. Do it! *

5. When you've finished typing, ask your family and friends for help: "Listen, I'm in a pinch. I need someone to look this over to makes sure it's not rubbish." (Yes, it's true. When you're drowning, you immediately revert to British English.)

6. Breathe. You need to allow at least 30-minutes to pass before you edit this thing. Go back to Calm.com and take a 30-minute meditation break. Set a timer for 30 minutes and go on Facebook or Twitter. Go for a walk. Wander around YouTube.com. Make some tea. Watch the bees work in your backyard beehives. Do something that doesn't involve writing.

6. Go back and edit it. If you have them, run your piece through one of your grammar apps. (I use Grammarly and Hemmingway. A human reviewer is always best, but we're not talking about best. We're talking about drowning.) Get the edits back from your family and friends. Don't think too much or worry about it. Just get the grammar as right as possible. If you're still staring at your short piece an hour later, you're thinking too much.

7. Send it out. Post it to your website. Send it to your editor or publisher. Get the thing off your drive and into the world. Push this baby out the door.

Feel free to get back to the chaos. Try not to worry about this section or segment. Most of the time, no one will notice the difference, including you! In fact, it's not uncommon that these unworried over segments will actually be your best work.

*Some people suggest making and audio recording of your story when you're overwhelmed. The plus side is that it's pretty easy to get audio recordings transcribed. (Try Fiverr.) On the negative side, I've found verbal storytelling to be a unique skill. If you have it, use it. If not, get to typing.

Here's a question for you: What would make you to cancel posting your next segment? When has it been too much and you've chosen not to write your serial? Do you have rules -- if the post isn't done a week in advance, you won't send it out, etc? Leave a comment or catch me on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, or send an email. I'm nosey as hell and truly want to know!

Now that this panic is over, next month we'll talk about Serial Fiction's best practices.