A writer’s guide to surviving a power outage

Posted: May 27, 2013 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

We’ve all been there. It’s a dark and stormy morning/afternoon/evening (dun dun DUN), and the lights flicker.

“Please, PLEASE don’t go out,” you say, as you quickly unplug your laptop so it doesn’t get fried and save the document you’re currently working on about six times, just to be sure. “I have SO much work to do.”

But eventually the inevitable will happen. The power will go out and stay out. Not only does this increase your chances of running into a wall if you’re like me (who has trouble not running into them when she does have her glasses on and it’s light out and both eyes are open and she’s been living in the same house for three years…), but it seriously puts a damper on your writing.

Or does it?

I try very hard not to be one of those people who can’t live without the internet. Yeah, sure, I’m on it a lot and I always have my phone and I feel naked if I go on a trip without my laptop, but I can put these things down and walk away if I have to. I’m addicted, but I’m not THAT addicted.

When the power went out at my house the other day, I was just a tad bit frustrated. I had a lot of things I had to do, and about 98% of them needed the internet. I still had some juice in my computer and phone, so it’s not like I was without technology, but I wasn’t *connected*.

So, I decided I’d get some work done anyway. Hey, maybe actually writing a story out on paper (*gasp!*) would get the muse all fired up. Maybe this was a good thing!

Writers are understandably quite reliant on the internet these days. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Blogs and emails and social media, oh my! But when the power goes out, there’s not much you can do about that stuff. So, how do you survive? What can you do in the meantime? Here are my suggestions.

1. Write anyway. You don’t need a computer to be able to write. Sit in front of a window or grab a flashlight and do it the old fashioned way. I love writing things out on paper, but it’s inefficient (for me) when it has to end up on the computer in the end anyway, so I don’t do it that often. The power going out afforded me the opportunity to work on my handwriting (which I love to do, don’t ask me why) and start on my next short story. The spooky weather helped to set the mood too, so that was great.

2. Do some research. If you’re like me, you probably have a bunch of books for research. The internet is great and all, but sometimes flipping through a book is a better (and more reliable) way to get answers. Have you been meaning to do a little world building? Grab a text and get studying. Have you mean meaning to look up a few things in one of your craft books? Grab the resource and dig in!

3. Read a book. What I really love about when the power goes out is that it forces you to stop and slow down. I very rarely do that, and usually when I do, I feel immensely guilty. But when a storm knocks out the power, you have no choice to stop and smell the roses (but not literally, because you’d get soaked). Pick up a book, relax, and start reading. In a way, you’re still working because we all know that the best writers are voracious readers.

4. Get organized. Got a messy desk that’s keeping you from writing? Clean it. Been meaning to reshelve your books so they’re easier to find? Get going. Have you been wanting to write your scenes down on index cards so you can lay them out and work on the structure of your story? What’s stopping you!? This is the perfect opportunity to do something physical in order to get your stories in order. Many of us love to organize and color coordinate, and as long as you can still see, you can still get stuff done.

5. Get some sleep. Your computer is dead, and so is your phone. It’s too dark to see, and your flashlight isn’t powerful enough to light up your room in order to do what you need to do. It’s 10:00 at night and you’re frustrated and tired. If the power hadn’t gone out, you would’ve gotten another two hours of work done. Yeah, that may be true, but this is the opportunity to turn two currently unproductive hours into two extra hours of sleep. By the time you wake up, you’ll feel more refreshed and more than likely the power will be back on!

What do you do when the power goes out and you really need to get some work done?

  1. I like the practical basics you unpack. No. 5 is my fav (as a classic insomniac of a writer)! If you wouldn’t mind, I didn’t want to take up too much of your time, but your thoughts on internet dependency reminded me of this series. Henderson, a writer who started following me when I put these out, put up a fascinating comment (I think in one of the links) that he works on the typewriter by default. We went back and forth on the impact on the writing process:



    You have a nice, congenial tone to your writing.

  2. Great tips, Karen! Having a backup power source and non-perishable snacks have helped me through power loss. 🙂

  3. Jess Witkins says:

    I love all your tips. I would absolutely use the forced “unconnected” time to do research or read a book. Those tips are my fave. Or journal. If your power is out, something has must have happened. What is it? Don’t know – make it up! It’s good flash fiction practice.

    One of my favorite nights where the power went off, I was in college and my roommates and I collected all our candles together and played board games the whole night. When the power came back on, we were having so much fun we shut it off ourselves and kept going!

  4. I’ll write with pen an paper if I have to – and often do, even if the power’s on. However, if the power goes out, I can get 250 volts AC off my car battery via a neat little inverter unit I picked up from a local electronics store, which lets me plug in any of my chargers to keep laptops, phones etc going. Get around an amperage limit for the chargers that use the cigarette lighter socket directly. .Have to keep an eye on car battery levels, but I figure I could get a few charges for the laptop out of it and still have enough ampere hours left to crank the starter.

    There was the time we had a major power outage, years ago in another house. After a couple of hours the backup battery on the burglar alarm went flat and it began making pathetic “neep” noises. Nothing seemed to stop it, and we had to decamp to the other end of the house to get away from the noise… .

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