The stretch of time between the end of November and the middle of January is tough for me. This year it was worse than ever, as if someone entered me in a three legged race with the infamous, nebulous Murphy of Murphy’s Law fame as my partner…without telling me. That’s right. Everything that can go wrong does. For good measure some glitches, hitches, and disasters that seem highly unlikely manage it too.

That period of time is when I prepare entry packages for screenwriting competitions. I start out fine, but end up a crumpled heap of quivering lifelike gelatinous substance. Every time.

Here are some of the reasons and how they might be avoided…if you have no more than a passing acquaintance with Murphy’s Law.

1. The word processor nightmare–

I made the mistake of marrying myself for life to a word processor most people have never, ever, EVER heard of. Once upon a time IBM was a dominant force in the personal computer business. Once upon another time computers came bundled with a lot of great software. Full programs that did everything from manage your music to hook you on that great image equalizer photomanipulation to make the typewriter obsolete. And also once upon a time IBM computers were bundled with Lotus Word Pro word  processing software, because IBM was Lotus’ mommy. My first computer was from IBM. Many generations later, I still use Lotus Word Pro, the most powerful, awesome word processor I’ve ever tried. And I have tried many. A geek in some store along the way of whining informed me that I was married to one particular word processor. It happens. Deal with it. Fine.

It would more than fine if not for two things. Nothing else opens Word Pro files (I finally recently found Lotus Symphony, their free word processor with an older version that does…thank you to all the cyber gods responsible for that little gem) and the formatting is unstable. As noted above that’s one  problem finally solved. Formatting…not so much. It got better, but not cured. Shifting formatting can be dealt with as an annoyance with prose fiction. It is unmitigated disaster when trying to force a once perfected script’s precise formatting back to its former glory. Sometimes it opens a file right back the way it was saved, others it looks like screenwriting gremlins tried to eat it.

So the moral of this tale is: Ask people who do what you do when you are about to settle on a word processor what they use, average out the responses, and make ease and satisfaction of use your priority.

2. The sneaky ink cartridge cat and mouse game–

An unwritten, and possibly unspoken, suspicion when trying to meet deadlines is that your ink cartridge hides a sneaky brain in the printer buffer. You start really watching the level indicator when an important task you’re trying to finish becomes a race against time…and Murphy’s Law. I’ve found that it waits until you’re almost finished, showing just a little more…just a liiitle more…and then runs dry as a bone on the third from the last page at 3 a. m..

The moral of this tale: As soon as you install a new cartridge, put a new one on your shopping list and buy it before you even begin to think you may need it. I get the extra large size, so its high capacity will keep me from having to get on the constant replacement treadmill. 
3. The time is your friend only if you treat it with respect anomoly–

I always have the best of intentions. I think I’m giving myself plenty of wiggle room. Trouble is life, as my mom would like to say with her olden days wisdom, is like a worm in hot ashes. It changes in the blink of an eye. It dances a proverbial jig, with unfamiliar and unforeseen rhythms. Unexpected problems arise. Not just writing related either. Regular, everyday fluid life flows past faster than we can swim more ofen that we care to admit. It sweeps us away in its current and before long our writing project of the moment is circling in a whirlpool we can’t reach. Panic ensues. We swim harder. We get exhausted. Sometimes it makes us literally sick.

The moral here is:

Plan ahead. Build extra time into your estimate of however much time you think a writing project will take. Then double it. Don’t drive yourself crazy setting your own deadlines to race even if there’s not an official one. Especially if there’s not an official one.

There’s another, inherent, way to make your writing life easier: Love what you’re doing so much that working around the problems that get in your way is the price you have to pay for doing what makes you happy. Even Murphy’s Law can’t conquer that.

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